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Digging mass graves for #climate-driven heat wave in Pakistan: “Thank G-d we are better prepared this time …”

May 23rd, 2016 · No Comments

The South Continent is, again, going through a massive heat wave with devastatingly hot temperatures in Pakistan and India.

In 2015, the 1,300 killed in the heat wave overwhelmed capacity “and the fast-decaying corpses couldn’t be buried quickly enough.”

Here is a sad, yet tangible example of adaptation in the face of mounting climate-change impacts:

Thank God, we are better prepared this year. God forbid that it happens again but we have already dug graves to accommodate 300 bodies

As another example of adaptation in an effort to reduce the death tool, with “700 makeshift relief centres, dishing out drinking water and rehydration salts” in the Karachi area along with “nearly 200 first response centres  across the city, offering basic heat-stroke treatment to swiftly stabilise patients.”

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→ No CommentsTags: climate change · climate disruption

Thinking about the outrage over @HillaryClinton’s #coal (non)gaffe

May 21st, 2016 · 1 Comment

UPFRONT:  Hillary Clinton — unlike Donald Trump — has a serious and substantive plan to help American coal miners and mining communities flourish as the nation and global community move beyond coal.  Because of reporting on Clinton’s (non)gaffe on coal and her (campaign’s) reaction to it, few Americans — and few in coal country — seem to realize the robustness, substance and even quality of her campaign’s Plan for Revitalizing Coal Communities (see opening paragraphs after the fold …).

In the ‘sound-bite-ation‘ of the American (and, sigh, increasingly global) political process, any phrase powerful in isolation and out of context can be leveraged out-of-context for creating a powerful meme.  This abusive approach to political engagement is far from new but seems to be ever-more dangerous with skillful communicators leveraging ‘new’ media tools.  Fighting such abuse is hard and reflective of an overlapping concept: “a lie can travel halfway around the world before truth gets out of bed.”  The manipulative sound-biting can move quickly and powerfully — and can be hard to counter, especially if a ‘defense’ doesn’t even occur.

Such was (is) the case with Hillary Clinton’s “gaffe on coal”.  Most politically-aware Americans — and certainly all in ‘coal country’ have heard:

we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business

Now, if I were a miner, a family member of a miner, in a business reliant on miners, etc …, that phrase would outrage.

As one who sees as rapid a possible reduction of burning of coal — as well as one who strongly supports treating miners and mining communities as ‘heroes’ who have long sacrificed to power the nation (the world) and who advocates for aggressive action to introduce clean energy economic streams (read jobs! jobs! jobs!) into ‘coal’ communities — this phrasing really rang false to me.

And, facing withering attacks, Hillary Clinton seemingly backtracked from this comment and, as widely reported by pundits and headlines,

Hillary Clinton apologizes for coal comments

Not surprisingly, in the shadow of Trump media challenges (read the entire twitter feed), the media has run long and hard with Clinton’s “gaffe” and apology of it.

Few journalists or media outlets have, however, taken the few seconds required to place this truly in context and thus actually inform the readers. And, even the ones that have, often have the substance buried within a larger piece headlined about “apology”. And, since the vast majority of people read only that headline, the general populace remains misinformed.

What was the context of that sentence? That phrase, that soundbite that has become gospel for those attacking Hillary in ‘coal country’ had a context, a rich context that makes clear that the totality of substance is far different than what she is tarred with.  Dana Milbank, of the Washington Post, had a thoughtful article (Make America Empathetic Again) on how Hillary is pilloried for what can be misconstrued out of context while Donald is given a free ride for fundamental ignorance and”‘making a promise he can’t keep”.  From that,

Politically, it was not, to be charitable, a wise thing to say. But consider the context of that line, at a March CNN town hall:

“I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right, Tim? And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories.”

The media often don’t put comments of this sort in context because, as you can see above, it takes a big fat, space-consuming paragraph to make it clear that she was speaking with empathy for coal miners, not consigning them to the economy’s dustbin.

Within context, there is not a ‘gaffe’ here. Obviously, on reflection, what if Secretary Clinton had said something even slightly different, ‘that 21st century trends will put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business’?  That would be truthful and align with the plan the Clinton campaign has issued.  The soundbite, however, will remain that sentence out of a paragraph and remain without the paragraph’s and the coal revitalization’s context for the vast majority of Americans — in no small part because few journalists will follow Milbank’s lead and make an effort to provide context.

This post was, in part, sparked by a David Robert’s 23 tweet ‘look’ at the issue of how do reporters cover outrageous behavior, making an analogy between ‘outrage fatigue’ during the Bush Administration and during the Trump campaign. And, the double-standard where journalists attack reasonable politicians more fiercely, for relatively minor ‘gaffes’, while letting pass seriously (serial) outrageous statements and behavior by those who move from one untruthful to racist to demagogic item to the next.

7. It just seemed like the Bushies’ capacity for evil was greater than anyone’s capacity even to *track* it, much less to fight it.

8. But as a consequence, *dozens* of minor scandals went by with barely a ripple. There was just no institutional capacity to deal w/ it.

9. The same thing is (already) going on w/ Trump. A neo-Nazi delegate? Women are what? Trade war with who? Scrap EPA? Wait …

10. It’s so much that no one piece of it really sticks. Contrast this w/ coverage of Clinton’s campaign.

11. Clinton is more of a typical politician, w/ reasonably mainstream views & a high degree of message discipline. So when she slips up …

12. with a “gaffe” like the one on coal miners, there’s plenty of time for reporters to lovingly toy w/ it, really make it into a Thing.

Yup, “reporters lovingly” made the coal comment “a Thing” — a Thing with far too many legs and, for most Americans, a Thing without context.

The truth — whether perfect or not — Hillary Clinton has, unlike Donald Trump, proposed a serious plan to address the challenges that coal miners and coal communities face in the coming years, to provide them paths toward prosperity even ad the nation and the rest of humanity burn ever less coal.  Sadly, few journalists seem interested in moving past a ‘gaffe’ to actually informing people about Clinton’s concepts.

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→ 1 CommentTags: 2016 Presidential Election · coal · media

Boiling India: some quick perspectives

May 19th, 2016 · No Comments

Areas of the South continent are burning up.

All hell broke loose in India, as mercury in Phalodi, Rajasthan shattered all the temperature records on Thursday. The desert town recorded maximum temperature of 51°C, which is the highest day maximum ever recorded in the country.

51 degrees celsius.  For those metric-challenged Americans, let’s put that into Fahrenheit: 123.8F.

When I did that calculation in my head, my first thought is captured here:

The basic guidance to American homeowners: set the hot water at 120F to save a little energy and, perhaps even more importantly, to reduce the risk of scalding.

In other words, water at the ambient temperature in Phalodi, India, is hotter than the hot water coming out of my hot water heater.

That is, well, hot …

Reading a bit more, another shocking moment.

Despite the generalized media mediocrity in terms of accurately discussing extreme weather within a climate-change context, this article introduced me to a new form of implicit climate denial. Rather that this heat wave being driven by a range of factors, including climate change,

All blame for the abnormally hot weather conditions can be attributed to Pakistan,

Evidently, I guess, India’s record heat is prima facie evidence of Pakistani weather warfare.

That led to this Twitter reflection:

Yup, WTF!!!

→ No CommentsTags: Energy

Bernie Sanders’ drinking problem

March 31st, 2016 · 1 Comment

While the Bernie bird Birdie Sandersvideo has gone viral, CitiSven has focused on a prominent item in the images that — well — probably almost everyone else let their eyes pass over without consciously registering that there was a water bottle on the podium.

This guest post is a far more thoughtful and eloquent look at water bottles on the podium than my discussion, several years ago, of Barack Obama’s Drinking Problem.

By now, everyone has seen the iconic photo of the bird landing on Bernie Sanders’ podium at a recent rally in Portland. While the reactions to what’s come to be known as the “Birdie Sanders” incident have ranged from “the universe is rooting for Bernie” to “it’s a bird, alright,” depending, I suppose, on the observer’s affiliation in the Democratic primary, the spontaneous and synergistic convergence of natural world with human emotion undoubtedly made for an iconic image.

Personally, I thought it was a genuinely sweet moment. However, as someone who cares deeply about said natural world I couldn’t help but feel disturbed by something in the image that was smaller than Bernie but larger than the bird: the single-use plastic water bottle.

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→ 1 CommentTags: environmental · guest post · plastic · political symbols

In light of shockingly low Mexican solar electricity prices, should Sunshot program change its targets?

March 31st, 2016 · No Comments

When Secretary Chu announced the Department of Energy’s SunShot program in February 2011, many (okay, most or nearly all)

Sunshot program: utility solar target

Sunshot program: utility solar target

energy (related) analysts thought that the target of $0.05 per kilowatt hour for large-scale solar electricity delivery to the grid was beyond simply ambitious.  Great, perhaps, to have a stretch goal but I can recall multiple conversations where (highly?) knowledgeable people expressed great skepticism.

Since then, plunging solar prices and skyrocketing penetration have made that ‘stretch goal’ into a very conservative and rather pessimistic target.  The latest indication:  just finished bidding for Mexican solar electricity from industrial facilities has come in at less than 5 cents per kwh:

 In a sign of how quickly the energy economics are shifting Mexico took the lead in the race for one of the lowest ever recorded $ per MWh for a solar project in the World.

$40.5 MWh was the average price for a solar project and is incredible and showing a huge 30% jump from the previous record holder Austin Energy in Texas bid of $57.1 MWh (… this was still lower than the famous $57.8 MWh paid by ACWA Power in Dubai in 2014).

To translate, $40.50 per megawatt hour is $0.0405 per kilowatt hour (e.g., 4.05 cents per kWh).

This is 2016 and Mexico will see solar facilities built providing electricity to the grid 20 percent below the Sunshot program’s target.

Several months ago, with US solar pricing already down to 5 cents per kWh (okay, after various support programs), RUMINT (rumor intelligence) suggested that DOE was considering lowering the SunShot target … to as low as 3 cents per kilowatt hour.

Plunging solar prices suggests that might be the right thing to do.

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→ No CommentsTags: electricity · Solar Energy

Are “VSP” political advisors waking up to #climate as political issue?

March 29th, 2016 · No Comments

For a decade, at least, many closing tracking climate issues in the United States have advocated that — regretfully in many ways — climate was/is a serious wedge issue that does not distinguish the two major parties but which could have impact in swaying voters toward those candidates aligned with scientists and scientific understanding. 

This advocacy has been at odds with the traditional “Very Serious People” political advisors who reap in the dough via media advertising bundling, polling, and ever-so sage advice to political campaigns. Thus, candidate after candidate, election after election, the professional pols have advised candidates to ‘keep their mouth shut’ on climate.

In 2008, then candidate and now Senator Jeff (Energy Smart) Merkley (D-OR) explained to me that he spoke every single day about climate and clean energy in his Senate race even though his political advisors recommended otherwise.

I view energy as perhaps the most critical issue … national security … economic security … Global Warming. We, the United States, must show leadership.  … We must turn to rebuilding a new energy economy and save the planet from its mounting fever.

His point: if he (we) think it so critical an issue, we should speak to citizens (voters) about it: to mobilize the concerned and create concern in the unconcerned.  And, the corollary that it would be fundamentally dishonest to not discuss an issue, a critical issue, and then seek to act on it when elected.

As to that mounting fever, Merkley called out Oregon’s university students.

When I visited universities and colleges, I would have an informal poll about what issues mattered to them.  Every single time, Global Warming was the number one issue.  They get it. We need to help others get it.

Merkley saw (sees) climate and clean energy as not just a critical issue to address but also, at the core, a winning political issue: that doing the right thing is also the right thing politically.

That perspective, however, has been too rarely shared. And, what Merkley commented on as to his political advisors seems to have been the norm.

The question is: is that norm falling apart or, even stronger, has it shattered?  Have the chattering classes of professional political advisors woken up to climate not just an important issue but as a winning one?

A recent Democracy Corps “Friends” memo focusing on Donald Trump vulnerabilities among Republican voters sparked this thinking/question.  From Stanley Greenberg and James Carville, the executive summary has this paragraph:

Moderates form 31 percent of the Republican Party base, and they are solidly pro-choice on abortion and hostile to pro-life groups. About one in five are poised to defect from the party. The party is divided down the middle on gay marriage, climate change, and the N.R.A.

Climate change, in the highlighting to Democratic Party elite concerned about how to deal with a Donald Trump nomination (and down-ballot GOP candidates), is right up there with “gay marriage” and “the N.R.A.”

This 11 page memo is filled with polling material and potential messaging paths to swing these potential swing GOP voters.

The key point is emphasizing fissures splitting the party in two:

Emerging issues like gun control, climate change and the role of government are already dividing the party down the middle between the Tea Party and Evangelical bloc on one hand and the Observant Catholics and Moderates on the other. Each bloc encompasses almost half of GOP base. [p 7]

A few paragraphs later,

Something important may be happening on climate change. A majority of the Observant Catholics and two-thirds of moderates say reporting that 2015 was the hottest year on record and the consensus of scientists on climate change is true, not the fiction of the liberal media.

Thus, a majority of one half of the GOP — about 30 percent of the party — are totally at odds with the GOP elite (and certainly both leading GOP Presidential candidates) on climate change. And … AND … this “something important” merits discussion and highlighting by D VSP political consultants like James Carville.

In terms of taking on @TheRealDonald,

The strongest attacks on Trump charge that he is an ego-maniac who cares more about himself than the country, that he is very disrespectful towards women, and that he is a threat to national security and should not have control of our nuclear weapons.

After that risky ego-maniac issue, turning to direct policy substance

We can see the potential to shift the vote with attacks concerning his support for a coal agenda over a clean energy future, his ability to deal with national security issues, and his disrespect towards women. In a regression analysis controlling for demographics and other factors, these charges against Trump had a significant impact on the likelihood of supporting Clinton over Trump in the re-vote.

Note that in the presented analysis, the “Big Oil/Dirty Energy vs Clean Energy Future” had the strongest resonance in getting GOP voters to say that they would vote for Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump, if he is the GOP nominee.

Perhaps the tide has shifted and the professional political elite have come to the realization that climate change matters — even to a political campaign.  If this memo is indicative, we should expect political advisors to recommend significant clean energy discussion(s) by their candidates.


NOTE: For a different perspective on this memo, see this EDF post.

→ No CommentsTags: politics

Elizabeth Warren’s glaring gap re @RealDonaldTrump

March 21st, 2016 · 1 Comment

At the moment, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s facebook post on Donald Trump is shooting around the net.

"Let’s be honest – Donald Trump is a loser."

While much of the focus is her defining of Trump as “loser”, the fourth paragraph is the most substantively important discussion. In this, Warren elucidates what is at stake in this election:

  • Affordable college.
  • Accountability for Wall Street.
  • Healthcare for millions of Americans.
  • The Supreme Court.
  • Big corporations and billionaires paying their fair share of taxes.
  • Expanded Social Security.
  • Investments in infrastructure and medical research and jobs right here in America.
  • The chance to turn our back on the ugliness of hatred, sexism, racism and xenophobia.
  • The chance to be a better people.

That is, simply, a powerful and (at its core) truthful list.  Even so, Senator Warren misses the most critical and fundamentally truthful point:

Electing Donald Trump could well be the final nail on the coffin in averting catastrophic climate chaos.

Simply put, despite concerns about inadequate progress or measures (for, at least, the first term), the vast majority of the U.S. government’s progress on climate change in recent years is attributable to the Obama White House — to President Barack Obama.

A partial list …

All of this is Administrative action — done in accord with (and in fulfillment of) laws passed by Congress, but Administrative action nonetheless.

Donald Trump is, simply, a climate change denier, a rejector and distorter of basic science. (Nice window: 6 of @RealDonaldTrump tweets on climate change.) The Environmental Protection Agency is at the top of his list for cutting (or, at minimum, alongside the Department of Education).

A simple set of questions:

  • What might one expect from a “President Donald Trump” when it comes to climate change?
    • Would President Donald Trump reverse Obama Administration progress on the issues above and otherwise?
  • Can we afford moving the clock back years or decades?

From record-low Arctic Ice to ever more breaking of record high temperatures (specific dates, month-to-month, annual, …) to catastrophic weather events worsened by climate change to …, the climate change threat is worsening.

We are seeing progress – serious progress – as, for example, energy-related emissions seem to be plateauing and heading for decreases.  The increased availability of and massive drop in prices for renewable energy (solar, wind) and energy efficiency (such as LEDs, electric cars) give hope that that progress can continue and accelerate. That ‘progress’ is, however, not enough and requires acceleration — more than a doubling down — across the economy (domestically and internationally).

President Donald Trump — and the people he would populate the Administration with — almost certainly would work diligently to put the brakes on (and outright reverse) the progress that has been and is being made to reduce the risks of catastrophic climate change.

Unlike everything else on Senator Warren’s list, the next President could put the brakes on  or accelerate U.S. government efforts related to climate change alone.  And, while everything on Senator Warren’s list matters, addressing climate change is a sine quo non for fostering a prosperous and secure nation for the decades to come.

With all due respect, Senator Warren, the absence of that existential threat from your list is glaring.





→ 1 CommentTags: 2016 Presidential Election · climate change

Republican Congressman installs geothermal energy, expresses fundamental understanding of our energy challenges

March 10th, 2016 · No Comments

Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-1), with a lifetime League of Conservation Voters (LCV) rating of 18%, recently replaced his heating system with a geothermal heating cooling system.

His description of why to this:

“I had an inclination to want to do it because I’m interested in trying to drive toward micro-energy production, distributed energy, conservation and even the potential of seeing the household become a net energy producer. So these are all the reasons I did it, but it obviously had to make financial sense. And this is a longer-term horizon but not so long term as to be prohibitive.”

Honestly, rather unusual language to see from a Republican Congressman.

He leveraged Federal and state programs to improve the cost effectiveness of his purchase that he expects to earn back the costs in about six years.  His explanation, as to the reason why those programs are legitimate, are truly surprising to see from someone with a 9% LCV 2015 rating.

“I’ve supported these things. The conservative logic, if you will, is the externality costs of the hydrocarbons are not accounted for in production costs. That creates an unleveled playing field. There is real social cost to that, it’s just not reflected in the market price.”

An explicit statement that there are real costs for burning oil, coal, and natural gas — that using them causes damages to third parties (today and into the future).  This is a core fact, a core truth that is too often simply unacknowledged by those on the ideological right.

“So that’s why you justify a movement toward a much more balanced portfolio, as aggressive as we can, toward a more sustainable energy set of systems for the country. And you’re in effect subsidizing, yes, the cost of that, but it’s offset by the decline in the externality cost of other forms of energy.”

In other words, there is not — net — a subsidy to renewable energy and energy efficiency if you think serious about “the externality cost of other forms of energy’.

If Representative Jeff Fortenberry could convert a meaningful share of the Republican House caucus to understanding this fundamental truth, we might find paths toward bipartisan paths to #ActOnClimate in a meaningful way … “as aggressive as we can”


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→ No CommentsTags: economics

JP Morgan’s “Prohibited Transaction” list: A clear sign of change

March 8th, 2016 · 1 Comment

Leading financial firm JP Morgan has issued a new Environmental and Social Policy Framework document.

JPMorgan Chase believes that balancing environmental and human rights issues with financial priorities is fundamental to sound risk management and a core part of corporate responsibility.

This 23 page document has 16 uses of the words “climate change”. And, reflecting this, the document lays out explicitly that how a firm once one of leading financiers of coal projects will accelerate its move beyond coal*. Most notably, ‘green field’ coal mining is now to be treated like projects using child labor and endangering world heritage sites.

transactions that we will not finance:

  • Forced or Child Labor: Transactions where there is evidence of the use of forced or child labor;
  • World Heritage Sites: Transactions for natural resource development within UNESCO World Heritage sites;
  • Coal: Transactions that involve asset-specific financing where the proceeds will be used to develop a new greenfield coal mine or a new coal-fired power plant in a high income OECD country.
  • Illegal Logging: Transactions with entities or projects that collude with or are knowingly engaged in illegal logging.
  • Uncontrolled Fire: Transactions with entities or projects that lack an explicit policy against the uncontrolled and/or illegal use of fire in their forestry, plantation or extractive operations.

With this, JP Morgan has joined Morgan Stanley and Citigroup in creating a ‘no go’ zones for coal as part of a shift toward climate aware financing.

To be clear, these financiers haven’t renounced coal entirely — but have created significant restrictions and guidance as to what is and isn’t acceptable coal-related investing (see pages 8-9).

Moving the financial markets and financial firms toward climate-sensible policies is critical to fostering a climate-friendly and prosperous future.  Policies and statements like those JP Morgan Chase just released are tangible signs of progress toward this.

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→ 1 CommentTags: coal

Climate Hawks’ Primary: A window on @SenSanders vs @HillaryClinton

March 7th, 2016 · 1 Comment

Simple truth:  Due to the dysfunctional nature of the American political process (and essentially in one major party), there is zero question that

  1. the Democratic Party candidate for President will be far better on climate and clean energy issues than the GOP candidate.
  2. anyone who considers themselves a Climate Hawk should work, full bore, to get the Democratic nominee elected.

This is a regretful truth of the American politics.

In a more rational world, the American people might be presented with a meaningful debate about how best to tackle climate change (nature (cap & trade, carbon fee, …) and size (full social cost of carbon, small incremental, …) of carbon pricing, government paying for clean energy deployment directly (such as via tax credits) and/or via mandates (renewable portfolio standards, etc …), etc … Sadly, this rational, reality-based debate is not occurring on the most crucial issue facing humanity in the 21st century (and for the centuries to come) and it will not occur in the Fall election. Thus, to the far too minimal extent that rational discussion of climate enters Presidential election discussions,  the ‘debate’ is within the Democratic party.

How should a Climate Hawk vote in the Democratic primaries (that remain)?

Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?

A seemingly simple question that causes many to step back and think seriously. Looking at campaign platforms on climate (People before Polluters (Sanders); Climate Change and Energy (Clinton)), rankings by environmental organizations, environmental organization endorsements, and otherwise are all useful and viable paths for comparing and contrasting the two on their climate issues.  Another angle is to look at key supporters and surrogates: who is around them.

In this manner, two people seem to provide a basis for a ‘surrogate’ discussion about the campaigns and candidates:

In short, having had the chance to interact with both and knowing people close to them, both of these men are
  • Very decent and highly competent
  • Knowledgeable, passionate, and eloquent on climate change
  • Experienced and meriting attention
John Podesta is the ultimate effective insider. He is a trusted confident of the “D” establishment (Clintons, Obamas, etc …). Podesta knows how to get things done within bureaucracies (within the Federal government) and, with his extensive knowledge and experience ‘inside’ the system, sees how to get things done incrementally.
Bill McKibben is a ‘movement’ man, trying to change the world through rhetoric and action: to mobilize enough of a shift in the societal discussion and understanding of climate change to create the support and momentum for addressing climate change with the seriousness and urgency it requires. Drawn into climate activism after decades of journalistic looks at the issue (with inadequate policy attention and action), McKibben draws clear lines that seek to create stark contrasts and either/or situations. (His leading role related to Keystone XL pipeline is a clear example of this. Note, Podesta had some strong things to say about Tar Sands.)
The stark contrast between Podesta and McKibben seems to align with the Presidential candidates:
  • Both substantive, with strong core agreements.
  • Both with substantive knowledge about climate issues and desire to move the United States (and global community) toward stronger action on climate.
  • Podesta the incremental achiever and McKibben the impassioned truth-teller.
  • Podesta the ultimate insider and McKibben the ultimate outsider.
As another analogy, Bill might be the one to listen to on a Sunday morning at Church for motivation and guidance while John might be the boss you work for Monday to get that week’s tasks done.
With that perspective, the question remains: How should a Climate Hawk vote?
Vote here for “Climate Hawks.

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→ 1 CommentTags: 2016 Presidential Election · Bill McKibben · climate change