Democratic Climate Action Plan
Published: July 13, 2020
After more than a year of consideration, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis have introduced a massive climate action plan. Here, members of the Committee are pictured, alongside Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Photo: John Brighenti, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
(stream/download) as an MP3 file
House Democrats on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis have released a massive climate action plan that aims to end carbon pollution and build new clean energy and transportation systems, while also helping communities adapt to climate disruption. Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Chair Kathy Castor (D-FL) joins Steve Curwood to discuss what the plan means for environmental policy and environmental justice communities moving forward.
And as tickborne diseases like Lyme disease become more common in our warming climate, some homeowners in the thick of tick country are turning to guinea fowl to control the bloodthirsty arachnids.
CURWOOD: Hi, I’m Steve Curwood and today on the Living on Earth Podcast we’ll hear about how Democrats on a special committee in Congress have come up with a master plan they say will solve the climate crisis.
We’ll also hear how to fight the ticks that carry Lyme disease by getting some help from a feathered force.
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CURWOOD: After more than a year of consideration, the Democratic majority members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis have come up with a massive, 538-page plan for climate action. Their report pinpoints hundreds of measures to end carbon pollution and protect public health with climate-friendly economic, transportation and energy systems, and an end to subsidies for fossil fuels. With a focus on environmental justice, their plans call for conserving public lands, farmland and forests to lock up carbon, and also helping communities adapt to climate disruption. The chair of the Climate Crisis Committee, Kathy Castor of Florida joins us now from the Capitol. Welcome back to Living on Earth!
CASTOR: Thank you so much, Steve.
CURWOOD: So first, how does it feel to finally be able to release this report to the Congress?
CASTOR: Well, I'm especially excited to be with you because I spoke with you at the outset, over a year ago, when Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress directed the establishment of a new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and tasked us with talking to stakeholders all across the country, every political persuasion, folks really at the grassroots and develop solutions for the Congress. They directed us to be ambitious, and we've delivered an ambitious report.
CURWOOD: Well, talk to me about some priorities. It's, it's kind of like you have 10 hungry children, you love them all. But you have limited resources. How do you set priorities? What's your top priority here?
CASTOR: The top priority is the clean energy economy. The plan says we have to decarbonize American society by the year 2050, but in the various sectors of the economy, we propose, we've got to act a lot faster. And the one that is the top priority really will be establishing a clean energy standard to clean up our grid no later than 2040. So that means we've got to get to work right away to do that. The other top priority is the transportation sector because now there are more emissions coming out of the transportation sector than even the power sector. So we propose clean electric vehicles and set a goal of all new cars to be clean electric vehicles no later than 2035.
CURWOOD: How is this plan going to advance environmental justice and systemic racism?
CASTOR: As you know, there are many communities across America that have carried the burden for entirely too long. They're the communities where the industrial plants are sited in their neighborhoods, time after time. You know, we consulted all across the country and I remember a trip to Detroit, Michigan where I talked to environmental justice leaders. And even before the murder of George Floyd, we were focused on building our climate action plan upon a foundation of environmental justice and fair labor standards for workers. So environmental justice recommendations are embedded throughout our report. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency, when they make permitting decisions or they are trying to determine where to deploy community clean energy resources, community solar, we say that our environmental justice communities must come first.
CURWOOD: Congresswoman, the climatologists are talking about this being possibly the warmest year on record. With searing heat waves this summer, there will be air conditioning bills that some won't be able to afford. How does, how does this moment relate to the need to address the climate and equity?
CASTOR: It's interesting that you mention that because my hometown of Tampa, Florida just last week set an all time high temperature record, they broke through to 99 degrees. And in Miami, they haven't really been able to cool off at night. So this is real to people. And you're right, the electric bills are going to be astronomical. So this is part of the, the cost. And I think, in the past, the opponents of climate action have often argued, "it's too expensive for us to act on climate, it's too expensive to make these changes." People don't believe that anymore because they know, they are paying those higher air conditioning bills or property insurance or flood insurance bills or for your stormwater fees. So this is a plan that will benefit all of us, by reducing greenhouse gases and moving to the clean energy economy, that will benefit all of us. Rebuilding better, rebuilding in a more resilient way, giving our local communities the tools they need to prevent flooding, to be sure they're ready for the more intense hurricanes, to be able to handle the wildfires. There are extensive recommendations on how the federal government can be a better partner to communities all across the country.
CURWOOD: Of course, with the COVID recession, there have been and there are going to be more stimulus bills, Congress is going to put forth money to help rebuild the economy. What does your report tell us how we should rebuild the economy in the wake of this COVID recession?
CASTOR: This is a, an enormous opportunity for America to rebuild better. We had an independent think tank look at our plan and model it out. And not only do we get about 90% of the way towards reducing emissions by 2050, they say that we'll create over 500,000 jobs as we transition to the clean energy economy. We will save 62,000 lives annually if we move to the clean energy economy. But it's the jobs focus that is particularly important at this moment in time because we have 40 million Americans who are out of work now. And we think that there is an exciting pathway for folks to go to work, building the macro grid, the super grid that we'll need to connect renewable power sources, solar and wind. These are the jobs in making our communities more resilient. We propose reinvigorating the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was a President FDR idea back in the Great Depression. We propose a new Climate Resiliency Corps to help communities, especially environmental justice communities, do things to make, handle extreme heat, like planting trees in, in formerly redlined neighborhoods or helping with natural solutions -- reinvigorating, you know, turning our public lands into places that aren't exploited for mining and, and fossil fuel development, but are places we can capture carbon. You know, a lot of places all across the globe are already planning these kind of recovery plans. And we see an exciting opportunity for America to do so as well.
CURWOOD: Now, you mention that the plan calls for a national supergrid using high voltage direct current transmission as opposed to the three big grids we have right now in America, right? We have an East, and we have a West, and we have Texas. And if you did that, right, it would make it possible for us to be 80% renewable with, with the balance of the baseload being handled by existing nuclear. Okay, great idea. But how heavy a lift is this going to be, do you think, to implement a nationwide high voltage DC grid? There's money questions; there's rights of way questions.
CASTOR: You bet. But this is a top priority. Because most, most folks aren't aware that most renewable resources -- this, big solar arrays and wind power -- most of those resources exist between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River. So that has to be our goal, to connect those less expensive renewable resources to population centers across the country. We recommend investing in research and development into storage of these resources. We recommend significant investment in energy efficiency, which pays dividends; if you can help businesses and consumers save on their electric bills, that's a plus. We have to do all of these things and you know, our task is urgent. So here's some good news. Just this week, the House Democrats passed a major transportation and infrastructure bill, the Moving Forward Act, HR 2. And a lot of the Select committee's Solving the Climate Crisis recommendations are contained in that transportation and infrastructure bill. So we, we're already getting started on the infrastructure planning for the transmission supergrid, or macro grid.
CURWOOD: By the way, the plan talks about a lot of resources getting promised to the fossil fuel industry for carbon capture and storage. But look, 25 years after that technology was first proposed and some pilot efforts mounted it has yet to become cost effective. Why should taxpayers keep spending money on this?
CASTOR: No, taxpayers should not keep spending money on that. We recommend that any of the tax incentives and appropriations that go to fossil fuel, that they are ended over time and shifted to clean energy resources. And in fact, the Moving Forward Act that passed the House of Representatives this week, extends a lot of our clean energy tax credits. Our report says for carbon capture and storage, if an industry proposes to use it, and they're going to increase their carbon footprint, that won't be allowed. We, we recommend that there have to be some climate guardrails. We also believe that there are some industries out there, where there are no solutions right now in how to capture their carbon, meaning, steel, the way we make cement, and other industrial processes. And we think that that type of carbon capture and storage could be an important solution. But we have to, we have to develop the technology that doesn't exist right now.
CURWOOD: And oh, by the way, the report calls for protecting at least 30% of all US lands and ocean areas by 2030. Kind of sounds to me a bit like what Tom Udall over on the Senate side has been saying for a while. Where are we now on meeting that goal and how do we get to 30% by 2030? And why is this so important for the climate?
CASTOR: Vitally important to the climate that we do not continue to exploit our public lands and offshore waters. In fact, they can really be drivers of carbon solutions, whether that's sequestering carbon or preventing the overdevelopment of our farmlands and protected spaces. People love our national park systems, they love the natural wilderness areas. But we need to understand that they are vital to carbon sequestration and climate action. There's a lot of extraction allowed on our public lands right now; we think over time, that needs to come to an end, and we need to make a broad based commitment to protecting those public spaces.
CURWOOD: That's right, there's almost 500 gigatons of carbon just in America's public lands. How did your committee's on-site field visits help inform this report? You talked about environmental justice in one case, but which other ones specifically were most informative and enlightening?
CASTOR: Yeah, I traveled to the Hampton Roads area with Congresswoman Elaine Luria, we visited a military installation in Norfolk that is dealing with the cost of rising sea levels. We also went with her and Congressman Don McEachin out to an area that floods repeatedly and they're having to relocate some neighborhoods there; that was impactful. And then just up the road, Congressman Bobby Scott took me to a neighborhood that also repeatedly floods. It's a lower income neighborhood. And the folks there told me they don't want to leave when it floods, that's their home. All of that helped influence our recommendations on flood mapping and how we make flood insurance more affordable to people, how we empower communities to understand what the climate risks are going to be in the future so they can make determinations where they're going to buy a home, where they're going to live, and empower the local communities to develop some resiliency plans, some adaptation plans over time. Traveling to Motor City in Detroit and meeting with Ford and GM and then with a lot of the auto workers was inspiring because they're already on track to transition over to the clean electric vehicles. They see it as a significant competitiveness issue with China and the European Union. And that inspired us to push hard when it comes to electric vehicles. We think we can be the world leader when it comes to manufacturing the clean cars and trucks. We went to California, Southern California where they're building the clean electric buses. We envision a future that's not too far off where every child in America who has to ride a bus to school, it's going to be a clean electric bus, and that's going to provide tremendous benefits to the air our kids breathe, too. You got me on a roll here [LAUGHS] -- I wish in the COVID days we could travel, but we're not going to be able to do that. We're going to do a lot of this virtually. But I'm excited to amplify the recommendations in our report and keep listening to folks all across this diverse country as we move our recommendations into law.
CURWOOD: Democrat Kathy Castor is the Chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and serves Florida's 14th district. Congresswoman, thanks so much for taking the time with us today.
CASTOR: Oh, thank you so much, Steve. And let's have another check-in on our, make sure we're working through this to-do list down the road.
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CURWOOD: It’s the height of tick season and in the eastern U.S., beware of the blacklegged or deer tick that can carry Lyme disease, which if left untreated, can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. And research shows climate change is making it even more common. One US study found that boosting average temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius could increase Lyme disease cases by 20 percent. Luckily, there are proven ways to reduce your risk. Wear long sleeved clothing, use repellents, and do a thorough tick check after you’ve been walking outside in the woods, or meadows where ticks can hide. And Living on Earth’s Jenni Doering reports from Exeter, New Hampshire about another way to combat ticks in your back yard.
DOERING: Suzy and Hazel Koff live an enchanted childhood.
On a warm July day, the 6 and 3-year-olds run through the sun-dappled forest in their New Hampshire backyard.
[SOUNDS OF KIDS RUNNING AND PLAYING]
SUZY: Okay, come out!... No, no, no, no, no!
DOERING: Their mother, Sarah, says this is how they spend their summer.
KOFF: We love going outside playing in the woods. We have this great big yard that they play in and we have a sandbox out here and slack line and all sorts of things; we like to make fairy houses, and we like to garden together. So, yeah we’re outside pretty much every day.
DOERING: But in the Northeast, where there are woods, there are ticks. A lot of them.
KOFF: I was so, just, overwhelmed by the ticks in our yard. I’m a big gardener and my daughters – I just feel like it’s really important for them to spend as much of their time outside as possible. And you know, we live in the woods. And so in April and May, they were just coming in with ticks every day on them – and my husband was and I was – and it was just getting too much; I was so overwhelmed and I just, I’m such a big gardener, there’s no way I was willing to spray anything on the lawn or use any sort of chemicals at all, so I thought I would try this biological control…
DOERING: Enter the guinea fowl --
[GUINEA FOWL CALLING]
DOERING: Native to Africa, guineas are rather awkward, football-shaped birds with a tiny head, and a voracious appetite for ticks. And unlike chickens, guinea fowl won’t peck at your garden greens. So Sarah decided to give them a try.
KOFF: Yeah, I just went on Craigslist and I pretty easily found… there were actually a lot of different ads for people selling guineas but we wanted a certain amount and we wanted them to be babies, so it was a perfect guy who had them and raised them and told me a lot about them.
[GUINEA FOWL CALLING]
DOERING: The Craigslist guineas got right to work.
KOFF: As soon as we started letting them out they were immediately interested in pecking, pecking and pecking. So yeah, they were just sort of tearing up all the bugs! [LAUGHS]
DOERING: Sarah and the kids showed me to a cute little wooden coop with a tin roof, and a single, black and white speckled guinea fowl inside. Sarah unlatched the door and with Hazel’s help, tried to coax the timid bird outside.
[DOOR LATCH SOUND]
HAZEL: Guinea, you can come out now! What are they doing in there?! [LAUGHS]
DOERING: Is it pretty scared?
KOFF: Well, you know what, they’ve always been scared of us. They’ve always been scared. They’re not, they’re not pets.
KOFF: They’re sort of wild animals that you just have. – There you go.
HAZEL: Ah ha! That’s it.
DOERING: The guinea sprints down the coop’s ramp – and straight into the forest.
KOFF: I don’t think he’ll go very far. He doesn’t usually go very far. Yes, there he is. And we could also give him some scratch. You want to give him some scratch?
[BAG RUSTLING, FEED SPRINKLING ON GROUND]
SUZY: Hey, come on and eat it! You’re not eating it!
DOERING: Why just the one?
KOFF: Well, we used to have eight, but then earlier this week, unfortunately, seven of them disappeared; and we don’t know what happened but we think that they were either killed or ran away; were definitely spooked by some predator, because we did find one dead hen, so.. yeah it’s really sad.
DOERING: Finally we spot the elusive guinea in a neighbor’s yard.
KOFF: Oh. There she is, right there, do you see it?
HAZEL: Where is she?
KOFF: Under the bushes.
DOERING: Before the guinea fowl massacre, Sarah says she noticed a dramatic decline in the number of ticks on her family.
KOFF: I haven’t seen any ticks on the kids since we’ve let the guineas go roam around. And my husband I think has found one on himself so far.
DOERING: A small 1992 study on Long Island backs up Sarah’s observation.
Researchers placed guinea fowl into tick-infested areas and found that they significantly reduced the adult tick population within the enclosures. But Howard Ginsberg, a research ecologist with the Department of Interior, points out a problem with timing.
GINSBERG: Most people get Lyme disease during June and July when the nymphs are out, and the nymphs are in the woods. The adults, which are the stage that’s targeted by these birds, is out in the fall and spring, out in open areas like people’s lawns; and some people get Lyme disease that way but not most people. So there may be some effect, but in general it’s not going to solve a disease problem.
DOERING: In fact, another study in New York State from 2004 found that where guinea fowl were allowed to range freely, ticks in the nymph stage weren’t reduced, so the Lyme disease risk remained high.
Still, a single female deer tick can lay as many as 2,000 eggs, so removing adult ticks does appear to reduce local Lyme disease risk overall. Fortunately, even if a tick latches on to you, Ginsberg says time is on your side.
GINSBERG: Lyme disease, that bacterium requires something like 24 to 48 hours with tick attachment before it’s transmitted. So if you do a check every day when you get back from the woods and remove ticks, you have eliminated the possibility of Lyme disease fairly substantially.
DOERING: And if you do find a tick embedded in your epidermis…
GINSBERG: The best way to remove a tick is to just take fine tweezers, just grab as close to the skin line as possible, and slowly pull it straight out.
DOERING: Then, take some rubbing alcohol and clean the bite thoroughly.
And get that tick safely out of your life by flushing it down the toilet.
[GUINEA FOWL CALLING]
DOERING: So, does Sarah plan to replenish the flock?
KOFF: So we are feeling a little bit unsure of how to proceed with just one right now. They’re very social creatures and they really do need to be with others, and so I’m actually in the middle of deciding whether we bring in some more, maybe some babies, for this one to raise; or do we try to re-home this guinea to a place that has guineas already?
DOERING: No matter what they decide, Sarah says the ticks won’t stop her and the kids from getting outside.
KOFF: Kids need to be just exposed to nature as much as possible and we’re so lucky to be living in a place that – we have the woods right in our backyard; we have a trail that we can connect to from our backyard. There are so many studies that show that it relieves anxiety in kids; it just makes them be more independent, more creative, have a bigger imagination, and just more comfortable in the outdoors, which is -- I mean, it’s therapy. But I also just check them for ticks every day and I try not to be anxious about it, because there’s not too much I can do about it other than check them thoroughly.
DOERING: With a thorough head-to-toe check, even the smallest ticks can be found before they pose a Lyme disease risk. For Living on Earth, I’m Jenni Doering in Exeter, New Hampshire.
[GUINEA FOWL CALLING]
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Naomi Arenberg, Bobby Bascomb, Paloma Beltran, Jenni Doering, Jay Feinstein, Anne Flaherty, Don Lyman, Isaac Merson, Aynsley O’Neill, Jake Rego, Kori Suzuki, and Jolanda Omari. Today a fond farewell and special thanks to Thurston Briscoe, a fine gentleman and radio guru who is retiring. We will miss you, Thurston! Tom Tiger engineered our show. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can hear us anytime at L-O-E dot org, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, and like us, please, on our Facebook page - Living on Earth. We tweet from @livingonearth. And find us on Instagram at livingonearthradio. I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening!
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