Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.
Update, Monday Sept. 14, 12:00pm ET: During the closing minutes of their session Friday afternoon, California legislators passed SB 350. Although stripped of the provision to reduce the state's gasoline consumption, the bill still includes new standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency. It now heads to Gov. Brown's desk; he is expected to sign it this month.
SB 350, which had passed the state Senate but faced an uphill climb through the Assembly, was intended to enshrine in law a series of ambitious climate targets unveiled earlier this year by Gov. Jerry Brown (D). One of the most important was a proposal to slash the state's gasoline consumption in half by 2030. Here's a bit of background from my story last week:
SB 350 would bring the state's gasoline consumption down to about where Florida's is now, while setting new targets for clean energy and energy efficiency projects…The gas consumption target would likely require some combination of new fuel efficiency standards for cars, incentives for alternative fuels and biofuels, cooperation with local planning agencies to improve public transit and make communities less car-reliant, and a push to get people to buy more electric vehicles. (California is already home to half of the roughly 174,000 electric vehicles on the road in the United States.)
"If California can do this, it could really be the beginning of the snowball," said Tim O'Connor, director of California policy for the Environmental Defense Fund. "This is how California can really shake up the national conversation on climate."
Other parts of the bill are intact, including the goal to get half the state's power from renewable energy sources and double the efficiency of state buildings by 2030. But the gas reduction proposal faced intense opposition from the oil industry, the most powerful special interest in Sacramento. Now, that provision is up in smoke, apparently as a compromise measure to ensure passage of the other provisions, according to the New York Times:
Henry T. Perea, a moderate Democrat who was a leader of the opposition to the petroleum measure, said he would support the measure—Senate Bill 350—in this form, which he called a compromise…
The measure was the subject of an intense campaign directed by the Western States Petroleum Association, which labeled the bill "the California Gas Restriction Act of 2015" in television advertisements and mailings. The president of the organization, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, applauded the decision to drop this proposal and said that oil companies "remain committed to working with Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators on climate change and energy policy."
Mr. Brown told reporters in Sacramento that he would use his executive powers to continue to force the kinds of reductions in global emissions that have been a central goal of his governorship. "Oil has won the skirmish, but they've lost the bigger battle," he said.
Last year, President Barack Obama released an early version of his plan to crack down on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants—the cornerstone of his climate change agenda. Right away, a dozen coal-reliant states and coal companies fired back with a pair of lawsuits aimed at blocking the plan from going into effect. The challenges failed: A federal court in DC ruled that they would have to wait until the rules were finalized.
They tried again last month, when the final details were announced. But this afternoon, they got smacked down again because the rules, while now final, still haven't been published in the federal register (that process typically takes months). Here's the ruling:
Once again, the complaining parties were just too eager to chomp at the bit, said David Doniger, director of climate policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Counting this challenge, the previous one, and several prior attempts to squelch Obama's climate plan, he said, "they're batting 0-8 in premature challenges."
"It's not a great track record. You don't want to bring a succession of losing cases, because you get a bad reputation before the court."
The battle isn't over yet: You can count on the same cast of characters trying the same shenanigans when the rule is finally published sometime in October.
Last night Stephen Colbert premiered The Late Show on CBS, the talk-show staple he took over from David Letterman (who performed his final show in May). Colbert's guests included Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, George Clooney, and a cursed ancient amulet with a taste for hummus (an ingenious play on Colbert's requirement to ruthlessly sell products to his new, larger late-night audience.)
Colbert's tone was predictably a departure from that of the buffoonish conservative zealot he played on The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. Here, while still a smart goofball, Colbert seemed delighted to shed a decade of playing just one character, and noticeably conscious of taking on a bigger stage, quite literally: The Ed Sullivan theater in Manhattan has been sumptuously renovated and decorated for the occasion.
One of the best segments, in an unpredictable and larger-than-life show jammed with jokes, was when Colbert ripped into everyone's favorite top-polling, golden-haired, low-hanging comedic fruit—Donald Trump—and satirized the media's gluttonous obsession with covering him (using another not-so-subtle product placement). Enjoy:
German well-wishers await migrants at Frankfurt's train station over the weekend.
Over the weekend, tens of thousands of migrants continued to push across Europe, most of them fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as European leaders scrambled to agree on a way to equitably distribute the newcomers across the continent. For many of the migrants, Germany has emerged as the most desired location:
The numbers tell the story: 100 migrants are arriving in Germany every hour, according to the Telegraph. Yesterday, Germany's vice chancellor said his country can accommodate 500,000 migrants annually for the next several years, and that $6.6 billion has been set aside for costs related to processing and accommodating them. Up to 800,000 are expected to arrive this year alone, far more than in any other European nation. Already, Germany has Europe's largest population of migrants, just shy of 10 million in total, comprising about 11 percent of the country's population.
Why Germany? There are a few key reasons, said Jacqueline Bhabha, an expert on migration at Harvard's School of Public Health. The first is inertia: Because many migrants have already made it to Germany, other family members are likely to stick together and follow suit.
The second is economics: Germany has Europe's biggest economy and lowest unemployment rate. For migrants seeking jobs, Germany is probably the safest bet. In fact, some of the country's most prominent backers of refugee-friendly policies are industry groups, who have argued that migrants are needed to help fill a labor shortage. In a recent op-ed for Newsweek, the head of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce wrote that "many companies are desperate to find trainees and qualified staff, while some refugees have qualifications that are dearly needed. This potential needs to be exploited to a much larger extent."
But perhaps most importantly, Germany has a legacy of opening its doors to refugees that dates back to World War II, when millions of refugees fled out of the country.
"Germany sees itself as having a historical commitment," Bhabha said.
For the last several years, as hundreds of thousands of migrants have fled turmoil in the Middle East, German politicians and the media have captured and pushed that notion with the buzzword "Willkommenskultur" ("welcoming culture"), meant to signify a cultural commitment to welcoming immigrants.
"Germany has traditionally been more generous than France or the UK, and people know that," Jacqueline Bhabha said.
"That has been perpetuated at a high level in Germany that you haven't seen elsewhere," said Susan Fratzke, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. "There's been this persistent, positive narrative that Germany needs more people."
For that reason, Fratzke said, Germany has a relative bounty of social services directed toward migrants: Subsidized housing, education, health care, and so on, and a streamlined process for filing immigration paperwork.
Bhabha added Germany has a relatively low bar when it comes to defining who qualifies as a refugee, under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, to which all the EU nations are signatories. That agreement stipulates that anyone who is fleeing persecution in their home country can seek refuge elsewhere, but it lets each host country decide independently which people qualify as refugees, as opposed to other categories of migrants.
"Germany has traditionally been more generous than France or the UK, and people know that," Bhabha said. "So if you get to Germany, then Germany will tend to accept you."
For Syrians specifically, German Chancellor Angela Merkel last month changed the country's rules so that Syrians can stay in the country while applying for asylum, rather than being turned back to the EU country where they first arrived.
Germany's pro-migrant attitude has been made manifest in train stations across the country over the last few days, as Germans turn up to offer tea, toys, and words of welcome to arriving migrants. But there could be darker consequences ahead, if the massive influx proves to be political ammunition for the country's right-wing nationalists who want more stringent immigration policies.
"There could be a backlash," Fratzke said. "It takes a while for the public to adjust to the new normal."