Month: July 2018

Almost 80% Of U.S. Workers Live From Paycheck To Paycheck

The official rate of unemployment in America has plunged to a remarkably low 3.8%. The Federal Reserve forecasts that the unemployment rate will reach 3.5% by the end of the year.

But the official rate hides more troubling realities: legions of college grads overqualified for their jobs, a growing number of contract workers with no job security, and an army of part-time workers desperate for full-time jobs. Almost 80% of Americans say they live from paycheck to paycheck, many not knowing how big their next one will be.

Blanketing all of this are stagnant wages and vanishing job benefits. The typical American worker now earns around $44,500 a year, not much more than what the typical worker earned in 40 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Although the US economy continues to grow, most of the gains have been going to a relatively few top executives of large companies, financiers, and inventors and owners of digital devices.

America doesn’t have a jobs crisis. It has a good jobs crisis.

When Republicans delivered their $1.5tn tax cut last December they predicted a big wage boost for American workers. Forget it. Wages actually dropped in the second quarter of this year.

Not even the current low rate of unemployment is forcing employers to raise wages. Contrast this with the late 1990s, the last time unemployment dipped close to where it is today, when the portion of national income going into wages was 3% points higher than it is today.

What’s going on? Simply put, the vast majority of American workers have lost just about all their bargaining power. The erosion of that bargaining power is one of the biggest economic stories of the past four decades, yet it’s less about supply and demand than about institutions and politics.

Two fundamental forces have changed the structure of the US economy, directly altering the balance of power between business and labor. The first is the increasing difficulty for workers of joining together in trade unions. The second is the growing ease by which corporations can join together in oligopolies or to form monopolies.

What happened to unions

By the mid-1950s more than a third of all private-sector workers in the United States were unionized. In subsequent decades public employees became organized, too. Employers were required by law not just to permit unions but to negotiate in good faith with them. This gave workers significant power to demand better wages, hours, benefits, and working conditions. (Agreements in unionized industries set the benchmarks for the non-unionized).

Yet starting in the 1980s and with increasing ferocity since then, private-sector employers have fought against unions. Ronald Reagan’s decision to fire the nation’s air-traffic controllers, who went on an illegal strike, signaled to private-sector employers that fighting unions was legitimate. A wave of hostile takeovers pushed employers to do whatever was necessary to maximize shareholder returns. Together, they ushered in an era of union-busting.

Employers have been firing workers who attempt to organize, threatening to relocate to more “business friendly” states if companies unionize, mounting campaigns against union votes, and summoning replacement workers when unionized workers strike. Employer groups have lobbied states to enact more so-called “right-to-work” laws that bar unions from requiring dues from workers they represent. A recent Supreme Court opinion delivered by the court’s five Republican appointees has extended the principle of “right-to-work” to public employees.

Today, fewer than 7% of private-sector workers are unionized, and public-employee unions are in grave jeopardy, not least because of the Supreme Court ruling. The declining share of total US income going to the middle since the late 1960s – defined as 50% above and 50% below the median – correlates directly with that decline in unionization. (See chart below).

Perhaps even more significantly, the share of total income going to the richest 10 percent of Americans over the last century is almost exactly inversely related to the share of the nation’s workers who are unionized. (See chart below). When it comes to dividing up the pie, most American workers today have little or no say. The pie is growing but they’re getting only the crumbs.

What happened to antitrust

Over the same period time, antitrust enforcement has gone into remission. The US government has essentially given a green light to companies seeking to gain monopoly power over digital platforms and networks (Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook); wanting to merge into giant oligopolies (pharmaceuticals, health insurers, airlines, seed producers, food processors, military contractors, Wall Street banks, internet service providers); or intent on creating local monopolies (food distributors, waste disposal companies, hospitals).

This means workers are spending more on such goods and services than they would were these markets more competitive. It’s exactly as if their paychecks were cut. Concentrated economic power has also given corporations more ability to hold down wages, because workers have less choice of whom to work for. And it has let companies impose on workers provisions that further weaken their bargaining power, such as anti-poaching and mandatory arbitration agreements.

This great shift in bargaining power, from workers to corporations, has pushed a larger portion of national income into profits and a lower portion into wages than at any time since the second world war. In recent years, most of those profits have gone into higher executive pay and higher share prices rather than into new investment or worker pay. Add to this the fact that the richest 10% of Americans own about 80% of all shares of stock (the top 1% owns about 40%), and you get a broader picture of how and why inequality has widened so dramatically.

What happened to politics

Another consequence: corporations and wealthy individuals have had more money to pour into political campaigns and lobbying, while labor unions have had far less. In 1978, for example, congressional campaign contributions by labor Political Action Committees were on par with corporate PAC contributions. But since 1980, corporate PAC giving has grown at a much faster clip, and today the gulf is huge.

It is no coincidence that all three branches of the federal government, as well as most state governments, have become more “business-friendly” and less “worker-friendly” than at any time since the 1920s. As I’ve noted, Congress recently slashed the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%.

Meanwhile, John Roberts’ supreme court has more often sided with business interests in cases involving labor, the environment, or consumers than has any Supreme Court since the mid-1930s. Over the past year it not only ruled against public employee unions but also decided that workers cannot join together in class action suits when their employment contract calls for mandatory arbitration.

The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 2009, and is now about where it was in 1950 when adjusted for inflation. Trump’s labor department is busily repealing many rules and regulations designed to protect workers.

The combination of high corporate profits and growing corporate political power has created a vicious cycle: higher profits have generated more political influence, which has altered the rules of the game through legislative, congressional, and judicial action – enabling corporations to extract even more profit. The biggest losers, from whom most profits have been extracted, have been average workers.

America’s shift from farm to factory was accompanied by decades of bloody labor conflict.The shift from factory to office and other sedentary jobs created other social upheaval.

The more recent shift in bargaining power from workers to large corporations – and consequentially, the dramatic widening of inequalities of income, wealth, and political power – has had a more unfortunate and, I fear, more lasting consequence: an angry working class vulnerable to demagogues peddling authoritarianism, racism, and xenophobia.

The Renewable Energy Jobs Myth

One of the largest myths about addressing climate change is that transitioning to renewable energy from fossil fuels (especially coal) will create a net loss of American jobs.

However, renewable energy is doing the opposite of putting Americans out of work. The New York Times reported that in 2016 coal was responsible for 160,119 jobs. In contrast solar employed more than double that amount (373,807 Americans).

The number of renewable jobs is also expected to grow significantly in the coming years. Last year, Business Insider reported that “solar and wind jobs are growing at a rate 12 times as fast as the rest of the US economy and… 46% of large firms have hired additional workers to address issues of sustainability over the past two years.”

In addition to renewables’ contribution to overall employment in the United States, there are a number of other economic benefits to American workers when we encourage growth in the renewable energy industry:

Geographic Distribution

While fossil fuel jobs tend to be concentrated in a few states (the vast majority of jobs in coal exist in West Virginia or Wyoming.), renewable energy jobs are spread out around the country. Program Director Liz Delaney at the Environmental Defense Fund points out that “These jobs [in the renewable energy sector] are widely geographically distributed, they’re high paying, they apply to both manufacturing and professional workers, and there are a lot of them.”

Supporting and encouraging the renewable energy industry will help hundreds of thousands of Americans find jobs all across the country. These are not simply installation jobs either, maintenance is a large part of the renewable energy industry.

Small Businesses

Environmental Defense Fund Program Director Delaney also mentions that “70% of the 2.2 million Americans who work in jobs related to energy efficiency are employed by companies with 10 employees or fewer.” These are small businesses, hiring American workers, in one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. In addition, according to Delaney these jobs are also more difficult to outsource because “many sustainability jobs involve installation, maintenance, and construction.” The renewable energy sector is encouraging small business development in America.

Ultimately, encouraging the development of the renewable energy sector is the best path forward for America. Concerns about lost jobs in the fossil fuel and coal industries are legitimate and important to recognize, but those lost jobs should not hinder progress towards a renewable future. This is why training programs should be encouraged to support fossil fuel workers move to other sectors or be trained in budding renewable technology. The New York Times reports that “In Wyoming, home to the nation’s most productive coal region by far, the American subsidiary of a Chinese maker of wind turbines is putting together a training program for technicians in anticipation of a large power plant it expects to supply. And in West Virginia, a nonprofit outfit called Solar Holler… is working with another group, Coalfield Development, to train solar panel installers and seed an entire industry.” These successful test cases demonstrate that America can work towards renewable energy while also supporting and training workers to transition from fossil fuels to renewables in the same way that America is transitioning.

The claim that renewable energy is a job killer or a drain on our economy is a myth, perpetrated by the fossil-fuel business and the politicians who do their bidding. Don’t fall for it. Renewable energy is the path forward for American jobs and the future of our planet.

The Private Sector & Climate Change: Holding Corporations Accountable

The future or our planet depends on us taking action against climate change. The United States of America needs to take a closer look at the economic policies that encourage and allow companies to contribute to climate change and global warming.

There are a number of actions that our country could be taking to reduce our carbon footprint and lessen the progress of climate change, however, there are significant barriers in place that hinder these efforts.

Many of these barriers stem from corporate action. Companies that benefit from the continued use of energy sources that contribute to climate change have a vested interest in hindering the progress of solutions that will move us away from the status quo. Below are a few examples of how corporations have done this:

In the six years prior to 2017, rooftop solar panel installations grew by as much as 900% in the United States. Each year, more and more Americans were taking steps to install solar panels on their roofs, lessen their carbon footprint, and contribute excess energy back into the grid to further diminish the carbon footprint of others who could not afford solar panels. The New York Times reports that in 2017, growth in solar panel installations came “to a shuttering stop.” This was largely because of “a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.”

In addition, Instead of cutting residents a break for helping solve the climate crisis, the utility companies —led by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Edison Electric Institute (whose lobbying efforts ratepayers actually underwrite)—are lobbying for the end of “net-metering” laws that let customers sell excess power they generate back to the grid.

Moreover, lobbying is frequently combined with political contributions to, and coordination with politicians.  Arizona, whose capital lies in the “Valley of the Sun,” has incredible potential for solar power. However, according to last year in May, “A federal grand jury has indicted a former state utility regulator and his wife for taking bribes.” The former regulator took those bribes for approving a rate hike for the areas utility company. Despite this indictment, coordination between politicians and utilities in Arizona has not stopped. For instance, environmental groups in Arizona have proposed a constitutional amendment to the Arizona ballot that would require that 50% of Arizona’s energy needs be met with renewable energy sources by 2030. Inside Climate News reports that “a senate committee passed a separate bill—which an APS spokeswoman said the utility had proposed—that would add a second ballot initiative with a nearly identical title” The most recent bill has similar language to the one proposed by environmentalists but includes a “safety valve” that would not allow full implementation of the bill. This approach is designed to confuse and halt progress toward renewable energy.

Arizona is not the only state that has experienced corporate lobbying against climate change solutions, nor is net metering the only issue where corporations have succeeded in moving forward with policies and activities that demonstratively harm the environment. For instance, fracking continues despite numerous studies that show significant damage to the environment and public health.

There are a number of ways that we can hold corporations accountable and stop actions that negatively affect the environment.

Get Money Out of Politics

Too frequently, our politicians are able to be swayed by campaign contributions that lead to decisions that harm the American people, and put the future of our planet in jeopardy.  It is all too easy to find the enormous contributions made by companies that contribute to our carbon footprint:

According to Open Secrets: Oil and gas companies have so far contributed over $14 million to all candidates in the 2018 election cycle, electric utilities have contributed over $11 million, natural gas pipeline companies have contributed almost $2 million, and coal mining companies have contributed over $800 thousand.

If we get money out of politics legislators might be more likely to vote for policies and ideas that benefit their constituents, the environment, and the world.

Taxes That Reflect The True Cost of Pollution 

A “Carbon Tax” is traditionally considered an “economist’s solution” to fighting climate change. In short, the Carbon Tax Center describes that “A carbon tax is a fee imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels.” There are two strong arguments for why a carbon tax is both necessary and would work.

  • It holds carbon producers and consumers accountable for the damage that their actions have on the environment. To put that damage in perspective, National Geographic reports that “Extreme weather, made worse by climate change, along with the health impacts of burning fossil fuels, has cost the U.S. economy at least $240 billion a year over the past ten years.” Economics Help describes that “The idea of a tax is to make consumers and producers pay the full social cost of producing pollution.” Money raised by the government from this tax could be used to finance initiatives that will further reduce carbon emissions (e.g. subsidizing renewable energy or carbon capture.)
  • It creates incentives to for both consumers and producers to act in ways that will reduce their carbon footprint. Producers may invest in ideas that will reduce their carbon emissions to avoid paying as much in taxes. Price increases on items or utilities that include this carbon tax may result in consumers looking to alternative energy sources, or consuming less.

Economics Help describes that “the social marginal cost (SMC) of producing the good is greater than the private marginal cost (PMC) The difference is the external cost of the pollution. The tax shifts the supply curve to S2 and therefore, consumers are forced to pay the full social marginal cost. This reduces the quantity consumed to Q2, which is the socially efficient outcome (because the SMC=SMB)”  Therefore, the tax adjusts the price of good to take into account the harm that it is doing.

Carbon Taxes are also proven to have worked elsewhere in the world. British Columbia imposed a carbon tax of 10 Canadian dollars per ton of carbon dioxide in 2008 and then raised that tax to 30 Canadian dollars per ton by 2012. The New York Times reports that the tax “reduced emissions by 5 to 15 percent with ‘negligible effects on aggregate economic performance… It encouraged people to drive somewhat less and be more careful about heating and cooling their homes. Businesses invested in energy efficiency measures and switched to less polluting fuels.”

Get the Incentives Right

Each year, the U.S. government subsidizes a range of economic activities. It is important that those subsidies encourage economic activity that will help reduce our carbon footprint and climate change.

Unfortunately, many subsidies support industries that are contributing to climate change. Researchers at Oil Change International recently found that “Government giveaways in the form of permanent tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry – one of which is over a century old – are seven times larger than those to the renewable energy sector.” These fossil fuel subsidies, including both federal subsidies and state subsidies, total to $20 billion annually.

That said, the renewable energy industry has also received a number of subsidies through the years (varying though different administrations and not to the level of those for the fossil fuel industry). These subsidies have contributed to substantial growth in the renewable energy sector. Eighteen percent of the United States energy needs are now provided by renewable energy. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute states that the U.S. has reduced its emissions “by about 760 million metric tons since 2005.” The increase in renewable energy usage has contributed significantly to that reduction.

These subsidies for renewable energy There are also other benefits to renewable energy subsidies. Quartz Media reported that “the fossil fuels not burnt because of wind and solar energy helped avoid between 3,000 and 12,700 premature deaths in the US between 2007 and 2015” and that “the US saved between $35 billion and $220 billion in that period because of avoided deaths, fewer sick days, and climate-change mitigation.” 

Incentives need to reflect economic activities that will help the environment, Americans, and the world, not harm them.

Get the Penalties Right

While incentives are important for companies that are working to help the environment, it is equally important to include penalties for companies that are harming the environment.

Most Americans are familiar with the largest oil spills in the United States like the BP oil spill, also called the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in 2010. However, large spills that get covered in the news are only a portion of the problem. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, excluding the BP oil spill, 287,416 barrels of oil (or 12 million gallons of oil) were spilled in the U.S. between 1964 and 2015. That equals over two hundred thousand gallons of oil a year. The BP oil spill added another 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled, totaling over two hundred million gallons of oil. (There are 42 gallons of oil in a barrel.)

A number of news organizations reported in 2015 that BP would pay more than $20 billion in settlement claims as punishment for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Justice Department called the settlement historic and quoted Attorney General Loretta Lynch in saying “Building on prior actions against BP and its subsidiaries by the Department of Justice, this historic resolution is a strong and fitting response to the worst environmental disaster in American history…BP is receiving the punishment it deserves, while also providing critical compensation for the injuries it caused to the environment and the economy of the Gulf region.”

However, when you dig deeper into that settlement, that “historic” amount of money isn’t so large when you take into account U.S. tax laws that allow corporations to write off natural resource damage payments, restoration, and reimbursement of government costs. Forbes reports that ultimately “BP should be able to deduct the vast majority, a whopping $15.3 billion, on its U.S. tax return. That means American taxpayers are contributing quite a lot to this settlement, whether they know it or not.”

In other cases, companies are given penalties that can be considered negligible when their annual earnings are taken into account. The Real News reports that “In the last 12 years, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, who manage one of the largest petroleum pipeline networks in the U.S., has had 61 incidents… including recent spill of 42,000 gallons of diesel. In the same week they had to pay A fine of three hundred thousand dollars for another spill last year.” In reference to this three hundred thousand dollar fine, Sierra Club’s Jodi Perras pointed out that Marathon is “a 13.8 billion dollar company…. they will expect to have a 330 million dollar profit this year. And so they are paying $335,000 for that spill in 2016. That’s pennies to a company like that.” Ultimately, Marathon Petroleum Corporation is being fined 0.1% of their annual profits.

Penalties should be large enough to encourage constructive steps towards reducing future accidents and harm to the environment, and when they are large enough, the burden to pay them should be placed on the company, not taxpayers.

Seven Truths About Immigration

1. A record high of 75 percent of Americans now say immigration is a “good thing” for the country.

2. America needs more immigrants, not fewer, because our population is rapidly aging.

3. Historically, new immigrants have contributed more to society in taxes than they have taken from society in terms of public assistance.



4. Most immigrants don’t take jobs away from native-born Americans. To the contrary, their spending creates more jobs.

5. Trump’s claim that undocumented immigrants generate more crime is dead wrong. Both legal and undocumented immigrants are significantly less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.

6. Violent crime rates in America are actually at historical lows, with the homicide rate back to its level from the early 1960s.

7. Illegal border crossings have been declining since 2014 – long before Trump’s “crackdown.” There is no “surge” in illegal immigration.

Please spread the truth.

America Is Falling Far Behind On Key World Goals

The idea of sustainable development is that every nation (and local community) should aim for a triple bottom line: economic prosperity, social justice and environmental sustainability. However, many of our politicians have never warmed to the idea. The business of America, after all, is business, or so goes the dangerous view of the Washington lobbyists. Yet America is paying a high and rising price for neglecting social and environmental objectives.

We must urgently hope that America’s flashing-red danger signs — falling life expectancy, rising suicide rates, stagnant or falling subjective well-being, major epidemics of opioids, depression, obesity and record losses from climate-related disasters – will soon trigger a change of course in the United States toward social justice and honesty in government.

And if we need any more convincing, two new studies point to the urgency of taking action.

This week my colleagues and I at the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Bertelsmann Foundation published the 2018 Sustainable Development Goal Index. This index measures the progress of each nation toward the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted in 2015 by all 193 UN member states as a road map for the period 2016-2030. These goals range from ending poverty (SDG 1) and hunger (SDG 2) to improving the quality of education (SDG 4) to reducing inequality (SDG 10) to protecting the environment (SDGs 11-15), and more.

Sweden, Denmark and Finland are ranked first, second and third this year, respectively, indicating they are the three countries closest to achieving the 17 SDGs. Among the 35 high-income countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States, alas, placed no better than 29th.

There is an added reason for concern for the United States. If we compare the rankings on the SDG Index with those of happiness reported in the recent 2018 World Happiness Report, we find a strong relationship. Countries that rank high on the SDGs also rank high on happiness. Six countries are in the Top 10 of both rankings (Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Sweden). The United States, on the other hand, ranks a rather depressing 18th on the happiness chart, far behind the leading countries.

What’s worse, the US happiness ranking has been falling over the years.

The United States ranks so low on the SDG Index, in particular, because the US political and economic framework — including hostility to labor unions, tax cuts for the rich, weak pollution control and a limited social safety net — put the emphasis on economic growth over social fairness and environmental protection. While sustainable development is supposed to rest on three legs — economic, social and environmental — the US economy teeters precariously on just the economic leg, ready to tumble down in social conflict and environmental mayhem.

The SDG index records the bad news. Consider the social goals. On SDG 5, the goal of promoting gender equality, the United States ranks 23rd out of the 35 OECD countries. On SDG 10, the goal of reducing income equality, the United States ranks a dismal 31 of 35 OECD countries. And on SDG 16, the goal of promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, it ranks a lowly 26 of 35 OECD countries.

The United States similarly ranks low on environmental sustainability. Most disastrously, on SDG 13, the goal to limit human-caused global warming, the United States ranks a dreadful 33 out of 35 OECD countries. The US economy emits around 16 tons of carbon dioxide per person each year, just about the highest CO2 emissions rate in the world. With Donald Trump aggressively promoting even more fracking and oil drilling, not to mention subsidizing the coal sector, America’s environmental standing is likely to fall even further in the coming years.

The SDG Index is also designed to measure the indirect “spillover” damage that the United States and some other (mainly rich) countries are causing through international trade and finance. For example, when US consumers buy industrial products from China’s polluting industries, the SDG Index attributes some of the pollution to the US consumers. And when the US consumers purchase overseas farm products, the SDG index records the pollution associated with the fertilizers used in the overseas farm production.

There are also other less obvious negative spillovers included in the index. The United States and other arms exporters are given demerits in the index since the arms exports may contribute to future armed conflicts. Also, the United States and some other nations (such as the United Kingdom) are scored lower for making it easy for overseas wealth-holders to avoid taxes in their home countries by stashing the money in private low-tax accounts in the United States and other tax havens.

For the first time, the report measures not only progress toward the SDGs but also the efforts by governments to achieve the SDGs. For the largest 20 economies (the so-called G20 countries), governments are evaluated on their commitment to the SDGs: Are top officials speaking about the SDGs? Is the nation’s statistical agency measuring SDG progress? Is the government adopting policies and plans to achieve the SDGs? Most of the G20 governments are indeed making SDG-based plans. Not so the Trump administration, which has utterly ignored the SDGs. The US government ranks dead last among the G20 countries on SDG effort.

While our national politics are not yet moving in that direction, there are new initiatives at the state and local level in many parts of the nation — for example, New York City’s bold adoption of the SDG framework. The lessons from around the world are clear: Sustainable development, rather than the ruthless pursuit of economic growth at any cost, is the true path to greater well-being on a lasting basis.

Renewable Energy Around The World

The United States is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world and we have been a leader in so many ways across different generations. However, when it comes to climate science and renewable energy we are falling behind other countries who have taken the leadership and initiative to move towards 100% renewable energy.

Achieving 100% renewable energy is possible and plausible for the United States of America.

Many other developed nations have almost completely incorporated renewable energy into their economies and have been able to power their entire countries for substantial amounts of time solely on these methods. Others are moving in that direction and achieving small steps – a day, a month, an industry, solely relying on renewable energy.

Here are some renewable energy leaders leaders around the world:

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been a world leader in renewable energy for years. In 2015, Costa Rica ran on 100% renewable energy for 285 days, and on 100% renewable energy for 250 days in 2016. According to The Costa Rica News, in 2017, “Costa Rica achieved the admirable 300-day in a row mark in which its electric system operated with exclusively renewable sources, mainly [hydroelectric], besides the production of renewable energy covered 99.62% of the electricity needs of the country. A mark that also exceeds the records of 2015 and 2016.” Costa Rica does this through relying heavily on hydroelectric power, wind energy, geothermal energy, and small amounts of solar energy and biomass. This commitment to renewable energy has, according to the Costa Rica News “turned Costa Rica into the largest producer of clean energy from all of Central America and the Caribbean.”


Almost 100% of all energy consumed on Iceland is renewable energy. The UN describes that in addition, “9 out of every 10 houses are heated directly with geothermal energy.” Iceland meets it energy needs largely through hydroelectric and geothermal sources. The UN acknowledges that the only exception to Iceland’s pervasive use of renewable energy is its reliance on fossil fuels for transport. The UN describes that Iceland’s move from fossil fuels to renewable energy was not inspired by climate change, instead, “The drive behind this transition was simple—Iceland could not sustain oil price fluctuations occurring due to a number of crises affecting world energy markets. …[and] for its isolated location on the edge of the Arctic Circle.” To rectify this issue, Iceland hired local businesses and entrepreneurs to shift energy reliance from foreign providers to internal sources. The Icelandic government also creates policies to encourage this shift: “To further incentivize geothermal energy utilization, the Government of Iceland established a geothermal drilling mitigation fund in the late 1960s. The fund loaned money for geothermal research and test drilling, while providing cost recovery for failed projects. The established legal framework also made it attractive for households to connect to the new geothermal district-heating network rather than to continue using fossil fuels.” The UN describes that these projects also diversified the economy, created jobs, and established a nationwide power grid.


“In Norway, 98 percent of the electricity production come from renewable energy sources,” according to the Norwegian government. The vast majority of Norway’s renewable energy comes from hydropower, an industry that has been growing in Norway since the 1800s. However, wind and thermal energy also contribute. Unlike many other countries, the Norwegian government explains that 90 % Norwegian energy production is owned by the state, counties, and municipalities “to secure a role for the Norwegian state in the ongoing electrification of the country, and ensure that the hydropower resources would benefit the nation as a whole.”


In March of 2018, Portugal produced 103.6% of the energy required to meet the country’s electrical demand. According to NPR, “Fifty-five percent of that energy was produced through hydro power, while 42 percent came from wind.” Based on this success, Portugal expects that by the year 2040 that “the production of renewable electricity will be able to guarantee, in a cost-effective way, the total annual electricity consumption of Mainland Portugal.”


In January of 2018, Germany briefly covered 100% of its energy demand through renewable energy. In addition, according to Clean Energy Wire, last year “In the whole of last year, the world’s fourth largest economy produced a record 36.1 percent of its total power needs with renewable sources.” Due to the growing presence of renewable energy in Germany, there are now days when Germany generates half of its power from the sun.

While powering a country with 90% to 100% renewable energy might seem a daunting task for larger economies, many other foreign governments have invested in making certain aspects of their economy run entirely on renewable energy, or have focused on specific areas of the country, setting reasonable (and achievable) goals that will serve as test cases for later expansion of renewable energy. Some of these countries include:


In July of 2017 the Chinese announced that Qinghai Province—a territory the size of Texas—had gone a week relying on 100% renewable energy including solar, wind, and hydropower. During that week, Business Insider reports that “the Qinghai province generated 1.1 billion kilowatt hours of energy for over 5.6 million residents. That’s equal to burning 535,000 tons of coal.” This week period was a test by the Chinese government to test the viability of relying on renewables long-term. Ultimately, “China hopes to produce 20% of its electricity from clean sources by 2030.”

About the same time the Chinese released aerial photos of their newest giant solar farm—which seen from above depicts a cheerful black-and-white panda. Business Insider reports that, “it will be able to produce 3.2 billion kilowatt-hours of solar energy in 25 years… reducing carbon emissions by 2.74 million tons.”


On April 21st2017, Great Britain managed to meet its power demands without burning a lump of coal for the first time since the launch of the Industrial Revolution. This is one small step towards a transition away from fossil fuels to meet Great Britain’s climate change commitments. The Guardian reports that, Hannah Martin, the head of energy at Greenpeace UK, described this milestone as part of a much larger movement: “The first day without coal in Britain since the Industrial Revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition. A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years’ time our energy system will have radically transformed again.”


In 2015 Holland set a goal to power all Dutch electric trains with wind energy by 2018. By January of 2017, that goal had been met. According to The Guardian, Holland met their goal a year ahead of schedule due to, “an increase in the number of wind farms across the country and off the coast of the Netherlands.”


Solar production has grown six-fold since 2014 in Chile. In fact, the New York Times reported that “Chilean officials have an even more ambitious projection, saying the country is on track to rely on clean sources for 90 percent of its electricity needs by 2050, up from the current 45 percent.” The initial movement to renewable energy sources was largely due to the high cost and uncertainty of energy supply when that energy was provided by outside sources. In addition, due to severe weather events that have made hydropower plants less reliable in Chile, the government has turned to more varied sources including wind, solar, and geothermal energy sources.


The largest coal mining company in the world (which produces 82% of India’s coal), announced the closure of dozens of coal mines and the cancellation of plans for dozens of new coal-fired generation stations because the cost of solar power was significantly undercutting fossil fuel. The Independent describes that “India’s solar sector has received heavy international investment, and the plummeting price of solar electricity has increased pressure on fossil fuel companies in the country.” The Independent also reports that “The government has announced it will not build any more coal plants after 2022 and predicts renewables will generate 57 per cent of its power by 2027.”

The United States

Governmental steps taken to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and to move towards a clean and green future are not solely happening outside of the United States. Fortune reports that “Eighteen percent of all electricity in the United States was produced by renewable sources in 2017, including solar, wind, and hydroelectric dams. That’s up from 15% in 2016.” Since 2008, renewable share of energy consumption has doubled. This is largely due to market forces that are responding to the dropping price of solar and wind energy. Fortune also points out that “the solar and wind industries are creating jobs faster than the rest of the economy.”

Many cities and states are, in fact, far outpacing the rest of the United States and have taken even greater steps towards 100% renewable energy. Below are two examples:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

In June of 2017, President Trump announced that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement citing that he was elected by the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris. In response, the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto responded in a press release that “Pittsburgh will not only heed the guidelines of the Paris Agreement — we will work to move towards 100 percent clean and renewable energy for our future, our economy, and our people.”

Since June of last year, Mayor Peduto have taken steps to make that goal a reality. On April 5th of 2018, 180 U.S. Mayors including Mayor Peduto signed a letter resolving to make solar power a key element in their renewable energy plans. A press release quoted Mayor Peduto: “Solar power is a key component of advancing Pittsburgh’s clean energy transition. We have numerous assets that can provide as the launching point for solar generation in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania, from parking lots to rooftops. Increasing the amount of locally generated solar power helps reduce carbon pollution, clean our air and provide a resilient, sustainable and cost-effective electricity.”

The next month, Pittsburg released its Climate Action Plan that establishes a goal for 100% renewable energy, and 100% fossil fuel free by 2030 as well as complete divestment from the fossil fuel industry.


Cities are not the only entities in the United States that are working towards 100% renewable energy. Hawaii is an example of an entire state that is working toward that goal.

In 2008 Hawaii and the Department of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) “to collaborate on the reduction of Hawaii’s heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels.” The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative was begun by that agreement.  In 2014, the initial goals were renewed and upgraded to include:

  • Achieving the nation’s first-ever 100 percent renewable portfolio standards (RPS) by the year 2045.
  • Reducing electricity consumption by 4,300 gigawatt-hours by 2030, enough electricity to power every home on Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii Island for more than two years.
  • Reducing petroleum use in Hawaii’s transportation sector which accounts for two-thirds of the state’s overall energy usage.

In July of 2017, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission approved an official plan put forward by Hawaiian Electric Companies that laid out exactly how Hawaii would achieve 100% renewable energy by 2040 (five years ahead of the goal.)

Hawaii serves as a reminder that states too can make significant headway towards the goal of 100% renewable energy. Progress is possible and is happening, if slowly.

If you would like to know more about how your state can move towards 100% renewables based on scientific studies that have analyzed the renewable energy potential in each area, visit The Solutions Project website.

A list of cities, counties, and states committed to, or that have achieved 100% renewable energy can also be found here.

Real Border Security Comes From A Moral Foreign Policy

The horrific accounts of immigrant families being torn apart have inspired ordinary Americans to take to the streets, calling for an end to the Trump Administration’s cruel detention policies. But while President Trump’s recent actions have led to shockingly brutal child incarceration, mass arrests, and the criminalization of immigrants, the issues that push desperate migrants and refugees to our borders span many decades. Progressives must seize this historic moment to tackle the United States’ long-dysfunctional relationship with its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors and build new, more perfect ties.

Half a century ago, Martin Luther King Jr. argued that “a true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.” Turning to the Western Hemisphere, King said, “It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, ‘This is not just.’” The time is now for such a revolution: By decisively breaking with long-standing US policy, we can ease the violence and misery south of our borders, so that people may finally lead dignified lives in stable communities throughout the Americas.

Indeed, look at the 1980s, when military dictatorships and right-wing militias in Central America—armed, trained, and continuously backed by the United States—killed hundreds of thousands of people across El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, sparked a wave of migration into the United States. Or look at the pro-corporate North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which displaced millions of Mexicans in the agricultural sector, entrenching poverty, and contributing to a surge in Mexican emigration into the United States. The Trump administration’s decision to end protections for tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants is only the latest blow to a country that had already suffered two US-backed overthrows of its elected governments in a 13-year span. And in Honduras, a leading source of unaccompanied child refugees today, it was the United States that helped ensure the success of a violent military coup against the elected president, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009, unleashing a flood of repression and displacement.

This largely unbroken pattern of imperial behavior is now threatening to plunge Latin America’s largest country, Brazil, into chaos. US policy has contributed to a right-wing assault on democracy there, leading to the unconstitutional ousting of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. What has followed—the assassination of prominent Afro-Brazilian city councilor Marielle Franco in March of this year, and the current imprisonment of the popular former president Lula da Silva (widely seen as an attempt to prevent him from running in upcoming elections, which polls show he would win by a large margin)—flies in the face of human rights and US interests.

A progressive vision for the hemisphere, then, must first end any US military support for repressive governments throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Second, as President Trump has blithely entertained a “military option” for Venezuela, we must stop the pursuit of interventionism and regime change against governments that Washington dislikes, and instead support peaceful negotiations. Finally, a humane hemispheric policy must also overhaul the corporate-dominated trade and investment pacts that rob nations of their economic agency. On Capitol Hill and throughout Latin America, the beginnings of that moral revolution articulated by Martin Luther King Jr. are finally emerging.

In the wake of Mexico’s historic election of left-of-center candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, for example, the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus applauded his vision for international relationships that depart from “war and hegemony.” The largest values-based caucus among House Democrats vowed to advance principles of mutual respect as the basis for working with Mexico’s incoming administration to end the refugee crisis, the hyper-militarization of law enforcement, and the senseless war on drugs.

Seventy House Democrats have paid tribute to the slain Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres by co-sponsoring the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act. In a break with typical US policy toward Central America, this bill would suspend all US security assistance to the country’s military and police forces until their impunity ends, and the rights of trade unionists, journalists, human-rights defenders, LGBTQ activists, and Afro-Indigenous communities are protected.

Rather than retreating into isolationism, progressives are proposing an overhaul of the rules of investment throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Robust and binding labor and environmental standards to raise wages and end outsourcing; a transparent and democratic process for developing trade policy; an end to secretive legal privileges and anti-democratic tribunals for big corporations enshrined in deals such as NAFTA; and investments for underprivileged communities across our countries can pave the way for genuine economic cooperation that prioritizes working people and the protection of the natural resources on which they depend.

There is no question that the images of children suffering in our detention centers demand that we challenge this administration’s abusive policies. But it should also inspire us to reflect on how to heal the massive dislocation and economic inequality that have plagued Latin America and the Caribbean, and strengthen our resolve to build a more equitable world in the 21st century. By leading us away from a current policy of US hemispheric control, progressives are creating a desperately needed alternative: an American leadership worthy of our highest ideals—one that advances our own sovereignty while respecting that of our neighbors, and which promotes genuine security for our peoples.

The Climate Crisis

There is ample evidence that climate change is happening. 97% of scientists believe not only that climate change is happening, but that humans are causing climate change.

The National Climate Assessment is a report compiled by over 300 experts guided by the Federal Advisory Committee. Below are some of the key facts that that report uses to demonstrate climate change’s existence:

Global Temperatures are Rising

One of the key aspects of climate change is global warming. While this might not feel like the case during especially cold days of winter, it is unequivocally true. The last three years: 2017, 2016, and 2015 have been the three hottest years on record.  The organization Climate Central also points out that “The five warmest years in the global record have all come in the 2010s. The 10 warmest years on record have all come since 1998, [and] The 20 warmest years on record have all come since 1995.”

Looking beyond the last 20 years, the National Climate Assessment shows that in each successive decade since 1930, the average global temperature has increased. The 1980s were the warmest decade on record, surpassed by the 1990s, surpassed by the 2000s.


Temperature Rise

As a result of this warming, and to further demonstrate its existence, the National Climate Assessment points out that the following is also true:

  • Snow and ice cover has decreased in most areas with the most drastic reductions at the poles. In fact, minimum arctic sea ice (usually during September) has decreased by more than 40%. NCA states that “This decline is unprecedented in the historical record, and the reduction of ice volume and thickness is even greater.”
  • Sea level is increasing because as water warms it expands and melting ice and icecaps adds water to the oceans.
  • Atmospheric water vapor is increasing because warmer air can hold more water.

Extreme heatwaves and heavy precipitation events (storms, hurricanes, etc.) have become more frequent.

Increases in Greenhouse Gasses Are Driving This Increase in Temperature

The cause of this warming is also unequivocal. As the concentration of C02 increases in the atmosphere, the global temperature increases.


Temp and CO2


Note: The NCA states that “Red bars show temperatures above the long-term average, and blue bars indicate temperatures below the long-term average. The black line shows atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in parts per million (ppm). While there is a clear long-term global warming trend, some years do not show a temperature increase relative to the previous year, and some years show greater changes than others. These year-to-year fluctuations in temperature are due to natural processes, such as the effects of El Niños, La Niñas, and volcanic eruptions. (Figure source: updated from Karl et al. 2009).”

While it is true that the climate has changed in the past due to natural factors, natural factors alone cannot explain the speed of temperature increase and global changes that we are experiencing now. In fact, research indicated that if we only looked at natural factors, the earth should be entering a global cooling stage. However, there is ample evidence that the opposite is true.

NCA explains that, “Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, humans have been increasingly affecting global climate, to the point where we are now the primary cause of recent and projected future change. The majority of the warming at the global scale over the past 50 years can only be explained by the effects of human influences, especially the emissions from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) and from deforestation.”