About Our Guest
Jonathan Z. Cannon is the Blaine T. Phillips
Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Virginia School of
Law where he is Director of the Law School’s Environmental and Land Use Law
Program. Professor Cannon joined the law faculty in 1998 from the Environmental
Protection Agency where he served as general counsel between 1995 and ’98 and
Assistant Administrator for Administration and Resources Management between 1992
and ’95. Professor Cannon teaches Environmental and Energy Law, Land Use Law and
Conservation Planning and Law. He has written widely on institutional design for
programs as diverse as the Chesapeake Bay Restoration and Superfund, the cultural
significance of the Supreme Court’s environmental decisions and on the future of the
Environmental Movement. He has authored Environment in the Balance: The Green
Movement and the Supreme Court, published in 2015 by Harvard University Press.
John Cannon serves on the Board of Directors of the Environmental Law Institute and
on the Advisory Board of the Policy Integrity Institute. He received a BA from Williams
College in 1967 and a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1974.
Jan Paynter: Hello. I’m Jan Paynter and I would like to welcome you once again to our program Politics Matters. Today we are so pleased to welcome back as our guest UVA Law Professor Jonathan Cannon to discuss the history and future of the American Environmental Movement. Welcome back, John.
Jonathan Cannon: Thanks, Jan. I’m very happy to be here.
Jan Paynter: John, what do you see as the end result if the U.S. does not move in support of the Paris Agreement on Climate?
Jonathan Cannon: Well, I believe that the Paris Agreement is a very important agreement. It’s a first step towards serious international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately to stabilize them at levels that are sustainable. So the new Administration has said or at least made some statements that would lead one to believe that we may be about to check out of the Paris Agreement or not honor it. I think that would be a mistake and it’s also, like the rulemaking we just talked about, it’s also subject to some procedural requirements. Under the existing Paris Agreement, no country that is currently a party, and we are a party, may withdraw from the agreement before three years. And even after…at the end of three years, a notice of intent to withdraw is submitted, there’s another year during which the country will remain a party to the agreement before it actually can exit. So technically we couldn’t exit the agreement before the next presidential election.
Jan Paynter: That’s fascinating and not widely known.
Jonathan Cannon: Well, it’s just a feature of the agreement. Now, we could decide just as a political matter to say we don’t like the agreement or we don’t want to be part of it, we could say we’re not going to do anything to implement it, there’s no legal machinery in the agreement to compel us to do anything but technically we will be a party to the agreement for at least the next four years.
Jan Paynter: In January, John, you weighed in at Think Progress to discuss the new legal analysis published which finds that the climate…the Paris Climate Agreement unlocks a Clean Air Act provision, actually Section 115, that lends broad authority to utilize market based mechanisms to reduce nationwide carbon pollution. What do you think will happen now if the U.S. withdraws from the agreement that we’ve been discussing and what might be the fate of this idea under Pruitt, in your view?
Jonathan Cannon: Well, I think if the Administration continues with the policies toward climate change that it has announced, nothing will be done with this provision. The provision is a promising provision, it deals specifically with international air pollution, it provides for the United States to take measures in concert with other nations that are mutually affected by pollution across boundaries and it gives a lot of flexibility to EPA in how to implement those measures so that the EPA could establish through rulemaking a broad cap and trade scheme that would be quite cost effective in reducing emissions and reflect the corresponding measures that other countries would be taking. So I think the measure…the provision has great promise. I think that promise will go unfulfilled in the present Administration unless there is a significant change in direction.
Jan Paynter: It’s instructive to note what other countries are doing so I thought I’d mention just a few of these. China is not making an investment of $360 billion in renewable energy over the next four years and views action on climate change as a matter of national security and plans full scale emissions trading in the next three years. China has also doubled solar capacity in 2016 and funding to renewables at $292 billion by 2020. Sweden has a goal of zero emissions. India has set a renewable energy goal and Saudi Arabia is moving ahead on solar energy. So the rest of the world is really powering up on this.
Jonathan Cannon: I think some countries have taken this effort on climate change very seriously and are making huge commitments. And there are things happening in the United States as well. Within the commercial sector there are improvements in solar technology and the distribution/installation of that technology and so forth.
Jan Paynter: And it’s getting cheaper, right?
Jonathan Cannon: And it’s getting cheaper, right. So that I think these efforts collectively will have an impact and hopefully they will encourage the folks in Washington to take climate change efforts more seriously. We are…it is…climate change is a global issue, emissions in one place on the globe affect climate in the same way as other emissions on the globe so that there is no country that’s an island as to this issue. There has to be some international coordination and ultimately the United States is going to have to be a participant.
Jan Paynter: Absolutely. Polluted air does not respect boundaries between countries.
Jonathan Cannon: And particularly greenhouse gas emissions don’t.
Jan Paynter: Yes. How can the dissemination of fake news which challenges established scientific fact be countered, in your view, going forward or can it?
Jonathan Cannon: I think that’s a tough question. I’m not an expert in news or journalism but I think the proliferation of unreliable news sources or sources that are masquerading as news is perplexing. But for climate change, the issue is…has been there for some time and that’s the issue that people’s value systems filter their perception of science or truth and in the case of climate change, folks that are skeptical of government regulation, skeptical of government programs, that are strong proponents of economic growth despite externalities of that growth, those folks tend to view the climate science with suspicion, even without delving into it particularly. And folks of other persuasions, folks that, as we talked about the chair of the New Environmental Paradigm, are ready to accept the science so that until you break down that filter or begin to override that filter with other considerations, I think there’s not going to be a whole lot of progress on climate change, at least domestically. What I hope is that we get past the ideological posturing on climate change and start finding places to work together. For example in South Florida where the seas are rising, there is flooding. It’s very hard to say that’s not happening so that four counties have gotten together in Florida and created a compact to try to deal with it. And those counties are…Florida went for President Trump in the most recent election, those counties are diverse politically and yet those folks have come together with a common plan to deal and I think the more circumstances under which folks…real people in real places facing real problems can decide to work together, the more mutual understanding there will be and the more accept…whether you call it climate change or something else, there will be more acceptance of the fact that change is occurring and we need to do things to deal with it.
Jan Paynter: Yeah, if you’re affecting people’s lives directly, they’re obviously going to be more invested. We just saw that with healthcare.
Jonathan Cannon: Right. But I think the problem with climate change is that there is a moment here, we have the opportunity to get ahead of the problem or at least not fall too far behind and if we lose that opportunity, the difficulty of overcoming it at some future date is going to be much greater.
Jan Paynter: Particularly it appears that CO2 has gone down in the last three years which is encouraging.
Jonathan Cannon: That’s encouraging.
Jan Paynter: But that’s another reason not to have the boulder roll back down the hill.
Jonathan Cannon: Exactly. Right.
Jan Paynter: As you acutely observe, John, striking a balance between working to combat the effects of climate change while at the same time addressing the need for future economic growth and the expansion of industry is critical to the health of our challenged planet. In the conclusion of your book you suggest the need to find a middle way between sustainability and economic growth, and we talked about that earlier, through accommodation of perspective. How, in your judgment, can we stay true to the early environmental philosophy and the roots of environmentalism while reaching across cultural barriers in the interest of progress?
Jonathan Cannon: Well, that’s a good question and I’m not pretending to have the perfect answer but my own view is that to deal with a challenge of the magnitude of climate change is going to take not only a desire to save the planet, as we might say, but also it’s going to take technological innovation, it’s going to take the investment of capital, it’s going to take entrepreneurial skill in order to bring the technology we need to the fore and get that technology widely dispersed through the markets to make a difference. So I guess my challenge to environmentalists, at least of the more traditional mold, is to be ready to accept new technology like wind turbines or large solar arrays or even nuclear power, as we discussed earlier; begin to accept those as a necessary component of our ability to adjust and protect the larger good at stake. And I think the same with markets. Some environmentalists are very suspicious of profit oriented companies, of capitalism, if we use that term, but I think markets are going to be very important in finding solutions to climate change. My hope would be that solar or other non-fossil fuel technology would become cheap enough and widely distributed enough to solve the problem without much further effort by governments or regulators. That would be the silver bullet, if it could occur.
Jan Paynter: During the break we were talking and in that connection two budding West Virginia companies run by young men, one called Solar Holler and the other called Coalfield are attempting to persuade West Virginians to switch their energy and bring jobs to the state. It’s a little bit complicated because I think by design electricity is very cheap there so persuading people to switch is difficult but they’re very dogged about this, which I thought was exciting because as we discussed again on the break, if you get people from the region where jobs are affected to come up with solutions, they’re going to get results.
Jonathan Cannon: I agree with that and your point brings up another point that I think is important. Even if non-fossil fuel energy becomes cheaper and more competitive, even if it does ultimately become the solution to the climate change problem, I think we have to be concerned about the dislocations that that transformation will bring with it and those transformations include putting coal miners out of work in West Virginia and other places and that we need to have programs that are just and fair to deal with that problem and ameliorate those consequences.
Jan Paynter: We do because if you’re 50 years old, retraining is not an option really.
Jonathan Cannon: Right.
Jan Paynter: Something else…a couple of other things I thought were positive. Google, Apple and Facebook are now competing to reach 100 percent renewable energy goal and they say they’ll press ahead in spite of Washington. European countries have begun participating in widespread power sharing, seeking to create an international power grid. China has built the world’s biggest solar farm and scientists according to The Guardian are exploring ways, and this I find so intriguing, to refreeze the arctic cap before it melts and at [?? 13:41 Arestona] University they have a plan to put huge wind pumps on the top of the cap to pump water to the surface where it will refreeze, thickening the cap. They do note that it would be upwards of $400 billion in English pounds actually which is a lot more than American to do this but it shows the creativity and the out-of-the-box thinking that’s going on now, which potentially could be quite exciting in the future, yes?
Jonathan Cannon: Well, some of the facts you cite I think are encouraging because what it shows is that it’s more than just a few government officials who are involved in worrying about climate change policy. A lot of folks are involved, other nations are involved, but the private sector is involved, the companies that you cite and others have developed internal policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they’ve developed supply chain contracts with their suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the supply chain. There are other efforts going forward to…in the private sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are driven. Why are they driven? Because shareholders are putting pressure on management, because consumers want to know that their products are produced with minimal impact on the environment and quite apart from the political process those pressures are having an effect. There’s not a chief executive officer in a major corporation that denies the science of climate change because it would be foolish to do so.
Jan Paynter: Can the Environmental Movement develop a more pragmatic approach that enlists, as you talk about in the book, enlists allies rather than adversaries at a time when environmental regulations and EPA oversight will inevitably undergo a policy shift?
Jonathan Cannon: Well, I think, and we talked about this a little before, but I think that the Environmental Movement is well served by being more open to technological innovation, more open to activities in the private sector, private environmental governance is a term that’s sometimes used that I think is a good term to capture that kind of initiative in the private sector that’s going on and I think environmentalists also would be well served to not insist on notions of sacrifice or not insist solely on notions of sacrifice and accept instead or embrace instead notions of growth and plenty, which are important to a lot of people. We learned that in the last election. Jobs are important so there needs to be an emphasis on jobs and the creation of new economic opportunities at the same time we’re dealing with important issues like climate change.
Jan Paynter: Yeah and as we talked about earlier, we can’t make the perfect, the enemy of the good. In the book you look…examine again polarities within the Green Movement, specifically that exemplified by Gus Speth’s more radical overhaul of the economic system, which involves political and economic change and a far left liberal green progressivism and on the other side of that Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s more adaptive, contingent focus away from the politics of the aggrieved, as it’s often called, which is more in line I think with what you’re talking about.
Jonathan Cannon: It is somewhat although I have my differences with Nordhaus and Shellenberger because, at least in their early iterations, they seemed to distance themselves from the roots of the Environmental Movement, which for me and I think for many people sound in a sense of connectedness to nature to the broader world in which we live and that’s not just the material connection; it’s a spiritual, emotional, personal connection. And I think that… I think you can reconcile all that. I don’t think you need to imagine some sort of pristine nature to still enjoy being out, to still enjoy the things that happen without human beings making them happen like birds singing and foxes hunting and the other joyous things that happen in the world. And I think that remains a part, at least for me, a part of an environmental ethic. But I think you can combine that with a more pragmatic sense of what’s necessary to deal with the world as we find it, including our role in it and our role is a dominant role. We are changing nature and we’re going to go on changing nature so how do we moderate that and direct that and control that in a way that gives us the kind of life that is really rich and deep for us?
Jan Paynter: There’s an interesting passage in your book in which you reference Mark Lynas and his book The God Species on the need for man to become an intelligent designer and use that mastery from the paradigm in the service of preserving the planet, which I think is very fascinating because you can argue that the planet at large now is effectively a mixed use planet.
Jonathan Cannon: It is a mixed use planet and human influence is everywhere. My reaction to that is we are masters but we need to be humble masters and I go back to the Pope’s encyclical where he stresses humility and respect and reverence for nature. At the same time he recognizes that we have technology and we have economic systems and we have human needs that need to be satisfied.
Jan Paynter: I believe the planet will humble us if we do not pay attention. We’re already seeing it.
Jonathan Cannon: I think that is a fair prediction.
Jan Paynter: What I found so fascinating about your book, John, is the manner in which you explore history, Supreme Court decisions and culture complexities embedded in the Environmental Movement and the countervailing forces. Your thoughtful discussion serves as a powerful lens through which to explore every aspect of what it means to be American and indeed human. So your argument really broadens out and I was quite affected by it. You allowed me to think about the individual Supreme Court Justices, again being careful as a microcosm of the American people and all their heterogeneity and at times maddening complexity; all the messy, individualistic and collectivist impulses inhabit your comprehensive analysis and I did feel myself in the thick of battle as I was reading it. All of us grow up hearing about the land of the free, the fruited plain, the spacious skies, the notion of the land rings in our ears from the time we’re children and yet we respond to the land in such different and very complex ways as we’ve explored today but still in the end, we must find ways to thrive and share in and protect the land if we wish to remain. And I thought your book was a wonderfully thoughtful, thoroughgoing, immensely scholarly window into these issues and I thank you for writing this book.
Jonathan Cannon: Well, thank you for those wonderful comments. I really appreciate it.
Jan Paynter: John, thank you so much for so generously giving of your time to do this three part series. It’s going to be a great learning experience for our viewers.
Jonathan Cannon: Well, thanks very much for the opportunity to come and share my thoughts with you. It’s been delightful.
Jan Paynter: I want to make note of something that was reported in The Guardian as we tape this. PBS has been the only network consistently reporting on climate change. Media Matters for America has recently published its annual review of American evening newscast coverage and the results are stunning. They state that in 2016 evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, Fox News and Fox News Sunday collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared with 2015. They go on to report that in all of 2016 these programs just mentioned spent a combined total of 50 minutes talking about climate change. They further note that climate change was rarely discussed in the primaries and the debates and never in the general election debates. Media Matters states that on Sunday news programs Bernie Sanders brought up climate change four times more often than the program hosts. PBS was an oasis in a desert of climate change coverage. They report that the PBS NewsHour was the only program that examined what impact either a Trump or Clinton presidency would have on climate related issues and policies prior to the election. The PBS news program, they note, aired more than twice the number of climate change segments compared to any other network competitor and interviewed or quoted three times more scientists than CBS Evening News. And of course, the present Administration is reportedly intent on eventually removing all funding from PBS, which is something that we might all wish to make our thoughts known about by contacting elected representatives at both the state and national level. Media Matters also has a petition, which you may sign online, asking Congress to continue to preserve Public Broadcasting. I began Politics Matters eight years ago with the idea that principal political involvement is a noble and achievable goal, that many among us live this truth every day through the lives they lead and the professions they pursue. We wanted to hear from these people and learn their stories to find out what animates their commitment to public service, whether at local, state or national level. In our mission statement I noted that when you speak with people from other countries around the world, what is strikingly clear is the hope that the word America always embodies. At this critical moment in our history, that hope is well worth preserving. Together we can make our voices heard. How and what we collectively decide will continue to define what is meant by the word American. This will be Politics Matters last three programs. Writing and producing for WVPT Public Television has been a privilege and the station has been the most supportive of partners, giving us free rein to pursue topics that we felt important for your consideration each month. I want to especially thank Tony Mancari, Chris Sease, Melissa [?? 24:51 Lisi??] and David Mullens for their enthusiasm and support for the program throughout our years at WVPT. I would also like to thank Mike Silverman, our director, for his dedication and professionalism. Many thanks also to everyone who’s worked on our crew since 2009. I shall really miss working on the program but I am very excited about returning to life as a full time writer. Thank you at home for allowing us to join you each month on Sunday. If you would like more information concerning the topic of today’s discussion, take a look at our website at politicsmatters.org. We have posted a number of books, articles and links on many of the issues covered by our programs there for you. You will also find a complete archive of prior Politics Matters programs in their entirety. The programs can also be viewed on WVPT’s great video archive. We will air the programs on WVPT on the second and last Sunday of the month at 11:30 am as usual. Thank you for the pleasure of your company. I’m Jan Paynter and this is Politics Matters.