Government declaring “a climate emergency”: a thought experiment

Today, I received an email from a local climate group urging me to support “Build Back Fossil Free.” It included two documents — links follow. One urged recipients to call President Biden and urge him to (1) Declare a climate emergency, (2) Ban new fossil fuel leasing on public land and waters, (3) Use the Defense Production Act to scale up renewables. This is my response.

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Has anyone taken the time to think about what would happen if a climate “emergency” were declared by the federal government?

When governments declare an “emergency,” they suspend the usual rights and protections provided for by their constitutions.  For example, recently in Canada, Justin Trudeau declared an “emergency” regarding the trucker protests.  As a result, the bank accounts and financial assets of Canadians across the country were frozen — often just for donating a small sum to the organizers of the protest.  Because it was an “emergency” action, there was no court, no trial, no hearing involved in this process.  Those who were affected have no recourse of action under the law to fight or challenge what happened.  (I have not been following the story closely in the past 3 weeks, so I don’t know if these accounts are still frozen or not.)  

During emergencies, governments perpetrate injustices.
During WWII, thousands of Americans of Japanese descent were herded off into detention camps.  This was unjust — but it was an emergency, and it happened.  After 9/11, the US used false (and very tenuous) pretexts of “weapons of mass destruction” to engage in a war of aggression against the nation of Iraq.  (But it was an emergency — we were attacked!  Oh, but not by Iraq, and not by Saddam Hussein.)  Likewise, following 9/11 we ended up with the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 as well as Section 1021 of the Defense Authorization Act which ” permits the U.S. military to detain citizens in military facilities, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely”  (see  Chris Hedges and the other plaintiffs lost in “Clapper v. Amnesty International, which challenged the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. This act authorizes surveillance without a showing, or probable cause, that a targeted person is an agent of a foreign power. ”  With the revelations of Edward Snowden, we later found out that that the plaintiffs were correct, that the government was conducting mass surveillance of, essentially, everyone.  
I’m all for individuals recognizing that there is “a climate emergency” and changing their behavior and spending accordingly.  I cannot support a government declaring “a climate emergency” — and then using it to mandate rules that are unjust and fall upon the populace unfairly.
I fully support banning new fossil fuel leases — and I support the protection of water from pollution due to fossil fuel extraction and transport.  However, considering that we have elected to no longer purchase fossil fuel from Russia, that is already putting a huge amount of pressure on the government to ease regulations regarding domestic fossil fuel production.
I do not think that it is appropriate to use the Defense Production Act to scale up renewables.  Our government has a habit of using laws to do things for which they were never originally intended, and this is problematic.  If we want any level of government to have a hand in scaling up renewables, then the legislature of that government should draft and pass a law doing just that.  That is the proper way to conduct government.  
Additionally, we don’t currently have the technology to adequately utilize the renewables that we already have.  The current solar panels in the Phoenix Metro Area are lead to an insufficiency in power in the late afternoon, early evening during the hot summer months — right now, this insufficiency has to be plugged by aged natural gas plants that take hours to “warm up” and have to be burning natural gas and “warming up” nearly all day, just so that they can fill the gap in the late afternoon hours.  (Newer natural gas plants use a different technology which enables them to fire up rapidly, therefore doing a better job of plugging the gap that solar creates — and using less natural gas in the process.  But the Earth Justice Ministry is trying to stop the implementation of these newer natural gas plants!)  The alternative would be some sort of battery technology to fill in the gap — but lithium batteries would be too large, require too many resources to create them for this task in the first place.  (Although, utilizing the lithium batteries already in electric cars for this purpose has some merit.  Likewise, “whole-house batteries” — but such batteries would need to be non-polluting — i.e. not made of lithium, perhaps the salt-water type.)  There are theories of other methods that could be used, but none have yet been practically created.  (Such as: large-scale salt water batteries, pumping air into salt caverns, a double-dam system — but such a system would have to be built, and I don’t believe that we have the correct topology for this in AZ.)  

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