The head of the SA Manufacturers Association is riding high on climate denial. And some San Antonio Council members have a serious contact high.
Were it but a joke.
The head of the SA Manufacturers Association, an unabashed critic of the San Antonio’s draft Climate Action & Adaptation Plan (CAAP) (PDF), was frustrated. He needed someone or someones to vent to. He chose D10 Councilmember Clayton Perry and D8’s Manny Pelaez, who Rey Chavez called “the only ones I can speak my piece to.”
He’d already hinted at conspiracy at an open forum on the CAAP hosted by CPS Energy when he warned of “personal agendas” he claimed were animating the plan. But the email he sent, quickly published by Brendan Gibbons at the Rivard Report, put Chavez’s conspiratorial bent on full display.
In a lengthy dispatch, he warns about the “hysteria of Green Plans,” insisting that claims surrounding the existential threat posed by global warming are “BS,” and linking out to a series of online articles and videos, even though he recognized they didn’t fit the “narrative” of “environmentalist [sic]” and “some in our city.”
Read the full email:
As telling as the email is about Chavez’s motivating influences, the responses from both Perry and Pelaez are also revealing, demonstrating agreement with, or toleration of, dangerous climate denial in high places.
Back in 2017, when the San Antonio City Council agreed to stand with the world in seeking to limit global warming by “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, Perry was the lone holdout. Pelaez was absent.
Perry asked for time to personally research the issue of climate change. “I want to be educated,” he said at the time. “I have a lot of questions about climate change. And I think it’s important to do that research.”
In a February 27, 2019, exchange with Chavez he was more open about his actual position on the matter.
“Yes,” Perry responded to Chavez’s conspiracy email. “I get the feeling that many are following blindly down the Paris Climate Accord path. … I don’t know for sure but I think many on Council are complicit with what’s going on—I am not.”
It is not clear whether Perry is speaking of complicity in adoption of the local climate plan or the broader global conspiracy that Chavez hints at. Perry’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on his position on the CAAP and climate science.
Pelaez, who claims to embrace the fundamental tenets of climate science (that the earth is warming and humans are to blame), chided Chavez in public. At a February meeting of the Council’s Health & Equity Committee, he called it a “strange email” and “very, very odd.” He chuckled about its claims the Vladimir Putin is funding “all the hippie dippies who are pushing these plans.”
“So if you’ve got Vladimir Putin money,” he chuckled, “I’d like a piece of that.”
The invitation of Putin cash seemed a direct echo of President Trump’s infamous invitation to Russia to hack emails of his then-rival Hillary Clinton.
But behind the scenes Pelaez turned to flattery to get right with the head of a few influential manufacturers. Faced with a texted query from Chavez a few days later, Pelaez called the email “visceral and quite powerful,” adding: “It’s refreshing to see real expressions of authentic sentiments.”
Chavez’s views on established climate science is troubling. The fact that Perry and Pelaez refuse to call it out as an extremist position so far outside the scientific mainstream as to be dangerous is doubly so.
There’s a general rule of thumb when snubbing your nose at a majority opinion (a mild characterization of the state of climate science): Bring your A game.
So what the fuck is Chavez reading?
One would expect Chavez to bring something solid, perhaps peer-reviewed research findings able to overturn the fundamental assumptions of the National Academy of Science, NASA, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society (etc, etc, etc)?
Not quite. His links all originate with a young online media outlet called The Western Journal, the mission of which is to provide “an alternative for readers fed up with the overt politicization of establishment media outlets.”
The site’s mission statement elaborates on its very particular editorial slant:
The Western Journal upholds traditional Christian values as articulated in the Bible. These values include beliefs in original sin, the fallen nature of man, the exclusivity of Christ, the need for government to restrain men from injuring each other, the fundamental value of every human life — including the unborn, a rejection of racism in all forms and the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. Politically, The Western Journal advocates for broadly conservative positions on most issues, including abortion, national defense, small government, gay marriage, tax policy and individual freedom.
As climate action requires a concerted and collaborative international lift, it has become anathema to leading voices in today’s Republican Party, who are eager to defend individual/corporate liberty at the expense of, say, individual/corporate responsibility. As a result of its editorial posture, the Western Journal treatment doesn’t stray far from ungrounded denialism.
The YouTube channel Chavez directs Perry and Pelaez to, hosted by Clear Energy Alliance, tracks back to fossil-fuel funded Mark Mathis, an unabashed apologist for dirty fuels and director and star of the documentary, spOILed, a feature-length film promoting the positive message of oil and gas.
In 2011, the Guardian quoted Mathis as saying that “fossil fuel use in total is estimated to be responsible for less than 1% of the emissions deemed to contribute to global warming” and “scientists cannot even agree whether there IS a global warming trend at this time, much less agree to its cause.”
With these ideological roots, Chavez says the manufacturers are in “unanimous agreement” on the CAAP. The plan, he writes, should not take any position on the City’s climate pollution (butt out of policy), take no position on social justice (“why is it even needed?”), and include liquified national gas (LNG) in any energy recommendations.
It is unclear if SAMA’s unanimous position is held by the group’s directors or its larger board of directors, which includes Caterpillar, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Frost Banking, as well as representatives of CPS Energy and San Antonio Water System.
In spite of Chavez’s radical position, Pelaez, whose law firm recently became a member of the CAAP-opposing Real Estate Council of San Antonio, appears eager to further cement his relationship with SAMA.
Councilmember and mayoral candidate Greg Brockhouse has also vigorously objected to the CAAP, stoking apprehensions after the draft’s release by warning that the “removal of gasoline powered vehicles from City streets … [is] a key part of the SA Climate Ready Plan.” (The plan would potentially encourage the electrification of local transit.)
Meanwhile, Councilmember Art Hall, responding to a Deceleration survey regarding Council opinions on the science of global warming and the CAAP listed a number of questions he needed to settle before he could support the plan. These include “natural cycles of warming and cooling of the earth.”
He writes Deceleration:
“I haven’t yet finalized my position statement on CAAP yet. As I do so, I’ll be looking closely at the following areas: 1) the wisdom/feasibility of taking on national/ international policy issues at the local level, particularly when they are not able to be accomplished at the national/ international levels, 2) the costs of a plan and the financial and other impact on poorer communities, 3) a “carrot” v. “stick” approach, 4) any natural cycles of warming and cooling of the earth, 5) any environmental impact of batteries, lithium, cobalt, etc. and other energy alternatives and a potential move from energy independence to dependency on China, 6) a preparation plan model for dryer/ hotter/ dramatic storm events for other cities to model, and 7) San Antonio’s non-attainment often a result of sugar cane fuel burning or range land burning in Mexico.”
The question of climate literacy is important, because from it flows (or should flow) all subsequent actions on the CAAP. Is climate action urgent? All reliable sources tell us yes. So what justification is there to oppose a plan whose sole mandate is the zeroing out the city’s carbon emissions in 30 years, especially when every policy step along the way will remain in the purview of Council?
The answer, of course, is none.
Every significant scientific body across the planet agrees that the earth’s life-support system has been knocked off kilter by human industry and our window to act to avert the worst manifestations of global warming is rapidly closing.
Council members have no excuse. They have decades of research to draw on if they are truly interested in the science undergirding these truths and two years since passing a solidarity statement pledging action. Even this late, they could get right by studying the IPCC’s most recent offering. Or, if they need a purely domestic source, they could drill into the US National Climate Assessment, product of 13 US federal agencies and 900 experts.
But allowing denialist self-interested postures that misrepresent both the science of climate change and the CAAP itself is to put our city, its economy, and the health and wellbeing of our residents at grave risk.