Recent News

Plant-based Meat Needs Government Support to Scale Up, But a Culture War Stands in the Way

Angela Weiss / AFP

Public funding helped electric vehicles go mainstream. Are alternative proteins next — or are they too polarizing?

Just a few years ago, the alternative protein industry promised to revolutionize the way people eat burgers: They would still sizzle and bleed, they’d taste great, but they wouldn’t actually contain any meat. Today it seems that, if that revolution is still coming, its arrival has been more than a little delayed. Sales of plant-based meat and seafood have fallen over the last two years, and a recent bevy of headlines suggest that this latest wave of imitation meat was just that: a passing fad.

A new report suggests that if the alt protein industry has any hope of scaling, it will take robust funding from a number of different sources — including, crucially, the public sector. The report compares plant-based meat imitations to electric vehicles, a powerful climate solution that has benefited from government support, such as direct purchase subsidies.

But like the EV industry before it, alternative meat has a culture war problem to sort out before it can grow — with or without government investment.

Despite some obvious differences, there’s a major parallel between electric cars and alternative meat: They’re designed to be a one-to-one replacement for their predecessors. Buying an electric vehicle “doesn’t require consumers to make extensive behavioral changes” like forgoing a car completely, said Emma Ignaszewski, one of the authors of the report. Similarly, consumers can simply choose to buy burgers that aren’t made from animal protein rather than burgers that are. 07-25-24

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In Washington State, Inslee’s Final Months Aimed at Staving Off Repeal of Landmark Climate Law

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File

Standing at a transit center near four new wireless bus charging stations in a small community west of Seattle, Gov. Jay Inslee told transit and city leaders where money to pay for them — more than $1 million — came from.

“It’s possible only because of the Climate Commitment Act,” Inslee said, citing a program that works to cut pollution while raising money for investments that address climate change. “That was the source. It’s the only way we’re able to do this.”

Inslee made similar remarks as he visited a salmon habitat restoration project and then test-drove a car from an all-electric co-op rideshare company’s fleet, part of a blitz by the three-term Democrat in recent months to defend the biggest climate achievement of his tenure amid a fierce repeal effort led by conservatives. Inslee, who isn’t seeking a fourth term, has appeared at more than a dozen projects funded by the law and on his personal time put his name to a flurry of emails, texts and calls to voters.

Behind the repeal effort is Let’s Go Washington, a group primarily bankrolled by hedge fund executive Brian Heywood that submitted more than 400,000 signatures from Washingtonians to get a vote on the November ballot. They argue that the law has helped push up gas prices that currently are third-highest in the nation. 07-23-24

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‘Wood vaulting’: A Simple Climate Solution You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Courtesy of Carbon Lockdown Project

Forests throughout the West are overgrown and full of flammable vegetation, fueling wildfires and carbon emissions. Could burying it help solve the problem?

In northwestern Montana’s Swan Valley, a pile of about 100 small logs, 10 feet long or so, sits neatly stacked, ringed by berry bushes, a few white wildflowers, and towering larch trees. Surrounding the logs are several acres of U.S. Forest Service land, which was thinned of dead, downed, and dense understory trees last year to reduce wildfire risk. The log pile that remains is too small to be processed into lumber, plus the sawmill just down the highway recently closed. So the wood may get sent to a pulp mill, if the price is right. Or it may sit in the forest for years. Smaller limbs may be burned in a prescribed fire. But Ning Zeng, a climate scientist at the University of Maryland, is sizing up the pile, too. He sees another solution: burying the logs, and all the planet-heating gases they’d otherwise release, underground.

That’s the idea of a carbon sequestration technique called wood vaulting. Forests throughout much of the western U.S. are overgrown, full of tangled trees and brush that’s primed to burn. The Forest Service’s wildfire crisis strategy calls for removing excess vegetation on up to 50 million more acres of federal, state, tribal, and private lands by 2032. Scientists and climate tech companies alike say wood vaulting could help store some of the carbon dioxide equivalent, in the form of flammable vegetation, that the Forest Service must deal with in the coming years — an estimated 2.2 billion metric tons. That’s roughly as much CO2 as cement production worldwide emitted in 2016, and as much as forests globally removed from the atmosphere last year. 07-23-24

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What Would a Harris Presidency Mean For the Climate?

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

A look at Kamala Harris’ record on clean energy, climate diplomacy, and environmental justice in California, the Senate, and the White House.

After weeks of intense media speculation and sustained pressure from Democratic lawmakers, major donors, and senior advisors, President Joe Biden has announced that he is bowing out of the presidential race. He is the first sitting president to step aside so close to Election Day. “I believe it is in the best interest of my party and the country for me to stand down and focus entirely on fulfilling my duties as president for the remainder of my term,” Biden said in a letter on Sunday.

He endorsed his vice president, Kamala Harris, to take his place. “Today I want to offer my full support and endorsement for Kamala to be the nominee of our party this year,” he said in another statement. Not long after, Harris announced via the Biden campaign that she intends to run for president. “I am honored to have the president’s endorsement and my intention is to earn and win this nomination,” she said.

During his term, President Biden managed to shepherd a surprising number of major policies into law with a razor-thin Democratic majority in the Senate. His crowning achievement is signing the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA — the biggest climate spending law in U.S. history, with the potential to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 42 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. In announcing his withdrawal, Biden called it “the most significant climate legislation in the history of the world.” 07-21-24

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What Project 2025 Would Do to Climate Policy in the US

Chemical plants and factories line the roads and suburbs of the area known as “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana. Giles Clarke / Getty Images

“It’s real bad.”

As delegates arrived at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee earlier this week to officially nominate former president Donald Trump as their 2024 candidate, a right-wing policy think tank held an all-day event nearby. The Heritage Foundation, a key sponsor of the convention and a group that has been influencing Republican presidential policy since the 1980s, gathered its supporters to tout Project 2025, a 900-plus-page policy blueprint that seeks to fundamentally restructure the federal government.

Dozens of conservative groups contributed to Project 2025, which recommends changes that would touch every aspect of American life and transform federal agencies — from the Department of Defense to the Department of Interior to the Federal Reserve. Although it has largely garnered attention for its proposed crackdowns on human rights and individual liberties, the blueprint would also undermine the country’s extensive network of environmental and climate policies and alter the future of American fossil fuel production, climate action, and environmental justice.

Under President Joe Biden’s direction, the majority of the federal government’s vast system of departments, agencies, and commissions have belatedly undertaken the arduous task of incorporating climate change into their operations and procedures. Two summers ago, Biden also signed the Inflation Reduction Act, the biggest climate spending law in U.S. history with the potential to help drive greenhouse gas emissions down 42 percent below 2005 levels.  07-19-24

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Amazingly, Forests Are Still Sucking Up as Much Carbon as They Were 30 Years Ago. But There’s a Catch.

Craig Stennett / Getty

Besieged by logging, fires, and pests, this global balancing act might not last long.

Each year, burning fossil fuels puffs tens of billions of metric tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And for decades, the Earth’s forests, along with its oceans and soil, have sucked roughly a third back in, creating a vacuum known as the land carbon sink. But as deforestation and wildfires ravage the world’s forests, scientists have begun to worry that this crucial balancing act may be in jeopardy.

A study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday found that, despite plenty of turmoil, the world’s forests have continued to absorb a steady amount of carbon for the last three decades.

“It appears to be stable, but it actually maybe masks the issue,” said Yude Pan, a senior research scientist at the U.S. Forest Service and the lead author of the study, which included 16 coauthors from around the world.

As the Earth’s forests have undergone dramatic changes, with some releasing more carbon than they absorb, Pan warns that better forest management is needed. “I really hope that this study will let people realize how much carbon is lost from deforestation,” Pan said. “We must protect this carbon sink.” 07-18-24

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Rosa Morales, left, and Amadely Roblero, right, work in the Apopka garden in their free time. Ayurella Horn-Muller / Grist

The People Who Feed America Are Going Hungry

Climate change is escalating a national crisis, leaving farmworkers with empty plates and mounting costs.

Standing knee-deep in an emerald expanse, a row of trees offering respite from the sweltering heat, Rosa Morales diligently relocates chipilín, a Central American legume, from one bed of soil to another. The 34-year-old has been coming to the Campesinos’ Garden run by the Farmworker Association of Florida in Apopka for the last six months, taking home a bit of produce each time she visits. The small plot that hugs a soccer field and community center is an increasingly vital source of food to feed her family.

It also makes her think of Guatemala, where she grew up surrounded by plants. “It reminds me of working the earth there,” Morales said in Spanish.

Tending to the peaceful community garden is a far cry from the harvesting Morales does for her livelihood. Ever since moving to the United States 16 years ago, Morales has been a farmworker at local nurseries and farms. She takes seasonal jobs that allow her the flexibility and income to care for her five children, who range from 18 months to 15 years old.

This year, she picked blueberries until the season ended in May, earning $1 for every pound she gathered. On a good day, she earned about two-thirds of the state’s minimum hourly wage of $12. For that, Morales toiled in brutal heat, with little in the way of protection from the sun, pesticides, or herbicides. With scant water available, the risk of dehydration or heat stroke was never far from her mind. But these are the sorts of things she must endure to ensure her family is fed. “I don’t really have many options,” she said. 07-17-24

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The Surprisingly Simple Way Cities Could Save People From Extreme Heat

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Cool roofs reflect sunlight and reduce the ‘urban heat island’ effect.

The city is a growing paradox. Humanity needs its many efficiencies: People living more densely and taking up less land — with easy access to decarbonized public transportation — collaborating and innovating as urbanites have always done. But as the climate warms, city-dwellers suffer extreme heat more than their rural counterparts as a result of the “urban heat island effect.” All that concrete, asphalt, and brick absorbs the sun’s energy, accelerating urban temperatures well above those in the surrounding countryside.

In the United States, heat already kills more people than any other form of extreme weather, and nowhere is it more dangerous than in cities. So scientists and urban designers are now scrambling to research and deploy countermeasures, especially in the Southwest — not more energy-chugging air conditioning, but more passive, simple cooling techniques. “Cool roofs,” for instance, bounce the sun’s energy back into space using special coatings or reflective shingles. And creating urban green spaces full of plants that cool the surrounding air.

“In the same way that the urban environment that we have built around us can exacerbate heat, it can also be modified to reduce that heat,” said Edith de Guzman, a researcher at UCLA and director of the Los Angeles Urban Cooling Collaborative. “If we also invested in increasing the reflectivity of existing materials in the built environment, we could reduce the number of ER visits and the number of deaths substantially, in some cases over 50 percent.” 07-16-24

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The Siting of an Offshore Wind Port raises New Conflicts in Maine

Annie Ropeik / Energy News Network

Coastal residents are conflicted over the planned location of a facility that advocates say will help launch Maine’s offshore wind industry.

Ron Huber rifled through a thick folder full of decades of state environmental records outside a community hall in the tiny coastal Maine town of Searsport. For the longtime local conservation activist, the scene inside was a familiar one: Dozens of neighbors, workers, and environmentalists mingled over pizza and coffee, discussing the merits of a proposed industrial project that has potential to transform the local economy, but at the expense of a locally beloved natural area.

“We’ve seen these things rise and fall many times,” Huber said outside the event late this past spring. Conservationists have celebrated over the decades as plans for a coal plant and a liquefied natural gas terminal on Sears Island came and went without success.

This latest proposal presents a new kind of conflict. Rather than pitting townspeople against a corporate polluter, this development would support clean energy and be integral to the state’s plan for cutting climate emissions. In May, the state applied for a $456 million federal grant to build a specially designed port on about 100 acres of Sears Island to support Maine’s nascent floating offshore wind industry. About two-thirds of the 941-acre island is in permanent conservation, and the state retains an easement on the rest, which has been reserved for a potential port for years. 07-15-24

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The $1.7 Billion Bet on American-made EVs, Explained by the Secretary of Energy

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Jennifer Granholm tells Grist why the Biden administration is paying to convert auto plants into ones that can churn out EVs.

Along with apple pie, baseball, and tipping, the automobile is classically American. But when it comes to the 21st century passenger car, automakers in the United States — save for Tesla — have been playing catchup, scrambling to counter the rise of China’s electric vehicle boom. Sure, both EVs and internal combustion cars have seats and four wheels, but it’s not so simple as American automakers swapping in a few parts and calling it a day.

So on Thursday, the Department of Energy announced $1.7 billion to fund the conversion of 11 auto manufacturing facilities, which had either been shut down or were at risk of shutting down, to make EVs and supplies for the burgeoning industry. Those facilities will be spread across eight states — Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — which the DOE says will create 2,900 new jobs and ensure that more than 15,000 union workers keep theirs. General Motors will get $500 million for one of its plants in Lansing, Michigan, and Fiat Chrysler nearly $600 million total for two of its facilities.

Soon after the announcement, Grist sat down with Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm to talk about why domestic EV manufacturing is so important, how those EVs could actually help the grid instead of destroying it, and why even children will benefit from the $1.7 billion even though they can’t drive. 07-12-24

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Homeowners Associations in Michigan Now Have to Allow Rooftop Solar

Michael Conroy / AP Photo

A new law makes it difficult for HOAs to say no to sun power.

People who want to install solar panels on their roofs have to consider a lot: sunlight, cost, and coordinating with contractors and utilities. Tens of millions of people across the country also have to think about their homeowners association.

In Michigan, a new law aims to remove that barrier by telling homeowners associations, or HOAs, they have to allow rooftop solar.

The Homeowners’ Energy Policy Act was signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Monday.

“We wanted to find a way to … empower homeowners to make those decisions themselves,” said Ranjeev Puri, a Democratic state representative from Canton Township in southeast Michigan and the bill’s main sponsor. “I think that this is an important step for a lot of people.”

The law gives many HOA members the power to install rooftop solar and an array of other energy-saving measures, from clotheslines to heat pumps. HOAs also have to adopt a solar energy policy within a year, and they can’t enforce standards that increase the cost of installation by more than $1,000 or decrease energy output by more than 10 percent.  07-11-24

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FEMA Will Now Consider Climate Change When it Rebuilds After Floods

Jack Reyna and his son work to drain floodwater in their neighborhood of Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Beryl swept through the area on July 8, 2024. Photo by Brandon Bell / Getty Images

The federal agency is overhauling its disaster rules in a bid to end a cycle of rebuilding in unsafe areas.

When the Federal Emergency Management Agency spends millions of dollars to help rebuild schools and hospitals after a hurricane, it tries to make the community more resilient than it was before the storm. If the agency pays to rebuild a school or a town hall, for example, it might elevate the building above the floodplain, lowering the odds that it will get submerged again.

That sounds simple enough, but the policy hinges on a deceptively simple question: How do you define “floodplain”? FEMA and the rest of the federal government long defined it as an area that has a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year. That so-called 100-year floodplain standard, though more or less arbitrary, has been followed for decades — even though thousands of buildings outside the floodplain go underwater every year.

Now FEMA is expanding its definition of the floodplain, following an executive order from President Joe Biden that forced government agencies to tighten rules about how they respond to the increasing risk of floods. In a significant shift, the new standard will require the agency to factor in the impact of climate change on future flood risk when it decides where and how it’s safe to build. 07-10-24

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Inside America’s Billion-dollar Quest to Squeeze More Trees Into Cities

Urban forester Gaby Elliott provides a consultation to first-time homeowners Caroline and Luke Mihalovic, who live in Hyattsville, Md. (Shuran Huang for The Washington Post)

We follow an arborist around D.C. to find out why it’s so hard to plant urban trees.

Gaby Elliott drives down the street scanning front yards for an elusive commodity: space for a tree to grow.

Sidewalks meld into buildings — little room for life. But somehow, in a tiny box cut into the concrete landscape, a massive tree trunk rises about 60 feet into the air.

“Yeah, you’re like, ‘Where is the root system?’” Elliott bursts out. “That’s probably a willow oak. And they’re magnificent. The resiliency of plants … it just really blows my mind.”

In a forest, a large tree like this would be part of a sprawling scaffold supporting thousands of species from floor to canopy, she notes, an ecosystem far removed from the paved-over terrain out the car window.

Yet, even in this area of Washington, D.C., trees sustain life. They shield city dwellers from heat waves and storms growing increasingly punishing with climate change. Urban groves bolster bird populations at a time when human activity is decimating them, studies show. And, of course, trees grow by pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.

That is why the federal government is spending $1 billion to forest urban areas across the country, part of the largest effort to fight climate change in U.S. history. 07-06-24

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Sea Turtle Deaths Lead to Federal Review For Nuclear Plant

Photo: Joanna Gilkeson
Read more at Coastal Review,

The deaths of a dozen federally listed sea turtles found trapped this past spring in a canal that leads to the Brunswick Nuclear Plant’s cooling system intake has prompted a government review on the limit of turtle species that can be unintentionally harmed by the facility’s operation.

King tides coupled with high winds “generated increased tidal forces and elevated river flows” that damaged screens on a large diversion structure meant to block marine life from entering into the 3-mile-long canal from the Cape Fear River, Karen Williams, the plant’s communications manager said.

A series of large “turtle blocker” panels are installed in the concrete structure.

“Those all functioned as designed,” Williams explained in an email. “There are small gaps in the structure – about two feet wide – which are covered with protective screens. It was these screens that were affected by the tidal conditions and river flow.” Williams said in a telephone interview that one of the screens broke loose.

These screens are routinely inspected and cleaned of debris at the Duke Energy plant near Southport, Williams said, but turtles were able to swim into the canal before the broken screen was repaired. The turtles were found between April 15 and May 19. 07-08-24

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FDA Bans Soda Additive Over Health Concerns

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned a soda additive starting next month over health concerns.

The FDA said Tuesday that it revoked its regulation that allowed brominated vegetable oil (BVO) to be used in food because it “is no longer considered safe.” The agency pointed to studies conducted with the National Institutes of Health that “found the potential for adverse health effects in humans.”

The new rule will go into effect Aug. 2.

BVO is typically added to sodas to stop citrus flavoring from separating and floating to the top of the drink. The FDA initially proposed banning BVO from food last fall, pointing to studies that found the additive is toxic to the thyroid.

The ingredient list may show “brominated vegetable oil” or a more specific oil, such as “brominated soybean oil.” The FDA noted that many beverage makers have reformulated their recipes to replace BVO with a different ingredient, adding that just a “few” beverages in the U.S. still contain the additive.

Jim Jones, the deputy commissioner for the FDA’s Human Foods program, said in a statement that the agency is “committed to conducting reassessments to ensure that our original determinations of safety have held up over time.” 07-02-24

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Biden Admin Unveils First-ever Heat Protections For Workers. Here’s What to Know.

Several people harvest beans in a field.
Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

The proposal comes as Americans endure another summer of record-breaking temperatures.

Just a few months before the 2024 U.S. presidential election, the Biden administration appears to be accelerating its timeline to finalize a regulation that could protect 36 million workers from the harmful effects of exposure to extreme heat.

On Tuesday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, released the draft text of a proposed rule on preventing heat injury and illness amongst the U.S. workers. If finalized, the proposed rule would become the nation’s first-ever federal regulation on heat stress in the workplace. The development comes at the start of a summer that’s already seen record-breaking heat, and days after OSHA announced tens of thousands of dollars in proposed penalties for a case involving a 41-year-old farmworker who died of heatstroke while working in Florida last year.

In a press briefing on Monday, a senior Biden administration official described the draft rule’s requirements as “common sense.”

“The purpose of this rule is simple,” said the official, who offered comments on the condition of anonymity. “It is to significantly reduce the number of worker-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses suffered by workers who are exposed to excessive heat and exposed to these risks while simply doing their jobs.” 07-02-24

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How to Create a ‘World Without Waste’? Here Are the Plastic Industry’s Ideas.

A deep dive into the petrochemical industry’s proposals for the global plastics treaty.

In the time it takes you to read this sentence — say, four seconds — the world produces nearly 60 metric tons of plastic, almost entirely out of fossil fuels. That’s about 53,000 metric tons an hour, 1.3 million metric tons a day, or 460 million metric tons a year. Those numbers are fueling widespread and growing contamination of Earth’s oceans, rivers, and the terrestrial environment with plastic trash.

In March 2022, the United Nations’ 193 member states got together in Nairobi, Kenya, and agreed to do something about it. They pledged to negotiate a treaty to “end plastic pollution,” with the goal of delivering a final draft by 2025. The most ambitious vision espoused by member states in the negotiating sessions that have taken place so far would require petrochemical companies to stop making so much of the darn stuff by putting a cap on global plastic production.

Given the existential threat this would pose to fossil fuel and chemical companies, you might expect them to be vociferously opposed to the treaty. Yet they claim to support the agreement. They’re even “championing” it, according to statements from a handful of industry groups. The American Chemistry Council has repeatedly “welcome[d]” progress on the treaty negotiations, while an executive from the International Council of Chemical Associations told Plastics Today in April that the industry is “fully committed” to supporting an agreement.

So what exactly do plastic-producing companies want from the treaty? To answer this question, Grist sifted through dozens of public statements and policy documents from five of the world’s largest petrochemical industry trade organizations, as well as two product-specific industry groups. These documents included press releases reacting to treaty negotiating sessions and longer position statements detailing the industry’s desired pathway to a “world without waste.” 07-02-24

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The Supreme Court Overturns Chevron Doctrine, Gutting Federal Environmental Protections

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Scrapping the legal precedent could send a “convulsive shock” to decades of federal environmental, financial, and healthcare regulations.

The Supreme Court on Friday threw into question the future of climate and environmental regulation in the United States, scrapping a decades-old legal precedent that gave federal agencies leeway to interpret laws according to their expertise and scientific evidence. The impact of the decision to scrap the so-called Chevron deference will take years to become clear, but it could allow for far more legal challenges against regulations by agencies like the EPA and the Department of the Interior that have a huge role in the climate fight.

Federal courts have long deferred to federal agencies to interpret laws that are unclear and need further clarification. In 1984, a shorthanded Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that federal agencies have the final say on ambiguous policies, which allowed those agencies broad authority to make decisions without fear of judicial override.

In Supreme Court filings, the Biden administration said that overruling the Chevron deference would be a “convulsive shock to the legal system.”

Environmental organizations also condemned the decision.

“Today’s ruling sidelines the role of agency expertise, and instead shifts power to judges who do not have the expertise of agency staff who live and breathe the science, financial principles, and safety concerns that federal agencies specialize in,” Kym Meyer, the litigation director for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement. 06-28-24

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Rising Sea Levels Will Disrupt Millions of Americans’ Lives By 2050, Study Finds

Streets are flooded after 24 hours of continuous heavy rain over Fort Myers, Florida, on 13 June 2024. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

Floods could leave coastal communities in states like Florida and California unlivable in two decades

Sea level rise driven by global heating will disrupt the daily life of millions of Americans, as hundreds of homes, schools and government buildings face frequent and repeated flooding by 2050, a new study has found.

Almost 1,100 critical infrastructure assets that sustain coastal communities will be at risk of monthly flooding by 2050, according to the new research by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The vast majority of the assets – 934 of them – face the risk of flood disruption every other week, which could make some coastal neighborhoods unlivable within two to three decades.

Almost 3 million people currently live in the 703 US coastal communities with critical infrastructure at risk of monthly disruptive flooding by 2050, including affordable and subsidized housing, wastewater treatment facilities, toxic industrial sites, power plants, fire stations, schools, kindergartens and hospitals.

Sea level rise driven by global heating will disrupt the daily life of millions of Americans, as hundreds of homes, schools and government buildings face frequent and repeated flooding by 2050, a new study has found.

Almost 1,100 critical infrastructure assets that sustain coastal communities will be at risk of monthly flooding by 2050, according to the new research by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The vast majority of the assets – 934 of them – face the risk of flood disruption every other week, which could make some coastal neighborhoods unlivable within two to three decades. 06-25-24

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A Group of Young People Just Forced Hawaiʻi to Take Major Climate Action

Mario Tama / Getty Images

The historic agreement comes two years after 13 youth plaintiffs sued the state Department of Transportation.

The government of Hawaiʻi and a group of young people have reached a historic settlement that requires the state to decarbonize its transportation network. The agreement is the first of its kind in the nation and comes two years after 13 Hawaiian youth sued the state Department of Transportation for failing to protect their “constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.”

The settlement, announced last Thursday, requires the department to develop a plan and zero out greenhouse gas emissions from all transportation sectors by 2045. The agency is also required to create a new unit tasked with climate change mitigation, align budgetary investments with its clean energy goals, and plant at least 1,000 trees a year to increase carbon absorption from the atmosphere.

“It’s historic that the state government has come to the table and negotiated such a detailed set of commitments,” said Leinā‘ala L. Ley, a senior associate attorney at Earthjustice, one of the environmental law firms representing the youth plaintiffs. “The fact that the state has … put its own creativity, energy, and commitment behind the settlement means that we’re going to be able to move that much quicker in making real-time changes that are going to actually have an impact.”

According to a press release from the office of Hawaiʻi Governor Josh Green, the settlement represents the state’s “commitment … to plan and implement transformative changes,” as well as an opportunity to work collaboratively, instead of combatively, with youth plaintiffs, “to address concerns regarding constitutional issues arising from climate change.” 06-24-24

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Who Funds Conservative Green Groups?

Kamran Jebreili/POLITICO

Longtime donors to liberal environmental organizations are now also giving big bucks to the “eco-right.”

Conservative climate change advocates may not see eye-to-eye with their liberal counterparts on a host of issues, but they do share something important: their funding sources.

Philanthropic donors like Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation that fund Democratic-aligned green groups like the League of Conservation Voters are also spending millions on “eco-right” groups — as they are commonly known — according to an analysis by POLITICO’s E&E News.

The conservative groups, such as Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions and the American Conservation Coalition, eschew policies like regulation and big spending to fight climate change. They dismiss such actions as partisan ideas that won’t spur innovation to transform the planet. And donors are fine with that.

At the same time, they reject the denial of climate science that persists among many Republican elected officials, including former President Donald Trump.

Donors say funding both political sides is a strategy to make climate legislation more durable. They argue the problem of climate change is so vast that business, entrepreneurs and politicians of all stripes need to be involved in the fight. Indeed, one of the eco-right’s goals is to engage congressional Republicans on the issue. 06-18-24

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The Climate Case For Mock Meats is Clear. But Who Can Afford Them?

Jose Sarmento Matos for The Washington Post / Getty Images

An often insurmountable price barrier is keeping many people from buying plant-based alternatives to beef, pork and chicken.

Isobelle McClements was 13 when she came home from school and told her parents she was going vegan. Reading one book that delved into meat processing was all it took to convince her it was time for a lifestyle upheaval. The logistics of seamlessly feeding a family is a big reason her parents followed suit.

That was a decade ago. Nowadays, the freezer often stocks plant-based meatballs, sausages, or nuggets. When dining out, a faux burger sometimes makes the cut. Her father, David Julian McClements, is a food scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who studies how to make such things healthier and tastier.

Still, everyone in the family prefers to prepare meat-free fare using fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and other ingredients. They can afford the more planet-friendly options now common in grocery stores, but have the time and means to make them from scratch. Most people, of course, can’t do either of those things, which presents an impediment to broader adoption of beef, pork, and chicken alternatives that could help the nation hit its climate targets.

“Finding good quality ingredients [and] being able to bring them all together and combine them into something that tastes great but is also affordable, healthy and sustainable is very, very challenging,” McClements said.

Pound for pound, plant-based mock meats cost an average 77 percent more than their conventional counterparts. These proteins are typically heavily processed as they’re manufactured from things like soy and pea protein. “That’s partly why it’s so expensive.” 06-24-24

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Food’s Climate Footprint Was Once Again MIA at Global Talks

Antonio Masiello / Stringer

At the G7 summit and Bonn climate conference, world leaders failed to discuss “the cow in the room.”

Last week, the leaders of the world’s seven biggest economies convened in Italy to discuss several pressing global issues during the annual gathering known as the G7 summit. They agreed to lend Russia’s frozen assets to Ukraine, pushed for a ceasefire in Gaza, and pledged to launch a migration coalition.

Those discussions, which concluded Saturday, came right on the heels of the annual Bonn Climate Change Conference, which sets the foundation for the United Nations’ yearly climate gathering. In Bonn, Germany, an enduring dispute over who should provide trillions of dollars in climate aid to poor nations once again ended with little progress toward a solution, dominating the agenda so much so that dialogues on other issues often reverted back to financial debates.

Government heads at both conferences barely addressed what may be one of the most pressing questions the world faces: how to respond to the immense role animal agriculture plays in driving climate change. This continues a pattern of evasion around this issue on the international stage, which advocates and scientists find increasingly frustrating, given that shrinking the emissions footprint of global livestock production and consumption is a needed step toward mitigating climate change. 06-21-24

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Bayer Lobbies Congress to Help Fight Lawsuits Tying Roundup to Cancer

Republicans have repeatedly pushed a provision — drafted with Bayer’s help — that critics say would undo some nationwide pesticide protections.

The biotech giant Bayer has lobbied Congress over the past year to advance legislation that could shield the company from billions of dollars in lawsuits, part of a national campaign to defeat claims that its weedkiller Roundup causes cancer in people who use it frequently.

The measure threatens to make it harder for farmers and groundskeepers to argue that they were not fully informed about some health and safety risks posed by the popular herbicide. By erecting new legal barriers to bringing those cases, Bayer seeks to prevent sizable payouts to plaintiffs while sparing itself from a financial crisis.

At the heart of the lobbying push is glyphosate, the active ingredient in certain formulations of Roundup. Some health and environmental authorities contend it is a carcinogen, but the federal government — which previously conducted its own review — does not. Under local laws, thousands of plaintiffs have filed lawsuits targeting Roundup over the past decade, claiming at times they were never warned that regular exposure could cause them to develop debilitating or deadly diseases, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 06-20-24

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The American Climate Corps Officially Kicks Off

Photo of a group of people in hard hats working in a dry landscape
Members of the California Conservation Corps, which has open positions with the American Climate Corps, build a levee at California’s Tulare Lake in 2023. Citizen of the Planet / UCG / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

This month, the nation will deploy 9,000 people to help guide the country toward a cleaner future.

Within weeks, the nation will deploy 9,000 people to begin restoring landscapes, erecting solar panels, and taking other steps to help guide the country toward a cleaner, greener future.

The first of those workers were inducted into the American Climate Corps on Tuesday during a virtual event from the White House. Their swearing-in marks another step forward for the Biden administration’s ambitious climate agenda. The program, which President Joe Biden announced within days of taking office in 2021, is a modern version of the Climate Conservation Corps, the New Deal-era project that put 3 million men to work planting trees and building national parks.

During the ceremony, the inaugural members of the corps promised to work “on behalf of our nation and planet, its people, and all its species, for the better future we hold within our sight.”

The American Climate Corps was among the first things Biden announced as president, but it took a while to secure funding and get started. More than 20,000 young people are expected to join during the program’s first year, according to the White House, with new openings appearing on the American Climate Corps job site in the months ahead. The pay varies depending on the location and experience required, with open positions ranging from around $11 to $28 an hour. 06-18-24

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Chicago Teachers Demand Climate Solutions in Their Next Contract

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco / Grist

“That contract means nothing if our Earth is on fire.”

Solar panels. Heat Pumps. Electric buses. Those are just three of the things the Chicago Teachers Union, or CTU, is hoping to acquire in their latest negotiations for a new contract, one that would address the rising toll of climate change in the more than 500 schools in which their members teach.

Arguably one of the most powerful unions for teachers in the nation, the CTU held public negotiations last Friday in a crowded elementary school gymnasium, facing off against leaders from Chicago Public Schools, or CPS.

The two entities have a contentious relationship, made clear in the last decade with two strikes and several showdowns during the pandemic. The negotiations were also streamed, but any observers expecting the usual verbal fireworks would be disappointed. Both sides agreed that climate change is a real challenge. Now, they just have to figure out how to pay for the changes necessary.

“Chicago’s buildings, including school buildings, are a major source of carbon emissions,” said Lauren Bianchi, a social studies teacher on the city’s Southeast Side and chair of the CTU’s climate justice committee. “CPS buildings produce yearly emissions equivalent to about 900 railcars’ worth of coal.” 06-18-24

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How Biden Beat the Clock on Big Environmental Regs

President Joe Biden’s regulators recently finalized a flood of major energy and environmental rules in hopes that they’ll stick even if Donald Trump returns to the White House.

Rule writers across the federal government hustled to complete sweeping new regulations in recent months — including everything from a high-stakes power plant rule on climate pollution to a policy governing conservation of public lands.

The dash to finish some of Biden’s biggest green rules aims to safeguard consequential policies if Republicans take the White House and make gains on Capitol Hill with this year’s elections.

In 2017, former President Donald Trump and his allies used a seldom-invoked law to unwind more than a dozen of the Obama administration’s rules. Biden’s team wants to ensure that doesn’t happen again as Trump has promised on the campaign trail to torpedo recent climate and energy policies, even suggesting he would cut the Interior Department and other environmental agencies, if the White House flips in this election.

That law, known as the Congressional Review Act or CRA, would allow GOP lawmakers and a Trump White House to unravel rules finalized within the last 60 legislative days of Congress’ prior session, essentially giving Biden’s opponents a veto pen for those later regulations.

A future Trump administration could also use the rulemaking process to replace Biden regulations anyway, but that process is time-consuming and more complicated.

“We were all leaning in,” Vicki Arroyo, the head of EPA’s policy office, said in an interview with POLITICO’s E&E News of the sprint to finalize major regulations early this year. “We were all on the same team trying to really deliver on these priority rules for the administration so that we could ultimately protect human health and the environment, which is what our mission is.”

CRA’s deadline for when the law’s “look-back” window begins is murky, although some observers believed it would be May 22, based on the House calendar for when Congress will adjourn for the year. 06-12-24

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The World is Farming More Seafood Than it Catches. Is That a Good Thing?

A worker removes a stack of oyster baskets during harvest. Bloomberg Creative / Getty Images

Both aquaculture and fisheries have environmental and climate impacts — and they overlap more than you’d think.

A new report from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, has found that more fish were farmed worldwide in 2022 than harvested from the wild, an apparent first.

Last week, the FAO released its annual report on the state of aquaculture — which refers to the farming of both seafood and aquatic plants — and fisheries around the world. The organization found that global production from both aquaculture and fisheries reached a new high — 223.3 million metric tons of animals and plants — in 2022. Of that, 185.4 million metric tons were aquatic animals, and 37.8 million metric tons were algae. Aquaculture was responsible for 51 percent of aquatic animal production in 2022, or 94.4 metric tons.

The milestone was in many ways an expected one, given the world’s insatiable appetite for seafood. Since 1961, consumption of seafood has grown at twice the annual rate of the global population, according to the FAO. Because production levels from fisheries are not expected to change significantly in the future, meeting the growing global demand for seafood almost certainly necessitates an increase in aquaculture.

Though fishery production levels fluctuate from year to year, “it’s not like there’s new fisheries out there waiting to be discovered,” said Dave Martin, program director for Sustainable Fisheries Partnerships, an international organization that works to reduce the environmental impact of seafood supply chains. “So any growth in consumption of seafood is going to come from aquaculture.” 06-14-24

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Coming Soon to a Lake Near You: Floating Solar Panels

Ciel & Terre International

New research finds that “floatovoltaics” could generate a substantial amount of energy worldwide.

A reservoir is many things: a source of drinking water, a playground for swimmers, a refuge for migrating birds. But if you ask solar-power enthusiasts, a reservoir is also not realizing its full potential. That open water could be covered with buoyant panels, a burgeoning technology known as floating photovoltaics, aka “floatovoltaics.” They could simultaneously gather energy from the sun and shade the water, reducing evaporation — an especially welcome bonus where droughts are getting worse.

Now, scientists have crunched the numbers and found that if humans deployed floatovoltaics in a fraction of lakes and reservoirs around the world — covering just 10 percent of the surface area of each — the systems could collectively generate four times the amount of power the United Kingdom uses in a year. The effectiveness of so-called FPVs would vary from country to country, but their research found that some could theoretically supply all their electricity this way, including Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Papua New Guinea.

“The countries around the world that we saw gain the most from these FPVs were these low-latitude, tropical countries that did not have a high energy demand in the first place,” said Iestyn Woolway, an Earth system scientist at Bangor University and lead author of a new paper describing the findings in the journal Nature Water. “It meant that if only a small percentage of their lakes — this 10 percent — was covered by FPVs, it could be enough to fuel the energy demand of the entire country.” 06-13-24

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Real-time Data Show the Air in Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’ is Even Worse Than Expected

Giles Clarke / Getty Images

A new study finds levels of the carcinogen ethylene oxide that are 9 times higher than those estimated by the EPA’s models.

Since the 1980s, the 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River that connects New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been known as “Cancer Alley.” The name stems from the fact that the area’s residents have a 95 percent greater chance of developing cancer than the average American. A big reason for this is the concentration of industrial facilities along the corridor — particularly petrochemical manufacturing plants, many of which emit ethylene oxide, an extremely potent toxin that is considered a carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency and has been linked to breast and lung cancers.

But even though the general risks of living in the region have been clear for decades, the exact dangers are still coming into focus — and the latest data show that the EPA’s modeling has dramatically underestimated the levels of ethylene oxide in southeastern Louisiana. On average, according to a new study published on Tuesday, ethylene oxide levels in the heart of Cancer Alley are more than double the threshold above which the EPA considers cancer risk to be unacceptable.

To gather the new data, researchers from Johns Hopkins University drove highly sensitive air monitors along a planned route where a concentration of industrial facilities known to emit ethylene oxide are situated. The monitors detected levels that were as many as 10 times higher than EPA thresholds, and the researchers were able to detect plumes of the toxin spewing from the facilities from as many as seven miles away. The resulting measurements were significantly higher than the EPA and state environmental agency’s modeled emissions values for the area.  06-11-24

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Study Shows Elephants Might Call Each Other By Name

Bird perches on an elephant as it walks at the Amboseli National Park in Kajiado County, Kenya, April 4, 2024. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

Over the years, researchers who study elephants have noticed an intriguing phenomenon. Sometimes when an elephant makes a vocalization to a group of other elephants, all of them respond. But sometimes when that same elephant makes a similar call to the group, only a single individual responds.

Could it be that elephants address each other by the equivalent of a name? A new study involving wild African savannah elephants in Kenya lends support to this idea.

The researchers analyzed vocalizations – mostly rumbles generated by elephants using their vocal cords, similar to how people speak – made by more than 100 elephants in Amboseli National Park and Samburu National Reserve.

Using a machine-learning model, the researchers identified what appeared to be a name-like component in these calls identifying a specific elephant as the intended addressee. The researchers then played audio for 17 elephants to test how they would respond to a call apparently addressed to them as well as to a call apparently addressed to some other elephant.

00:15Mass fish death in Mexico blamed on severe drought

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“Certainly, in order to address one another in this way, elephants must learn to associate particular sounds with particular individuals and then use those sounds to get the attention of the individual in question, which requires sophisticated learning ability and understanding of social relationships,” Pardo said.

“The fact that elephants address one another as individuals highlights the importance of social bonds – and specifically, maintaining many different social bonds – for these animals,” Pardo added. 06-10-24

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Heat Waves Are Making Restaurant Kitchens Unsafe. Workers Are Fighting Back.

When workers at the sandwich chain Homegrown unionized, they knew heat was one of their main issues. Mike Rodriguez

As climate change makes summers hotter, restaurant employees are walking out and unionizing.

Last month, Oscar Hernández couldn’t sleep. The cook, who worked at a restaurant located inside of a Las Vegas casino, had found that after coming home from his shifts, his body would not properly cool down.

The air conditioning at work had been broken for about four months. Hernández worked eight-hour shifts during the restaurant’s brunch service, whipping up eggs, waffles, and fried chicken. He spent hours in front of a scaldingly hot grill — an older model that only ran at extremely high temperatures. Most often, his station on the line was in a corner, and it seemed as if all of the other heat sources in the kitchen — the gas burners, the four deep-fryers, the waffle iron — converged right there. Summer had not officially started, but Las Vegas was already seeing above-normal temperatures in May, sometimes reaching triple digits. The fans that the owners put in the kitchen were not strong enough to cool down the space.

Extreme heat is nothing new to Hernández, who lives in Nevada and has worked in the restaurant industry for 22 years. But the situation at this restaurant on the Las Vegas strip was becoming untenable. Sometimes it got so hot in the kitchen that Hernández preferred the heat outside, where at least there was a breeze. He had a headache that would not go away, and at home he sometimes found himself getting irritated with his children over small things. 06-10-24

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A Labor Win at Georgia School Bus Factory Shows a Worker-led EV Transition is Possible

Employees work on a school bus on the assembly line at Blue Bird Corporation’s manufacturing facility in Fort Valley, Ga. AP Photo/David Goldman

Where federal dollars and green jobs are flowing, unions see an opportunity to organize the right-to-work South.

For nearly a century, a substantial portion of America’s iconic yellow school buses have been manufactured at a factory in Fort Valley, a town of 9,000 people surrounded by peach and pecan orchards in central Georgia.

Carolyn Allen has worked at Blue Bird for 13 years, and she talks about this fact almost as though it’s a surprise to her. “I live about 15 miles away and I never thought I’d be here,” she told Grist. “I never wanted to work here, because people were always being laid off all the time.” But life’s contingencies brought her to the company anyway: “I got to where I was looking for a job, and this is the one that came open.”

Even though she stayed, Allen wasn’t happy working at Blue Bird. “There was so many things in here that was not right. There was unfairness, favoritism, workload,” she said. “Lord, we worked sometimes six and seven days a week, and people needed to go home and see their families sometimes. And unfair wages.”

So a few years ago, when she got a call inviting her to a union organizing meeting, Allen didn’t need much persuading to get involved. After a long organizing drive, the effort paid off in May 2023, when the factory’s 1,400 employees voted to affiliate with the United Steelworkers. 06-07-24

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