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Why Some Experts Say COPs are ‘distracting’ and Need Fixing

The yearly get-togethers are a critical centerpiece for international climate action. But critics say they have outlived their usefulness and are due for an overhaul.

Gehad Hamdy/picture alliance via Getty Images

Diplomats, academics, and activists from around the globe will gather yet again this week to try to find common ground on a plan for combating climate change. This year’s COP, as the event is known, marks the 28th annual meeting of the conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. More than 70,000 people are expected to descend on Dubai for the occasion.

In addition to marathon negotiations and heated discussions, the fortnight-long assembly will see all manner of marches, rallies, speakers, advocacy, and lobbying. But, aside from fanfare, it remains unclear how much COP28 will, or can, achieve. While there have been signs that the United States and China could deepen their decarbonization commitments, countries have struggled to decide how to compensate developing countries for climate-related losses. Meanwhile, global emissions and temperatures continue climbing at an alarming rate.

That has left some to wonder: Have these annual gatherings outlived their usefulness?

To some, the yearly get-togethers continue to be a critical centerpiece for international climate action, and any tweaks they might need lie mostly around the edges. “They aren’t perfect,” said Tom Evans, a policy analyst for the nonprofit climate change think tank E3G. “[But] they are still important and useful.” While he sees room for improvements — such as greater continuity between COP summits and ensuring ministerial meetings are more substantive — he supports the overall format. “We need to try and find a way to kind of invigorate and revitalize without distracting from the negotiations, which are key.”

Others say the summits no longer sufficiently meet the moment. “The job in hand has changed over the years,” said Rachel Kyte, a climate diplomacy expert and dean emerita of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She is among those who believe the annual COP needs to evolve. “Form should follow function,” she said. “And we are using an old form.” 11-28-23

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The Lower Sioux in Minnesota Need Homes — So They Are Building Them From Hemp

The Indigenous nation will soon have the only facility to create hempcrete in the country.

The Lower Sioux, also known as the Mdewakanton Band of Dakota, have several fields where they grow their own hemp to process into hurd for their hempcrete projects. Aaron Nesheim / Grist

For now, it’s only a gaping hole in the ground, 100-by-100 feet, surrounded by farm machinery and bales of hemp on a sandy patch of earth in the Lower Sioux Indian Reservation in southwestern Minnesota.

But when construction is complete next April, the Lower Sioux — also known as part of the Mdewakanton Band of Dakota — will have a 20,000-square-foot manufacturing campus that will allow them to pioneer a green experiment, the first of its kind in the United States.

They will have an integrated vertical operation to grow hemp, process it into insulation called hempcrete, and then build healthy homes with it. Right now, no one in the U.S. does all three.

Once the tribe makes this low-carbon material, they can begin to address a severe shortage of housing and jobs. Recapturing a slice of sovereignty would be a win for the Lower Sioux, once a largely woodland people who were subjected to some of the worst brutality against the Indigenous nations in North America.

They lost most of their lands in the 19th century, and the territory finally allotted to them two hours south of Minneapolis consists of just 1,743 acres of poor soil. That stands in contrast to the fertile black earth of the surrounding white-owned farmlands. 11-27-23

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The UAW ratifies a contract — and labor’s road ahead in the EV transition

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The historic contract solidifies workers’ role in the clean energy transition, and it already has other automakers raising wages.

Members of the United Auto Workers have overwhelmingly approved a contract that will deliver higher wages, assure them of a role in the EV transition, and possibly lead toward greater unionization of the auto sector. With all of the benefits the pact provides, tens of thousands of people will immediately see their pay rise more than 40 percent, the union said.

The union’s ratification of the pact, by a margin of 64 percent, with Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis followed a two-month strike. Though the electric vehicle transition was never an explicit part of bargaining, it ran as a simultaneously tense and hopeful undercurrent through the walkouts, pickets, and negotiations. This contract, analysts say, will allow the union’s 150,000 members to maintain their quality of life as the nation decarbonizes the transportation sector.

“Those are all huge wins,”  said Albert Wheaton, director of the Cornell Institute for Labor Studies. “The biggest wins by far have been for the lower paid workers.”

Under the contract, the base wage paid to workers will increase 25 percent, while the top wage will climb 33 percent. It also provides cost-of-living adjustments and eliminates the two-tiered wage system that saw new hires permanently earn lower wages than veterans. Temporary workers will see their pay jump 150 percent, and the pact cuts from eight to three the number of years required to reach the top pay level. 11-20-23

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The Single Best Way to Reduce Food Waste on Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, Americans will throw out about 312 million pounds of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, their aunts’ weird casseroles and other festive foods, according to ReFED, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing food waste.

“That’s not surprising because this is the largest meal that most of us probably will eat all year,” said Jeffrey Constantino, ReFED’s communications director. “The whole holiday season, and Thanksgiving in particular, is really defined by abundance.”

But Americans’ abundant holiday food waste comes with excessive economic and environmental costs. The energy and resources that go into farming, packaging and transporting uneaten food are responsible for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The United States spends $440 billion a year — 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product — to produce food no one will eat, according to ReFED.

To cut down on that waste this Thanksgiving, Constantino has a few simple suggestions. 11-22-23

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EPA offers $2B to clean up pollution, develop clean energy in poor and minority communities

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan appears before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on Capitol Hill, Sept. 27, 2023 in Washington.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is making $2 billion available to community groups, states and tribes to clean up pollution and develop clean energy in disadvantaged communities in what officials called the largest-ever investment in environmental justice.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan called the grant program unprecedented and said it “has the promise to turn disadvantaged and overburdened areas into healthy, resilient and thriving communities for current and future generations.”

“Folks, this is historic,’’ Regan told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. The program, funded by the sweeping climate law signed last year by President Joe Biden, is aimed at poor and minority communities “that have long been overlooked and forgotten” and struggle to gain access to federal funding, Regan said.

The climate law authorized $3 billion for underserved communities burdened by pollution, including $1 billion that has already been allocated.

Regan, the first Black man to lead EPA, has made environmental justice a top priority and has visited a number of poor and minority communities in the South, Appalachia and Alaska in a years-long “Journey to Justice” tour.

Biden has repeatedly emphasized his commitment to environmental justice, including an executive order in April to create a White House Office of Environmental Justice. 11-21-23

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The World is Careening Toward 3 Degrees of Warming, UN Says Ahead of Climate Conference

A new UN report sets the stage for high-stakes negotiations at COP28 this month.

Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images

The landmark Paris climate agreement called for nations to keep global temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, with an aspiration of limiting it to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial average. The benchmarks are supposed to stave off some of the worst effects of climate change. But even if countries fulfill their decarbonization pledges in the coming decades, their emissions trajectories put those targets well out of reach, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme.

If countries fully implemented their plans to cut carbon emissions as currently promised under the Paris Agreement framework, the planet will still warm 2.9 degrees Celsius, or 5.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Assuming a world in which countries also meet their current goals to zero out net carbon emissions in the coming decades, temperatures will still increase about 2.5 degrees Celsius, or 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the analysis.

“Even in the most optimistic scenario considered in this report, the chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is only 14 percent, and the various scenarios leave open a large possibility that global warming exceeds 2 degrees Celsius or even 3 degrees Celsius,” the report noted.

The analysis found that global emissions need to drop by more than a quarter to keep warming to 2 degrees Celsius in the next seven years. To meet the more ambitious 1.5-degrees target, emissions will need to fall by more than 40 percent by 2030. Those cuts should largely come from developed countries and high-income households, which are responsible for the bulk of emissions, the report noted. About 10 percent of individuals contribute to nearly half of all emissions globally. 11-21-23

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Will climate cookbooks change how we eat?

Mia Torres / Grist

Sustainable diets have been around for ages, but an emerging cookbook genre signals a new appetite for change.

Kitchen Arts & Letters, a legendary cookbook store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is tiny — just 750 square feet — but not an inch of space is wasted. With roughly 12,000 different cookbooks and a staff of former chefs and food academics, it’s the land of plenty for those seeking guidance beyond the typical weekday recipe.

One table is piled high with new cookbooks about ramen, eggs, and the many uses of whey, the overflow stacked in leaning towers above the shelves along the walls. One bookcase is packed with nothing but titles about fish. And next to a robust vegetarian section at the back of the store, tucked in a corner, is a minuscule collection of cookbooks about sustainability and climate change.

Natalie Stroud, a sales associate at Kitchen Arts & Letters, pointed me to the five titles featured there. “It’s hard,” she said, “because there aren’t many. But it’s something we’re trying to build out as it becomes more popular.” 11-20-23

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New York Calls PepsiCo’s Plastic Pollution a ‘public nuisance’ in First-of-its-kind Lawsuit

New York Attorney General Letitia James Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The company’s packaging was found to be the most significant contributor to plastic waste clogging the Buffalo River.

Plastic trash produced by the company PepsiCo has become a “persistent and dangerous form of plastic pollution” for residents of the Buffalo River watershed in upstate New York, according to a new lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The suit, brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, is one of the first legal challenges from a state against a major plastic producer. It draws on a 2022 investigation from James’ office in which PepsiCo-branded plastic packaging was found to be by far the most significant contributor to plastic waste clogging the Buffalo River and its tributaries. Out of nearly 2,000 pieces of plastic trash collected at 13 sites along the waterways, PepsiCo products — which include brands like Aquafina, Cheetos, Gatorade, and Lay’s — accounted for more than 17 percent of those with identifiable branding.

All that plastic litter is breaking down into tiny fragments — microplastics — that are winding up in Buffalo’s water supply and the fish that people eat. Some of the chemicals contained in microplastics are carcinogenic, and researchers have raised concerns that the particles could cause reproductive dysfunction and other maladies.

“PepsiCo’s irresponsible packaging and marketing endanger Buffalo’s water supply, environment, and public health,” James said in a statement. 11-16-23

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Raising Better Beef

No food is harder on the environment than beef. Here’s how ranchers and researchers are trying to make burgers less burdensome.

The cattle part as Meredith Ellis edges her small four-wheeler through the herd, silently counting the cows and their calves.

It’s the way she starts most days on her 3,000-acre Texas ranch: ensuring all the cattle are safe, deciding when they should move to another pasture, and checking that the grass is as healthy as her animals.

“We’re looking for the sweet spot where the land and cattle help each other,” Ellis says as she rumbles down a narrow dirt road to check on another herd. “You want to find that balance.”

Much of Ellis’ work evolved from the ranching her father practiced for decades. Her parents built this ranch, and it’s where Ellis was raised, roaming with her brother through the pastures, creeks and hardwood forests as the family added land and cattle over the years.

But now it’s Ellis’ turn to make the decisions. She’s implemented changes her father couldn’t dream of — because for her and other ranchers, their livelihoods and the future of the planet are on the line.

For generations, beef has been a way of life in Texas, the most quintessential of American main courses, and a premium protein around the world. It’s also the single most damaging food for the planet. Beef is the largest agricultural source of greenhouse gasses worldwide, and it has a bigger carbon footprint than any other type of protein. 11-16-23

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Climate change is putting the health of billions at risk

A new report from a leading medical journal warns global warming may lead to a 370 percent increase in annual heat-related deaths.

A local aid worker douses a water offering onto the grave of a 2-year-old who died from complications due to malnutrition in January in Doolow, Somalia. v for The New York Times via Getty Images

Eight years ago, the medical journal the Lancet began compiling the latest research on how climate change affects human health. It was the first coordinated effort to highlight scientific findings on the health consequences of climate change, published in the hopes of making the topic more central to global climate negotiations. The Lancet’s annual reports on this topic, which summarize research conducted by dozens of scientists from leading institutions around the world, have become increasingly dire in tone.

On Tuesday, the journal published its most damning installment yet. Drawing on research published in 2022 and preliminary data on record-breaking heatwaves and floods in 2023, the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change warns of “irreversible harms” due to limited success mitigating the sources of global warming, primarily fossil fuel combustion. “The rising risks of climate change,” the report says, are “threatening the very foundations of human health.”

In a press briefing call last week, experts said the health impacts associated with extreme heat and food insecurity spurred by drought and flooding were among the most concerning developments documented in the new report. Annual heat-related deaths between 2013 and 2022 were 85 percent higher than in the period between 1991 and 2000 — more than double the increase that would have occurred in the absence of man-made warming. The global land area affected by drought between 1951 and 1960 — 18 percent — increased to 47 percent between 2013 and 2022. The confluence of climate-driven heat and drought have put 127 million people at risk of moderate or severe food insecurity. Marina Romanello, the executive director of the Lancet Countdown, called this finding on food insecurity one of the “most shocking” outcomes of this year’s report. 11-14-23

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Every region of the country is taking climate action. Here’s how.

The National Climate Assessment makes clear we’ve got a lot of work to do. These cities and states are leading the way.

Grist / Getty Images

On Tuesday, the United States government published the Fifth National Climate Assessment — an exhaustive summary of the leading research on climate change and how it affects life in every part of the country. It may come as no surprise that its findings are dire. Impacts that we are already experiencing today, like the rate of temperature increase, frequent and extreme wildfires, and ongoing drought in the West, are “unprecedented for thousands of years.” These changes will only worsen for as long as society continues to burn fossil fuels, and for some time after.

But the report also offers reason for hope. “The takeaway from this assessment, the takeaway from all of our collective work on climate, should not be doom and despair,” Ali Zaidi, the White House national climate adviser, said in a press call. Instead, he and others stressed, the message should be one of action and possibility.

As the crisis has intensified, so have efforts to mitigate it. States, cities, businesses, and organizations across the country are taking increasingly large steps to reduce emissions — and those efforts are aided by the falling costs of renewable energy and other decarbonizing technologies. The report notes that the cost of solar energy has fallen 90 percent in the last decade, and the cost of wind power has dropped 70 percent. Between 2005 and 2019, greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. decreased by 12 percent. Still, emissions must decrease far more rapidly than that by 2050 to keep us in line with international climate goals.

In the meantime, communities across the country are taking the necessary steps to adapt to climate impacts, and in many cases, doing so in ways that address inequities. 11-14-23

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Polluting Industries Say the Cost of Cleaner Air Is Too High

As the Biden administration prepares to toughen air quality standards, health benefits are weighed against the cost of compliance.

Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about to announce new regulations governing soot — the particles that trucks, farms, factories, wildfires, power plants and dusty roads generate. By law, the agency isn’t supposed to consider the impact on polluting industries. In practice, it does — and those industries are warning of dire economic consequences.

Under the Clean Air Act, every five years the E.P.A. re-examines the science around several harmful pollutants. Fine particulate matter is extremely dangerous when it percolates into human lungs, and the law has driven a vast decline in concentrations in areas like Los Angeles and the Ohio Valley.

But technically there is no safe level of particulate matter, and ever-spreading wildfire smoke driven by a changing climate and decades of forest mismanagement has reversed recent progress. The Biden administration decided to short-circuit the review cycle after the E.P.A. in the Trump administration concluded that no change was needed. As the decision nears, business groups are ramping up resistance.

Last month, a coalition of major industries, including mining, oil and gas, manufacturing, and timber, sent a letter to the White House chief of staff, Jeffrey D. Zients, warning that “no room would be left for new economic development” in many areas if the E.P.A. went ahead with a standard as tough as it was contemplating, endangering the manufacturing recovery that President Biden had pushed with laws funding climate action and infrastructure investment. 11-3-23

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Michigan just passed one of the country’s most ambitious clean energy bills

Interior of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

The state’s Democrat-controlled legislature passed bills that aim to accelerate the energy transition — including a mandate for 100% carbon-free power by 2040.

Michigan’s Democrat-controlled legislature has passed a package of clean energy bills that includes one of the most aggressive state-level clean energy targets in the nation.

Senate Bill 271, which requires the state’s major utilities to achieve 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2040, as well as bills 273, 502 and 519, were passed on party-line votes in the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate, where Democrats hold narrow majorities. Michigan is now one of several states in which Democrats won governing ​“trifectas” in the 2022 midterm elections and then proceeded to enact significant climate policy.

Michigan state Republicans opposed the bills, saying they would increase energy costs. But Democratic backers argued that they will fight climate change and reduce energy costs for disadvantaged communities and the state as a whole by expanding reliance on low-cost renewable energy and capturing federal incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act.

The bills closely match a plan put forward by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D), who is expected to sign them. Whitmer has already issued an executive order calling for the state to achieve economywide carbon-neutrality by 2050. 11-09-23

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Mercury is Still an Environmental Threat

The heavy metal is poisoning Indigenous peoples’ environment and health, but no one can agree on how or when to get rid of it.

Photo by IISD/ENB / Kiara Worth

The negotiations produced no particularly big wins. There is still no agreement on a common, global method to measure and identify mercury-contaminated waste from industrial sources, like chemical manufacturers or oil and gas operators. Mercury can still also be purchased online and traded internationally, and states could not agree on when to pull it from tooth fillings.

But there were some successes: nations have agreed to ban the use of mercury as a preservative in cosmetics by 2025, as well as increased support for Indigenous Peoples in future negotiations.

Mercury—the silvery, highly-toxic, heavy metal—still poses a serious environmental and health threat around the world and last week, world leaders met in Geneva, Switzerland for five days of negotiations in a bid to control mercury pollution, trade and use. Mercury is used in a range of products including skin-lightening cosmetics, batteries, fluorescent lighting, pesticides and dental amalgams to fill cavities. It’s also a byproduct of coal-fired power plants and waste incineration.

A decade ago, the United Nations adopted the Minamata Convention on Mercury to eliminate the effects of the chemical on people and the environment. Named after Minamata Bay in Japan where mercury-tainted wastewater poisoned more than 2,000 people in the 1950’s and 60’s, the debilitating illness was dubbed Minamata Disease with symptoms including hearing and speech impairment, loss of coordination, muscle weakness, and vision impairment. Exposure to mercury produces significant, adverse neurological and health effects, especially in unborn children and infants. Human exposure to the chemical typically comes from eating contaminated fish where the chemical bioaccumulates, dental amalgams, and occupational exposure at jobs where mercury is present, like in mines, waste facilities, and dentist’s offices.

The goal of the Minamata Convention, which was adopted in 2013 and became legally binding in 2017, is to eventually eliminate the use of mercury. The convention has led to the phaseout of a wide range of products that contained the chemical, like batteries, compact fluorescent lights, pesticides, thermometers and other measurement devices, while industrial processes that relied heavily on mercury, like the production of chlorine, are now almost nonexistent. Today, the world trade in mercury has dropped significantly. 11-09-23

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‘Insanity’: petrostates planning huge expansion of fossil fuels, says UN report

Plans by nations including Saudi Arabia, the US and UAE would blow climate targets and ‘throw humanity’s future into question’

The world’s fossil fuel producers are planning expansions that would blow the planet’s carbon budget twice over, a UN report has found. Experts called the plans “insanity” which “throw humanity’s future into question”.

The energy plans of the petrostates contradicted their climate policies and pledges, the report said. The plans would lead to 460% more coal production, 83% more gas, and 29% more oil in 2030 than it was possible to burn if global temperature rise was to be kept to the internationally agreed 1.5C. The plans would also produce 69% more fossil fuels than is compatible with the riskier 2C target.

The countries responsible for the largest carbon emissions from planned fossil fuel production are India (coal), Saudi Arabia (oil) and Russia (coal, oil and gas). The US and Canada are also planning to be major oil producers, as is the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is hosting the crucial UN climate summit Cop28, which starts on 30 November. 11-08-23

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As offshore wind stumbles, Biden moves to speed up solar and geothermal in the West

Ansel Adams / Archive Photos / Getty Images

New clean energy projects could power the country, but they need more transmission lines to do it.

The Biden administration has aimed high when it comes to the nation’s clean energy buildout, but a string of setbacks has slowed momentum. Auctions for offshore wind projects have ended in failure and massive carbon storage projects have been canceled, all despite massive subsidies and tax credits from the Inflation Reduction Act. Companies in turn have blamed high construction and shipping costs, high interest rates, and in particular, a lack of transmission availability.

But as some offshore goals falter, the administration is focusing on alternative energy buildout onshore, on its sprawling public lands in the West.

Today, the Department of the Interior announced an additional 15 projects to its portfolio of clean energy initiatives, raising the number of approved projects on public lands to 46 since 2021. These latest are scattered throughout Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, and Southern California, making for a total of 16 solar and 10 geothermal projects that will be bolstered by 20 new transmission lines, indicating an interest in solving a major clean energy problem — that is, the issue of how to get all the energy generated in remote areas out to the cities that need it. The new transmission lines will bring electricity across the vast deserts and mountains to the region’s widely dispersed population centers, just as energy costs have skyrocketed. 11-06-23

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Pennsylvania’s fracking boom is hurting its oldest residents

“Up until 10 years ago, I was a pretty healthy bitch. And, unfortunately, I’m dying.”

Mary Ellen McConnell stands with her cat outside her home in Clearville, Pennsylvania. Scott Cannon / Grist

In 1976, Mary Ellen McConnell, a “concrete city kid,” moved from Bethesda, Maryland, to the verdant hills and river valleys of Clearville, Pennsylvania. She fell in love with rural life and settled on a 124-acre farm on the Marcellus Shale, a vast geological formation that stretches from New York to West Virginia and blankets Pennsylvania.

But that tranquility proved to be short-lived: A few decades later, the area would be overrun with big fracking rigs from natural gas companies drawn to the rich stores of methane gas trapped in the 500 million-year-old sedimentary rock below.

The previous owners of McConnell’s home had signed a lease in perpetuity with Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of a major natural gas company. That meant that even though McConnell owned the farmhouse, she had no say in how the minerals below the surface were used. In return, she received an annual check of $248, or $2 per acre.

McConnell spent years trying to cancel the lease, petitioning the company directly and even seeking legal counsel, but in 2010, Columbia Gas filed an injunction against McConnell and began seismic testing to use the area beneath her land for “storage” — of exactly what, McConnell does not know. 11-06-23

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As Climate Talks Near, Calls Mount for a ‘Phaseout’ of Fossil Fuels

An liquefied natural gas terminal in Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Stefan Rampfel / picture alliance via Getty Images

With UN climate negotiations set for next month, a growing number of nations and business leaders are calling for a phaseout of fossil fuels. But with major fossil fuel expansion projects moving ahead around the globe, advocates of strong action face a daunting challenge.

It is boom time in the deserts of New Mexico and West Texas, where vast oil reserves buried in the Permian geological basin are getting a second life, thanks to fracking. Though tapped for more than a century, the basin still contains the largest oil reserve in the United States, and one of the largest in the world. Output has tripled in a decade. And big oil appears determined to tap every last drop.

In October, Vicki Hollub, CEO of Occidental, one of the largest operators there, promised­ yet more production in a basin that Bloomberg last year described as “uniquely positioned to become the world’s most important growth engine for oil production.”

Did nobody tell them about climate change?

The fossil-fuel business is burgeoning too on the frozen shores of the Arctic Ocean, at the giant Bovanenkovo gas field in Russia’s Yamal peninsula. By drilling deeper, state-owned Gazprom plans to more than double production by 2030. Bovanenkovo may soon be producing 40 percent of Russian gas.

Meanwhile, China itself is set to open dozens more giant coal mines — each with reserves whose burning would emit more than a billion tons of carbon dioxide. China has almost a third of the world’s proposed new coal mines, and Beijing this year announced plans to fast-track them into service. 11-02-23

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A new report calls chemical recycling a ‘dangerous deception’ — and a former plastic lobbyist agrees

Most U.S. chemical recycling facilities turn plastics into fuel to be burned.

A crane lifts plastic trash from a landfill on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia. Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP via Getty Images

As petrochemical companies continue to inundate the world with cheap plastic products and packaging — much of which is designed to be used once and then thrown away — they’ve been heavily promoting one solution called “chemical recycling.”

This catch-all term refers to processes and technologies that break plastics into their molecular building blocks and turn them into new products. In theory, chemical recycling is a promising way to deal with so-called “hard-to-recycle” plastics like wrappers and bags, which can’t be recycled using conventional methods.

But a new report from the nonprofits Beyond Plastics and the International Pollutants Elimination Network, or IPEN, says chemical recycling is a “dangerous deception” that will only exacerbate pollution and environmental injustice while failing to address the plastics crisis.

“The landscape of chemical recycling is littered with pollution and failure,” and relying on it is an “unreliable and polluting approach” to resolve the global plastics crisis, Jennifer Congdon, Beyond Plastics’ deputy director, told journalists at a press conference on Tuesday. She and the report co-authors called on President Joe Biden to place a national moratorium on new chemical recycling operations in the U.S. and urged international negotiators to disavow the process as part of the global plastics treaty that will be discussed during a third round of negotiations in Nairobi later this month.

Beyond Plastics and IPEN’s 159-page report begins with an overview of the plastic pollution crisis and companies’ “undeniable” failure to address it through conventional recycling methods. According to the Department of Energy, the U.S. plastics recycling rate is still only about 5 percent, despite decades spent trying to scale it up. 11-01-23

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Why can’t we just quit cows?

Eating less beef, cheese, and ice cream would slash emissions. If only it were that easy.

Americans love their beef and dairy. Consumption of both has steadily climbed despite the widely known climate implications. Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Cattle play a colossal role in climate change: As the single largest agricultural source of methane, a potent planet-warming gas, the world’s 940 million bovines spew nearly 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions — much of it through belches and droppings.

As such, there’s an astonishing amount of time and money being funneled into emission control. On-farm biodigesters, for example, take a back-end approach by harvesting methane wafting from manure pits. A slew of research aims to curb bovine burps by feeding them seaweed, essential oils and even a bovine Bean-O of sorts. The latest endeavor, a $70 million effort led by a Nobel laureate, uses gene-editing technology in an effort to eliminate that pollution by re-engineering the animals’ gut microbes.

Given the world’s growing appetite for meat and dairy, these novel ventures are crucial to inching us toward international and national climate goals. Yet they beg the question: Wouldn’t it be easier to ditch milk, cheese and beef for plant-based alternatives? Why fight nature when there’s an easier solution, at least from a scientific perspective?

Research shows that even a modest skew away from meat-based diets can shrink an individual’s carbon footprint as much as 75 percent. As it turns out, however, untangling cows from the climate equation is enormously complicated — especially in the United States, where the industry, worth $275 billion annually, boasts the world’s fourth largest cattle population and is its top beef and dairy producer. Achieving a cheeseburger-free America faces formidable challenges. Beyond overcoming cultural shifts — the country’s per-capita consumption of mozzarella, to name one example, averages one pound a month — lies the challenge of meeting nutritional demands and rebalancing the intricacies of an agricultural, food and industrial economy inextricably linked to livestock farming. 11-01-23

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Lawn equipment spews ‘shocking’ amount of air pollution, new data shows

David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

“Really inefficient engine technology is, pound for pound, more polluting than cars and trucks.”

Lawn-care equipment — leaf-blowers, lawnmowers, and the like — doesn’t top most people’s lists of climate priorities. But a new report documents how, in aggregate, lawn care is a major source of U.S. air pollution.

Using the latest available data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2020 National Emissions Inventory, the report found that the equipment released more than 68,000 tons of smog-forming nitrous oxides, which is roughly on par with the pollution from 30 million cars. Lawn equipment also spewed 30 millions tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide, which is more than the total emissions of the city of Los Angeles.

“When it comes to these small engines in lawn and garden equipment, it’s really counterintuitive,” said Kirsten Schatz, the lead author of the report and a clean air advocate at Colorado PIRG, a nonprofit environmental organization. “This stuff is really disproportionately causing a lot of air pollution, health problems, and disproportionately contributing to climate change.”

Lawn equipment also contributed to a litany of other air toxics, such as formaldehyde and benzene, according to the report, which is titled “Lawn Care Goes Electric.” But perhaps the most concerning pollutant it releases is the fine particulate matter known as PM2.5. 10-30-23

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Food justice advocates didn’t set out to save the climate. Their solutions are doing it anyway.

How New York’s rich history of urban gardening connects food justice and climate mitigation.

A view of Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, New York, taken in 2020. Angela Weiss / AFP

Imagine a bountiful plot of land, fences overgrown and overflowing with life: milkweed, mugwort, chicory, goldenrod, echinacea, yarrow, and raspberry bushes sprinkled among ripening apple, pear, and peach trees. Herbs like lemon balm, dill, mint, and oregano are boundless. There’s a colorful spread of fat melons, strawberries, cucumbers, butternut squash, beets, lettuce, kale, and tomatoes. There’s a blueberry bush, though it’s been stripped bare — food for the birds and bugs. The groundhogs and other small creatures — pesky as they may be — spend their days trudging lazily through the foliage. This place takes up about as much space as a smaller brownstone apartment — but it’s a jungle oasis. At least that’s the language that artist, environmental activist, and land steward Nkoula Badila uses to describe the ecological diversity of her backyard urban garden in Hudson, New York.

“My childhood has definitely taught me to find my peace in nature,” Badila said. Her family spent a lot of time visiting and volunteering at local urban farms and gardens when she was growing up. “I feel like just having that influence and lifestyle around was very grounding.”

Badila’s backyard garden is also something else—a space to preserve Black food traditions and cultivate community. “We are introducing a lot of these [gardening and farming methods] that are also things that our ancestors did,” Badila said. “We’re reintroducing those things and reclaiming how diverse, brilliant, and expansive our ancestors were.”

When you envision agriculture in the United States, you probably don’t picture spaces like Badila’s. And yet, sprouting in small downtown backyards or amidst the metal and concrete of many U.S. urban centers are surprisingly abundant growing spaces — community farms and backyard gardens, many of them Black-owned. Those spaces serve dual purposes as a local solution to food insecurity and a source of community cultivation in historically undervalued, underinvested, and abandoned areas. 10-30-23

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Democrats unveil ‘most comprehensive plan ever’ to address plastics problem

The sweeping bill is unlikely to pass, but its components could still make an impact.

A trash bin in LA overflows with plastic. Mario Tama / Getty Images

As plastic litter builds up in the environment, polluting landscapes and poisoning ecosystems, U.S. lawmakers have unveiled their “most comprehensive plan ever” to tackle the problem.

Three Democratic members of Congress on Wednesday introduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2023, a sweeping bill to reduce plastic production and hold companies financially responsible for their pollution. Previous iterations of the legislation were introduced in 2020 and 2021, but this year’s version includes stronger protections for communities that live near petrochemical facilities, more stringent targets for companies to reduce their plastic production, and stricter regulations against toxic chemicals used in plastic products.

“Our bill tackles the plastic pollution crisis head on, addressing the harmful climate and environmental justice impacts of this growing fossil fuel sector and moving our economy away from its overreliance on single-use plastic,” Representative Jared Huffman of California said in a statement. Huffman co-sponsored the bill with Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

As U.S. demand for fossil fuel-powered heating, electricity, and transportation declines, fossil fuel companies are pivoting to plastic and are on track to triple global plastic production by 2060. Meanwhile, plastic pollution has reached crisis levels as litter clogs the marine environment and microplastics continue to be found on remote mountain peaks, in rainfall, and in people’s hearts, brains, and placentas. Plastic production also releases greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants that disproportionately affect marginalized communities. 10-26-23

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Landfills in Washington and Oregon leaked ‘explosive’ levels of methane last year

A gas capture system at the King County Cedar Hills Regional Landfill near Seattle. Wolfgang Kaehler / LightRocket via Getty Images

EPA inspection reports find methane exceedances are more common than operators say.

Landfills in Oregon and Washington repeatedly exceeded federal standards for methane emissions last year, according to documents obtained by an environmental group.

Although the Clean Air Act requires that large landfills operators keep methane concentrations below 500 parts per million, Environmental Protection Agency inspection reports from May and June 2022 show that this threshold was exceeded in dozens of readings taken at four landfills in Oregon and Washington. At one landfill near Corvallis, Oregon, there were so many exceedances that an inspector ran out of flags to mark them with. At another, the inspector’s measuring instruments maxed out, indicating what he described as “explosive” concentrations of methane.

Katherine Blauvelt, circular economy campaign director for the environmental group Industrious Labs, which obtained the documents through public records requests, said the reports highlight the need for better monitoring and mitigation of landfill methane emissions nationwide. These kinds of methane leaks are likely happening across the country, she said, much more frequently than the public knows, and regulators aren’t using the best tools to stop them.

“Everyone’s operating under the Windows 2000 system, and it’s time for an upgrade,” she said. “We’ve got to do better, because we’re in a climate emergency and methane is a super-pollutant.” 10-26-23

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Hear that? It’s the sound of leaf blower bans.

As restrictions spread, neighborhoods are getting quieter — and cleaner.

Daniel Bockwoldt / picture alliance via Getty Images

For more than 100 million years, trees have dropped their leaves every fall, creating a protective layer of duff that provides cover for snails, bees, and butterflies. Decaying leaves fertilized the soil and gave nutrients back to the trees. Today, fallen leaves still provide a harvest festival of benefits — unless they get blasted into oblivion with a leaf blower.

Across the United States, some 11 million leaf blowers roar into action every year, obliterating delicate debris with 200-mile-per-hour winds. Their distinctive, whining drone has been hard to escape. But restrictions on leaf blowers have been spreading across the country, permitting some lucky locales to experience the season as nature intended, at a humane decibel level.

Outright bans on the gas-powered machines have recently taken effect in Washington, D.C.; Miami Beach, Florida; and Evanston, Illinois. California will end the sale of gas-powered blowers next summer. Their hum will also be silenced in Portland and Seattle in the coming years. Barring a sudden acceptance of lawns scattered with leaves, rakes and battery-powered devices will slowly replace them.

Long the dream of noise-sensitive people everywhere, bans started taking off after pandemic lockdowns in 2020 forced office workers into their homes. Stuck in their neighborhoods all day, people discovered the beauty of birdsong, along with a newfound loathing for the whine of the leaf blowers. 10-25-23

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New IEA outlook: With renewable energy ‘unstoppable,’ fossil fuels will peak by 2030

The International Energy Agency also warns of a natural gas glut that could threaten the world’s ability to meet Paris Agreement targets.

Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As the upcoming United Nations climate conference promises infighting and deadlock, the world’s leading energy forecaster is delivering both good and bad news. The good? The green transition is “unstoppable,” according to the International Energy Agency, or IEA. The bad? Even a shift away from fossil fuels as dramatic as what’s already underway won’t be enough to meet the world’s targets for limiting global warming.

Overall, the IEA, an advisory body set up in the wake of the 1973 oil price shock, is painting an optimistic picture of the next few decades. The agency estimates that based on current policies, global fossil fuel use will peak by 2030 and then decline continuously afterward — particularly coal, which is poised to drop about 40 percent over three decades — despite continued growth in the world’s population. Offshore wind projects alone will receive three times as much funding as coal and gas power plants, and the number of electric cars on the road will increase tenfold. With these monumental shifts underway, limiting global temperature increase to the 2016 Paris Agreement’s target of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) remains a possibility — though it is far from guaranteed, especially without significant investments in just the next 10 years.

These projections are part of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, an annual report summarizing the state of the global energy market and its future. The report lays the groundwork for negotiations at COP28, the annual United Nations climate change conference that will be held in Dubai at the end of November. 10-24-23

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The pope leads 1.4 billion Catholics. Getting them to care about the climate is harder than he thought.

Pope Francis is among the most significant religious leaders in the world. But even he can’t bend the emissions curve on his own.

Pope Francis’ calls for climate action have been more widely supported in the Global South and in frontline communities. The pontiff has repeatedly emphasized the connection between “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” Noel Celis /AFP via Getty Images

If there’s one person in the Catholic Church who ought to have the ability to influence climate action on a global scale, it’s the pope. And yet as Laudate Deum, his most recent exhortation on climate demonstrates, even Pope Francis seems frustrated by how little has changed despite his best efforts.

The pontiff didn’t shy away from calling out those he sees as responsible, and after outlining the science proving that climate change is human-caused, he made clear that developing nations contribute little to the problem but bear the brunt of its impacts. He rejected the idea that technology alone will avert disaster and lamented the failure of repeated meetings of the Conference of the Parties to hasten the abandonment of fossil fuels. In drawing from scientific studies, governmental reports, and the works of authors like feminist tech scholar Donna J. Haraway, Francis showed a firm grasp of both the science and politics of climate change while conveying the moral and spiritual implications of the crisis, with the goal of urging “all people of good will” to act.

“Our responses have not been adequate while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point,” the Holy Father wrote in the document released October 4.

As the leader of a hierarchical institution with 1.36 billion adherents worldwide, the pope has authority over more people than all but two heads of state. From the first day of his papacy in 2013, Francis made clear that he would leverage his position for the sake of the planet. He took the name of the patron saint of ecology, and in 2015 released a landmark encyclical — the highest form of papal teaching on Catholic doctrine — on the environment, Laudato Si’, which some environmentalists have heralded as the most important climate document of the decade. 10-23-23

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Atlantic hurricanes intensifying faster, more frequently, research finds

The bridge leading from Fort Myers to Pine Island, Fla., is heavily damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian on Oct. 1, 2022. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

The list of major hurricanes that rapidly intensified before hitting the United States in recent years is long and memorable: Harvey, Irma, Maria, Michael, Laura, Ida, Ian and Idalia.

All of those storms, starting in 2017, developed explosively over the Atlantic Ocean. Generally, this rapid escalation is increasingly recognized as part of a global phenomenon related to climate change and its associated warming of ocean waters — but until the past couple of years, the Atlantic’s inclusion in the trend was somewhat murkier.

Now, research shows that this rapid intensification is on the rise across the Atlantic basin at multiple time scales. The author of a study published Thursday, Andra Garner, an assistant professor at Rowan University in New Jersey, also highlights regions in which this intensification has become more likely, such as the western Caribbean Sea.

“These findings really just serve to quantify a phenomenon that is very much expected in a warmer climate,” Garner told The Washington Post. “The increased likelihood for hurricanes to transition from weak storms into major hurricanes in 24 hours or less was particularly striking.” 10-19-23

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Workers are dying from extreme heat. Why aren’t there laws to protect them?

“We’re asking for something so simple. Something that could save so many lives.”

Jasmine Granillo on the steps of the U.S. Capitol during another thirst strike on July 25, 2023. Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call

Jasmine Granillo was eager for her older brother, Roendy, to get home. With their dad’s long hours at his construction job, Roendy always tried to make time for his sister. He had promised to take her shopping at a local flea market when he returned from work.

“I thought my brother was coming home,” Granillo said.

Roendy Granillo was installing floors in Melissa, Texas, in July 2015. Temperatures had reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit when he began to feel sick. He asked for a break, but his employer told him to keep working. Shortly after, he collapsed. He died on the way to the hospital from heat stroke. He was 25 years old.

A few months later, the Granillo family joined protesters on the steps of Dallas City Hall for a thirst strike to demand water breaks for construction workers. Jasmine, only 11 years old at the time, spoke to a crowd about her brother’s death. She said that she was scared, but that she “didn’t really think about the fear.”

“I just knew that it was a lot bigger than me,” she said. 10-19-23

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One key step in the energy transition? No new gas lines.

Banning gas lines is one of more than 80 recommendations in a sweeping new report on how to speed up decarbonization in the U.S.

A worker checks his safety gear Monday at a high-rise residential building under construction in Arlington, Va. (J. David Ake/AP)

Some buildings in the future could feature one notable difference from many that exist today: no connection to a gas line.

That’s one of the recommendations in a sweeping report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released Tuesday on what it will take for the United States to reach its ambitious climate goals. The report suggests states and municipalities consider adopting bans on new gas lines in areas that haven’t previously been served by natural gas.

Rethinking gas infrastructure is one example of the major changes experts say will be necessary to help the country realize its net-zero carbon emissions goals by 2050. Lawmakers have passed packages, such as last year’s Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law of 2021, that provide funding and a roadmap for slashing emissions. This new 600-plus-page report contains more than 80 recommendations for how to effectively implement these existing policies and support an equitable energy transition.

“Our report shows the ways in which you can achieve a low-carbon economy and net zero by 2050 through dozens and dozens of things that governments, households, businesses and investors can do,” said Susan Tierney, a member of the committee that wrote the new report. “The thing that’s the most challenging is not just that it’s solvable technically, but that it is solvable in a durable way.” 10-18-23

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The next front in the climate fight: U.S. exports of natural gas

Approval of new gas export terminals will lock in greenhouse gas emissions for decades, say activists, who are pressing Biden to halt these projects

A large liquified natural gas transport ship sits docked in the Calcasieu River on June 7 near Cameron, La. (Houston Chronicle/Getty Images)

Environmentalists are gearing up for their next giant climate fight: They want to force a showdown with the Biden administration over the massive expansion of U.S. natural gas exports.

Less than a decade ago U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas — LNG for short — didn’t exist. Now they are growing so rapidly that the United States last year became the world’s largest gas exporter. The trend has given Washington more influence abroad, while raising big questions about its environmental legacy.

President Biden has thrown his support behind the industry to help European allies, which in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have sought more U.S. gas to break a years-long reliance on Russian energy supplies. But environmentalists fear that by investing billions of dollars in new terminals to chill and ship U.S. gas abroad, the industry is locking in more planet-warming emissions when Biden has pledged to zero out climate pollution.

That has led environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and famed activist Bill McKibben, to target gas exports in an emerging campaign. More than two dozen new or expansion projects are under construction or under consideration. Opponents say that buildout far exceeds what is needed and will further burden communities of color on the Gulf Coast and other parts of the country. They want Washington to better judge the cumulative impacts of these projects before granting more permit approvals. 10-17-23

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Company drops plan for gas power plant in polluted New Jersey area

WOODBRIDGE, N.J. (AP) — Opponents of a natural gas-fired power plant planned for an already polluted low-income area in New Jersey celebrated Thursday after hearing the company that proposed the project no longer plans to build it, citing low energy prices.

Competitive Power Ventures wanted to build a second plant beside one it already operates in Woodbridge, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Newark. The company previously said the expansion is needed because of growing demand for energy, pitching it as a reliable backup source for solar and wind energy when those types of power are not available.

But in a statement Wednesday night, the Silver Spring, Maryland-based CPV said market conditions have deteriorated to the point where the project is no longer feasible.

Company spokesman Matthew Litchfield said CPV’s agreement with PJM Interconnection, a regional power transmission organization, required it to either begin construction or terminate the agreement by Sept. 30. 10-12-23

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Biden administration launches ‘Earthshot’ effort to slash energy bills

The Department of Energy’s new initiative aims to cut household energy bills by 20 percent and the cost of decarbonizing by 50 percent.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The energy required to heat, cool, and power American homes makes up about a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions the United States produces every year. And, even as the nation transitions to renewable energy and buildings grow more efficient, the housing sector is not changing fast enough to meet the nation’s climate targets. At the same time, a growing number of Americans — some 20 million people as of 2022 — are falling behind on their utility bills.

On Thursday, the Department of Energy took aim at both of those issues, announcing the Biden administration’s goal of cutting the cost of home decarbonization in half and slashing household energy costs at least 20 percent by the end of the decade.

“Every American deserves to live in a home with affordable, clean, reliable power,” said energy secretary Jennifer Granholm in remarks prepared for the announcement. Energy savings, she said, “means real money back into the pockets of hard-working Americans.”

The effort will focus on spurring cheaper ways of retrofitting households that make below 80 percent of their area’s median income. Granholm highlighted low-cost approaches such as installing simple, compact heat pumps and insulated panels for exterior walls. 10-12-23

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Why Rivian is funding a $1 billion solar project built on a Kentucky coal mine

The electric vehicle company has a unique selection process that goes beyond cost and capacity for new energy projects.

Rivian will be the largest corporate customer for the first phase of the Starfire Renewable Energy Center in Kentucky, scheduled to be switched on in 2027. Source: Rivian/Ian Ward

Rivian, the Californian electric truck and SUV manufacturer, just signed its largest contract yet to buy renewable energy as a means of working toward its net-zero emissions commitment.

The 100-megawatt deal, disclosed in July after months of evaluations, is notable not just for its size but also for its location in rural Kentucky atop the former site of one of the largest coal mines in Appalachia. It’s a massive infrastructure project with an estimated price tag of $1 billion, although Rivian’s exact financial commitment is undisclosed. The company’s motivation to support renewable energy in the state is easier to see: Earlier this year, Rivian said it planned to build a remanufacturing site in Bullitt County, potentially creating 218 jobs.

Rivian will be the largest corporate customer for the first phase of the new solar project, scheduled to be switched on in 2027. That tranche will have a capacity of 210 megawatts, but the Starfire Renewable Energy Center will eventually add 810 megawatts of electricity to the local grid. That’s enough to power 170,000 households annually, and it would be the largest renewable project to date for Kentucky. The farm will require a 20-mile-long transmission line that connects to the regional electrical grid.

The power purchase agreement was motivated by Rivian’s goal of operating with net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. The EV company is investing in both solar and wind projects to reach that target. It also wants to add low-carbon electricity to local grids that are currently still dominated by fossil-fuel sources. 10-12-23

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Segregation’s toxic past re-emerges in North Carolina’s lead-poisoned

Lead was found in several parks in Durham, North Carolina, a legacy of industrial waste in the city’s Black neighborhoods – and worsening segregation doesn’t help.

Buck Blue in his backyard that connects to the Walltown Park. Photograph: Cornell Watson/The Guardian

Buck Blue fondly remembers growing up in Walltown, a tight-knit Black community in Durham, North Carolina, in the 1960s and 1970s. He would be out all day, playing football and basketball with buddies at the park near his house. They’d spend hours in the creek there, which turned different hues depending on a nearby textile mill’s dyeing work. They’d hang out in the tunnel that ferried the water across the road: “That was our clubhouse,” he said.

But his memories have been tainted. Last year, Duke University researchers found that some of the soil in Walltown Park, including sediment along the creek’s banks, is contaminated with lead. It’s a lingering remnant of the property’s days as a waste incinerator from around 1920 to 1942, one of five that the city operated.

At least four of those incinerators were located in Black neighborhoods. All four sites were eventually turned into parks, and three of them were cited in the Duke study as having spots with soil lead levels far exceeding those recommended by the EPA (the fourth site wasn’t tested).

As a neurotoxin, lead causes irreparable harm, particularly in kids’ rapidly developing brains. No amount of lead exposure is found to be safe, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have lowered the acceptable blood lead level threshold for children twice in the last three decades, most recently in 2021.

For Blue and his neighbors, the real betrayal was the fact that they didn’t learn the news from the city, nor from Duke. The researchers reportedly contacted Durham parks and recreation officials about their findings last November, but Walltown residents didn’t learn about them until a community member came across the information online in mid-May. No one had bothered to alert them. 10-10-23

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Newsom signs landmark emissions, climate risk disclosure laws

Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group via AP
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) speaks before signing legislation establishing the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Act in San Jose, Calif., on Sept. 14, 2022.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed off on a pair of rules that will require large corporations that do business in the Golden State to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related risk.

The two bills, which were among a laundry list of legislation approved this weekend, are the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act, or SB-253, and the Climate-Related Financial Risk bill, or SB-261.

SB-253 will require all public and private firms that operate in California — and whose annual revenues surpass $1 billion — to disclose both direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.

If companies fail to adhere to the demands of the law, they will face fines of up to $500,000 a year, according to the bill.

“This policy, once again, demonstrates California’s continued leadership with bold responses to the climate crisis, turning information transparency into climate action,” Newsom wrote in a signing message distributed to the state Senate.

The governor acknowledged, however, that the timeline set in the bill may not be feasible — and that he would therefore direct his administration to work with the bill’s author and the Legislature to address this concern.

SB-261, meanwhile, will require companies that generate more than $500 million in annual revenue to publish climate-related financial risk reports biennially, beginning in 2026.

Failure to comply with SB-261 will result in administrative penalties of up to $50,000 in a reporting year. 10-09-23

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A gas storage plant and new pipeline disrupt life in this Black community

The environmental health crisis ruminating in Houston’s Southwest Crossing neighborhood is the product of climate change and an unstable energy grid.

Kenneth Burgess and Marilyn Rayon examine cracks in the ground where a proposed CenterPoint natural gas pipeline may run in their Southwest Crossing neighborhood in Houston. Adam Mahoney/Capital B

With their heads bowed, eyes shut, and hands locked, the Southwest Crossing Community Initiative starts every meeting with a prayer: “Please, protect us from a deadly explosion.”

“And please, cover us … and ease our minds.”

Southwest Crossing is an aging community in Houston where nearly 20 percent of residents are over 65. They know, as it is, the average American is expected to live only a decade after retirement. It’s even less for Black people, and much of the disparity concerns the daily stress of racism.

Since 2021, the group has been in a life-draining fight with CenterPoint Energy, a $40 billion company. That year, CenterPoint, the only investor-owned electric utility company in Texas, quietly announced a plan to build a facility holding 300,000 gallons of liquid propane against the neighborhood’s back wall.

“It’s environmental racism, that’s obvious,” said Southwest Crossing resident Marilyn Rayon. “It’s also mental warfare. We’ve all suffered from lack of sleep, anxiety, mental issues.”

While environmental justice activists often focus on elevated cancer risks and respiratory illnesses caused by fossil fuel infrastructure, chemical exposure, and pollution, these residents have shifted their attention to the mental health impacts.

The small group of Black Southwest Houston residents argue that the movement to ensure environmental parity should factor in these sometimes invisible harms. 10-08-23

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In communities of color, most oil and gas jobs still go to white workers

“If one group gets all the pollution and another group gets all the jobs, it’s not really a trade-off anymore.”

Courtesy of Floodlight

There’s an unspoken promise when an industry moves into any community: We will disrupt your lives, but in exchange we will provide good-paying jobs.

Except, according to new research shared exclusively with Floodlight, in Louisiana’s majority Black communities in the area known as “Cancer Alley” because of its high concentration of polluting industries, the majority of jobs go to white workers. Similar disparities occur in minority-dominant communities along Texas’s Gulf Coast, where the majority of workers are white.

“If one group gets all the pollution and another group gets all the jobs, it’s not really a trade-off anymore,” said Kimberly Terrell, director of community engagement and a staff scientist with the Tulane University Environmental Law Clinic who led the research team.

The highest disparity was found in St. John the Baptist Parish, home to the third-largest oil refinery in the nation, and plants that make neoprene and absorbent material for diapers.

There, people of color represent nearly 70 percent of the working-age population but make up only 28 percent of the manufacturing workforce, according to initial data from Tulane. That disparity is even greater with respect to higher-paying jobs, such as managers, sales workers, and technicians. Minorities hold only 19 percent of those positions. 10-06-23

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Pope Francis calls for rapid decarbonization, ‘abandonment of fossil fuels’

The pontiff’s latest decree urges Western countries to do more to avert climate disaster.

Vatican Media via Vatican Pool / Getty Images

Eight years ago, Pope Francis delivered a landmark encyclical — a letter to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church — urging people to take better care of the planet. Now, he’s upped the ante with an even more forceful “apostolic exhortation” focused exclusively on the climate crisis.

The Vatican published a 10-page declaration from Pope Francis on Wednesday saying Western countries have dragged their feet on climate action and urging them to take much faster and more far-reaching steps to tamp down rising global temperatures. Responses to the climate crisis have so far “not been adequate,” the document says, “while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point.”

In his new encyclical, titled Laudate Deum, or “praise God,” Pope Francis calls for a hastened transition to renewable energy and the “abandonment of fossil fuels,” while cautioning against an overreliance on technologies like carbon capture and storage. It’s the pontiff’s first major declaration on climate and the environment since the Paris Agreement was negotiated in 2015, although he has frequently opined less formally on the urgency of climate action. In 2019, he declared a global “climate emergency,” saying a failure to act represents “a brutal act of injustice toward the poor and future generations.” He has since made calls for “radical decisions” and society-wide collaboration to address the problem. 10-04-23

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The End of Coal Culture

The fossil fuel defined economies and local traditions. What happens when it goes away?

The Marissa annual Coal Festival parade on August 13, 2023. A truck with a group of veterans is followed by the Marissa Marching Meteors band and cheerleaders. Virginia Harold

The parade wouldn’t start for another hour, but Rosemary Fulton was already bundled in her folding chair on an unseasonably cool Sunday in August, right there on Main Street in the small town of Marissa, Illinois.

She wasn’t alone. Other residents were starting to set up their own folding chairs and coolers on either side of Main Street. A shiny banner a few blocks down announced the celebration: Marissa’s Annual Coal Festival, colloquially known as Coal Fest.

Fulton, 81, had parked herself in front of the village hall, the name of its original occupant still carved in stone on the side: First National Bank.

There was a time, Fulton said, when she couldn’t walk down Main Street without seeing multiple friends and neighbors going about their business. The town was livelier, she said, and that was because of coal.

More than 40 years ago, Marissa was considered a capital of coal mining in the Midwest, with more than a dozen mines in the area. The area’s history with coal stretches back further, to the 1850s, when coal was first mined commercially in the southern part of the state. By 1882, St. Clair County, which encompasses Marissa, was the top producing coal county in Illinois. 10-04-23

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Cities are struggling with warmer, wetter weather. Better climate models could help.

A new federal initiative is bringing together climate scientists and community leaders to examine cities’ microclimates — and make them more resilient.

A home is surrounded by floodwaters on September 5, 2017 near Beaumont, Texas. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Growing up in the marshy plains of the Texas Gulf Coast, Ellen Buchanan had seen her share of floods. But in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey dumped 40 inches of rain on her home in Silsbee, a suburb of Beaumont, even she was caught off guard.

“Harvey was a whole different thing,” Buchanan, 70, said. “It flooded places that had never flooded before. All the creeks and bayous that flow to the Neches River turned each community into its own little island.”

The Neches River, in turn, carried all of that water 15 miles south, to an already inundated Beaumont. There, it swamped the city’s main and secondary pump stations, cutting off water to 110,000 residents for more than a week. Without access to potable water, storm shelters full of shell-shocked evacuees were forced to seek safety elsewhere. Outside, they were greeted with the dank smell of sulfur dioxide, the result of hurricane damage to one of the region’s many petrochemical refineries.

In the aftermath, local officials, emergency responders, and residents like Buchanan wondered how they would prepare for the next storm. Could street-level structures like bioretention ponds and stormwater tunnels soak up the rain next time? Or did they need more significant interventions: levees, flood gates or even relocation assistance? Data-driven answers were hard to come by. 10-03-23

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