Recent News

Report: Plastic is on track to become a bigger climate problem than coal

A new report details 10 ways, from fracking to incineration, that plastic contributes to global warming.

Citizen of the Planet / UIG via Getty Images

Plastic permeates the oceans, clutters landfills, and threatens to create a “near-permanent contamination of the natural environment,” according to researchers. As if that weren’t bad enough, it is also a major contributor to climate change.

new report from the advocacy group Beyond Plastics says that emissions from the plastic industry could overtake those from coal-fired power plants by the end of this decade. At every step of its life cycle, the report said, plastic causes greenhouse gas emissions that are jeopardizing urgent climate goals and harming marginalized communities.

“Plastic is intimately connected to the climate crisis,” said Judith Enck, a former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator and the founder of Beyond Plastics, at a press conference unveiling the report. Most people understand how plastic strangles the ocean and can cause health problems, she added, but far fewer have grasped its concerning climate footprint. “Plastic is the new coal,” Enck said. 10-22-21

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Cities’ Answer to Sprawl? Go Wild.

Sticking out like a green thumb: The Bosco Verticale towers in central Milan.
Source: Dimitar Harizanov/Stefano Boeri Architetti

Urban forests, plant-festooned buildings and other ‘rewilding’ efforts can help bolster climate resilience, biodiversity, even moods.

In a neighborhood of right-angled stone, stucco and brick buildings not far from Milan’s central train station, two thin towers stand out. Green and shaggy-edged, they look like they’re made of trees. In fact, they’re merely covered in trees — hundreds of them, growing up from the towers’ staggered balconies, along with 11,000 perennial and covering plants, and roughly 5,000 shrubs.

The greenery-festooned towers, called the Bosco Verticale, or Vertical Forest, are residential buildings in a broader-than-usual sense. The 18- and 26-story structures are “a home for trees that also houses humans and birds,” according to the website of architect Stefano Boeri, who has built tree-covered buildings elsewhere and is working on similar projects in Antwerp, Belgium, and Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

The Bosco Verticale is an example of urban rewilding, the growing global trend of introducing nature back into cities. There are consequences to the pace of today’s urban growth, which is the fastest in human history, including loss of biodiversity, urban heat islands, climate vulnerability, and human psychological changes. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that some 6,000 acres of open, undeveloped space become developed each day. Globally, past urban planning decisions like the prioritization of the car have given rise to cities that, but for scattered parks, tend to be divorced from nature. Rewilding aims to make cities better and more sustainable for people, plants, and animals. 10-22-21

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Inaction on climate change imperils millions of lives, doctors say

Top medical journal warns that rising temperatures will worsen heat and respiratory illness and spread infectious disease

An oil refinery in southwest Detroit, where asthma rates and other respiratory issues are common. (Nick Hagen for The Washington Post)

Climate change is set to become the “defining narrative of human health,” a top medical journal warned Wednesday — triggering food shortages, deadly disasters and disease outbreaks that would dwarf the toll of the coronavirus. But aggressive efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions from human activities could avert millions of unnecessary deaths, according to the analysis from more than 100 doctors and health experts.

In its annual “Countdown on health and climate change,” the Lancet provides a sobering assessment of the dangers posed by a warming planet. More than a dozen measures of humanity’s exposure to health-threatening weather extremes have climbed since last year’s report.

“Humanity faces a crucial turning point,” the doctors say, with nations poised to spend trillions of dollars on economic recovery from the pandemic and world leaders set to meet in Glasgow for a major U.N. climate conference in less than two weeks. The United States is working to assemble a set of climate policies to help coax bigger commitments from other top emitters at that conference, even as the Biden administration is scaling back its climate legislation, given opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who represents a coal-producing state. 10-20-21

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From Homes to Cars, It’s Now Time to Electrify Everything


The key to shifting away from fossil fuels is for consumers to begin replacing their home appliances, heating systems, and cars with electric versions powered by clean electricity. The challenges are daunting, but the politics will change when the economic benefits are widely felt.

For too long, the climate solutions conversation has been dominated by the supply-side view of the energy system: What will replace coal plants? Will natural gas be a bridge fuel? Can hydrogen power industry? These are all important questions, but, crucially, they miss half the equation. We must bring the demand side of our energy system to the heart of our climate debate.

The demand side is where humans, households, and voters live. It is where we use machines on a daily basis, and where the choices about what kind of machines we use — whether powered by fossil fuels or electricity — make our climate actions and climate solutions personal. We don’t have a lot of choice on the supply side, but we have all of the choice on the demand side. For the most part, we decide what we drive, how we heat our water, what heats our homes, what cooks our food, what dries our laundry, and even what cuts our grass. This constitutes our “personal infrastructure,” and it is swapping out that infrastructure that will be a key driver of the global transition from fossil fuels to green energy.

According to an analysis by Rewiring America, a nonprofit think tank I co-founded that focuses on electrifying our lives, if we redraw our emissions map around the activities of our households, we see that about 42 percent stem from the decisions we make around our kitchen tables. It gets close to 65 percent if we include the offices, buildings, and vehicles that are connected to the commercial sector and the decisions we make from our office desks. 10-19-21

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The US was on the verge of passing real climate policy. Then Manchin happened.

The Clean Electricity Performance Program would have put America’s utilities on track to producing 100 percent clean electricity by 2035.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

As the world gears up for a massive United Nations climate change conference next month, a couple of U.S. senators are working to ensure that the U.S. fumbles a once-in-a-decade opportunity to address its climate-warming emissions.

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed like President Joe Biden was on track to accomplish what previous administrations have attempted and failed to achieve: writing an emissions-reduction policy into federal law. That policy, the $150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program, is a system of carrots and sticks that would have pushed America’s electric utilities to go green between 2023 and 2030. The power these companies supply to your home would become progressively cleaner over that timeframe, putting the U.S. electricity sector, currently the second-most polluting sector in this country, on track to producing 100 percent clean electricity by 2035.

The Biden administration aimed to pass this program via a process called budget reconciliation, which allows Congress to make changes to laws that have to do with spending, revenues, or the federal debt limit. Crucially, reconciliation is immune to the filibuster — it only takes 51 votes to pass it in the Senate — which meant that Senate Democrats could vote to approve the budget reconciliation bill as a bloc, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tie-breaker, and bypass Republican opposition to the bill. (Not one congressional Republican, not even the ones who say they care about climate action, has expressed support for any of the climate measures in the reconciliation bill.)  10-19-21

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North Carolina tribes fear pipeline will damage waterways, burial grounds

The Mountain Valley Pipeline under construction in Virginia. Courtesy of Wild Virginia

A fracking company wants to extend the Mountain Valley Pipeline into the lands of Indigenous people and predominantly Black communities.

When Crystal Cavalier-Keck heard in 2018 that an energy developer was planning to build a natural-gas pipeline near her hometown of Mebane, North Carolina, she was immediately concerned. Cavalier-Keck, who is a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, knew about the violence against Indigenous women that often takes place when so-called “man camps” are assembled in areas where pipeline projects cut through Native communities.

“I immediately thought about the man camps it would bring, and I was thinking we need to alert the people,” said Cavalier-Keck, who at the time was serving on the leadership council of the state-recognized tribe.

She began researching the project, which is known as the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate Extension. The planned line, she found, would carry natural gas roughly 75 miles from Pittsylvania County, Virginia, to a delivery point in Alamance County, North Carolina, ending roughly five miles from her home. 10-15-21

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Raptors Rather Than Rodenticide

A red-tailed hawk perches by a chardonnay vineyard near the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area. (Photo by Andrew A. Lincoln, @alincoln_photo)

Laura Echávez is perched precariously atop a 16-foot ladder next to a slender pole that is supporting a wooden box the size of a carry-on suitcase. She thrusts her hand inside the box, wriggling fingers through owl pellets, feathers, and fragments of eggshells heaped inches thick. A white fluff-ball of a barn owl chick tries to grab her gloved hand while its mother and siblings hiss a staticky barrage of white noise. When Echávez ventures a peek inside, she is hit by a salvo of bones and dried owl poo from defensive birds. And the smell? “Like cat urine,” Echávez says.

Her plunge into the dim domain of this barn owl family is hands-on science. Echávez, Samantha Chavez, and Jaime Carlino, all graduate students at Humboldt State University, are spending morning after morning monitoring barn owl nest boxes scattered throughout the sun-drenched vineyards of Napa Valley. The data they are collecting will not only deepen our understanding of how these birds, in their role as natural predators of rodents, contribute to reducing the environmental footprint of the $9.4 billion industry that has made Napa Valley an internationally known wine region. It will also help determine how vineyard nest boxes are affecting barn owls.

“It’s not just a pest control service, like a transactional thing,” says Matt Johnson, a Humboldt State wildlife professor who is supervising the multiyear research program. 10-12-21

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18 Weather Disasters in 2021 Cost US $1 Billion or More Each

Image: Kelly Lacy via Pexels

According to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there have been 18 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2021, surpassing 2020’s disaster costs with almost three months still left until 2022. Experts say that weather events across the spectrum, including wildfires, hurricanes, and severe weather, are not only intensifying but happening in rapid succession. Now, the nation’s infrastructure, economy, environment, and population are facing “disaster fatigue.”

Why This Matters: The Biden Administration and climate leaders in Congress are struggling to pass legislation to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, decarbonizeour energy systems, and update the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. But while partisan battles rage in the legislature, so are devastating weather events — and their impacts don’t stop at breaking the nation’s recovery budget. These disasters have worsened COVID-19 rates, caused oil spills, and destroyed crucial carbon sinks, threatening not only human and environmental health but the nation’s capacity to sequester its carbon emissions. The Biden Administration’s infrastructure and budget packages include climate adaptation infrastructure hand in hand with emissions reductions. Still, as they languish in debate on the house floor, those on the front lines are waiting for relief. 10-12-21

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“Code Red” for climate means reducing US oil and gas production

President Joe Biden and Personal Aide Stephen Goepfert walk through the Colonnade, Friday, August 6, 2021, on the way to the Oval Office of the White House. (Credit: White House)

Whatever long game the Biden administration hopes to play, the planet is telling us that we are going into the fourth quarter with no promise of overtime.

This summer, the report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that keeping the increase in global temperature under 2 degrees Celsius would be “beyond reach” without “immediate, rapid and large-scale” reductions in global warming emissions.

UN Secretary General António Guterres called it “code red for humanity.”

August ended with a UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reportdocumenting that climate change disasters have increased five-fold over the last half-century, taking more than 2 million lives in the world’s poorest nations and inflicting $3.6 trillion in economic losses. The six most expensive disasters hitting the world’s wealthiest nation, the United States–hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, Maria, Irma, Sandy and Andrew—cost the nation nearly a half-trillion dollars.

As the summer winds down in the United States, there seem to be more exclamation points on these trends than one can count: record-sized wildfires in the West, helping to send record levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; the earliest hurricanes ever recorded hitting the South and East, with yet more devastation to the Louisiana gulf coast, record rainfalls and flooding in Tennessee; and the first-ever flash-flood warning for New York City as Hurricane Ida made its way north over land. Meanwhile, as those areas bail water, much of the Upper Midwest is in drought.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared July to be the hottest month ever recorded on Earth, with California’s Death Valley National Park in hittinga record 130 degrees. That was after a June where Portland and Seattle hit respective records of 116 degrees and 108 degrees. NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said the string of new records “adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.” 10-12-21

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Indigenous Climate Activists Have Prevented Over 1.5 Billion Tons of GHGs

Allen Lissner | Indigenous Climate Action

new study co-authored by researchers from Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and Oil Change International has found that Indigenous climate activists in the US and Canada have “stopped or delayed greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual US and Canadian emissions.” Indigenous resistance to 21 fossil fuel projects in the two countries has faced both political and violent attacks, and serve as a solemn reminder that climate action comes at a price for those on the front lines.

Why This Matters: Indigenous communities are among those most impacted by climate change and have been at the forefront of the fight to protect lands and waters against fossil fuel interests. Not only that, but climate scientists have found that Indigenous knowledge is crucial to restoring and protecting vital ecosystems and carbon sinks. Despite this, Indigenous people have been left out of climate and policy talks. The success of their resistance movements and climate alliances should serve as a powerful message to governments: Indigenous solutions can guide the intersectional and inclusive policy needed to halt climate change in its tracks.

Resistance at Work

The study analyzed data from nine different environmental and oil regulation groups and found that the 21 projects prevented by Indigenous climate activists could have added 1.587 billion metric tons of annual GHGs to the atmosphere. That is the equivalent of 400 coal-fired power plants or 345 million passenger vehicles. The analysis also found that every year Indigenous activists launched legal action or physically disrupted construction resulted in a reduction of GHGs by 780 million metric tons. Ongoing efforts could prevent another 800 million metric tons annually. 10-08-21

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Not even a pandemic can stop solar’s epic growth

Lead by Texas and the Southeast, the U.S. added a record amount of solar power in 2020.

Berkeley Lab

The workers building the 200-megawatt Rambler Solar Project in Tom Green County, Texas, had hit their stride when the pandemic struck. Pile drivers smoothly sunk I-beams into the ground. A team attached rotating racks that followed the course of the sun across the sky. Next, a crew bolted in solar panels, followed by a group of electricians that wired everything together. All that halted when some of the project’s 300 workers tested positive for COVID-19 in the spring of 2020.

But just a week later, the workers were back, and by August 2020 that project was generating enough electricity to power more than 32,000 homes. “There were a few more hurdles and things to dodge along the way, but the team did such a great job,” said Matt Johnson, general manager of engineering for Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions.

Despite the pandemic, the United States built more utility-scale solar power plants in 2020 than any other year, with Texas leading the way. All those new solar plants added up to 9.6 gigawatts of renewable energy added to the U.S. power grid, bringing the nation’s total solar capacity to 48 gigawatts. That’s enough to allow further retirements in the nation’s coal fleet, which had 223 gigawatts of capacity in 2020.  10-08-21

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White House Moves to Reverse Trump Assault on the National Environmental Policy Act

National Park Service

On Wednesday, the White House took first steps to reverse a Trump-era assault on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The new rules will restore the Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) obligation to take climate change and carbon emissions into account for major projects. Officials say the Biden meassure will increase the efficacy of new infrastructure and reduce the costs of lawsuits.

Why This Matters: The Trump Administration’s rollbacks of NEPA were designed to accelerate  highways, pipelines, and other major federal projects regardless of climate impacts. The move made it so the CEQ no longer needed to consider the potential climate impacts of federal projects. Coupled with the Trump Administration’s resistance to approving federal offshore wind projects and other green initiatives, it was a green light to build dirty and dirtier. The Trump Administration’s rules and rollbacks set the nation’s clean energy infrastructure and environmental regulations back significantly. Now, the United States is playing catchup, with very little time left on the clock. 10-06-21

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Nobel Prize Awarded to Three Climate Science Pioneers

As climate change finally becomes central to global diplomacy and policy, three scientists have won the Nobel Prize in physics for their contributions to “the foundation of our knowledge of the earth’s climate and how humanity influences it.” Those awarded were Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, and Giorgio Parisi of the Sapienza University of Rome. Such international recognition of climate science could signal that the world is finally taking the field seriously.

Why This Matters: Only recently has climate science started to get the spotlight it deserves, and even so, coverage in mainstream media outlets has been lacking. Only 13% of broadcast and cable TV news covered the recent IPCC report. In 2020, ABC, NBC, and CBS nightly and Sunday morning news only covered climate change for a combined 112 minutes. Despite this lack of coverage,  governments worldwide have pushed to take action while politics at home often become battlegrounds. Further, climate disinformation is still rampant, both online and within the government itself. 10-05-21

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EPA might finally regulate the plastic industry’s favorite kind of ‘recycling’

A new rule could make it harder to turn plastic into oil and gas to be burned.

Flimsy plastic, destined for a landfill, is removed from a conveyor belt. Lea Suzuki / San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

One of the fossil fuel and plastic industries’ favorite “solutions” to the plastic pollution crisis may finally be coming under greater scrutiny from the federal government.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, formally announced it was considering tighter regulations for pyrolysis and gasification — controversial processes that are associated with “chemical recycling.” Industry advocates have named these processes as key steps toward building a circular economy — one that minimizes waste — but environmental groups have called them an “industry shell game” meant to keep single-use plastics in production.

The problem, according to Denise Patel, regional coordinator for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, or GAIA, is that most of what the industry calls “chemical recycling” isn’t recycling at all. Rather than turning used plastic into new plastic products, chemical recycling usually involves melting plastic into oil and gas to be burned — the process is sometimes called “plastic to fuel.” Not only does chemical recycling not contribute to a circular economy, Patel said, but it also releases greenhouse gases that exacerbate climate change and hazardous chemicals that harm frontline communities. 10-05-21

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‘Major’ Oil Spill Off California Coast Threatens Wetlands and Wildlife

Oil washed ashore in Huntington Beach, Calif., after a pipeline failure caused at least 126,000 gallons to spill into the ocean.CreditCredit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

A pipeline failure sent at least 126,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific off the coast of Orange County, creating a 13-square-mile slick. Dead fish and birds washed ashore in some areas.

A pipeline failure off the coast of Orange County, Calif., on Saturday caused at least 126,000 gallons of oil to spill into the Pacific Ocean, creating a 13-square-mile slick that continued to grow on Sunday, officials said.

Dead fish and birds washed ashore in some places as cleanup crews raced to try to contain the spill, which created a slick that extended from Huntington Beach to Newport Beach.

It was not immediately clear what caused the leak, which officials said occurred three miles off the coast of Newport Beach and involved a failure in a 17.5-mile pipeline connected to an offshore oil platform called Elly that is operated by Beta Offshore.

The U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement Sunday night that crews had “recovered” about 3,150 gallons of oil. Fourteen boats were involved in the cleanup effort on Sunday, and crews had deployed 5,360 feet of boom, a floating barrier that helps contain oil. 10-03-21

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Line 3 Pipeline Complete, Oil to Flow on Monday

Enbridge Energy announced this week that the construction of the Line 3 pipeline has been completed, and oil will start flowing Monday. Protesters have fought the pipeline since Minnesota regulators approved the project back in 2015, arguing against its violation of Indigenous rights, harm to waterways and wild rice, and climate impact. The tar sands it will carry over 1,000 miles from Canada to Wisconsin use more energy and create more emissions than other types of oil. Even without oil flowing, Line 3 has already recorded 28 drilling fluid spills and disrupted water levels by pumping billions of gallons of water for construction, further threatening aquatic life.

Why This Matters: The Line 3 project has carried on despite its core justice and climate issues. Indigenous leaders have been at the forefront of opposition to the project, which runs directly through their land. It threatens Indigenous sovereignty, marine biodiversity, and the broader climate. Line 3 is double the capacity of the line it’s replacing, increasing emissions just as the nation makes ambitious commitments to clean energy. 09-30-21

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Earth to CNN: No, a nuclear-powered superyacht won’t save the world

The world’s wealthy must radically change their lifestyles to tackle climate change, a report says.

Who knew that a sexy nuclear superyacht could save us from climate catastrophe? That was the awesome news from CNN’s travel desk yesterday.

CNN wasn’t alone. ForbesBBC Science Focus Magazine, and a host of other media outlets have previously hailed the world-rescuing potential of what CNN described as “an emissions-free megaship that will pit together climate scientists and the wealthy in a daring quest to save the planet.”

“Pit together” sounds like an apt description of a would-be merger between luxury tourism and climate action. You can put those two things together in a sentence, but in the real world they mix about as easily as oil and water.

And there’s another big problem with the plan for this overhyped 300-meter-long vessel and its global research: Earth 300, as the $700 million superyacht is called, will be powered by a molten salt nuclear reactor that doesn’t exist yet and won’t be certified for at least five years. The company’s website illustrates the reactor with a scale model of an experiment done in the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The website also says the scientists onboard Earth 300 will have the world’s first ocean-going quantum computer. But that, too, has yet to be built. 09-28-21

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Protected Too Late: U.S. Officials Report More Than 20 Extinctions

The animals and one plant had been listed as endangered species. Their stories hold lessons about a growing global biodiversity crisis.

Ivory-billed woodpeckers filmed in in Louisiana in 1935, when the birds were already rare. Despite pleas from conservationists and wildlife officials, the area was later logged by the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company.CreditCredit…Arthur A. Allen/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The ivory-billed woodpecker, which birders have been seeking in the bayous of Arkansas, is gone forever, according to federal officials. So is the Bachman’s warbler, a yellow-breasted songbird that once migrated between the Southeastern United States and Cuba. The song of the Kauai O’o, a Hawaiian forest bird, exists only on recordings. And there is no longer any hope for several types of freshwater mussels that once filtered streams and rivers from Georgia to Illinois.

In all, 22 animals and one plant should be declared extinct and removed from the endangered species list, federal wildlife officials announced on Wednesday.

The announcement could also offer a glimpse of the future. It comes amid a worsening global biodiversity crisis that threatens a million species with extinction, many within decades. Human activities like farming, logging, mining and damming take habitat from animals and pollute much of what’s left. People poach and overfish. Climate change adds new peril.

“Each of these 23 species represents a permanent loss to our nation’s natural heritage and to global biodiversity,” said Bridget Fahey, who oversees species classification for the Fish and Wildlife Service. “And it’s a sobering reminder that extinction is a consequence of human-caused environmental change.”

The extinctions include 11 birds, eight freshwater mussels, two fish, a bat and a plant. Many of them were likely extinct, or almost so, by the time the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973, officials and advocates said, so perhaps no amount of conservation would have been able to save them09-28-21

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NASA Finds Arctic Ice Melt Forms Clouds that Fuel Warming

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Scientists have discovered another vicious cycle that has taken root in our environment due to climate change — this time, between sea ice and clouds. New NASA research has found that melting arctic ice is exposing the surface of the Arctic ocean, in turn fueling cloud formations that blanket the Arctic and keep it too warm to refreeze. Now, scientists are hypothesizing that this cycle may not be limited to the Arctic.

Why This Matters: The Arctic is warming 2 to 3 times faster than the rest of the globe, but the consequences are wreaking havoc worldwide. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study in December 2020 found thatwarming melting sea ice not only increases permafrost erosion and intensifies Arctic wildfires, it harms the environment’s ability to heal and regenerate. This new studyconfirms once again that climate change not only changes temperatures, but can devastate the earth’s natural systems in ways that may not recover in our lifetimes. 09-27-21

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There’s a major gap in the new methane pledge: Agriculture

Large-scale livestock operations have been increasing the U.S. methane emissions. Nearly 100,000 head of cattle is spread over 800 acres at The Harris Cattle Ranch (pictured, a former family-run cattle company in California. George Rose / Getty Images

The Global Methane Pledge gives farmers and ranchers a ‘free pass,’ environmental groups say.

Last week, the United States and European Union launched the most ambitious plan to date to slash global methane emissions. The Global Methane Pledge, which reportedly already has the support of at least six of the world’s 15 largest producers of the greenhouse gas, aims to slash methane emissions 30 percent by 2030. But despite it being lauded as a major success, some environmental justice groups are pointing out that the pledge is vague on one key issue: How it will enforce cutting emissions from the largest source of methane globally — agriculture.

Food production is responsible for 25 percent of global methane emissions every year. In the U.S., the sector accounts for 36 percent of the country’s methane, surpassing the coal and gas industry, which generates 30 percent. Yet, the global reduction pledge launched last week only mentions voluntary programs to reduce agriculture’s climate impacts.

“They’re giving agriculture a free pass,” said Brent Newell, a senior attorney at the environmental justice advocacy group Public Justice Food Project. In a joint statement with 24 other groups, the Public Justice Food Project called the pledge a “positive if insufficient step.” 09-27-21

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US north-east faces rapid warming amid global climate crisis

Coast has already heated up by 2C over the past century, thanks in part to warming Atlantic Ocean

Guardian graphic. Source: Karmalkar, et al., 2021, “Drivers of exceptional coastal warming in the northeastern United States”

The coastal US northeast is one of the fastest warming areas in the northern hemisphere, having heated up rapidly by 2C (3.6F) already over the past century due in part to the soaring temperature of the nearby Atlantic Ocean, new research has found.

The coastline that stretches from Maine down to Delaware hosts urban areas such as New York City and Boston and draws millions of tourists each year to beaches and other attractions. But the region is rapidly changing due to the climate crisis, having heated up by 2C on average since the start of the 20th century, driven largely by much warmer summers.

This is one of the fastest temperature increases in the northern hemisphere, researchers found, and is double the level of heating that has taken place further inland in the same region.

The world’s governments have agreed to limit the overall global temperature rise to “well below” 2C to avoid disastrous heatwaves, floods and other impacts. The US north-east has itself now, in isolation, already breached this threshold. 09-23-21

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Dam Straight

The Biden administration has an opportunity to address an important but often overlooked aspect of the climate crisis: dams and hydropower. They contribute to climate change, send species to extinction, and displace communities. Dams are destructive relics of the past and have no place in an America vying to be a leader in clean energy, water sustainability, and environmental protection while creating the jobs of the future.

“As global temperatures rise, dams and their stagnant reservoirs become more harmful and less efficient … dams are proving to be an unreliable and unsustainable water supply and energy solution.”

Hydropower is often marketed as the kind of clean, renewable energy we’re supposed to want. It’s what dam developers have been claiming for decades. But a growing body of scientific research shows just the opposite. Of the 91,457 dams in the United States, it is estimated that 75-90% no longer serve any functional purpose and are detrimental to ecosystem health and water quality. Dams flood millions of acres of wetlands, grasslands, and forests, killing plants and reducing carbon sequestration. And research shows that the reservoirs they create add nearly a billion tons of carbon dioxideequivalent into the air every year — mostly in the form of methane — released as the submerged vegetation and trapped nutrients from upstream break down and bubble potent greenhouse gases to the surface. 09-21-21

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Reality Check: Climate Action and Commitments of the Fortune Global 500

There’s been a three-fold increase in climate targets by Fortune Global 500companies over the past three years, but more than 60% still don’t have any commitments on the books. That’s according to numbers from Natural Capital Partners, who led a discussion with leaders from some of the companies out front on those pledges as part of New York’s Climate Week. The panel highlighted actions beyond carbon pledges including:

  • Microsoft emphasized the importance of a company’s entire supply chain, which its own plan to be carbon negative by 2030 takes into account.
  • HP touted their end-of-decade goal to hit 75% circularity (a loop of reusing and recycling instead of creating then trashing) for their products and packaging.
  • Aviva, the British insurance company, brought up the importance of making sure pensions and investments aren’t generating profit for climate-damaging organizations.

Why This Matters: Large companies have the opportunity to set standards for smaller companies that are part of their production process. The Fortune Global 500 combined have $33 trillion in revenues and employ 70 million people around the world. They can also be a part of more systemic change. For example, a study done by Aviva found it was 21 times more effective for organizations to switch pensions to sustainable funds than to do every other individual lifestyle change, like not driving a car with a combustion engine or switching to a vegetarian diet. 09-21-21

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Biden may be the first president to take the risks of extreme heat seriously

The White House moves to create first-ever heat standards for workers.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

After a historically hot summer with extreme heat events that killed hundreds of people in the Pacific NorthwestNew Orleans, and elsewhere, the Biden administration is taking action to protect Americans from extreme heat at work and at home. On Monday, the White House announced that it will start the process of creating a first-of-its-kind national heat standard for workers and promoted several other initiatives to increase access to cooling for the most vulnerable members of society.

“Rising temperatures pose an imminent threat to millions of American workers exposed to the elements, to kids in schools without air conditioning, to seniors in nursing homes without cooling resources, and particularly to disadvantaged communities,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

Extreme heat kills more than 600 people in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. Outdoor workers, such as those in construction and agriculture, are particularly at risk, although the plight of overheated warehouse workers has also been well documented. But heat-related deaths are widely understood to be undercounted, since heat can exacerbate underlying health conditions and is not always listed as a cause of death. 09-21-21

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House to Investigate Oil Industry’s Efforts to Undermine Climate Science

Image: Martin Falbisoner via Wikimedia Commons

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has announced an investigation into the fossil fuel industry’s disinformation campaigns on climate change after an undercover video released this summer showed an ExxonMobil lobbyist admitting that the company had fought against climate science. Executives from several big oil companies, the American Petroleum Institute, and the United States Chamber of Commerce will testify before Congress next month.

Why This Matters: Disinformation has been in the news more than ever, but the oil industry has been pulling the strings of public opinion for decades. Employing big tobacco’s playbook, fossil fuel companies have fought to prevent policy and public opinion from embracing climate science and clean energy. Now, the world is facing the consequences — this summer’s wildfires and hurricanes have broken records, and the International Panel on Climate Change reports that the world has even less time than previously thought to reach net zero. To make net-zero emissions by 2050 a reality, the Biden administration will not only have to replace fossil fuels with renewable power, but hold Big Oil accountable for decades of gas-lighting and harm. 09-17-21

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The climate costs of keeping Line 5 open would be very high

Scientists estimate the pipeline could generate $41 billion in climate damages between 2027 and 2070.

Karen Turnbull

For the last four months, the Line 5 pipeline running under the Great Lakes has been carrying 23 million gallons of oil and gas each day, defying orders from Michigan’s Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, that the line be shut down. Protests have ensued. The Bay Mills Indian Community has banned the pipeline’s owner, Enbridge Energy, from its land. And Enbridge and Whitmer have been ordered into mediation by the court. The saga has grabbed national headlines, serving as the latest example of the fight over the future of fossil fuel infrastructure in the United States.

Now, new testimony from scientists has revealed the implications of future plans for Line 5, including the construction of a tunnel over part of the pipeline and the continued flow of oil through the system. According to the analysis, the tunnel project and pipeline could contribute an additional 27 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere annually, and generate $41 billion in climate damages between 2027 and 2070.

The testimony was provided by Peter Erickson, a senior scientist and climate policy director for the Stockholm Environment Institute, as well as by Peter Howard, an economic policy expert at New York University’s School of Law. The findings were submitted in a case before the Michigan Public Service Commission, which is deciding whether to grant Enbridge Energy a permit to encase a portion of Line 5 that runs through the Straits of Mackinac, an environmentally sensitive channel connecting Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. It’s the first time any Michigan agency has agreed to consider greenhouse gas emissions in its analysis under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act. 09-17-21

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New Budget Bill Could Cut Emissions by 1 Billion Tons in 2030

Image: Andy Dingley via Wikimedia Commons

The Democrats’ massive budget bill has six major climate provisions that could put a big dent in US emissions — cutting almost one billion tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2030, according to a new study from Rhodium Group.

Why this Matters: In order for Biden to meet his 2030 goal, the US needs to cut 1.7 billion to 2.3 billion tons of GHGs. For perspective, the reductions would be the equivalent of removing all US passenger vehicles from the road, or the combined annual emissions of Texas and Florida combined.

This new set of provisions could be a big help in accomplishing this. Rhodium Group President John Larsen told CNN, “We estimate that this could close about half the gap between where the US is likely to be and where it needs to be to hit the target.”

“This is a really big deal,” Larsen continued, “It would be the single largest action the federal government’s ever taken to deal with climate change.” 09-15-21

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Global action on harmful PFAS chemicals is long overdue: Study

“We already know enough about the harm being caused by these very persistent substances to take action to stop all non-essential uses and to limit exposure from legacy contamination.”

The scientific community has known for decades that a group of widely-used chemicals is causing health harms across the globe, but effective policies aimed at curbing those impacts lag far behind the research, according to a new study.

The class of chemicals, known as PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances), includes more than 5,000 individual chemicals with similar properties. PFAS don’t readily break down once they’re in the environment, so they can accumulate in animal and human tissues, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.”

The study, published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technologyinvolved researchers from the U.S., Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Norway, the Czech Republic, and Denmark.

The researchers are calling for global changes to the way PFAS are manufactured and regulated including:

  • Scientific collaboration to better understand the extent of PFAS contamination and its health impacts around the world;
  • Bolstered data sharing between industries manufacturing PFAS, and scientists and policymakers;
  • Consistency in PFAS measuring techniques;
  • Improved PFAS waste management strategies;
  • Better communication strategies related to the health harms of PFAS;
  • And clear policy guidelines related to the manufacturing and cleanup of PFAS. 09-15-21

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House Ways and Means Committee Unveils Clean Energy Tax Credits

Image: ANeely2020 via Wikimedia Commons

The House Ways and Means Committee has released their portion of the reconciliation for the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending package. The plan follows through on many promises made by the Biden administration, including clean energy tax credits and credits for electric vehicle owners. The plan, announced on the heels of the Biden administration’s solar roadmap, aims to raise climate ambition and empower clean energy infrastructure across the nation.

Why This Matters: The world is running out of time to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and has failed to take advantage of the emissions dip caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fastest route to net-zero emissions is a complete switch to clean energy, a task that will take all of the country’s infrastructure resources to complete. Despite roadmaps, pledges, and plans to revamp power grids and build sprawling infrastructure, boosting climate ambition from the private sector and the public will be critical to their success. Clean energy tax credits (CES) in particular, could be one of the most effective tools in the nations climate tool belt, and National Climate adviser Gina McCarthy has gone so far as to call them “non-negotiables.” 09-13-21

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Corporations tried to blame you for the plastic crisis. Now states are turning the tables.

Workers sort paper and plastic waste, some of it likely headed to landfills, in Hillsboro, Oregon, in 2017. Natalie Behring / Getty Images

As recycling heads to the dump, Maine and Oregon have a new strategy: Make companies pay.

If you’ve ever tossed a plastic water bottle in a trash can and felt a wave of guilt wash over you, well, judging by its marketing campaigns, that’s exactly how the packaging industry planned it.

Consider this recent public service announcement, where two uncanny squirrel puppets sit in a tree, watching passerby on the sidewalk and cheering when they put plastic bottles in the recycling bin. A man nearly throws a bottle in the trash (gasp!), but at the last moment, puts it away in his bag to “recycle later.” “Way to go, Mr. Brown Shoes!” one squirrel says. Then a message pops up on the screen: “Recycle your bottles like everyone’s watching.”

This ad is from Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit backed by big corporations (think Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Nestlé) that’s been delivering versions of that message for more than half a century. The focus has been on the litterbugs who tossed garbage on the ground, rather than on the companies manufacturing all that trash-to-be to begin with. 09-13-21

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Harvard Will Move to Divest its Endowment from Fossil Fuels

Students held signs advocating for Harvard’s divestment from fossil fuels in front of University Hall Tuesday afternoon. By Pei Chao Zhuo

Following years of public pressure, Harvard said Thursday it would allow its remaining investments in the fossil fuel industry to expire, paving the way for it to eventually divest from the sector. The move marks a stark twist in a decade-long saga that has pitted student activists against University administrators and dominated campus politics for years.

In an email to Harvard affiliates Thursday afternoon, University President Lawrence S. Bacow — who has for years publicly opposed divestment — stopped short of using the word divest, but said that “legacy investments” through third-party firms “are in runoff mode,” and called financial exposure to the fossil fuel industry imprudent.

Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, which has been pushing the University to pull its investments in the fossil fuel industry since it was founded in 2012, declared victory.

“So long as Harvard follows through, this is divestment,” Connor Chung ’23, a Divest Harvard organizer, said. “This is what they told us for a decade they couldn’t do, and today, the students, faculty, and alumni have been vindicated.” 09-09-21

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Inside the Ohio factory that could make or break Biden’s big solar energy push

First Solar manufacturing operator Dacey Weller works on a solar panel on Sept. 8. (Elaine Cromie/For The Washington Post)

Toledo-area plant faces pressure to boost output as U.S. blocks some solar-panel imports over concerns about forced labor in China

WALBRIDGE, Ohio — On the outskirts of Toledo, a short drive from Interstate 90, thousands of glass panels rumble along assembly lines at a factory that will help determine whether the Biden administration can meet two of its biggest goals — dramatically reducing carbon emissions and lessening reliance on China.

First Solar is one of the few U.S. solar-panel manufacturers in an industry dominated by Chinese factories, some of which the Biden administration has accused of employing forced labor. Lately, that has made First Solar particularly popular with panel buyers, which have snapped up the company’s entire production run through 2022.

Posters in the factory’s lobby proudly declare that the company is “countering China’s state-subsidized dominance of solar supply chains” while churning out products that are “uniquely American” and “Ohio-made.”

The question now: Can First Solar and its smaller counterparts in the U.S. solar industry crank up enough manufacturing capacity to meet the administration’s renewable energy goals or will U.S. power companies remain dependent on the massive Chinese solar industry, despite concerns about how it operates? 09-08-21

Editors of Over 230 Medical Journals Urge Governments to Take Drastic Climate Action for Public Health

Image: Alberto Giuliani via Wikimedia Commons

The editors of more than 230 medical journals said in a statement on Monday that human health is being harmed by climate change, and that the effects could become catastrophic if governments don’t do more to address it. The unprecedented joint editorial cites climate change’s proven links to “heat deaths, dehydration and kidney function loss, skin cancer, tropical infections, mental health issues, pregnancy complications, allergies, and heart and lung disease.”

Why This Matters: Human health is already suffering the consequences of climate change across the globe, and notably, to the disproportionate detriment of low-income communities and people of color.

Additionally, as humans collide with wildlife over habitat destruction and deforestation, zoonotic diseases will only increase. As global temperatures rise, health threats will become more common and more widespread, and the world is running out of time to save lives. 09-07-21

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‘No point in anything else’: Gen Z members flock to climate careers

Colleges offer support as young people aim to devote their lives to battling the crisis

Hundreds of protesters march to the White House calling for climate action, including a Civilian Climate Corps. Photograph: Allison Bailey/Rex/Shutterstock

California is facing a drought so devastating, some publications call it “biblical”. Colorado now has “fire years” instead of “fire seasons”. Miami, which sees more dramatic hurricanes each year, is contemplating building a huge seawall in one of the city’s most scenic tourist districts to protect it from storm surges.

“Once you learn how damaged the world’s ecosystems are, it’s not really something you can unsee,” says Rachel Larrivee, 23, a sustainability consultant based in Boston. “To me, there’s no point in pursuing a career – or life for that matter – in any other area.”

Larrivee is one of countless members of Gen Z, a generation that roughly encompasses young people under 25, who are responding to the planet’s rapidly changing climate by committing their lives to finding a solution. Survey after survey shows young people are not just incorporating new climate-conscious behaviors into their day-to-day lives – they’re in it for the long haul. College administrators say surging numbers of students are pursuing environmental-related degrees and careers that were once considered irresponsible, romantic flights of fancy compared to more “stable” paths like business, medicine, or law. 09-06-21

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Biden to Visit Northeast Flood Zones as Demand Grows for Climate Action

The president will visit hard-hit areas in New York and New Jersey, as residents call for more serious action on climate change.

Residents in Queens placed their belongings on the curb while cleaning homes and apartments damaged by floodwaters.Credit…Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

As residents scrambled to clean up and assess damage from catastrophic flash floods that swept the Northeast last week, President Biden prepared to visit hard-hit areas in New York and New Jersey, where he will confront political ferment that is growing over the climate-driven disaster.

The lethal deluge from the remnants of Hurricane Ida, which killed more than 45 people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, has amped up battles that began in 2012 with Hurricane Sandy over how to slow climate change and protect communities. The floods are already sharpening debate over whether city, state and national leaders are doing enough — even those who, like Mr. Biden, publicly champion strong measures.

Mr. Biden’s trip comes as he and Democratic leaders struggle to get Congress to include measures to curb planet-warming emissions in a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and to increase funding to protect communities from disasters like the one last week.

Within hours of the New York-area downpours, Mr. Biden had directly linked them to his climate agenda. In a speech, he described the floods as “yet another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate crisis are here,” and called for more spending on modernizing electrical grids, sewers, water systems, bridges and roads.

But some climate groups are faulting his administration for including major new funding to build and widen highways in the measure. 09-05-21

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Ida turned into a disaster for the Northeast

Commuters walk into a flooded 3rd Avenue / 149th st subway station and disrupted service due to extremely heavy rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ida on September 2, 2021, in New York City. David Dee Delgado / Getty Images

The storm showed the region is not prepared for climate change.

New York City was quiet early on Wednesday evening as the remnants of Hurricane Ida barreled toward the Tri-State Area. At 7 p.m., wind and rain had descended on the city, soaking pedestrians and sending rivulets down sidewalks. But the subway system was running, people were out drinking at bars and walking their dogs, and traffic was moving through city streets.

Just two hours later, walking outside meant putting your life in immediate danger. The torrential rain prompted the National Weather Service to issue a flash flood emergency for New York City, its first such warning for NYC ever. Service on every subway line was suspended, and videos from stations across the city showed waterfalls pouring from ceilings and flowing down subway steps. Geysers churned in the middle of subway platforms as cars bobbed like buoys in the streets above.

Some 150,000 customers lost power in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and at least 24 people died in the flash flooding, trapped in their homes or cars. Parts of Central New Jersey clocked 11 inches of rain in less than 24 hours, and a tornado destroyed a neighborhood in South Jersey. Other parts of the region were badly hit as well. At least two tornadoes touched down in Maryland. Some towns in Connecticut got between seven and eight inches of rain. 09-02-21

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How sea-level rise is making hurricanes like Ida more destructive

The Gulf Coast has some of the highest sea-level rise in the country, in part due to climate change.

Brandon Bell / Getty Images

When Hurricane Ida made landfall on Sunday in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, the Category 4 storm’s wind speeds clocked in at 150 miles per hour. The gales ripped roofs off structures, toppled transmission lines, caused mass power outages, and pushed an over 12-foot storm surge onto land, flooding wide swaths of coastal Mississippi and Louisiana. Preliminary data suggests it was the fifth strongest hurricane on record to hit the continental U.S., based on wind speed.

But there is another factor that made Ida particularly devastating: Sea levels in parts of the Gulf Coast have risen nearly two feet since 1950, due to both climate change and land subsidence. And scientists note the higher the water level, the more is pushed onto land and the further inland it reaches during a hurricane.

“Ida is an unnatural disaster, at least in part,” Jason West, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health tweeted on Sunday. “Climate change makes it stronger, sea level rise makes it more damaging.” 09-01-21

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