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Updated: 3 days 17 hours ago

Study: Climate anxiety is spreading all over the planet

Mon, 10/17/2022 - 03:45

If you’re feeling anxious about climate change, the common wisdom goes, there’s an antidote: Take action. Maybe you can alleviate your worries by doing something positive, like going to a protest, becoming an advocate for mass transit, or trying to get an environmental champion elected.

New research reveals that these anxieties are not just Western concerns — they’re common among young people on nearly every continent — but that the ability to do something about them depends on where you live. “The question is whether you have the opportunity or not to engage in those behaviors,” said Charles Ogunbode, a psychologist at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, takes the broadest look yet at climate anxiety around the globe. Ogunbode and researchers all over the world surveyed more than 10,000 university students in 32 countries, asking how climate change made them feel. They found that it was hurting people’s mental health virtually everywhere, from Brazil to Uganda, Portugal to the Philippines. 

Almost half of the young people surveyed said they were “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change. Nearly a quarter felt “terrified,” and even more felt either “very” or “extremely” anxious. Previous research has suggested that climate anxiety is widespread: Last year, a survey in 11 countries around the world found that 45 percent of teens and young adults said that climate anxiety was affecting their daily lives and ability to function.

“Climate anxiety” has become a catch-all for how worries about our overheating planet affect people’s mental health. Experts say that feeling grief, fear, and anxiety is a logical response to the catastrophic situation. But some researchers have argued that the phrase “climate anxiety” is ambiguous — a buzzword, not a clinical diagnosis — and that it tends to resonate more with white and wealthy people than those experiencing the most severe effects of climate disasters. 

While the study didn’t look at how people respond to the phrase itself, the results show that it’s not just those in wealthier countries like the United States who are wrestling with tough emotions as a result of climate change. Ogunbode thinks developing countries should play a bigger part in the conversation, since the link between emotions and mental health is “just as strong” as it is in rich countries.

“We very rarely find anyone talking about how people in Ghana or the Philippines feel about climate change,” he said. “It’s almost like, ‘Look, as long as we can provide the basic stuff — people can eat, they have a place to sleep, they have water — that’s it. That’s fine.’”

The new study found that across the board, people’s concerns about climate change motivated them to want to take action. But anxiety played a role in motivating people to adopt environmentally-friendly behaviors, especially in richer, more individualistic countries — places where people are more likely to fly carbon-guzzling planes or drive large cars for small trips.

The most apparent barriers to direct action were political. It’s not as easy to protest climate change in a country that doesn’t protect the right to free speech or demonstrations. People worrying about the climate were more likely to engage in demonstrations in just under half of the countries studied, most of them in Europe. The connection was the strongest in Finland, one of the world’s most democratic countries, and the weakest in China, among the world’s least.

In three-quarters of the countries studied, climate anxiety appears to lead to eco-friendly behaviors — avoiding food waste, for instance, or walking and biking instead of driving. The exceptions were Egypt, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, and Tanzania.

In some places, people don’t have access to much information about what kind of actions are effective, Ogunbode said. Looking at open-ended responses to the survey, people in countries like the Philippines and Malaysia indicated that the survey questions themselves — about saving energy and reducing waste — had provided them with new information, Ogunbode said. “I got the sense that a lot of people only realized when they were reading through the questions, ‘Oh, maybe there’s something I can be doing.’”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Study: Climate anxiety is spreading all over the planet on Oct 17, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

All that plastic in the ocean is a climate change problem, too

Mon, 10/17/2022 - 03:30

When you think of plastic pollution, you might imagine ocean “garbage patches” swirling with tens of millions of plastic bottles and shopping bags. But unfolding alongside the “macroplastic” pollution crisis is another threat caused by much smaller particles: microplastics.

Microplastics — tiny plastic fragments that are less than 5 millimeters in diameter, a little less than one-third the size of a dime — have become ubiquitous in the environment. They form when larger plastic items like water bottles, grocery bags, and food wrappers are exposed to the elements, chipping into smaller and smaller pieces as they degrade. Smaller plastic fragments can get down into the nano territory, spanning just 0.000001 millimeter — a tiny fraction of the width of a human hair.

These plastic particles do many of the same bad things that larger plastic items do: mar the land and sea, leach toxic chemicals into the food chain. But scientists are increasingly worried about their potential impact on the global climate system. Not only do microplastics release potent greenhouse gases as they break down, but they also may be inhibiting one of the world’s most important carbon sinks, preventing planet-warming carbon molecules from being locked away in the seafloor.

Matt Simon, a science journalist for Wired, details the danger in his forthcoming book on microplastics, A Poison Like No Other. He told Grist that it’s still early days for some of this research but that the problem could be “hugely important going forward.”

To understand the potential magnitude, you first have to understand an ocean phenomenon called the “biological carbon pump.” This process — which involves a complex network of physical, chemical, and biological factors — sequesters up to 12 billion metric tons of carbon at the bottom of the ocean each year, potentially locking away one-third of humanity’s annual emissions. Without this vital system, scientists estimate that atmospheric CO2 concentrations, which recently hit a new record high of 421 parts per million, could be up to 250 parts per million higher.

“The biological carbon pump helps to keep the planet healthy,” said Clara Manno, a marine ecologist at the British Antarctic Survey. “It helps the mitigation of climate change.”

The pump works like this: First, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves into water at the surface of the ocean. Using photosynthesis, tiny marine algae called phytoplankton then absorb that carbon into their bodies before passing it onto small ocean critters — zooplankton — that eat them. In a final step, zooplankton excrete the carbon as part of “fecal pellets” that sink down the water column. Once these carbon-containing pellets reach the ocean floor, the carbon can be remineralized into rocks — preventing it from escaping back into the atmosphere.

Matt Simon’s book, A Poison Like No Other, details the many dangers of microplastics. Left: Milan Bozic, Right: Jenna Garrett

So where do microplastics come in? Unfortunately, at every step of the process.

Perhaps most concerning to scientists is the way microplastics may be affecting that final stage, the sinking of zooplankton poop to the bottom of the seafloor. Once ingested, microplastics get incorporated into zooplankton poop and can cause fecal pellets to sink “way, way more slowly,” said Matthew Cole, a senior marine ecologist and ecotoxicologist at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the U.K. In a 2016 paper he published in Environmental Science & Technology, he documented a 2.25-fold reduction in the sinking rate for the fecal pellets of zooplankton that had been exposed to microplastics. Other research has shown that plastic-contaminated krill fecal pellets can sink about half as quickly as their purer counterparts.

This reduced sinking rate is a result of microplastics’ buoyancy — especially those made of low-density polymers like polyethylene, the stuff used in grocery bags and likely the most common polymer in the surface ocean. Slower sinking rates mean fecal pellets may spend up to two or even three days more than usual drifting through the water column, presenting more opportunities to be intercepted.

“They’re more likely to break apart, they’re more likely to be eaten by other animals,” Cole said, making it less likely that the carbon will reach the seafloor and become permanently sequestered. 

There are other worries too, about the way microplastics can affect phytoplankton and zooplankton health — potentially compounding the stresses already posed by rising carbon dioxide concentrations, which are making the oceans warmer and more acidic, and are contributing to the expansion of oxygen-depleted “dead zones.” High concentrations of microplastics in water are toxic to phytoplankton, and lab experiments have shown they can cause up to a 45 percent reduction in some species’ growth. Cole’s experiments on copepods, a common kind of zooplankton, have shown that ingested microplastics take up space in copepods’ guts, causing them to eat less real food, produce smaller eggs that are significantly less likely to hatch, and live shorter lives. 

A researcher sifts through sediment to find tiny fragments of microplastic. Charly Triballeau / AFP via Getty Images

Researchers are still trying to come to grips with what all these laboratory observations could mean on a global scale. But the worry is that a planet-wide population of smaller, shorter-lived ocean algae and zooplankton may not be able to take up as much carbon as their ancestors — exacerbating the problems associated with buoyant fecal pellets. 

“There is something there that we should worry about,” Manno said, stressing the need for more research. To that end, she’s working on a multiyear field study, with research expeditions planned for the microplastics-laden Mediterranean Sea and the moderately cleaner Southern Ocean. Manno said she’s hoping to collect real-world plastic and fecal pellet samples and get a better look at how microplastics interact with zooplankton in the open ocean.

The goal, Manno explained, is to quantify the decline in carbon sequestration related to microplastics and translate that into a dollar cost to society. “The ocean provides us this ecosystem service,” she said. “If something stresses these processes … this is a kind of social benefit that we cannot use anymore.”

If her hypothesis is correct — that microplastics are inhibiting the biological carbon pump — it will add even more weight to a growing recognition of plastic and microplastics as a major climate disrupter. Scientists already know that plastic production and incineration cause massive greenhouse gas emissions, and in A Poison Like No Other, Simon notes emerging research on the way microplastics release exponentially increasing amounts of planet-warming methane and ethylene as they break down.

“They continue emitting forever,” said Sarah-Jeanne Royer, the oceanographer and postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who is conducting that research.

To mitigate their damage to ecosystems and the climate, Royer called for policymakers to double down on removing microplastics from the ocean. But that’s a tall order. Despite some early-stage experiments involving plastic-eating mussels and bacteria, Simon said there are currently no viable, scalable ways to remove all the microplastics that have already accumulated in the environment.

“We have so much microplastic and nanoplastic in so many places on the planet — in the air and the land and the sea — that there’s just no way to pull it all out,” Simon said. “I wish there was a nice, happy solution like a magnet that you could drag through the environment and attract all the microplastics, but unfortunately that just doesn’t exist.”

Instead, he called for people to take steps to limit the release of microplastics into the environment — like by installing a filter on their washing machine — as well as government-mandated caps on plastic production. “We have to stop producing so much goddamn plastic,” he said. “It is out of control at this point.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline All that plastic in the ocean is a climate change problem, too on Oct 17, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Will offshore wind bring ‘good-paying, union jobs’? Texas workers aren’t so sure.

Fri, 10/14/2022 - 03:45

The Biden administration is gearing up to turn the Gulf of Mexico, long a hub for offshore oil and gas drilling, into a new city of skyscraping offshore wind turbines. Opening up the Gulf to wind development is part of President Joe Biden’s goal to employ “tens of thousands of workers” to establish 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. But in Texas, workers are worried that the new industry will continue the low-wage, unsafe, exploitative conditions that pervade the construction and offshore oil industries there.

For the past year, a coalition of Texas labor unions, along with their allies in Congress and in the environmental movement, have been lobbying the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“We saw the opportunity,” said Bo Delp, the executive director of the Texas Climate Jobs Project, a nonprofit that advocates for the unionization of clean energy jobs. “But we also saw the danger.”

There’s no doubt the offshore wind industry will bring a flood of jobs to communities along the Gulf. There will be jobs manufacturing wind turbines, shipping them out to sea, and installing them; building transmission lines and electrical substations; and operating and maintaining the equipment. But contrary to the White House’s promise of “good-paying, union jobs,” there’s no guarantee they will come with decent wages, benefits, or safety standards — especially in Texas.

“The lack of living wage requirements in the state, the lack of safety requirements, the lack of workers’ comp requirements, all point to an industry that has prioritized their bottom line,” Delp said. “It is unique, and so we believe the policy response must be unique as well.”

The BOEM is expected to issue a notice for the first offshore wind lease sale in the Gulf sometime in the next month, and the announcement will include the lease terms. Previous sales, like the recent auction in the New York Bight, have included terms requiring leaseholders to “make every reasonable effort to enter a project labor agreement.” A project labor agreement is a deal between a developer and local unions, prior to any hiring, that establishes wages, benefits, and other provisions, like health and safety protections, for all workers involved in a project. It does not require the developer to use union labor, but it does level the playing field for union workers to compete with non-union workers for the jobs — and sets higher labor standards for whoever is ultimately hired. 

The coalition in Texas wants the BOEM to go further than asking developers to “make every reasonable effort” and instead make project labor agreements a requirement. 

The argument is laid out in a letter that the Texas Climate Jobs Project, along with the Texas AFL-CIO and several other unions, sent to the BOEM in February. It cited data from research conducted by the Workers Defense Project, a Texas nonprofit that advocates for protections for workers in the construction industry, including surveys of Texas construction workers about wages and workplace safety. For example, a survey of more than 1,000 workers in the state found that 60 percent had never received basic safety training, and one in five had suffered from a workplace injury that required medical attention. Seventy-eight percent reported having no health insurance, and 60 percent were not covered by any workers’ compensation policy. Texas is the only state that does not require workers’ compensation for on-the-job injuries. 

The Workers Defense Project also found that more than one in five workers experienced wage theft at some point while working in Texas. When paid for their work, more than half received a rate that put them below the federal poverty line, and half of the workers surveyed reported not being paid a higher rate for overtime hours.

Federal data also illustrates the disparity in Texas compared with other states. While Texas has the most construction workers of any state, those workers earn some of the lowest annual mean wages of about $35,000 — just over half of what construction workers in New York make. Texas also has one of the lowest unionization rates in the country — only 3.8 percent of workers are union members, compared to 22 percent in New York, and 10 percent of workers nationwide. 

“Unions have been on the decline here for decades,” said Michael Mayer, a 28-year-old Houston-based electrician who belongs to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or IBEW. Mayer sees a lot of possibility for the offshore wind industry both to produce low-carbon electricity and to reinvigorate organized labor in Texas. He said he’s seen firsthand how the construction culture there harms workers. Mayer works on big commercial projects, like hospitals and warehouses, and said that IBEW is often the only union represented. He said that other workers, like carpenters and sheetrock hangers, often make less money and face pressure from the contractors who hired them to work fast, even if it means sacrificing safety. 

“They are cutting corners, they work at a breakneck pace,” he said. “All that matters to the employer is getting things done as quickly as possible. Who cares if it’s not safe? Who cares if you have to go up on the scissor lift without a harness? Those kinds of employers just want to see profits at the end of the day.” 

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So far, at least one of the offshore wind developers that purchased leases from the BOEM in the Northeast has followed the agency’s discretionary guidance. Ørsted, a Danish developer, entered a project labor agreement with the North American Building Trades Unions for its projects up and down the East Coast.

But Rick Levy, the president of the Texas AFL-CIO, said the state policy environment in Texas is very different from New York, for example, where Governor Kathy Hochul is a major supporter of unions and the state energy authority requires offshore developers to commit to project labor agreements in order to sell electricity into the state. “Our state government in Texas has not shown itself to be particularly receptive to issues of working people,” he said. “So it’s particularly important that the federal government make a strong statement in this lease.”

Unions tend to have strong representation in downstream oil and gas industries in Texas like refineries and pipeline construction. But they are almost entirely absent from the existing offshore industry in the Gulf, said Megan Milliken Biven, who worked for the BOEM for eight years and helped lay some of the groundwork for offshore wind leasing in the Gulf. Biven is now the founder of True Transition, a nonprofit that advocates for better working conditions for oil and gas workers today and clean jobs they can transition to in the future. 

Biven has not been directly involved in the Texas coalition, and she thinks the campaign to make project labor agreements mandatory should be extended to all offshore energy projects, including drilling — especially in light of the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, which requires the government to continue selling oil leases in the Gulf for several more years. “If you want offshore wind jobs to be safe, you have to make sure all offshore jobs are safe,” she said. Biven argued that the BOEM has full latitude to attach as many restrictions and requirements to its leases as it wants. “This is a market they get to design and determine. I think there’s a lot of possibility to instill some responsibility back into the Gulf.”

When asked for comment on the coalition’s demands, a BOEM spokesperson said the agency “has authority to pursue novel lease stipulations for Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) and enhanced engagement for underserved communities” and pointed to the stipulations included in the New York Bight sale. They added that the agency is considering taking nonmonetary factors into account in future lease sales, such as rewarding bidders who plan to offer community benefits like funding to train local workers.

The BOEM’s lease terms are also not the only hope for higher labor standards. The Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed in August, created a hierarchy of tax credits for clean energy projects — including offshore wind — offering more money to companies that pay prevailing wages and hire workers from Department of Labor-registered apprenticeship programs.

Some members of the coalition in Texas see the campaign for good offshore wind jobs as a way to expand the horizons of the climate movement. The Sierra Club often clashes with oil and gas workers when the environmental group is fighting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in the Gulf. Dave Cortez, the director of Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter, said it’s important that the group be able to point to a vision for the future that those workers can be a part of. “The ultimate goal is to not fight with working people in working class communities,” he said. “It’s going to take all our constituencies working together to combat the climate crisis, and do it in a way that serves our communities — not just big corporations or those who have access to money.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Will offshore wind bring ‘good-paying, union jobs’? Texas workers aren’t so sure. on Oct 14, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

‘A moral responsibility’: Scotland calls for climate reparations ahead of COP27

Fri, 10/14/2022 - 03:30

The scale of devastation that unprecedented flooding brought to Pakistan this summer is hard to fathom. A third of the country is underwater, and more than a million homes have been damaged or destroyed. More than 1,700 people have died. About 5.7 million people are facing food shortages, and around 600,000 pregnant women require urgent access to healthcare. 

We know that the rainfall contributing to this flooding was  intensified by global warming — the planet has already warmed 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on average since the industrial revolution. In the parlance of the international debate over climate change, the effects of such climate-driven catastrophes are termed “loss and damage.” Because the countries that suffer the most loss and damage tend to be countries that, like Pakistan, were late to industrialize and therefore are relatively blameless for the scale of climate change so far, activists and leaders in developing countries are increasingly calling on wealthy, early-industrializing nations to compensate them for what they’ve lost. The issue is set to take center stage at the 27th United Nations climate change conference, called COP27, which will be held in Egypt next month. 

Small island nations and developing countries have been advocating for funding to address loss and damage for more than two decades, and for the first time they have finally succeeded in getting it included on the official agenda for the conference. Given that COP27 is being hosted by a developing nation for the first time in six years, Egypt’s special representative for the conference said that the COP27 leadership is “putting a lot of effort” into moving the conversation forward on loss and damage. The recent floods in Pakistan, a country responsible for less than 1 percent of the world’s historical carbon emissions (though it’s home to around 3 percent of the world’s population), have further highlighted the urgent need for loss and damage funding. In an effort to build on this momentum leading up to COP27, the Scottish government organized a two-day conference on loss and damage earlier this week. 

“People in the Global South and emerging economies are already paying the price of climate change every single day,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in the conference’s opening remarks. Developed countries should be recognizing “a moral responsibility to address this issue,” she added. 

Scotland has played a crucial role in elevating loss and damage in climate negotiations. Last year at COP26, which was hosted in Glasgow, Sturgeon made a groundbreaking announcement recognizing Scotland’s historic role in the climate crisis and pledged £2 million (about $2.2 million) to compensate developing nations for loss and damage. Although a small sum compared to the scale of the problem, the commitment proved to be a catalyst, prompting others to follow suit. Wallonia, Denmark, and a group of philanthropies have since pledged funds, and the tally for loss and damage funding now stands at $19.5 million. 

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At this week’s conference, Sturgeon emphasized the need for new financing that adds to the pool of money that has already been committed to various climate projects. She argued that loss and damage funding should not increase the debt burden of developing nations. (According to the International Monetary Fund, about 60 percent of low-income countries are at high risk of debt distress or already in debt distress.)

Wealthy nations promised to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to fund climate projects in developing countries, but they have fallen short of that target by about $20 billion, according to recent estimates. Of the approximately $80 billion in funding that has been raised, a significant portion is in the form of loans that countries are expected to repay. A recent study by Oxfam, a global charity, found that more than 60 percent of the $11.7 billion in climate funds raised for West African countries between 2013 and 2019 took the form of loans.

“These [climate] losses are bad enough in themselves, but they should absolutely not also lead to further indebtedness for the nations who have overwhelmingly been the victims of climate change,” Sturgeon said. 

Currently, climate-related finance for developing countries takes many forms: It can arrive as humanitarian aid following a natural disaster, such as the aid that is now flowing to Pakistan. It can be disbursed from United Nations-backed funds set up to help developing nations prevent further global warming and adapt to the effects of climate change. And it can take the form of disaster risk and climate migration management funding. Funding for loss and damage can overlap with each of these different types of funding, and researchers and advocates at this week’s conference in Scotland argued that these efforts should no longer take place in isolation — that a unified international approach to loss and damage funding would better tackle the scale of the problem.

In an interview with the Guardian last month, Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman said, “There is so much loss and damage with so little reparations to countries that contributed so little to the world’s carbon footprint that obviously the bargain made between the global north and global south is not working.”

At the recent conference, Sturgeon said that the “task for the countries that gather at COP27 is to start making good on that bargain.” She called on developed countries to commit funding and not to wait for consensus on how to address loss and damage.

“Further delay is unconscionable and is not acceptable,” she insisted.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline ‘A moral responsibility’: Scotland calls for climate reparations ahead of COP27 on Oct 14, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Abandoned Texas oil wells are blowing out. The state won’t fix them.

Thu, 10/13/2022 - 04:30

This story is produced by Floodlight, a nonprofit news site that investigates climate issues. Sign up for Floodlight’s newsletter here.

Schuyler Wight is a fourth generation rancher who has raised longhorn cattle outside Midland, Texas, for decades. Wight is no geologist, but over the years, he’s had to familiarize himself with what lies underground. Scattered across his sprawling 20,000-acre ranch are more than 100 abandoned oil and gas wells left behind by wildcatters who drilled in random locations for decades looking for oil. Many were unsuccessful, but the drilling opened up layers of porous rock, revealing water, and minerals. 

Rather than cap the holes, the wildcatters and their oil companies–now long gone–transferred ownership of unproductive wells to the previous owners of Wight’s ranch to be used as water wells, known as P-13 wells.

Decades later, some of the wells on Wight’s land are leaking contaminated water, hydrogen sulfide and radioactive materials. Occasionally, Wight’s cattle drink water that has bubbled up to the surface and die, representing thousands of dollars in losses for his ranch. 

Typically, the Texas Railroad Commission would take responsibility for cleaning up oil and gas wells abandoned by nowdefunct drilling companies. But the commission won’t spend a dime on wells like Wight’s. That’s because the commission argues his wells aren’t oil or gas wells because they never successfully produced fossil fuel.

Without state or federal funds to clean up the mess, farmers, ranchers, and small local governments are struggling to fix the major environmental damage left from decades of drilling. Wight has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars–and counting–to clean up just a few of the wells on his property. 

“That’s a lot of money when you’ve got to pay it back with cattle,” Wight said. 

Across the state, according to the commission’s records, there are nearly 2,000 documented P-13 wells. Not all of them have started to leak as on Wight’s ranch, but it’s impossible to know the full scale of the problem. “The RRC does not maintain a cost estimate to plug abandoned water wells as it is the responsibility of the landowner to complete those pluggings,” the agency’s spokesperson Andrew Keese said in an email. 

In Pecos County, the Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District has repeatedly asked the Railroad Commission to add 40 wells to the agency’s statewide list of 8,000 abandoned wells marked for cleanup. The small local agency doesn’t have the funds, staff or resources it needs to plug the abandoned wells that are now polluting groundwater in the region, said Ty Edwards, the district’s manager. Many of the wells are on remote properties, owned by absentee landowners, environmental advocates say. The most infamous of these wells, Sloan Blair #1, has been spewing so much briny water that it’s formed a body of water nicknamed Lake Boehmer in the middle of the West Texas desert. 

According to an analysis commissioned by the groundwater district, the well was originally drilled into the San Andres formation as an oil test well and then was abandoned. Now, underground pressure is causing the salty water to spew to the surface, bringing with it contaminants such as benzene and xylene, both carcinogens. The analysis found both compounds were at unsafe levels. The well is also leaking hydrogen sulfide gas at potentially lethal levels for humans, and heat-trapping gasses including methane and carbon dioxide. To survey the site, researchers have to wear hazmat suits.

“The problem is that when they drilled into this formation, there are several [layers] with no well integrity–you’re picking up different constituents that are causing the water quality to go very, very bad,” Edwards said. “The water quality in the area is drastically degrading over time,” becoming undrinkable and unusable. “It’s known that you can’t get any good water in the area–most people get on the county water line that comes from 20 or 30 miles away. It’s making some areas uninhabitable.”

Texas regulators refuse to take responsibility for Lake Boehmer, an abandoned oil and gas well, converted into a water well that later blew out and created a lake in Pecos County. Mitch Borden, Marfa Public Radio

The million dollar– perhaps even billion dollar– question is why the Railroad Commission has doubled down on shedding responsibility for the converted water wells, said Cole Ruiz, a lawyer for the groundwater district. “The factual circumstances around these P-13 wells is that they were originally drilled by oil and gas operators–which requires a permit granted by the Railroad Commission,” he said. “There’s nothing in the statute that allows them to shed jurisdiction once they’ve reclassified it as a water well.” 

In essence, the Railroad Commission’s narrow definition of what counts as an oil and gas well allows it to choose which wells it will plug with state and federal funds. Since wells are still being converted on paper to water wells–anywhere from a handful to a few dozen in recent years–that means the problem is still growing, and operators may be escaping future liability.  

Ruiz suspects if the wells were added to the state’s roster of orphan wells, they’d cost millions of more dollars than the state has already committed towards cleanup, and would slow the progress the agency has been reporting in recent years. In one particularly severe case, for example, an abandoned and improperly plugged oil and gas well on Wight’s land caused a sinkhole so deep the state transportation agency is now spending more than $25 million to reroute a road. 

Railroad Commission staff members who testified at a recent Texas House Natural Resources Committee hearing repeated their argument that some of Pecos County’s most troublesome wells, like the one that created Lake Boehmer, simply aren’t in the agency’s jurisdiction. “It never produced any oil, or any gas. But it did produce a lot of water,” said Clay Woodul, the commission’s assistant director of field operations.  “And that’s the difference. It never has been an oil or gas well. It will never be an oil or gas well.” 

In the 1980s, the Texas Legislature allocated money from regulatory and permit fees toward cleaning up wells and oil fields that were abandoned by companies that went bankrupt. Each abandoned well can cost at least $20,000 to plug, according to some estimates. An influx of federal dollars through the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill has granted the state $25 million to chip away at the $480 million problem. The commission has said it won’t use federal money for the P-13 wells.

Nationwide, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are more than 2 million abandoned oil and gas wells that need to be plugged in order to reduce methane emissions still leaking from the wells, in addition to other pollutants.

When Wight first noticed the leaking wells on his property in 2015, he couldn’t find records for them in the Railroad Commission’s databases. Wight hired a surveyor from Dallas, Jackie Portsmouth, who searched through the basement of the Midland Energy Library to find a paper trail for the problem wells. “Part of the problem is that the Railroad Commission’s older well data from 1964 hasn’t been put in their system properly,” Portsmouth said.

Portsmouth used GIS tools to determine the geolocation of the wells. Eventually, he found the permits, the mineral rights leases, and other documentation for the wells. The company that drilled one of the problem wells in 1969, Union Texas Petroleum, doesn’t exist on paper anymore–it was acquired by ARCO, another oil and gas company, for $2.5 billion in the 1990s.  

“One of the arguments the [Railroad Commission] is making now is, ‘We never got any oil out of this,’” Wight said. “But sometimes you drill dry holes, that’s the way that thing goes. You have to get a permit to drill it. I’m not very smart, but it sure looks like it’s their baby.” 

Advocates and experts say the Railroad Commission’s distinction between water wells and oil and gas wells is arbitrary. The decision seems to be based solely on current commissioners’ and staffers’ interpretations of the state’s natural resource code; there are no strings attached to federal orphan well funds that would make some wells ineligible. 

“The definition of orphan wells is broad enough that it could encompass P-13 wells,” said Tannya Benavides, the advocacy director for the nonprofit watchdog group Commission Shift. “The Railroad Commission is passing the buck–these wells weren’t originally drilled as water wells.” 

Commission Shift has advocated for the state legislature to amend the Natural Resources Code to specifically include the converted wells in its definition of orphan wells. That would force the commission to include the wells in its cleanup and could also provide additional funding, studies and resources to address the problem of converted wells on private property. 

“I’m not trying to put words in their mouth, but it seems like this is a problem the Railroad Commission wants to go away,” Ruiz, Middle Pecos’ lawyer, said. “But I can tell you, it’s not going to go away.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Abandoned Texas oil wells are blowing out. The state won’t fix them. on Oct 13, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Inside the industry push to label your yogurt cup ‘recyclable’

Thu, 10/13/2022 - 03:45

Plastic recycling labels are everywhere: The ubiquitous “chasing arrows” symbol adorns everything from plastic bags and water bottles to kids’ toys. 

Most commonly, these symbols appear with a number — 1 through 7 — that identifies the type of plastic resin a product is made of. A number 1, for instance, corresponds to polyethylene terephthalate, or PET — the stuff that makes up water bottles. Number 6 is for polystyrene, used in foam cups and trays. The plastics industry insists these icons were never meant to indicate a product’s recyclability, even though that is how they are often perceived by consumers.

In fact, most plastics are not recyclable, largely because there is no market for materials labeled 3 through 7. But that hasn’t stopped the widespread use of the chasing arrows.

Resin identification codes for polystyrene, left, and polypropylene: danielvfung / Getty Images; Mike Bitzenhofer via Getty Images

With no federal program to evaluate products’ recyclability and issue labels for them, third-party organizations have stepped in to play this role instead. One organization in particular, How2Recycle, has devised an elaborate hierarchy with several versions of its own recycling symbol, which it sells to hundreds of companies ranging from Lowe’s to Beyond Meat. 

The organization, whose parent nonprofit is based in Virginia, says it analyzes waste management systems nationwide to figure out whether companies’ products and packaging are recyclable and then issues a corresponding label. It’s ostensibly an attempt to clear up confusion among consumers about what should and shouldn’t go into the blue bin. The group describes its markers as “recycling labels that make sense.” 

This summer, How2Recycle declared a big victory for the companies it sells labels to: It now considers a wide set of products made from polypropylene, or PP — the resin corresponding to the number 5 — to be “widely recyclable,” meaning the organization thinks that more than 60 percent of Americans have access to a curbside or drop-off recycling program that accepts them. Polypropylene accounts for about 14 percent of the U.S.’s plastic production.

The announcement makes polypropylene tubs, bottles, and jars — things like yogurt containers and ketchup bottles — eligible for How2Recycle’s top-tier recycling label: a chasing arrows symbol with no qualifications. 

But industry experts and environmental advocates have raised their eyebrows. Based on federal recycling data, independent national waste management surveys, and firsthand accounts from material sorting facilities, polypropylene recycling isn’t nearly as widespread as How2Recycle’s labeling implies. Even if PP products were technically accepted by facilities that serve a majority of Americans — which researchers say they are not — polypropylene is much more commonly landfilled or incinerated than turned into new products. This is because it is often filled with toxic chemical additives or contaminated with food waste, both of which make it difficult to turn it into new products. It’s usually less economical to sort out polypropylene for recycling than to simply discard it and make new products from virgin material.

Recycling labels from How2Recycle. Grist / Joseph Winters

“Post-consumer PP packaging and products have never been recyclable or recycled … above a few percent,” said Jan Dell, an independent chemical engineer and founder of the advocacy group The Last Beach Cleanup. Through How2Recycle, she said, plastic and packaging companies are “creating their own non-verified data” and ignoring key provisions of the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides, a set of requirements meant to prevent companies from making deceptive claims about the environmental benefits of their products. 

As a result, Dell said, the industry has been allowed to deepen the public’s confusion about recycling, gulling people and policymakers into thinking that it will be able to keep pace with plastic manufacturers’ plans to dramatically scale up production

How2Recycle is part of a labyrinth of organizations and industry membership programs that promote “sustainable materials management.” When it officially launched in 2012, the organization branded itself as an attempt to clear up confusion among consumers about what they could recycle. Many companies — including Yoplait, Costco, REI, and Microsoft — were quick to sign on, eager to affix How2Recycle’s labels to their products.

The program took the onus off of individual companies for claims about recyclability. How2Recycle would do all the necessary research into specific products’ recycling rates and community access to recycling programs, allowing participants to rest assured that their recycling labels were compliant with federal law. Today, more than 400 companies pay annual membership fees to place How2Recycle labels on their packages, including Amazon, Clif Bar, Walmart, Johnson & Johnson, and Starbucks.

At the top of How2Recycle’s labeling hierarchy is a simple “chasing arrows” recycling symbol, which the organization gives to products that it says are accepted by curbside or drop-off recycling programs that serve at least 60 percent of the American population. This is the label that How2Recycle said in late July some polypropylene products would now be eligible for. Previously, in 2020, the organization had downgraded PP products from the unqualified chasing arrows to a “Check Locally” label that instructed consumers to verify whether their community’s recycling program would accept them.

“As rigid polypropylene access, sortation, and end markets are on an upward trend across the U.S., we are excited to upgrade this packaging format,” Caroline Cox, How2Recycle’s director, said in a press release this summer.

However, other sources paint a very different picture of the United States’ plastic recycling landscape — especially for polypropylene, which is far more difficult to turn into new products than How2Recycle’s labels make it seem. “It is not possible that 60 percent of Americans have access to established recycling systems that accept PP packaging of any type,” Dell, of The Last Beach Cleanup, said. 

Workers sort through plastic and other materials at a material recovery facility, or MRF. Lauren A. Little / MediaNews Group / Reading Eagle via Getty Images

First, she explained, industry data suggests that only 60 percent of Americans have access to any recycling program, let alone one that accepts polypropylene containers. Most facilities only accept plastics that are easier to recycle, such as bottles made of PET. And additional data that Dell is compiling for 2022 shows that only half of the country’s 373 material recovery facilities, or MRFs — specialized plants that process and sort all the items people toss in their blue bins — say they accept polypropylene tubs, one of the most recyclable PP products out there (think margarine containers and cottage cheese cups). As a result, only 28 percent of Americans have access to recycling programs that accept these polypropylene containers.

“Overall accessibility for plastic recycling has dropped, if anything,” said John Hocevar, Greenpeace’s oceans campaign director. In recent years, labor shortages and high prices for recycled materials have caused cuts in curbside recycling programs, and many MRFs have stopped accepting most plastic resins. 

What’s more, Hocevar and others argue that the accessibility of recycling programs is a distraction from a more important metric: the real recycling rate. Just because polypropylene is collected doesn’t mean it will ultimately be recycled. According to the most recent available data from the Environmental Protection Agency, only 2.7 percent of polypropylene “containers and packaging” were recycled in 2018. If you include all forms of polypropylene, that number falls to just 0.6 percent.

One reason PP is difficult to recycle is that it’s not as clean or pure as other kinds of plastic. Unlike products made from PET or high-density polyethylene (HDPE) — labeled with the numbers 1 and 2, respectively — polypropylene products, labeled with the number 5, often contain toxic additives that make it difficult to turn them back into usable items. Another reason is that PP is typically collected in bales of mixed plastic that include a variety of resins labeled with the numbers 3 through 7.

In order to be recycled, PP must be picked out of these bales and then sold to an extremely limited number of facilities that will actually accept that plastic. (​​In 2020, Greenpeace estimated that the U.S. only had enough processing capacity to recycle less than 5 percent of its PP waste.) The whole process is prohibitively expensive, especially since the final product must be competitively priced against virgin plastics. According to the EPA, the U.S. generated more than 8 million tons of polypropylene waste in 2018, the most recent year for which data are available.

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Jeff Donlevy, a member of California’s Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling and general manager of Ming’s Recycling, a company based in northern California, said that many facilities continue to accept polypropylene — even if they have no intention of recycling it — because of outdated, 10-or-more-year contracts with cities. At the time when many of these contracts were signed, MRFs said they would accept polypropylene because they could send mixed plastic bales to China for sorting and recycling. But in 2018, when China enacted its “National Sword” policy and closed its borders to most plastic waste imports, U.S. MRFs were saddled with a glut of resins that are uneconomical and logistically difficult to turn into new products.

Of the roughly 80 MRFs in California, Donlevy said the vast majority are not recycling plastics made of resins labeled number 3 and above. This includes polypropylene, number 5. Most facilities are “just landfilling whatever number 5 they get,” he said. 

How2Recycle says on its website that it takes four factors into account when determining a product’s recyclability — collection, sortation, reprocessing, and end markets — but it is not transparent about the exact methodology it uses to evaluate these criteria. Much of its data comes from an industry report conducted by How2Recycle’s parent organization that looks at a “non-random” sample of large recycling programs throughout the U.S., along with a random sample of recycling programs in smaller communities. In the most recent edition of the report, these censuses consisted of web searches for each recycling program to determine what kinds of plastic they accept. 

Environmental advocates question the results of these analyses, but they say the larger issue is that How2Recycle fails to say anything about the real recycling rate of PP products. Again, the “widely recyclable” label is only supposed to reflect a material’s acceptance by curbside and drop-off recycling programs. But this information is not printed on the organization’s unconditional recycling labels. Donlevy said this oversight “misleads the public.” 

It may also contravene sustainable packaging guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, a government agency that promotes consumer protection. By slapping recycling labels without qualifiers onto polypropylene tubs and other containers, How2Recycle appears to be ignoring key provisions of the FTC’s Green Guides, a set of detailed but nonbinding requirements for claims about products’ environmental benefits. The U.S. government does not have a program to issue or approve recycling labels, so this is the primary check for labels created by private groups.

At the broadest level, the FTC says it is deceptive to “misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product or package is recyclable.” This means that companies should not use a recycling label without qualifiers — like How2Recycle’s gold standard chasing arrows symbol — unless they can prove that recycling facilities for their labeled products are available to at least 60 percent of consumers. Critically, the commission also calls on companies to substantiate that these facilities “will actually recycle, not accept and ultimately discard” labeled products. 

Marketers “should not assume that consumers or communities have access to a particular recycling program merely because the program will accept a product,” the FTC says in the Green Guides’ statement of basis and purpose. Although the guides aren’t legally binding, activity that is inconsistent with them can be used as evidence of a violation of the FTC Act’s provisions on “Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices” and can result in fines or additional rulemaking. State governments can also cite the Green Guides when building false advertising or consumer protection cases.

Dell lamented that the FTC has never, to her knowledge, taken action to stop a company from misusing an unqualified recycling label. But courts have. Take, for example, a 2018 lawsuit filed by a consumer against Keurig over claims that the company’s polypropylene coffee pods were “recyclable.” Keurig argued that its labels were consistent with the Green Guides, but a U.S. District Court in California disagreed and refused to dismiss the case. The court said that even if the coffee pods were technically collected by municipal recycling programs, they were not in practice being recycled. Keurig settled the case this year for $10 million and has changed the labels on its coffee pods.

Keurig coffee pods. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Greenpeace argues that How2Recycle is using similar sleight with its own labels, claiming recyclability with insufficient substantiation. “Polypropylene does not come close to meeting the requirements” for recycling labels laid out by the FTC, the organization said in a press release. It is neither accepted at recycling facilities that serve 60 percent of the population nor actually recycled at a significant rate. 

In response to Grist’s request for comment, Paul Nowak — executive director of How2Recycle’s parent organization, GreenBlue — said that How2Recycle’s labels not only satisfy the Green Guides’ requirements but “go beyond them.” Although How2Recycle does not have internal data on the real recycling rate for polypropylene, Nowak said How2Recycle has reviewed “letters of support” from MRFs saying that they plan to expand their recycling capacity for polypropylene. Nowak declined to share these letters with Grist.

How2Recycle’s website offers some clarification. Although the organization claims to consider “sortation” and “reprocessing” for products that will feature its labels, How2Recycle explains online that it ultimately does not take into account the real-world recycling rate when evaluating a product’s recyclability — in contrast to definitions of recyclability from other organizations, like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an international nonprofit that advocates for a circular economy.

Nowak insists that How2Recycle spent “several months” verifying data on the increased recyclability of polypropylene. But Dell thinks there’s an irresolvable conflict of interest at play, since How2Recycle and the organizations whose data it cites are run and funded by companies that make and sell plastics. “We’ve got all these front groups funded by the plastics and products industry to create and perpetuate the myth that plastics are recyclable,” she said.

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The recent push to make polypropylene “widely recyclable” started outside How2Recycle, with a separate industry group called the Recycling Partnership — a nonprofit whose board of directors includes executives for major brands and plastic industry groups: Keurig Dr. Pepper, Nestlé, the Association of Plastic Recyclers, and the American Beverage Association, among others. The organization lists roughly 80 “funding partners” on its website, including two of North America’s main petrochemical industry trade groups, the American Chemistry Council and the Plastics Industry Association.

In 2020, a few months after How2Recycle downgraded PP products to only be eligible for the “Check Locally” label, the Recycling Partnership launched a new initiative — directly funded by many plastic brands and industry trade groups — to “ensure the long-term viability of polypropylene.”

The Recycling Partnership claims it contributed to a spike in polypropylene recycling over the past two years through a series of 24 grants worth $6.7 million. The group did not respond to Grist’s request for more information, but a press release notes that the funding helped “support sorting improvements and community education across the U.S.” According to the Recycling Partnership, these grants increased the amount of polypropylene recovered by 25 million pounds annually. Now, the group says its proprietary “National Recycling Database” shows 65 percent of Americans having access to PP recycling.

According to Nowak, the Recycling Partnership approached How2Recycle with this data in early 2022, requesting that How2Recycle reevaluate its labeling for polypropylene. After what Nowak described as a lengthy evaluation process, he said the data matched what he was seeing with How2Recycle’s own analysis, as well as information provided by an outside consulting firm. In response to Grist’s request for comment, the consulting firm said it provided How2Recycle with access-to-recycling data and “end market” research to show there is a market for polypropylene that ultimately does get recycled. The firm did not share data on polypropylene’s real recycling rate and told Grist to reach out to the Recycling Partnership.

How2Recycle, meanwhile, has its own web of connections to big brands and the plastics industry. The group’s parent organization, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, is an industry working group whose members include Procter and Gamble, Coca-Cola, and the ExxonMobil Chemical Company, as well as a host of other plastic makers. GreenBlue, the umbrella organization that houses How2Recycle and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, has a board of directors that includes executives from the Dow Chemical Company, Mars, the packaging companies Printpack and Westrock, and more.

Nowak said he is aware of concerns over potential conflicts of interest, but that How2Recycle’s parent organizations are “very careful about who we start to work with.” At How2Recycle, he added, “we stay neutral in all that.”

Dell has often spoken of the plastic labeling landscape as the “wild, wild West,” with “no sheriff in town” to protect consumers from deceptive recycling claims. The FTC, whose Green Guides may soon be updated for the first time since 2012, declined to comment on How2Recycle’s labeling system, and environmental advocates have expressed frustration that the commission hasn’t done more to enforce the guidelines.

Without stronger government regulation, Dell said, “How2Recycle and the product companies have filled the void to become the deciders” of what should and shouldn’t bear the recycling label.

But states are catching on. California passed nation-leading legislation last year making it illegal for companies to use the chasing arrows on products that are not actually being turned into new products. (In this case the state, rather than How2Recycle, will determine recyclability, and it will take into account both collection and the real recycling rate.) The law is expected to eliminate recycling symbols on virtually all plastic packaging that isn’t made of number 1 or number 2 resins, since those are the only kinds of plastic currently being recycled with significant regularity. It could have an impact on other states, too — if plastic manufacturers decide it is too cumbersome to create new product lines for the California market, they could decide to remove recycling symbols for the whole country.

Hocevar of Greenpeace said the California bill is an important step in the right direction and called on other states to adopt similar policies. Environmental advocates have also cheered a separate effort from the California attorney general’s office, which announced in April that it was launching an investigation into the petrochemical industry’s “aggressive campaign to deceive the public” about the feasibility of recycling.

Representative Alan Lowenthal speaks during a news conference about the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act in 2020. Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images

To truly address the plastic pollution crisis, Hocevar and others say that the top priority should be turning off the tap — limiting the production of plastic that ultimately has to be dealt with. In the U.S., perhaps the most promising move in this direction is the proposed Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, a far-reaching federal bill that would ban carryout plastic bags and other single-use plastic products, require plastics companies to launch and finance programs to manage the waste they produce, and place a moratorium on new petrochemical facilities until the EPA can undertake a comprehensive assessment of the industry’s environmental impact.

In the meantime, Donlevy said that companies should stop trying to trick consumers into feeling good about their plastic consumption. “Producers have to realize they’re using plastic for their benefit and for the consumers’ benefit, which is fine,” he said. “But to put a recycling symbol and say that that cottage cheese or cream cheese or sour cream container is recyclable? You don’t need to do that, that’s not a part of the sales pitch. … The only plastics that are really getting recycled in the U.S. are number 1 and number 2 bottles.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Inside the industry push to label your yogurt cup ‘recyclable’ on Oct 13, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Report: Extreme heat will hit urban poor the hardest, worsening inequality

Thu, 10/13/2022 - 03:30

Extreme heat kills more people globally than any other climate-change related hazard, and will likely increase human suffering in parts of the world with already high humanitarian needs, according to a new report

The joint report from the UN’s humanitarian aid office and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, or IFRC, outlines the unequal impacts of extreme heat and the steps that governments and humanitarian organizations can take to reduce the risk to vulnerable communities and help them adapt.

The report, released ahead of next month’s UN climate change conference in Egypt, states that parts of the world facing the most extreme health and social crises — the southern Sahara region, the Horn of Africa, and areas of South and Southwest Asia — will also be the hardest hit by heat waves in the coming decades. This would not only result in suffering and loss of life, but also massive population movements and deeper inequality. 

“The climate crisis is intensifying humanitarian emergencies all around the world,” said Jagan Chapagain, the Secretary General of the IFRC, in a statement. “To avert its most devastating impacts, we must invest equally on adaptation and mitigation, particularly in the countries most at risk.”

In both wealthy and poor countries, the dangers posed by extreme heat are growing at an astounding rate due to climate change. But its impacts are unequal. Agricultural workers, migrants, children, and the elderly are at the highest risk of illness and death as a result of high temperatures. And low-income countries — those least responsible for climate change — will see the highest temperature increases and will bear the brunt of heat stress.

In low-income countries, vulnerability to extreme heat will be felt the most in urban communities that lack access to reliable electricity and water infrastructure. A 2018 report from a collaborative project called The Future We Don’t Want, predicted that by mid-century there would be a 700 percent increase in the number of urban poor living in extreme-heat conditions. While a number of countries like India have adapted city, state, and national “heat action plans” to reduce risk from extreme heat, few low-income countries and no African countries have put any in place.

But the good news, according to the report, is that at-risk urban communities are also uniquely positioned to benefit from heat action plans that humanitarian groups have already implemented in sprawling migrant camps. These plans include using religious sites and public spaces as cooling centers, painting roofs white to cool shelters, and establishing seasonal heat warning systems. The report encouraged these humanitarian groups to share these techniques and other expertise with city and national governments in countries where they are already established.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Report: Extreme heat will hit urban poor the hardest, worsening inequality on Oct 13, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Hurricane Julia leaves a path of destruction through Central America

Thu, 10/13/2022 - 03:15

The fifth Atlantic hurricane of the year made landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 1 storm on Sunday. Hurricane Julia subsequently moved through Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, dumping torrential rain, unleashing damaging winds, and sparking landslides. By Monday, the system had disintegrated into a tropical depression, but the storm continued to wreak havoc on Central America and parts of Mexico until it dissipated Monday night

The hurricane caused at least 28 deaths in Central America, half of them in Guatemala. In Nicaragua, more than 13,000 families were forced to evacuate. 

Julia also did damage before it even became a hurricane. The system started gathering strength last week as a tropical storm further east, along Venezuela’s northern coast. The developing system induced days of heavy tropical rain and contributed to a massive mudslide that killed at least 43 people in north-central Venezuela. More than 50 people are missing. 

Rescue and recovery efforts are still underway in these countries, which means the death toll could continue to rise in the coming days. Julia knocked out power across large swaths of Central America, which left hundreds of thousands in darkness and could complicate ongoing rescue efforts. 

It’s been an uncharacteristically quiet Atlantic hurricane season — no storms formed in August, something that hasn’t happened since 1997. But the storms that have formed and struck land have been devastating

That’s particularly true in areas that are still recovering from previous seasons, including Central America. In 2020, an above-average season that spawned 14 hurricanes, Hurricanes Eta and Iota landed in Nicaragua a mere two weeks apart. The storms affected 7.5 million Central Americans, forced tens of thousands of people from their homes, and killed some 200 individuals. The people most impacted by the back-to-back storms in 2020 were poor, rural, often Indigenous residents who couldn’t afford to rebuild. Many of them are now feeling the effects of Hurricane Julia. 

Studies show that rising global temperatures due to human activity are linked to more intense storms that dump catastrophic quantities of water on land. Rising sea levels, too, contribute to deadly storm surge during these events. Climate-fueled hurricanes have knock-on effects that reverberate for years. Analyses show that in 2020, disasters displaced some 1.5 million people in Central America. The disasters, paired with chronic poverty, food insecurity, and gang violence, have forced many to attempt the fraught journey to the U.S., fueling a rise in border crossings by migrants and asylum seekers

“Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua are classified as countries at high-risk of facing climate-related threats and, at the same time, are in the group of countries that lack investment to fund preparedness and adaptation measures,” Martha Keays, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ regional director in the Americas, said in a statement. Central American countries and other developing states have also contributed comparatively little to climate change, while rich, developed parts of the world like the U.S. and Europe are responsible for the lion’s share of historical emissions and are better equipped to cope with the adverse outcomes of warming. 

The Biden administration has dedicated new funding to international development projects aimed at alleviating food insecurity and poverty in Central America, but international aid groups and the United Nations say wealthy nations need to dedicate far more resources to helping countries like Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala prepare for disasters in a rapidly changing world. 

On Monday, leftover tatters of energy from Hurricane Julia churned through the southwestern Gulf of Mexico and, by Tuesday, had coalesced into Tropical Storm Karl. The system could dump up to a foot of rain on parts of Mexico’s east coast this week. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Hurricane Julia leaves a path of destruction through Central America on Oct 13, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

UN: Conservation shouldn’t cost Indigenous lives

Thu, 10/13/2022 - 03:00

To conserve the planet’s biodiversity, countries around the world have pushed to create protected areas. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples says without concrete and immediate action, Indigenous rights will continue to be violated in the name of conservation.

“While the expansion of conservation is laudable, not enough assurance has been given to indigenous people that their rights will be preserved in the process,” said José Francisco Calí Tzay, who is Maya Kaqchikel and current Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

In a report presented Wednesday to the United Nations General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian & Cultural Committee, Calí Tzay, highlighted multiple human rights violations committed to create and enforce protected areas, ranging from the expulsion of Indigenous peoples from their lands to extra-judicial killings and mass murder. Defined as a “geographically defined area which is designated or regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives,” protected areas make up roughly 15 percent of the world’s surface. By 2030, that number is expected to double as part of 30×30, a global initiative to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and oceans by 2030. Without major changes to global conservation models, Calí Tzay said reaching that goal will mean more violence directed at Indigenous communities.

According to the report, protected areas are often created without the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples in violation of international mandates and principles. Once established, Indigenous communities often have limited access to their ancestral lands or face forced evictions and violence from eco-guards. The Special Rapporteur’s report points out that the expulsion of Indigenous peoples violates human rights and limits the efficacy of protected areas since Indigenous land management practices have repeatedly been found to be some of the best protections for the environment. 

“Indigenous peoples across the globe have overall not seen a concrete improvement in the realization of their rights in the context of conservation initiatives,” wrote Calí Tzay. “Despite international commitments to protect indigenous people rights, in practice, the rights continue to be violated.”

Calí Tzay said the creation of protected areas, also known as “fortress conservation”, is particularly concerning in Africa. In Tanzania, Indigenous Maasai have been facing violent evictions from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. After the report’s presentation, a representative from the United Republic of Tanzania raised “strong objection” to allegations about the evictions. “The voluntary relocation of residents of Ngorongoro Conservation area is not an eviction exercise by the government as seems to be suggested by the report of the Special Rapporteur,” he said. “The relocation is in full compliance with all human rights standards.” The representative also pointed out that in Tanzania, there is no legal distinction for Indigenous peoples. Calí Tzay said that he has been waiting for a response to his request for an official visit to investigate the matter. 

The report also raises concerns about the UNESCO World Heritage Site process, including at least nine examples where Indigenous human rights have been threatened. The World Heritage designation brings additional funding and tourism to those areas, but according to the report, the Special Rapporteur has received complaints from Indigenous peoples in Thailand, Kenya, Nepal, Botswana, Namibia, Sweden, and other countries about World Heritage sites. The report calls on UNESCO to introduce human rights assessments, reconsider World Heritage status if requirements are not met, and establish a grievance mechanism. 

UNESCO did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

In 2016, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who is Kankana-ey Igorot and then-Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, presented a report on the same issue. Tauli-Corpuz’ report highlighted killings of Indigenous environmentalists, forced evictions, destruction of crops, and other human rights violations in the name of conservation. “Protected areas have the potential of safeguarding biodiversity for the benefit of all humanity; however, these have also been associated with human rights violations against indigenous peoples in many parts of the world,” Tauli-Corpuz wrote. The report included a list of recommendations like more direct funding to Indigenous groups, stricter requirements for UNESCO World Heritage sites, and state compliance with the principle of free, prior, and informed consent. Most recommendations have not been fulfilled. 

In his presentation, Calí Tzay said states, donors, and international agencies, like UNESCO, should reform their policies and apply a rights-based approach to the creation or expansion of protected areas. The report says that states should legally recognize Indigenous peoples and land, protect them from extractive industry, and ensure access to lands in accordance with cultural traditions. The report also calls for more funding for Indigenous-led conservancies, protection for Indigenous women, hiring Indigenous peoples to manage protected areas, and other human rights-based recommendations. Ahead of upcoming global meetings like the COP27 climate summit in November and the COP15 biodiversity meeting in December, Calí Tzay called the issue “urgent and timely.” 

The report identified examples of good conservation practices where Indigenous peoples can make decisions for their land. In the United States, Bears Ears National Monument, which took years to establish in the face of presidential resistance , is now co-managed by five tribes. In Australia, the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, where the Indigenous Gunditjmara harvest eel, is Indigenous-owned and managed. Calí Tzay says that these examples should be models for the rest of the world as countries work toward climate and biodiversity goals. 

“I believe that the Indigenous people have a lot to share with the world, especially on protection of the environment,” he said. “Simply enlarging the global protected area surface without ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples dependent on those areas is not the solution.” 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline UN: Conservation shouldn’t cost Indigenous lives on Oct 13, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

UN countries adopt ‘aspirational’ net-zero goal for aviation

Wed, 10/12/2022 - 03:45

Nearly 200 countries pledged to cut carbon emissions from commercial aviation on Friday, marking the global community’s most ambitious pledge to regulate international air travel’s contributions to climate change.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency known by the abbreviation ICAO that represents 193 member states, announced the new goal at the conclusion of its triennial summit in Montreal, Canada. The result of almost a decade of negotiations, the non-binding target that the agency called a “long-term aspirational goal” asks countries to reach net-zero emissions from cross-border air travel by 2050. 

The pledge fills a major hole left by the 2015 climate summit that resulted in the Paris Agreement, where signatory countries pledged to reduce emissions within their own borders but stopped short of tackling emissions created by cross-border travel. In remarks at the ICAO assembly last week, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called the deal “a compromise but also a strong commitment.”

Some climate experts were less enthusiastic. 

“This is not aviation’s Paris Agreement moment,” said Jo Dardenne, the aviation director at the Belgian nonprofit Transportation & Environment, in a press release. “Let’s not pretend that a non-binding goal will get aviation down to zero [emissions].” 

Air travel accounts for between 2 and 3 percent of all global carbon emissions, and it’s trending in the wrong direction. Worldwide air traffic almost doubled between 2010 and 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing only the briefest dent in industry growth. Aviation emissions are driven primarily by a small group of frequent flyers in developed countries — around 1 percent of all travelers account for around half of commercial aviation’s carbon emissions — but most future air traffic growth is expected to come from the developing world, where flying demand will likely skyrocket over the coming decades as incomes rise.

This lopsided dynamic has heavily influenced the yearslong negotiations over ICAO standards. Wealthy countries like Europe and the United States, which account for the vast majority of historical aviation emissions and have the most capital to fund a green transition, have pushed for the steepest reductions in carbon emissions. Developing countries like India, meanwhile, have sought a longer glide path toward net zero, since their aviation sectors are just now getting off the ground. These countries have also pushed developed nations for financial support as they transition toward sustainable aviation. The non-binding 2050 target represented a compromise between those two positions; previous agreements had only promised “carbon-neutral growth” from 2020 onward.

Decarbonizing aviation without compromising expectations for modern air travel is one of renewable energy’s thorniest technical problems. Many hopes are pinned on “sustainable aviation fuel,” a catchall term for alternative fuels that are less polluting than standard jet diesel. Major airline companies like JetBlue and Delta have pumped millions of dollars into developing such fuels from cooking oil and food waste over the past few years, and governments are seeking to subsidize them as well: The Inflation Reduction Act recently signed into law by President Joe Biden, for instance, contains tax credits for manufacturing such fuels.

Unfortunately, sustainable fuels are currently more than twice as expensive as conventional fuel; other solutions that would run passenger planes on batteries or hydrogen remain technologically and financially prohibitive. Airlines can also achieve marginal emissions reductions by buying more efficient airplanes and designing more efficient flight paths.

In the absence of big emissions cuts, the aviation industry has historically relied on carbon offsets to bolster its green bona fides. In addition to adopting the net-zero target, the ICAO also adopted new standards for its carbon offsetting scheme, which is known as CORSIA. The scheme requires participating countries to offset all international aviation emissions above a certain threshold by purchasing a carbon credit — paying to protect a forest that sequesters carbon, for instance, or subsidizing the cost of a new wind farm. CORSIA is the closest thing the ICAO has endorsed to a carbon tax on air travel, and it has long been seen as a key way to mitigate climate pollution within the aviation sector, in part because its standards for what counts as a legitimate offset are more stringent than many private-sector standards.

The ICAO has been developing the CORSIA standards since 2016, but the pandemic threw the rollout into disarray, as emissions from air travel plummeted and then rebounded. At the talks in Montreal, the most ambitious countries argued that each signatory nation should be limited to 70 percent of its 2019 aviation emissions, meaning if it were to emit above that threshold in future years it would have to purchase offsets corresponding to the excess emissions. Many developing countries countered that this limit would be far more onerous for them than it would be for the European nations arguing for the stricter standard, both because their aviation sectors are on track to experience much more growth in years to come and because they have less money with which to buy offsets. These countries argued that 100 percent of 2019 emissions should be the new threshold. Yet again, the final result was a compromise between the two proposals: If countries exceed 85 percent of their 2019 aviation emissions, they will have to buy offsets for every excess ton of emissions. The new standards will remain in effect through 2035.

The question lurking behind the pledge is whether sustainable fuels and offsets are enough to bring down emissions, or whether tackling climate change will require the world to fly less. The ICAO standards don’t include any direct attempts to reduce air travel, but climate activists like Greta Thunberg have sought to discourage the residents of wealthy countries from flying when it isn’t necessary. Thunberg rose to prominence on the heels of a movement known as flygskam, or “flight shame,” and she herself famously sailed across the Atlantic rather than fly transcontinental. A recent report from the International Council on Clean Transportation, meanwhile, suggested imposing a global tax on frequent flyers.

Sailboats aside, there are almost no effective transportation substitutes for long-haul flights across the Atlantic Ocean, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t easy ways to reduce air travel. At least before the pandemic, the largest share of long-haul flights were business trips, but the rise of Zoom and remote work may render some of those trips unnecessary. The most wasteful flights from an emissions perspective, meanwhile, are short-haul flights that cover distances of less than a thousand miles. Taking one of these flights is often worse for the climate than driving to your destination — let alone opting for a low-carbon substitute like a train or bus. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline UN countries adopt ‘aspirational’ net-zero goal for aviation on Oct 12, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Phoenix could see deadliest year for heat deaths after sweltering summer

Wed, 10/12/2022 - 03:15

This story was originally published by The Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. 

Extreme heat contributed to as many as 450 deaths in the Phoenix area this summer, in what could be the deadliest year on record for the desert city in Arizona.

The medical examiner for Maricopa county, which includes Phoenix, has so far confirmed 284 heat-related deaths, while investigations into 169 more suspected heat fatalities are ongoing. The highest number of deaths – and emergency hospital visits – coincided with the hottest days and nights.

The temperature hit 110 degrees F or higher on 22 days this year, yet it was only the 20th hottest summer on record, according to the National Weather Service. It did not drop below 80 degrees Fahrenheit on 75 percent of nights between June and August. Heat effects are cumulative and the body cannot begin to recover until the temperature drops below 80 degrees F.

Overall, the suspected heat death toll is 36 percent higher than for the same period last year, despite a good rainy season which helped keep temperatures – and heat deaths – down from late July. And while heat will be ruled out in some cases, 2022 totals look to surpass last year’s historic high.

“Deaths tend to increase during our hottest days, especially when combined with very warm nights,” said Marvin Percha, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Phoenix. “The long-term increase in summertime temps seems to be playing at least some role in the increasing number of heat deaths over the years.”

Phoenix, the capital of Arizona and the country’s fifth-largest city, with 1.6 million people, is accustomed to a hot desert climate, but temperatures are rising due to global heating and urban development, which has created a sprawling asphalt and concrete heat island that traps heat especially at night.

In recent years, daily temperature highs have been smashed frequently and this year the city broke three daytime and nine night-time records. 911 calls for heat-related medical emergencies rose 13 percent compared with last year.

Heat deaths are preventable, yet have doubled since 2016, and it’s not just down to the heat.

Phoenix is also one of the fastest growing and most expensive cities in the U.S., with a crippling shortage of affordable housing and a rapidly growing homeless population.

According to the county’s annual count, there were 5,029 people sleeping on the streets in January – triple the number of unsheltered people compared with 2016. Being outside without adequate shade and water increases the risk of medical complications and deadly heat exposure.

Despite several new shelters opening this year, the situation has gotten even worse. Across the city, there are men and women sleeping rough in parks, parking lots and shop doorways, and behind dumpsters, and along canals.

Last week, outreach workers counted 1,006 people sleeping in tents, under makeshift shelters or on the ground in just one relatively compact downtown area known as the zone, where many of the city’s shelters and homeless services are concentrated. On very hot days the temperature can reach 160 degrees F on the asphalt where people are camped.

“There’s lots of new energy and effort around long-term housing solutions, but big system pieces needed to end homelessness don’t move quickly,” said Amy Schwabenlender, executive director of the Human Services Campus in the zone.

Eviction rates in Maricopa county are higher than pre-pandemic levels, and inflation hit 13 percent in Phoenix last month – a record for any U.S. city according to data going back 20 years. One in five confirmed heat deaths this year occurred indoors, and initial reports suggest the soaring cost of living may have played a role as 80 percent of victims did not have functioning air conditioning.

Still, this year’s high death toll is alarming given the cooling seasonal rains and the city’s first coordinated effort to reduce heat deaths, which involved more than a dozen agencies in addition to a gaggle of nonprofits and grassroots activists.

“It’s not just about heat, it’s a multifactorial problem that requires more coordination and creativity to line up the different pieces of the solutions portfolio,” said David Hondula, who leads the city’s – and North America’s – first extreme heat office. “Messaging alone won’t help, nor will handing out water bottles or investing in housing alone.”

Tackling the complex and interconnected issues that increase the risk of heat emergencies – lack of affordable housing, homelessness, substance misuse, inflation, inadequate shade, and rising temperatures – will take time, money and political will.

In the meantime, Hondula’s heat team will be diving into the data from 2022 to figure out which services or interventions saved lives and should be expanded, and which should be reformed or scrapped.

Hondula added: “This is not where we want to be; our goal is zero deaths.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Phoenix could see deadliest year for heat deaths after sweltering summer on Oct 12, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Climate reparations are on the agenda at COP27 — whether wealthy nations like it or not

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 03:45

Sumi Akter was at a crossroads. She could either stay in her farming village in western Bangladesh where her husband couldn’t find work or move five hours northeast to Dhaka, the country’s capital. Moving meant leaving behind her extended family and the only place she’d known in her life. But staying meant economic peril for her and her two daughters.

Akter’s hometown, Nasirpur, sits near the banks of the Kobadak River, which frequently swells with the ocean’s tides, sending rushing water through farms and homes. As a child, Akter, who goes by the daak name Bethi, would watch as cyclones flattened Nasirpur’s kutcha houses, made of mud and straw. Her father planted rice, jute, and vegetables on their modest plot of land only for the harvest to be washed away. 

As the years passed, Nasirpur residents also began contending with declining snowmelt from the Himalayas and rising sea levels. These climate change-fueled phenomena made the area’s river system saltier — a disaster for the farmers who depended on reliable freshwater flows. By the time Bethi was contemplating her move in 2018, many residents had already fled to bigger cities in search of work. The region’s population had been declining, with one study finding 5.5 migrants from the area for every 1,000 people

Houses damaged by a cyclone stand on the outskirts of Khulna, Bangladesh, in 2009. MUNIR UZ ZAMAN / AFP via Getty Images

As Bethi weighed her options, she reached out to the Bangladesh Disaster Preparedness Center and spoke to a staffer at the front desk. The center is responsible for implementing the climate programs of another nongovernmental organization, Helvetas Bangladesh. Both groups work to reduce disaster risks by increasing coordination between various state and local governments, as well as funding skills training to ensure climate migrants succeed when they move. They offered Bethi a third alternative that she hadn’t yet thought of: enroll in a training program and start a business.

Helvetas would pay for Bethi to attend a three-month beautician training course. After that, she could set up her own salon. Bethi, who had never worked outside the home, liked the idea but had many hurdles to overcome — including convincing her conservative family to let her work and securing 130,000 taka (roughly $1,300) in capital loans. She persuaded her family that working would help secure her kids’ future, and found three groups willing to loan her the money. 

Her perseverance paid off. Today Bethi owns and runs Boishakhi Beauty Parlour, named after her eldest daughter, just 10 minutes from Nasirpur. She has almost paid off her loans and has her sights set on expanding the salon’s offerings — perhaps even one day starting a beauty school.

“I couldn’t have imagined that I’d ever be fortunate enough to be able to get here,” she told Grist, speaking in Bengali through a translator over Zoom. “I’d never imagined this life for myself, that I’d be able to stand on my own two feet, that I’d be able to transform myself in this way.”

Bethi is one of millions of people worldwide whose lives have been indelibly altered by climate change. The planet has warmed by an average 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times, enough to accelerate or intensify an onslaught of cyclones, heatwaves, droughts, sea-level rise, and other natural disasters. The countries most vulnerable to climate change claim they have lost a fifth of their wealth due to climate change-driven increases in temperature and inconsistent rainfall patterns over the last 20 years.

A protester holds a ‘Climate Reparations Now’ placard during a demonstration before COP26 in 2021. Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

The result is a widespread loss of livelihood and displacement that’s only accelerating as temperatures rise. What’s more, these losses are primarily suffered by low- and middle-income nations that were late to industrialize, and therefore did little to contribute to global warming historically. According to the World Meteorological Organization, natural disasters caused 2 million deaths worldwide between 1970 and 2019; more than 90 percent were in developing countries.

In international negotiations, these climate-related outcomes are grouped under the compact moniker “loss and damage.” The origin of the phrase can be traced to 1991, four years before the first United Nations conference of parties, or COP, on climate change. Vanuatu, a small island nation in the Pacific, submitted a proposal to a UN General Assembly committee that year, arguing for an insurance scheme to “compensate small island states along with low-lying developing countries for loss and damage resulting from the consequences of sea level rise.”

The proposal didn’t go anywhere, but the term slowly took on a life of its own. By 2007, COP formally recognized the need for “means to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in developing countries.” Loss and damage became known as the third pillar of the Paris Agreement that was signed in 2016, when the world’s countries agreed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The other two pillars, adaptation and mitigation, refer to efforts taken to protect communities from the future effects of climate change and actions taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions, respectively. If mitigation and adaptation entail avoiding temperature rise and its consequences, loss and damage tackles the unavoidable pitfalls of a warming planet. 

In the years since, the clamor in favor of acknowledging loss and damage, and funding restitution for it, has grown louder. Increasingly, climate advocates and developing nations have framed loss and damage funding as a form of reparations. Since late-industrializing countries — which run the gamut from major international players like India and Brazil to small island nations like Vanuatu — have done little historically to cause climate change, they argue that it’s unfair they now have to shoulder the burden of its deadliest effects. 

Convincing early-industrializing countries like the U.S. to fund organizations like the one that helped Bethi could be one aspect of a global loss and damage program. The groundwork for this is already being laid: Helvetas Bangladesh is expanding its work with the help of a $250,000 grant from the Climate Justice Resilience Fund, a Washington D.C.-based philanthropy tasked with distributing money allocated during last year’s COP in Glasgow, Scotland.

Read Next UN report could change the conversation on ‘loss and damage’ at November’s climate negotiations

Loss and damage is expected to take center stage at the 27th United Nations climate change conference, or COP27, in Egypt next month. Famine-level drought in Somalia and devastating floods that left one-third of Pakistan, a country responsible for less than 1 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, underwater have only added urgency to the issue.

Activists and developing nations hope to leave COP27 with a sustainable system for funding loss and damage restitution over the long term. In the past, countries have pledged funds to pay for climate projects in poor countries, with the assistance of the United Nations. The most prominent of these is the Green Climate Fund, which was established in 2010 with the goal of raising $100 billion per year to help developing nations respond to climate change. The fund does not cover loss and damage, and developed nations have only raised roughly $80 billion in loans and grants. Accessing money from the fund has also been a frustrating process plagued by bureaucratic delays for vulnerable countries.

Climate justice advocates hope to learn lessons from this failure as they try to establish a new mechanism to collect and distribute funding for loss and damage. The issue has been included for discussion in a provisional agenda, and they hope to see it formally adopted to the official COP agenda for the first time in the conference’s history. And since the conference is being held in a developing country for the first time in six years, advocates hope to leverage media attention to make the moral case for loss and damage funding. In a recent interview with Bloomberg, India’s environment minister Bhupender Yadav said that the focus on mitigation at last year’s COP “caused disappointment among the smaller countries over the lack of discussion on loss and damages.” He noted that India is working with other industrializing nations to demand compensation. 

On the other hand, developed nations including the U.S. continue to sidestep the issue, fearing that acknowledging it would open up a Pandora’s box of litigation and lead to unlimited financial liability. Last month, in response to a question about whether the U.S. plans to direct funding to pay for loss and damage in poor countries, climate envoy John Kerry said that “the most important thing that we can do is stop, mitigate enough that we prevent loss and damage. And the next most important thing we can do is help people adapt to the damage that’s already there.” In a nod to the gargantuan costs of the climate crisis so far, Kerry added: “You tell me the government in the world that has trillions of dollars, cause that’s what it costs.” Some estimates put the price tag on loss and damage anywhere between $290 and $580 billion per year by 2030.

But while the U.S. and most other industrialized nations continue to punt on funding loss and damage restitution, some smaller rich countries have been stepping up. Earlier this year, Denmark became the first independent country to officially fund loss and damage compensation, setting aside $13 million for the cause. Denmark was following in the footsteps of Scotland, which provided a major breakthrough at COP26 last year.

The first week of the conference, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged that the country’s industrial past produced carbon emissions that built its wealth at the expense of nations now suffering the worst effects of climate change. More significantly, Scotland pledged £2 million (or about $2.3 million) toward loss and damage funding, becoming the first nation to put money on the table to compensate for loss and damage. It was a groundbreaking investment in keeping with the country’s progressive positions on climate change: Scotland established a climate justice fund in 2012 to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to climate change, and it has an ambitious goal of reducing carbon emissions by 75 percent by 2030. 

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, left, and climate activist Vanessa Nakate, right, attend a COP26 event in November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

Although the monetary contributions were small compared to the need, it was a giant symbolic victory in the eyes of loss and damage advocates. “The biggest contribution of Scotland was de-tabooing the issue,” said Harjeet Singh, the head of global political strategy at the Climate Action Network, an international coalition of more than 1,800 environmental groups. “No developed-country government was even agreeing to talk about loss and damage at that level. The biggest breakthrough was a government coming forward and saying, ‘loss and damage is an issue, and I’m willing to put money behind it. It’s a matter of justice.’”

Advocates hoped Scotland’s commitment, which was announced early in the COP26 conference, would shift the conversation. “I was super excited and hopeful,” said Eva Peace Mukayiranga, a climate activist from Kigali, Rwanda. “I thought now there would be no more blocking [from developed countries]. Surely, there would be no more blocking.”

But Mukayiranga returned from Glasgow disappointed. For much of the conference, loss and damage advocates found themselves shut out of negotiations, leading some to later declare the proceedings “the most exclusionary COP ever.”

Lorenzo Raplili,​​ a policy officer at the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network, was one of just a handful of Vanuatu citizens who managed to clear the various COVID-19 travel restrictions and make the two-day trek to Glasgow. A small island nation home to about 300,000 people, Vanuatu was recovering from Cyclone Harold which made landfall in 2020 and caused about $600 million in damages — 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Despite Vanuatu’s position on the front lines of climate change, Raplili found that he and other advocates were not allowed to enter negotiation rooms where loss and damage was being discussed, even though the conference typically allows community groups and civil society representatives to observe COP proceedings.

People gather at a local produce market in Vanuatu during the first significant local rainfall event in many weeks during an extended dry season in 2019. Mario Tama / Getty Images

“We were blocked by the security not to enter the COP negotiation,” Raplili said. “We were surprised, and we were saddened to see that our agenda and our demands for COP26 were put aside. We were neglected.”

Inside the negotiation room, representatives of developing nations initially proposed provisions that would support creating a funding mechanism for loss and damage. But in the final days of the conference, many of the provisions were watered down at the behest of the U.S. and European Union. Instead of a clear definition and a process for moving money to vulnerable countries, developing nations had to settle for a section of the final pact called the “Glasgow Dialogue.” It acknowledged that climate change has already and will continue to cause loss and damage globally, and urged developed countries to “provide enhanced and additional support” to address impacts in countries vulnerable to climate change. It said nothing about how such measures should be funded.

Ultimately, the Scottish’s government’s path-breaking announcement didn’t move the conversation “as we hoped for,” Mukayiranga said. Her goal to establish a financing mechanism for loss and damage remains unmet. Thanks to contributions from a few philanthropic organizations and the governments of Wallonia, Scotland, and Denmark, the tally for financing loss and damage now stands at a paltry $19.5 million — a drop in the bucket compared to the billions of dollars in damages that developing nations face each year as climate-fueled flooding, hurricanes, and other disasters wallop vulnerable populations.

Mukayiranga is now looking ahead to COP27 in November. “I’m prepared for a fight,” she told Grist. “They can’t ignore anymore that we are facing loss and damage impacts, and we need loss and damage finance which is new and additional.”

A number of roadblocks stand in the way of Mukayiranga and other loss and damage advocates. Despite the breakthrough in Glasgow, getting loss and damage on the COP27 provisional agenda has once again been an uphill climb — a struggle that advocates blame on continued evasion by the U.S. and other developed nations. The ongoing pandemic, food crises, and fears of an impending global recession are also bound to make the conversation harder. Finally, the demand for additional funding comes even as rich countries still haven’t met their 2015 promise to funnel $100 billion a year to help developing nations adapt to climate change.

Despite all the hurdles, Singh framed the issue as a moral imperative. “Climate is a justice issue,” he said. “A bunch of countries and corporations are responsible for the mess. They have to bloody clean it up. As simple as that.” 

There is no official definition of loss and damage, and the lines between adaptation measures, humanitarian aid after natural disasters, and loss and damage funding can be blurry. It may be difficult, for example, to distinguish between interventions that help people adapt to climate change versus those that address losses they’ve already experienced. Not only that, but many climate-related phenomena, such as sea-level rise and the loss of culture that can be a consequence of migration, occur over decades and are hard to quantify. 

These are some of the challenges that advocates face as they gear up to push for a funding mechanism at COP27. Among the open questions are: What is the true scale of loss and damage? How should non-economic impacts, such as loss of language or culture, be addressed? And what are potential sources of funding, given that developed nations have blown past the 2020 deadline they set in Paris to provide $100 billion per year in climate-related financing to countries in need?

Harjeet Singh, a prominent advocate for loss and damage funding, at a protest during COP26 on November 12, 2021. ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP via Getty Images

One analysis conducted by researchers at the Basque Centre for Climate Change in Spain estimated that global warming will cause between $290 billion and $580 billion per year in damages in 2030. That figure, the analysis found, is set to balloon to $1.1 trillion to $1.7 trillion per year in 2050. The estimates do not include non-economic losses due to displacement. Island nations and communities that live on the coasts, for instance, are increasingly having to move inland. The dispersion of these communities can lead to the loss of languages. With rising sea levels, burial sites in these communities are also underwater. Some argue that it is too difficult to put a monetary value on such losses, and that they should be addressed separately. (For example, language loss could be addressed through the support of archival work to document and preserve artifacts of the language in question.)

The massive scale of funding required could come from a number of sources. Taxes on fossil fuel sales, a reduction in fossil fuel subsidies, a tax on international airfares, and debt cancellation for vulnerable countries could help fund the climate compensation package for developing nations.

“There are many ways of raising money if you have political will,” said Singh. “How could we raise trillions when it comes to COVID response? How could we raise trillions when we were faced by a financial crisis, or when we have to now mobilize money to support Ukraine?” 

Singh and others advocates want to see a funding mechanism for loss and damage established and operationalized in the next three years. This year, they want countries to agree to establish a fund and define its function. By COP29, they want funds mobilized and channeled to developing countries. 

It’s an ambitious timeline. Whether it’ll be met depends very much on the talks in November. In an exclusive interview with Grist, Rania A. Al-Mashat, Egypt’s minister of international cooperation, noted that the African continent’s contributions to global emissions are miniscule compared to the harms it suffers as a result of climate change. Nevertheless, she demurred on questions about the country’s position on loss and damage.

Climate activist Vanessa Nakate, second right, and other activists engage in a protest at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021. AP Photo / Alastair Grant

“Egypt, as president of COP, has very clearly said we take an impartial role,” she said, “but Egypt has been a very key player in the negotiations from the very start.”

The Egyptian COP president, Sameh Shoukry, has said that loss and damage is a priority for the country in November, alongside mitigation and other issues related to climate finance. Last month, Shoukry convened a meeting of the heads of delegations to exclusively discuss loss and damage — a first for a COP presidency. Al-Mashat said that the gap between the money available and the funds needed to finance a global green transition is “very, very big.”

“It’s on the negotiators at COP to really assess how much of that needs to be generated,” she told Grist.

In the last year, wealthy nations have moved away from some of their hardline positions on loss and damage. Civil society groups in the European Union believe Ireland could follow in Scotland and Denmark’s footsteps. Australia, which has historically obstructed progress in climate negotiations, also looks set to change its tune with the election of a new and more progressive government

One reason for the shift may be that the conversation around compensation liability is not emphasized as much as it was in the past. In order to assuage wealthy nations’ fear that they will be on the hook for some unlimited amount in damages, developing nations and climate justice groups have consciously moved away from emphasizing compensation liability and instead have set their targets on an account of loss and damage that does not necessarily imply complicity. Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, for instance, explicitly states that the agreement recognizes loss and damage, but does not “provide a basis for any liability or compensation.” 

Some advocates have also pointed out that refusing to fund loss and damage could actually increase the threat of litigation. For instance, Vanuatu, the island nation with a population of about 300,000, is currently seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legal implications of climate change. An advisory opinion is not binding, but it can help developing countries and small island nations understand the legal arguments they could make and understand their chances of success in court. Vanuatu needs to secure a majority of UN countries’ support for its proposal to compel the court to issue an opinion. 

“You can’t just hide under the carpet,” said Singh, of the Climate Action Network. “If they really want to avoid litigation and unlimited liability, they should come to the table and find ways of supporting communities who are facing this crisis. That’s the only way.”

Po Bhattacharyya assisted with translation.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Climate reparations are on the agenda at COP27 — whether wealthy nations like it or not on Oct 11, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Report: World Bank invested nearly $15 billion in fossil fuel projects despite climate commitment

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 03:15

In December 2018, the World Bank made a public commitment: The international financial institution, known for providing funding and policy advice to developing countries, would align its spending more closely with the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. 

But that promise didn’t exactly pan out. According to a new report, the World Bank Group has since financed nearly $15 billion across 144 fossil fuel projects and policies, many in areas of the world already experiencing some of the most dire consequences of climate change. 

The report comes from Big Shift Global, a coalition of NGOs that work to bring transparency to global energy investments, which analyzed public data from Oil Change International’s Public Finance for Energy database. It found that net new investments from the World Bank Group between the fiscal years of 2018 to 2021 amounted to roughly $14.8 billion. 

“There is no excuse for a new fossil fuel project to be constructed,” said Elaine Zuckerman, who left the World Bank in the 1990s to hold the group accountable for the gender and climate impacts of its decisions. Her organization, Gender Action, is a member of Big Shift Global and a contributor to the report. 

About a quarter of the $14.8 billion identified in the report is associated with just ten World Bank-financed projects, the most expensive of which is the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline. The natural gas pipeline, which will stretch roughly 1,150 miles across the entire country of Turkey, is expected to deliver 16 billion cubic meters of gas from Azerbaijan to Europe annually — more than triple Azerbaijan’s current annual exports.

Grist / Jessie Blaeser

Before making the $1.1 billion investment, the agency conducted an environmental and social impact survey, which warned that the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline could have “unprecedented” and “irreversible” social and environmental consequences on water quality, air quality, and worker health and safety. The investment was still green-lit. 

The report is not the first time the World Bank has faced environmental criticism. While the mission of the World Bank Group is to end extreme poverty, the institution has faced multiple controversies for allegedly ignoring the rights of Indigenous peoples and rigging data to boost China’s climate ranking. Just last week, current World Bank President David Malpass, came under fire for balking at a question about whether human-related greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change. “I don’t even know — I’m not a scientist,” the Trump appointee said to a New York Times reporter. Malpass has since apologized.

While multiple projects highlighted by the report list job creation as a major benefit, Zuckerman says local communities often see less of the financial benefit and much more of the social and environmental consequences once construction for fossil fuel projects begins. 

“My view, based on more than 40 years of experience with the World Bank is that the biggest beneficiary of world bank loans are these very large corporations — often multinational corporations,” she said.

From a strategy standpoint, clean energy projects are better, cheaper vehicles for job creation than fossil fuel projects, said Jim Barrett, a energy and environmental economist who consulted with the World Bank in 2021.

It’s not a matter of whether or not a fossil fuel investment creates jobs, he said. “It will no doubt create jobs. The question is, is there a better, more productive way to invest a million dollars in developing countries? And the answer is yes.”

A spokesperson from the World Bank Group told Grist: “We dispute the findings of the report: it makes inaccurate assumptions about the World Bank Group’s lending. In fiscal year 2022, the Bank Group delivered a record $31.7 billion for climate-related investments, to help communities around the world respond to the climate crisis, and build a safer and cleaner future.”

But the report’s authors argue those  investments can end up locking communities and economies into a future dependent on fossil fuels “at a time when politically, scientifically and in the real world, the case to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean renewables should have been obvious.” Leaders from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are expected to meet in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss a range of investment questions moving forward.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Report: World Bank invested nearly $15 billion in fossil fuel projects despite climate commitment on Oct 11, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

West Virginia, Kentucky officials ignored plans for catastrophic floods

Mon, 10/10/2022 - 03:15

This story was originally published by Mountain State Spotlight. Get stories like this delivered to your email inbox once a week; sign up for the free newsletter at mountainstatespotlight.org/newsletter.

When four and a half feet of water engulfed the town of Fleming-Neon, Kentucky, in July, fire chief Carter Bevins found himself in an unfamiliar position.

“We were helpless,” he said. 

The volunteer firehouse, which sits on a small road directly in front of Wright Fork creek, was surrounded by a chest-high wall of water. The phone rang again and again, with residents begging for help. But Bevins and his team couldn’t open the door. All the firefighters could suggest to panicked residents was that they get as high as they could.

“We try to take any situation and neutralize it, make it for the better. How you gonna do that when you can’t even get out of your own building?” Bevins asked.

Fleming-Neon wasn’t the only community to find itself in this position: With vast portions of eastern Kentucky still reeling from the July flooding that ruined thousands of buildings, displaced hundreds and killed 39 people, elected officials are focusing on  disaster response. The same is true right across the border in West Virginia, where catastrophic flooding has become a regular occurrence for people in communities from McDowell to Kanawha. 

But for years, officials have ignored their own, completed plans for how to prevent these kinds of disasters from happening in the first place. West Virginia has had a comprehensive flood mitigation plan on the books since 2004, though officials have taken little concrete action to implement it. And in Kentucky, extensive regional plans spell out how communities could decrease the potential for flood damage.

In these cases, planning and taking action haven’t gone hand-in-hand.

The topography and residential patterns of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia naturally lend themselves to flooding. In these mountainous areas, where most people live on narrow strips of land next to creeks and surrounded by mountains, water runs down the mountains and overflows small tributaries.

But the past decades of logging and coal mining have made these flooding events worse, by stripping surface areas of their ability to absorb the water. And as the climate changes, major flooding events will happen even more frequently. 

Climate change makes the region more prone to sudden, intense storms that drop a lot of rain, as an increase in atmospheric temperature increases the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, making precipitation, and in particular flooding, more likely. 

Marshall University professor and State Climatologist Kevin Law says he’s seen an increase in precipitation in West Virginia and much of the region since he began his role in 2008. 

Part of a state climatologist’s job is to use this data to predict future climate trends.

But Law says that global warming is also making floods like the recent one in eastern Kentucky harder to pinpoint in advance. Due to temperature-driven changes in the jet stream, which steers storms, there have been more “training” events in the region: where very narrow yet intense storms line up like cars on a railroad track and follow each other. 

These storms are so narrow that it’s difficult for climatologists to accurately predict where they’re going to turn up until they actually happen, as if they were tornadoes, Law says. 

“You can kind of get an idea if it’s going to happen in Kentucky, but precisely where you just don’t know until you start to see that line up on the radar, and then you can put out the warning but oftentimes then it can be too late,” he said.

The increased frequency and severity of storms means that Kentuckians and West Virginians are facing more potential damage on a regular basis. That makes infrastructure projects like dams and floodwalls, as well as levees, updates to buildings, and emergency notification systems all the more important. 

West Virginia is very familiar with the type of planning required to protect residents from the worst impacts of floods. In 2004, a 20-agency task force produced a 365-page Statewide Flood Protection Plan, the result of generous federal and state contributions and four years of work. The plan was loaded with actionable suggestions on floodplain and wastewater management, ordinance enforcement, better flood warning systems, improved building codes, and a tougher approach to resource extraction. Yet it was never implemented by any of the state agencies that would have had jurisdiction over parts of the plan.

Shana Banks, left, nurse practitioner at the MCHC Isom Medical Clinic, and Jennifer Shepherd, a medical assistant, look at the front office of the clinic in Isom, Kentucky, on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, now covered in a layer of mud from last weeks floods. Ryan C. Hermens / Lexington Herald-Leader / Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Here, the effects of this more frequent flooding were most recently obvious in 2016, when a catastrophic flood damaged or destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, and killed 23 people.

Weeks later, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported how the state had taken no action on the earlier plan. The following year, the state Legislature established a joint Flood Committee and a State Resiliency Office, designed to orchestrate statewide responses to disasters and create a new flood mitigation plan that drew from the work done on the first one.

Five years after the committee and the state office were created to update the state’s mitigation plans, there is nothing in place.

“There’s not, unfortunately, a lot of instant gratification associated with mitigating flood risk,” said Mathew Sanders, the senior manager of flood-prepared communities for The Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew is currently working with the Resiliency Office to develop a new plan. He said that the more frequent and severe flood events that states like West Virginia are seeing mean that nobody is prepared to take flooding on properly.

State officials say they’re working on necessary updates to the 2004 plan, to account for modern technology. State Resiliency Office Director Robert Martin said one example is stream gauges: Today’s technology can last longer than those from twenty years ago and run on solar energy. Martin told legislators earlier this year that some of the old plan is obsolete and he has spent most of his time in the office since 2020 reviewing it.

The Resiliency Office, Pew and others held a symposium in May to talk about some of those necessary updates. 

Senator Chandler Swope, a republican from Mercer and co-chairman of the Joint Flooding Committee, said that symposium was a critical turning point. According to a blog post from Pew, the final day of the two-day event included reviewing the 2004 plan and deciding what elements should make it into an updated version: the same thing Martin says he’s been doing for the last two years. 

Even after all that work: “It’s a really fuzzy assignment,” Swope said when asked about the concrete steps the committee plans to take to make the plan a reality post-symposium. He said in the past funding has been an issue, though he said he’s arguing the Legislature should change its definition of “infrastructure” to include flood mitigation technology, so they can take advantage of federal funding. Then there’s also the challenge of working across so many different state and federal agencies. 

“I have no idea: It could be several years, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t take several years before you have a refined and completed plan,” Swope said.

But Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas, who also sits on the committee, said the responsibility to implement flood mitigation plans doesn’t just lie with lawmakers. 

“While the Legislature can take some actions related to this, we are not the state’s panacea,” he said. Hanna noted that the Department of Environmental Protection has a cabinet secretary who is part of Gov. Jim Justice’s administration, which will ultimately be in charge of implementing mitigation recommendations.

In the meantime, as state officials debate what needs to change and who is responsible, more floods have devastated communities across the state. McDowell, Braxton, and Mingo counties, and most recently Kanawha, Greenbrier, and Fayette counties, are among the places overwhelmed with damage in the past couple of months. Residents were trapped, bridges were washed out, and property was swept away. 

Even if they didn’t run on solar, stream gauges might have been able to help.

Across the border in Kentucky, state officials also haven’t made much progress on mitigation, but for an entirely different reason. Kentucky delegates disaster mitigation planning to municipalities, which in theory allows communities to tailor their plans to their specific needs. In practice, most municipalities in turn delegate disaster planning to regional Area Development Districts.

While West Virginia continues to study what it already studied on mitigation, some best practice insights in Kentucky don’t get through to decision-makers at all. 

Bill Haneberg, state geologist and director of the Kentucky Geological Survey, said the state is lacking any kind of coordinated effort. 

“There are people in state government in our Division of Water, for example, who do work on flooding, but there’s no really highly concentrated intense statewide effort. And that is something that’s missing,” Haneberg said.

And without that statewide approach, many local officials say they’re in the dark about what the regional districts say needs to be done to prevent future flooding. 

“This is just the truth in Appalachia right here…we have never followed the rules in Appalachia,” said Letcher County Surveyor Richard Hall. He’s been in local government for 30 years and ensures structures built within the floodplain comply with local codes in his current role. But he had no knowledge of the county’s flood mitigation plan. Neither did the county’s flood coordinator nor the 911 director. 

Calls to dozens of emergency management officials for cities and counties in eastern Kentucky hit by the most recent flood revealed that most did not know what their local flood mitigation plan was, or that their Area Development District was the entity that had made it.

Michelle Allen, executive director of the Kentucky River Area Development District, said that once the plan is created, the district communicates regularly with local officials about progress and implementation. She also noted that the day before the flood devastated eastern Kentucky, the district had hired a regional disaster coordinator to in part assist municipalities with follow-up.

But ultimately, the municipalities themselves are responsible for implementing any flood mitigation efforts: a process that’s more difficult if they don’t know that a plan exists.

Photo taken on July 30, 2022 shows a house and vehicles destroyed by heavy rain-caused flooding in Central Appalachia in Kentucky, the United States. The death toll from the heavy rain-caused flooding hitting eastern Kentucky rose to at least 25, including four children from one family, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear confirmed Saturday. Wang Changzheng / Xinhua via Getty Images.

Nearly five years after the Kentucky River Area Development District made its five-year plan recommending two action items for the town of Fleming-Neon, officials hadn’t made any progress on one of them: moving City Hall out of the flood plain. Mayor Susan Polis said she didn’t recall it being something they planned to do. She and others noted, however, that the most recent flood was so massive that there was likely little that mitigation could have done to prevent the damage.

And now, in both Kentucky and West Virginia, officials have found themselves in an endless cycle of emergency response that takes priority over long-term planning. In West Virginia, the Legislature’s Joint Flood Committee will be spending their next meeting addressing the state’s most recent floods.

In response to a question about whether the committee would compel agencies to testify about a timetable for plan implementation, Delegate Hanna said that wasn’t imminent. 

“Figuring out what the state can do to aid and assist those affected is the top priority now,” Hanna said.

And in Fleming-Neon, the mayor  says they’re taking it one day at a time since the flood swallowed nearly every building in her town. 

“I haven’t had time to think about nothing more than taking care of my people getting water into their homes and that’s what we’ve done for — how many days? Today’s number 25, 24,” Polis said in August.

Ohio Valley ReSource reporter Katie Myers contributed to this story.

Correction: This story was updated on Sept. 12, 2022, to correctly identify Mathew Sanders, the senior manager of flood-prepared communities for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline West Virginia, Kentucky officials ignored plans for catastrophic floods on Oct 10, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

California’s three-year drought continues with no relief in sight

Sat, 10/08/2022 - 03:15

This story was originally published by The Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. 

California has witnessed its three driest years on record and the drought shows no signs of abating, officials said on Monday. The dry spell set the stage for catastrophic wildfires and has strained water resources and caused conflicts over usage.

“We are actively planning for another dry year,” said Jeanine Jones, drought manager for the state’s department of water resources, who was discussing California’s status at the conclusion of its water year, which ended September 30.

This water year saw record rainfall in October and the driest January-to-March period in at least a century. Even these deluges, which at times produced flooding and debris flows, were not enough to combat the state’s dry spell. Drought-stricken landscapes do better with soft wetting rains than they do with surges, and it will take more than a few winter storms to ameliorate California’s water shortages.

Fueled by the climate crisis, which will both worsen dry conditions and spur stronger storms, this weather whiplash is likely to become more common as the planet warms, scientists say.

Spiking temperatures exacerbate and intensify drought conditions, baking moisture out of landscapes at the same time that plants, animals, and people require more moisture to adapt to hot conditions. Meanwhile, the weather phenomenon La Niña, a pattern characterized by surface ocean temperatures that can cause heat increases and rainfall shortages, is also expected to occur for a third straight year, increasing the potential for less precipitation.

Another dry year would mean little to no water deliveries from state supplies to southern California cities beyond what’s needed for drinking and bathing. Farmers who rely on state and federal supplies would also see minimal water during another dry year, putting even greater strain on groundwater supplies often used as a backup to keep crops alive.

Farmers in the Sacramento valley had a particularly rough water year, state officials said. About 600 sq miles of farmland, including many rice fields, were fallowed in the valley this year, according to the Northern California Water Association and California Rice Commission.

But snowfall is of most concern, as the powder that collects on mountaintops during the winter months serves as a savings account of sorts when the state runs dry. As snow slowly melts it trickles into streams, rivers, and reservoirs, providing one-third of California’s annual water supply. The Colorado River, another major source of water for southern California, is also beset by drought, threatening its ability to supply farmers and cities around the U.S. west.

Last year’s snow levels were far below average by the end of the winter, and officials are concerned that a third year of dry conditions will only strain resources further. State officials expect the trend to continue, saying they expect California’s water supply to decline by 10 percent over the next two decades.

Precipitation was 76 percent of average for the year that just ended, and the state’s reservoirs are at 69 percent of their historical levels, state officials said. The 2022 water year was slightly cooler and wetter than the preceding year, though not enough to change the trajectory of the drought, officials said.

Most of the state is in severe or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The worst conditions are throughout the Central valley, the state’s agricultural heartland where many of the nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts are grown.

Gavin Newsom in August touted recycling and desalination as ways to shore up the state’s supply. The California governor also has continued to urge the state’s 39 million residents to save water by ripping out grass lawns or letting them go brown, taking shorter showers and generally being more conscious about water use. In the summer of 2021, he called for people to voluntarily cut their water use by 15 percent from 2020 levels, though the state is far from meeting that target.

Californians did lower their water use in August by 10.5 percent, water officials said on Monday. But collectively, statewide water savings are down just 4 percent since Newsom made his request.

There are signs that the state and its residents are better learning to deal with ongoing dry periods, said Jeff Mount, a senior fellow with the Water Policy Center at the Public Policy Institute of California. 

“We’re not fighting any more about whether things are changing — we’re having reasonable fights about how to adapt to it,” Mount said. But, he added, it is now time for the administration to outline a clear set of priorities that will help the state conserve more water.

Already there are communities — especially less-affluent pockets across California’s Central valley where residents are predominantly people of color — where wells have gone dry. Jones said people who live in cities and rely on major water suppliers shouldn’t be concerned about water reliability, but water may start to cost more as suppliers build recycling plants or other new infrastructure to shore up supply.

“We encourage people to learn and understand about where their community’s water supply comes from,” Jones said, “and what’s going to be needed to make it better in the future.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline California’s three-year drought continues with no relief in sight on Oct 8, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

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