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It’s not just Coca-Cola: Corporations have co-opted the UN climate talks

Tue, 11/15/2022 - 03:45

Once a year, delegates from almost 200 countries gather for the purpose of finding ways to keep climate change from spiraling out of control. This time around, they’re meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for COP27. And the event is brought to you by the largest plastic producer in the world, Coca-Cola.

While Coca-Cola is considered a lower-tier sponsor than the conference’s “partners,” which include Microsoft, IBM, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, Coca-Cola’s role has garnered an exceptionally large amount of criticism. Nearly 240,000 people have signed a petition for the Egyptian government-led conference to drop the partnership with Coca-Cola, a corporate giant that makes roughly 4,000 plastic bottles from oil every second

Over the years, climate summits have become a branding opportunity for corporations to attach their names to high-profile efforts to save the world. One report found that the companies sponsoring the 2015 summit in Paris, for example, had paid around $18.8 million, about 10 percent of the total budget. It can be hard for organizers of an expensive-to-run conference to turn down that kind of money. But those sponsorships have become a target of protest as activists seek to show how companies like Coca-Cola have contributed to the climate crisis, the very thing COP27 is supposed to address. 

The Coca-Cola debacle inspired a recent political cartoon that contrasts the conference’s lofty goal of limiting climate change with the merch-filled expo that takes place alongside it. “Make sure you grab your COP27 gift bag,” says a comic by Australian cartoonist Andrew Marlton. The panels advertise fictional swag: a shirt that says “My environment minister went to COP27 and all I got was this lousy t-shirt,” an “economy-size bottle of greenwash,” and the new book by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg (“no need to read it, just be seen with it”). Thunberg, for her part, decided to skip the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, in part because of the corporate-friendly atmosphere.

All the logos on display at COP27 hint at what’s going on behind the scenes: Companies have been influencing the global climate negotiations since their inception in Rio de Janeiro 30 years ago, working to make sure that the final agreement would not force them to cut emissions from fossil fuels. Instead, they began volunteering “net-zero” pledges to cancel out their emissions at some later date. They’ve also started to shape the conversation at every summit. When COP27 attendees talk about “net-zero” and the need for ever-better climate data, for example, they are talking about climate change in a language that businesses helped develop, and one that experts say distracts from the true goal: the need to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

The Coca-Cola sponsorship “seems outrageous to me,” said Adam Rome, an environmental historian at the University at Buffalo. “But if you’re in a world where pretty much everything is voluntary and everything has to make, ultimately, business sense, then you’re going to get net-zero pledges, and you’re going to get corporate sponsorships of government or civil society.”

Demonstrators in Zagreb, Croatia, protest greenwashing as COP27 is held in Egypt, November 8, 2022. Denis Lovrovic / AFP via Getty Images

Even though oil companies haven’t been allowed to sponsor the talks, the fossil fuel industry still has a huge presence: By one count, it sent more than 630 lobbyists to Sharm el-Sheikh, a larger delegation than sent by any country except the United Arab Emirates, the host of next year’s climate summit. (It wasn’t until last year that the conference’s final agreement mentioned the phrase “fossil fuels” at all — and even then, the language got watered down.) COP27 has also been criticized for hiring a public relations firm, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, that has represented oil companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and Saudi Aramco, to manage communications.

Climate advocates often justify corporate involvement by saying that companies have a role to play in financing the changes that are needed, said Jennie Stephens, a professor of sustainability science and policy at Northeastern University. But she believes that corporate influence at negotiations is preventing “more transformative action” from resulting. Instead of denying the problem or undermining science, those who oppose reducing emissions are now focused on delaying climate action, Stephens said. “Part of delay is to acknowledge the problem and then present corporate interests as if they’re doing something to mitigate problems, when in fact, they’re not.”

Despite talking about fixing climate change more than ever, for instance, all major oil companies are on track to increase oil production by 2026, according to a report earlier this year. “If they are still planning to extract all these fossil fuels in perpetuity,” Stephens said, “there’s no way we’re ever going to meet any of the goals that all the countries have committed to in this whole long, expensive process that so much time and effort has gone into.”

So how did corporations become such major players in climate politics? It goes back to an old public relations strategy. In the 1960s and ’70s, environmental activists brought attention to how polluters were setting rivers on fire, spilling oil into the ocean, and spraying pesticides everywhere. Companies were branded as villains and were forced to get in line with new regulations to prevent pollution. 

Around that time, a young PR rep named E. Bruce Harrison figured that the key to avoiding future regulations was all about compromise. Calling for “balance” between the “Three Es” — the environment, energy, and the economy — would make the industry’s position look reasonable and responsible, and leave environmentalists looking like they wanted to ruin the economy. By working with environmentalists, companies could appear to be doing the right thing — and get a seat at the table where decisions got made. 

That’s exactly what businesses did leading up to a major U.N. climate agreement in 1992. The first order of business of the Global Climate Coalition — a group of utilities, oil drillers, automakers, and other companies assembled by the National Association of Manufacturers a few years earlier — was to influence the international treaty that would be signed in Rio de Janeiro. At negotiating sessions, industry representatives argued for a voluntary approach to reducing emissions, in the hopes of avoiding a binding one. They got what they asked for. A National Association of Manufacturers business activity report in 1992 congratulated itself on a “strong and effective presence” during the Rio negotiations.

Former President George H.W. Bush signs an international climate agreement in Rio de Janeiro, June 12, 1992. J. David Ake / AFP via Getty Images

After that, the Global Climate Coalition “actively lobbied” ensuing climate conferences to make sure companies wouldn’t be forced to cut emissions, according to a report by Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Brown University. It also lobbied Congress and the White House to make sure that the United States, the biggest emitter in the world in the 1990s, would not ratify any binding climate treaties that managed to pass anyway. In 2001, when President George W. Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, which would have required countries to cut carbon emissions, White House staff met with the Global Climate Coalition to congratulate them. “POTUS rejected Kyoto, in part, based on input from you,” read the talking points prepared for Paula Dobriansky, the lead negotiator on U.S. climate policy at the time.

The coalition disbanded in 2002, with its mission accomplished, but companies never left the scene of climate negotiations. They gradually took on more of a sponsorship role and began setting up official-looking side events.

Corporations’ high level of involvement in the negotiations is a natural outcome of people’s lack of faith in government to take action on climate change, and the belief that businesses can help fill in the gap, Rome said — an idea that’s been in force since around 1990. “There’s obviously still a lot of people who are skeptical of what corporations will do,” he said. “But a lot of other people, whether grudgingly or not, have thought, ‘Well, government isn’t going to do anything. Businesses are usually powerful institutions. If anybody can do something, it’s business.’”

Companies and governments often pledge to go “net-zero” — meaning that they’ll suck up as much carbon dioxide as they emit — but such plans are often light on the details. The United Nations says it wants to crack down on these wishy-washy climate promises. Last week, it issued a new report offering guidelines to make “net-zero” pledges more meaningful. The report was perceived as taking companies to task — the U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres, said there must be “zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing.” 

But experts told Grist that the bigger issue was that the United Nations was spending so much time talking about “net-zero.” While the concept of zeroing out emissions could work, in theory, critics say it is too ambiguous to be meaningful and easily gets exploited by policymakers and companies. A recent study analyzing public pledges from hundreds of large global companies found that 93 percent of them were on track to miss their emissions goals.

For those who see “net-zero” as bogus, talking about it might end up perpetuating the problem. Rome thinks that the U.N. report’s focus on getting companies to follow through on their pledges seemed to be dodging a real solution: requiring companies to cut emissions. The report “only guarantees that we’ll spend a lot more time talking about the details, when the whole idea of it is the problem,” he said. 

An attendee of COP27 walks past a mockup of the globe and advertisements from the IT and business consulting firm CGI, November 6, 2022. Mohammed Abed / AFP via Getty Images

Squabbling over details has become a feature of U.N. climate conferences as well as discussions around corporate sustainability, said Matthew Archer, a professor of sustainability at the University of York in the United Kingdom. Archer is writing a book arguing that “endless discussions” about metrics and measurements can distract from the real work that needs to be done on climate change. He argues that, while accurate data is needed, the search for ever-more-accurate numbers has become a form of delaying action itself. 

“The whole conversation [around net-zero] is turning toward, ‘Oh no, you’re measuring it wrong, you haven’t considered this aspect,” Archer said. The debates “end up just becoming technical squabbles and people fighting over very minor methods and methodological questions,” while ignoring the bigger questions about power in politics — such as whether net-zero is a helpful way to achieve climate goals at all.

Rome says that voluntary action from corporations will never be enough to solve the climate crisis. “The whole last 30 years has been this vast experiment in what they are willing to do voluntarily,” he said, with lackluster results. The world doesn’t need more “good” companies to make more net-zero pledges, Rome explained: It needs rules that force all companies to cut their emissions.

Coca-Cola may be in the spotlight for greenwashing with its sponsorship of the latest climate summit, but the problem is much bigger than one company. The U.N. has been “trying to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys in the corporate world,” Rome said. “That’s important, but it’s not nearly as important as pointing out that at the end of the day, we need something beyond more good guys.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline It’s not just Coca-Cola: Corporations have co-opted the UN climate talks on Nov 15, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Facing a call for climate reparations, wealthy nations propose an insurance scheme

Mon, 11/14/2022 - 06:47

Tensions at the United Nations climate change conference known as COP27 have been running high, largely over the issue of what’s called “loss and damage” — shorthand for the disproportionate suffering that the developing world is already experiencing at the hands of climate change. In the most concrete response yet to the issue, on Monday a group of countries led by Germany announced their commitment to developing “a Global Shield against Climate Risks” to help people in the least developed countries better prepare for climate-fueled disasters. 

The Global Shield is a joint initiative by the G7, a political forum consisting of the world’s most industrialized countries, and the V20, which is represented by the finance ministers of 58 of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. The German government has committed roughly $175 million to the effort, which intends to address loss and damage through insurance programs and social security schemes. Denmark, Ireland, Canada, and France have also contributed about $42 million to the initiative.

The least-industrialized countries in the world have argued that they’ve done little to cause climate change but are the most affected by climate-fueled disasters, like the recent floods in Pakistan that left a third of the country underwater. (The V20’s website points out that it represents nearly 20 percent of the global population but only 5 percent of global emissions.) For this reason, developing countries have called on wealthy nations to set up a fund to pay for the loss and damage climate change has already caused and will cause in the future — in effect, for a form of climate reparations. The success of COP27 could rest on whether wealthy nations, whose early industrialization is disproportionately responsible for the climate change that has occurred so far, answer the call.

“The Global Shield is long overdue,” Ken Ofori-Atta, Ghana’s finance minister, said at the press conference announcing the Global Shield’s launch at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. “It has never been a question of who pays for loss and damage, because we in the V20 are already paying for it.”

Given the lack of momentum on direct funding to address loss and damage, the Global Shield is the first systematic and substantive effort by wealthy nations that responds to the call for climate reparations. While proposals for a separate, formal U.N. mechanism that would provide direct loss and damage funding are still under negotiation, some countries such as Ireland, Austria, and New Zealand have made symbolic pledges of a few million dollars to show their support for the cause. The United States, which has historically refused to acknowledge the issue, has staunchly opposed a separate fund for loss and damage. On Saturday, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said that a financing mechanism for loss and damage is “just not happening.” However, the U.S. is a member of the G7 and hence a part of the Global Shield consortium.

While there are few details yet on exactly how the Global Shield will work, German federal development minister Svenja Schulze said the program will include insurance programs, social security schemes, early warning systems, and other financial assistance arranged in advance before disaster strikes. Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Fiji, Ghana, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Senegal will be the first recipients of “Global Shield packages,” according to a press release.

Advocates for loss and damage warned that insurance schemes like those promised by Global Shield are an insufficient solution to loss and damage, and they worried that such programs will distract from the demand for separate direct funding. The Global Shield is an expansion of the InsuResilience Global Partnership, a program spearheaded in 2015 by the German government that primarily provides insurance schemes to countries in the Global South. 

InsuResilience and other insurance programs that have been championed by wealthy nations have been inadequate to meet the scale of loss and damage that people in climate-vulnerable countries are facing, advocates told Grist. Asking people in the developing world to pay for insurance when they’ve done little to cause the climate crisis is fundamentally unfair, they said. 

“If you’re a rich country who is on the hook for paying for this, it very cleverly redirects the responsibility for dealing with climate loss and damage onto vulnerable people,” said Julie-Anne Richards, an independent consultant and expert with the Loss and Damage Collaboration, an advocacy group. “Rich countries can turn around and go, ‘Well, the problem is you didn’t prepare well enough. You don’t have insurance.’”

Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at the Climate Action Network, an international coalition of more than 1,800 environmental groups, said that in past years wealthy nations have used insurance programs to distract from the demand for direct loss and damage funding. He is wary of the announcement, given the lack of more concrete detail about how the Global Shield, which was earlier floated in June at the G7 leaders summit, will deliver financial support to those in need.

“The phrase is very fancy: ‘Global Shield,’” he said. “But what’s inside is unclear to many.”

Schulze was quick to address such concerns at the press conference on Monday. “It is not a kind of tactic to avoid formal negotiations on loss and damage,” she said. “The Global Shield also isn’t the one and only solution for loss and damage — certainly not. We need a broad range of solutions and respective funding for tackling loss and damage.”

The international community has been kicking around the idea of an insurance scheme to help countries vulnerable to climate change since at least the early 1990s, when island nations proposed an insurance pool to protect low-lying countries from sea level rise. Over the years, the World Bank, United Nations, and various countries have created risk pooling programs such as the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, the African Risk Capacity, and the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative. These programs are subsidized by wealthy nations and other donors and allow countries in the Caribbean, Africa, and the Pacific to secure coverage for disasters such as drought, flooding, and hurricanes. 

These sorts of insurance can be purchased by governments to protect their people against disasters, and by individuals to protect their property. Premiums are typically subsidized to make them affordable. There are two main types of climate disaster insurance: indemnity insurance and parametric insurance. The former involves purchasing policies that cover specific perils over specific periods of time and are paid out depending on the scale of losses when a disaster strikes. These are similar to the insurance policies purchased by U.S. homeowners.

In the case of parametric insurance, on the other hand, insurers identify specific climatic conditions that trigger payouts to policyholders. When specific predetermined thresholds describing the level of flooding or drought or other disasters are met, insurers disburse funds no matter the scale of the damage on the ground. The upshot of this is that the long and cumbersome process of filing a claim and verifying the damage is avoided, resulting in quicker payouts. But in countries in the Global South, where historical climatic and environmental data isn’t as readily available, insurers have struggled to define the best parameters — such as wind speed, rainfall, or days without rain — that trigger payouts. As a result, even when an expensive climate-driven disaster strikes, insurers sometimes don’t pay because the parametric thresholds weren’t met.

For example, the government of Malawi paid $4.7 million for drought insurance through the African Risk Capacity for the 2015-2016 agricultural season. But when erratic rains resulted in a prolonged drought and more than $350 million in damages, the insurance program found that the thresholds for the number of people affected by the drought were not met, and that it didn’t trigger a payout. After sustained media coverage and outrage over the decision, the African Risk Capacity eventually reassessed its modeling and provided $8.1 million in payouts — a small fraction of the need. Similarly, after Hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall on Antigua and Barbuda in 2017 and caused $136 million in economic damage, the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility paid out $6.8 million — 5 percent of the damages. 

One research paper that studied the African, Caribbean, and Pacific insurance programs concluded that while “to some extent it is possible to address the weaknesses of parametric risk pooling schemes, it seems equally clear that it is impossible to fully remedy them.” 

According to InsuResilience’s annual report, it has “enabled access to financial protection for over 350 million people in vulnerable countries,” but it’s unclear how the program is counting those who are protected and whether payouts after disasters have met their needs. Singh, the advocate with the Climate Action Network, said the program counts an entire family as protected if one member has insurance for even one of a slew of climate perils.

“The starting point has to be whether people who are being affected are getting adequate support or not,” said Singh. “If they’re not getting it, then whatever we have is inadequate.”

In an emailed statement in response to questions about InsuResilience’s effectiveness, a spokesperson for the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development confirmed that the number of policyholders is multiplied by the average household number to calculate beneficiaries. The spokesperson defended the estimate saying that InsuResilience “sets strong qualitative standards” and that the program “ensure[s] that products are indeed fit for purpose to provide effective protection for an entire household.”

Even those working with InsuResilience have been quick to acknowledge its shortcomings. Colin McQuistan, the head of climate resilience at Practical Action, a charity in the U.K., has been helping develop a pilot program in Nepal to insure farmers against flooding in partnership with InsuResilience. The program only protects paddy farmers during the monsoon season, even though rice is just one of multiple crops that farmers in the region cultivate.

“Attempting to suggest that the insurance product is protecting those farmers is ridiculous, because it’s pretty clear it’s only protecting that one crop to that one hazard,” said McQuistan.  

Currently, just 10 percent of the program’s budget can be used to subsidize the insurance premium, but McQuistan hopes that in future years additional government subsidies will lower the cost further. Securing useful climate data for the region has also been a challenge, McQuistan added. The group used rainfall and river flow data for the Karnali River to develop the product, but recently some of the farmers were affected by floods from another nearby river.

“There’s still a lot of work needed to develop the thresholds and triggers for a parametric insurance product in rivers where we don’t have sufficient historical data,” he said. 

Aside from overcoming such technical challenges, the Global Shield’s success will depend on the amount of money that it is able to raise from wealthy nations and other donors. At the press conference, Schulze said the $175 million pledged by Germany was “just a start, a sort of seed money” and that the initiative will “need substantial additional funding over time.”

At a separate press conference, Rachel Cleetus, a policy director at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the scale of funding for the Global Shield “is completely off.”

“Countries are putting money in the millions and the needs, they have admitted, are rising into the billions and trillions,” she said. “[The Global Shield] is not a substitute for a loss and damage finance facility.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Facing a call for climate reparations, wealthy nations propose an insurance scheme on Nov 14, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Experts say COP27’s ‘plastic waste pyramid’ is focusing on the wrong solution

Mon, 11/14/2022 - 05:47

In the middle of the Egyptian desert, just outside Cairo, a new sculpture has gained the singular distinction of being the world’s “largest plastic waste pyramid.”

Measuring nearly 33 feet high and weighing some 18 metric tons, the sculpture — made of plastic litter removed from the Nile — is truly gargantuan. The sculptors behind say it should serve as a stark message to leaders at COP27, the international climate conference that began in Sharm el-Sheikh last week, about the “incredible crisis” of plastic pollution.

“Our installation will really draw attention to the scale of the problem of plastic waste in our rivers and oceans,” Justin Moran, founder of Hidden Sea, a wine company that co-sponsored the art installation, told Packaging News. The brand, which targets “socially conscious consumers” is using the sculpture to launch an initiative called 100YR CLEANUP, which is supposed to raise enough money to continuously remove plastic from the environment for the next 100 years.

The plastic pyramid is eye-catching, but some environmental advocates say its focus on plastic cleanup is behind the times. They argue that what’s needed now is public pressure on policymakers and the petrochemical industry to stop making so much plastic in the first place.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t do cleanup,” said Thalia Bofiliou, a senior investment analyst for the nonprofit financial think tank Planet Tracker, “but we shouldn’t do only that.” Plastic and packaging companies are planning to make more and more plastics, Bofiliou said, and unless they “take responsibility and reduce plastic production, then the issue is not going to be resolved.”

There are already 140 million metric tons of plastic in the planet’s oceans and rivers. By 2060, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that number will skyrocket to nearly half a billion metric tons, with annual plastic leakage to the natural world doubling to 44 million metric tons a year. Meanwhile, the 100YR CLEANUP is pledging to remove 1,500 water bottles’ worth of plastic from the environment for every $100 it raises. 

The 100YR CLEANUP isn’t trying to clean up the planet on its own: Considering that the weight of a standard 600-milliliter water bottle is 0.93 ounces, the initiative would need to raise roughly $1.26 trillion to scoop up the world’s plastic pollution by 2060 — and then raise $113 billion each subsequent year to try to keep up with the still-accumulating piles of plastic bottles, bags, cutlery, and other trash.

But even similar removal efforts haven’t made a dent in existing plastic pollution to date. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, an industry-founded nonprofit whose members include major polluters like Exxon Mobil, Shell, and the plastic-maker Braskem, only managed to collect about 4,000 metric tons of plastic trash over the first three years of its existence — just 0.04 percent of its own waste collection goal and about 0.006 percent of the plastic pollution that was generated during that time.

Another sculpture, featured in Nairobi, Kenya, as the U.N. discussed a global plastics treaty, depicted plastic trash pouring out of a giant spout. Jamies Wakibia / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Instead of just calling for more cleanups, Bofiliou said advocates should spotlight companies that are responsible for plastic pollution and demand they be held accountable. Given the plastic waste pyramid’s proximity to COP27, the Coca-Cola Company could have been an easy target; the multinational beverage manufacturer is sponsoring the climate conference but has lobbied against legislation to address the plastics crisis. It was recently ranked the world’s biggest plastic polluter for the fourth year straight. 

The pyramid is not the first piece of public art designed to call international attention to the plastic crisis. Another sculpture, featured over the summer as the United Nations discussed a global treaty on plastics, depicted plastic trash pouring out of a giant spout, urging policymakers to stem the metaphorical flow. Hidden Sea co-sponsored both the giant spout installation and the new plastic waste pyramid. Moran, Hidden Sea’s founder, told Grist “we need to turn the plastic tap off.”

A spokesperson for the pyramid’s other co-sponsor, Zero Co, a body care and cleaning product company that makes refillable packaging, told Grist the business also supports “the elimination of producing or using single-use plastics.” They said the business hasn’t focused on this messaging in pyramid press materials because it “didn’t want to delve too far away from the story and complicate messaging.” 

Aarthi Ananthanarayanan, director of the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy’s climate and plastics initiative, defended plastic cleanups and the waste pyramid. Despite the enormity of the plastic pollution problem, she said cleaning up even a small amount of plastic trash can engage and benefit local communities. She stressed, however, the need to highlight plastics’ entire life cycle and cradle-to-grave impacts — including not only how they mar rivers and beaches but how their production contributes to climate change.

“What I wish they would have said is, ‘Plastics are fossil fuels — this is a pyramid of fossil fuel waste,’” Ananthanarayanan said. They didn’t, but if publicity around the waste sculpture helps draw that connection even a little bit she added, “I’ll take it.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Experts say COP27’s ‘plastic waste pyramid’ is focusing on the wrong solution on Nov 14, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

France to require all large parking lots to be covered by solar panels

Mon, 11/14/2022 - 03:00

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

All large car parks in France will be covered by solar panels under new legislation approved as part of president Emmanuel Macron’s renewable energy drive.

Legislation approved by the French Senate this week requires existing and new car parks with space for at least 80 vehicles to be covered by solar panels.

The owners of car parks with between 80 and 400 spaces have five years to comply with the measures, while operators of those with more than 400 will have just three years. At least half of the area of the larger sites must be covered by solar panels.

The French government believes the measure could generate up to 11 gigawatts of power.

Politicians had originally applied the bill to car parks larger than 27,000 square feet before deciding to opt for car parking spaces.

French politicians are also examining proposals to build large solar farms on empty land by motorways and railways as well as on farmland.

Former United Kingdom prime minister Liz Truss considered blocking solar farms being built on agricultural land.

The sight of parked cars under the shade of solar panels is not unfamiliar in France. Renewables Infrastructure Group, one of the UK’s largest specialist green energy investors, has invested in a large solar car park in Borgo on Corsica.

Macron has thrown his weight behind nuclear energy over the past year and in September announced plans to boost France’s renewable energy industry. He visited the country’s first offshore windfarm off the port of Saint-Nazaire off the west coast and hopes to speed up the build times of windfarms and solar parks.

The move comes as European nations examine their domestic energy supplies in the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Technical problems and maintenance on the powerhouse French nuclear fleet has exacerbated the problem while the national operator EDF was forced to cut its output in the summer when French rivers became too warm.

The government has also launched a communication campaign, “Every gesture counts,” encouraging individuals and industry to cut their energy usage, and the Eiffel Tower lights are being turned off more than an hour earlier.

The French government plans to spend €45 billion ($53.3 billion) shielding households and businesses from energy price shocks.

Separately on Wednesday, ScottishPower announced it would increase its five-year investment target by £400 million ($473.6 million) to £10.4bn ($12.3 billion) by 2025. The UK solar and wind farm developer hopes to generate 1,000 jobs in the next 12 months.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline France to require all large parking lots to be covered by solar panels on Nov 14, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Biden touts methane crackdown at COP27

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 14:12

President Joe Biden made a brief appearance at COP27, the annual United Nations climate conference, on Friday to try and convince the world that the United States is more committed than ever to tackling climate change. In addition to touting the passage of the biggest climate bill in U.S. history, the president announced several initiatives to cut emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, including new oil and gas regulations at home and a plan to drive down emissions internationally.

Cutting methane emissions is an urgent climate project. The gas is 80 to 90 times stronger than carbon dioxide at heating up the planet in its first 20 years in the atmosphere, and it leaks out of fossil fuel infrastructure ranging from wells to pipelines all the way to power plants and homes. Methane breaks down in the atmosphere in a matter of decades, meaning that addressing these leaks today can reduce its impact quickly — which would slow down climate change and stave off some of its worst effects. 

A year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations to address methane leaks from existing oil and gas sites. The U.S. already had some rules in place to prevent leaks from new wells, but existing wells have been allowed to go on polluting. Now, after an extensive public comment period, the agency is proposing even stronger regulations that could take effect as soon as next year. Environmental groups applauded the government on Friday for addressing key concerns raised by experts in their feedback on the original proposal.

“The Biden administration is continuing to advance the ball on these crucial standards,” said Jon Goldstein, the senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Under last year’s proposal, if emissions at a particular oil or gas well were low enough, those wells would be exempt from routine monitoring for leaks. Now the EPA wants regular monitoring of all wells — including those that are no longer being pumped but have yet to be properly shut down. These previously exempt wells, often called “marginal wells” because they don’t produce much oil or gas, are estimated to be responsible for more than 50 percent of all wellsite methane.​​ 

The oil and gas industry fought to exclude marginal wells from monitoring, claiming the rules would be too burdensome for smaller companies. But the Environmental Defense Fund found that three-quarters of these wells are in fact owned by large companies that raked in an average gross revenue of $335 million in 2019.

The EPA is also proposing to strengthen limits on “flaring,” an industry practice of burning off methane that comes out of oil wells, converting it into carbon dioxide — which is still harmful to the climate, but less so in the short term. But flares regularly fail, and the less wasteful alternative is to capture that gas and sell it, so that if it’s burned, it’s at least creating usable energy. The new rules would require well operators to capture the gas unless they can prove it’s not feasible or safe to do so.

“While we are disappointed EPA did not propose an outright ban on oil and gas industry flaring,” said Melissa Hornbein, a senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, “we are nonetheless encouraged by the draft rule’s incisive measures to tackle leak detection and repair from all sources, including low-producing and abandoned wells.”

The third big change is a “super emitters program” that would authorize third parties that track methane leaks to notify companies when they detect big plumes and require companies to respond within a matter of days. Satellite companies like Kayrros regularly uncover high-volume methane leaks in the Permian Basin, an oil and gas field that spans West Texas and Southern New Mexico. To date that data has been used to shame companies — now it could be used for enforcement. 

The EPA says the rules would deliver an estimated $3 billion worth of climate and health benefits per year, taking into account the costs of compliance. That includes preventing 36 million tons of methane from entering the atmosphere between now and 2030, the greenhouse gas equivalent of shutting down all the coal power plants in the U.S. for a year. The estimate also accounts for eliminating nearly 10 million tons of volatile organic compounds, chemical gases emitted by oil and gas infrastructure that can harm human health and contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone. 

Once put into effect, the rules would work in conjunction with a fee on methane emissions that was created by the Inflation Reduction Act, the climate bill Biden signed in August. Beginning in 2025, major offenders will be charged a fee of up to $1,500 for each excess ton of methane they release.

In addition to strengthening regulations at home, Biden is also working to shore up international cooperation on methane. At last year’s climate conference in Glasgow, the U.S. launched the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions from all sources by 30 percent by 2030. At COP27 on Friday, the U.S., along with the European Union and a number of other partner countries, agreed to develop standards for monitoring and reporting methane emissions that would help create a market for “low methane-intensity natural gas.” 

More than 130 countries signed on to the Global Methane Pledge, and dozens are expected to release more detailed plans to address methane at the conference. But the initiative has still failed to attract the three of the worst methane offenders in the world — Russia, India, and China.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Biden touts methane crackdown at COP27 on Nov 11, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

How California’s initiative to fund electric vehicles went terribly wrong

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 03:45

Back in June, a measure to tax the wealthiest Californians to raise funds for electric vehicles and wildfire fighting qualified for the state ballot. At first, it seemed like a clear winner. The initiative had the support of hundreds of environmental and public health groups, unions, firefighters, and elected officials. The American Lung Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the California Democratic Party all endorsed it, with 63 percent of voters saying they would support the measure on election day this November.

If any state would support a tax for climate action it would be California, where nearly two-thirds of residents believe local officials should do more to address climate change. But on Tuesday, Californians resoundingly rejected the initiative, with 59 percent voting it down.

What happened? How did an immensely popular environmental ballot initiative fail in a state that prides itself on being one of the most progressive on climate?

In short: A governor broke party ranks, billionaires launched an opposition campaign, and a corporation with a PR problem turned out to be a major liability. Let’s dig in.

The surprise twist came in late July, soon after the California Democratic Party endorsed Prop 30, as the measure was called. Governor Newsom and the California Teachers Association announced their formal opposition. The teachers association took issue with putting “a special interest lock box” on taxes that would traditionally fund schools. Governor Gavin Newsom narrowed his sights on the rideshare company Lyft, the proposition’s primary funder. He started campaigning heavily against the measure, starring in a September television ad where he asked Californians to vote against “[Lyft’s] sinister scheme to grab a huge taxpayer funded subsidy.” He even donated his own re-election funds to the opposition group. 

“Gavin Newsom has a lot of credibility as a climate advocate in the state,” said Catherine Wolfram, a climate and energy economics professor at University of California, Berkeley. “The fact that he came out against Prop 30, voters paid attention to that.” 

California law requires rideshare companies to log 90 percent of all miles in electric vehicles by 2030, and Newsom accused Lyft of trying to use taxpayer dollars to foot the bill for its transition to electric. Once Newsom spoke out against the measure, it started slipping in the polls.

Corporate involvement in drafting and promoting legislation is something that many Californians take issue with, and with good reason. In 2020, Lyft and Uber pushed through a heavily contested measure, Prop 22, to reclassify workers as contractors, which gets companies off the hook for providing minimum wage, overtime, health care, and other benefits. 

Lyft spent over $45 million on a California ballot measure to fund electric vehicles that failed on Tuesday. Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty

But in this case, Prop 30 wasn’t exactly the carve out for Lyft that Newsom said it was. According to the clean transportation groups who devised the measure, Lyft came on, mostly as a funder, once the basic contours of the measure were already established. “There was nothing in there that specifically mentioned Lyft,” said Steven Maviglio, who consulted on press strategy for the proposition. “The measure would have benefitted low- to middle-income Californians by subsidizing electric vehicles and installing charging stations in their neighborhoods. Lyft would have benefitted in that its drivers fall into the category of being Californians.” The measure slated 50 percent of its EV funding for low-income communities, which are disproportionately impacted by air pollution.

The money raised from the Prop 30 tax, an estimated $3.5 billion to $5 billion annually, would have gone to the California Air Resources Board, the Energy Commission, and CAL FIRE, state agencies Newsom funds with his own budget to reach California’s climate targets. These include a 40 percent emissions reduction by 2030 and 100 percent EV sales by 2035 in a state where transportation comprises 50 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to some of the worst air quality in the country. 

Beyond Lyft’s involvement, there are other reasons Newsom and other Prop 30 opponents pushed back against the measure. Some of the biggest funders of the opposition campaign were billionaires who would have been affected by the 1.75 percent tax increase on incomes over $2 million a year. Top donors to the No to Prop 30 campaign included Netflix Founder Reed Hastings, investment company founder Mark Heising, Sequoia Capital venture capitalist Michael Moritz, and Catherine Dean, chief operating officer of Govern for California, an influential donor network composed primarily of Bay Area venture capitalists and tech executives. Several of the big Prop 30 contributors, like Hastings, Dean, and Heising, were also big supporters of Newsom’s 2022 gubernatorial reelection bid, with some maxing out allowed donation levels

Newsom expressed his concerns about increasingly relying on high-income earners to fund state programs. California gets most of its revenue from income taxes, and people who make over $2 million — the 0.2 percent of residents, taxed at 13.3 percent of their income — already make up 30 percent of the state’s income tax revenue, according to CalMatters. This pool can be a volatile and unstable source of funding as it is heavily tied to fluctuating markets. Other opponents expressed concerns about driving high-income earners out of the state, although studies show the people moving out of California are low- and middle-income residents who can no longer afford to live there; high earners are the ones moving in.

Opponents also argued that California ballot measures that carve out portions of the budget for specific issues limit the flexibility of the governor and the legislature to allocate funds. “Climate is such a big topic and there are interlocking issues,” said Wolfram. “Ballot propositions are the wrong way to do climate policy.” 

Ultimately, Lyft was the opposition’s biggest talking point. “The other side never got around that Lyft had written and funded the campaign,” said Matthew Rodriguez, campaign manager for No on Prop 30.

Maviglio, who has consulted on strategy for California environmental measures like the plastic bag ban and the water bond, warned against reading the vote as an indication of voter’s beliefs on climate change or progressive taxation. It’s much easier to get a “no” vote on a ballot measure than a “yes,” he said, so long as the opposition can sow some seeds of doubt in the minds of voters, which in this case they were able to do by focusing on Lyft. “The conversation was never about the actual policy,” said Bill Magavern, policy director at the Coalition for Clean Air.

What’s next for the future of EVs in the state? The good news is there is money for clean transportation. After lobbying from Newsom, California legislators recently approved a historic $54 billion in climate spending with $10 billion set aside for electric vehicle funding over five years. There is also money from the federal Inflation Reduction Act coming in for EV incentives, as well as an expected $384 million from the Infrastructure Bill for charging stations in California. But experts say it’s nowhere near enough. “The $10 billion is a promise, not a law,” said Magavern, adding that past electric vehicle subsidy programs in the state have consistently run out of money. Lack of charging stations has also emerged as a clear roadblock in efforts to mandate the transition to electric trucks for the shipping industry. And while the past two years have seen big budget surpluses, Governor Newsom has already warned about restrictions next year; Magavern worries that climate change programs will be among the first to be cut.

“We are in a crisis when it comes to climate and air pollution and wildfires,” said Magavern. “To meet the emergency, we needed to do something out of the ordinary. [A tax increase] wouldn’t pass the legislature so it took something like a ballot initiative.”

Meanwhile in New York, a historic $4.2 billion bond act for conservation, water quality infrastructure, flood risk reduction, and climate change mitigation passed with no organized opposition. The measure, which will allow the state to raise money for projects by taking on debt, also had a large coalition of environmental and labor groups behind it, and is projected to create 84,000 jobs across New York State. “New Yorkers said ‘yes’ to investing in clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, reduced flooding, environmental justice, and jobs,” said Kate Boicourt, director of climate resilient coasts and watersheds for the New York chapter of the Environmental Defense Fund. “This act… is a win for everyone and will make an impact in communities across the state for generations to come.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline How California’s initiative to fund electric vehicles went terribly wrong on Nov 11, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Biden to federal contractors: Make plans to cut your greenhouse gas emissions

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 03:30

The Biden administration plans to require the largest federal contractors to set targets for slashing their greenhouse gas emissions in line with goals established under the Paris climate accord in 2015. The proposed rule, announced on Wednesday, could have wide repercussions throughout corporate America as the U.S. federal government is the world’s largest consumer of goods and services.    

The administration’s new proposal would also require that contractors make their emissions public as well as detail the risks climate change poses to their business. The list of the largest suppliers to the federal government includes aerospace giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin as well as pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Moderna. 

The announcement comes as leaders from around the world met in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, at a United Nations climate summit, where the Biden administration is under pressure to help developing countries already shouldering the burden of rising temperatures, while cutting its own emissions. According to the Washington Post, which broke the news, Biden is expected to tout the new plan when he arrives at the meeting on Friday.

With more than $630 billion in purchases over the past fiscal year, the U.S. government is the world’s biggest buyer by a landslide. A fact sheet from the White House says that climate change poses significant financial risks to the government through disruptions to supply chains, such as when heat waves lead to power outages. 

At present, over half of the biggest federal contractors are voluntarily disclosing climate-related information, but a full picture of their emissions is missing. One of the main ways that greenhouse gas emissions are measured and assessed is by looking at them within three different “scopes”: Scope 1 emissions are controlled directly by the company; scope 2 are caused indirectly when the energy it purchases are produced; and scope 3 are those produced by the companies’ own suppliers. 

Under the new proposal, federal contractors receiving more than $50 million in annual contracts would be required to publicly disclose Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 emissions and climate-related financial risks. Businesses with less than $50 million in annual contracts but more than $7.5 million would be required to report Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. Those with less than $7.5 million in annual contracts would be exempt. 

It’s part of Biden’s larger push to slash emissions throughout the federal government, including orders to have the government’s entire vehicle fleet run on electricity and have federal agencies get their power from carbon-free sources. The administration’s federal sustainability plan set a goal to achieve net-zero emissions for the federal procurement by 2050, with the latest proposal playing a crucial role, according to the White House. The new rule would apply to 85 percent of the emissions connected to federal contractors, estimated to be more than twice as large as the emissions from the government’s 300,000 buildings and 600,000 vehicles combined.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Biden to federal contractors: Make plans to cut your greenhouse gas emissions on Nov 11, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Study: Extreme heat responsible for hundreds of deaths in Texas prisons

Thu, 11/10/2022 - 05:00

In the dozens of Texas prisons that don’t have air conditioning, new research shows that 13 percent of deaths during the six hottest months every year from 2001 through 2019 were likely due to extreme heat. The study, which was published last week in the academic journal JAMA Network Open, is the first epidemiological evidence that the lack of air conditioning in a large proportion of U.S. prisons is substantially increasing the risk of death for those incarcerated. It also suggests that over 250 Texans lost their lives over the past two decades because of the state’s failure to mitigate indoor heat.

In Texas, where two-thirds of the state’s nearly 100 prisons lack air conditioning, temperatures inside facilities have risen to as high as 149 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate change will only increase the number of dangerously hot days: Historically no Texas county typically saw more than 25 days annually where the heat index rose above 105 degrees F. By midcentury, however, more than a third of counties in the Lone Star State will likely be subject to more than 50 days with heat that high, according to data from the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists.

Nevertheless, Texas lawmakers have repeatedly failed to advance bills that would fund prison air conditioning, and prison officials have suggested that heat deaths are not a problem. At a July hearing before the Texas House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee, Texas Department of Criminal Justice executive director Bryan Collier claimed that that there have been zero heat-related deaths since 2012.

“Their numbers are wrong,” said Amite Dominick, one of the new report’s coauthors and the president and founder of Texas Prisons Community Advocates, an organization that is pushing Texas policymakers to fund prison air conditioning.

“I hope it adds further credence to what we’ve been saying all along — that these individuals are dying because the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is refusing to put AC in prisons,”she added. “Our legislators aren’t getting the job done.”

The 271 deaths in facilities without air conditioning — an average of 14 per year — occurred on days that were unusually hot for the region, when the heat index rose above the 90th percentile for the location. On such days, the risk of death rose 15 percent. The study also found that each 1-degree increase in temperature over 85 degrees increased risk of death by 0.7 percent.

These deadly effects were not observed in air-conditioned facilities: The researchers, led by Brown University Ph.D. Julianne Skarha, found no correlation between heat and mortality in the latter. This is not surprising, given that heat-related death is uncommon among the general population — accounting for less than half a percent of U.S. deaths.

While Texas jails are required to maintain temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees F, state prisons have no such regulations. “There is life-saving potential if the Texas Department of Criminal Justice applies a similar temperature regulation policy to its prison facilities as it does to its jail facilities,” the researchers wrote.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice declined to comment on the report. “The agency takes numerous precautions to lessen the effects of hot temperatures for those incarcerated within our facilities. These efforts work,” Communications Director Amanda Hernandez said by email. “In 2022, there have been thirteen inmates who required medical care beyond first aid for heat related injuries and none were fatal.”

Skarha chose to focus her research in Texas in part because it has the highest state prison population in the U.S., incarcerating around 118,000 people. However, the JAMA study has implications far beyond the state.

“We know there are many states in the U.S., especially in the South, that don’t have AC in the majority of their prisons,” Skarha said. “There’s no reason to assume that it’s not a similar story there.”

Heat deaths are difficult to track, and the cause of a heat-induced death isn’t always listed as hyperthermia. Researchers have found that heat increases the risk of cardiovascular- and diabetes-related deaths as well as the risk of death for people over age 75. U.S. prison populations are aging, and prisoners are more likely to have both heart conditions and diabetes. People taking psychotropic medications, used to treat a range of mental health issues, are also particularly heat-sensitive and are also over-represented among those incarcerated.

Hernandez, the corrections department communications director, told Grist that prisoners have access to fans and ice water. Additionally, in 2018 a lawsuit forced Texas to implement a system for protecting prisoners in unairconditioned prisons on hot days, including by offering access to cooled respite areas and by moving heat-sensitive individuals to air-conditioned housing. Although the JAMA study period overlaps with the new measures, it provides minimal insights into the effectiveness of that program.

Separate survey results published this summer by Texas A&M University suggest the new measures have fallen short. Close to a third of incarcerated survey participants said they were aware of at least one heat-related death in prison. Many described near-death experiences or a fear that the heat would kill them. That research was also a collaboration between scholars and grassroots organizers with Texas Prisons Community Advocates.

To Dominick, it’s long past time for policymakers to act. “This problem has been happening for decades and they want reports and testimonies and articles,” said Dominick. “It is hot in Texas and they know it. They are choosing not to get this done quickly.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Study: Extreme heat responsible for hundreds of deaths in Texas prisons on Nov 10, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Can carbon offsets kill coal? John Kerry wants to try it.

Thu, 11/10/2022 - 03:30

Wednesday was “Finance Day” at COP27, this year’s United Nations climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, and U.S. climate ambassador John Kerry took the opportunity to make a bold pitch. To help developing economies transition from coal to clean energy, Kerry proposed creating a new carbon market — a way for corporations to fund efforts to decommission coal plants and build wind and solar projects in exchange for carbon credits that can be used to bolster their green image.

Even as coal use has declined significantly in the U.S. and Europe, coal is still king when it comes to how most of the world meets its energy needs. Coal supplies more than one-third of the world’s electricity generation and is also the single largest source of energy-related carbon emissions. 

Last year’s United Nations climate conference in Glasgow ended in a new agreement among countries to “phase down” — although not phase out — coal. Now, at this year’s conference, world leaders are debating how to actually do that, especially in developing economies where investment in clean energy has lagged.

In remarks announcing his “Energy Transition Accelerator” initiative at COP27 on Wednesday, Kerry said that as he has traveled the world, leaders have told him that the single biggest obstacle to transitioning to clean power is the absence of funding. “No government in the world has enough money to get this job done,” Kerry said. “We will only succeed with a massive infusion of private capital.”

His carbon market pitch was bold because carbon credits are one of the most maligned and historically ineffective strategies for cutting emissions on the international stage. Just one day before, a United Nations-appointed expert panel published guidelines for credible corporate climate action that warned companies against buying “cheap credits that often lack integrity instead of immediately cutting their own emissions across their value chain.”

Carbon credit schemes — which have ranged from paying companies to destroy climate super-pollutants, to paying landowners not to cut down their trees, to funding renewable energy projects in developing countries — have a long history of failing to deliver the climate benefits they set out to create. “We’ve just had two decades of really well-meaning, really smart people trying to make it work,” said Raphael Calel, environmental economist at Georgetown University. “And as far as I can tell, all of the really solid evidence so far reaches the conclusion that it doesn’t really work.”

In the case of renewable energy, one reason it doesn’t work is that wind turbines and solar panels are already so cheap in most of the world that the money from carbon credits doesn’t lead to more projects. Calel published a paper last year on carbon credits that purportedly supported the development of wind farms in India under an earlier international carbon trading program called the Clean Development Mechanism. He found that at least half of the wind farms would have been built regardless. The evidence was that in each of these cases, there was another wind project built in the same area that was inferior in terms of size and location, but was completed without revenue from carbon credits.

In his remarks on Wednesday, Kerry acknowledged “past abuses” that have discredited carbon markets but said that “with the right safeguards, crediting can be done well.” 

The proposal was light on details but made several suggestions to ensure the integrity of the program. For one, credits could be created and sold by governments rather than individual energy developers. The idea is that this so-called “jurisdictional approach” would enable governments to use the market to achieve strategic energy transition plans, “incentivizing system-wide transformation” while also directing money to discrete projects.  

Kerry’s plan also suggests limits on who can buy credits and what the credits can be used for. For example, fossil fuel companies would not be allowed to participate, nor would companies that don’t have science-backed plans to cut their emissions to net-zero by 2050. Qualifying companies would only be able to use credits to support climate action “above and beyond” their targets, or to “contribute to climate finance or other voluntary goals” — meaning they wouldn’t be able to buy them in place of cutting emissions. 

It’s unclear whether companies would actually want to buy credits for any of these purposes. As if anticipating that issue, the proposal includes another “approach to be explored” — potentially allowing companies to use the credits to offset emissions that they don’t directly control, like those from their supply chains. For many companies, this is the source of 80 to 90 percent of their emissions.

Ani Dasgupta, the president and CEO of the nonprofit World Resources Institute, cautiously welcomed the proposal in a call with reporters on Wednesday. Dasgupta said that hundreds of billions of dollars are flowing into renewable energy — but most of the money is going to the Global North. 

The World Resources Institute has found that the decommissioning of coal has to speed up by a factor of six in order to limit global warming in line with the Paris Agreement. Dasgupta stressed that Kerry’s initiative would have to be one of many tools deployed to finance the transition from coal, and that it was too early to judge the merit of the proposal.

“This is so high level,” he said. “We don’t know how the mechanism would work, how the money would flow.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Can carbon offsets kill coal? John Kerry wants to try it. on Nov 10, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

What the midterm elections mean for the climate — so far

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 12:30

The midterm elections on Tuesday brought good news for climate voters, at least compared to expectations. 

Early returns left control of Congress up in the air as of Wednesday afternoon but opened the door for action on climate change at the state level as Democrats outperformed expectations and won races for governor in Michigan, Kansas, and Oregon, among other states. Republicans were projected to make modest gains in the House of Representatives and still had a shot at retaking the Senate, but they were not poised to achieve majorities large enough to hamper President Joe Biden’s efforts to reduce the country’s carbon emissions. 

And in a twist, climate action was an asset rather than a liability for Democratic candidates in swing states. 

“Many Democrats talked about their clean energy investment and their clean energy leadership in the campaign,” said Jamal Raad, president of Evergreen Action, a climate change advocacy organization based in Washington state. “That really kind of sets us up to continue pushing forward into our energy future.”

Democrats showed surprising strength in the House of Representatives, with many incumbents fending off challenges from Republicans emboldened by high inflation, but the GOP was still favored to retake the chamber thanks to aggressive redistricting in states like Florida. The Senate, meanwhile, was on a knife’s edge, with races in Nevada and Georgia too close to call.

In the leadup to the election, Republicans had targeted dozens of competitive House seats in areas like the suburbs of Minneapolis and Raleigh, North Carolina. But the “red wave” that many pundits expected would usher in a wide Republican majority failed to materialize. Meanwhile, swing-state Democratic senators like New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan and Colorado’s Michael Bennet cruised to reelection, and John Fetterman flipped a Senate seat in Pennsylvania, taking the worst-case scenarios off the table for the party. Republicans are now expected to end up controlling just a slim majority of seats in the House. 

Despite the better-than-expected showing, it’s still likely that Democrats will lose their one-party control of Congress, and with it the ability to pass more major climate legislation. Biden and Congressional Democrats used their slim window of unified government to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, the first major piece of climate legislation in U.S. history, as well as two other major spending bills that funneled billions toward local governments and resilient infrastructure. 

“We got the federal investments done with the Inflation Reduction Act,” Raad said. “Now we need strong standards in the most polluting sectors of the economy — clean electricity, clean buildings, and cars. And governors and the White House have immense authority to engage in that work.”

Even if Republicans retake both chambers, the Inflation Reduction Act is likely to endure. Some Republicans have said they want to repeal the legislation and other bills passed by the Democrats, but that would be challenging. Biden would be sure to veto any repeal bill the GOP does manage to pass, and the IRA’s tax credits will also provide an economic boon to red-state communities and blue-state communities alike — rolling them back would likely be unpopular. 

Even so, a divided government will likely sink the other major planks of Biden’s domestic agenda, including expanding the social safety net and reforming the immigration system. Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, has said that he plans to use his new majority to restrict government spending and investigate Biden’s son Hunter. Negotiations over must-pass spending bills would likely be longer and more contentious for the remainder of Biden’s first term, much as they were in 2011 when Republicans squared off with President Barack Obama during negotiations over the debt ceiling. A Republican-controlled House might also try to impede the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act: top GOP leaders who opposed the bill have said they plan to find the “next Solyndra,” referring to the failed solar cell manufacturer that received funding from Obama’s stimulus bill in 2009. Republicans could also try to stall the work of executive branch agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior. The EPA  is finalizing a new rule to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure, and Interior is working to auction off significant swathes of territory for offshore wind projects. 

If Republicans also gain control of the Senate, the confirmation process for Biden’s judicial nominees and appointees will slow to a halt, leaving the federal courts with more vacancies. Republican-aligned groups have worked for decades to fill the courts with conservative judges who are likely to oppose climate action.

Although the path toward future climate action in Congress is sure to be difficult, Tuesday’s elections also saw Democrats shore up their power in a number of statehouses and governor’s mansions, victories that will likely allow for more ambitious legislation to cut carbon emissions at the state level. Climate-friendly Democrats defended governorships in the key purple states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, as well as in Oregon and Kansas.

In Maryland, Wes Moore, a Democrat, won the governor’s race to replace outgoing Republican Larry Hogan, who had opposed climate action measures from state lawmakers. Moore put climate action and environmental justice at the center of his campaign, calling for a new climate resilience office and an ambitious renewable-energy goal. Massachusetts voters elected Maura Healey, the state’s Democratic attorney general, who had filed a pathbreaking lawsuit against ExxonMobil that accused the company of misleading the public about climate science.

Maryland and Massachusetts “talked a good talk occasionally,” said Raad. “Now they can be leaders.” 

The significance of state elections for climate policy was made plain last year when Republican Glenn Youngkin won an upset victory for governor in Virginia, defeating Democrat Ralph Northam. After taking office, Youngkin moved to disenroll Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gases Initiative, an interstate pact to cap and reduce emissions from power generation.

Advocates went one-for-two on ballot initiatives designed to raise money for climate action. Voters in New York state approved a bond issuance that will dedicate more than $4 billion toward adaptation and resilience measures, while voters in California shot down a measure that would have increased income taxes on high earners and used the proceeds to help consumers buy electric vehicles.

Although the outcome of the election was still unclear, Raad said the overall drift of the early results showed that climate change is no longer a drag on Democrats.

“In 2010 we saw perhaps over a billion dollars of attack ads across the country on a climate bill that didn’t even pass,” he said, referring to the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill that stalled in the Senate during Obama’s first term. “You saw nothing like that this time.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline What the midterm elections mean for the climate — so far on Nov 9, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

For Midwest governors, climate leadership proves a ‘political winner’

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 11:49

Despite massive spending and recent neck-and-neck polls, three incumbent Midwest governors who  campaigned on clean energy transitions won over their Republican challengers on Tuesday. 

Democratic governors Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Tim Walz of Minnesota, and Tony Evers of Wisconsin won reelection, beating three Trump-backed Republican candidates who campaigned on varying platforms and ideologies that would have derailed plans to decarbonize in all three states. Minnesota challenger Scott Jensen, for example, had proposed rolling back the state’s “clean cars” regulation, and Wisconsin challenger Tim Michels had deep ties to the oil and pipeline industries.

Addressing a crowd in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, Evers, a former public school superintendent with a penchant for vanilla ice cream, said “some people call it boring, but you know what, Wisconsin? As it turns out, boring wins.”

These races saw landmark funding from the candidates’ coffers, with over $33 million spent in Minnesota, $32 million in Michigan, and $115 million in Wisconsin, the most in state campaign history. In addition to their focus on climate, all three governors also campaigned on increasing access to abortions and reproductive health care, especially in Wisconsin, where abortion bans are being challenged by the current administration.

Without clean energy opposition in the statehouse, these governors will now have the opportunity to keep their states on course to achieve various deadlines. 

Wisconsin plans for all electricity consumed in the state to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2050 in accordance with an executive order Evers signed in 2019. Whitmer signed an executive order in 2020 to make the state’s entire economy carbon-neutral by 2050 and has been a staunch opponent of the Line 5 petroleum pipeline, which cuts across Upper Michigan, Wisconsin, and Great Lakes waters. Walz is behind various clean energy initiatives in Minnesota, such as a push for more electric vehicle sales in the state starting in 2024, and plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.

And with the incumbents’ reelections, these states will be closer to clean energy deadlines with seemingly climate-friendly governors at the helm.

Walz has supported expanding solar panel manufacturing in partnership with the state legislature, which released $5.5 million in a bipartisan effort to expand a Northern Minnesota production facility, slated to be one of the biggest in the country. In Michigan, Whitmer has pushed for more electric vehicle and charging station production in an effort to maintain the state’s deep ties to the automotive industry. She recently announced $10.2 million in tax incentives and grants for EV manufacturing in Detroit.

Whitmer, Walz, and Evers will now also be able to determine what to do with the money coming to their states from the Inflation Reduction Act, the country’s “most significant” climate bill in United States history. The bill contains funding for low-carbon energy sources, as well as investments in a clean economy and manufacturing.

Holly Burke, a spokesperson for climate change advocacy group Evergreen Action, said that the results in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan are a clear indicator that governors that lead on climate policies are popular candidates and they should take tonight’s results as a mandate from voters to pursue stronger environmental and clean energy standards. 

“In one of the most competitive swing states in America, Governor Evers didn’t run from climate action—he leaned into it,” Burke said in a statement. “This election shows that climate leadership is a political winner in Wisconsin.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline For Midwest governors, climate leadership proves a ‘political winner’ on Nov 9, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

A post-pandemic construction rebound put building emissions at an all-time high

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 11:19

The world is investing more money than ever in solutions to reduce energy consumption. From installing more efficient light bulbs and appliances to sealing up houses, investments in building energy efficiency increased by 16 percent between 2020 and 2021 to $237 billion. But according to a sweeping new report, from an emissions standpoint, the world is running in place.

The annual Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, a United Nations study released during COP 27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, finds that emissions rebounded in 2021 to an all time high — 2 percent higher than the previous peak in 2019. Even as efficiency improved in some parts of the world, other trends worked against those gains, such as a rebound in construction after the pandemic, the growth of hybrid work, and an increase in the use of fossil fuels to heat buildings in emerging economies. Overall building energy intensity — the ratio of floor space to energy use — has remained unchanged since 2019.

“What we are finding this year is that the gap between where we are today, and where we should be, is growing,” said Oliver Rapf, the executive director of Buildings Performance Institute Europe, a nonprofit think tank, and one of the authors of the report. “That’s a real problem. That means that our buildings, our offices, our homes, our schools are not fit, at the moment, to meet the climate challenge and that we need to accelerate action.”

As countries meet in Egypt this week to talk about how to turn carbon commitments on paper into real emission reductions, the report offers timely insights. 

On the bright side, attention to buildings as a source of emissions is increasing. In preparation for last year’s climate conference in Glasgow, countries were expected to update their national climate plans with new commitments to cut carbon. The authors studied all plans submitted to the United Nations and found that 80 percent of them addressed building emissions, compared with only 69 percent the year before.

The problem is, existing policies aren’t in line with those building emission plans. Specifically, building codes: esoteric construction rules that can be set at the local, state, or national level, that the public doesn’t typically pay much attention to. But those building codes are crucial to ensuring that when communities build, they don’t build themselves into a deeper emissions hole by creating long-lived, energy-intensive infrastructure. 

Many high-income economies like the U.S. have codes that regulate energy use. Some states and municipalities in the U.S. are even beginning to edit their building codes to discourage the use of fossil fuels for space and water heating. But on the whole, these codes are not up to the job of reducing emissions in line with international goals. 

“The reality is that almost universally, none are aligned towards Paris Agreement objectives,” said Ian Hamilton, a professor of energy, environment and health at University College London and another author of the report. “And then there’s all the countries who don’t have any building energy codes at all.”

Eighty-five of 196 countries tracked by the Buildings Global Status Report have no known building energy code. The biggest gap is in Africa, where construction in most of the continent is not covered by a code. According to the study, the areas without any building codes are largely those that are expected to see the most population growth in the coming decade. The buildings to house future populations don’t exist yet, and unless they are built with energy efficiency in mind, the ratio of floor space to energy use — and in turn, emissions and climate impacts — are only going to get worse. 

In addition to improving the operational efficiency of buildings, there’s a whole other piece of the building emissions puzzle that needs to be addressed: Embodied carbon, or the emissions associated with the creation of materials like steel, concrete, glass, and aluminum used for construction. Those building materials are currently responsible for about 9 percent of overall energy-related emissions, and are expected to be responsible for a growing proportion of emissions in the future if better material standards aren’t adopted. Currently, most existing building codes do not address embodied carbon. 

These materials are often lumped into a category of climate change challenges called “hard to decarbonize” industries. There’s just not yet any straightforward solution for making steel or cement without emitting carbon dioxide, though there are many promising advances in development. In the meantime, the authors encourage cities and states to support paths for the construction industry to recycle these materials rather than sending them to landfills. Currently, about 35 percent of construction waste is sent to landfills, according to the report.

Hamilton and Rapf are encouraged by growing participation in green building certifications. The report found that the number of buildings certified under various programs with high sustainability standards has increased by 19 percent in the past two years. Rapf said that the war in Ukraine has also increased political will to do more on efficiency in Europe, and the E.U. is currently in the middle of developing new building regulations.

“It’s very likely that Europe will then have the most ambitious regulation on building performance and the carbon impact of buildings globally.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A post-pandemic construction rebound put building emissions at an all-time high on Nov 9, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

The return of the American bison is an environmental boon — and a logistical mess

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 03:45

Five miles doesn’t seem far on the vast, windblown plains of the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. There’s a high point on the dirt road leading to Danny Barcus’ ranch on the east side of the reservation, tucked within the Two Medicine River valley. When Barcus drives up there, as he did one morning in May, he can see about that far in any direction, the peaks of Glacier National Park rising in the distance.

That’s how Barcus, a member of the Blackfeet tribe himself, spotted the buffalo — nearly 200 by his estimate — where they weren’t supposed to be that spring day, their chocolate-brown humps peppering one of his grass-green wheat fields. He called his dogs, hopped in his off-road vehicle, and sped over. The buffalo had crashed through his barbed wire fence and were nibbling on the winter wheat he was growing for his cattle. Over the last year, a punishing drought had settled over the plains, and Barcus had begun to feel helpless, worrying over bills he wasn’t sure he could pay. “My savings account is the grass I saved last year,” he said. “I can’t afford to feed it to the neighbor’s buffalo.” 

Tribal buffalo graze in Danny Barcus’s pasture in April. Courtesy of Danny Barcus

In this case, Barcus’ neighbor is the Blackfeet tribe, which keeps buffalo on the pasture it owns next to his property for part of the year. The Blackfeet herd is one of many across the continent, part of a growing movement to return buffalo, once nearly extinct, to tribal lands. For many Plains tribes like the Blackfeet, buffalo used to be the foundation of diet, commerce, and spiritual life. Bringing them back represents an effort to reconnect with that heritage and, in doing so, restore endangered grasslands. But managing the wild, ever-roaming animals is complicated by the fact that the land is now criss-crossed with contemporary borders between states, national parks, and reservations.

Barcus and the dogs, Pepper and Tucker, guided the runaway buffalo back onto the tribe’s land. Then he began repairing the downed fence: a broken post here, a snarled wire there. Poor management was the root of the problem, Barcus thought. The tribe had let the herd grow too big, so the animals had eaten their way through the pasture, and when there was no food left, they ambled onto Barcus’ ranch where there was plenty more. 

It wasn’t that he had a problem with buffalo. “We understand the spirituality behind the buffalo,” said Barcus, speaking of himself and his wife. Two years ago, the couple allowed the Horn Society, a spiritual organization, to host a Sun Dance on their land; buffalo are a central symbol in the Blackfeet’s most important religious ceremony. But it was a different matter when they started eating into Barcus’ business. “We also have families, employees, and our own animals to take care of,” he said. 

Danny and Cindy Barcus, left pose for a photo near green grassy fields. Right, their dogs, Pepper and Tucker, rest after a long day. Courtesy Danny Barcus

A six-hour drive south of the reservation, another herd of bison rambled through Yellowstone National Park, eating, on the move, unaware of where they should or shouldn’t be. The scientific name for the species is Bison bison, but many Native Americans use “buffalo,” a remnant of the 17th-century French fur traders who likened the creatures to the buffalo found in Africa and Asia. Yellowstone bison are central to the tribal restoration effort: Animals from the park help populate herds like the Blackfeet’s. After bison were driven to near-extinction in the late 1800s, a handful of the remaining several hundred were taken to Yellowstone for protection. Their lineage represents the last true North American bison, since ranchers interbred many bison with cattle in the following years. As a result, the animals from Yellowstone are prized above all. 

“Those animals were descendants of the animals that provided for our people,” said Troy Heinert, a member of the Rosebud Sioux and executive director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, a federally chartered organization that coordinates the return of buffalo to Indian Country. “There’s a connection there between Indigenous people and those animals that can’t be replicated in other places.” 

As summers grow hotter and drier and rainfall more erratic, restoring buffalo to tribal lands could provide people with a healthy source of food and boost the resilience of plains ecosystems. “When you talk about buffalo restoration, it’s also land restoration, water resource restoration, and cultural revitalization,” said Heinert, who is also a Democratic state senator in South Dakota. “This is so much bigger than just the animal itself.” 

The effort will be shaped by what happens next at Yellowstone National Park, which is working on an update to a 22-year-old bison management plan — a process that will determine how many animals can live in the park and how many can be transferred to tribes. But that plan must balance growth with a slew of complications: a nasty bacterial disease, cattle ranchers and politicians in Montana, and the bison’s very own nature to wander.

For hundreds of thousands of years, bison thundered across the continent in the tens of millions, from the dry plains of northern Mexico to the snow-covered grasslands of south-central Canada. The animals shaped the land and lives around them: By grazing, they cleared the way for a diverse mix of plants to grow and altered the path of wildfires; their droppings propelled nutrient cycles that fed a host of smaller critters; their cast-off winter coats provided insulation for the nests of burrowing owls and mountain plovers. And, for generations, Indigenous peoples hunted them across the prairies, relying on buffalo as a source of food, clothing, tools, and ceremonial objects. When Europeans arrived in North America, bison could be found across the width of the continent.

Colonization set the bison’s swift decline in motion. Livestock belonging to European immigrants overgrazed and eroded the grasslands where bison fed. European-introduced horses made bison-hunting more efficient for Plains tribes, which had previously hunted on foot and been forced from their traditional hunting territory, while booming fur and hide markets overseas encouraged indiscriminate hunting in the 19th century. The demand meant hide hunters killed millions of bison each year. Cycles of drought added even more pressure as the bison’s territory shrank.

A historical map shows the ranges affected by the extermination of the American bison over time. Library of Congress

By the late 1860s, the U.S. Army was encouraging this mass slaughter. Killing bison would undo the economies of entire Indigenous nations, part of the Army’s strategy to push Native Americans onto reservations and clear the way for railroads and westward settlement. In 1868, Major General Phillip Sheridan, tasked with forcibly relocating Great Plains tribes, wrote to a fellow general that the best strategy was to “make them poor by the destruction of their stock, and then settle them on the lands allotted to them.” 

What had begun as a trend toward overhunting escalated into state-sponsored eradication. The bison population collapsed over the next decade. By 1884, just a few hundred remained in the wild. 

An illustration from 1871 shows people shooting buffalo from a train on the Kansas-Pacific Railroad. Library of Congress

Today, there are roughly 400,000 bison across North America, with the vast majority being raised as livestock. Since their history is intertwined with the prairies, ecologists view their re-introduction as key to restoring the country’s grasslands, an estimated half of which has already been lost to cattle, crops, and development. More bison roaming the land would mean the return of wallows, bowls in the dirt that can stretch more than 10 feet across. They’re created when the 2,000-pound animals roll and toss themselves on the ground. 

Wallowing is a useful form of pest control: It keeps the number of flies and ticks down on individual animals. But it also sets off a cascade of events that benefit local wildlife. Sticky seeds often hitch a ride on bison coats, and when the animals roll around, the seeds fall and sprout into a carpet of deep-rooted grasses that lock carbon in the earth. In the spring, the dusty wallows collect water, providing a breeding ground for frogs and salamanders in a landscape where ponds are otherwise scarce. 

The ecological benefits of wallows can persist for decades. Jason Baldes, a member of the Eastern Shoshone who now manages the tribal buffalo program for the National Wildlife Federation, remembers riding with his father through the Wind River Mountain Range as a child and spotting relic wallows from buffalo long gone. They were overgrown with brush and wildflowers, but the dips in the land were still easy to spot. Later, as a graduate student at Montana State University, Baldes studied old wallows and their relationship with culturally significant plants. He found that several species — yarrow, tall bluebells, and arnica — tended to thrive in them. 

Baldes, who is also the secretary for the InterTribal Buffalo Council, thinks a shift in the way the United States governs land is necessary for the widespread return of buffalo. Conventional farming, the cattle industry, oil and gas companies — “these imposed systems have not been beneficial for tribal communities,” he said. “It’s probably time to try something different that incorporates more of our values and beliefs. That would be to more holistically manage our lands. We do that by restoring the keystone species.” 

Since bison once lived across such a wide range of conditions, ecologists think they may be well suited for some of the challenges brought on by climate change. That’s in stark contrast to cattle, which were brought to North America by the Spanish in the 1500s. Cattle have since replaced bison’s dominance on the landscape, with an estimated 30 million living in the U.S. today. Cattle seek shade and water at much lower temperatures than bison. They tend to find a good spot to eat and stay put, mowing the grass down to a nub. Bison, which evolved on the treeless plains, are much more comfortable at high temperatures. When they cool off, they prefer to catch a hilltop breeze. They’re not inclined to overgraze because they’re always moving. As a result, they do much less damage to plants and delicate streams and rivers. 

A group of buffalo graze in a pasture on Danny Barcus’s land. Courtesy of Danny Barcus

That’s not to say bison are immune to heat. Over the last 40,000 years of gradual warming, their average body size has shrunk by around 36 percent, said Jeff Martin, the research director at South Dakota State University’s Center of Excellence for Bison Studies, who has studied fossils to understand how the animals have changed over time. By contrast, cattle have swelled about that much over the last 30 years — a product of hormones, diet, and selective breeding for size. A larger animal is increasingly vulnerable to heat stress, which became sorely evident this summer after a grueling heatwave killed thousands of cattle in Kansas

“A smaller body is thrifty in drought and heat conditions,” Martin said. “Bison, as they become smaller and smaller, become thriftier and may be able to survive some of these harsh environments.”

Given all these advantages, researchers believe bison could support ecosystems and communities well into the future — even one defined by a volatile climate. “Bison have seen warming and cooling,” Martin said. “They’ve seen drought, they’ve seen wet years. Their genetic fingerprints have the potential to reconcile those environmental differences, if we allow them to do so.” That, of course, is the hard part. As bison numbers climb, the wild animals are returning to a continent, now riddled with fences, highways, and state borders, that has gotten used to operating without them. 

For most of the last century, the Yellowstone bison, recovering from near-extinction, rarely wandered beyond the park. But as the herds grew, they began to adopt their ancient migratory behavior. Every winter, they trekked from the high plateaus of the park down to the foothills and river valleys of West Yellowstone and Gardiner, Montana. At these lower elevations, less snow on the ground means food is easier to find. 

By the 1990s, however, the population had climbed above 4,000 — up from 23 animals in the park nearly a century before. Ranchers and state officials in Montana saw roaming bison as an existential threat to cattle, the state’s top agricultural commodity, because bison carry brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can cause hoofed animals, including cattle, to miscarry. Montana’s brucellosis-free status was at risk: Losing it would force the government to spend millions on testing the cattle sent to other states. 

Bison create a traffic jam in Montana. National Park Service / Neal Herbert

Montana sued the National Park Service in 1995, and it took a court-mediated settlement to create the Interagency Bison Management Plan five years later. The plan set up a partnership between state, federal, and tribal agencies, which would, according to the agreement, “maintain a wild, free-ranging population of bison and address the risk of brucellosis transmission to protect the economic interest and viability of the livestock industry in Montana.” 

The arrangement set a target population of 3,000 and requires that the partners agree on how many animals will be culled each year (it ranges from 300 to 900). Yellowstone has a few ways to manage the herd. Mostly, it ships surplus animals to slaughter. A handful of tribes have treaty rights to hunt buffalo once the animals have stepped beyond the park borders. Yellowstone also uses a transfer program — after 30 years of lobbying from the InterTribal Buffalo Council — in which bison are sent to herds on designated lands. Before they are moved, the animals must quarantine for up to three years to make sure they’re brucellosis-free. 

In January, the National Park Service announced it would begin the process of updating Yellowstone’s 22-year-old bison management program. According to the federal agency, the science behind the agreement is outdated. For one thing, there’s never been a case of bison-to-cattle brucellosis, even though thousands of bison have crossed into Montana over the years. When the disease has spilled from wildlife to livestock, researchers say elk, which freely roam the area around Yellowstone, are the more likely culprit. 

The Park Service now believes Yellowstone can safely sustain even bigger herds. Increasing the number of bison in the park would enhance the animal’s ability to fill its ecological roles while continuing to support tribal transfer and hunting programs. 

“We are working to ultimately reduce reliance on shipment to slaughter,” Yellowstone’s superintendent, Cam Sholly, told the Associated Press. The park says its new program will guide how the animals are managed only within the park. If the herds are allowed to grow, however, that likely means more bison will venture outside its borders.

Yellowstone sends bison to quarantine at Fort Peck before they wind up on tribal lands Grist

Over the years, the interagency partners have allowed Yellowstone’s bison numbers to exceed their original target. At 6,000 animals this summer, the population is higher than it’s ever been. “If you look at it cumulatively over time, we’ve made some really good strides, and we’ve achieved our objectives as a group,” Sholly said during an interagency meeting in April. “I think it is important that we do everything in our powers to continue that progress and continue to make this group relevant.” (The park declined requests for an interview with Sholly.)

The Park Service laid out a number of options for the next era of management. One sticks to the status quo: a range of 3,500 to 5,000 animals. The most ambitious would cease slaughter entirely, aiming for a population of 8,000, create more opportunities for hunting, and send more bison to tribes. The InterTribal Buffalo Council, made up of 76 member nations across 20 states, is lobbying for more transfers — to keep fostering herds like the Blackfeet’s, next to Danny Barcus’ ranch.

“Our ultimate goal, and our goal always has been, is to get as many live buffalo out of Yellowstone and to tribal lands as we can,” said Troy Heinert, the InterTribal Buffalo Council’s executive director.

Robbie Magnan (left), director of the Fort Peck Fish and Wildlife Department, and Chris Geremia (right), Yellowstone bison biologist, prepare bison for transfer. National Park Service / Jacob W. Frank

Even if the park adopts a more ambitious target, major obstacles remain to expanding the transfer program. An estimated 60 percent of Yellowstone bison have been exposed to brucellosis, which first came from cattle that were brought to the area and was transmitted to local wildlife in the early 1900s. Baldes, from the National Wildlife Federation, says that means tribes need to maximize the remaining 40 percent. But Yellowstone’s quarantine facility can only handle around 80 animals, while an average of 800 bison are slaughtered each winter. “Right now, there’s animals going to slaughter indiscriminate of whether they have brucellosis,” he said. “That’s an atrocity.” 

Yellowstone recently obtained funds to expand its capacity to 200. Tribes also have the ability to quarantine around 600 animals at a state-of-the-art facility on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northeast Montana. At the moment, however, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, which oversees the country’s brucellosis eradication program, only allows it to be used for the last year of quarantine — so-called “assurance testing” that comes after two years of repeated tests. The Council has advocated for Fort Peck to host the earlier phases, which would help alleviate the bottleneck posed by Yellowstone’s smaller center. 

Trucks carrying bison leave Yellowstone’s quarantine facility for Fort Peck. National Park Service / Jacob W. Frank

In February, Montana’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, rejected all of the Park Service’s proposals and told the agency to go back to the drawing board, Yellowstone Public Radio reported. The population increases, Gianforte wrote, “are absurd and unsupported by both science and lay observation.” Even the status quo option, he continued, has “proven too much for [Yellowstone] to handle.” Sholly, Yellowstone’s superintendent, offered to work with the state to develop another alternative.

Yellowstone has been frank about the messiness of bison politics. “Many people don’t like the fact that animals from a national park are sent to slaughter. We don’t like it either,” its website says. “But we cannot force adjacent states to tolerate more migrating bison.”

Some 600 miles northeast of Yellowstone, sprawled over wide, blooming prairies, the Fort Peck quarantine facility and its roughly 400-head herd are points of pride for Suzanne Turnbull, a Dakota member of the buffalo advocacy group Pté, named after the Dakota-Lakota word for female buffalo. Pté’s latest project is a four-mile trail that would wind through the 15,000-acre pasture, dotted with benches and storytelling stations where visitors could learn about the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes’ relationship with buffalo. (The benches won’t be secured so that the animals, which like to scratch their heads on rocks and trees, can rub against the wood without breaking them.) 

Turnbull says she feels a strong spiritual connection to the animals. She had been at the pasture on a cold and blustery day in November 2014, when a group of Yellowstone buffalo arrived in semitrucks to join the growing Fort Peck herd. A kindergarten teacher at the time, Turnbull said she’d felt called to take the day off to greet the new arrivals. The field buzzed as reporters readied their cameras and tribal members sang. “You’re back,” she thought, as she watched their approach. “We’ll take care of you so we can all get well together.” The trucks backed into the pasture, and the animals bolted out, their hooves clanging on the metal ramp before they sprinted away. 

A Yellowstone bison runs out of a transfer vehicle after being released at Fort Peck. National Park Service / Jacob W. Frank

As part of her work with Pté, Turnbull often takes students and visitors, as well as her nieces and nephews, to the pasture so they can experience being with the wild, hulking animals like she has. “I see them as medicine,” she said, thinking of her own troubles, which she’d only found peace with through her spiritual practice. “I see them serving a purpose to bring back the foundation for storytelling, of our culture and language, our values, our kinship.” 

On the other side of Montana, at the Blackfeet Reservation, Joe Kipp, chairperson of the Blackfeet Nation Stock Growers Association, also has a longstanding connection to the reintroduction effort. In the 1980s, he’d been involved with bringing the first wild buffalo — surplus animals from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota — to the Blackfeet Reservation. These days, he and his wife make the drive south to Yellowstone every winter to hunt the animals; Kipp’s wife is diabetic, and the only meat she eats is bison. (Compared to beef, bison has more protein and minerals, and much less fat and cholesterol.) 

Still, Kipp is unhappy with how the tribe has managed its herd in an austere landscape where many make their living raising cattle. Ranchers deal with ferocious wind storms, bitter winters, crippling droughts: Business margins are tight. He’s heard from plenty of disgruntled ranchers like Danny Barcus, who rent grazing lands for their livestock — the current rate for a cow-calf pair is around $40 a month — only to have the tribe’s buffalo break in and eat the grass intended for their cattle. “It gets to be a sore point pretty fast,” Kipp said.

Buffalo graze in a Fort Peck pasture. Courtesy of Suzanne Turnbull

Kipp worries what will happen now that bison are being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act, a move he fears would undermine his treaty hunting rights. He’s also content with Yellowstone’s current management and doesn’t see the need to expand the park’s herd. “People envision, ‘Oh, we want bison that are running across the landscape like before,’” he said. “But we didn’t have 50,000-pound trucks and trains running and cars and all these things. It’s a beautiful concept, but I don’t think it’s based upon reality.” 

This spring, Kipp, Barcus, and other Blackfeet cattle ranchers met with their tribal council and asked them to make changes to the herd’s management. After years of frustration, they felt the council had been receptive to their concerns, and this summer, the tribe began a new culling program to manage its herd. 

Follow bison’s historic range east, into the heart of America’s dairyland, and you’ll find a small farm tucked in Wisconsin’s Northwoods where some Yellowstone bison have found a home. After quarantining at Fort Peck, they arrived at the Forest County Potawatomi farm through an InterTribal Buffalo Council transfer in 2020. The Forest County Potawatomi is one of the Council’s easternmost members, and it has embraced bison as a way to provide its people with a healthy source of protein.

On a bright July day, the farm’s manager, Dave Cronauer, followed a worn path between two pastures surrounded by a wall of pine. Bugs buzzed in the tall grass and wildflowers waved in the breeze. Half the fields were for cattle, the other half for bison. Once the animals had chewed the turf down to a few inches, they would be guided to the next paddock in order to give the plants a chance to regrow and deepen their roots, a practice known as rotational grazing. 

Although the COVID-19 pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in the food system, it also “proved how valuable we were,” Cronauer said. The tribe opened its farm store in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic, when shelves at neighboring grocery stores were bare from people stocking up on goods. But the farm store still had meat to sell. The ability of local, small-scale operations like theirs to withstand wider shocks, Cronauer said, could prove to be vital for a future in which warming temperatures and extreme weather will strain conventional agriculture and cattle farming.

Cronauer went searching for the cattle. Bison and cattle were fundamentally different animals, he explained. Tap a bison on the head and it charges you; tap a cow on the head and it retreats. Bison are still wild, and he admired them for it. He spotted the cattle. They were difficult to see from the path, but on that summer day, they had congregated at the water, taking sanctuary in the shade under a thicket of trees. Across the way, the small herd of bison bathed in the heat of the afternoon sun, wagging their tails.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The return of the American bison is an environmental boon — and a logistical mess on Nov 9, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

At COP27, Tuvalu joins call for an international treaty to stop fossil fuel expansion

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 03:30

The island nation of Tuvalu has become the second country in the world to call for an international Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Modeled after the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the international mechanism would stop the expansion of fossil fuels, phase out existing production, and create paths to renewable energy development. 

Announced at the United Nations climate summit, known as COP27, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, the Non-Proliferation treaty would complement goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement.

“We all know that the leading cause of the climate crisis is fossil fuels,” Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano said. “Tuvalu has joined Vanuatu and other nations in calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to steer our development model to pursue renewables and a just transition away from fossil fuels.”

In September, the Republic of Vanuatu became the first country to call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty at the United Nations General Assembly. The European Parliament, the Vatican, the World Health Organization, and a number of major cities across the globe have also called for the treaty in the last year. 

With a population of a little more than 10,000, Tuvalu’s endorsement of the treaty is a matter of survival. Situated in the Pacific Ocean, climate change has brought rising sea levels, increasingly devastating storms, and a biodiversity crisis to the island and its neighbors. Some studies have predicted that island nations like Tuvalu and Vanuatu will be entirely under water by the end of the century, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. “Ocean states have provided so much leadership to international policy-making,” said Harjeet Singh, Political Lead of the Climate Action Network International. “This is the next necessary step in international climate policy for climate justice.”

Pacific island countries, developing nations, and climate activists have been calling for fossil fuels to be phased out for years but progress has been mixed. A 2020 study found that between 1989 and 2016, there were 1,302 fossil fuel cutting initiatives in 106 countries around the world. However, except for Canada, Norway, and the U.S., most of those initiatives were in countries that do not rely heavily on fossil fuels. In the U.S., nearly a dozen cities have supported the phase out of fossil fuels, and while President Joe Biden has committed to shifting the country to renewable energy, he has also approved new oil and gas drilling projects faster than the Trump administration.

“Every day we are experiencing more debilitating consequences of the climate crisis.” Vanuatu President Nikenike Vurobaravu said in his announcement. “Fundamental human rights are being violated, and we are measuring climate change not in degrees of Celsius or tons of carbon, but in human lives.”

Tuvalu’s call comes amid historic discussions over climate reparations, also known as loss and damage, at COP27. While island and developing nations are facing the brunt of climate impacts, they have contributed very little to climate change. Wealthier nations have been asked to create a fund to help those countries recover from climate damages and adapt to the changing world. This year, Denmark became the first independent country to create such a fund, but overall progress has been slow, with many countries like the United States dragging their feet. Activists and world leaders hope that this year, with loss and damage on the COP agenda for the first time ever, real action may finally be coming. 

“We need countries to be bold, because we have run out of time,” said Kalo Afeaki, Pacific Climate Warrior from the Kingdom of Tonga, in September. “The future scares me – we need to phase out fossil fuels, we need countries to endorse the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and we need them to do so now.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline At COP27, Tuvalu joins call for an international treaty to stop fossil fuel expansion on Nov 9, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

In a first, EPA will test southern Puerto Rico air and water

Tue, 11/08/2022 - 06:20

After years of complaints from Puerto Rican officials about air and water pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency announced last week it would test for contamination in the southern part of the island.

The tests would be the first conducted by the EPA on Puerto Rico’s  southern coast.

Community leaders in the city of Guayama, located on the Caribbean shoreline, had requested federal assistance to investigate the groundwater near a coal ash burial site run by a local power plant, according to the Associated Press. In response, the EPA said it would invest $100,000 in two pilot projects that would sample air and drinking water wells near the site and also test for contaminants. 

Environmental advocates have also expressed concern that historic flooding caused by Hurricane Fiona in September has exacerbated groundwater contamination on the United States territory. 

In Puerto Rico, as in other parts of the U.S. and its territories, communities that have traditionally been underserved have suffered the most from environmental hazards and damage from increasingly powerful and destructive storms. 

Coal combustion residue, or coal ash, is primarily produced by the burning of coal and is one of the largest types of industrial waste produced in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. More than 100 million tons of it is generated each year and is disposed of by utilities in open-air storage pits and landfills. These coal ash disposal sites are often unlined, meaning there is no mesh or other protective material to prevent the leaking of their toxic chemicals into local drinking water wells, streams, lakes, and rivers.  

A report released last week from Earthjustice, an environmental law organization, found that 91 percent of U.S. coal plants contaminate groundwater with high levels of arsenic and other chemicals. These contaminants have been proven to cause multiple types of cancer and impede brain development in children. 

EPA officials said that although the site in Guayama where the coal ash was buried by the local power plant was lined, they have yet to determine the quality of the liner. The Associated Press also reported that the EPA had in the past issued air and coal combustion residue law violation notices to the company that runs the plant.

The EPA will also investigate whether Hurricane Fiona damaged landfills in Puerto Rico when it made landfall in September. Many of the island’s landfills are overcapacity, due to a combination of poor investment in maintenance and the proliferation of debris from previous natural disasters. Fiona caused the entirety of Puerto Rico to lose power for days, left over one-third of its population without drinking water, and caused major damage to Guayama and the neighboring city of Salinas. The storm struck almost exactly five years after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, from which the local infrastructure and economy is still reeling.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline In a first, EPA will test southern Puerto Rico air and water on Nov 8, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Drought looms over midterm elections in the arid West

Tue, 11/08/2022 - 03:45

This story is part of the Grist series Parched, an in-depth look at how climate change-fueled drought is reshaping communities, economies, and ecosystems.

Mark Kelly, the incumbent Democratic senator from Arizona, is facing a strong reelection challenge from far-right Republican nominee Blake Masters, in a race that could be key for control of the Senate. Last month, during a televised debate between the two candidates, Masters went on the attack, criticizing Kelly’s positions on several issues. 

Toward the end of the debate, after skewering Kelly on inflation and the border, Masters hit him on a more niche issue: federal water cuts on the Colorado River.

“A few weeks ago the federal government cut Arizona’s water allocation 592,000 acre-feet,” Masters began. “For all you water nerds out there, that’s a lot of water. Guess how much water California had to cut? Zero. Guess what Mark Kelly did about it? Nothing.”

The attack was disingenuous — there was nothing Kelly could have done to stop the cuts, since they were negotiated well before he entered the Senate — but a few weeks later, as the election approached, the incumbent senator made a similar plea. In a letter to the Biden administration, Kelly also urged federal officials to curb water deliveries to southern California’s Salton Sea, saying that the Golden State hadn’t done enough to conserve water, and that any delay would lead “only to tougher choices and litigation” between the states.

Much of the western United States has suffered under drought conditions this year, but the impacts have been most acute in the Southwest, which relies heavily on the Colorado River to supply water for cities and farms. So it is no surprise that drought has emerged as a key issue in the region ahead of this week’s midterm elections. Senators and representatives in close races have talked about drought in debates and campaign ads, with vulnerable incumbents like Kelly touting their efforts to fight the extreme weather conditions as evidence that they’re delivering for their constituents. 

While issues like inflation and abortion access still top most voters’ priority lists, the Southwest’s water shortage has nevertheless become an important talking point for western politicians as they hit the campaign trail, and could move the needle in ultra-close races like Kelly’s.

As water levels in the Colorado River continue to fall, the federal government has instituted mandatory water cuts like one Masters alluded to in his debate performance, and users from California to Colorado are scrambling to find new conservation strategies to deal with the coming crunch. In response to the growing crisis, a group of Democratic senators from western states — including Kelly, his Arizona colleague Kyrsten Sinema, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Michael Bennet of Colorado — secured $4 billion in drought funding as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, which passed the Senate in August. Most of that $4 billion will pay farmers along the Colorado to leave their fields unplanted next year, which will ease the burden on the river. Other funds will go to long-term water conservation strategies, reuse systems, and other drought relief measures. 

Three of those four Democratic senators are up for re-election this year, and two of them — Kelly and Nevada’s Cortez Masto — are in serious danger of losing their seats. Arizona’s Kelly is polling just a few points ahead of Masters, who has gained support in recent weeks. Cortez Masto, meanwhile, is in a dead heat with her Republican challenger Adam Laxalt. 

Political groups backing Kelly and Cortez Masto have touted their roles in obtaining the $4 billion in drought funding in ads on television and social media, saying it shows how the senators have delivered for their constituents. EDF Action, the political arm of the Environmental Defense Fund, spent $1.5 million on Spanish-language ads hyping Kelly’s drought record.

“It’s easy for politicians to grandstand, it’s harder for elected officials to really be problem solvers,” said David Kieve, the president of EDF Action and a former member of the Biden administration’s White House Council on Environmental Quality. “When they do, their constituents are going to notice and it’s going to be of benefit to them politically.” 

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Democrat of Nevada, speaks to volunteers at a campaign office in Las Vegas. Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Kelly and Cortez Masto have both talked up their drought credentials on the campaign trail in an attempt to show how they’ve delivered for constituents. Cortez Masto, meanwhile, has pushed the Biden administration to enforce tougher and more forward-looking water restrictions, saying the administration needs to ensure that “all states along the Colorado River take the actions that Nevada already has.” The state is relatively well-equipped to withstand the present shortage on the Colorado River thanks to its longstanding policy of banking unused water in Lake Mead, but drought is still front-of-mind for many voters in the state: Almost two-thirds of Nevadans consider dealing with water shortages to be a top priority, according to a recent EDF poll, ranking it higher than education and crime.  

But while talk of fighting drought is popular on both sides of the aisle, the topic of climate change is not. To that end, Kelly and Cortez Masto are trying to separate the two issues, said Elizabeth Koebele, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno who has studied drought politics.

Cortez Masto, for instance, has spent much more time touting the drought investments in the Inflation Reduction Act than she has spent discussing the bill’s new investments in renewable energy. She has also insisted she doesn’t see climate-fueled water shortages as a campaign issue, and has often discussed it without mentioning global warming. That’s in spite of the fact that rising temperatures have helped to make the current western megadrought the worst in more than a millennium. 

“Climate is not a priority issue for voters often, and so we’ve actually seen some of these candidates up for reelection in the West who have sort of downplayed talking about climate,” said Koebele. “Anytime drought gets attached to long-term trends in climate, it gets more politicized.” 

Drought has popped up in other close congressional races as well. In California’s agriculture-heavy Central Valley, where residents have struggled with dry wells and polluted groundwater for decades, Republican Representative David Valadao has waffled on the relationship between drought and climate change. 

“We’ve always had drier years and wetter years,” he told CNN, acknowledging that “there’s a possibility that [climate change] plays a role” in drought. President Biden won Valadao’s district by about 10 points in 2020, which makes Valadao one of the most vulnerable House Republicans this election season. His most prominent opponent, Democrat Rudy Salas, has not emphasized climate change as an issue in itself, but has touted his efforts in the state legislature to secure water infrastructure and support for ailing farmers.

Also in the Central Valley, a Republican farmer named John Duarte is hoping to flip a Democratic-held seat that encompasses the cities of Modesto and Merced. Duarte became famous for engaging in a long legal battle against the federal government over water regulations, and he’s spent a lot of time on the campaign trail talking about the need to build new dams to shore up California’s water supply, something environmental groups have long opposed.

The stakes around all this talk are high. The outcome of the midterms could sway the future of federal drought policy.

The current Democrat-led Congress has passed three major spending bills that all contained some kind of funding for climate action or climate resilience, with money available for drought response in each one of them. In addition to the $4 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act, the group of senators led by Kelly and Sinema also secured more than $8.3 billion in long-term drought funding in last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill. That money will go to develop new reservoirs and other water sources across the region. Nevada governor Steve Sisolak, meanwhile, has used money from the federal $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan of early 2021, also known as the COVID-19 stimulus bill, to fund water conservation efforts.

A bleached ‘bathtub ring’ on the banks of Lake Mead near Echo Bay, Nevada. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

If Democrats lose control of one or both chambers, it could imperil future spending like this. The House of Representatives passed a drought spending bill back in July that contained another $500 million for western water conservation, but the bill stalled out in the Senate for lack of Republican support. If the Republicans retake the House or the Senate, that legislation will likely be dead in the water, especially if Kelly and Cortez Masto aren’t around to advocate for it. Republican leaders have said they hope to use their new majorities to cut government spending and investigate President Biden, which takes even more drought funding bills off the table. 

Meanwhile, neither Masters in Arizona nor Laxalt in Nevada have put forward any detailed proposals for drought response: both candidates have said they believe building new desalination plants could help increase the West’s water supply, but desalination on a large scale is difficult to achieve. Laxalt has criticized Cortez Masto for supporting funding efforts like the Inflation Reduction Act, saying she “should have demanded real change in exchange for her vote on any number of Democrat spending bills.”

Even so, says Koebele, a change in who controls Congress won’t derail the ongoing negotiations over how to solve the Colorado River crisis. Those negotiations are led not by Congress but by representatives from state water departments, many of whom are longtime civil servants, and by major water users, who aren’t politicians at all. The same goes for issues like the Central Valley’s groundwater shortage — Congress can help out, but it’s up to local leaders to find permanent solutions.

“These water managers are closer than senators and representatives to the actual water issues, so there’s going to be continued momentum,” she said. “Policymaking is still going to happen, but it might change the resources that the federal government can bring to the table.”

*Editor’s note: Environmental Defense Fund is an advertiser with Grist. Advertisers play no role in Grist’s editorial decisions.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Drought looms over midterm elections in the arid West on Nov 8, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

From New York to Texas, climate candidates are gaining momentum in local races

Tue, 11/08/2022 - 03:30

Sarahana Shrestha did not want to run for office. She was working as a part-time organizer for the advocacy groups Democratic Socialists of America and the Public Power NY Coalition, trying to mobilize the public on climate issues and pass state-level renewable energy legislation. She was happy and settled in her job, but a major setback during last year’s New York legislative session forced her to rethink her plans.

Shrestha and her fellow advocates/activists had spent a year organizing around a package of bills to give a state agency the authority to provide power to energy customers — allowing it to compete against private utilities and incentivize renewable energy. But the group’s efforts ultimately failed after the bill stalled in the state assembly.

In the aftermath of the stinging defeat, Shrestha started looking for her next move. She had previously taken a lead role in helping to stop a fracked gas plant in the city of Newburgh and was a consistent voice opposing a transmission line that would run through the Hudson Valley. She realized that she was well-positioned within the political scene in the Hudson Valley to run for office. 

Shrestha and campaign volunteers spent months knocking on doors throughout New York’s District 103, touting her climate, environment, and progressive values And in June, Shrestha, a first-generation Nepali American, beat 13-term incumbent Kevin Cahill to win the district’s Democratic primary. In a true-blue state like New York, a primary win most often means a general election win.

“Climate change is not just about the environment,” Shrestha told Grist. “It means economic disruption, supply chain disruptions, food disruptions, and migration that we haven’t really planned for… It permeates through everything.” 

Shrestha is among the latest wave of climate and environmental organizers running for office. This midterms, they’re seeking seats in statehouses, mayorships, and city councils. Activists have long been part of the funnel for political candidates, but what makes this election different is that for the first time, many climate advocates have cleared the biggest hurdle: crowded primaries. Now, they look poised to win in several key races, affecting climate action from state to local levels. 

Part of this is due to a slew of campaigns by national political organizations to push climate candidates on ballots this midterms, from Lead Locally, which has upped its efforts to elect candidates that have pledged to fight fossil fuels, to the Democratic Socialists of America, which is running an entire “climate slate” of candidates in various districts across the country

Activists march for the Global Climate Strike in downtown Los Angeles, California, on September 23, 2022. Katie McTiernan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“We focus on down ballot elections because we find that often, it is city councilors or county commissioners that have decision-making power over pipelines or power plants, or other projects that threaten communities with pollution,” Lead Locally founder Whit Jones told Grist. Since its creation in 2016, the group has significantly expanded its capacity to support candidates. This year, it is working on 50 local elections, up two-thirds what it did in 2020. 

This ramp-up in climate candidate campaigns reflects the growing acceptance and prioritization of the issue among Americans in recent years. Some 60 percent of Americans now view climate change as a threat, a jump from 44 percent in 2009. The past decade has also seen exponential growth in climate activism, particularly from youth activists, which has changed the political landscape. 

“It’s really been remarkable how much climate change has risen on the political agenda,” said Jeff Colgan, a political scientist at Brown University and the director of the Climate Solutions Lab. “That’s driven by a bunch of different factors: In part because of the youth movement that’s been pushing on the issue in really successful ways. Sadly, a second reason is because of how we’re seeing climate change affect our world very directly.” 

In Corpus Christi, Texas, the political scene looks different than the democratic-controlled legislature of New York. The city has seen a massive buildout of huge, sprawling natural gas production and export facilities in recent years. 

Armon Alex is all too familiar with the role of fossil fuel companies in Corpus Christi’s day-to-day life; the 22-year-old has been organizing to stop the expansion of oil and gas in the area, and protect the bay, for five years. He co-founded the Gulf of Mexico Youth Climate Summit to develop climate action and preservation plans for the Gulf led by the youth most impacted by development in the area. He helped build a climate action plan for the international Our Ocean Conference, an event that has secured over 400 commitments to spend $16 billion on ocean conservation and preservation. He’s also the youngest person to sit on Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo’s environmental task force. 

“On every side of Corpus Christi Bay, we’ve got some kind of heavy industry related to fossil fuels,” said Alex, who decided earlier this year to run for city council, representing District 3. “There’s a layer of environmental injustice with the demographics around these heavy industries.” 

Alex is running as part of a 4-person campaign for progressive leadership on Corpus Christi’s City Council. While the outcome of his election is less certain than Shrestha’s, Alex has won key endorsements from a slew of local and national organizations, including the Texas Campaign for the Environment, the Corpus Christi American Federation of Teachers, and the Sierra Club. 

The lifelong Corpus Christi resident understands that job security is an important issue and has been running on a platform of inclusion for everyone, including people who work for fossil fuel companies. “I like to speak to refinery workers,” Alex told Grist. “I wholeheartedly believe that the only way to see a just transition to renewables is to keep our workers at the forefront of those conversations.” 

In Appalachia, Becky Crabtree knows what it’s like to campaign in an area deeply entrenched in the fossil fuel industry. The schoolteacher is running for West Virginia’s House of Delegates, District 40. Before becoming a candidate, she was active in the fight to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a sprawling project that would have carried fracked gas 300 miles through West Virginia and Virginia. In 2018, she was arrested for chaining herself to her old car to prevent the construction of the pipeline.  

Crabtree is running as a Democrat in a red state and against a Republican incumbent who has held his seat in another district since 2012 (redistricting has shuffled locations and candidates this year). Despite these odds, she’s raised nearly double, as a first time candidate, what her opponent, Roy Cooper, has

“It seems to be my time to put up or shut up,” she told Grist. 

Crabtree points to her time fighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline as critical for her decision to run for office. She watched as politicians put profit over people, such as when legislators in West Virginia passed a bill criminalizing pipeline protests in the wake of activism against the Mountain Valley Pipeline. She also found the state’s use of eminent domain to take land from people for the pipeline infuriating. Both things happened “to benefit fossil fuel corporations,” Crabtree said. “Out-of-state profiteers have had two centuries of paying a pittance for West Virginia’s resources, from furs to lumber to coal to today’s fracked gas and pipelines, and that doesn’t seem to be changing.”

Crabtree hopes her campaign can enlighten residents in her district, which borders Virginia, about fossil fuels’ true impact, and to pave a better way forward. After spending so much time fighting fossil fuel infrastructure, she now wants to help find solutions to the problems that she has protested for so long. 

“I want to be part of the change I dream of,” she said. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline From New York to Texas, climate candidates are gaining momentum in local races on Nov 8, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

It’s official: Climate reparations are on the agenda at this year’s UN climate conference

Mon, 11/07/2022 - 11:17

Wealthy nations have long dodged calls to compensate the developing world for the loss and damage that it has suffered as a result of the 1.2 degrees Celsius that the earth has already warmed since preindustrial times. Developing nations have argued that they did little to cause climate change compared to early-industrializing countries, and yet they are hit harder by climate-fueled disasters and phenomena like sea-level rise.

The call for loss and damage funding, which in effect would be a kind of climate reparations, began in the early 1990s. But at each annual United Nations climate change conference, abbreviated as COP, rich nations including the U.S., European Union countries, and Australia found ways to sidestep the issue. They excluded loss and damage proposals from discussions, watered down any language that referred to it, and suggested alternatives such as insurance schemes instead of direct funding. The loss and damage battle at recent COPs has often centered around the written agenda for the conference. In past years, wealthy nations blocked any mention of loss and damage funding in the official agenda. 

But on Sunday, the opening day of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, wealthy nations and developing countries unanimously agreed to include loss and damage funding on the conference agenda. Hailed as a historic moment in climate negotiations, the breakthrough means that loss and damage funding is poised to finally receive concerted attention from both developed and developing nations. It paves the way for discussions about a separate international fund for loss and damage — as developing nations have demanded — the role of insurance in tackling the effects of climate change, and other financial arrangements to compensate island nations and countries in the early stages of industrialization.  

COP27 President Sameh Shoukry said at a press conference that he was “delighted” to see that the world’s countries adopted for the “first time an agenda item on the most important issue of loss and damage, an issue that is recognized by the vast majority of international community as a very fundamental issue that has to be addressed with transparency and dedication.”

In an attempt to avoid skirmishes that could derail the opening of COP27, climate negotiators began hammering out the details of the agenda on Saturday, one day before the official start of the conference. Still, negotiators were up until the early hours of the morning on Sunday trying to agree on the exact language that would be included in the agenda. As a result, the official start of COP27 was delayed. Ultimately, after 48 hours of negotiations, the final agenda now includes a provision on “matters relating to funding arrangements responding to loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including a focus on addressing loss and damage.” The carefully calibrated language appears meant to sidestep linguistic disputes about what actually constitutes loss and damage, and how it relates to measures that instead look to mitigate the future effects of climate change, as opposed to paying out for present damages.

Many civil society groups celebrated the win, but they cautioned against delays in actually setting up funding. The agreement to include the issue on the agenda came with a verbal agreement to adopt “a conclusive decision no later than 2024,” which many advocates feel is too late for a final agreement.

“We cannot claim to be tackling the climate crisis if we kick the can down the road on issues like loss and damage,” said Mohamed Adow, founder and director of PowerShift Africa, a climate think tank based in Kenya, in a statement. “We’re in the continent where loss and damage is a reality. It’s not too late for this COP to deliver for Africa and the developing world where other conferences have failed them. But we can no longer dodge this vital issue.”

Climate negotiators now have two weeks to flesh out the details of loss and damage funding. Some countries have decided to strike out on their own to compensate others for loss and damage, rather than waiting for climate negotiators to set up an official international mechanism. On Monday, Belgium announced that it would directly fund loss and damage in Mozambique to the tune of $2.5 million. In the last year, Scotland, Denmark, and a group of philanthropies pledged $19.5 million toward loss and damage. Those funds are already being put to use in places like Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline It’s official: Climate reparations are on the agenda at this year’s UN climate conference on Nov 7, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

Fracking, abortion, and the challenge of raising a family in southwestern Pennsylvania

Mon, 11/07/2022 - 03:45

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania voters will decide the future of abortion in this state.

In the aftermath of Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women Health Organization, the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade’s constitutional right to abortion and made abortion rights the purview of state government, 13 states have banned the procedure altogether, most with very limited exceptions. In Pennsylvania, the Republican-controlled legislature has been preparing to enact an abortion ban for years. Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has promised to veto such a ban as long as he remains in office. 

But Wolf’s second term is drawing to a close, and the availability of safe, legal abortion in Pennsylvania is essentially dependent on which candidate succeeds him: sitting state Attorney General Josh Shapiro or ultra-conservative Christian nationalist Doug Mastriano. Shapiro has promised to protect access to abortion, whereas Mastriano intends to severely restrict it. If Mastriano prevails and Republicans retain their majorities in the state House and Senate, Pennsylvanians’ right to terminate pregnancies would likely come to an end. 

A trailer decorated with messages supporting Donald Trump and Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, along I-76 in western Pennsylvania. Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call

In southwestern Pennsylvania, this battle for reproductive rights takes place against a disturbing backdrop. Over the past 15 years, shale gas development has proliferated across the region, with thousands of unconventional wells — also known as fracked wells — drilled since 2007. And due to widespread fracking being a relatively new practice and the oil and gas industry’s efforts to conceal and downplay the toxicity of chemicals used in it, Pennsylvanians are just beginning to understand the potential health impacts of living, becoming pregnant, and raising a family in the second-highest natural gas-producing state in the nation. For these Pennsylvanians, a ban on abortion would just be one more way in which their health has been wrested out of their control.

“I feel like if you’re going to say, ‘life is so precious,’ and then take away the rights of women, I think you should think about what’s happening around the people that are trying to have children,” says Gillian Graber, a mother in Westmoreland County and executive director of the fracking awareness organization Protect Penn-Trafford.

Graber and her family participated in a landmark investigation conducted by Environmental Health News in 2019 that found high levels of chemicals used in the fracking process in the bodies of people living near well pads. “We’re going to have several generations of people that may see really dramatic consequences to something that they had no part in planning, no part in allowing, no say in whether it happened in their community.”

Read Next What overturning Roe v. Wade means for pregnant people in pollution hotspots &

There is a fast-growing body of literature on the dangers that oil and gas development can pose to maternal and prenatal health. Higher rates of gestational hypertension and preeclampsia, conditions in which a person develops sometimes life-threatening high blood pressure during pregnancy, have been found in pregnant people who live in close proximity to oil and gas wells. Babies born to families that live near wells are also more likely to be born preterm and with lower birth weights, conditions that put them more at risk for other health issues throughout childhood. They are also more at risk of congenital heart defects

Makenzie White, a trained nurse and public health manager with the public health nonprofit Environmental Health Partners, says the public health principle of “biological plausibility” helps explain why it should not be “shocking” that living close to fracking operations would be associated with negative health impacts for pregnant people, infants, and children. For example, benzene is a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor, and it’s also a hydrocarbon that has been observed to be released in the fracking process. Many forms of air pollution have documented negative effects on maternal and prenatal health — including increased risk of miscarriage — and fracking sites have measurably worse air quality than the areas around them. 

“Part of the concern with pregnant individuals and children is that we already know from research on other topics that it’s a vulnerable time to be impacted from any type of pollution,” she says. “There’s also been a lot of research about these different chemicals and toxins impacting fertility in general, which is very concerning, and would indicate that we would need more supportive healthcare in order to take care of our residents and better protect them.” 

Activists and homeowners protest against hydraulic gas drilling, or “fracking,” outside the Philadelphia convention center on Wednesday, September 7, 2011. AP Photo / Mark Stehle

There is significant evidence that people who live near fracking sites suffer higher rates of complications during pregnancy. And if abortion is made illegal, those complications will become much more dangerous. Abortion can be medically required in the case of severe preeclampsia, to manage a miscarriage, or in response to other serious problems to save the pregnant person’s life. 

“Imagine you’re someone who already has a high risk, and you live near a polluting site that could increase your risk, and it’s out of your control,” says Laura Dagley, a nurse who works in public health education for Physicians for Social Responsibility. “You’re afraid for your life, the life of your baby, and if you’re in a situation where it’s no longer medically recommended for you to continue with the pregnancy — and then there’s no access to abortion. It’s scary for me to consider that Pennsylvania as a state would considering putting communities’ health at risk, either in unchecked pollution by the oil and gas industry, and taking away access to safe abortions.”

Dagley has made it part of her life’s work to inform Pennsylvanians about the risks of living near fracking sites. She recently spoke to residents of Washington County in southwestern Pennsylvania at a community event about an ongoing study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh into a suspected connection between fracking waste and an unusually high incidence of a rare bone cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma among children and adolescents in this region. She says it was attended by a number of parents of young children who had heard vague connections made between fracking and health problems in the community and were curious to learn more. 

Protective boundaries divide a residential area and a construction site for the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in 2019. Bastiaan Slabbers / NurPhoto via Getty Images

At a park pavilion in Canonsburg, about a hundred residents took in presentations on the observed higher rates of childhood cancers, asthma, low birth weights, and preterm births in regions where oil and gas extraction is prevalent. Erica Jackson, a community outreach manager for the FracTracker Alliance, told the crowd that “some of the strongest evidence of fracking health impacts is on infants.”

Dagley noticed some grave expressions in the crowd as the presenters spoke. “There are people who are considering whether or not they want to have children, if they’re putting them at risk, but I think there are many people who already are pregnant or already have kids who feel a lot of guilt,” says Dagley. “Even though it’s not their fault, it’s very much the fault of the industry and people who are refusing to regulate and stop this industry from doing harm.” 

“It’s a hard part of being the person who’s there to talk about the research and health impacts, I can just see it on people’s faces, they’re like, ‘Oh great, I didn’t know this is happening, and now my child is sick, or now I am pregnant. What do I do?’ It’s not so easy to pick up and move. It’s very hard to see people try and process that.”

There’s also an incentive not to process it — to not have to face change or challenge the status quo of the community. Janice Blanock, a Washington County resident whose son Luke died from Ewing’s sarcoma in 2016 at the age of 19, says that many members of her community aren’t interested in understanding the potential health impacts of oil and gas development. 

“I think people are kind of afraid — like, if I get too involved I’ll know too much, and I won’t be able to support jobs,” she says. “And once you know, you can’t take it back, you can’t unknow what you learned.”

But what happens when you begin to understand the risks lingering in your air and water? Every woman I spoke with for this story, all of whom are mothers or grandmothers themselves, said the same thing: that knowing about the risks that fracking pollution poses to a fetus or to a child is unlikely to sway a person who wants to have a baby from having one. Instead, what they do is adapt to the circumstances they’ve been handed. 

A farmhouse in Claysville, Pennsylvania, stands near pipes connected to hydraulic fracturing equipment. AP Photo / Keith Srakocic

Lois Bower-Bjornson, a dancer and activist in Washington County, was raised in Western Pennsylvania and returned in 2004 to raise children in a more rural setting, full of woods to roam and creeks to play in. “Prior to moving back here, the pollution aspect didn’t enter into my head,” she said, as the coal and steel industries that dominated the region throughout the 20th century had largely died off. But when oil and gas companies began drilling unconventional wells around her home “like the Wild West,” suddenly her children were sick all the time.

“And then there it is, it happens and you’re there, and you do the best that you can with what you have,” she says. “We have air monitors, I asked for a water filtration system two Christmases ago, and my kids are educated to know, ‘you can’t go outside right now, the air is terrible.’ You become kind of an expert on what to do and when to do it with your children, and what to do when you do live in a polluted community.”

Fossil fuel interests have been deeply entrenched in Pennsylvania politics since the first well was drilled in Titusville in 1859. And unlike abortion, positions on fracking are not cleanly divided down party lines. Many Democrats in the state government today — including Governor Wolf and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, currently a candidate for U.S. Senate — have consistently supported fracking in Pennsylvania as an economic boon, and oil and gas companies have enjoyed significant tax breaks in the state. An exception can be found in the U.S. House of Representatives candidate Summer Lee, who seeks to represent the district containing parts of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties in the southwestern part of the state, and has been vocally opposed to fracking and outspoken about its health consequences throughout her career.

Read Next The problem with corporate pledges to protect abortion access and the climate

There is something to be said for loving one’s home so much you want to heal its many wounds. Southwestern Pennsylvania is riddled with centuries-old scars of many, many different forms of industrial exploitation. But it is also filled with families who have made its hills and valleys their home for generations, and want to see their grandchildren and great-grandchildren make it theirs as well. And there you can find a contingent that campaigns and organizes and votes, in hopes that the slow pace of political change will catch up to the more reckless stride of fossil fuel development. 

Joining that contingent this year are voters who have been freshly mobilized by Mastriano’s threats to abortion rights in the state. Bower-Bjornson, for example, says that she has conservative, Trump-supporting family members who will be voting for Democrats on November 8 because they fear for the health of their daughters should abortion become illegal in Pennsylvania.

In the meantime, what do you do if you want to start a family in western Pennsylvania — or any oil and gas producing region — or if you already have one? The good news is that most negative maternal and prenatal health impacts associated with fracking are observed only in people who live quite close to a well, within about a half-mile radius; the bad news is that there are hundreds of new active wells every year, and residents often get little warning about their installation. Just a few years ago, a new well pad was installed very close to the home of Janice Blanock, the woman whose teenage son died from Ewing’s sarcoma. There was a town meeting to inform the community about the new well, but many local residents were in favor of it because of the jobs they believed it would provide. 

But Blanock has no plans to move, and no desire to. “I still love it, it’s home, but I worry now where I didn’t before, and I’m aware of more,” she says. “I would say if you’re going to have children, you definitely want to look into where you raise them. And I don’t know if this is the safest place for you to do that, sadly.”

This story has been updated to clarify the nature of the evidence that people who live near fracking sites suffer higher rates of complications during pregnancy.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Fracking, abortion, and the challenge of raising a family in southwestern Pennsylvania on Nov 7, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News

These midterm races could be pivotal for U.S. climate action

Mon, 11/07/2022 - 03:30

The United States midterm elections will take place on Tuesday. Polls, those imperfect barometers of public opinion, show Democrats and Republicans in a dead heat for control of the Senate. Republicans need to pick up just five seats to take back majority power in the House of Representatives and are favored to win that chamber. 

The prospect of new climate policies getting passed in this country largely depends on what happens on Tuesday. If Democrats retain control of Congress, they could pass, or at least try to pass, measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or address the impacts of rising temperatures. There’s a growing appetite among Democratic lawmakers for climate action, as evidenced by their recent landmark climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. If Republicans emerge victorious, the odds of Congress enacting new climate policy are much, much lower, as evidenced by the lack of a single Republican vote for the aforementioned landmark climate bill. Despite vague murmurs in support of free-market climate policies coming from far-flung corners of the GOP in recent years, the party has never produced a comprehensive emissions plan that’s in line with what experts say is necessary to preserve a livable planet.

From a climate perspective, there’s a lot at stake — and not just in Congress. Climate advocates are up for election at the state and local levels, too. With new federal funds earmarked for climate initiatives headed to states, tribes, utilities, and consumers thanks to the $1 trillion infrastructure legislation that passed in 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act, those races could shape the next couple of years of climate policy in communities around the country. 

“If we are going to keep making the progress we know we need, we must continue to elect leaders at every level of government who will put climate action at the top of their agenda,” Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters, said. Here are six of the races across the country that could wind up playing a consequential role in the country’s response to climate change over the next few years. 

Luke Warford vs. Wayne Christian, Texas Railroad Commission 

Because the Texas Railroad Commission oversees the sprawling oil and gas industry in the Lone Star State (but not, ironically, railroads), the powerful three-member agency plays an outsize role in Texas’ emissions footprint. Luke Warford, a 33-year-old who used to work for the Texas Democratic Party, is trying to capitalize on outrage over last year’s deadly winter power outages to unseat his opponent, Republican incumbent commission chair Wayne Christian. Warford has been traveling across Texas by train educating voters about the effect extreme weather will have on the power grid in coming years. He’s said that his race is “the most important climate race in the country.” 

It’ll be a tough fight. A Democrat hasn’t won a statewide office seat in Texas in 28 years. The Railroad Commission has been all-Republican for nearly as long. Christian, the Republican incumbent who has served on the commission since 2016, said Warford is running on a platform that will “put our local oil and gas companies out of business and kill jobs.” But Warford isn’t shying away from messaging around the climate crisis. “In today’s market, there is more demand for low-emissions and renewable energy than ever, and Texas needs to evolve to compete. It’s too important to wait,” he said in a statement.  

Catherine Blakespear vs. Matt Gunderson, California 38th state Senate district

Catherine Blakespear, the Democratic current mayor of Encinitas, is making a play for California’s 38th state Senate district. Blakespear’s campaign told the California publication Capital & Main that she is “standing up to Big Oil.” The oil industry, which is taking flak from both sides of the aisle after a devastating oil spill off the coast of Orange County last year, isn’t taking that on the chin. 

A political action committee, or PAC, called the Coalition to Restore California’s Middle Class has spent more than $800,000 backing Blakespear’s opponent, Republican Matt Gunderson. The PAC’s top donors are Valero, Chevron, Phillips 66, and the Marathon Petroleum Corporation and its affiliates. The Coalition to Restore California’s Middle Class has also spent nearly a million dollars on opposition research and ad campaigns attacking Blakespear. District 38 has rapidly shifted from Republican to slightly Democratic-leaning in recent years. Blakespear currently holds a narrow lead over Gunderson in the polls, but the race is by no means a done deal. If Gunderson prevails, the oil and gas industry will have successfully wielded its influence over yet another election. 

Steve Sisolak vs. Joe Lombardo, Nevada governor

The super-tight gubernatorial race in Nevada is a 2022 test of the strength of a Trump endorsement. Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak is up against Trump-endorsed Republican Joe Lombardo. Sisolak, who became Nevada’s first Democratic governor in 20 years when he was elected in 2019, signed legislation that will increase the proportion of the state’s electricity generated by renewables to 50 percent by 2030, approved a bill funding electric school buses, and appointed Nevada’s first-ever “climate czar.” Sisolak says he will continue to advance his climate and conservation agenda if reelected next week.

His opponent, Lombardo, does not have a climate plan. On his website, he says he aims to protect Nevada’s water resources and protect residents from wildfires, but doesn’t say how he will do that or mention the role climate change plays in exacerbating drought and wildfires in the state. It’s anyone’s guess who will win the governor’s seat on Tuesday. A recent poll shows Sisolak leading Lombardo by 4 percentage points, within the poll’s margin of error. 

Ohio Supreme Court

The elections that will fill three open seats on Ohio’s highest court are among the lowest-profile races in the state, but the way these races shake out could have huge implications for the future of Ohio’s energy policies. The state’s Supreme Court has been dominated by Republicans for decades. Democrats have a chance to regain control this cycle, but all three races will be very close. Ohio energy companies have donated thousands to the Republicans in these three races. 

And there is good reason for that. After the election, the winners of these Supreme Court races will help resolve several open questions surrounding clean energy deployment in Ohio. The court is expected to decide cases that could determine whether a permit for a wind farm can be overruled by residents and if the Ohio Power Siting Board should take climate change into account when siting new renewable energy projects.

Monica Tranel vs. Ryan Zinke, U.S. Representative from Montana

You remember Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior under former President Donald Trump who resigned from his job because he was the subject of multiple ethics probes? He’s running for Montana’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which he previously occupied between 2015 and 2017. The Republican has acknowledged humanity’s role in causing climate change, but that’s about the extent of his climate platform. He called the Inflation Reduction Act a “wish list for the climate change people.”

His Democratic opponent, Monica Tranel, has a different take. She said the bill is “awesome” and has a plan to deal with what her website calls the “climate emergency.” She wants to expand Montana’s clean energy industry and create new jobs in the rapidly-growing state. Tranel spent four years working as an attorney for the Montana’s Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in the state. She has also represented renewable energy developers in court. Having Tranel in the House would be a big deal for the Democratic caucus, which could use a clean energy expert from Montana in its ranks. Zinke is favored to win, but the race is surprisingly close, in part because of a Libertarian candidate poised to divide the conservative vote in the state.  

Mandela Barnes vs. Ron Johnson, U.S. Senator from Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, former businessman and Republican incumbent Senator Ron Johnson is leading Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes — the first Black lieutenant governor of Wisconsin — in recent polls, but not by a lot. And just one of the handful of toss-up Senate races taking place across the country next week could determine which party gets control of the upper chamber. The Barnes vs. Johnson race is a showdown between a clear climate advocate and a climate skeptic. 

In an October debate, both candidates were asked about climate change and what they’d like to see done about it. “The climate has always changed,” Johnson, who insists he doesn’t deny the existence of climate change, said. “The question is, can you really do anything about it when China, when India, they’re going to be burning fossil fuels. America’s going to have to burn fossil fuels,” he added. 

Barnes, on the other hand, said he wants Wisconsin to be a leader in the transition to clean energy. Barnes is a member of the Wisconsin governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, which has proposed a number of policies since it was established in 2019 and helped create a state Office of Environmental Justice this year.  “What we need to do is reduce carbon emissions,” he said in the debate. “What we also need to do is move towards a clean energy economy and make sure Wisconsin is in the driver’s seat.” 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline These midterm races could be pivotal for U.S. climate action on Nov 7, 2022.

Categories: H. Green News


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