Earth Matters – Progressive takes on this week’s climate and clean energy stories

  • Published on September 24th, 2023

Making Climate the Everything Story by Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope at The Nation. The news media needs to stop treating climate change as a niche topic—and start treating it as the most important story of our time. Despite living through the hottest summer in history, as well as wildfires, tropical storms, and rapidly warming oceans, the news media continues to be outdone by popular culture when it comes to telling the most urgent story of our time.

Left to Right: Queens heat wave by ChrisGoldNY via CC license. Tropical Storm Imedla Flooding by Jill Carlson via CC license. Parched Stevens Creek Reservoir by Jake via CC license.
Left to Right: Queens heat wave by ChrisGoldNY via CC license. Tropical Storm Imedla Flooding by Jill Carlson via CC license. Parched Stevens Creek Reservoir by Jake via CC license.

By Meteor Blades

Inexplicably, climate change remains a niche concern for most mainstream news outlets. Most American TV coverage of this summer’s hellish weather did not even mention the words “climate change,” much less explain that the burning of oil, gas, and coal is what’s driving that hellish weather. Too many newsrooms continue to see climate as a siloed beat of specialists.

There are, of course, notable exceptions. The Guardian, for example, has long delivered abundant science-based, comprehensive coverage of the climate crisis as well as its solutions, as have other big global outlets such as the AFP news agency and Al Jazeera. But, as excellent as they often are, these examples are among the outliers; much of the rest of media—particularly television, which, even in today’s digital era, remains the leading source of news globally for the largest number of people—struggle to find their climate footing.

We wish it were otherwise. As founders of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration formed to break the “climate silence” that long prevailed in the media, we’ve been working to help our colleagues throughout the news business amp up their coverage of the climate story.

RESOURCES & ACTION

ECO-QUOTE

“It’s not that the world hasn’t had more carbon dioxide, it’s not that the world hasn’t been warmer. The problem is the speed at which things are changing. We are inducing a sixth mass extinction event kind of by accident and we don’t want to be the ‘extinctee.’”—Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”

ECOPINIONS

Mark Hertsgaard (left) and Kyle Pope
Mark Hertsgaard (left) and Kyle Pope 

California’s Climate Disclosure Bill Could Have a Huge Impact Across the Nation by Andy Furillo at Capital & Main. The California Legislature took a step this month that has the potential to accelerate the fight against climate change within the state and have a transformative effect across the nation. It also marked the rise of a more forceful climate caucus in the Legislature, led by new Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, bucking an intense industry lobbying push that killed a similar bill last year. Senate Bill 253, which would force companies that generate revenues of more than $1 billion a year to fully disclose their total GHG impact. Gov. Gavin Newsom has already said he will sign it, and he has until Oct. 14 to do so. When that happens, said Lynn M. LoPucki, a professor at the University of Florida law school, California will essentially establish a national policy that compels big business to be transparent about its emissions, according to at least one analyst. “I think this is a really big deal,” he said. “The idea is that companies will make a greater effort to reduce their GHG emissions once they’re reporting them. They know investors care, and they also, I think, know that consumers and the public care. Virtually every company is doing corporate social responsibility reporting, or webpages in which they profess concern about corporate social responsibility. And today, that means reducing GHG.”

A neighborhood near Golden, Colorado, in which the majority of the homes have rooftop solar installations. Golden is home to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
A neighborhood near Golden, Colorado, in which the majority of the homes have rooftop solar installations. Golden is home to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

How to accelerate rooftop solar & household batteries in the U.S. One out of three Australian households has solar panels on the roof. In the U.S., it’s one out of 25. That probably has something to do with the fact that in the U.S., rooftop solar is twice as expensive, twice the hassle, and takes twice as long to get installed. Why is the process so broken? And what could be done to make it smoother and faster? To discuss these and related matters, David Roberts at his Volts substack conducted an interview with Mary Powell, the CEO of Sunrun, Australia’s largest residential rooftop solar company.

EV sales growth points to oil demand peaking by 2030—so why is the oil industry doubling down on production? by Robert Brecha at The Conversation. Electric vehicle sales are growing faster than expected around the world, and, sales of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles have been falling. Yet, the U.S. government still forecasts an increasing demand for oil, and the oil industry is doubling down on production plans. Why is that, and what happens if the U.S. projections for growing oil demand are wrong? On Sept. 12, 2023, Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization that advises the world’s major economies, drew global attention when he wrote in the Financial Times that the IEA is now projecting a global peak in demand for oil, gas and coal by 2030. The new date would be a significant leap forward compared with previous estimates that the peak would not be until the 2030s for oil and even later for natural gas. It also stood out because the IEA has typically been quite conservative in modeling changes to the global energy system. Birol credits changes in energy policies and a faster-than-expected rise in clean technologies along with Europe’s shift away from fossil fuels amid Russia’s war in Ukraine as the primary reasons. He wrote that the IEA’s upcoming World Energy Outlook “shows the world is on the cusp of a historic turning point.”

Author Alexa White interviewing a farmer in the Jamaican Blue Mountains.
 Alexa White interviews a farmer in the Jamaican Blue Mountains.

The global food system is failing small-scale farmers—here’s how to fix it by Alexa White at Environmental Health News. We were standing on a coffee farm 7,500 feet above sea level in the middle of the Jamaican Blue Mountains. Before she broke down, the woman was telling us about her life as a farmer. Weeping was commonplace throughout my interviews in Jamaica. Farmers told me how fertilizer prices skyrocketed because Russia is the world’s top fertilizer exporter and the Russian invasion of Ukraine made it nearly impossible for them to afford the increased costs. I also heard stories of how unattended rural roads make it impossible to maintain vehicles. However, during this interview this woman was one of a few who told us about a more local economic issue: farmers have no control over the value of their crops because local corporations control the market. She explained how for farmers to produce enough to make a living, they need fertilizer and pesticides, which are expensive. Agrochemical companies spend billions of dollars to ensure that industrial farms can maintain a crop year-round—so that Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans get from a farmer’s bush in Portland Parish of Jamaica and into your hands at your local grocery store, even in the middle of February. But the labor of small-scale farmers is not calculated into these companies’ profit margins, leaving the people who grow those coffee beans crying on the shoulder of anyone who would listen.

Indigenous peoples are being excluded from a global pool of climate cash by Anita Hofschneider at Grist. A new report focused on green financing by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, José Francisco Calí Tzay, has found that Indigenous peoples are largely being excluded from trillions in global spending to mitigate climate change, with governments doing little to ensure that such funding not only respects Indigenous rights but also supports Indigenous-led green projects. Said Calí Tzay, who is Kaqchikel, one of the Maya peoples of Guatemala, “The shift to green finance is necessary and urgent, and if done using a human rights-based approach it can be a source of opportunity for Indigenous Peoples to obtain funding to preserve their lands, knowledge, and distinct ways of life, and to create economic opportunities that may help them to maintain and strengthen their indigenous identity.” The Special Rapporteur’s report comes eight years after the Paris Agreement called for $100 billion in annual funding to address the effects of climate change in developing countries. But Oxfam’s “Climate Finance Shadow Report 2023,” published in June, shows that although donors have claimed they mobilized $83.3 billion in 2020, the real value of their spending was—at most—$24.5 billion.

Chitra Kumar
Chitra Kumar

Can the Inflation Reduction Act Advance Climate Justice? by Chitra Kumar at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The number of provisions in the IRA aimed at accelerating the transition towards clean energy are plentiful and evident, but most programs were not written into law with the intent to center marginalized communities. And, some programs miss the mark entirely and create the risk of continuing to prop up fossil fuel extraction, which would harm communities and our climate. All told, between the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), IRA, and prior funding, there are now levels of funding for climate action and infrastructure similar to the investments during the New Deal era that shaped our entire society. Coupled with the Biden Administration’s Justice 40 initiative and racial equity executive order, federal agencies also are tasked with implementing the IRA programs in ways that help tackle racial and economic inequality. Environmental and climate justice advocates have long sought this. But, in the past, inequality was baked into nearly every system and institution funded by the New Deal. With the funding available today, we must do better and focus on equity and justice right from the start. And, with communities’ needs at stake—and the clock ticking toward statutory spending deadlines—there is not a moment to lose to implement programs.

ECO-TWXXT

HALF A DOZEN OTHER THINGS TO READ (OR LISTEN TO)

The pelts and heads of big cats are among the more than 1 million items at the National Wildlife Property Repository near Denver, Colorado, which stores products seized or forfeited during wildlife crime investigations.
The pelts and heads of big cats are among the more than 1 million items at the National Wildlife Property Repository near Denver, Colorado, which stores products seized or forfeited during wildlife crime investigations.

Animal CSI: Forensics comes for the wildlife trade by Amber Dance at Knowable. Among the scientific techniques used to combat poaching and wildlife trafficking, DNA is king, says Cindy Harper, a veterinary geneticist at the University of Pretoria. Its application in animal investigations is small-scale but growing in a field with a huge volume of crime: The value of the illegal wildlife trade is as much as $20 billion per year, Interpol estimates. “It’s not just a few people swapping animals around,” says Greta Frankham, a wildlife forensic scientist at the Australian Center for Wildlife Genomics in Sydney. “It’s got links to organized crime; it is an enormous amount of turnover on the black market.” The problem is global. In the United States, the crime might be the illegal hunting of deer or black bears, the importing of protected-animal parts for food or medicinal use, the harvesting of protected cacti, or the trafficking of ivory trinkets. In Africa or Asia, it might be the poaching of pangolins, the globe’s most trafficked mammal for both its meat and its scales, which are used in traditional medicines and magic practices. In Australia, it might be the collection or export of the continent’s unique wildlife for the pet trade.

Radical Vegans Are Trying to Change Your Diet. The impossible fight to persuade people to stop eating meat by Annie Lowrey at The Atlantic. DxE activists aim to stop the brutalization of farm animals and bring about the end of animal exploitation, ideally by way of a constitutional amendment granting personhood to nonhuman creatures. The mission is clearly a good one: to alleviate extraordinary, omnipresent suffering. Americans eat roughly 10 billion land animals a year, many raised in terrible conditions. In service of that goal, DxE performs undercover investigations, rescues animals, publishes whistleblower reports, engages in nonviolent protest, shuts down slaughter lines, files legal complaints, trains activists, and lobbies the government. But it is perhaps best known for its viral stunts. There was the time an activist wearing a poop-emoji costume disrupted a planning-commission meeting in a small town in Virginia; the time the group sprayed manure all over the lawn of an executive at Smithfield, the world’s largest producer of pork; the numerous occasions when members have seized the microphone from politicians at stump speeches; the time a DxE member named Matt Johnson pretended to be Smithfield’s CEO for a chaotic Fox Business hit.

The Effect of U.S. Climate Policy on Financial Markets: An Event Study of the Inflation Reduction Act by Michael D. Bauer, Eric A. Offner, and Glenn D. Rudebusch from the Hutchins Center. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 represents the largest climate policy action ever undertaken in the United States. Its legislative path was marked by two abrupt shifts as the likelihood of climate policy action fell tonear zero and then rose to near certainty. We investigate equity price reactions to these two events, which represent major realizations of climate policy transition risk. Our results highlight the heterogeneous nature of climate policy risk exposure. We find sizable reactions that differ by industry as well as across firm-level measures of greenness such as environmental scores and emission intensities. While the financial market response to the IRA was economically significant, it did not lead to instability or financial stress, suggesting that transition risks posed by climate policies even as ambitious as the IRA may be manageable.

Black Sea tursiops (bottlenose) dolphin.
Black Sea tursiops (bottlenose) dolphin

Putin’s War Against Ukraine Is Slaughtering Dolphins in the Black Sea by Angelie Mercado at Earther. Ukrainian officials and wildlife experts are collecting evidence to build a case for environmental war crimes against Russia. Harbor porpoises and bottlenose dolphins have washed up dead on the Black Sea’s shores in droves since February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine. Animal experts, who are increasingly concerned about the environmental impacts of the war, are dedicated to gathering evidence of ecocide against the Kremlin. Experts are conducting autopsies of the dead marine mammals to collect proof of ecocide and to understand how the war is affecting natural ecosystems. Ecocide is used to describe the intentional destruction of an ecological system. Pawel Goldin, a zoologist at the Ukrainian Scientific Center of Ecology of the Sea who specializes in marine mammals, told The New York Times last month that losing these sea creatures would be a tragedy. “They are keystone creatures for the marine ecosystem,” he said. “If dolphins are in a bad condition, then the entire ecosystem will be in a bad condition.

Masra Clamoungou, the farm manager for Small Axe Farm
Masra Clamoungou, the farm manager for Small Axe Farm in Seattle

Seattle’s Black Farmers Collective nurtures communities and crops by Syris Valentine at High Country News. As part of the nonprofit Black Farmers Collective, Small Axe Farm is more than just a place for growing food. It’s also a place for growing Black-owned farm-based businesses and helping the collective to fulfill its mission: building a Black-led food system that heals and enlivens Seattle’s Black community. The collective collaborates with Black-led markets and food banks, and brings people together to celebrate life and land, with its farms and farmers at the center of its efforts. Prior to founding the collective, Ray Williams, its executive director, was involved in two small gardens in central and south Seattle, one of which was tucked behind the Africatown Center for Education and Innovation. Then, in 2018, the Black Farmers Collective formed to establish Yes Farm on a 1.5-acre plot in central Seattle, where organizers host volunteer days, summer cookouts, and food and gardening classes. In 2020, Williams learned that King County was looking to lease and reactivate fallow farmland in the Sammamish River Valley. Williams and Clamoungou inspected the weed-strewn land, talked about what they could do with it, applied for the lease, and Small Axe Farm was born.

Poor regulatory safeguards leave farmworkers suffocating in the face of increasing heat waves by Mónica Corder at Investigate Midwest/Report for America and Eva Tesfaye, Harvest Public Media. A fifth of reported heat-related deaths between 2017 and 2022 were agricultural workers, according to OSHA data. Academics, occupational health specialists and advocacy groups are calling attention to the under-reported impact of climate change on this group from heatwaves.  Juan Peña, 28, has worked in the fields since childhood, often exposing his body to extreme heat like the wave hitting the Midwest this week. The heat can cause such deep pain in his whole body that he just wants to lie down, he said. It sucks his desire to work, as his body tells him he can’t take another hot day on the job. On those days, his only motivation to get out of bed is to earn dollars to send to his 10-month-old baby in Mexico. Farmworkers, such as Peña and the crew he leads in Iowa, are unprotected against heat-related illnesses. They are 35 times more likely to die from heat exposure than workers in other sectors, according to the National Institutes of Health, and the absence of a federal heat regulation that guarantees their safety and life—when scientists have warned that global warming will continue—increases that risk.

GREEN LINKS

• American football season is getting hotter. Young players are dying  • Watch seal pups trapped in fishing nets cut free by South Africa beachgoers • California Leads the Way in Low-Carbon School Meals • Climate Week NYC: Clean technologies are racing to the future • New California Legislation Would Be a Major Step Forward for Climate Disclosure  Revealed: How Big Dairy Is Milking Net Zero • How Hawai‘i’s Youth Advocates are Fighting for Hawai‘i’s Future • Not accurate’: Republican wrong to say Montana has more bears than people • In Miami, It’s No Coincidence Marginalized Neighborhoods Are Hotter • ‘Totally unsustainable’ sand mining harms marine environments, new data suggest • The Beach Is Lovely. The Water, Maybe Not So Much • Socially vulnerable populations are disproportionately exposed to wildfires in the West, study finds • Lead poisoning kills millions annually. One country is showing the way forward.

Weekly Eco-Video

 

(Originally appeared at DailyKos)

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.