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It has been an especially grim week for climate news

A key concern is the rise in methane emissions. Over 20 years it is more than 85 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. Agriculture, wetlands, melting permafrost, extraction, and transportation are all sources of methane, but scientists aren’t exactly sure of the cause of the steep recent increases the chemical’s emissions. One thing we now know because of better independent measurements is that oil and gas companies have vastly underestimated methane emissions in their self-reporting to the Environmental Protection Agency. With all the evidence at hand over a range of issues including energy, it’s hard to comprehend why any monitoring that could have an effect on bottom lines is left to corporate self reporting. A year ago, the United States and the European Union agreed to voluntarily reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. More than 100 nations have also signed on to their Global Methane Pledge. But three biggest methane emitters—China, Russia, and India—have not signed.

Meanwhile, replacing fossil fuels with renewables has been expanding markedly. Solar—both utility scale and rooftop installations—have soared, even as inflation has driven up costs. Vast new wind farms are being planned and installed, too, with the United States belatedly entering the field of offshore wind, including floating turbines for placement in deep water. But to date only 9% of the world’s energy electricity is generated by renewables. The pace has picked up, but it’s still too slow.

How slow? On Wednesday, the World Energy Outlook 2022 of the International Energy Agency reported that $1.3 trillion in renewables investment is needed annually by 2030 to reach zero emissions by 2050 under the Net Zero Emissions (NZE) ScenarioThat’s up from the current $390 billion. The tripling would not be undoable given that $1.3 trillion was invested in fossil fuels in 2014, according to the IEA. 

Today, reports Tsvetana Paraskova at Oil Price, for every $1 invested globally on fossil fuels, $1.50 is invested in clean energy technologies. Under the NZE Scenario, that $1 invested on fossil fuels will require $5 to be invested in clean energy sourcing with an additional $4 on efficiency by 2030.

“Shortfalls in clean energy investment are largest in emerging and developing economies, a worrying signal given their rapid projected growth in demand for energy services. If China is excluded, then the amount being invested in clean energy each year in emerging and developing economies has remained flat since the Paris Agreement was concluded in 2015,” the IEA said.

The fierce urgency of now has never been more obvious. However, in the United States, the outcome of the upcoming elections will determine whether that urgency is met head on or confounded by the foot-draggers and science deniers inhabiting Congress and state legislatures.

WEEKLY ENVIRONMENTAL VIDEO


Note: Earth Matters is going on a two-week hiatus for election purposes. It will return the week of Nov. 13. 


GREEN TAKES

A Grand Vision for Rewilding the West With Beavers and Wolves 

Busy Beaver in Beaver Brook
Beaver at work

Wolves and beavers are creatures that U.S. ranchers and farmers have long sought to eliminate despite what biologists say about the boatload of benefits the animals provide the ecosystem. Christopher Ketcham at Sierra magazine writes:

Beaver are at the heart of an ambitious scheme for a rewilded West that a group of 20 ecologists and biologists presented in the journal Bioscience in August. Calling for a new paradigm of management of public lands to “restore critical ecological processes with minimal human interference,” the report’s authors tied their program to President Biden’s America the Beautiful Plan, which proposes that the nation protect 30 percent of US lands and waters by 2030.

That’s not as ambitious as the Buffalo Commons concept originally put together 35 years ago by Frank and Deborah Popper. But it has some commonalities. Step one: get the cattle off the land. While that makes ecological sense, there’s obviously a very big political obstacle. This can be seen in the fierce opposition with which many ranchers and farmers greeted the reintroduction of the gray wolf to areas of the West where it had been extirpated in the 1930s. 

Since 2008 Brandie Hardman, an organic farmer in Boulder, Utah, has made the effort on a small way that re-wilders want to scale up. 

In healthy systems, plants slow the downhill flow of rainwater. This leads to better absorption in the soil. When livestock eat or trample vegetation and compact hillside soils, the water flows over the land faster with less being absorbed. This means higher peak flows and erosion that creates a vicious cycle, widening and deepening channels. So Hardman started her rewilding project by kicking out the cattle and stopping the slaughter of beavers. “The tradition with the ranchers who ran this land was to kill them,” she said. “They thought the beavers were messing with the water supply, their irrigation lines, stealing the water, the whole gamut.”

Now, with the cattle long gone and with the proliferation of the busy animals—80 beavers by her most recent count—the stream flows year-round, two feet deep in places, backed up with ponds behind the beaver lodges. The banks are abundant with vegetation and resist erosion. The channels are narrow. The water temperatures stay cool, and the stream and riparian zone are hydrologically connected.

Less than 2 percent of the arid West consists of streams and springs, yet these are the hot spots of biodiversity, providing habitat for as much as 70 percent of vertebrate species in the region. 

Robert Beschta, professor emeritus of forest hydrology at Oregon State University and William Ripple, a professor of ecology at OSU and lead author of the study, point out that beavers not only increase water and soil retention, but they also reduce wildfire risk by creating fire breaks. They increase carbon sequestration, create meadows with their dammed-up ponds, and produce  “moisture gradients” for more diverse plant and animals, including insects. “They are all-around multipliers” of beneficial landscape processes, Beschta said. “Once you put beaver in a system, dramatic changes start to occur within a few years.” 

He also told Ketcham, “Pulling the cows off is an important and necessary first step. But you still have the problem of too many elk and mule deer browsing in aspen stands. That’s where wolves come in to keep their numbers down and allow the aspen to flourish.”

A ‘lean’ team is making sure the climate law doesn’t fail

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John Podesta

Anyone who has followed large, government-funded projects know that money can be badly spent and that incompetent or outright bad actors can produce crappy results or hijack the cash for purposes that undermine the intent of those providing it. The Biden administration is working to keep that from happening with the hundreds of billions of dollars for climate action approved in the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act.

To accomplish this, former White House chief of staff John Podesta has been working to establish a “lean implementation team” to coordinate work on the IRA. According to Jean Chemnick at Climate Wire, using his co-chairmanship of the National Climate Task Force, it’s Podesta’s task to “outline how agencies will distribute the money for meeting daunting climate goals like phasing out fossil fuels in power generation, ending the reign of gasoline-powered cars and checkering the country with renewable energy projects.”

Key aspects of this distribution will be getting the money out the door quickly and making sure it is widely distributed. For instance, the Office of Management and Budget has the job of getting 40% of the programmatic benefits delivered to underserved communities, something President Biden promised early on in his term. This environmental justice aspect will no doubt be one of the most difficult objectives to achieve, particularly when there is resistance in Congress and among some local politicians to the entire concept of a “just transition.” Chemnick writes:

“It’s not going to be enough for the federal government to push money out the door and be hands off about it,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “They have to engage all the way down to the local level. We need to have states now actively seeking on behalf of their constituents that money so that it gets to the right places.” […]

But while accountability is important, the administration can’t funnel endless sums of Inflation Reduction Act and infrastructure dollars to just rich blue jurisdictions that have the policies and personnel in place to ensure spending is aligned with the highest ideals of environmental justice and greenhouse gas abatement.

The money also needs to land in other areas to ensure deep carbon reductions.

“How is it possible that it’s not the Portlands and San Franciscos that are just getting truckloads of money here to just kind of keep doing the stuff they’re doing, and doing it well?” said Joseph Kane, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Versus spreading more funding around which, quite frankly, there could be more bang for the buck — right? — for those places that just haven’t been able to grasp some of that lower-hanging fruit and may have no EV charging stations at all right now.”

ENVIRONMENTAL RESOURCES 

New Progressive Voter Guides Score Midterm Candidates on Climate, Abortion Rights.  A progressive political action group on Tuesday unveiled a series of online voter guides that score aspiring federal and state lawmakers, as well as gubernatorial candidates, in five climate- and reproductive rights-related categories. In addition to scoring candidates on their positions, votes, and leadership record, Vote Climate U.S. PAC’s guides let users get voting dates, deadlines, and information for the November 8 midterm elections. 

How Climate Change Affects Cities’ Daily Temperatures, Mapped. A new online mapping tool called the Climate Shift Index (CSI), developed by the US-based research and communications group Climate Central, illustrates how daily average temperatures in more than 1,000 cities around the world are made more or less likely by global warming.

15 state AG races to watch on the environment. The midterm elections could bring a new class of environmentally focused state attorneys general.This year 30 states and Washington, D.C., are holding elections for their chief legal officers, out of 43 states and the district that hold elections for the position. In 10 of the 31 races, the seats are open. Republican attorneys general currently hold 14 of the seats up for election, while Democrats occupy 16.

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ECO-TWEET

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ECOPINION

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 19: U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro participate shake hands after a joint news conference at the Rose Garden of the White House March 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump is hosting President Bolsonaro for a visit and bilateral talks at the White House today. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro with a guy he likes to imitate.

Even a Lula Victory in Brazil May Not Restore Brazil’s Forests. By David Fickling at Bloomberg Green. To hear many people talk, the fate of the planet hangs in the balance depending on the outcome of the second-round vote in Brazil’s election. On one side is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the leftist who all but halted the logging of the Amazon in his term as president from 2003 to 2010. On the other is Jair Bolsonaro, the Trumpy right-winger who razed the rainforest and pushed deforestation last year to nearly double its levels. A sharp left-right dichotomy is a common way to think about the stakes in the runoff poll on Oct. 30. Still, as with the candidates’ economic platforms, their forest policies have a lot more in common than you might expect. While Bolsonaro’s management of Brazil’s ecosystems has been appalling, Lula’s policies on forest protection were already being loosened under the presidency of his successor and party ally Dilma Rousseff. Dependent, like Rousseff, on the votes of an agribusiness-dominated bloc in Congress that’s more dominant now than it was in his first term, he’s made efforts this time around to woo farming interests who strongly identify with Bolsonaro.

Longtermism and the threat of climate doomism. By Megan Rattan at Currently. Topics that evoke feelings of doom go viral on social media platforms like Twitter just about every other week. Most recently, a tweet containing a map created by “influential financiers” predicting mass death in the Global South by 2050 caught people’s eye. The map is not just misleading, it’s dangerous. […] There remains a huge range of options between where we are now—at almost 1.5 degrees C of climate change—and the world we would have at 4 degrees C and that space makes all the difference for billions of our human and not-human kin. Why misrepresent established science in order to insist that it’s too late to save people made most vulnerable to climate change? The map was first presented at a conference for PAWA, a conference meant to shape “a new narrative for humanity that offers a positive view of the future of our civilization”, according to  the conference’s event page. It’s ironic, therefore, that at a conference whose theme is “longtermism” — or the goal of bettering humanity’s chances of survival into the far future—someone would insist that, in the near term, it will be too late to save billions of people.

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Orcas near San Juan Island

Saving Our Ocean to Save Our Future: National Marine Sanctuaries. By  Philippe Cousteau, Jr. and Lela DeVine at Earth Echo International. You don’t need to be a scientist to understand the urgent nature of the challenges facing the ocean, our most precious natural resource that provides more than 50% of our oxygen and supports up to 80% of life on the planet. These impacts aren’t nuanced trends on a chart, they are widely visible. If you view footage from Jacques Cousteau’s original film The Silent World, you will see the waters off the coast of France teeming with sea life, from giant groupers to stunning corals. Today, those waters bear little resemblance to that vibrant world of a few decades ago. Startling ecosystem declines are evident from the Great Barrier Reef to the Florida Keys to the coral ridges off the coasts of Hawai’i. Fifty years ago, the United States ushered in a new era of ocean conservation with the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. […] Since then, the initiative has grown into a nationwide network of 15 national marine sanctuaries and two marine national monuments that, combined, conserve more than 620,000 square miles of spectacular ocean and Great Lakes waters, an area nearly the size of Alaska. We have discovered that when ocean ecosystems are given time and space to recover from detrimental human activities, they can rebound at an astonishing rate.

American Exceptionalism Off the Rails.Why the United States spends so much but gets so little public transit. By Elizabeth T. Henderson and Jared Abbott. While President Joe Biden’s signature infrastructure bill represents the largest federal investment in public transit in US history, the $39 billion in funding it allocated to revitalize America’s train and bus systems is less than half of the $89.9 billion the administration originally proposed — and a small fraction of what’s needed to build an ecologically sustainable transportation system. But no matter how much money the government invests in public transit, if we can’t figure out how to build more efficiently, we’ll continue to see the same old story play out. If we look to our peer nations across the Atlantic, we can see that they’re able to build far more miles of rail transit for a fraction of the cost. Take Spain, whose capital, Madrid, has experienced a transit boom in recent years and has set a global example for efficient rail projects that benefit workers. The per-mile rail cost in Madrid is just $141 million — one-third of the per-mile cost, for example, in Los Angeles ($458 million), according to a July 2021 report by the Eno Center for Transportation. What explains Spain’s success in keeping costs down? And what can we learn by comparing that success to the state of transit infrastructure in the United States?

Chevron CEO Mike Wirth
Chevron CEO Mike Wirth

Weeks before COP27, Big Oil remains in state of “deceptive” climate denial. By Andy Rowell at Oil Change International. [O]ne of Big Oil’s bosses was interviewed a couple of weeks ago by the Financial Times. Mike Wirth is the CEO of Chevron, one of the traditional Seven Sisters of the global oil giants. The seven are no more of course, as BP swallowed Amoco, and Exxon merged with Mobil. Chevron too bought over Texaco in a $36 billion deal in 2000. The seven have become four, with Chevron now the world’s second-biggest super-major by market capitalization after ExxonMobil. The company produces almost 2% of the world’s oil. Wirth is still in complete climate denial. The big oil boss said a premature effort to transition from fossil fuels had resulted in “unintended consequences,” including energy supply insecurity due to the Ukraine war. So whereas most analysts believe that if we had had a greater percentage of power being produced by renewables before the Ukraine war, it would have helped energy supply issues, Wirth was arguing the opposite. He told the FT that western governments had made a global oil and gas crunch worse by “doubling down” on climate policies that had made energy markets “more volatile, more unpredictable, more chaotic.” He also fudged his belief over whether fossil fuels were the primary driver of climate change.

ECO-QUOTE

“A few million years ago, when human beings first evolved on Earth, it was already a middle-aged world, 4.6 billion years along from the catastrophes and impetuosities of its youth. But we humans now represent a new and perhaps decisive factor. Our intelligence and our technology have given us the power to affect the climate. How will we use this power? Are we willing to tolerate ignorance and complacency in matters that affect the entire human family? Do we value short-term advantages above the welfare of the Earth? Or will we think on longer time scales, with concern for our children and our grandchildren, to understand and protect the complex life-support systems of our planet? The Earth is a tiny and fragile world. It needs to be cherished.”  Carl Sagan, Cosmos

ANOTHER HALF DOZEN THINGS TO READ (OR LISTEN TO)

2 Billion Kids to Face Extreme Heatwave Threat by 2050, Warns UNICEF. By Jessica Corbett at Common Dreams. At least 559 million children worldwide are already exposed to frequent heatwaves—a number that could hit 2.02 billion by 2050, according to a United Nations report published Tuesday. The U.N. Children Fund’s (UNICEF) publication—The Coldest Year of The Rest of Their Lives: Protecting Children From the Escalating Impacts of Heatwaves—comes as governments that support the Paris climate agreement prepare for the COP27 summit in Egypt. “The mercury is rising and so are the impacts on children,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s executive director, in a statement. “Already, 1 in 3 children live in countries that face extreme high temperatures and almost 1 in 4 children are exposed to high heatwave frequency, and it is only going to get worse.”

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Business groups block action that could help tackle biodiversity crisis, report finds. By Phoebe Weston at The Guardian. Industry groups representing some of the world’s largest companies are “opposed to almost all major biodiversity-relevant policies” and are lobbying to block them, according to a new report. Researchers found that 89% of engagement by leading industry associations in Europe and the US is designed to delay, dilute and block progress on tackling the biodiversity crisis, which scientists say is as serious as the climate emergency. Just 5% of support was positive and the remaining 6% was mixed or neutral, according to the climate thinktank InfluenceMap. The researchers focused on associations representing five key sectors—agriculture, fisheries, forestry and paper, oil and gas, and mining—which have the greatest impact on biodiversity loss.

The Glue Of Protests: Fighting Complacency & The Climate Crisis. By Carolyn Fortuna at CleanTechnica. Climate change impacts everyone, but the future belongs to young people. Some of the youth activists on the front line aren’t willing to wait. Many of these climate protests stories bring out a smile in us. After all, aren’t tomato soup and glue a bit reminiscent of childhood? But climate activism can have a dark side. EarthRights International has uncovered a trend in the U.S. and abroad of closing civic space, where those who exercise their fundamental rights to speak up about matters of public interest face retaliation in the form of judicial harassment and physical violence. The EarthRights International investigation identified 152 cases in the past 10 years where the fossil fuel industry has used strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) and other judicial harassment tactics in attempts to silence or punish its critics. 

Land acknowledgments meant to honor Indigenous people too often do the opposite – erasing American Indians and sanitizing history instead. By Elisa J. Sobo, Michael Lambert, and Valerie Lambert at The Conversation. Many events these days begin with land acknowledgments: earnest statements acknowledging that activities are taking place, or institutions, businesses and even homes are built, on land previously owned by Indigenous peoples. […] Yet the historical and anthropological facts demonstrate that many contemporary land acknowledgments unintentionally communicate false ideas about the history of dispossession and the current realities of American Indians and Alaska Natives. And those ideas can have detrimental consequences for Indigenous peoples and nations. This is why, in a move that surprised many non-Indigenous anthropologists to whom land acknowledgments seemed a public good, the Association of Indigenous Anthropologists requested that the American Anthropological Association officially pause land acknowledgments and the related practice of the welcoming ritual, in which Indigenous persons open conferences with prayers or blessings. 

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 25: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) speaks during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the fiscal year 2023 budget for the FBI at the U.S. Capitol on May 25, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ting Shen - Pool/Getty Images)
Republican Sen. Shelley Capito 

3,000 out of 3,001 Americans Want Green Transport — But GOP Doesn’t. By Gersch Kuntzman at Streetsblog. By a roughly 3,000-to-1 ratio as the public comment period ended on a key Biden administration climate initiative, Americans agree that states should be required to better track their transportation-sector greenhouse gas emissions to lead to reducing them, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The trick is how you get there. […]  Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) has been one of the top Republicans blasting the Biden administration for so-called “woke” policies. In January, 16 GOP governors wrote to Biden demanding that the administration “not burden states or private sector partners with needless and unnecessary red tape,” in the distribution of funds for projects under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. But it wasn’t really red tape that the governors took aim at—it was tape that was green or rainbow-hued. The letter specifically cites objections to the federal effort to only fund projects that seek to mitigate global warming or rectify racist land-use policies. (Ten states and the District of Columbia sent testimony in support of the Biden plan.)

The energy system is ‘inherently racist,’ advocates say. How are utilities responding to calls for greater equity? By Robert Walton at Utility Dive. Utility company commitments to customer equity, energy affordability and equitable access to clean energy resources are becoming more common, but energy justice advocates say they’re not enough. Investor-owned utilities need to do more, these advocates say, to help low-income customers, customers of color and residents of traditionally underserved communities. […] Recent events, including the global pandemic and the racial reckoning in the United States since the murder of George Floyd, have forced regulators to acknowledge issues of energy affordability and equity, say experts. And they have created an opportunity for community-based organizations and consumer advocates to press for utilities to include more formal equity goals and commitments in their planning documents. The focus on equity isn’t coming from utilities, said Grant Smith, senior energy policy advisor at Environmental Working Group. ”I don’t see that they’re excessively interested in it. … It’s advocates [and] state legislators that champion these issues and get support,” he said.

Beyond Catastrophe: A New Climate Reality Is Coming Into View. By David Wallace-Wells at The New York Times. It wasn’t that long ago that Wallace-Wells wrote 30,000 highly pessimistic words in the Times about climate change. His latest piece, lengthy but a good deal shorter, doesn’t sport a happy face, but takes a more optimistic view. Just a few years ago, climate projections for this century looked quite apocalyptic, with most scientists warning that continuing “business as usual” would bring the world four or even five degrees Celsius of warming—a change disruptive enough to call forth not only predictions of food crises and heat stress, state conflict and economic strife, but, from some corners, warnings of civilizational collapse and even a sort of human endgame. (Perhaps you’ve had nightmares about each of these and seen premonitions of them in your newsfeed.) Now, with the world already 1.2 degrees hotter, scientists believe that warming this century will most likely fall between two or three degrees. (A United Nations report released this week ahead of the COP27 climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, confirmed that range.) A little lower is possible, with much more concerted action; a little higher, too, with slower action and bad climate luck. Those numbers may sound abstract, but what they suggest is this: Thanks to astonishing declines in the price of renewables, a truly global political mobilization, a clearer picture of the energy future and serious policy focus from world leaders, we have cut expected warming almost in half in just five years.

ECO-LINKS

 The world’s energy situation is not as terrible as you might expect Cop 27: Uganda-Tanzania oil pipeline sparks climate row Global Climate Summit Is Heading for a Geopolitical Hurricane Clean Energy Has a Tipping Point, and 87 Countries Have Reached It Who should pay to help coal communities in the energy transition? Will offshore wind bring ‘good-paying, union jobs’? Texas workers aren’t so sure Here’s exactly how your diet affects the planet, a landmark study finds World’s Largest CO2 Removal Deal Ever Depends on Tech That Isn’t Ready Yet EV charging station rollout hampered by outdated state, city regulations: report • Here’s what 8 GOP gubernatorial candidates say about climate • As other countries outlawed asbestos, workers in a New York plant were “swimming” in it. 




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