December 31 2018

December 31 2018

the endangerment finding revisited, the Green New Deal, climate change impacts on farmers, a large utility commits to carbon-free power, agreement in Poland

One of the most important steps ever taken by the U.S. Government in relation to climate change is the official finding made by the USEPA in 2009 that climate change poses a threat to the health and welfare of Americans. Made pursuant to the Clean Air Act (and as a result of a lawsuit filed against the George W. Bush EPA by the State of Massachusetts), this “endangerment finding” is the rationale for government action on climate change. Ten years later, InsideClimate News reports that review of data has concluded Americans are even more endangered than when the original finding was produced. While I doubt this comes as a surprise to those reading this newsletter, it is vital that we recognize that evidence such as this is what will power government action and will impede the efforts of the Trump administration and the fossil fuel industry to roll back existing government policy.

Grist reports that the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act was introduced into Congress, the first major piece of climate legislation in 10 years. An article in Politico notes that despite a carbon tax being broadly supported by economists from the right and left, the political challenge facing such a policy is so large that support from elected officials is weak. Although there is little chance of this legislation passing (or of being signed by the President), it is an important milestone along the path to a sane climate policy.

The Guardian reports on the impacts of climate change on farmers in the midwest, focusing on a Missouri River farm in Iowa. This superb article uses the experience of a farmer who works the land he grew up on, explaining the challenges he faces with a more unpredictable weather pattern that is driven in large part by the warming Gulf of Mexico and altered atmospheric pressure at the continental scale. This farmer, who is the past President of the Missouri Farmers Union, now recognizes the impact climate change is having on his farm and has been working to help his colleagues understand that the problem is real.

InsideClimate News describes the conclusions of a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council about clean energy jobs in the Midwest. Ten of the twelve states surveyed had more clean energy jobs than fossil fuel jobs, and clean energy job growth remains robust. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer notes that any major infrastructure bill in Congress must address climate change. This approach is essential to mitigating future impacts, as we must design infrastructure to function in the future that is coming, rather than use historic designs. Dave Roberts at VOX has a detailed look at the idea of a Green New Deal, which is now more concept than policy, yet has developed political momentum in recent months. While a political longshot at this point, it is an idea at the scale needed to address climate and related problems in the country.

An article in New York Magazine notes that the 2.7% increase in carbon emissions in 2018, after three years of very low increases, puts the world on pace to experience food shortages in 2030 instead of 2040. Science Daily reports on a recent study from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory that concludes the Sierra snowpack will decline by nearly 80% at the end of this century under a business-as-usual emissions scenario. This conclusion is similar to previous analyses, but this study addressed some uncertainties in previous studies yet arrived at the same conclusion. Meanwhile, the Guardian notes that climate change is driving up the cost of natural disasters and there is presently no federal plan to address this threat to Americans. InsideClimate News reports that Hurricane Michael caused $5 billion in losses just at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.

Dave Roberts reports that Xcel Energy, one of the largest utilities in the U.S., has committed to shift their energy production to 80% carbon free by 2030 and 100% carbon free by 2050. This is a groundbreaking commitment, and is consistent with other major commitments by large corporations that Roberts argues cogently will have a major impact on our nation’s carbon footprint. Bloomberg reports on the rise of the offshore wind power industry in the U.S., as evidenced by the recent record interest in the lease sales offshore of Massachusetts.

The New York Times reports on the agreement reached in Katowice, Poland, by signatory nations to the Paris Agreement. This agreement establishes a standard accounting procedure for nations to report their emissions reductions, which by itself does little to address the problem but is an important step for understanding progress in the future. An op-ed by former Secretary of State John Kerry describes the urgency of reducing carbon emissions given the scientific evidence, and the historical inanity of the Trump administration’s actions. An editorial in the Times summarizes the shortsighted and ignorant approach of the Trump administration to environmental problems.

Business Insider reports that a worm-like creature that lives underground was named after President Donald Trump. The naming was made by a company (Envirobuild), which won the right by donating $25,000 to charity (The Rainforest Trust). The company chose the name because the creature buries its head in the sand, much like how Trump approaches climate change. The President’s war on evidence does not stop with climate change; in the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum describes how the debate about the border wall (and the subsequent government shutdown) is also driven by the President’s unwillingness to consider evidence.