February 29 2020

February 29 2020

Republicans come out of “the closet” on climate change, the Trillion Trees Initiative, Trump Administration cooks the books on auto mileage, Delta Airlines pledges $1 billion to offset emissions

The Washington Post describes how many Republican legislators and strategists are coming out of “the closet” on climate change by beginning to promote solutions to a problem they have denied exists. This is being driven by the attitudes of young and suburban Republican voters, who have become increasingly convinced of the reality of climate change and the need to act. At VOX, Dave Roberts describes the Republican proposals, which are not really climate policies, but efforts to look like they are “for something” since “they have exhausted the strategy of lying about climate science and need something new to replace it.”

The Guardian describes the changes underway in the very “red” state of Utah. At the request of the Republican-dominated state legislature, a University of Utah economic think tank has produced a plan to reduce emissions affecting both the local air quality and the global climate. InsideClimate News reports that climate change was a priority for voters in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire.

President Trump spoke in support of tree planting as a climate solution in the State of the Union address, as described in the New York Times. This is building off of the momentum from the World Economic Forum in Davos, where Marc Benioff and others promoted the Trillion Trees Initiative to the President. It certainly would be wonderful if we could plant trees to solve the climate problem, but recent global estimates of the potential for reforestation to contribute to the solution have been misinterpreted to suggest this is a “silver bullet” for the climate crisis.

As you might expect, planting trees by itself won’t solve the climate crisis, and even the Trillion Trees Initiative indicates this on its website. The Post reviews the challenges faced by those seeking to plant trees and why—while this effort is helpful—it will not supplant emissions reductions. A deeper dive into how this “solution” cannot substitute for immediate and sustained reductions in carbon emissions is provided by MIT Technology Review.

A letter to Science magazine provides an important scientific rebuttal to the methods used to estimate the benefits of the Trillion Trees Initiative, noting that replacing existing ecosystems with forests does not necessarily increase carbon storage in the terrestrial environment. Another critical problem is that, in addition to planting trees, it is essential that we stop cutting them down. But that is not happening. An op-ed in the New York Times notes, “we’re losing 36 million trees a year in metropolitan areas alone. In Canada, the ancient boreal forest is being mowed down for the sake of toilet tissue. In South America, the rainforest is being burned down for the sake of cheeseburgers.” Meanwhile, President Trump wants to expand logging in the Tongass National Forest, the United States’ temperate rainforest.

In addition, the article in MIT Technology Review notes that we have a terrible track record on carrying out reforestation efforts. The massive effort to plant so many trees would have to be sustained for decades to offset even a fraction of global emissions, and these efforts will be countered by droughts, wildfires, disease and deforestation.

The Los Angeles Times has an excellent overview article about the challenge sea level rise is creating for the San Francisco Bay Area. The article describes how Foster City, one of our lowest elevation cities, has already approved a $90 million local tax to raise the levee that protects the city from the Bay. The local NBC-TV affiliate has an in-depth look at sea-level-rise impacts in the Bay Area, more evidence that efforts to communicate about climate-change impacts are starting to get through. The New York Times has an article that compares sea-level-rise impacts in the metropolitan areas of Manila and San Francisco. Curbed examines climate gentrification and other challenges of sea level rise in Miami. The Raleigh News & Observer has a detailed article about the challenges facing small towns in eastern North Carolina that are trying to recover from Hurricane Florence and struggling amidst climate change.

While President Trump has announced his intention to roll back the auto fuel-efficiency standards adopted by the Obama Administration, the New York Times describes how this effort is running into a small problem known as reality. A key guideline federal regulations must meet is that the benefits outweigh the costs, and despite tortured mathematical shenanigans the Trump proposal still costs consumers more than it benefits them (and this is before we consider the costs of eliminating the federal government’s single biggest effort to limit climate change!). This absurd debacle, which is detailed in an excellent investigative piece in the Atlantic, is another example of the intellectual bankruptcy of the Trump Administration.

Yet another example is the effort to “enhance transparency” in EPA’s use of science by eliminating from consideration any study that is based on confidential health data. In an op-ed in Scientific American, Andrew Rosenberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists describes how this rule will actually harm public health by reducing the ability of EPA to use scientific results in its decisions.

The fires in Australia are having a major impact on people’s attitudes about climate change, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. But not everybody, as an article in Reuters documents. Even when facing the fire-ravaged ruins of his property, a farmer agreed with Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who described climate-change concerns as those held by “inner-city raving lunatics.” The GotScience? Podcast of the Union of Concerned Scientists has an excellent episode about the Australian wildfires with Tasmanian climate scientist Mel Fitzpatrick. She notes that the Australian fires are about 100 times the size of the fires that burned in California in 2019. InsideClimate News reports on the growing problem of drinking water contamination in communities trying to recover from major fires.

How is it possible that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which concluded in 2016 that auto emission-reduction regulations would bring $88 billion in benefits to Americans, decided in 2018 that the same exact regulation impose $230 billion of costs? Reflecting the Trump Administration’s disdain for science, the agency cooked the books, as Robinson Meyer explains in a great article in the Atlantic.

Yale e360 reports that recent studies by many different climate modeling groups are concluding that as the world warms it will become less cloudy, which will further increase the temperature as more sunlight will reach the earth’s surface. This means that the earth is more sensitive to greenhouse gases than previously thought, which is an unhappy conclusion that underscores the importance of immediate and sustained action to reduce and eliminate the emission of greenhouse gases.

In another example of a growing trend among corporations to demonstrate their commitment to addressing climate change, Axios reports that Delta Airlines (the largest airline in the world when measured by revenue), has committed $1 billion to meet a pledge to reduce or offset all of its carbon emissions. While there are always questions about the value of offsets (will they be permanent? would the reductions represented by the offsets have happened anyway?), the commitment by Delta is an important first step for a major corporation down the road of emission reductions.