Ukrainians demonstrate in front of the Lukoil Headquarters on May 13, 2022 in Vilvoorde, Belgium. Credit: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Ukrainians demonstrate in front of the Lukoil Headquarters on May 13, 2022 in Vilvoorde, Belgium. Credit: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

In an impassioned plea this week, members of Ukraine’s environmental community, many of whom fled their homes as bombs fell around them, urged world leaders to halt the flow of Russian fuel exports. Failing to do so only exacerbates the worsening climate crisis, they said, and continues to “fund Putin’s war machine” at the cost of thousands of Ukrainian lives.

“Today, children and families are losing their future and their lives every day in Ukraine because of energy dependency on fossil-fuel dictators in the middle of the 21st century,” Ilyess El Kortbi, a 25-year-old Ukrainian climate activist, said at a Tuesday press conference as he visibly held back tears. “The system is broken; the oil embargo has done nothing.”

El Kortbi, who escaped his hometown of Kharkiv just before Russian troops arrived, has been calling on European countries to stop buying fossil fuels from Russia ever since the Kremlin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. On Tuesday, the Fridays For Future organizer expressed shock that now months into the war, he’s still making the same pleas.

The moment highlighted a particularly arduous week in an already difficult series of months for Western nations, whose leaders now find themselves at a major crossroads as skyhigh energy prices and an over-dependence on Russian fossil fuels threaten to derail global efforts to mitigate climate change. Many nations are struggling to find ways to punish Russia without jeopardizing their own pledges under the Paris Agreement. 

The United States and the European Union have already implemented increasingly severe sanctions on Moscow, seeking to cripple President Vladimir Putin’s largest source of income—coal, oil and natural gas exports. But Russia’s war quickly complicated global geopolitics, turning record-high oil prices and surging inflation into major political liabilities. As a result, weaning Europe off of Russia’s ubiquitous fossil fuels has proven far more difficult to accomplish. 

On Monday, the EU’s effort to impose a new round of sanctions against the Kremlin, including a ban on Russian oil, was blocked by Hungary, one of the bloc’s 27 member-nations that has benefited significantly from cheap Russian energy imports.

That news comes just a week after the International Energy Agency published a report showing that despite the severe sanctions, Russia still earns roughly $20 billion every month in oil sales. In fact, Russian oil exports actually increased in April, the report said, bringing in 50 percent more in revenue that month compared to last year due to soaring oil prices. That’s because declines in Western nations were mostly offset by increased purchases in Asia and the Middle East, including from India, China and Turkey, IEA’s researchers concluded.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Ukrainian environmental groups that have been tracking Russian exports also blamed European countries, who they say should have acted more quickly to stem the flow of Russian imports. During the first two months of the war, the European Union imported more than $52 billion worth of Russian fuels, according to the groups.

“The EU is absolutely central as the buyer and the enabler of Putin’s regime,” Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst for the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said at the press event, which was streamed online. “Germany is the largest single buyer, followed by the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Turkey and France.”

Even the United States, which hardly imports any Russian fuels at all, has struggled to agree on what the war in Ukraine should mean for future energy policy. President Biden, who campaigned on quickly transitioning the U.S. to renewable sources, has balked on major environmental goals as the war drove gasoline and other energy costs to all-time highs. That includes Biden agreeing to speed up new domestic oil and gas drilling to increase shipments to Europe, a move that many energy experts have said endangers the administration’s goal of slashing U.S. emissions in half by 2030.

On Wednesday, the EU’s executive arm—the European Commission—announced it would move forward with plans to abandon at least some Russian energy and replace it with renewables, despite Hungary’s objection. While a ban on Russian oil remains stalled, the bloc still plans to halt all coal imports by August and said it would reduce demand for Russian natural gas by two-thirds by the end of the year. The commission also introduced a new $315 billion spending package, dubbed REPowerEU, that aims to streamline the construction of new solar, wind and other carbon-free energy sources.

On Thursday, U.S. officials announced that the Biden administration was also considering new measures to further choke Russian oil revenues. Those proposals include imposing a price cap on Russian oil, which would punish foreign buyers if they flout U.S. restrictions, preventing them from doing business with American companies and partner nations.

Still, climate activists remain wary as they watch the war in Ukraine unfold. Many wonder if the situation will be the spark that finally galvanizes a widespread global transition to clean energy, or if it will become yet another moment in history when the countries most responsible for the climate crisis fail to address it because of short-term national interests. Just last year, climate hawks railed against Western countries that poured trillions of dollars into pandemic relief packages that did very little to boost renewable energy while propping up the fossil fuel industry. One study, which looked at the 30 largest economies, found that of the $17.2 trillion so far spent on economic recovery measures globally, $4.8 trillion would do “more harm than good” to the environment, while only $1.8 trillion was seen as beneficial.

In some ways, the week’s slow negotiations are casting a long shadow on the upcoming global climate talks, including an international climate conference being held in Sweden in June and the highly anticipated COP27 climate summit in Egypt this November.

But El Kortbi said the moment also presents a chance to show the world’s leaders that they can be replaced if they don’t start taking the climate crisis more seriously. At the June talks, which take place the same week as World Environment Day, Fridays For Future is already planning a major global climate protest.

“People vote for leaders they trust,” he said. “We can’t let our leaders fail us again.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

26,000 years

That’s how long ago the world’s oceans were as acidic as they were last year, as they absorb and react with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to a sweeping new report that also found greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise and ocean temperatures in 2021 all reached record highs.

A resident watches as abortion-rights advocates stage a protest near the home of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on May 11, 2022 in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Credit: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

A resident watches as abortion-rights advocates stage a protest near the home of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on May 11, 2022 in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Credit: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Protesting in front of a private residence in Florida could soon land someone 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500 under a bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Ron DeSantis. While the new law is in reaction to demonstrations over abortion rights, it reflects a larger effort by Republican lawmakers to limit the ways Americans are allowed to protest, which could have broad and lasting consequences for the climate movement.

The legislation, which takes effect in October, makes it a second-degree misdemeanor to protest with the intention of harassing or disturbing someone in their home. It’s the latest effort to crack down on protesters by DeSantis, who pointed to recent demonstrations outside of the homes of Supreme Court justices living in Virginia as justification for the law. 

Those demonstrations came earlier this month after the leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito overturning 50 years of abortion rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade touched off a political firestorm. “Sending unruly mobs to private residences, like we have seen with the angry crowds in front of the homes of Supreme Court justices, is inappropriate,” DeSantis said in a statement Monday. “This bill will provide protection to those living in residential communities and I am glad to sign it into law.”

Florida’s legislation is similar to a growing number of “anti-protest” laws being enacted by Republican legislatures across the country in recent years that impose harsh new penalties on demonstrators, including Indigenous and climate activists who are protesting fossil fuel pipelines and power plants.

Social justice and environmental advocates have increasingly turned to protest and civil disobedience as a way to call for change in response to a spate of high-profile police killings of unarmed Black people and a lack of government action on climate change. Since 2017, at least 38 states have enacted such laws, according to the Informational Center for Not-For-Profit Law. Many impose harsh penalties on protesters, including making it a felony to trespass on property where “critical infrastructure,” such as fossil fuel pipelines and power plants, are operating, ICN’s oil and gas reporter Nicholas Kusnetz reported last year.

Those bills emerged after a pair of stinging losses for the pipeline industry. Activists had used civil disobedience and mass arrests to draw attention to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects, and the Obama administration eventually blocked both. States’ critical infrastructure legislation raised the stakes for protesters by increasing penalties for acts like blocking access to a construction site, in many cases converting the offenses from misdemeanors to felonies. Some laws allow prosecutors to seek 10 times the original fines for any groups found to be “conspirators,” prompting concerns from civil liberties advocates and environmental groups, who fear they could be roped into trials and face steep fines for having joined with broader coalitions that include an element of civil disobedience.

Left unchallenged, some legal experts say these laws could jeopardize climate protests in particular, just as more and more environmental advocates grow frustrated by political roadblocks to climate action and turn to public demonstrations and civil disobedience out of desperation. The Biden administration has pledged to enact sweeping climate reforms, but many of those have stalled as Republicans and right-leaning Democrats continue to raise hurdles.

Last fall, demonstrations amassed around the houseboat of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat who has impeded much of President Biden’s climate agenda. In October, nearly 50 people were arrested for protesting outside the office of Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, another centrist Democrat who has blocked much of Biden’s environmental efforts. And last month, more than 1,000 scientists from around the world staged demonstrations to decry a lack of action to address global warming, including several U.S. researchers who were arrested for locking their bodies to private property.

Florida’s new law should be especially concerning for climate activists, considering DeSantis’ popularity in the Republican party and his past attempts to limit free speech on progressive issues. DeSantis, who is seen as a possible contender with Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential election, signed an “anti-riot” protest law in 2021 that granted civil immunity to drivers who hit protesters blocking roadways. That law was later blocked by a federal judge, who said the bill was vague, overbroad and criminalizes “vast swaths of core First Amendment speech.”

“While there may be some Floridians who welcome the chilling effect that this law has on the Plaintiffs in this case,” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote in his ruling, “depending on who is in power, next time it could be their ox being gored.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

421.68 parts per million

That’s the level of daily carbon dioxide concentration that was recently detected at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, marking the highest level of atmospheric CO2 researchers have ever observed at the lab since measurements began in 1956.

A sign displays gas prices at a gas station on May 10, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

A sign displays gas prices at a gas station on May 10, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Americans will probably continue to experience record-high inflation, a new report from the federal government suggests, at least for the foreseeable future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data Wednesday that found inflation of consumer prices dipped slightly in April but remained near a 40-year high, at 8.3 percent above last year.

For many people, that means they’ll continue to pay more for things like housing, groceries and transportation. In fact, the average price of gasoline hit a record-high of $4.37 a gallon, according to AAA. But exactly what’s causing the inflation and the solutions for addressing it remain part of a heated debate, with many Republicans and industry leaders blaming President Biden’s focus on transitioning to renewable energy to tackle climate change as a primary factor.

On Thursday, the Biden administration announced it was canceling oil drilling lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet, saying it was mainly due to a “lack of industry interest” and complicating legal factors. But that didn’t stop conservatives from renewing their accusations that anti-fossil fuel sentiment is ramping up inflation for everyday Americans.

A growing number of economists, however, say that mitigating climate change is actually a long-term solution for tackling inflation as well. They say that idea became even more clear after Russia invaded Ukraine and exacerbated a global fuel shortage.

“If we wish to control inflation, we must address climate change now,” David Super, a professor of law at Georgetown Law who has also served as the general counsel for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote in a column for The Hill earlier this week.

Inside Climate News spoke with Super about what’s driving inflation today and why he thinks addressing the climate crisis is a necessary step in bringing prices back down over the long run.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Thanks for chatting, David. You’ve had a long career working in law and economics, and I’m sure you have spent a lot of time thinking about inflation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its latest data on consumer prices Wednesday. What did the data show and what does it mean for us?

Super: Well, the data shows that inflation is slowing but it’s still well above recent historical levels, prices are continuing to rise, and that—although the purchasing power of the average American has also been rising—the prices are going up. They’re going up fairly broadly, but a few areas are particularly affected, including energy costs and shelter.

There’s been a lot of debate about inflation being transitory or more long term. Are we getting any signals from this latest data regarding that debate?

Super: It’s not really going to be resolved until we see the transitory factors changing. The most obvious transitory factor has been the pandemic. And the impact of the pandemic on supply chains is, if anything, getting worse, as a large fraction of China is locked down and Chinese industry is offline. That’s damaging supply chains for a wide range of goods. And until that changes, and those supply chains get untangled, we’re not going to know for sure whether the inflation is transitory. 

The other transitory factor is Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has driven up both food and energy costs around the world and in this country, and we won’t know how much of a transitory factor that is until that war ends.

What about climate change? In your latest op-ed in The Hill, you note myriad factors impacting inflation today. But you point particularly at climate change, which you said is “largely ignored as an inflationary driver” and must be addressed. What role does global warming play in inflation and what’s so important about addressing it?

Super: It plays many roles in inflation. Most directly, it interferes with the production of all sorts of things that we need, and the transportation of all sorts of things that we need. So droughts, floods, extreme weather events, storm damage, all of those interfere with either the ability to grow crops or the ability to process them into the products that we need or the ability to get those things to market. 

In addition, climate change is creating a need for a lot of spending that would otherwise be unnecessary to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels, of extreme storms and so forth. And all of that is contributing to demand which is bidding up prices. Instead of spending money on nice things for your family, you’re spending money on putting the roofs back on your house after the hurricane tore it off, or retrofitting the roof you already have to make it more hurricane resistant.

In your op-ed, you use the example of trying to buy a loaf of bread. Walk me through that. How can that help folks who maybe haven’t studied economics better understand global warming’s impact on inflation?

Super: Thinking about how all the ingredients in a loaf of multigrain bread, and how they’re affected, shows how profound the impact of climate change on our environment is. Maybe the wheat is grown in an area that’s subject to wildfires, and a lot of it is. With the extreme temperatures that we see in summers from climate change, and reduced rainfall in some areas, they’re more wildfires. And so a lot of that crop is simply going to get burned. It’ll never get close to being harvested. 

Other areas, climate changes lead to increased flooding. And that, again, will destroy crops or keep it from getting to market. Other stuff may be silos that are damaged by tornadoes that—again—are more common because of climate change. Or crops are more expensive to transport to market because roads are washed out or flooded. And when you add all of that up, you have more shocks affecting the price of bread. 

And instead of what might have happened in the past where the baker would increase the price of bread on a one time basis because of a particular shock to prices. If they find that there are so many shocks going on, that they’re always having to deal with something, they may just raise the price of bread permanently. And other sellers of goods and services will follow suit, so we end up with inflation.

This analogy applies to other industries, too, doesn’t it? I think of insurance and housing prices, for example. There was a video that went viral on Twitter this week of a beachside house in North Carolina that is currently listed for more than $380,000, and the waves are literally knocking the home off its stilts and sweeping it into the ocean.

Super: The things that climate change affects are integral to everything. When those roofs get ripped off those houses, when houses fall off eroding cliffs or get burned in wildfires, a lot of that’s insured. And the insurance companies pay for those claims by raising premiums to everybody. And those insurance costs get factored into the prices of literally everything. 

Same with transportation. Goods have to be carried to market. And as energy prices are increased by climate change, then that too is going to be passed on to added costs in products. 

Housing is one of the biggest factors in the consumer price index lately, it’s one of the areas where inflation is most entrenched. When people realize they can’t live in areas that are prone to floods or to wildfires, then there are more people seeking housing in the rest of the country. And that bids up the prices.

Some people are arguing that the solutions to climate change are also solutions to our inflation problems. Others say the opposite, blaming the efforts to transition away from fossil fuels for adding to rising costs of things like gasoline—especially after the Russian war in Ukraine made everything worse. How should people be thinking about inflation in terms of the Ukraine war and what solutions make the most sense?

Super: Well, right now, we have put all of our eggs in essentially one basket, which is fossil fuel. Our economy, our personal consumption, our industrial consumption, everything is overwhelmingly driven by oil, gas and coal. So when something bad happens, be it an oil embargo, the Russian war in Ukraine, political instability, we are immediately subject to price increases there. 

If instead, we were getting some of our energy from solar, some of it from wind, some of it from geothermal, and not depending nearly so heavily on fossil fuels, if one of any one of those factors went up, we would be able to switch and lean more heavily on the others. And we wouldn’t be subject to the huge price increases we are seeing now. 

The other factor is that most of the alternative renewable sources of energy are not concentrated in unstable parts of the world. Solar is everywhere, wind is in many places around the world. North Dakota is said to be the Persian Gulf of wind energy in terms of its potential. And geothermal is all over the place. Whereas if you look at the map, most oil and gas is extracted from often dictatorial parts of the world where there is political instability. The Norwegians and the Canadians have stable democracies, but very few other big oil and gas exporters do. So, we are constantly at the mercy of that as long as we are stuck on one form of fuel that comes from such unstable parts of the world.


That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

2.3 billion

That’s how many people face water scarcity today, in part because of climate change, according to the United Nations. That number is expected to double by 2050.

Students take part in a student climate protest on March 15, 2019 in London, England. Credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Students take part in a student climate protest on March 15, 2019 in London, England. Credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Whether it’s walking out of school by the millions, forcing powerful institutions to divest from fossil fuels or boycotting major brands over diversity issues, members of Generation Z have made a name for themselves as stalwart supporters of climate action and equity. But Gen Z, which Bank of America once called the “most disruptive generation ever,” has a serious blind spot: its addiction to fast fashion.

A 2020 survey by Vogue Business found that more than half of its Gen Z participants bought most of their clothes from fast-fashion brands, like H&M, Gap, Zara and Forever 21. Market research firm Mintel has reported that Gen Z, generally seen as those born between 1997 and 2010, also buys more clothes than older generations, with the average Gen-Zer owning hundreds of dollars worth of outfits that never get worn at all. It’s a trend that analysts say is fueled by a social media culture that pressures youth and young adults to never wear the same outfit twice, as well as an industry that has made impulse buying and returning items far easier.

That has been a huge boon for clothing retailers, which have responded to the growing demand for cheap and ever-changing apparel by releasing new clothing lines at lightning speed. Once dictated by seasons like spring and fall, many retailers now release hundreds to thousands of new clothing styles on a weekly or even daily basis. Popular fast-fashion retailer Shein, based out of China, offers between 700 and 1,000 new styles every single day

Just last month, Shein was valued at $100 billion—a testament to the growing popularity of fast fashion as Gen Z begins to enter the workforce and build wealth. Since the 2000s, fashion production has doubled and it will likely triple by 2050, according to the American Chemical Society.

By “preying” on Generation Z, “Shein has become social media’s Frankenstein—a fast-fashion outlet whose pace and price range elicit the same reaction as single-use plastics: wear it once and throw it out,” Cazzie David, an essayist, social media personality and actor, wrote in a recent column.

Gen Z’s continued support of fast fashion is a glaring contradiction with the cohort’s values of environmental sustainability and social equity. The apparel industry is responsible for 4-8 percent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, meaning it might contribute more to global warming than the shipping and aviation industries combined.

According to Columbia University’s Climate School, global fashion also consumes 93 billion metric tons of clean water each year, about half of what Americans drink annually. It generates 20 percent of the world’s wastewater. It contributes an estimated 35 percent of the microplastics floating in the ocean. And because it must be cheap, fast fashion is dependent on the exploited labor force in developing countries, where regulations are lax.

Of the 75 million factory workers around the world—many of them minors—it’s estimated that only 2 percent earn a living wage.

Some in Gen Z have attempted to address these issues. In recent years, youth activists have put pressure on the apparel industry to address its carbon footprint, much in the same way they’ve put pressure on political leaders to adopt climate legislation and urged banks to stop funding fossil fuel companies.

Many clothing retailers have responded by voluntarily reporting their emissions and pledging to cut them. Lululemon, for example, pledged in 2020 to power its operations with 100 percent renewable electricity by 2021 and to reduce the carbon intensity of the emissions from its supply chain by 60 percent by 2030.

But in some ways, those voluntary efforts haven’t produced meaningful results, reported ICN’s Phil McKenna. Environmental certification programs that claim to verify the sustainability of fashion brands actually facilitate “greenwashing” for the apparel industry, a recent report by environmental advocacy organization Changing Markets Foundation concluded. 

That report, which analyzed voluntary efforts designed to reduce fashion’s growing environmental footprint, found that the programs instead led to increased pollution, while helping to cement the industry’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Many experts have also warned that blaming consumers can be counterproductive to addressing global issues like climate change. Rather, they said, more governments must issue regulations to provide reliable and standardized expectations for companies, which increasingly do business across national boundaries that often make them subject to disparate environmental and labor rules.

“Fashion is one of the least regulated industries,” Maxine Bédat, founder of the advocacy group the New Standard Institute, told the New York Times. Imposing government regulation could help set the same standards across different borders and “make sure there isn’t a competitive disadvantage to doing the right thing,” she said.

In January, New York lawmakers introduced new legislation that would require any apparel company with more than $100 million in revenues doing business in the state to disclose the emissions coming from its operations and supply chains and make concrete plans to reduce those emissions. If passed, New York would become the first state to implement such a regulation.

Still, pushing consumers to change their behavior is a valuable and even necessary tool in addressing the climate crisis, Michael Vandenbergh, a law professor and the director of Vanderbilt Law School’s Climate Change Research Network, told me in an email.

Labeling the carbon footprint of products, including clothes, can help reduce emissions, even if consumer behavior isn’t changing much, Vandenbergh said. That’s because companies “care so much about their reputation and brand,” that they’ll increasingly see reducing emissions as a baked-in cost to do business amid growing public outcry to address global warming, he said.

“Will shifting consumer choices toward low-carbon fashion options solve the climate problem? No, but no one solution will—there are no silver bullets on climate change,” Vandenbergh said. “We need to be realistic and pursue all of the significant options, and reducing carbon emissions from fashion is one of them.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

400 square miles

That’s roughly how much of the Amazon rainforest was cut down in Brazil during the month of April, the highest figure ever recorded for that month, according to data from the Brazilian space agency’s Deter monitoring system.

The tall bleached "bathtub ring" is visible on the rocky banks of Lake Powell at Reflection Canyon on June 24, 2021 in Lake Powell, Utah. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The tall bleached "bathtub ring" is visible on the rocky banks of Lake Powell at Reflection Canyon on June 24, 2021 in Lake Powell, Utah. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Federal officials are taking unprecedented steps to protect the already record-low levels of water flowing through the Colorado River, as a megadrought fueled by climate change continues to threaten the water supply of more than 40 million people and about 5 million acres of farmland. The water level at one reservoir has dropped so low that, if it falls any further, it will no longer be able to produce electricity for some 6 million people across seven states.

That’s why, on Tuesday, the Interior Department announced it was delaying its plan to release 480,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the country. Powell’s water level currently sits at just 3,522 feet of elevation, and the Glen Canyon Dam requires water to be at 3,490 feet to spin its turbines and produce power. Officials said they will also release an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water into Lake Powell this year from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which sits upstream on the Wyoming-Utah border.

“We have never taken this step before in the Colorado Basin,” Tanya Trujillo, assistant Interior Department secretary, said at a Tuesday press conference. “But the conditions we see today, and what we see on the horizon, demand that we take prompt action.”

Officials believe those actions will keep water levels high enough to generate electricity for at least another year, saying that while not a permanent fix, the decisions are necessary to mitigate the immediate threats. Altogether, those moves should provide about a million acre-feet of additional water in Lake Powell. That is about 15 percent of the lake’s current volume and is equivalent to the annual amount used by more than 2 million households.

Other key reservoirs are struggling to maintain their water levels as well. Last August, the Bureau of Reclamation declared a water shortage for the first time in Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, which is formed by the Hoover Dam in the Lower Colorado River Basin. Since Lake Mead receives its water supply from Lake Powell, Tuesday’s decisions could result in Mead’s water levels dropping even further.

The Colorado River originates from melting snowpack on the southern Rocky Mountains, which then flows 1,450 miles southwest to Mexico and the Gulf of California. But thinner snowpacks, declining precipitation and increasing temperatures from climate change have led to a prolonged drought in the West that has lasted more than two decades, posing a risk for water security throughout the Southwest. 

The river’s flow has declined at least 20 percent since 2000 and is expected to decline more than 9 percent for every degree Celsius of warming, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The ongoing drought conditions in the West are causing especially severe problems for Southwestern states. Paired with harsh winds, the dry spell has exacerbated an early-onset wildfire season that’s terrorizing New Mexico and forcing thousands of people to flee their homes. And in a highly ambitious move, Arizona officials are proposing to help Mexico take the salt out of seawater in an attempt to safeguard the state’s share of the Colorado River, ICN’s Aydali Campa reported in March.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey proposed an investment of $1.16 billion over the next three years to advance that plan, which aims to build two desalination plants in Puerto Penasco, a Mexican city more than 60 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Seawater would be pumped from the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, between the peninsula of Baja California and the Mexican mainland to the plants in the state of Sonora.

After the salt is removed, the water would be delivered to the Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border, where Colorado River water is distributed south of the border. With the freshwater satisfying U.S. commitments from the Colorado River to Mexico, more of the river’s flow could be held back for use in Arizona.

The plan is a risky one, with some experts saying it will cost far more money and require more energy than officials may think. One report estimated that the two plants could cost more than $3 billion to build and have annual operating costs as high as $119 million.

Sharon Megdal, director of the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center, said that states will most likely require a broad suite of different solutions, as imperfect as they are, to address the worsening water shortages. “There aren’t necessarily quick fixes,” she said. “There aren’t necessarily cheap fixes.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

1.8 degrees Celsius

That’s the amount of warming the International Energy Agency said the world would reach by 2100 if every country meets their climate pledges on time. It’s also the target climate envoy John Kerry pointed to in a recent speech, suggesting the U.S. could be softening its climate goals.

An oil drilling rig is pictured on April 24, 2020 near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Credit: Paul Ratje via Getty Images

An oil drilling rig is pictured on April 24, 2020 near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Credit: Paul Ratje via Getty Images

The largest active wildfire in the United States—already more than half the size of New York City and quickly growing—is forcing thousands of residents in New Mexico to evacuate their homes. It’s just one of more than a dozen blazes already raging in the Southwest during a particularly early and destructive wildfire season, prompting calls from state lawmakers to urgently address climate change, even as New Mexico continues to pull hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil out of the ground every single day.

“Our communities are experiencing a devastating drought, in fact, the worst drought in over a millennia, and unprecedented wildfires, including over a dozen wildfires across our state months before fire season,” U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, said during a committee hearing of the New Mexico Legislature last week. “The science is clear—climate action cannot wait.”

The Calf Canyon fire, which has already scorched more than 157 square miles of land and burned down homes that have been around for centuries, is the latest brutal reminder of the rapidly worsening consequences of the climate crisis, driven largely by humanity’s unquenchable thirst for energy and the fossil fuels that still provide it.

In some ways, the Calf Canyon fire is also highlighting what’s at stake if major oil and gas producing states like New Mexico can’t move beyond the immediate financial allure of fossil fuels, as more and more economic experts say that failing to quickly transition to renewable energy and other low-carbon sources will have far more devastating consequences for the U.S. economy in the long run

Even as unprecedented wildfires, floods and heat waves in recent years continue to show with horrifying clarity the threats posed by climate change, politicians in fossil fuel economy states like New Mexico—many of them Democrats—continue to be the largest roadblock to President Biden’s attempts to pass national climate legislation.

West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin is the most visible example of this political dynamic. But behind closed doors, Biden also faces immense pressure from Democrats in Western states to back off any policy that could hurt the fossil fuel industry for fear of losing seats in the upcoming midterm elections. That includes Democrats in New Mexico, where oil and gas production on federal land make up a significant portion of state revenue. That pressure has only increased amid the Ukraine war and as the midterms draw nearer.

In fact, New Mexico has a particularly interesting political dynamic when it comes to addressing global warming. Led by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the state has emerged as an unexpected climate champion in recent years, winning praise from environmentalists for state efforts to support renewable energy and pass climate policies. 

For example, the state has tripled its renewable energy capacity since 2019. And last year, New Mexico adopted new regulations aimed at limiting methane emissions from oil and gas flaring, with regulators now proposing additional rules that would also help reduce ozone pollution emissions from fossil fuel operations. Methane, as you may know, is upwards of 80 times as effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide in the short run and scientists say tackling those emissions is critical to curbing climate change.

But New Mexico is also the second largest oil producing state in the country, contributing more than 10 percent of the total U.S. oil output in January, with more than a third of the state’s budget in recent years coming from oil and gas royalties on public lands. That has forced Democrats there to search for compromises that can advance policies to support renewables and mitigate climate change without hurting the state’s bottom line and jeopardizing Democratic seats.

For Rep. Stansbury, a freshman Democrat who quickly rose from obscurity to prominence among Capitol Hill’s climate hawks, New Mexico’s sometimes contradictory politics represent, in many ways, the broader crossroads the nation currently faces as it attempts to reckon with the climate crisis.

“One of the strange and incongruent realities of our time is that we’re living in a moment of a climate crisis at the same time that the oil and gas industry is booming in the United States,” Rep. Stansbury told the Washington Post. “And there’s so much cognitive dissonance around that it’s difficult to even wrap your mind around.”

On Monday evening, firefighters continued to battle the Calf Canyon fire, as well as another big blaze, the Hermits Peak fire, as officials issued further evacuation orders near Sante Fe and Las Vegas, New Mexico. It’s the second time in recent months that we’ve seen a wildfire take a dangerous turn toward populated residential areas—something researchers warn will only become more common as the climate warms. But while thousands of New Mexicans have already fled, not everyone feels as privileged to be able to pack up and leave.

“This is all I have,” David Lopez, a mechanic who lives with his family in two trailer homes a couple miles northwest of the fires, told the Associated Press as he sprayed water around his property and raked away dead grass, hoping to stop any flames from reaching his only home. “I worked really hard for it.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

23.4 percent

That’s the percentage of total U.S. electricity in February that was generated by renewable sources, according to a recently released government report, marking another milestone of rapid renewable growth this year.

The towering saguaro cactus grows profusely throughout the desert landscape in Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona. Credit: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The towering saguaro cactus grows profusely throughout the desert landscape in Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona. Credit: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

When scientists from the United States and Europe published a study two weeks ago, warning that climate change was on track to push more than half of the world’s species of cactus—a plant known for its extraordinary ability to survive heat and drought—into extinction by midcentury, Tierra Curry simply filed it among the quickly growing pile of similar reports.

“I have a whole folder, I call them apocalypse papers,” said Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, a prominent U.S. environmental advocacy and research center. “We pass them around everyday, like, ‘Oh here’s another one.’”

Curry is part of a growing chorus of scientists worldwide calling for an immediate paradigm shift in the way humans travel, produce energy, grow their food and consume goods. Such a shift is not only necessary to tackle climate change, Curry said, but it’s also critical to mitigating the threat of mass extinction, as a rapidly increasing number of species of plants and animals face the threat of losing their natural habitats to inhospitable heat and the growing footprint of human industry and agriculture.

In the last two weeks alone, a slew of research papers predicting horrific outcomes of biodiversity loss and mass extinction were published in major journals at an alarming pace, underscoring warnings from the scientific community that the consequences of global warming are becoming more intense and accelerating far faster than previously understood.

Last week, researchers reported in another study that the world’s insects were in dramatic decline in both population and diversity due to the combination of climate change and expanding agriculture. In some areas, overall insect populations dropped nearly in half, with more than a quarter fewer species found, the study said.

Then on Wednesday, in a first-of-its-kind study, researchers declared that more than 1 in 5 species of reptiles—including iconic animals like chameleons, Komodo dragons and king cobras—are now at risk of extinction as humans continue to take away their habitat for farming, urban development and other industry. And on Thursday, another study warned that the climate crisis is pushing Earth’s oceans toward a mass extinction event at a level not seen in about 250 million years, when scientists believe up to 90 percent of marine organisms went extinct due to overheated, acidic and deoxygenated oceans.

Taken altogether, the studies show how the rate at which animals and plants are going extinct because of human activity is getting worse and accelerating beyond what scientists had previously feared, Curry said.

Complicating matters further, two other reports—yes, also released this week—show that the majority of the world’s land is now farmland or has been developed for industry, and that nations are failing their global promise to preserve the Earth’s remaining rainforests.

A sweeping new report from the United Nations found that more than 70 percent of the Earth’s land has already been altered by human activity, primarily because of expanding agriculture. And another study published by the World Resources Institute found that the world is essentially losing 10 soccer fields worth of tropical forest per minute because of development and industry.

The public should be terrified by these findings, Curry told me. “The natural habitats are still being bulldozed and lost on a daily basis,” she said. “It has to become part of daily conversation and awareness, and it’s not right now.”

For years, climate campaigners have pointed to a growing disconnect between what climate science says must be done to avoid catastrophic warming and mass extinctions and the action world leaders are actually taking to address the issues. That disconnect is what is pushing many scientists, including Curry, to take up activism in recent years, departing from the traditional role as a neutral information provider to call for specific policies, including endorsing a rapid transition away from fossil fuels and a major restructuring of the world’s food systems.

Earlier this month, more than 1,000 scientists from around the world staged demonstrations and even faced arrest for civil disobedience as a way to decry a lack of action to address the climate crisis. And in a tragic scene last week, in what is believed to be a protest on climate inaction, a U.S. climate activist lit himself on fire in front of the Supreme Court and later died from his injuries.

In some ways, the latest batch of biodiversity studies should act as a clarion call to humanity to do far more to address the industries driving the climate crisis, including logging and agriculture, Curry said.

“You really need to remember that we are species on a planet, and our fate is tied to the health of all of the other species on this planet,” she said. “Killing the planet is killing ourselves, and that’s the message that everybody needs to absorb and start acting on.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

4,000

That’s about how many times over the next 50 years that researchers expect viruses to jump between different mammal species—a process being driven by climate change and land development. The finding is sparking new fears of the next pandemic.

In this photo illustration, the Elon Musk’s Twitter account is displayed on the screen of an iPhone on April 26, 2022. Photo illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images

In this photo illustration, the Elon Musk’s Twitter account is displayed on the screen of an iPhone on April 26, 2022. Photo illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images

The news that Elon Musk—the world’s richest man—had successfully purchased Twitter for $44 billion on Monday has some social justice and climate activists worried that misleading and false information could spread more easily on the platform under his leadership. The owner of Tesla has criticized the social media giant, saying Twitter’s policies to moderate hate speech and disinformation on its site go too far and encroach on free speech.

“Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy,” Musk wrote in a tweet last month. “What should be done?”

Now, as Musk takes over one of the world’s oldest and most influential social media companies, his public statements in support of a more absolutist idea of free speech are irking some progressive lawmakers and activists, whom for years have complained that conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns are running rampant online and are the true threat to American democracy by making it harder to debate issues using the same sets of facts.

“Mr. Musk: free speech is wonderful, hate speech is unacceptable. Disinformation, misinformation and hate speech have NO PLACE on Twitter,” the NAACP, one of the nation’s leading civil rights groups, wrote in a statement Monday. “Do not allow Twitter to become a petri dish for hate speech, or falsehoods that subvert our democracy. Protecting our democracy is of utmost importance, especially as the midterm elections approach.”

Social media companies have come under increasing scrutiny for their role in the spread of false or misleading information online, particularly around hot button topics like Covid-19, election fraud and the scientific consensus about human-caused climate change. And some research points to the problem getting worse: One analysis found that Americans consumed twice as much news from “unreliable” sources in 2020 as they did in 2019, for example. Another study found that false information spreads faster online than accurate information, with falsehoods being 70 percent more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than the truth.

Many social media platforms have promised to crack down on both misinformation and disinformation amid growing public pressure to address them. Misinformation refers to the spread of inaccurate knowledge unknowingly, while disinformation refers to the explicit spread of lies. Just last Friday, Twitter announced it would no longer allow advertisers on its site who deny the scientific consensus on climate change, following a similar move by Google back in October. 

That announcement was praised by environmental advocates, who say online disinformation campaigns paid for largely by the fossil fuel industry have undermined the ability for U.S. lawmakers to pass meaningful legislation to address global warming. That includes President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which would have dedicated some $550 billion to climate-related efforts and has gained no support from Republicans and faces opposition from some Democrats from oil and gas producing states.

Michael Khoo, the climate disinformation coalition co-chair at Friends of the Earth, an international environmental advocacy group, said developing strong guardrails against misinformation is key to advancing good climate policy, and the lack of those guardrails has already resulted in real-life consequences.

The false claims that spread after the deadly winter storm that hit Texas in February 2021 is a good example of what can go wrong, Khoo said. A photo of a helicopter de-icing a frozen wind turbine was widely shared online, with social media users saying it showed how renewable energy was the reason the state’s power grid failed, resulting in about 250 deaths and massive blackouts. 

Except the photo was taken in Sweden in 2016, not Texas in 2021, Khoo said.

“That didn’t stop it from becoming a dominant narrative, especially within the GOP, and we saw a single post from a small corner of the internet expand to a larger audience and then make its way to Tucker Carlson,” he said. “Then within four days, it became a talking point for the governor of Texas that renewable power was to blame. That kind of disinformation has real world implications when we’re trying to create new energy policies.”

It’s unclear if Musk will reverse or water down Twitter’s current policies aimed at curbing the spread of hate speech and false information, and there are some ways he might actually help to reduce its flow online. Musk has signaled that he plans to reduce the number of bots on Twitter, which research has shown contribute significantly to the spread of inaccurate information regarding climate change.

Khoo also said that he doesn’t expect Musk to make Twitter a truly unregulated platform in terms of free speech and misinformation—since websites that don’t regulate speech also tend to have toxic environments.

“At the end of the day, social media companies are a business,” he said, “and advertisers have clearly shown they don’t want to spend money on a toxic platform.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

9 percent

That’s how much coal-generated electricity rose last year, reaching a record high, even as the number of new planned coal plants fell worldwide, according to a new report from the nonprofit Global Energy Monitor.

Natural gas fueled electricity generating power plant near Hermiston, Oregon. Credit: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Natural gas fueled electricity generating power plant near Hermiston, Oregon. Credit: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft white paper Thursday that gives the public a glimpse into the possible requirements the agency might include in a highly-anticipated new rule that seeks to rein in climate-warming emissions from natural gas power plants, the nation’s leading source of electricity.

The agency is seeking public comment on the paper, which explores a host of different technologies and other options that states, Tribes and power companies could be required to adopt under a new rule to make their gas-fired power plants more efficient and cleaner—something the agency said is critical for battling climate change as projections of natural gas use point to continued growth for the foreseeable future.

Those options include building hybrid plants that run on both gas and renewable energy, implementing carbon capture technology to help reduce overall emissions, as well as phasing in the use of hydrogen gas, which burns without emitting carbon dioxide. Many of those technologies, however, have been criticized by climate activists, who say they aren’t as effective as proponents claim and distract from the more important task of transitioning away from fossil fuel use altogether. 

In March, EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced the agency’s intention to implement a new rule to regulate gas power plants, specifically by replacing an Obama-era standard that limits greenhouse gas emissions from coal and gas power plants with a more stringent one. The current standard allows power plants to emit 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, but the average natural gas power plant emits just 865 pounds of CO2, meaning most gas plants aren’t affected by the regulation. The agency is expected to propose the more stringent rule later this year.

The paper’s release was celebrated by environmentalists, many of whom have felt increasingly frustrated with the Biden administration, which they say has failed to live up to its promise of tackling the worsening climate crisis. Soon after taking office, President Biden pledged to slash the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, an ambitious goal that would require significant reductions across nearly every sector of the economy.

But Biden’s first year as president was marred by his inability to pass national climate policy, among other progressive priorities. And activists have criticized the administration, saying it has compromised on too much of its environmental agenda at a time when climate scientists say the consequences of global warming are on the verge of quickly spiraling out of control.

“Despite the clear scientific consensus that, in order to avert the worst of the climate crisis, we must stop the expansion of new fossil fuel infrastructure entirely, utilities across the country are proposing to build more than 200 new gas plants without any plan to control their greenhouse gas pollution,” the Sierra Club wrote in a press release Thursday. “This white paper is an important step in developing more stringent nationwide standards to limit this pollution.”

The use of natural gas to generate electricity and heat homes has played a significant role in reducing the nation’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, as gas replaced the burning of dirtier coal—a fact that has prompted those in the industry to regularly tout gas as a “bridge fuel” to cleaner energy. But many energy experts and climate campaigners say gas has played its role and is now incompatible with the Paris Agreement’s targets of keeping average warming below 2 degrees Celsius, with the ideal goal of keeping it below 1.5 degrees. Keeping warming to that threshold would help humanity avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, scientists say.

Yet despite dire warnings from researchers, the United States will likely continue investing in—and even expanding—its use of natural gas to generate electricity in the foreseeable future, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The agency doesn’t expect natural gas use to peak in the U.S. until about 2028, with only a slight decrease in use before plateauing through mid-century.

The comment period for the draft EPA white paper will end in June, the same month the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case that could decide how much authority the EPA has to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. While that case, West Virginia v. EPA, doesn’t directly involve the new power plant rule discussed in the white paper, if the Supreme Court chooses to curtail EPA’s authority, it could limit the agency’s ability to implement any new rules governing CO2 emissions from power plants unless Congress takes legislative action allowing it.

With West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin blocking such legislation from moving forward, the Supreme Court ruling could have long-lasting consequences for the climate. Manchin has signaled in recent weeks that he’s willing to revisit Biden’s Build Back Better Act, including several climate provisions that were included in it, such as electric vehicle tax credits. But it’s also likely that whatever Manchin agrees to will also include provisions that ultimately boost domestic oil and gas production, making any efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions that much harder.

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

$536 billion

That’s how much money insurance companies invested in fossil fuel interests in 2019, even as they paid damages for natural disasters that were exacerbated by climate change, a new report found.

President Joe Biden speaks to guests during a visit to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University on April 14, 2022 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Credit: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

President Joe Biden speaks to guests during a visit to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University on April 14, 2022 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Credit: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Facing immense political pressure to address surging energy prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration on Monday began the process of selling leases for new oil and gas drilling on public lands, a move that will likely increase the nation’s already rising greenhouse gas emissions. 

It’s the first time the administration has decided to sell onshore oil and gas leases on federal land, further frustrating activists who hoped to see President Biden finally buckle down on climate policy this year after months of hard compromises and failed legislation.

Since taking office, President Biden has tried to strike a delicate balance when it comes to his environmental and energy agendas, hoping to embody his campaign promise of uniting the nation around bipartisan cooperation. He shut down the Keystone XL pipeline but declined to do the same with Minnesota’s Line 3 replacement pipeline, a nearly identical project in most aspects. He promised to ban new leases for oil and gas on public lands, but didn’t put up a fight when a federal court blocked that decision—and in fact, went on to hold the largest offshore lease deal in history. And he let West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin—a conservative Democrat with big ties to fossil fuels—all but dictate the components of the Build Back Better Act, Biden’s flagship climate legislation. That bill would have played a key role in achieving the administration’s goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

So when Manchin blocked Build Back Better last December, many climate activists hoped it would free Biden to take far stronger action on addressing the worsening climate crisis through executive authority and rulemaking.

“The need to appease the West Virginia senator is gone now,” Bill McKibben, a prominent climate activist and founder of the grassroots organization 350.org, wrote in The New Yorker shortly after Manchin said he wouldn’t vote for Biden’s bill. “Using executive authority—and boldly—may be the only way that Biden will get anything done.”

Now as the Biden administration moves forward with its plan to auction nearly 144,000 acres of public land across at least seven states for new oil and gas leases, climate campaigners are complaining that President Biden is continuing to compromise at the expense of his climate agenda. Those auctions will begin this June in New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Montana, North Dakota and Utah, according to notices posted Monday by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management.

“The administration is in a tough place, but none of those moves are going to do much in the short term to reduce prices and they will have a long term impact on our climate,” McKibben told me in an email. “It would be a lot better for our climate and a lot smarter politically if Biden clearly placed the blame for prices where it really rests, on Big Oil, and used this moment to help the country break free from fossil fuels.”

While activists are criticizing Biden for not being more aggressive, whom to blame for his climate agenda’s lack of progress is complicated. Manchin’s hold in the 50-50 split Senate bears the lionshare of responsibility for any stalled legislation. In fact, Manchin now appears to be attempting to revive Build Back Better as a way to advance his own agenda of increasing domestic oil and gas production—an idea that has gained traction since the Ukraine war broke out in late February.

Former President Donald Trump’s breakneck pace at appointing federal and Supreme Court judges to the bench is also making it more difficult for Biden to advance his climate goals through regulatory action. When the Biden administration tried to place a temporary ban on new offshore lease sales in January, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Louisiana blocked the move. The Biden administration has also proposed placing strict new limits on pollution from cars and power plants, but those rules could be derailed by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court—also the result of Trump appointments.

Biden is also facing intense political pressure from Democrats in Western states, where oil and gas production on federal land make up a significant portion of state revenue, such as New Mexico and Colorado. That pressure has only increased amid the Ukraine war and as midterm elections draw nearer.

New Mexico has quickly become the second largest oil producing state in the country, contributing more than 10 percent of the total U.S. oil output in January, with more than a third of the state’s budget in recent years coming from oil and gas royalties on public lands. That’s forced Democrats there to be far more wary of federal climate policy that could impact the state’s bottom line and jeopardize Democratic seats.

“A typical person here in New Mexico is trying to put food on their table and thinking about how to pay their bills,” New Mexico Rep. Angelica Rubio told POLITICO. “When they hear a [call for an oil] ban, that means an end of the job. My effort as a legislator has been to find what the middle ground is.”

In some ways, the Biden administration has tried to mitigate the potential climate consequences of the new lease sales. The parcels for sale make up 80 percent less land than what was originally nominated by the industry. The administration also raised for the first time in more than a century the federal royalties that companies must pay to drill on public lands, signaling that any future leases won’t necessarily be on the industry’s terms.

“For too long, the federal oil and gas leasing programs have prioritized the wants of extractive industries above local communities, the natural environment, the impact on our air and water, the needs of Tribal Nations, and, moreover, other uses of our shared public lands,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement last week. “Today, we begin to reset how and what we consider to be the highest and best use of Americans’ resources.”

Today’s Indicator

50 percent

That’s how much the United States increased its exports of liquified natural gas between 2020 and 2021, hitting a record high average of 9.7 billion cubic feet per day. The U.S. could break that record again this year as it increases its exports to Europe in reaction to the Ukraine war.

In this view from an airplane rivers of meltwater carve into the Greenland ice sheet near Sermeq Avangnardleq glacier on Aug. 4, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

In this view from an airplane rivers of meltwater carve into the Greenland ice sheet near Sermeq Avangnardleq glacier on Aug. 4, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

There is still a good chance that humanity can prevent some of the most dire consequences of global warming by the end of the century, so long as all the pledges made under the Paris Agreement since last year’s global climate talks are carried out on time, new research has found. But while that conclusion provides some reason for optimism, the study’s authors warn that the outcome depends on governments getting serious about drastically reducing the world’s rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions. 

By evaluating the latest promises made at COP26 last October, a study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature concluded that there is now a slightly higher than 50 percent chance global warming can be kept from rising an average of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels if governments adhere strictly to the timelines of their pledges.

Those pledges include 154 nations that promised to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and 76 that promised to reach “net zero emissions” by 2050—although China promised to do this by 2060 and India by 2070. Reaching net zero emissions, at least in theory, means that those countries would either no longer emit greenhouse gases or they would remove from the atmosphere as much as they release so that their net contribution to global warming would be zero.

The study’s finding is a positive development, considering that before the October climate talks, scientists projected a less than 50 percent chance of keeping warming below that threshold and said the world was on track to warm by 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Scientists have warned that any warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius, the most ambitious target under the Paris Agreement, would result in serious consequences for humans and wildlife, including significant sea level rise, drastic biodiversity loss and major increases in extreme weather events.

Still, the researchers involved in the Nature study made sure to caveat their findings, noting that even though many countries have now pledged to reduce their emissions and set specific timelines for doing so, the vast majority aren’t taking the appropriate steps to achieve their goals.

“There’s a slightly better than 50 percent chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees or below, if countries meet all of their net-zero commitments,” Zeke Hausfather, a climate modeling scientist who co-authored an attached commentary to the new study, told me. But “that’s a very big if, given that many countries like the U.S. have domestic politics that make it tough to translate those sort of commitments into the near-term action we need to get there.”

In many ways, the world has gone backwards on climate since COP26, especially in recent months as world leaders have looked for ways to punish Russia for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. With Russia supplying much of Europe and Asia with oil, gas and coal, many Western countries, including the United States, have begun to increase their own production of fossil fuels as a way to cut off a major source of income for Russia and temper already record-high global energy costs.

And in a trend that has especially concerned climate campaigners, 2021 also saw a resurgence in coal-fired power—an industry that many analysts believed had already peaked and was well on its way out. In the U.S., for example, emissions soared last year after annual coal use grew for the first time since 2014.

In fact, funding for fossil fuels has only grown since 2016, the first year after the Paris Agreement was adopted, according to a new report from several environmental groups. Fossil fuel financing from the world’s 60 largest banks has reached $4.6 trillion since the signing of the climate accord, with $742 billion in fossil fuel financing in 2021 alone, that report found.

Wednesday’s study also made clear that the path to keeping global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius is now almost entirely out of reach unless the countries most responsible for global greenhouse gas emissions—including the United States, the European Union and China—dramatically and quickly change the ways they produce energy, move around and grow and consume their food. Meeting that scenario now has just a 6 to 10 percent probability of coming true, the study said.

For Hausfather, however, the main takeaway from the study should be “cautious optimism.” It shows that there is still time to mitigate the climate crisis and “put some of the darker climate futures more firmly out of reach,” he said.

“I think it’s really up to us as citizens now to hold politicians’ feet to the fire,” he said. 

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

2035

That’s how soon California would ban the sale of all gasoline-powered vehicles in the state under a new rule proposed by state regulators Wednesday, part of the state’s ambitious efforts to tackle climate change.

Police take protesters out during an action of Scientist Rebellion to denounce the climate situation on April 6, 2022 in Madrid, Spain. Scientists and researchers threw fake blood at the Congress of Deputies building, one of many protests planned across the globe between April 4 to 9, 2022 by the international movement Scientist Rebellion. Credit: Aldara Zarraoa/Getty Images

Police take protesters out during an action of Scientist Rebellion to denounce the climate situation on April 6, 2022 in Madrid, Spain. Scientists and researchers threw fake blood at the Congress of Deputies building, one of many protests planned across the globe between April 4 to 9, 2022 by the international movement Scientist Rebellion. Credit: Aldara Zarraoa/Getty Images

A growing number of scientists around the world are stepping out of their labs and onto the streets to demand greater action to curb global warming, some even risking arrest as they chain themselves to banks and other institutions that they say aren’t taking the climate crisis seriously enough. As rising greenhouse gas emissions continue to drive up sea levels and exacerbate storms, wildfires and droughts, it’s putting increasing pressure on the scientific community to depart from its typical role as a neutral information provider and pick up the torch of activism.

Last week, an estimated 1,000 scientists in more than 25 countries staged demonstrations to demand that world leaders do far more to reduce climate-warming emissions, including a handful of researchers who were arrested for locking themselves to the gate of the White House and to the front door of the JPMorgan Chase bank in Los Angeles, as well as blocking traffic on the I-395 highway in Washington, D.C.

The events were part of a growing movement dubbed the “Scientist Rebellion,” a coalition of researchers around the world who seek to “expose the reality and severity of the climate and ecological emergency by engaging in non-violent civil disobedience.”

“I personally feel very strongly that we have a moral responsibility to do everything we can to wake up the public now, especially since it’s very clear that for decades, only residing within the peer reviewed literature has not worked at all,” Peter Kalmus, a NASA climate scientist who was arrested with three others in Los Angeles on April 6, told me in an interview. “Scientists are people too, and we’re citizens, and we’re parents, and we also have a right to speak out like this.”

The demonstrations came after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the third part of its latest landmark climate report, which warned that the world would likely reach the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere needed to push global temperatures past an average rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in just five or six years. After that threshold is crossed, scientists say, some of the worst consequences of climate change will become irreversible, including significant sea level rise, drastic biodiversity loss and even populated parts of the planet eventually becoming unlivable for humans due to persistent drought and extreme weather and heat.

The average global temperature has already risen more than 1 degree Celsius, and climate scientists worry that if far more isn’t done in the coming years, the most ambitious goals of the Paris climate accord could be lost before this decade even comes to a close. Despite growing public outcry to tackle the climate crisis, carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, the report found, with emissions in 2019 being about 12 percent higher than they were in 2010 and 54 percent higher than in 1990.

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Jim Skea, co-chair of one of the report’s working groups, told ICN’s Bob Berwyn last week. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

For Kalmus, who said he’s worried what kind of world he’s leaving behind for his two teenage sons, he’s urging his political leaders to stop the funding and expansion of fossil fuels—something he calls “insane,” given the recent scientific reports. Last week, Kalmus and more than 250 other scientists wrote a letter to President Biden, calling on the administration to immediately halt all new development of oil and gas infrastructure and extraction in the United States.

In reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has exacerbated global energy costs, the Biden administration recently agreed to increase U.S. exports of natural gas to help European countries wean off their dependence on Russian fuels. Increasing exports would also likely mean building new fossil fuel infrastructure, which many environmentalists fear will only deepen the nation’s dependence on the industry at a time when scientists say the world needs to be moving toward renewable energy instead.

Until politicians start taking those threats seriously, Kalmus said, he’ll keep calling on other scientists to join the cause, including putting themselves at risk of arrest for civil disobedience. “This is bigger than any one of us, it’s bigger than our careers. It’s bigger than our lives,” he said. “I know there are a lot more scientists out there who are starting to think that they need to take a stand.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate. I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

74 percent

That’s the percentage of worldwide ecological damage that can be attributed to wealthy nations due to their share and use of global resources, says a new report published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.

Safety flame flares out of the the barge extracting methane gas on Lake Kivu, at the Kivuwatt power plant in Kibuye, Karongi District, in the Western Province of Rwanda, on Nov. 1, 2021. -Credit: Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images

Safety flame flares out of the the barge extracting methane gas on Lake Kivu, at the Kivuwatt power plant in Kibuye, Karongi District, in the Western Province of Rwanda, on Nov. 1, 2021. -Credit: Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images

Global methane emissions increased last year by the largest amount since measurements of the greenhouse gas began in 1983, a new government report said. It was the latest in a series of stark reminders over recent months that even amid growing public outcry to address the climate crisis, not nearly enough is being done to curb rising emissions of planet-warming gases.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a preliminary analysis Thursday that determined the concentration of methane floating in the atmosphere increased by 17 parts per billion in 2021, surpassing the previous record high increase of 15.3 parts per billion set in 2020, even as a global pandemic slowed much of the world’s economy.

Unlike carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for centuries, methane only lasts for roughly 9 years. But the gas—which is the main component of natural gas and permeates the air from fossil fuel infrastructure, landfills and even farms with livestock—is far more potent at heating the planet than CO2. Over a 20-year period, methane traps about 80 times more heat than CO2, and about 25 times more over 100 years, scientists say. That makes methane the second leading driver of global warming, behind carbon dioxide, despite the fact there is far less of it in the atmosphere compared to CO2.

But methane’s outsized role in heating the planet, as well as its lifespan and where it comes from, also make it an excellent target in the fight to slow climate change, said Phil McKenna, who has reported on the significance of short-lived climate super-pollutants like methane for Inside Climate News for years.

“I’ve been covering methane emissions for years, and both scientists and policymakers tell me cutting methane emissions is one of the most effective ways to quickly combat climate change because of the gas’s potency and short atmospheric life,” McKenna told me.

It’s not entirely clear why methane emissions continue to surge, McKenna said, noting that the leading driver could be rising emissions from wetlands, oil and gas operations or agriculture—or it could be because the atmosphere’s ability to remove methane is decreasing. What is clear, however, is that research shows that there are areas decision-makers can target to quickly reduce methane emissions.

For example, McKenna said, roughly a third of human-caused methane emissions come from the oil and gas sector, meaning leaks coming from pipelines, oil and gas wells and other infrastructure could be pinpointed and plugged relatively easily and inexpensively.

Scientists from Stanford released a study in February that determined that the Environmental Protection Agency has been radically undervaluing just how much methane is heating the planet and that targeting the gas is critical to meeting global climate goals. Similarly, research has found that coal mines and even the stoves in your home are emitting far more methane than previously thought, underscoring the importance for governments to tackle the climate pollutant sooner rather than later.

Some progress has been made on international efforts to curb methane. Last November, during the COP26 global climate talks, more than 100 nations, including the United States, pledged to cut global methane emissions by 30 percent or more by 2030.

But climate campaigners noted this week that promises don’t equate to action. In the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released earlier this week, the United Nations panel lambasted governments and corporations who have vowed to drastically reduce emissions but have failed so far to do so. Emissions in 2019 were about 12 percent higher than they were in 2010 and 54 percent higher than in 1990, the report said.

“It is a file of shame, cataloging the empty pledges that put us firmly on track toward an unlivable world,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said regarding the report. “Some government and business leaders are saying one thing but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the findings of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration preliminary analysis, which found that global methane emissions increased by 17 parts per billion in 2021, which surpassed the previous record high increase of 15.3 parts per billion set in 2020.

Today’s Indicator

$2 trillion

That’s how much money the U.S. economy could lose every single year because of climate change if more isn’t done to curb rising temperatures, a new federal government report warns.

President Biden promotes the bipartisan infrastructure deal and his now stalled Build Back Better Act on Sept. 14, 2021, at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Arvada, Colorado, saying the policies will help the U.S. address climate change and environmental justice. Credit: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act on Thursday as part of his larger effort to accelerate the transition of the United States to renewable energy and drastically reduce the nation’s carbon emissions by the end of the decade. The Cold War-era law provides serious financial incentives for companies to develop a domestic supply chain for lithium, nickel and other materials used in the batteries for solar and wind farms, as well as electric vehicles.

That’s a big deal since those materials are predominantly produced outside of the United States, a fact that has put the U.S. at a disadvantage to countries like China and has helped to drive Republican opposition to renewable energy and EVs. 

In 2019, China was responsible for 80 percent of rare earths imports, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Conversely, the U.S. has only a handful of mines that produce key minerals for large-capacity batteries, including just one active mine in Nevada that produces lithium.

“We need to end our long-term reliance on China and other countries for inputs that will power the future,” Biden said Thursday at a White House press conference, where he also announced that the U.S. would release one million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Debate over the clean energy transition, which scientists say is necessary to slow the climate crisis and avoid its worst consequences, has only intensified as Russia’s war in Ukraine exacerbates already record high global energy prices. By releasing oil reserves, Biden hopes to temper those rising costs. And by agreeing to increase U.S. exports of natural gas to Europe, he hopes to help countries break their dependence on Russian fossil fuels as punishment for President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked aggression.

But many analysts have said that increasing fossil fuel production is a short-sighted solution and that moving to renewable energy and electric vehicles is the best way to loosen Russia’s grip on the energy market and tame long-term market volatility.

Last month, the U.S. and the 30 other member nations of the International Energy Agency launched a critical minerals security program, which could eventually include steps such as the stockpiling of metals needed for EVs and other renewable energy applications, ICN’s political reporter Marianne Lavelle reported.

“We don’t want supply-chain bottlenecks to prevent us from being able to electrify the transportation sector,” U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said at an international energy conference in Paris last week. 

By invoking the Defense Production Act, Biden is now sending further signals to the private sector to start developing a strong local supply chain around renewable energy by ensuring the government will help pay for some of the costs, such as feasibility studies for new mines. The move could help speed up several new and proposed lithium mining and extracting projects that are in various stages of development in states including Maine, North Carolina, California and Nevada. Though some of those projects are already facing opposition from environmental groups, the Associated Press reported.

The law also gives the president significant emergency authority to control domestic industries for the purpose of national defense. President Trump, for example, invoked the act in 2020 to help clear up supply-chain issues encountered in the manufacturing of ventilators and to ensure the production of additional N95 face masks as the coronavirus pandemic overwhelmed the nation’s health care system and roiled the global economy. Biden also invoked the act last year to speed up Covid vaccination and testing efforts.

Biden’s latest use of the law comes at a time when U.S. demand for battery storage is skyrocketing and supply is lagging. Last year, the U.S. market added 3,508 megawatts of battery storage capacity, more than double what was added in 2020, according to a report issued last week by the research firm Wood Mackenzie and the American Clean Power Association, a trade group. It’s a record growth that would have been far stronger had there not been issues with rising costs of raw materials like lithium, and delays in international shipping, the report said.

“Demand is just really high,” Chloe Holden, a co-author of the report, told ICN’s clean energy reporter Dan Gearino. “Supply is constrained.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading. The newsletter will take a break next Tuesday, since I’ll be at ICN’s annual retreat, interacting with colleagues face-to-face for the first time in nearly a year. But I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

16 to 20

That’s how many named tropical storms are expected to form in the Atlantic ocean this year, according to forecasters at AccuWeather, marking what could be another record-high hurricane season.

A scientist works with permafrost samples in an underground laboratory of the Melnikov Permafrost Institute in the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk on Nov. 26, 2018. Credit: Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty Images

A scientist works with permafrost samples in an underground laboratory of the Melnikov Permafrost Institute in the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk on Nov. 26, 2018. Credit: Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty Images

In France, scientists working on an experimental fusion-power reactor, which could potentially revolutionize how humankind generates carbon-free electricity, had to put their research on hold due to key parts shipping in from Russia. 

A global consortium of permafrost scientists who were set to embark on a multi-year expedition in the Arctic to collect crucial data on global warming have also had to cancel their plans due to Russian sanctions and international uproar.

And the Arctic Council, which helps coordinate oil pollution responses and scientific research activities in the Arctic, practically unraveled this month after seven member countries announced they were boycotting future talks in Russia, which currently chairs the council.

Russia’s war in Ukraine is testing global alliances in the scientific community that have been built over several decades, threatening to derail critical climate research at a time when scientists say there’s no time to waste. The issue is especially poignant in the Arctic, which is warming four times faster than the rest of the world due to climate change and plays a vital role in storing much of the world’s greenhouse gas deposits.

Beneath the Arctic’s frozen surface is approximately 1.5 trillion metric tons of organic carbon matter in the form of frozen soil and ancient plant matter called permafrost. That’s twice as much carbon as what’s currently floating in the atmosphere, and scientists have long warned that as the Arctic’s permafrost melts, it could unleash enough carbon into the air to send the Earth’s climate spiraling out of control. As the planet warms, more Arctic permafrost melts, releasing more carbon gas and driving even more warming in a vicious cycle.

That tipping point is one reason why researchers see their work in the Arctic as so important. Researchers say establishing a baseline on how much carbon the region is absorbing and emitting is crucial to understanding how much of a threat that tipping point poses and how soon it could happen. Russia has also expressed interest in exploring the Arctic’s oil reserves as global warming opens more of the region to possible drilling, a move that could add significantly more CO2 to the atmosphere.

But the ability for scientists to conduct their Arctic research has grown increasingly complicated as Russia’s devastating war in Ukraine drags on into its second month. For one thing, Russia is a massive country that makes up 50 percent of the Arctic coastline.

“At least half our work would have been in Russia, and now we can’t do any science there at all,” Sue Natali, Arctic program director for the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts, told TIME Magazine.

Natali is one of the permafrost researchers whose travels to the Arctic have been canceled because of the war. Two pallets of methane and carbon monitoring equipment originally destined for Russian research stations now sit unused in the back of her lab.

Russian and Western scientists have also become dependent on each other’s expertise, as the end of World War II ushered in a new era of scientific discovery and global cooperation. Maribeth Murray, executive director of the Arctic Institute of North America at the University of Calgary in Alberta, told Hakai Magazine that she “can’t name a field” in which Russian scientists aren’t involved.

In fact, Russian scientists have collaborated with Western researchers on everything from unlocking the power of atoms to firing probes into space, The Associated Press reported. And scientists say that the loss of that kind of cooperation could have longstanding consequences for scientific endeavors and the potential benefits that research could bring to humankind.

With the Arctic Council in possible disarray, it’s also unclear how nations will regulate future activities in the Arctic, such as shipping, drilling and conservation efforts—all of which has been negotiated to some degree or another through the council’s efforts. As sea ice vanishes, polar waters are opening to industries eager to exploit the region’s bounty of natural resources, including oil, gas and valuable metals used in everything from military equipment to renewable energy, Reuters reported.

“The Arctic is facing its biggest crisis in 35 years,” Klaus Dodds, a political expert at Britain’s Royal Holloway University who studies Arctic relations, told the news agency.

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

450 square miles

That’s the size of an ice shelf that collapsed last week in East Antarctica, the first time scientists have observed such a collapse in the region since record keeping began nearly half a century ago.

Climate activists take part in a demonstration organized by Friday For Future movement as part of the Global Climate Strike, to call for action against climate change on March 25, 2022 in Rome, Italy. Fridays For Future is a global climate strike movement by students that was started in August 2018 with Swedish pupil Greta Thunberg. Credit: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Climate activists take part in a demonstration organized by Friday For Future movement as part of the Global Climate Strike, to call for action against climate change on March 25, 2022 in Rome, Italy. Fridays For Future is a global climate strike movement by students that was started in August 2018 with Swedish pupil Greta Thunberg. Credit: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

After a two year hiatus due to pandemic lockdowns and other public health restrictions for Covid-19, the world’s youth are once again marching in the streets en masse, lambasting their leaders for the continued rise of global greenhouse gas emissions and demanding that they do far more to address the rapidly worsening climate crisis.

Photos of the protests have already begun to flood Twitter and other social media. In Tokyo, high school students are protesting outside an investment bank, demanding it stop financing new coal plants. In Bangladesh, children—some of whom have yet to reach their teenage years—are standing waist deep in water, urging world leaders to do more to stop the rising seas that are already making floods worse in their hometowns. And at the Neumayer Station III research facility in Antarctica, climate researchers are holding signs with nothing but their lab and frigid tundra behind them, demanding more be done to slow the melting of the earth’s glaciers and ice caps.

More than 700 protests worldwide are planned for Friday, according to Friday’s for Future, the youth climate strike organization that sprung from Greta Thunberg’s solitary school strike and vigil at the Swedish parliament in 2018.

By 2019, Thunberg’s humble protest had evolved into a major movement, as she led an estimated 250,000 people through New York City’s financial district, demanding that Wall Street investors move their money toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels, the main driver of human-caused climate change.

Children and young adults, worried about what climate change meant for their future, skipped school and turned out in huge numbers. In total, around 6 million people worldwide were believed to have marched in the 2019 strikes, marking what is believed to be the biggest climate demonstration in history and sparking a major political shift in how seriously world leaders began viewing the threat of global warming.

But since then, youth climate activists, who over the last two years have been forced to organize their movement over Zoom and through other online means, say governments have done very little to wean their countries off fossil fuels and are also failing to provide proper help to the developing countries that are least responsible for global warming but suffering the most because of it. Developing nations are still waiting on the full $100 billion per year promised by wealthier countries to help them adapt to the consequences of rising temperatures.

Those criticisms were also leveled at world leaders after last year’s COP26 global climate talks ended in what environmentalists and climate campaigners widely called a failure. By returning their demonstrations to the streets, the youth campaigners hope to make a show of force, as they did in 2019, pressuring their leaders to take a stronger stand against an oil and gas industry that still holds its grip on the world’s economic and political systems.

“We’ve been incredibly isolated and while the climate movement has continued during Covid, we need to reignite hope and strikes to push our leaders to act,” Liv Schroeder, the national coordinator and policy director for Fridays for Future U.S., told me in an email. “I want those in power to listen to us very carefully. Young people are angry, and I want fossil fuel executives to be as scared as we are.”

Friday’s strikes come as new reports from the scientific community show that the climate crisis is progressing far more quickly than previously thought, leaving even less time to implement solutions. In February, scientists from around the world released a landmark climate report, which warned that the world is already experiencing irreversible climate change and humanity isn’t moving nearly quickly enough to adapt.

And a study published this week in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment found that even with the record drop in emissions caused by pandemic lockdowns in 2020, global emissions have rebounded so much in 2021 that the world is likely now on track to warm by 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels within the decade. That jeopardizes the key target set by the Paris climate accord, which scientists say must be met to avoid the worst consequences of global warming by the end of the century.

It’s a finding not lost on youth climate strikers like Schroeder. “Every fraction of a degree matters. The climate crisis does not allow for a moderate” approach, she said. “Nothing about what is headed our way will be moderate.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

25

That’s how many days earlier, on average, the world’s birds are laying their eggs compared to 100 years ago, according to a new study that points to global warming as a possible culprit.

Residents of Irpin flee heavy fighting via a destroyed bridge as Russian forces entered the city on March 7, 2022 in Irpin, Ukraine. Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Residents of Irpin flee heavy fighting via a destroyed bridge as Russian forces entered the city on March 7, 2022 in Irpin, Ukraine. Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

In war torn Ukraine, Russia’s month-long invasion has already resulted in thousands of deaths—including more than 900 civilians—and has left some of the nation’s biggest cities in ruins. Nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million residents have been forced from their homes, with some fleeing west, away from the harshest fighting, and others leaving the country altogether.

For many of those who have fled, the war has been a story of what they were forced to leave behind: husbands who remained to fight, homes that have been passed down for generations and careers to which many have dedicated their lives.

Among them is Natalia Gozak, executive director of Ecoaction, one of Ukraine’s largest environmental nonprofits and a staunch advocate for renewable energy as a way to combat climate change.

Last year, Gozak helped organize Ukraine’s largest climate march from her office in Kyiv. Today, her life looks much different as she leaves behind the work that she has spent much of her life building. Inside Climate News spoke with Gozak, who is now living in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, about the day she fled her home in Kyiv with her children and husband and what the war has meant for Ukraine’s once vibrant environmental community.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Natalia, are you in Lviv now? Can you tell me about your situation?

Gozak: Yes, I’m in Lviv. This is the city in the west of Ukraine, and I managed to move out of Kyiv on the first day of this war. Normally, I’m based in Kyiv. There is our office, my apartment, everything.

So, you left on the first day. When did you realize you were under attack? Can you tell me about your decision to leave?

Gozak: We knew something was going on. Maybe a few months before the start of this war, we were planning what we would do as an organization and as a family. So, I had a preliminary plan and a bag packed. But still, I didn’t believe this was possible—that Kyiv was under attack.

Natalya Gozak
Natalya Gozak

On Thursday, the 24th of February, I woke up at 5 a.m. from the sound of explosions. This was incredible. You could imagine yourself not waking up from an alarm, but from the sound of explosions in your normal, usual life.

I woke up and I also woke up my husband. He’s a military person and he was very quick to identify that yes, these are explosions. And he first ran to fuel the car. We managed to pick up my mom from a nearby location and then maybe in half a day, we left. 

And it took us a really long time. Normally, the way from Kyiv to Lviv takes maybe 7 or 8 hours to drive. It took us 24 hours. We spent the night in the middle and we used small roads because all the main roads were traffic jammed.

It was not clear at the time for how long the fighting would continue. We thought maybe a few days. So, I packed for a few days, a week maximum.

But soon it became clear. It wasn’t acceptable to live in a city under attack. It was really uncomfortable, stressful. It was like all the world turning upside down.

What about your family? Are they with you in Lviv?

Gozak: My kids and mom and cats, actually. But my husband went back the next day, back to Kyiv, to join the defense forces and defend our city. He has military experience in 2014 and 2015, but normally he’s a biologist and this is not his main duty.

That’s incredibly brave and heartbreaking. Have you been in touch with your husband? Do you know if he’s OK?

Gozak: For now, we talk almost every day. Sometimes he disappears and I cannot reach him when they have some more—let’s say—active operations. But yeah, he’s OK.

There’s a lot of people in the same situation. And it’s not because this is something they want to do. For us, it’s crucially important to stand for freedom and democracy, for European values. It’s clear that under Russian occupation, the previous way of life will not be possible.

I’m so sorry for how terrible this last month must have been for you. The death toll and displacement of people continue to climb, and Russia’s tactics continue to be more disturbing and inhumane. Even under intense pressure, Ukraine refused to surrender Mariupol to the Russians on Monday. And this week, President Joe Biden is traveling to Europe to show support for Ukraine and discuss the possibility of further punishment against Russia for its actions. What do you think is most important for Americans to think about or understand at this point of the war?

Gozak: Everybody could do something to contribute to stopping this incredible war. It’s important to ask decisionmakers to show support in public, to demand total sanctions to stop the economy of Russia. Any export should be stopped as soon as possible. This is what is fueling this war machine, starting with fossil fuels.

But also timber and uranium exports. The U.S., as far as I know, stopped importing Russian oil, gas and coal, but at the same time continues to import uranium for the nuclear industry. This is still part of the huge income for Russia, which is paying for new tanks, missiles, everything.

That’s one part of the story. The second part of the story is military support. I was a pacificist for all my life. But being now in this situation, unfortunately it looks like Russia’s military only understands force, and the time for democracy and discussions have already passed.

Now it is the time for military support. Now we’re asking NATO countries for their support for a no-fly zone. Military support is what is crucially needed.

Natalia, can you tell us more about the work you left behind? You’re also a climate activist and renewable energy advocate, and your organization, Ecoaction, has grown a lot in recent years. As someone who dedicated her career to tackling climate change, what has this war meant for you and your work?

Gozak: We used to be the biggest environmental NGO in Ukraine in terms of budget, staff enrolled, and topics covered. That’s a hard part of the story as well. All our advocacy work and media work, and all we did in the previous years, became rather senseless. I do hope we can come back to our work after we win, when we rebuild the country.

For now, some NGOs are shifting to humanitarian aid or military volunteer support. What I’ve seen in these four weeks is the environmental community is becoming less and less. They are shrinking because other issues are important now.

When people are dying in Mariupol from hunger in the 21st century, we will never talk about climate change.

What about more broadly? Surely this war will affect how Europe in general pursues its plans to tackle climate change. I know the European Union’s environment ministers, for example, began reassessing the bloc’s climate policies last week in light of the Russian invasion and its impact on rising energy costs. The big question is whether this moment spurs a more rapid transition to renewable energy or slows it down. What’s your view of all this?

Gozak: I’ve said this before. For years, we advocated for small, decentralized renewables. These are sustainable solutions not only in terms of climate but now in terms of war and military risks. What do we see now? Russians are targeting coal power plants, nuclear power plants, which are the centralized sources of energy. And these are easy for an enemy to target.

But if a country relied more on decentralized energy sources, this would not be possible. Occupying just one or two nuclear power plants, they are able to take like one-third of Ukraine’s overall energy supply.

From our perspective, it is absolutely clear that this is a chance to review our energy policy. A green pathway not only reduces the emissions to help reach climate goals, but clearly it ensures more security.

Do other Ukrainians feel similarly? Svitlana Romanko, a leading Ukrainian environmental lawyer, wrote an essay in the LA Times recently where she argued that the Ukrainian invasion should prompt world leaders to invest in renewable energy in ways that will survive beyond the war, and that banks should see this moment as a reason to stop funding fossil fuels. Do many others in Ukraine agree?

Gozak: Yeah, we have a clear consensus in the environmental society that fossil fuels, this is what is feeding the Russian military machines. Even the state authorities and ministries, they are calling for a ban of Russian fossil fuels. From inside Ukraine, it’s crystal clear.

Others like Yevgenia Zasiadko, head of the climate department at an environmental protection group in Kyiv, have said the intense fighting is also causing irreversible damage to the environment. Is that another concern people should have during this war?

Gozak: This is something for the future. This is what we’re doing. Yevgenia is also part of Ecoaction, along with our other colleagues, gathering data on the environmental impacts of war. This is the initiative that was started by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine. They suggested that civil society help them collect such cases.

We collect these cases of environmental war crimes so that after we win, Russia should pay everything. Not only the social cost and infrastructure they ruin, but they should also equally pay for the damage against the environment. That’s why we’re trying to document such cases.

But this isn’t something we should be talking about right now. This is something for the future.

Right, it must be hard thinking about climate change and the environment right now while your countrymen are fighting for their lives and freedom.

Gozak: Absolutely. 

Natalia, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, especially with everything that has happened to you. I hope you’re doing OK, given the situation.

Gozak: Thanks also to you.

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate. I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

10 percent

That’s how much of the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. Now a plan aimed at addressing those emissions and initially scheduled to publish this week has been delayed because of the Ukraine war.

The Texas State Capitol is seen on Sept. 20, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Credit: Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images

The Texas State Capitol is seen on Sept. 20, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Credit: Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images

Texas is threatening to cut ties with some of the world’s biggest financial firms over their efforts to address the climate crisis. On Wednesday, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar sent letters to 19 investment firms, including financial giants BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase, accusing them of violating a new state law that prohibits Texas from doing business with any companies that are divesting from the fossil fuel industry for environmental reasons.

It’s the latest move from Texas leaders to stifle a climate movement that they believe threatens the state’s bottom line. It also highlights the state’s propensity to lean into America’s culture war, which continues to paralyze Congress in its ability to pass any kind of meaningful climate policy, even as public pressure to advance climate action grows and the nation experiences some of the worst extreme weather events ever recorded.

With the culture war raging over hot button topics like transgender rights, abortion access and accusations of voter suppression, Texas has regularly remained in the spotlight by pushing forward controversial laws and policies in recent years. That includes legislation regarding climate change and renewable energy.

While a growing number of local and state governments have pledged to divest from fossil fuels in response to increasing public demand to address global warming, Texas has done the opposite. Last year, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 13, which prohibits Texas from contracting with or investing in companies that divest from oil, natural gas and coal companies. The law defines divestment as refusing to do business with a fossil fuel company because that company does not commit to environmental standards higher than expected by federal and state law, the Texas Tribune reports.

In Wednesday’s letter, Hegar accused the firms of “boycotting” fossil fuels and demanded information over their “investment policies and procedures” to see if they were in violation of the state law. 

“We know some of these companies hold investments in oil and gas today, but what about the future? Are they selling the hope of a ‘green’ tomorrow with promises to divest or reduce their fossil fuel exposure?” Hegar wrote.

Any company that was found to be in violation, or is presumed to be in violation due to not responding in a timely manner, risks having its existing contracts with the Texas government canceled and could be cut out of Texas pension funds, Hegar added.

Specifically, the letter singled out the financial firms’ so-called ESG funds as potential violations of the Texas law. ESG funds are investment funds that attempt to do “social good” by taking environmental, societal and corporate governance factors into account. And they have seen record-breaking growth in recent years as investors look for ways to put their money into climate-friendly endeavors.

In 2020, ESG funds were the fastest growing segments of the global market, despite the pandemic grinding the world economy to a near standstill. In fact, the ESG market is poised to reach $41 trillion by the end of the year, with ESG-related assets accounting for one in three dollars managed globally.

While there is a growing body of evidence that ESG funds don’t benefit the environment nearly as much as their supporters claim they do, their popularity poses a threat to states like Texas, which still have a sizable portion of their economies tied to excavating fossil fuels.

Texas is the top crude oil and natural gas producing state in the country, accounting for 43 percent of the nation’s crude oil production and 26 percent of its marketed natural gas production in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And in 2019, the oil and gas industry generated $411.6 billion for the Texas economy, according to an analysis released last year by the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the American Petroleum Institute.

Still, a growing number of economists say taking climate change into account is the fiscally responsible thing to do and that Texas has already begun to transition away from fossil fuels whether its leaders like it or not. A 2021 analysis from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a clean energy advocacy group, found that the oil and gas industries are now responsible for 10 percent of the Texas gross domestic product, down from 21 percent in 1981. That drop is partly due to rising competition from renewable energy.

“Tax revenue, employment and overall contribution to the state’s economy from the oil and gas industry has been in a slow decline for decades,” said Trey Cowan, the report’s lead author. “Texas policymakers must recognize the potential risks of continuing to buoy an industry that faces unprecedented competition.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

Today’s Indicator

$51

That’s the dollar value the Biden administration estimates is caused every time a ton of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. A federal judge restored Biden’s estimate for the so-called “social cost of carbon” this week after a Trump-appointed judge blocked it last month.