A bolt of lightning strikes next to lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center in New York City during a thunderstorm on Aug. 27, 2020 as seen from Jersey City, New Jersey. Credit: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images
A bolt of lightning strikes next to lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center in New York City during a thunderstorm on Aug. 27, 2020 as seen from Jersey City, New Jersey. Credit: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Correction: A previous version of this newsletter cited incorrect average warming data. The planet has warmed about 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since pre-industrial times.

It was a bizarre and tragic scene last week when four strangers, huddling under a tree just outside the White House to take shelter from the rain, were struck by lightning. That even one of the four survived the ordeal, doctors said was an “absolute miracle.”

Being struck by lightning happens so rarely that experts say out of the roughly 25 million lightning strikes that occur across the United States each year, only 3,000 strike people, with just 20 of those victims on average dying as a result. But those odds could be changing, researchers say, as global warming makes storms and the likelihood they’ll produce lightning more common—a message scientists reiterated in the wake of last week’s deadly strike in the nation’s capital.

Climate change is making the air warmer, which allows it to hold more moisture, and both of those factors can boost the chance of thunderstorms. One major study from 2014 estimated that, if warming continues at its current pace, the number of lightning strikes in the U.S. could increase by as much as 50 percent by the end of the century, with each additional 1 degree Celsius of warming generating about 12 percent more strikes. 

Still, scientists and government officials are less concerned with lightning striking people than they are with it striking dry vegetation and igniting wildfires. Besides making the lightning itself more likely, global warming is also exacerbating drought conditions in places like the American West, where dried out grass and trees now act as the perfect kindling, and where lightning strikes play an outsized role in sparking blazes.

Between 1992 and 2015, more than 40 percent of the wildfires in the West were caused by lightning, according to the U.S. Forest Service. And in 2020, California experienced a remarkable barrage of 15,000 lightning strikes over just a few days, igniting more than 600 fires that burned more than 2 million acres and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.

In fact, a study published Monday by Washington State University researchers found that so-called “dry lightning,” when lightning occurs alongside less than 2.5 millimeters of rainfall, is now a leading cause of some of the biggest wildfire flare-ups in California’s history. This intersection of dry conditions and lightning is becoming more common with climate change, the researchers warned. It’s also the cause of at least eight active wildfires in Northern California today, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“Wildfires are a growing threat in California as the climate continues to warm,” Dmitri Kalashnikov, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student at Washington State University’s School of the Environment, said in a press release. “Unlike human-caused fires that originate in a single location, lightning outbreaks can strike multiple locations and start numerous simultaneous wildfires, creating a substantial challenge for fire response.”

It’s a scenario that’s also playing out in the quickly warming Arctic, where wildfires threaten to disrupt the region’s delicate ecosystem and trigger dangerous climate feedback loops that could spiral warming out of control. In Alaska, lightning activity has increased 17 percent since the 1980s, one 2020 study found. And ICN’s Bob Berwyn wrote about another study, published last year, that found that lightning strikes in the whole Arctic region could increase by as much as 40 percent for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming. For perspective, the planet has warmed about 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since pre-industrial times.

Those findings are particularly concerning, considering that the Arctic is already warming four times faster than the rest of the world and because of the role the region plays in regulating the Earth’s weather and climate. For one, think of all that snow and ice that reflects the sun’s heat back into space.

As snow and ice melt, more heat is absorbed by the planet rather than reflected away, warming it even more in a process known as “Arctic amplification.” And as wildfires release carbon dioxide and soot into the atmosphere, they are further exacerbating climate change. The rising temperatures melt vast stretches of permafrost, unearthing caches of methane gas and other potent climate-warming gases that have remained trapped in ice, in some cases, for hundreds of thousands of years. The warming fosters even more warming in a self-perpetuating cycle.

“It’s a really vulnerable environment in the Arctic,” Antti Lipponen, a scientist with the Finnish Meteorological Institute whose latest study found the region was warming faster than previously believed, told The Washington Post this week. “And seeing these numbers, it’s worrying.”

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

600

As of Thursday, that’s about how many flights airlines have canceled because of thunderstorms hovering over Texas, disrupting operations at one of the busiest airports in the country for a second straight day. Scientists say climate change is making such storms more common.

A photo taken on June 6, 2013 shows a general view of French oil giant Total's Texan plant in Port Arthur. Credit: Marc Preel/AFP via Getty Images
A photo taken on June 6, 2013 shows a general view of French oil giant Total's Texan plant in Port Arthur. Credit: Marc Preel/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Democrats could be “overcounting” the funding for environmental justice provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act and misrepresenting the bill’s benefits for low-income families, communities of color and other historically disadvantaged Americans, according to a coalition of climate and environmental justice advocacy groups that is analyzing the 725-page spending package.

Despite the general disapproval from environmentalists over the bill’s provisions that benefit the fossil fuel industry that were included in the final measure passed by the Senate over the weekend, however, the House is expected to approve the bill with little or no alteration sometime this week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other party leaders have billed their spending package as a necessary compromise that would ensure the United States can keep its promises to tackle climate change and elevate environmental justice. The draft legislation dedicates nearly $370 billion to address rising greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the effects of global warming, including more than $60 billion for projects that in some way advance environmental justice and reduce the nation’s long standing environmental and health disparities.

But a preliminary analysis by the Just Solutions Collective, a nonpartisan think tank that promotes equitable climate policies and acts as a coalition hub for environmental justice groups nationwide, has found just $47.5 billion in the bill that it considers beneficial for low-income families and communities of color.

In some cases, the group says, Senate Democrats appear to be counting the total spending for certain programs where only part of that funding is dedicated to helping disadvantaged communities. For example, all $27 billion for a national green bank appears to be counted, while only $15 billion of that funding pool is dedicated to benefiting disadvantaged communities, according to the analysis. Similarly, all $3 billion for neighborhood access and equity grants appears to be counted, while only $1.1 is earmarked for disadvantaged communities. Same with the $87 million for the low-emissions electricity program, where just $17 million of that goes to those communities. As well as all $281 million for air pollution monitoring, where only $3 million goes to those groups.

If her calculations prove accurate, Sylvia Chi, a senior strategist on federal policies and financing for Just Solutions Collective, said that’s a $12.5 billion shortfall in what proponents of the Inflation Reduction Act say would benefit the nation’s most vulnerable populations. That’s a significant discrepancy, Chi told me in an interview, “especially when you consider what they cut out of Build Back Better, including $9 billion for lead remediation.”

Schumer’s office did not respond to questions about Chi’s analysis. 

Chi said her dissection, which is ongoing, mostly includes funding that had explicit language carving out money for low-income or disadvantaged communities. But she didn’t include funding where those groups were said to be “prioritized” in a competitive grant process because of a lack of guarantees, she said. The analysis also included a handful of programs where such language wasn’t present but the funding would very likely benefit environmental justice groups. The $500 million included for boosting environmental reviews was one example, she said, as was the $3 billion earmarked to mitigate harmful impacts of ports and transportation hubs, which are disproportionately located near low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

For many in the environmental justice movement, the report’s findings only reinforce their opposition to the historic climate and energy spending package, which includes significant provisions for the fossil fuel industry and funding for controversial technologies, such as carbon removal. Those provisions, which include opening up more federal land and waters to oil and gas drilling and a commitment from Democratic Senate leadership to streamline the permitting process for energy infrastructure projects, including fossil fuel pipelines, were included to win the approval of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.

As the party’s most conservative Democrat, Manchin has blocked President Joe Biden’s climate agenda for more than a year, largely to protect the fossil fuel industry in West Virginia, where he has extensive coal holdings. 

Activists fear that, even though the Inflation Reduction Act is expected to bring about an overall net benefit when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, its fossil fuel provisions could worsen pollution in areas already saturated by heavy industry, resulting in increased rates of asthma, cancer, premature death and other health problems in those neighborhoods.

Research shows that low-income families and communities of color have benefited least from environmental regulations and are disproportionately exposed to industrial pollution, which primarily comes from the burning of fossil fuels in buildings, power plants and vehicles. And for decades, environmental justice activists have said that any expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure will further exacerbate those disparities—largely because historically racist housing and zoning practices have made it far more common for polluting industries to be located near environmental justice communities.

If passed as is, the Inflation Reduction Act creates an “existential threat for Gulf Coast communities like mine in Port Arthur, for Appalachia, and for the entire world,” John Beard, founder and CEO of the Port Arthur Community Action Network in Texas, said in a press release this week. “Compromise is about who’s getting what and who’s going to give up what. And what are we getting out of it when you expand fossil fuels: you’re putting us in peril.” 

Port Arthur, where a third of the population is Black, has long been home to a disproportionately high number of industrial polluters—including the largest oil refinery in the country—in relation to its population. Activists say it could also be one of the locations where developers choose to expand fossil fuel infrastructure with help from the Inflation Reduction Act.

Still, the bill has been widely accepted by the environmental community, including some of the nation’s most influential climate hawks, who see it as the best chance of passing national climate legislation during President Biden’s first term and ahead of a midterm election where Democrats could lose their narrow majorities in one or both chambers of Congress. That view is supported by at least three independent analyses of the bill’s climate provisions, which all found that the legislation could cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions some 40 percent by 2030—within striking distance of President Joe Biden’s pledge to cut emissions in half.

The result has been a mixed bag of excitement and disappointment within the climate movement. In a tweet over the weekend, Varshini Prakash, a prominent environmental and social justice activist who co-founded the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said: “This isn’t the bill my generation deserves but it is the one we can get. It must pass to give us a fighting chance at a livable world.”

With Manchin still holding much of the power in what ultimately gets passed by Congress, many environmental justice activists have also resigned to the fact that they may not have the power to stop the legislation from moving forward.

“There’s a very slim chance of anything changing in the bill as it goes to the House,” Adrien Salazar, policy director for the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, told me in an interview. “I think we’re at the point of recognizing that some of the writing’s on the wall.”

Instead, Salazar said, groups are now beginning to focus their energy on how they can mitigate any potentially harmful outcomes from the bill after it passes, such as organizing around stopping future oil and gas lease sales and keeping up pressure to halt any fossil fuel infrastructure development in their neighborhoods. Activists also want to make sure they’re at the table when Democrats begin finalizing their deal with Manchin over reforming the federal permitting process for energy projects, he said.

Manchin has said federal permitting for pipelines and other fossil fuel development has been too cumbersome and needs to be streamlined. Salazar said much of their groups’ focus will now be on making sure that doesn’t happen, while also looking for opportunities to boost renewable energy development in the deal.

“We know this is a handshake deal between Manchin and Schumer,” Salazar said. “And so we think that there’s still an opening, even if it’s narrow and even if it’s going to be another uphill battle, to try to stop this deal.”

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

Today’s Indicator

70 percent

That’s how many electric-vehicle models wouldn’t qualify for a $7,500 tax credit for U.S. buyers under the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, according to a statement from some of the world’s largest automakers, including General Motors, Toyota and Ford.

PARADISE, CA - NOVEMBER 15: Michael John Ramirez hugs his wife Charlie Ramirez after they manage to recover her keepsake bracelet that didn't melt in the fire and held a sentimental value as they recover items from their fire safe in the rubble of their destroyed home, after the Camp fire razed through Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 15, 2018. (Photo by Marcus Yam /Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

From hurricanes to flash floods, to increasingly destructive wildfires, climate-driven natural disasters are forcing more Americans out of their homes and triggering waves of relocations as some regions of the country become too burdensome or dangerous for many people to continue living in them. 

Known as climate migration, it’s a situation that scientists have been sounding an alarm on for years. Yet a growing body of evidence, including another summer marred by deadly extreme weather, suggests that the United States is still not prepared to handle it.

For the Holden family, who narrowly escaped one of the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in California’s history, rebuilding in their hometown of Paradise simply proved too difficult. The 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed 19,000 structures in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, took nearly everything from the family of seven and reduced their home to a “pile of ash and the chimney.”

After several months of living in a trailer, drinking rainwater, trucking in water when drought conditions worsened, relying on mobile hotspots for internet access and dealing with their children being “filthy constantly” from ash, the Holdens decided to leave California altogether and move to Vermont. At least there, they told The Associated Press, the impacts of climate change aren’t being felt as dramatically.

“When you are left with nothing, you start thinking I don’t want to go through anything like this again,” the family’s mother, Ellie Holden, told the AP. “I don’t want a tornado. I don’t want a hurricane. I don’t want a flood. I don’t want a fire.”

Thousands of other Paradise residents made the same choice to leave and live elsewhere. Similarly, a 2020 wildfire in Oregon drove another family to relocate across the country, as well. And along the Gulf Coast, in states like Louisiana and Texas, hundreds to thousands of families have moved further inland in recent decades in reaction to worsening storms, flooding and rising sea levels. Climate change is even forcing some communities in the frozen Tundra of Alaska to leave their homes, as thawing permafrost and erosion has increased flooding risk and caused the land around their homes to crumble and sink.

Scientists have long warned that climate change would become a key driver in migration patterns in the coming decades—especially for poorer nations that are far more vulnerable to the impacts of global warming and have fewer resources to adapt. But as more stories like that of the Holden family emerge, it’s becoming increasingly clear that even wealthy nations like the United States aren’t properly prepared to handle the demographic shifts already playing out in their own backyards, largely because of climate change.

The federal government’s 2018 National Climate Assessment warned that more than 13 million people across the country may need to move by the end of the century due to sea level rise alone. On top of that, the toll of climate-driven disasters on the U.S. has skyrocketed in recent years. Last year, 20 “billion-dollar” natural disasters in the U.S. inflicted an estimated $145 billion in damage and killed nearly 700 people—the most disaster-related fatalities in the contiguous U.S. since 2011 and more than double the number seen in 2020.

“They are not slowing down,” Adam Smith, the U.S. government’s lead scientist for analyzing billion-dollar disasters, told The Washington Post. “The frequency and the cost of U.S. weather and climate disasters is increasing.”

The U.S. has seen an annual average of 7.7 disasters that cause at least $1 billion in damage over the past four decades, Smith added, but in the last five years alone that average has leaped to 18 events every year—with 2020 and 2021 seeing the highest number of billion-dollar climate disasters on record, at 22 and 20, respectively.

And it’s not just the cost of rebuilding homes and replacing damaged and lost goods. Insuring homes is also getting increasingly expensive, to the point where some people are moving from areas simply because the built-in costs of owning homes there have become too burdensome. One report from an insurance analytics firm found that the overall premium that Americans paid for homeowners’ insurance rose by 8.4 percent between the third quarter of 2020 and the third quarter of 2021. Another report from a different analytics firm found that in 2020, nearly 40 percent of all insurance claims were for weather-related damage—the highest percentage since the company started recording weather-related insurance trends six years ago.

But despite those grim data points, and multiple calls from government staffers to more proactively and holistically address the issue, the U.S. is still largely unprepared for a likely surge in relocations in the coming decades, according to an investigation published this week by the Center for Public Integrity, Columbia Journalism Investigations and Type Investigations.

That report found that there is little organized government assistance to prevent the loss of homes and lives before a disaster, nor is there a comprehensive focus on helping people escape untenable situations. Instead, the investigation says, those who are attempting to relocate due to losing their homes to fire or because of chronic damage from floods and storms must often cobble together aid from across different federal agencies, navigating complicated programs that were never designed with climate change in mind. As always, those most affected by the issue are low-income households and communities of color.

Complicating the situation further is the fact that more Americans continue to move to the areas of the country that are most at risk from climate change. It’s a trend that has been confirmed by both independent analyses and U.S. census data. That means that even as some residents leave their homes to seek haven from storms, fires and floods, they’re often being replaced by those coming from other states who will inevitably run into the same issues and likely require government assistance at some point—an endless money suck.

The federal government has long been aware of these issues, and the Biden administration has taken some steps to better prepare the country for “managed retreat,” the term officials use for assisting people to relocate away from areas as they become less habitable. Last October, the White House issued its first “Report on the Impact of Climate Change on Migration,” which delves into the issues and potential solutions regarding both migration from other countries and relocations within the U.S. 

The bipartisan infrastructure bill that Congress passed last year also provides the Bureau of Indian Affairs with $130 million for “community relocation” and $86 million for “tribal climate resilience and adaptation projects.”

Additionally, existing federal and state-level programs are currently helping many families to relocate in the wake of disaster, though those processes can be difficult to navigate and are often not well known.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is also in the process of overhauling the government’s flood insurance program so that it factors in the impacts of climate change. Experts have long complained about the program’s outdated flood maps, just one factor contributing to the ongoing trend of people moving to flood-prone cities despite the risks.

Still, climate advocates say not nearly enough is being done to adapt. The administration’s climate migration report was received with general disappointment from the activist community, who said it fell flat on ambition. And experts and climate hawks are still urging the Biden administration to make a more concerted and comprehensive effort to handle the problem, including by designating one federal agency to coordinate relocation initiatives across all the different government programs.

It’s a call to action that could be seen all the more urgent as the U.S. continues its summer of deadly and destructive disasters. That includes last week’s Kentucky floods that killed at least 37 people, the ongoing blazes in California that have claimed several lives and burned down yet another town this week and another wildfire in Montana that, as of Wednesday, had torched four homes to the ground and threatened to displace another 150 residents.

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

30 percent

That’s the percentage of Americans who listed worsening weather conditions, exacerbated by climate change, as a reason they moved this year, according to a survey of 2,000 people commissioned by Forbes Homes.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters about his recent agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday, July 28, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The environmental justice movement is up in arms over key fossil fuel provisions included in the Democrats’ landmark climate and energy spending bill, foreshadowing potentially ugly fights in the days ahead as lawmakers race to secure what many now see as the party’s best chance to pass meaningful federal climate legislation during President Biden’s first term. While advocacy groups ramped up pressure on lawmakers Monday to strip those provisions, it’s unclear if their opposition will derail the bill, which depends almost entirely on maintaining the approval of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.

The Inflation Reduction Act, a surprise deal struck last week by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Manchin, dedicates nearly $370 billion to climate and energy spending, representing an unprecedented federal investment in the fight against global warming. More than $60 billion of that total is earmarked for projects that in some way advance environmental justice and reduce the nation’s long standing environmental and health inequities.

Three separate analyses by think tanks and academic institutions estimate that the climate provisions of the bill could slash U.S. emissions in the ballpark of 40 percent by 2030—just short of President Biden’s goal of cutting them 50 to 52 percent in that time frame. Without the bill, analysts believe the U.S. would lower greenhouse gas emissions by just a quarter over the next 8 years.

And a breakdown of the bill’s environmental justice spending shows a broad scope of different programs that supporters say would greatly improve the lives and health outcomes of many of the nation’s disadvantaged communities. That includes $11 billion to revitalize the long-depleted Superfund cleanup program; $4.75 billion to help states reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in disadvantaged communities; over $3 billion for programs to improve and expand transportation access in low-income areas and reduce the negative impacts of transportation hubs; $1 billion to improve the climate resilience and electrification projects in public housing; and $1 billion to help federal agencies better implement the National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock environmental law with major environmental justice implications.

But despite those potential benefits, many in the environmental justice community have come out against the bill in recent days, pointing to provisions in it that they say will harm the nation’s most vulnerable populations.

That’s because in order to get the support of Joe Manchin—the party’s most conservative member, who has made his fortune on fossil fuels and has been the biggest obstacle to President Biden’s environmental agenda—Democrats were forced to include several major concessions to the fossil fuel industry in the package.

Those concessions include opening up more federal land and waters to oil and gas drilling, ensuring fossil fuel and clean energy projects get equal access to public land auctions over the next decade, massive investments in controversial carbon removal technologies and clean hydrogen hubs and a commitment from Democratic Senate leadership to streamline the permitting process for energy infrastructure projects, including fossil fuel pipelines.

Those provisions would be detrimental to environmental justice communities, Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director at the environmental justice nonprofit UPROSE and board co-chair for the Climate Justice Alliance, told me in an interview. Namely, she said, they would encourage further development of pipelines, gas-fired power plants and other fossil fuel infrastructure, which is already disproportionately located in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

“You can’t give with one hand and take away with the other,” Yeampierre said. “While it is great that resources have been allocated for frontline communities, there’s also a lot in there that turns our communities into sacrifice zones.”

Research shows that low-income families and communities of color have benefited least from environmental regulations and are disproportionately exposed to industrial pollution, which primarily comes from the burning of fossil fuels in buildings, power plants and vehicles. And for decades, environmental justice activists, including Yeampierre, have said any expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure will further exacerbate those disparities—largely because historically racist housing and zoning practices have made it far more common for polluting industries to be located near environmental justice communities.

Activists are also criticizing the money going toward carbon removal technologies and hydrogen gas development, which they say has allowed polluting industries to continue expanding fossil fuel use on dubious promises to reduce their emissions with unproven technologies.

For Indigenous activists, who for years have been at the forefront of the fight against new fossil fuel pipelines, the Inflation Reduction Act would also bolster projects that they say infringe on their tribal rights, threaten to pollute their ancestral lands and even jeopardize their livelihoods.

As part of the deal with Manchin, Democrats also agreed to reform federal permitting for infrastructure in a way that streamlines the process and makes it easier for fossil fuel projects like pipelines to get approved. Manchin was also specifically given assurances that the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a nearly completed 303-mile natural gas pipeline that runs through Manchin’s home state of West Virginia, would get federal approval, according to several news reports.

That pipeline is entangled in numerous lawsuits from Indigenous and environmental justice groups, and for years its developers have struggled to obtain key permits, including a federal permit that would allow the pipeline to cross through the Jefferson National Forest.

If the Inflation Reduction Act gets signed into law, “this administration locks in the violence of the climate crisis and consequences to Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous nations and frontline communities for decades to come,” Tom BK Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a press release.

Many activists also worry the total amount of funding in the package, currently proposed at a bit more than $60 billion, isn’t enough to tackle the whole-of-government approach the Biden administration has promised to take to reduce the nation’s long standing environmental and health inequities.

In Build Back Better, Democrats proposed around $160 billion that would in some way go toward projects that benefit environmental justice communities, said Lew Daly, deputy director of climate policy for the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank. That means the Inflation Reduction Act has shrunk that funding by roughly two-thirds, he said.

Daly also said that the environmental justice funding in the Inflation Reduction Act is out of line with the standards set by Justice40, Biden’s cornerstone environmental justice program, which directs 40 percent of the “overall benefits” of federal environmental and clean energy spending to go to “disadvantaged communities.” 

“So, if you just do the basic math, $60 billion out of $369 billion, which is the value of the total package, that’s 16 percent for disadvantaged communities,” he said. “That falls well short of the Justice40 standard of 40 percent.”

Still, it’s unclear if the environmental justice community’s objections to the bill will necessarily derail it. With midterm elections threatening the Democrat’s narrow Congressional majority, Democrats may see this as their last opportunity to pass meaningful climate legislation before potentially losing control of one or both chambers in November. That pressure was evident on Monday as lawmakers scrambled to shore up their ranks, with hopes of passing the bill before summer recess begins as early as next week.

For Yeampierre, the situation has left a “hard choice” for her and others working across the nation to build a more equitable society. That includes lawmakers like New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, she said, a key architect of the Inflation Reduction Act.

“I sympathize with Sen. Schumer, and I know that he is working diligently to look out for the most vulnerable communities,” she said. But “there’s something really profoundly unfair to ask us to choose between those two realities, to basically say we have to compromise lives” in order to pass this bill.

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

Today’s Indicator

24 tons

That’s the amount of carbon emissions that the Inflation Reduction Act will prevent from going into the atmosphere for every ton of increased emissions caused by the bill’s “oil and gas provisions,” according to a new analysis by the progressive think tank Energy Innovation.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) speaks in a hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on July 19, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) speaks in a hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on July 19, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

For 13 years, Reed Hundt has chased the idea of a national green bank, but to no avail. 

As CEO of the Coalition for Green Capital, a global incubator for green banks, Hundt has long believed in the green bank financial model of leveraging limited public resources to attract private investors for clean energy projects that governments have been reluctant or can’t afford to support by themselves.

He worked with lawmakers in Colorado, Maryland and Massachusetts to introduce bills to Congress and drum up support in financial circles. In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to fund a green bank three separate times, in large part because of Hundt’s efforts, and President Biden included some $27 billion in his initial spending package last year for such a measure. But victory had eluded him, including when West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin twice torpedoed Biden’s Build Back Better Act.

The green bank, you might say, was Hundt’s white whale.

So, this week, when Manchin surprised the nation by signing onto a landmark $370 billion climate and energy spending package just weeks after saying for at least the third time that he wouldn’t support such provisions, Hundt was floored to find the final deal included $27 billion for a national green bank.

“You could’ve knocked me over with a feather,” Hundt told me in an interview. “The language is the same, the numbers are the same, the concept is the same. And now we just have to wait and see if the Senate actually votes for it.”

Hundt’s efforts have helped to inspire green banks around the world, including 23 spread across 17 U.S. states. And another 25 states, including New Mexico and New Jersey, are in the process of forming their own. But a growing number of financial analysts and clean energy advocates, including Hundt, believe the implementation of a national green bank would be one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to accelerate climate investments in the U.S., making it a critical tool in keeping the country in line with the Paris Agreement.

Green banks could play an even bigger role in reducing the nation’s emissions, Hundt said, after the recent Supreme Court decision limiting the federal government’s ability to regulate carbon emissions in power plants and national climate regulations like a carbon tax have been taken off the table.

Green banks are similar to regular banks, except that they have more access to public funding since they’re seen by the governments that support them as providing a public service. They lend money for clean energy or energy-efficiency projects with an expected return on investment, leveraging a relatively small amount of public funds to make projects, like community solar arrays, more attractive to private investors looking to make a buck.

They can help develop local markets and supply chains, provide financial guidance to developers and help fill gaps in the market. Many green banks also prioritize vulnerable and low-income communities. Of the $27 billion included in the latest spending bill proposal, $8 billion will be used to target projects in low- to medium-income communities.

The model has proven successful in many countries, including the U.S. Before the United Kingdom government sold it in 2017, it used its green bank to fund much of its offshore wind boom. And Australia’s green bank, which is the largest in the world, has helped to scale up investment in energy efficiency installations, as well as wind, solar and hydrogen energy development.

In the U.S., green banks have on average generated $3.70 in private investments for every $1 the bank invested, according to a 2021 report from the American Green Bank Consortium and the Coalition for Green Capital. And since 2011, American green banks have generated $7 billion in clean energy investment, with nearly $1.7 billion in 2020 alone, the report said.

Hundt estimates that a federal green bank would be even more effective, spurring $10-100 in private capital for every dollar of public investment. “So we’re not talking about grants,” he said. “We’re talking about profitable investment, creating investment value for the consumer, value for the investors. That’s a really important point.”

One area where a national green bank could make a huge difference, Hundt said, is by rapidly scaling up the installation of heat pumps in the U.S., where commercial and residential buildings make up 13 percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions. 

Globally, using heat pumps instead of traditional boilers and furnaces could cut global CO2 emissions by 3 gigatons per year, according to a report released this month by the consultancy firm McKinsey and Company.

There’s even evidence that green banks are helping to bridge America’s cultural divide when it comes to talking about climate solutions. A recent poll by Hundt’s Coalition for Green Capital found that the majority of likely voters in two fossil fuel-producing states support the idea of a national green bank.

In Manchin’s homestate of West Virginia, 54 percent of likely voters supported the idea of a national green bank, the survey found, with 31 percent opposing. In Alaska, 68 percent supported the bank and 20 percent opposed. Among oil, gas, and coal workers and their families, support was even higher: 62 percent and 77 percent of them supported a green bank in West Virginia and Alaska, respectively.

As Democrats continue to negotiate the spending agreement, Hundt is holding his breath that the deal goes through and he finally sees his decade-long quest come to fruition. “It’s the biggest amount of money dedicated to public-private investing in energy infrastructure of any capitalist country in the world,” he said. “We need to go from words to reality, and all across the country. But we needed money to do it, so, this is pretty dramatic.”

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 percent

That’s the total amount of global GDP—or gross domestic product—that many experts believe the world would need to spend each year on clean technologies and infrastructure in order to avoid catastrophic climate change by the end of the century.

General view of atmosphere at the Hulu 2013 Summer TCA Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 31, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. Credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Hulu
General view of atmosphere at the Hulu 2013 Summer TCA Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 31, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. Credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Hulu

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect an announcement by Hulu.

After facing fierce backlash, the popular streaming service Hulu has reversed its decision to reject political ads that include topics that the company initially deemed too “controversial,” including abortion rights, gun control and climate change, according to a series of news reports. It’s the latest incident to highlight the role Big Tech plays in America’s increasingly polarizing culture war, which many experts and activists say has become a major impediment to climate action.

Earlier this month, Hulu rejected several political ads from Democratic organizations and political candidates that referenced some of the party’s central campaign issues in this year’s election cycle, as first reported by The Washington Post on Monday. In at least one situation, the streaming service refused to run an ad until the phrase “climate change” was taken out of it.

That’s a problem, Democrats say, because streaming services have become a key platform where younger generations consume media, meaning a major voting bloc could essentially be cut off from their messages. Regarding global warming, it’s an especially poignant problem ahead of a midterm election that many experts believe will determine whether the Biden administration can pass any meaningful national climate legislation at all, and perhaps whether the U.S. will be able meet its commitments to the Paris Agreement to rein in global warming.

“To not discuss these topics in my campaign ad is to not address the most important issues facing the United States,” Suraj Patel, a Democratic candidate for Congress in New York City, wrote in a public letter after his ad was rejected by Hulu for using certain phrases, including “climate change.”

Hulu’s decision to ban advertisements that discuss topics like climate change “has a perverse effect on Democracy,” Patel added.

Hulu didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But an anonymous source who is familiar with the company’s policies told The Washington Post that the streaming service prohibits advertising that takes a position on a controversial issue, regardless of whether it is a political ad. The company apparently reversed that policy Wednesday, when it announced that after “a thorough review of ad policies,” it will now accept “candidate and issue advertisements covering a wide spectrum of policy positions.”

While political discourse in the United States makes climate change appear to be a controversial topic, the scientific community overwhelmingly agrees on the core facts of the issue, with more than 99.9 percent of peer-reviewed studies agreeing that climate change is real and has been caused predominantly by humans burning fossil fuels.

Michael Khoo, the climate disinformation coalition co-chair at Friends of the Earth, an international environmental advocacy group, said in an interview that the situation highlights one of the biggest problems society now faces regarding Big Tech companies: they play an outsized role in the way the world communicates but remain almost wholly unregulated by governments.

Both broadcast television networks and radio stations are regulated by the Communications Act of 1934, which—among other things—requires broadcasters in the U.S. to develop public interest programming, provide space for controversial topics and give equal air time to candidates running for political office. Today, internet companies like Facebook (now Meta) and Hulu have replaced broadcasters as the predominant platform for mass communication, yet those providers aren’t bound by the same rules.

Many analysts and communication scholars, including Khoo, have warned that the lack of regulation is partly to blame for the nation’s growing political divide and could have long-lasting consequences for American democracy. Proprietary algorithms and massive personal data collection efforts, they say, are fueling growing echo chambers and making it harder for the public to have constructive discussions based on a common set of facts.

Last month, a coalition of climate and social media watchdog groups that included Khoo’s organization released a report that found that misleading or false information about climate change was flourishing online despite recent promises from tech companies to crack down on the spread of “fake news” on their platforms. The report, which analyzed hundreds of thousands of social media posts over the last 18 months, also found that disinformation campaigns were explicitly framing global warming issues through the lens of Western culture wars with the goal of delaying climate action.

Some nations are just now beginning to address the issue. Earlier this month, the European Union approved the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act, two landmark laws that would force the world’s largest tech companies to more aggressively tackle harmful content on their platforms and more transparently disclose their data to the public, among other things.

And Indonesia also passed its own sweeping law in 2020 that requires Big Tech companies to agree to strict government oversight, including by handing over user data, or be banned from operating in the country. As of last week, several major tech brands, including Meta, Twitter and Google, have agreed to cooperate with the law, though critics worry that the government could use the measure to unfairly censor free speech. Some observers also worry the EU’s laws could be excessively costly and difficult to enforce.

Despite those concerns, Khoo sees the legislation as a significant step in the right direction and hopes other countries like the U.S. follow suit. “Tech companies are finally waking up” and realizing that “running society is hard,” he said. “So, if they want to have that much power, it comes with the need for running it fairly and strongly.”

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

Today’s Indicator

32 percent

That’s how many Republicans between the ages of 18 and 34 say they worry “a great deal” about environmental issues like climate change, roughly twice the rate compared to older conservatives, according to a new Gallup poll.

Commuters wait for their train on a platform at West Norwood station in south London on July 18, 2022 amid disruption warnings over extreme heat. Credit: Niklas Halle'n/AFP via Getty Images
Commuters wait for their train on a platform at West Norwood station in south London on July 18, 2022 amid disruption warnings over extreme heat. Credit: Niklas Halle'n/AFP via Getty Images

The fierce heat waves engulfing much of the Northern Hemisphere, including the United States and Europe, are renewing concerns among experts who say extreme heat poses an increasing threat to some of the world’s largest public transit systems. With mass transit in many big cities already facing serious budget shortfalls and transportation accounting for a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions, the situation adds another challenge to the international effort to curb climate change.

Research has shown that public transportation is a highly effective way to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, which is now the leading single-sector source of U.S. carbon emissions. One analysis found that public buses produce about one-quarter fewer carbon emissions per trip-mile than personal vehicles, with trains producing about 80 percent fewer emissions.

But as temperatures soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit this week in the U.S. and across Europe, civil engineers and transit authorities reiterated warnings that railway tracks could potentially bend or buckle under the extreme heat. Some agencies, including in London and in different regions of the U.S., issued speed restrictions on rail lines and even suspended entire routes on some of the hottest days to mitigate the risks.

When exposed long enough to triple-digit temperatures, steel railway lines can soften and deform as heavy trains pass over them. As climate change makes extreme heat more frequent and intense, researchers say that could lead to more disruptions to transit operations as agencies are forced to shut down lines to make repairs. And a growing number of experts say not enough is being done to prepare for those added costs, which could make it harder for cities to improve and expand their transit systems to cut emissions.

“The U.S. is not prepared,” Paul Chinowsky, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Bloomberg. “While the rail system is incrementally being improved, there is significant work to do and what is being done is not being done fast enough.”

In fact, extreme heat was cited for the first time by California transit authorities as the reason a subway train derailed near San Francisco last month, causing some minor injuries and prompting the evacuation of about 50 passengers. Local officials said a subway track had developed a bend after a heat wave brought about temperatures as high as 102 degrees, with the tracks themselves reaching 140 degrees—25 degrees hotter than what the metro area transit authority considers safe.

Extreme heat can lead to other transit-related problems as well. A summer heat wave in the Pacific Northwest last year melted the cables that power the light rail system for Portland, Oregon. That forced city officials to suspend all train services for two days.

Research shows that those types of problems are only expected to get worse as the planet continues to warm. Operational delays due to extreme heat could cost U.S. transit authorities and other train operators anywhere between $25 billion and $60 billion by the end of the century, according to one 2017 study.

That’s a serious problem for many major U.S. transit authorities, which already face massive budget shortfalls after ridership plummeted to unprecedented lows in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Between September 2019 and September 2020, average ridership on commuter trains dropped 79 percent across the country, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The federal government jumped in, injecting around $69 billion in emergency aid to help keep transit systems afloat. But as that money begins to dry up, many of the nation’s largest transit systems still face significant budget deficits as ridership remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

That includes the Washington, D.C., transit system, which expects a funding gap of $519.3 million by fiscal year 2024, and the Boston metro area’s transit system, which faces a $236 million deficit that same year, followed by an even bigger $406 million deficit in 2025, according to a recent analysis by Governing.

New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest public transportation system, also faces a budget shortfall of about $500 million by 2025. Although when state aid runs out the following year, that deficit could balloon to $2 billion if ridership remains at its current level and other funding sources don’t emerge.

Federal aid from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Congress passed last year, will help address some of those budget shortfalls. The legislation includes $39 billion for public transit systems and $66 billion for the nation’s interstate railways.

But despite being the largest federal investment in public transit in U.S. history, advocates say it still falls short of what’s needed. The nation’s public transit systems alone, not including interstate rails, had a deficit of $176 billion last year, and that gap is expected to grow to $250 billion by 2029, according to a 2021 report by the American Public Transportation Association. If accurate, the $39 billion from the infrastructure law, spread out over five years, would make just a dent in those estimates.

It’s a problem many climate and transit advocates say will only become harder and more expensive to tackle as the impacts of global warming accelerate. And some analysts believe the ongoing pandemic may even leave a lasting stigma on public transportation that could impact finances for years to come.

In Britain on Tuesday, as historic triple-digit temperatures broke three national records in the span of an hour, transit officials in some areas painted railway tracks white to help deflect the heat and prevent warping.

“Here in the U.K., we’re used to treating hot spells as a chance to go and play in the sun,” Penny Endersby, the chief executive of the country’s weather service, said in a video to the public. “This is not that sort of weather. Our lifestyles and our infrastructure are not adapted to what is coming.”

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

85 percent

That’s the percentage of Americans who will experience temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend, including millions in the south-central U.S. expected to see triple-digit heat, the National Weather Service warned.

Members of the public take advantage of the shade on the Southbank on July 19, 2022 in London, United Kingdom. Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the U.K. this week, prompting the Met Office to issue its first red extreme heat warning in England, from London and the south-east up to York and Manchester. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Historic heat waves, wildfires, floods and drought spanning vast regions of the globe have the international community on high alert this week, prompting fresh criticism from climate advocates who say nations are failing to wean their economies off planet-warming fossil fuels and properly prepare for the increasingly deadly consequences of global warming. The warnings come as world leaders meet in Germany to discuss how to resuscitate their Paris Agreement pledges, which are flatlining in the wake of a global pandemic, rising inflation and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

A fierce heat wave stretching across most of western Europe in recent days has contributed to more than 700 deaths in Spain and Portugal, prolonging drought conditions and fueling intense wildfires from the Iberian Peninsula to the Balkan Islands, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes. And on Tuesday, the United Kingdom—where air conditioning is rare and infrastructure isn’t designed for extreme heat—saw its hottest day on record at 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking its previous record of 101.7 degrees set just the day before.

In one incident, terrified passengers caught on video expressed shock and disbelief as a wildfire raged on both sides of their train in southern Spain.

Both China and the United States are also dealing with their own scorching heat waves this week. For two weeks, persistent extreme heat has buckled roads and strained area hospitals across much of southern China, with soaring temperatures expected to last through August and exceed 107 degrees later this week. And some 40 million Americans are now under heat alerts from California to New York as potentially record-breaking temperatures threaten much of the nation. In fact, the heat has been so excessive in Texas that officials have twice asked residents and businesses to cut back on their power consumption, fearing the surge in air conditioning use would collapse the electrical grid.

In almost every aspect, extreme weather this summer has appeared to fulfill the dire predictions of scientists who for years have warned that humanity was quickly on track to runaway climate change. Extended droughts in Africa, including Somalia and Malawi, as well as in parts of Italy and Mexico, are depleting critical water supplies and raising concerns of future food insecurity and famine. Early-season and fast-spreading wildfires in nations around the world are continuing to break records. And, since this spring, biblical flooding in the U.S. and Australia has swept away roads, homes and has even altered the paths of rivers.

The situation has prompted world leaders and top climate advocates to issue dire warnings of rapidly deteriorating ecosystems while castigating countries for their failure to transition the world away from fossil fuels—the primary cause of human-induced global warming—despite global pledges to do so under the Paris Agreement.

At the conference this week in Germany, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told leaders from 40 countries that they now faced “collective action or collective suicide,” as nations continue to falter on their promises to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years and decades. Spurred in large part by the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many countries have balked on their climate pledges, blaming high inflation and a deepening global energy crisis.

“Half of humanity is in the danger zone from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction,” Guterres told the conference attendees via video on Monday. “Facing this global crisis, we are failing to work together as a multilateral community” and “nations continue to play the blame game instead of taking responsibility for our collective future.”

Guterres, who leads the United Nations, laid out a multipronged strategy at the summit for tackling the climate crisis, including eliminating coal use, rapidly building out renewable energy sources and doubling down on promises to help the world’s most vulnerable nations adapt to the impacts of global warming. Those strategies aren’t new, and are in fact the main premise of the Paris Agreement, but the wealthiest nations that are predominantly responsible for causing global warming have so far failed to follow through on those commitments.

“People in Africa, South Asia and Central and South America are 15 times more likely to die from extreme weather events,” Guterres said. “This great injustice cannot persist.”

Global levels of carbon dioxide are now at an all-time high, sitting around 420 parts per million, and are continuing to track upwards despite wide public support for the international effort to rein them in. Even in the United States, where a right-wing majority Supreme Court and a narrowly divided Congress have hobbled President Biden’s ambitious climate agenda, a vast majority of Americans support key climate policies such as adopting more renewable energy sources and planting trees to help absorb carbon dioxide.

Yet Biden’s climate ambitions are now on life support ahead of key elections this November that could further jeopardize not only the nation’s ability to address global warming, but the global effort as well. Because the United States alone produces 15 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and is historically the biggest contributor to the climate crisis, its failure to follow through on its commitments under the Paris Agreement—including slashing its emissions in half by 2030—puts the entire international endeavor at risk.

Last week, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the key Democratic swing vote in Congress and a critical obstacle to Biden’s climate efforts, killed negotiations for national legislation to slow global warming for at least the second time in a year, saying he wouldn’t support the climate measures included in a larger national spending package over fears of exacerbating inflation. While Biden said he would counter the defeat by taking stronger executive action, the move leaves the U.S. with very limited options to achieve the kind of sweeping emissions reductions needed to stay on track with the Paris Agreement.

The United States “will find it very hard to lead the world if we can’t even take the first steps here at home,” Nat Keohane, president of the environmental group Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, told the New York Times in response to Manchin’s announcement. “The honeymoon is over.”

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

Today’s Indicator

70,000

That’s how many deaths can be attributed to a devastating 2003 heat wave that broiled much of Europe in temperatures as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit, according to one estimate. Researchers also say that climate change played a role in that summer’s deadly heat.

A solar farm produces electricity near Bakersfield, Texas on Saturday, April 10, 2021. Credit: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
A solar farm produces electricity near Bakersfield, Texas on Saturday, April 10, 2021. Credit: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Twice during the last week, Texans were asked to cut back their energy use, including turning up the thermostats on their air conditioners during a scorching three-digit heat wave to avoid blackouts as the state’s power grid operator struggled to satisfy a surging demand for electricity. On both occasions, officials claimed clean energy was a reason for the shortfall, prompting criticism from some energy experts who say the state is once again unfairly blaming renewables for its longstanding power problems.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas—or ERCOT—which operates the Lone Star State’s power grid, urged residents and businesses to scale back their energy use on Monday and Wednesday, citing “record-high electric demand” and attributing its inability to meet those needs in part to renewables underperforming due to slow winds and cloudy skies. It was the third time this year that ERCOT has asked its customers to cut back on electricity to avoid a grid collapse.

But some energy experts say the description ERCOT painted for the public in its reports this week is misleading, and that solar energy and battery storage in particular have played a major role in keeping air conditioning units running and the state’s power grid afloat this summer.

“All through June, renewables performed particularly well,” said Doug Lewin, an energy consultant and president of Stoic Energy based in Austin, Texas. “And I just think this whole narrative that some are pushing that renewables are reducing the reliability of the grid, it’s just not accurate.”

In fact, Lewin, who has worked on energy and climate issues in Texas for over 17 years, said wind and solar combined are now providing Texas upwards of 20 percent of its total electricity during times of peak demand.

Texas has a history of issues with its grid, and public scrutiny of those problems has only grown in recent years as extreme weather, made worse by climate change, has increasingly highlighted the state’s vulnerabilities. In May, a blistering heat wave led to six power plant outages. And a massive winter storm in 2021 led to widespread blackouts across the state that contributed to about 250 deaths.

Yet, despite evidence showing the 2021 winter blackouts were largely caused by freezing gas pipelines and a general failure of the state’s natural gas systems, ERCOT officials blamed wind energy for the incident—an argument state Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbot, have continued to echo.

“Unfortunately, there’s this sort of effort to try to make renewables look worse than they are,” said Lewin. Texas is a state known for its relationship with the oil industry, producing the largest portion of the nation’s crude oil, roughly 22 percent according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

With this in mind, there is a clear incentive for the state to avoid full transparency on not only the faults of oil and natural gas, but also the fact that the state is increasingly reliant on renewable energy.

“In the press release [for Monday] they said we’d only have 3000 megawatts of wind…between 2 and 3 p.m.,” said Lewin, “At 5 p.m. on peak there was nearly 7,000 megawatts of wind.” In its second conservation appeal this week, ERCOT also cited low wind as a factor for potential blackouts, despite the fact that wind turbines were expected to input more energy than they did on Monday. 

Joshua Rhodes, a research associate for the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin, warned that while the state does need to be more transparent about how much power renewables are providing to its grid, it also should be honest about its limitations.

“As more grids become dependent on renewable sources to provide energy and capacity or power, we need to make sure of when they will be producing and how they interact,” said Rhodes, “we have to be clear-eyed about that, because if we’re not it’ll hurt the energy transition.”

Texas currently leads the nation not only in the amount of crude oil it produces, but also the generation of electricity from wind, and it is rapidly approaching a similar position with solar energy as well—making it increasingly important to be candid about what solar and wind energy provides for the state. 

As the state continues its transition to clean energy, it needs to be clear with consumers about how much power is needed in the state, and how much of that renewable energy can realistically provide during peak times especially with a changing climate, said Rhodes. 

“On Monday, wind was functioning at 8 percent, which is not unheard of,” said Rhodes, “so it was weird to be called out in the press release, because it’s something that we know happens so we should be ready for that sort of thing.”

Monday’s triumph against power outages was not only a testament to the power of renewable energy, but of collaborative, voluntary energy conservation. Residents were able to conserve around 500 megawatts of energy, enough to power 100,000 homes, by lowering their energy use. Businesses preserved even more energy when they followed suit. 

Cryptocurrency miners were major players in the effort to save energy on Monday. After heeding the call of the conservation appeal and shutting down a number of operations that day, cryptocurrency businesses allowed about 1,000 megawatts of energy to flow back into the grid. 

Texans have been in a state of angst since the winter storms of February 2021 brought on deadly blackouts, leaving them distrustful of ERCOT and the energy Texas can provide. This anxiety, coupled with misleading claims about the role of renewable energy in power outages, may also leave Texans disillusioned about the future of clean energy. 

Today’s Indicator

$1.9 trillion

That’s roughly how much damage the greenhouse gas emitted by the United States between 1990 and 2014 has caused to other, less developed countries, a new study from Dartmouth found.

A large plume from the Washburn Fire rises over Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, California, July 11, 2022. Credit: Nic Coury/AFP via Getty Images
A large plume from the Washburn Fire rises over Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, California, July 11, 2022. Credit: Nic Coury/AFP via Getty Images

A massive wildfire in California’s Yosemite National Park expanded to more than 2,300 acres over the weekend and into Tuesday, threatening some of the world’s oldest giant sequoia trees and forcing officials to evacuate more than 1,600 visitors from a nearby campground Monday. Some scientists worry the blaze signals that forests in the region may have reached a climate tipping point, with increasingly intense wildfires reinforcing deepening drought conditions in a dangerous feedback loop.

Ecologists have long considered giant sequoias, which can tower hundreds of feet above the ground and live for thousands of years, almost impervious to flames. The trees depend on the heat from blazes to release their seeds. And for thousands of years, fires have commonly passed through sequoia groves, burning brush and smaller trees, while leaving the much larger sequoias relatively unscathed.

But that has changed in the last decade, as drought, wildfires and insect infestation—all exacerbated by climate change—have contributed to the deaths of a surprisingly high number of giant sequoias in their native habitat along the western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. In fact, in the last two years alone, increasingly severe wildfires have killed as many as one-fifth of the estimated 75,000 sequoias living in those groves, shocking forestry experts who say such deaths point to a grim milestone for the climate crisis. Slow fires that once stayed on the ground are now more frequently racing through the treetops as crown fires.

“I cannot overemphasize how mind-blowing this is for all of us,” Christy Brigham, chief of resources management and science at Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, told the Visalia Times-Delta in the wake of last year’s devastating Castle Fire. “These trees have lived for thousands of years. They’ve survived dozens of wildfires already.”

Many scientists, including those who helped compile the latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, now warn that the impacts of global warming are accelerating far faster than previously believed and that old-growth forests like California’s sequoia groves are rapidly turning from vital carbon sinks into major sources of carbon emissions.

Last year, wildfires in the United States, Turkey and parts of Siberia emitted an estimated 1.76 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the equivalent of more than a quarter of the annual carbon emissions of the U.S., according to scientists with the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. And as rising greenhouse gas emissions push temperatures higher, it’s exacerbating the drought conditions that have helped fuel the West’s intense fires, which then release carbon dioxide, soot and other climate-warming pollutants into the atmosphere in a self-perpetuating cycle.

In some cases, the smoke wildfires spew into the air contributes to less annual precipitation. The largest and hottest fires can create their own weather, driving winds that fan the flames to burn hotter and spread wider, and even forming pyrocumulonimbus clouds that can drop lightning to start new fires or spawn fire tornadoes.

Those factors have made fire conditions so severe in recent years that they now threaten even the hardy sequoias, Nathan Stephenson, a scientist emeritus with the U.S. Geological Survey who specializes in the effects of global warming on forest ecosystems, told me in an interview.

“If you had asked me as recently as the middle of 2014, ‘Do you see the effects of a changing climate on giant sequoias?’ I would have said no,” Stephenson said. Now “with giant sequoias, it feels like a threshold has been reached and we’re seeing changes of the sort we haven’t seen before.”

Other forestry ecologists have echoed similar concerns, worrying that the rapidly accelerating impacts of climate change could soon make some of the nation’s most iconic landscapes and important ecosystems inaccessible for humans and uninhabitable for other species. National parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone are some of the country’s most treasured tourist destinations and provide critical habitat for many of America’s fauna and flora.

For decades, experts have called for adaptation plans to harden U.S. national parks against the effects of global warming, saying park officials need to move from a purely preservation role to one that takes more active management responsibilities, such as clearing away brush and other potential fuel for fires. But the development of such plans, especially at the federal level, has been slow, with the National Park Service releasing guidance to help park planners incorporate climate change into their decision-making only last year.

In fact, when heavy downpours last month sent record-shattering floods through Yellowstone National Park, tearing down trees and homes and even changing the courses of rivers, at least one former Park Service official called the situation the result of failed federal policy. 

“When I heard they were evacuating every visitor from Yellowstone, I was like, ‘Oh my god, evacuating every visitor was not a part of our climate change scenarios,’” Marcy Rockman, a former climate change adaptation coordinator for the Park Service, told CNN. “Seeing what my former colleagues at Yellowstone are having to deal with now, it’s like … I’m worried for them.”

As firefighters continued their efforts on Tuesday to contain the blaze in Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove, officials say more than 500 sequoias, including the park’s iconic Grizzly Giant, are still at risk.

Stephenson, of the U.S. Geological Survey, said that while he doesn’t expect large swaths of sequoias to die, he is worried about the fires potentially killing off the older ones. “What concerns me is losing the big 2,000-year-old sequoias because they can’t be replaced for 2,000 years,” he said. “That’s what has captivated people globally. The huge millennial-age sequoias are what people marvel at, and we’ve lost 13 to 19 percent of those in just two summers.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and a special thanks to our talented reporting fellow Myriam Vidal, who helped research and write today’s newsletter. You can follow Myriam on Twitter @myriam_vidalv.

Today’s Climate will be back in your inbox on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

1,540 square miles

That’s how much of Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest, one of the world’s most important carbon sinks, has been destroyed so far this year by logging and wildfires, marking an 11 percent increase from last year’s already record-high deforestation rate, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research.

A kayaker paddles down a portion of Interstate 676 after flooding from heavy rains from hurricane Ida in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Sept. 2, 2021. Credit: Branden Eastwood/AFP via Getty Images
A kayaker paddles down a portion of Interstate 676 after flooding from heavy rains from hurricane Ida in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Sept. 2, 2021. Credit: Branden Eastwood/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration proposed a new rule Thursday that would require states and metropolitan areas to track and report the greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles driving on interstate highways and other major roads, as well as submit plans to the federal government on how they’ll reduce those emissions over time. The proposal offers a potential lifeline to President Joe Biden’s embattled climate agenda, which has been hamstrung by Congress and suffered a major blow from the Supreme Court last week.

Under a series of bills Congress passed over the last decade to make America’s highways safer and more sustainable, the Department of Transportation already requires state and metropolitan transportation officials to track a number of performance measures and submit plans to improve them. Those include data on accidents and fatalities, road conditions, traffic congestion and emissions of legacy air pollution such as PM 2.5, or soot.

Thursday’s proposed rule would add carbon dioxide to that list of metrics, requiring officials to set reduction targets for tailpipe emissions of CO2 in the coming years. The Biden administration noted that more than $27 billion in federal infrastructure funding was also available to help state transportation departments and metropolitan planning organizations meet those targets. 

The new rule is similar to one finalized by the Obama administration but was effectively reversed under President Trump before it could take effect. The public now has 90 days to comment on Biden’s proposed rule.

“We are taking an important step forward in tackling transportation’s share of the climate challenge, and we don’t have a moment to waste,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a press release announcing the proposal. “Our approach gives states the flexibility they need to set their own emission reduction targets, while providing them with resources from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to meet those targets and protect their communities.”

Transportation is now the leading single-sector source of greenhouse gases in the United States, surpassing power plants in 2017 and accounting for roughly a third of the nation’s total emissions. The sector’s role in the climate crisis gives heightened importance to Thursday’s proposal, which adds at least one potential tool to the increasingly piecemeal arsenal Biden has at his disposal to pursue his ambitious but floundering climate agenda, including slashing U.S. emissions in half in just eight years.

While the proposed rule requires states to adhere to the reporting and planning procedures of the Federal Highway Administration’s performance standards, the regulation generally lacks enforcement power—meaning states that disregard or only partially follow it face little, if any legal consequences.

Still, proponents of the rule widely celebrated its announcement, seeing it as tangible action the Biden administration is taking in the wake of a gridlocked Congress unable to pass any kind of national climate legislation and a Supreme Court ruling that has limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate climate-warming emissions from power plants.

In fact, the high court’s ruling on West Virginia v. EPA could have broad implications for how federal regulators can interpret and implement the Clean Air Act, including in regards to the transportation sector.

After the EPA finalized a new rule in December that boosts vehicle fuel economy standards to cut greenhouse gas emissions, several oil and gas companies and 15 Republican state attorneys general sued the Biden administration, saying the agency exceeded its authority by favoring renewable technologies over fossil fuels rather than simply regulating carbon emissions. That’s the same argument the Supreme Court’s six conservative justices agreed with in their recent West Virginia v. EPA ruling.

But Thursday’s proposed rule doesn’t rely on the Clean Air Act but on existing federal highway performance standards, and therefore stands on more solid ground, said Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive nonpartisan think tank.

A key reason Congress implemented those standards in the first place was to ensure states were maintaining federal highways and other main thoroughfares in good condition, which helps to make driving safer, DeGood told me in an interview. 

Using that as the legal basis for the proposed rule, he said, the Biden administration is “saying that climate change poses a risk to the assets themselves, and Congress has made asset preservation and maintenance a national goal” under those performance standards.

The argument isn’t difficult to understand. Scientists have long warned that global warming was increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather, sea level rise, flooding and wildfires. And research indicates those trends are taking a heavy toll on the nation’s infrastructure.

Last summer and fall, extreme heat buckled pavement in Minnesota and Washington state, while heavy rainfall submerged highways in Pennsylvania and Virginia and caused more than $75 million in damage to New York City’s subway systems. By the end of the century, the U.S. could be spending as much as $20 billion every year to manage the effects of global warming, a 2018 federal assessment found, roughly 40 percent of total federal road spending in 2021.

The proposal has drawn backlash from some Republican lawmakers and members of industry associations who say Congress never intended for the Federal Highway Administration to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

“Agencies need to comply with the authority and the mission that was explicitly given to them by Congress,” Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory and legal issues at the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, told the Washington Post, adding that he believed there were similarities between the proposed rule and last week’s Supreme Court decision. “The same logic applies here. The Department of Transportation is going outside its lane in this rule and trying to act like the EPA.”

But DeGood thinks the draft rule has a good chance of passing legal muster, and could have a “significant” impact on transportation-related carbon emissions, even if it lacks traditional enforcement mechanisms. For example, he said, the federal government could use the metrics gathered by the new rule as qualification criteria for future federal discretionary funds—essentially giving states in good standing with the regulation priority.

In many ways, DeGood added, the current performance standards simply shed light on whether states are following best highway safety practices, and those that don’t get scrutinized by the public and are often pressured into making changes. “Effectively, what we have now is naming and shaming,” 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

0.32°C

That’s how much warmer the global average temperature for last month was compared to the 1991-2020 average, according to forecasters, making it the third warmest June on record.

The 228-meter long Hidden Gem docked in the Port of Rotterdam. Credit: Charles M. Vella/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
The Hidden Gem, a former drilling ship, docks in Rotterdam, Netherlands, to be converted into the American Bureau of Shipping's first sub-sea mining vessel. Credit: Charles M. Vella/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Three Pacific island nations announced this week that they had formed a new alliance calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining until the environmental risks of the nascent industry are better understood and appropriate regulations are put in place. Whether countries should be allowed to extract minerals from the seafloor has become an increasingly important debate as countries race to find the metals needed for batteries that will power the clean energy transition.

Government mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the growing popularity of electric vehicles have driven a figurative gold rush in recent years for lithium, cobalt, nickel and other relatively rare metals used to manufacture long-performance batteries. In fact, demand for those minerals could increase sixfold by 2040, according to projections from the International Energy Agency.

Hoping to cash in on the burgeoning market, several countries and private prospectors are now racing to find new sources of the materials, including at the bottom of the ocean. The United Nations body charged with regulating deep-sea mining in international waters is expected to ratify rules for the industry as early as next year, and nations have already issued dozens of licenses to companies to explore potential mining spots.

But a growing chorus of world leaders and scientists, particularly from island nations that depend on the ocean for food and income, say that the ecological threats from deep-sea mining are too great and are urging the international community to slow down.

“We know that deep-sea mining compromises the integrity of our ocean habitat that supports marine biodiversity and contributes to mitigating the impacts of climate change,” Palau President Surangel Whipps said at the United Nations Ocean Conference, which began on Monday and is being hosted in Portugal. “We believe it is not worth the risk.”

Palau was joined by Fiji and Samoa in the new alliance. A separate petition, also calling for a temporary ban on deep-sea mining, was circulated at the conference and has so far been signed by more than 70 individuals from 35 countries. And more than 600 scientists and policy experts from around the world have made a similar declaration, warning that mining the seabed could result “in the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning that would be irreversible on multi-generational timescales.”

While the processes for deep-sea mining are still being developed, the leading idea involves using specialized vehicles to rake the ocean floor for potato-sized nodules that contain metal ores, which then get sucked up by a vacuum onto a ship. And although research on deep-sea mining is scarce—largely due to the cost and risk associated with conducting studies thousands of meters below the surface of the ocean—scientists say the evidence gathered so far is alarming.

Specifically, most researchers point to a test conducted in 1989 by German scientist Hjalmar Thiel, who dragged an 8-meter-wide rake across the ocean floor and observed the results. Sediment stirred up by the plowing buried almost everything, including the animals and plants living on the seabed, within nearly 7 square miles—far further than researchers at the time had imagined. And 26 years later, when scientists revisited the test site, the creatures that had once inhabited the area still hadn’t returned.

Scientists also warn that deep-sea mining could kill microbes that help absorb carbon dioxide, increasing global warming, and that the noise from the machinery could impair animals that use sound to avoid predators or find prey.

Deep-sea mining isn’t the only solution being explored. As my colleague Dan Gearino reported earlier this year, there’s a burgeoning battery recycling industry that aims to salvage rare materials from old waste rather than buying virgin metals.

Still, some countries—such as the small island nation of Nauru, just north of Australia—are pushing for an acceleration of the ocean mining business. And top energy experts have said that failing to quickly address the skyrocketing demand for rare minerals could jeopardize global climate goals. Complicating matters further is the fact that many of the metals needed for batteries are coming from only a handful of countries, with just three accounting for more than 75 percent of the total supplies, according to a 2021 IEA report.

In 2019, some 70 percent of cobalt and rare earth elements came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and 60 percent came from China, that report found. And Australia was responsible for more than half the world’s supply of lithium.

“Today, the data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realizing those ambitions,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said in a press release for the report. “Left unaddressed, these potential vulnerabilities could make global progress towards a clean energy future slower and more costly—and therefore hamper international efforts to tackle climate change.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. The newsletter will take a break next Tuesday in observance of Independence Day, but I’ll be back in your inbox next Friday.

Today’s Indicator

3 billion

That’s about how many metric tons of carbon dioxide scientists believe the ocean absorbs every year, based on a 2020 study out of the United Kingdom that found the previous estimate of 2 billion metric tons was likely falling short.

A group of demonstrators faces police officers on the Theresienwiese during a demonstration by G7 critics for better climate and species protection and against hunger and poverty. Credit: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images
A group of demonstrators faces police officers on the Theresienwiese during a demonstration by G7 critics for better climate and species protection and against hunger and poverty. Credit: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

Leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest nations say Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the strain it’s causing to the global energy market, is forcing them to walk back a recent promise to stop funding overseas fossil fuel projects. It’s the latest climate pledge to fall victim to the war, which has upended global geopolitics and threatens to derail an already fragile international effort to tackle the climate crisis.

In May, members of the Group of Seven—a coalition of the world’s largest developed economies, known as G7 for short—pledged to stop funding fossil fuel projects in other countries by the end of the year, saying such development was out of sync with the Paris Agreement. The group’s members consist of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

But at a G7 summit in Germany that began over the weekend, most of the coalition’s members supported nullifying that promise as they scramble to replace ubiquitous Russian fossil fuels amid sky-high energy costs and rising global inflation, according to several news reports. Germany, France and Italy all lobbied for the move during the event, which took place at a remote castle in the Bavarian Alps.

“In the present situation we’ll have short-term needs that will require large investments in gas infrastructure in developing countries and elsewhere,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said during the talks Sunday, adding that he believed “short-term needs” could be balanced with “long-term climate needs” by later replacing natural gas with carbon-free hydrogen gas.

If adopted by the group, the change would mark the latest climate pledge to be nixed by G7 members since Russia invaded Ukraine four months ago. Germany, for example, has already walked back its promise to stop burning coal for electricity. And several G7 nations, including the United States, are reportedly lobbying to postpone fulfilling a pledge to deliver $100 billion in annual aid to help developing countries mitigate the effects of global warming, including rising sea levels and more frequent and severe extreme weather and drought. Many of those developing nations have contributed very little to the climate crisis yet face the greatest harm because of it.

In many ways, the weekend meeting offered an early and ominous glimpse of the steep challenges countries will likely face in November as they meet in Egypt for the United Nations’ highly anticipated climate summit. Many climate activists now worry that as the U.S. and other wealthy Western nations ramp up domestic production of oil and gas to replace lost fuel supplies from Russia, it’s sending the global climate fight in the wrong direction and risks sabotaging the chances of meeting key targets set by the Paris Agreement.

Earlier this month, U.S. government scientists announced that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached a record-high of nearly 421 parts per million. Exports of liquified natural gas from the United States to Europe have nearly tripled since March, according to a joint statement released Monday by the White House and the European Commission. And a new study found that global methane emissions have climbed a “worrisome” amount this year, despite 110 countries vowing last November to cut their emissions of the potent greenhouse gas by 30 percent over the next eight years—marking yet another potentially broken promise.

On Sunday, the G7 coalition announced they were making $600 billion available to help developing nations fund their infrastructure projects, with at least half of that pool going toward efforts to transition countries away from coal, the most carbon-intensive and polluting fossil fuel. Many countries, however, are moving away from coal by switching to gas rather than more climate-friendly sources like solar and wind. And on Tuesday, G7 members also announced the formation of a new global “climate club,” which is aimed at speeding up efforts to tackle global warming, in part by making it more financially attractive for companies and governments to decarbonize their industries.

But climate activists criticized the announcement for being too “vague” and accused their governments of offering empty promises while pumping vast sums of money into fossil fuels.

As world leaders flit about in private helicopters over the weekend and enjoyed the quaint charms of their mountain retreat, including a wood-fueled fire at the Bavarian castle where they’ve held the conference since Saturday, a much different scene played out on the streets. On Saturday, thousands of protesters marched on Munich, demanding far more be done to protect the world’s most vulnerable communities and transition the global economy away from planet-warming fossil fuels.

“We have a war in Ukraine, a climate war, a fossil-fuelled war, which is happening because of the same reason of the climate crisis. And they’re just continuing to spend on it. And they’re just accelerating the destruction,” Ilyess El Kortbi, a Ukrainian climate activist told POLITICO as he joined the ongoing protests outside the summit Monday. “How are G7 leaders different from Putin if most of them think of profits?”

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

Today’s Indicator

$40

That’s how much money each of the 133 community members of Coatitila, Mexico, were paid to protect their local forests for two years as part of a carbon offset program funded by oil giant BP. Critics say the meager wages revealed how offset programs can exploit poor communities for big corporate profit.

Pouring concrete for the floor of a house extension in Ambleside, U.K. Credit: Ashley Cooper/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images
Pouring concrete for the floor of a house extension in Ambleside, U.K. Credit: Ashley Cooper/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

Over the past 20 years, cement manufacturers have quietly doubled their carbon dioxide emissions, highlighting a sector that has received relatively little public scrutiny despite contributing nearly three times as much to global warming as the airline industry. With cement production only expected to increase through mid-century, a growing number of people are now calling for a more concerted effort to tackle concrete’s expanding carbon footprint.

Scientists say that the cement industry will need to decrease its annual emissions by at least 16 percent by 2030 to be in line with the Paris Agreement. But between 2002 and 2021, the industry’s global emissions doubled from 1.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide to nearly 2.9 billion tons, according to data from the CICERO Center for International Climate Research and the Global Carbon Project that was shared with the Associated Press. 

Cement manufacturing now accounts for at least 8 percent of all the world’s CO2 emissions. In comparison, aviation accounts for about 2.8 percent of total global emissions, according to a 2020 report from the International Energy Agency.

“Cement emissions have grown faster than most other carbon sources,” Rob Jackson, a climate scientist at Stanford University who leads the Global Carbon Project, told the AP, adding that the climbing emissions can largely be tied to increased manufacturing in China.

Used to build much of the infrastructure that enables today’s modern society—think roads, bridges, buildings and even the ground you walk on—concrete is the second-most widely used substance on Earth, behind only water. And according to the IEA, the cement sector is the third-largest consumer of energy and the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide when looking at industrial players alone.

Making cement is by its nature a highly energy-intensive process. Raw materials like clay and limestone are heated to more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit to turn them into a binding agent for sand, gravel or other coarse materials. But unlike other major construction commodities, concrete produces carbon emissions in two ways, not just one. 

Manufacturing steel, for example, produces greenhouse gas emissions because running the steel plants requires energy, and that electricity and heat still overwhelmingly comes from burning fossil fuels. Manufacturing concrete similarly requires power, but the chemical process of making cement itself also produces significant amounts of carbon dioxide. Altogether, roughly 1,370 pounds of CO2 is produced for every metric ton of cement manufactured, researchers say.

That makes the cement industry especially difficult when it comes to reducing its climate impact. But a growing movement, led by researchers and environmental activists, is pushing the industry and government regulators to do just that. At least two states, New York and California, have recently passed laws that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the cement industry.

Last year, California became the first state in the nation to require mandatory emissions reductions from cement manufacturing. Under that new law, the carbon emissions per ton of cement produced in the state must be cut by 40 percent below 2019 levels by 2035. New York also passed a law in 2021, albeit a much narrower one. Under New York’s legislation, the state is required to set an emissions standard for concrete used in public works. 

In May, more than 50 corporations pledged at an international economic summit to begin purchasing “low-carbon” versions of cement, steel, aluminum and other major construction commodities that typically have a high carbon footprint. Among the companies that made the pledge were tech giants Microsoft, Google and Salesforce.

“We are creating a demand for low-carbon products,” particularly for nascent clean technologies in steel, aviation, aluminum, cement and chemicals, Borge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum, told the New York Times.

Such commitments are galvanizing the race to find new ways to produce more climate-friendly cement. Last year, a pair of researchers from the University of Tokyo, for example, discovered a way to reduce the carbon emissions of concrete by making it out of food scraps.

But the search for greener cement has also led to trends that are making many climate activists nervous. In some cases, the surge of interest and funding going into making the industry less carbon-intensive has led policymakers to look to controversial technologies like carbon capture and storage as a way to bring down the cement sector’s footprint.

California, for example, is heavily relying on nascent and unproven carbon removal technologies to achieve much of the state’s mandatory emissions reduction targets for several industrial sectors, including cement manufacturing. Many environmentalists have long objected to carbon removal technologies, saying they are expensive, difficult to scale and distract from proven solutions like switching to renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

“Carbon capture and storage is pitched as one simple trick that can solve the genuine challenge of hard-to-abate emissions, but it may actually make the climate problem worse,” Steven Feit, an attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law, told California lawmakers at a recent public hearing. “It will be a lifeline for emitting facilities and will lock in fossil fuels for decades to come.” 

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

Today’s Indicator

77 percent

That’s how many adults in the United States say they have experienced extreme weather in the last five years, including hurricanes, wildfires, floods and heat waves, according to a new survey. Many also said the incidents have impacted their finances.

Students, activists and demonstrators hold placards during a worldwide climate strike against governmental inaction towards climate breakdown and environmental pollution on Sept. 27, 2019 in Lausanne, western Switzerland. Credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images
Students, activists and demonstrators hold placards during a worldwide climate strike against governmental inaction towards climate breakdown and environmental pollution on Sept. 27, 2019 in Lausanne, western Switzerland. Credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Hope is a scarce commodity these days when it comes to talking about global warming. 

Extreme weather, drought and food insecurity are on the rise in many parts of the world, fueled in part by the climate crisis. Similarly, researchers believe rising temperatures are helping to drive the extinction of plants and animals to levels not seen in the last 10 million years. And despite three decades of scientists sounding the alarm over the consequences of burning fossil fuels, the world’s governments and financial institutions continue to fund new oil and gas development at record levels.

It’s a grim reality that, in recent years, has pushed advocates for climate action to adopt harsh and even apocalyptic language when discussing the issue. But a growing number of researchers, activists and mental health professionals are now urging those in the climate movement to embrace more hope and adopt a softer tone. Too much “doom and gloom” in the news and on social media, they warn, is responsible for surging anxiety among youth and is contributing to a growing sense of climate doomism—the idea that the fight against global warming is already lost so there’s no point in trying.

The debate has exposed a rift within the climate movement over how to best convey the dangers of global warming to the public—a parley made more significant in the light of the pandemic and as political gridlock and an ongoing war in Ukraine threaten to derail the international effort to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

“I think there’s this schism in the climate movement right now, where there’s this group of moderates who have long said that the most effective way to create change is to not scare the public,” Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, told me in an interview. But “frankly, fear and panic have a very useful function.”

In many ways, fear has helped propel the climate movement into the juggernaut it is today. Climate activists like Greta Thunberg, who’s largely credited with the widespread mobilization of youth around global warming, have used frightful rhetoric as a way to shame adults into taking action.

“I don’t want your hope, I want you to panic,” a then 15-year-old Thunberg famously told a room full of world leaders in 2019. “I want you to feel the fear I do every day, and want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire because it is.”

The speech quickly became a rallying cry for activists frustrated by government inaction and corporate greenwashing, and for a generation of youth afraid their leaders were sacrificing their future for profit. And there’s at least some research that suggests fear is a helpful motivator. A 2020 study published in Nature found that “pessimistic” climate messages can trigger higher engagement from the public than ones focused on “optimistic” messages.

But lately, that kind of language has received criticism from many within the movement. When the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest grim report in April, saying that humanity was failing to keep the planet on a trajectory that would avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, one of the report’s authors warned that it was “now or never” to act.

Michael Mann, a prominent climatologist and professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, immediately pushed back.

“The combined stresses of the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis, and economic troubles stemming from spiking oil and gas prices, inflation, and growing global inequality have pushed us to our limits— geopolitically, environmentally, and psychologically,” Mann wrote in an essay the following week. “The problem with ‘now or never’ is that it implies a hard threshold at 1.5°C that if we fail to achieve, it’s game over. But this game will never be over.”

In fact, Mann—who’s highly regarded within the climate movement for his groundbreaking work documenting the relationship between rising temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide levels—dedicated a chapter of his recent book, “The New Climate War,” to the subject of doomism, arguing that people need to maintain hope or risk sabotaging the movement from within. “It’s great to see the message catching on,” Mann told me in an email.

Kalmus, who says his opinions don’t reflect NASA’s, also caught flak in April when he joined more than 1,000 other climate researchers in mass protest around the world, calling the movement “Scientist Rebellion” and urging others to join them in civil disobedience to pressure governments to act quicker on global warming. Their slogan? “1.5 is dead, climate revolution now!”

Talk of the demonstrations spread quickly on social media, but many youth misinterpreted the message, Alaina Wood, a sustainability scientist and climate communicator, warned in a series of online posts. She soon saw hundreds of messages and videos of children and teenagers expressing anxiety and despair, thinking the world was ending in as soon as eight years—the amount of time scientists say humanity has to reduce global emissions 60 percent in order to keep the 1.5 degree threshold alive.

“I get at least a dozen messages/comments daily from children and teenageers asking me if the world will truly end in 10 years or less because of the climate crisis,” Wood wrote in an April 22 tweet. “Our messaging has failed if this is what they believe.”

Psychologists, too, have pushed for a more hopeful tone. In March, the American Psychological Association published a 64-page report about rising climate anxiety, offering guidance for how mental health professionals can address the issue. Gale Sinatra, who led the report, said in a press release that “too much doomsday information in media coverage about climate change” was causing people to “tune out” rather than “engage.” 

Research shows that a growing number of adults, and particularly young adults, are choosing not to have children because of global warming—another sign that people are losing faith in their future and succumbing to doomism, Wood and others have argued. One in four childless adults cited climate change as a reason for not having children, a 2020 Morning Consult poll found.

“People are having panic attacks, suicidal thoughts” and “giving up plans for their future because of this,” Wood wrote on Twitter, urging those in the climate movement to adjust their tone and focus instead on solutions. “There needs to be some sort of distinction between ‘I’m scared but won’t give up’ eco-anxiety and ‘I’m giving up and having mental breakdowns’ eco-anxiety.”

But Kalmus said he and others involved in Scientist Rebellion are, in fact, focusing on solutions—namely that the world needs to rapidly switch from using fossil fuels to renewable energy. It’s government leaders and global financiers that are refusing to pursue that solution quickly enough, he said.

One recent report found that 60 of the largest global banks have consistently increased their financing of fossil fuels over the years, pumping a record $4.6 trillion into the industry since 2016. “I don’t think it’s helpful to sugarcoat things and tone things down,” Kalmus said.

“The truth,” he added, “is scary.”

The world certainly isn’t ending in eight years, nor will it in 2100. But scientists say it does face serious ecological damage if more isn’t done to slow climate change. The planet has already warmed nearly 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and research now estimates that there is only a 6-10 percent chance of keeping it below the 1.5 degree threshold. Once that is crossed, sea level is expected to rise by 10 to 30 inches, 14 percent of the world is predicted to face more extreme heat, 90 percent of all coral reefs could die out and about 7 percent of the Earth’s land could shift into a new biome—meaning grasslands turn into deserts and tundra into forest.

At 2 degrees Celsius, which is what many believe the Earth is on track to hit by 2100 under the latest commitments of the Paris Agreement, those climate impacts are projected to be twice as bad. Earlier this month, an analysis of those pledges found that only a handful of nations are on track to meet them.

That is leading some in the far fringes of the climate movement to declare any efforts to slow climate change futile. Known as the “Deep Adaptation” movement, academics like Jem Bendell and Rupert Read argue that humanity has no chance of stopping global warming and should focus most of its energy on preparing for societal collapse.

Kalmus rejects that his movement is like Deep Adaptation, which he “strongly disagrees with,” but admits that more could be done to help people understand that being afraid shouldn’t mean giving up. “If you’re really worried about this, and you’re working around the clock to do everything you can to create social change and to fight for the coolest possible future, I don’t think that you’re a doomer—despite what the climate moderates might say,” he said. “I think we’re really on the same side.”

Wood, too, has said she agrees with the message of Scientist Rebellion, and only wants more to be done to help youth from misunderstanding, or worse, believing credible science that has been co-opted by bad actors and skewed into disinformation.

That’s a fear that Mann shares as well. “Fossil fuel interests have actually weaponized doomism, as they recognize it leads climate advocates down the path of despair, hopelessness and disengagement—which is actually what they want,” Mann told me. “They want climate advocates on the sidelines, not the frontlines.”

In an interview with Bill McKibben, the prominent climate activist and founder of 350.org told me that, ultimately, what’s important is honest balance. “My sense over time is that it pays simply to be honest, neither trying to scare people nor trying to soothe them,” he said. “It’s been important to me that at least we knew what we were doing, so we didn’t sleepwalk over the cliff.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading. The newsletter will be taking a break next Tuesday in honor of Juneteenth, but I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday.

Today’s Indicator

7 million

That’s how many acres burned in wildfires last year, up from 3 million acres in 1993, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office. That led to the U.S. spending $2.5 billion to fight wildfires between 2016 and 2020, the agency said.

A temperature of 114 degrees F is displayed on a digital sign outside of De Anza Magnet School June 12, 2022 in El Centro, California. Credit: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
A temperature of 114 degrees F is displayed on a digital sign outside of De Anza Magnet School June 12, 2022 in El Centro, California. Credit: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Millions of Americans are facing “severe to extreme drought” conditions, made worse by “dangerous heat” that pummeled much of the West over the weekend and into Tuesday, federal officials are warning. It’s the latest sign that climate change is exacerbating a megadrought that has gripped nearly half of the country for two decades and continues to take a toll on the economic and public health of residents.

As of May 31, around 90 million Americans were experiencing drought, federal forecasters announced last week, with more than 65 million facing “severe to extreme drought.” A map of the United States released last week as a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s June report shows an alarmingly large part of the country in dryer than average conditions. More than a dozen states all across the West, making up nearly half of the Lower 48, have at least some areas in severe, extreme and even “exceptional drought”—the agency’s highest rating for severity.

The news has officials on high alert in states already struggling to maintain water supplies for residents and businesses while battling early season wildfires. Federal forecasters warned over the weekend that “dangerous heat” was contributing to a slew of wildfires in California, New Mexico and Arizona. And many officials worry it’s a sign of another intense summer fire season ahead.

“We’re getting hotter, drier, faster,” Dustin Gardner, a California fire official, told the Guardian, adding that the last few years have intensified into an alarming trend. 

Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver and California’s Death Valley all posted record temperatures on Saturday, according to forecasters. Phoenix hit 114 degrees Fahrenheit, tying a record high set in 1918. Las Vegas tied its 1956 record of 109 degrees. And Denver, Colorado, tied its 2013 record of 100 degrees.

That prompted some officials in some states to send out safety alerts. “Remember, heat is the #1 weather-related killer in the U.S. and AZ, so take the proper actions to protect yourself from the heat,” the Weather Service in Phoenix wrote in a weekend tweet.

Each year, more than 600 people die from excessive heat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and climate scientists have warned that will only get worse as the average global temperature continues to rise.

The region’s drought has also pitted farmers, city leaders and private industries against each other over a dwindling water supply in the Colorado River Basin. In May, federal officials took unprecedented steps to protect the already record-low levels in the river, which supplies more than 40 million people and about 5 million acres of farmland with fresh water. 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.

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 weekend heat and the ongoing wildfires also point to a trend that climate scientists have long been warning about—namely that the reality of climate change continues to outpace researchers’ understanding of it.

In February, scientists published a study that found that global warming has exacerbated the region’s dry conditions so much that the last two decades are now the driest the region has seen in 1,200 years.

Researchers have touted that figure before, when they pointed out that between 2012 and 2016, Western states experienced their worst dry spell in more than a millenia. But since the beginning of the 21st century, when the drought conditions began, the situation has worsened far more quickly than previous models anticipated, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. 

Those findings are the latest evidence that the baseline researchers use to help understand the world’s complex weather systems continues to change faster than their understanding of it, said Liza Gross, the West Coast reporter for Inside Climate News, where she has covered how heat and drought have affected one of the world’s most profitable agriculture industries.

“This study supports what scientists keep telling me: We’ve moved past any semblance of a ‘new normal,’” Gross said. “Things are changing so rapidly that it’s hard to establish the kind of baseline scientists need to predict future events. Each event seems to shatter past records.”

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

Today’s Indicator

38,000

That’s how many Olympic-size swimming pools the Penuelas reservoir in central Chile could fill with water just 20 years ago. Now, as the region battles a historic 13-year drought, the reservoir holds enough water for just two pools.

PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 22: As part of a global movement March for Science protesters march to demonstrate on April 22, 2017 in Paris to oppose Trump’s rejection of science, climate change, global warming and the rise of misinformation. (Photo by John van Hasselt/Corbis via Getty Images)

A team of researchers and environmental advocates are urging governments and Big Tech companies to do far more to stop rampant online disinformation campaigns, which they say aim to delay action on the climate crisis by intentionally dragging the issue into the culture wars now dominating Western politics. Failing to stop such campaigns, the groups warned in a new report, could further splinter unity at November’s climate talks and jeopardize a global effort that has struggled to slash planet-warming emissions.

“Whether through conspiracies like ‘climate lockdown,’ or by conflating climate with divisive issues like critical race theory, LGBTQ+ rights and abortion access, the goal of much climate change disinformation is now to distract and delay,” wrote the authors of the report, released Thursday by a broad coalition of climate and social media watchdog groups. “Given that the window to act is brief and rapidly closing, this approach could have devastating consequences.”

The report, which analyzed hundreds of thousands of social media posts over the last 18 months, found that despite promises from tech companies in recent years to crack down on the spread of “fake news” on their platforms, posts with misleading or false information about climate change continue to flourish online. It also found that much of the disinformation is coming from a small group of actors who wield a large sphere of influence online and have found success in sowing doubt over the urgency of global warming by tapping into populist sentiments such as distrust in scientific experts and wealthy elites, as well as a nationalistic and isolationist view of global politics.

For example, the analysis found 6,262 Facebook posts and 72,356 tweets where users blamed other countries for climate change while deflecting the responsibility of their own country. Posts from Western countries tended to highlight the shortcomings of China and India, claiming they were not doing enough so there was no point in anyone acting. The study also found 115,830 tweets and 15,443 Facebook posts that called into question—often inaccurately—the viability and effectiveness of renewable energy technologies.

To mitigate the problem, the report’s authors recommend that governments, as well as appropriate international bodies, formally recognize the threat of “climate disinformation,” adopt a universal definition for it and pass policies—such as the European Union’s Digital Services Act—that limit the legal immunity social media companies have when it comes to what their users post on their platforms.

The report also called on Big Tech companies to implement several changes to better prevent climate disinformation on their platforms. Those included implementing policies that restrict misleading advertisements and punish repeat offenders for spreading false information with their products and services, as well as adopting clearer definitions in their user terms of service agreements when it comes to climate disinformation

Social media companies have come under increasing scrutiny for their role in the spread of false or misleading information online, and Thursday’s report is the latest in a growing body of evidence that suggests the problem is only 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.

Thursday’s analysis also highlights how issues targeted by disinformation campaigns, such as climate change, are becoming increasingly polarized in the wake of the pandemic. In 2020, President Trump often downplayed the scientific advice from his own staff, helping to fuel conspiracy theories and general distrust in science. And in 2021 and 2022, inaccurate information on social media contributed to growing public backlash against the vaccines and mask mandates that were often promoted by Democratic leaders who were following advice from the medical community.

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. Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that climate disinformation was “a big issue” on the platform and established the Climate Science Center as a way to promote scientifically accurate information. And in April, 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.

But Thursday’s report said that not only were those efforts not working, but that the platforms appear to be actively amplifying the inaccurate messages, which in the last 18 months alone reached “millions of people worldwide” and were “bolstered by legacy print, broadcast and radio outlets.”

Many climate activists worry that without strong intervention, online disinformation will only continue to undermine the ability of world governments to pass their own climate legislation, let alone cooperate effectively under an international agreement.

“We will not be able to stop climate change if all conversations are flooded with disinformation,” Michael Khoo, who specializes in climate change and disinformation and is a member of the coalition that released Thursday’s report, told Newsweek. “Governments must require social media companies to be transparent and accountable about the harms their products create, as they do with every other industry from airlines to cars to food processing. We should not continue this endless game of climate denial.” 

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

38 million

That’s about how many people in the Southwest are under some sort of heat-related alert over the weekend and could face record-breaking temperatures expected to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, forecasters warned.

BONN, GERMANY - JUNE 06: Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, speaks on the opening day of the UNFCCC's SB56 climate conference on June 06, 2022 in Bonn, Germany. The June 6-16 conference is in preparation for the UN Climate Change Conference COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, which is scheduled to take place in November this year. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Researchers of a new peer-reviewed study say they’ve developed the “first detailed roadmap” for how the United States can achieve its ambitious climate pledge to slash the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. It’s a critical target that, if missed, would likely jeopardize the larger global efforts to prevent devastating runaway climate change.

The study, published in Science late last month by some of the nation’s leading research institutions, found that it is both technically feasible and financially beneficial for the U.S. to rapidly transition to clean power sources and electric vehicles. While ambitious, such a shift wouldn’t result in investors losing money and would keep the country on track to fulfill its commitment under the Paris Agreement, the paper’s authors said—but only if policymakers act immediately to implement the necessary changes.

“The good news is that the primary barrier for meeting this target is not going to be cost. It’s really going to be about our overall policy actions,” Nikit Abhyankar, a scientist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a co-author of the study, told me. But “we need to act as soon as possible, with very little room to spare.”

Specifically, the study found that the U.S. can feasibly slash half its emissions in eight years by focusing on its two most carbon-intensive sectors: electricity and transportation. The study compared six separate modeling studies, but found that most of the scenarios pointed to the same solutions: By 2030, more than half of the new cars sold in the country would need to be electric and at least 80 percent of the electricity produced would need to come from solar, wind or other renewable sources. That means building about 800 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity between now and 2030. It also means increasing EV sales from its current 3 percent to more than 50 percent.

But Abhyankar said much of that work is already moving forward, and just needs a nudge from federal and local policymakers to ensure those specific goals are met on time. Nearly 1400 gigawatts of wind, solar and storage capacity is already in a queue to connect to the nation’s power grids, he said, and several top auto manufacturers—including General Motors and Volvo—have committed to going all electric by 2030 or 2035.

“Clearly, there is interest,” Abhyankar said. “It’s really the question of getting the policy and the regulatory framework in order.”

The study also found that switching to renewables and electric vehicles should no longer be viewed as cost prohibitive. The intensive modeling of the study allowed the researchers to evaluate policies, emissions reductions and costs at an almost granular-level—including considering individual power plants and highways. 

It found that, in many cases, utilities and other energy providers will spend the same amount or more running natural-gas fired power plants than ones powered by wind or solar. And, while electric vehicles have higher upfront costs than gasoline cars right now, that price difference will even out between the two over the next five to seven years.

It won’t be long before electric vehicles that can be compared to standard sedans are costing around $20,000, Abhyankar said.

Perhaps the most interesting finding in the study is that the investors who have paid for the natural-gas infrastructure that currently powers most of the U.S. wouldn’t necessarily lose money in the transition, Abhyankar said. Instead, those gas power plants could continue to be used infrequently to help generate electricity during peak times, he said, allowing the owners and other energy investors to shift their funding to the development of renewables.

The study offers the most comprehensive set of recommendations to date on how the U.S. can fulfill its climate promise, which scientists say is key to salvaging a global effort that has struggled to achieve even modest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Last week, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high of nearly 421 parts per million in May. And average global temperatures are now about 1.1 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial average.

Scientists have long warned policymakers that allowing the world to warm an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius would result in catastrophic harm to the global ecosystems that support all life on Earth. To avoid that future, 197 nations have pledged under the historic Paris Agreement to drastically cut their climate-warming emissions in the coming years and decades.

But the success or failure of that international agreement falls largely on the actions of just a handful of mostly wealthy nations that produce the vast majority of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. That includes the United States, which alone produces 15 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and has historically been the biggest contributor to the climate crisis.

On Monday, world leaders meeting in Germany gave an early glimpse of how nations are progressing on their climate commitments under the Paris Agreement. It’s the first time the governments convened since COP26 in Glasgow last November, where they determined global emissions would need to be reduced 60 percent by 2030 in order to keep warming below the 1.5 degree threshold.

Last week, an annual report that evaluates the pledges of the Paris Agreement found that only a handful of nations were on track to meet their commitments—and the United States was not one of them.

Speaking to delegates at the opening of the talks in Germany, Patricia Espinosa, the United Nation’s departing climate chief, urged governments to make political interventions to get back in line with the Paris Agreement. “We can do better, we must,” she said. “It is not acceptable to say that we are in challenging times—they know that climate change is not an agenda we can afford to push back.”

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

Today’s Indicator

6 hours

That’s the limit the Mexican city of Nuevo Leon is placing on daily water access to residents in response to a historic drought in the region, authorities said Friday.