Participant seen holding a sign at a climate protest in midtown Manhattan. Credit: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images
Participant seen holding a sign at a climate protest in midtown Manhattan. Credit: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Dark money groups have become a critical roadblock to meaningful climate action by propagating misinformation about climate science and clean energy, while propping up politicians who support fossil fuels through massive donations, according to a series of recent investigations and reports.

Dark money refers to spending meant to influence elections or policy where the source of the money isn’t disclosed. In many cases, the money is hidden from the public by being channeled through politically active nonprofits such as 501(c)(4)s, which generally aren’t required to disclose donors, or through the use of shell companies.

Spanning from last May to as recently as this week, a slew of news investigations and watchdog reports have revealed a bevy of dark money campaigns aimed at safeguarding the finances of fossil fuel energy companies. Most of the campaigns focused on spreading misleading information about the benefits of fossil fuels and the potential harms of clean energy, as well as funding campaigns for politicians that are friendly to oil and gas development, the reports found.

Two particularly alarming revelations sprang from a joint-investigation by NPR and Floodlight, published in December, and another investigation by The Washington Post published Thursday. The December investigation found that at least $900,000 tied to utility company Alabama Power had been funneled to news websites that wrote articles that promoted the utility’s business interests. Thursday’s report found that a nonprofit created by a half-dozen gas companies was hiring prominent Democratic politicians and pollsters for the purpose of improving the reputation of natural gas among liberal voters.

The investigations suggest that, at least to some degree, money collected from ratepayers is being used to influence public debate surrounding elections and policies that fossil fuel companies view as a threat to their bottom line, such as recent speculation over a nationwide natural gas ban in new construction.

“America’s monopoly electric and gas utilities are using the money that they collect from customers’ monthly bills to fund political machines that push legislation, curry favor with regulators and alter the outcomes of elections, sometimes even breaking laws in the process,” David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, wrote in a new report released last week.

The San Francisco-based watchdog and clean energy advocacy group has released several reports over the last year connecting fossil fuel money to ad campaigns that downplayed or denied the threats of climate change, as well as efforts to thwart the United Kingdom’s net zero emissions policy. Its latest report, “Getting Politics Out of Utility Bills,” summarizes how dark money from energy companies has pervaded the political arena and emerged as a major obstacle for meaningful climate action—specifically the rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“A combination of vague and outdated rules ridden with loopholes, a lack of visibility into utility political influence activities for regulators and the public, and an abdication of enforcement by regulators has meant that utilities have had free reign to use their customers’ money toward their political operations,” the report said.

The report also suggests three things that policymakers could do to help address those issues, namely by adopting new rules or passing legislation that:

  • Explicitly prohibits utilities from using ratepayer money for any political activity, including through nonprofits; 
  • Requires utilities to disclose all spending in relation to political spending to ensure ratepayer money isn’t involved; 
  • Establishes new offices or other regulatory bodies to enforce compliance and issue penalties for infractions.

In fact, the Energy and Policy Institute released those recommendations the same week former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder began his federal racketeering trial. The former state lawmaker, along with four other men, were charged last year with accepting some $61 million in bribes from Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy in exchange for a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout of two struggling nuclear power plants controlled by the energy company.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors began laying out key details of their case, including how money involved in the alleged scheme was funneled through dark money groups and into political action committees and limited liability companies that then supported Householder’s political campaigns.

The Householder scandal also represents the type of misuse of public money that Energy and Policy Institute’s recommendations aim to address. Many climate advocates even believe that special interests are, above all else, the largest hurdle to the international effort to curb the planet’s rising greenhouse gas emissions.

“The fundamental actions to address climate change are not being taken, and the reason they aren’t has a lot to do with a basic underlying problem: the role of money in government,” James Hansen, the prominent climate scientist who elevated the issue of global warming when he famously testified in front of Congress in the 1980s, wrote in a blog post last year. “Young people, indeed, all people, need to understand that they cannot solve the energy and climate problem without addressing the special interest problem in Washington.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday—but before you go:


Hot Gossip

Kal Penn, known best for playing Kumar in the early 2000s stoner comedy, “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” is hosting a new show on Bloomberg’s streaming platform that “goes beyond the gloom and doom of global warming reporting in search of solutions.”

The thought behind the show, titled “Getting Warmer,” falls into a larger debate within the climate movement over how to manage skyrocketing climate anxiety, especially among children. So how do you feel about climate solutions journalism? Do news outlets need more positive coverage? Can too much optimism be dangerous? We want to hear from you

Today’s Indicator

88%

That’s how much of Portugal’s electrical grid was powered by wind and solar energy last month, government officials announced this week, allowing the country to drastically reduce the use of its natural gas-fired power plants.

Prices for gas at an Exxon gas station on Capitol Hill are seen March 14, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Win McNamee/Getty
Prices for gas at an Exxon gas station on Capitol Hill are seen March 14, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Win McNamee/Getty

ExxonMobil and Chevron, the nation’s largest oil companies and two of the biggest energy corporations globally, posted a combined profit of $92 billion for 2022, more money than either company has ever made.

Exxon’s annual profit for 2022 reached $55.7 billion, the company reported Tuesday, with Chevron posting on Friday a net profit of $36.5 billion for the year. Their European counterparts are expected to report similarly high results soon. The profits were driven by soaring oil and gas prices last year, which were a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine paired with lingering effects from the Covid-19 pandemic, and have helped the oil companies pay off debts and sent their stock prices soaring—a full turnaround from a few years ago.

More than anything, those historic profits are a reminder of how dependent the global economy remains on oil and gas, even as calls for more urgent climate action grow and scientific research continues to suggest that the consequences of global warming are accelerating far quicker than previously believed.

On Monday, researchers published yet another peer-reviewed study warning that the more ambitious 1.5 degree target of the Paris Agreement could now be beyond reach. The study, which used artificial intelligence and was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, predicted that average global warming will rise and stay above 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels within a decade and 2 degrees Celsius by midcentury, far earlier than previously forecasted, even if greenhouse gas emissions are substantially cut.

“Our predictions … show a high probability of reaching the 2°C threshold by mid-century,” the study’s authors wrote, “suggesting that even with substantial greenhouse gas mitigation, there is still a possibility of failing to achieve the U.N. Paris goal.” 

Those findings are prompting fresh calls from climate scientists to more rapidly slash the world’s rising greenhouse gas emissions, caused predominantly by the continued combustion of fossil fuels.

“We need to accept that this is an emergency, and we haven’t done that yet,” Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab who wasn’t involved with Monday’s study, said in an interview. “I just don’t know what it will take for the majority of people to really understand that, because the kinds of climate disasters we’re seeing now, which were unheard of 10 years ago—the heat dome and flooding in South Asia, people dying in their basements in New York City, the kinds of wildfires and flooding and drought that California and the West are experiencing—is just insane.”

The planet has already warmed between 1.1 to 1.2 degrees on average since the Industrial Revolution, data shows, fueling the kind of destructive storms, wildfires and floods that have become noticeably more common in recent years. At 1.5 degrees, scientists warn that a cascade of climate tipping points will boost the likelihood of such extreme weather events even more, with catastrophic and irreversible consequences—including billions of people facing chronic water scarcity and accelerating mass extinctions—becoming highly probable once temperatures exceed 2 degrees of warming.

Now as oil companies report record-high profits, it’s resparking the debate over what role—if any—the fossil fuel industry should take in the clean energy transition and whether oil majors will use their windfalls to speed the development of renewables or slow them down.

Increasingly, the leading oil companies seem to have accepted that some form of energy transition is inevitable. The question is how fast fossil fuels will be replaced, and whether or not oil and gas will continue to be used throughout the rest of the century, even if in diminished form. On Monday, British oil major BP released its annual Energy Outlook, the company’s long-term forecast of global energy trends, which said the war in Ukraine has likely accelerated the transition off of fossil fuels as countries have sought to lessen their dependence on energy imports.

The company framed its report in surprising terms for an oil major, warning that the world’s carbon budget is running out, and that “the longer the delay in taking decisive action to reduce emissions on a sustained basis, the greater are the likely resulting economic and social costs.”

But many in the climate movement, including Kalmus, don’t trust that the oil companies are being sincere when they talk about addressing climate change, pointing to a growing body of evidence that shows that industry executives have known for decades that their petroleum products were causing harmful climate change but engaged in public relations campaigns that downplayed and denied those threats. Some activists have even accused oil and gas companies of pretending to take climate change seriously as a tactic to delay the phase out of fossil fuels and continue profiting from them as long as possible.

Global clean energy investments matched that of fossil fuels for the first time last year, topping $1 trillion. But despite being a watershed moment for renewables, climate advocates say it still isn’t moving fast enough.

The oil majors continue to devote the vast majority of their spending on their core businesses and, increasingly, on rewarding their investors. Last week, Chevron announced it would spend $75 billion to buy back its own shares and increase stock prices, a step that Exxon had also taken last year. It’s unclear how Exxon plans to spend its current windfall, but the company did release new details of a plan to build what would be the world’s largest “low-carbon” hydrogen plant—a technology that has been criticized by climate activists as a distraction from more proven climate solutions like wind and solar energy.

Kalmus, however, still believes that the energy transition would go quicker without fossil fuel companies involved, pointing to the outcome of last year’s COP27 global climate talks, which failed to produce a deal on how nations would phase down their use of fossil fuels. Without such a plan, scientists say the world will remain on track to warm upwards of nearly 3 degrees by the end of the century.

“Look at what they’ve done in the last 40 years, look at the evidence,” Kalmus said, referring to oil companies and their interest groups. “They’ve shown the world that they will put profit above us and above the planet, and so we would be fools to trust them.”

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

Today’s Indicator

99%

That’s how many of the nation’s 210 remaining coal power plants are now less cost-effective than wind and solar farms of similar generating capacity, a new analysis from think tank Energy Innovation found. Just one coal plant, in Wyoming, was found to be cost-competitive.

Outdoor enthusiasts travel by canoe through several of the hundreds of fresh water lakes that make up the Boundary Waters in September of 2019 in the northern woods of Minnesota. Credit: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images
Outdoor enthusiasts travel by canoe through several of the hundreds of fresh water lakes that make up the Boundary Waters in September of 2019 in the northern woods of Minnesota. Credit: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

The Biden administration says it will prohibit new mining activity for 20 years across a vast swath of federal land in northern Minnesota known for its natural beauty and pristine habitat. Environmentalists celebrated the decision, calling it a win for the environment, tribal rights and the region’s $540 million outdoor tourism industry.

The moratorium will cover roughly 350 square miles of watershed in the Superior National Forest, which sits upstream from Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and includes grounds where Chippewa tribes hunt and fish. But it is likely to also doom a $1.7 billion proposal to mine copper and nickel in the area, increasing pressure on the administration as it scrambles to find domestic sources of the minerals to meet skyrocketing demand for clean energy components.

Copper is a key ingredient in solar panels, wind turbines, as well as the transmission lines required to carry carbon-free electricity to homes and businesses. And both copper and nickel are necessary to produce the kind of long-term batteries needed to store electricity generated by solar and wind farms or power electric vehicles.

“This region sits on top of one of the world’s largest deposits of critical minerals that are vital in meeting our nation’s goals to transition to a clean energy future, to create American jobs, to strengthen our national security and to bolster domestic supply chains,” Twin Metals Minnesota, the company proposing the copper-nickel mine in the town of Ely, said in a statement Thursday. “We believe our project plays a critical role in addressing all of these priorities.”

Demand for those metals, along with other essential minerals like lithium and cobalt, could increase sixfold by 2040, according to projections from the International Energy Agency. As a result, costs for those materials are already surging, the global agency reported last year, with prices of lithium and cobalt more than doubling in 2021, and those for copper, nickel and aluminum rising between 25-40 percent.

Still, many supporters of the Minnesota mining ban, including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, said the risks the Twin Metals mine posed to the region’s lakes and woods outweighed any potential gains from it. A federal environmental review determined the mining operation could cause irreparable harm to nearby watersheds, including the state’s Boundary Waters, a popular destination for camping and canoeing.

“Today’s science-based decision is a massive win for Boundary Waters protection,” Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said in a statement. “The Boundary Waters is a paradise of woods and water. It is an ecological marvel, a world-class outdoor destination, and an economic engine for hundreds of businesses and many thousands of people.”

Nevertheless, without the Twin Metals mine, which would have produced about 180 million tons of ore over 25 years, the Biden administration must now find those materials elsewhere—and fast. It’s a situation that highlights the complex challenges President Joe Biden faces as he struggles to uphold his climate agenda, establish U.S. dominance in the global energy market and navigate an increasingly dicey political situation abroad and at home ahead of next year’s sure-to-be contentious presidential election.

Both the Covid pandemic and the Russian war in Ukraine have strained Biden’s ability to meet his climate pledges, including keeping the U.S. on track to slash nationwide carbon emissions in half in just seven years. And the U.S. continues to lag behind countries like China on the global clean energy market—a key reason Biden invoked the Defense Production Act last year to boost domestic production of clean energy materials, including copper, nickel and lithium. Just one U.S. lithium mine, in Nevada, is currently operating.

In fact, demand for lithium by 2050 in the U.S. alone could require three times more than what is currently being produced worldwide, according to a new study released this week. If accurate, that trend could spur a frenzy in domestic mining activity in the coming years, the researchers said, resulting in possible water shortages, seizure of Indigenous lands and ecological destruction.

In other words, Biden’s mining ban may protect the environment and uphold tribal rights in northern Minnesota, but the issue is bound to crop up elsewhere over the coming decades.

The study’s authors, however, said their research suggests there are viable solutions. If the U.S. invests more in public transit and battery recycling programs, the study found, it could slash the amount of extra lithium required through 2050 by more than 90 percent by reducing the need for virgin materials and by helping to make Americans less reliant on cars.

“Preserving the status quo might seem like the politically easier option, but it’s not the fastest way to get people out of cars or the fairest way to decarbonize,” Thea Riofrancos, the study’s lead author, told the Guardian. “We can either electrify the status quo to reach zero emissions, or the energy transition can be used as an opportunity to rethink our cities and the transportation sector so that it’s more environmentally and socially just, both in the U.S. and globally.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday—but before you go:


Hot Gossip

America’s culture war somehow became more bizarre this week. To conserve electricity and cut carbon emissions, Microsoft announced earlier this month that it would update older Xbox models to automatically go into a power-saving mode while idle—something newer models of the game console already do.

But Republican lawmakers and right-wing media pundits were outraged by the announcement, The Washington Post reported this week, saying the left was now targeting their kids with their “woke” climate agenda. “First gas stoves, then your coffee, now they’re gunning for your Xbox,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz quipped on Twitter this week.

Today’s Indicator

$1.1 trillion

That’s how much money was invested in efforts to decarbonize the energy sector last year, according to a new BloombergNEF report, marking an all-time high in global clean energy funding and the first year spending on renewables matched that of fossil fuels.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 21: In this photo illustration, a Beyond Meat produced burger lay on a table on November 21, 2022 in Miami, Florida. Beyond Meats stock has slumped more than 75 percent in the past year as the company is losing money and amassing debt. (Photo illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Sales of plant-based meat products—which imitate the taste and feel of meat without using animals—took a dive in 2022. That drop has prompted some major media outlets to conclude that the burgeoning billion-dollar industry, which has been touted as a solution to the agriculture sector’s outsized climate footprint, was merely a “fad” that has run its course.

“Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods wanted to upend the world’s $1 trillion meat industry,” Deena Shanker wrote last week for Bloomberg, referring to the world’s leading fake meat manufacturers. “But plant-based meat is turning out to be a flop.”

Supermarket sales of refrigerated plant-based meat dropped roughly 14 percent in 2022, Shanker reported. Restaurant sales, too, took a hit by nearly double digits. And Beyond Meat—which CNN writer Danielle Wiener-Bronner referred to last month as “a darling of Wall Street whose top product became synonymous with plant-based burgers”—saw its stock plummet by about 76 percent last year and was forced to lay off some 20 percent of its staff. The company is now valued at just $1 billion, a monumental fall from its $14 billion peak in 2019.

“Before we were seeing this incredible growth rate,” Thomas George, a portfolio manager at investment research company Grizzle, told Bloomberg. “But when you lose that momentum, you lose your certainty around how big plant-based meats can be.”

Many analysts have attributed the decline in sales to revelations that plant-based meats may not be as healthy as they’ve been advertised to be, with some health experts pointing to the imitation meats’ high sodium content and calling the food “ultraprocessed.” Other analysts, however, have said the drop is more likely tied to inflation, with customers temporarily writing the product off as a luxury item ahead of a potential recession.

Whatever the case may be, the debate highlights the fraught effort to tackle the environmental consequences of some of the world’s most embedded industries that, in many ways, symbolize our way of life as a modern society. Much like cars and planes have allowed humans to travel the world at higher speeds and efficiency, agriculture has allowed societies to thrive in greater numbers and in less hospitable environments.

But agriculture—particularly large-scale farming—is also a leading cause of global warming, deforestation, biodiversity loss and freshwater shortages worldwide, experts say, with livestock playing an outsized role. And the meteoric rise of Beyond Meat and its top rival, Impossible Foods, has largely been a testament to the world’s desire to tackle the climate crisis. 

Research has shown that raising and feeding livestock accounts for nearly 15 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The process also takes up huge swaths of land that could otherwise sequester that carbon and requires massive amounts of water that could otherwise help alleviate drought-stricken areas like the American West, which continues to struggle to maintain water supplies as the climate crisis worsens. In fact, the five largest livestock producers—JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America and Fonterra—release more greenhouse gas emissions than oil giant ExxonMobil, my colleague Georgina Gustin reported in 2021.

Getting more people to switch to plant-based diets, including by convincing the world’s meat lovers to eat more plant-based burgers, hot dogs and chicken nuggets, could help tackle those problems, supporters of plant-based meat have argued.

Research appears to back up those arguments. According to an analysis by CarbonBrief, which compared the plant-based burgers from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods to ones made from beef, the carbon footprint of the plant-based burgers were 20 times smaller. A John Hopkins University study came up with similar results, finding that imitation beef has 7 percent of the carbon footprint, uses 23 percent of the water and takes up 2 percent of the land that real beef production does. And a report last summer from the Boston Consulting Group, one of the world’s biggest consultancy firms, also found that investments in plant-based meats could lead to far greater cuts in planet-warming emissions than any other green investments, including electric vehicles.

But plant-based meats continue to face real hurdles as a climate solution, as last year’s decline in sales illustrates. For one, the products remain more expensive, costing on average 43 percent more than the real thing, according to the Good Food Institute. Additionally, plant-based meat, while better than real meat, still requires more water, energy and land than simply growing other plant protein from peas and other less demanding vegetables, activists have said. Scientists have also argued that switching to plant-based meat diets isn’t enough to tackle the massive environmental impact of human agriculture and that the world’s food systems must be fundamentally changed to avoid catastrophic warming in the coming decades. Humans have developed a whopping 70 percent of all land on Earth, the U.N. reported last year, with agriculture making up the biggest piece of that pie.

Still, many people in the climate movement believe that plant-based meat remains a useful tool for reducing emissions in the short term, especially if the products can help people make difficult lifestyle changes. In fact, many climate experts have said society will need to implement all the available solutions to tackle the crisis at hand (with the caveat that the most well-established solutions, like quickly transitioning away from fossil fuels, are being adequately pursued).

“We need all hands on deck for faster, bolder climate action,” United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said at the opening ceremony of last year’s COP27 global climate summit. “A window of opportunity remains open, but only a narrow shaft of light remains. The global climate fight will be won or lost in this crucial decade—on our watch.”

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

Today’s Indicator

38%

That’s how many Americans believe plant-based meat is a healthier alternative to real meat, according to a 2022 report from Citi Global Insights. That’s down from 50 percent in 2020.

A gas stove lets off a blue flame inside a household kitchen in Barcelona. Credit: Davide Bonaldo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
A gas stove lets off a blue flame inside a household kitchen in Barcelona. Credit: Davide Bonaldo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A federal agency responsible for ensuring consumer products are safe says it plans to issue new regulations for natural gas stoves, including the possibility of a ban, as soon as this year, citing growing public health concerns. The move could improve the air quality in millions of homes and businesses nationwide and help reduce the country’s rising greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates anything from e-cigarettes to children’s toys, announced in an interview with Bloomberg that it was in the process of drafting a new rule for the appliance in response to a growing body of evidence that shows gas stoves emit harmful air pollutants at levels that can exceed federal safety standards and have been linked to respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other health problems.

The proposed rule, which is expected to open to public comment later this winter, could set new emissions standards for stoves, require manufacturers to put warning labels on their products, make the installation of ventilation hoods mandatory or even ban gas stoves from being produced or imported into the United States entirely, according to the commission.

“Any option is on the table,” Richard Trumka Jr., one of the agency’s commissioners, told Bloomberg this week. “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”

About 40 percent of U.S. homes have gas stoves, which have been found to emit harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and fine particulate matter—sometimes at levels that exceed federal safety standards. And a peer-reviewed study published last month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health was the latest research to tie the burning of gas to increased asthma risk, finding that nearly 13 percent of U.S. childhood asthma cases can be attributed to the use of gas stoves.

Climate activists have also called for halting the use of natural gas to heat and power homes because of its impact on global warming. Burning natural gas not only emits carbon dioxide, but the gas itself—methane—is capable of warming the atmosphere 87 times more than CO2 over a 20-year period.

While it’s unclear just how strict the final proposal may ultimately be, it’s the latest signal that the movement to transition away from gas appliances for health and environmental reasons is gaining momentum at a national level. Last month, federal officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development said they were considering a request from health and housing advocates to remove gas stoves from public housing units, my colleague Victoria St. Martin reported.

Already, nearly 100 cities and counties across four states—California, Colorado, New York and Washington—have adopted policies that restrict the use of gas appliances in buildings in some way. In 2021, New York City banned gas hookups in newly constructed buildings starting in 2027, following similar bans by other major cities such as San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. Maryland’s largest county voted last month to ban gas appliances in most new buildings, also beginning in 2027. And in September, California regulators voted to phase out the sale of gas-fired furnaces and water heaters in the state by 2030.

Advocates also hope to make New York the first state in the nation to adopt a similar ban—a possibility that could gain more traction this year as federal dollars from the Inflation Reduction Act begin flowing to electrification projects around the country.

Republican lawmakers and industry representatives, however, have pushed back against notions that gas stoves are unsafe and criticize efforts to phase the appliances out of buildings as government overreach. They also argue that banning natural gas stoves will lead to higher costs for homeowners and restaurants with little environmental improvement. Twenty states so far have passed preemptive legislation that would prevent cities or counties from restricting the use of gas appliances based on those arguments.

“Ventilation is really where this discussion should be, rather than banning one particular type of technology,” Jill Notini, a vice president at the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, told Bloomberg. “Banning one type of a cooking appliance is not going to address the concerns about overall indoor air quality. We may need some behavior change, we may need [people] to turn on their hoods when cooking.”

But most of those arguments don’t appear to align with the latest science. 

Renewable energy continues to plummet in price, with analysts projecting another record boom in clean energy development this year—a trend that can help reduce overall electricity costs. Studies from 2001 and 2015 suggest that gas stoves produce far more pollution, particularly nitrogen oxide, compared to electric ones. And a Stanford University study published last year found that gas stoves are leaking methane whether or not they’re even on, suggesting they’re contributing even more to climate change than previously believed.

“We’re systematically underestimating the climate impact of gas appliances,” Rob Jackson, an earth system science professor at Stanford University who helped lead the research, told my colleague Phil McKenna. “And we’re standing over stoves that are emitting pollutants that we breathe.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate. The newsletter will take a quick break over the next two weeks, but I’ll be back in your inbox on Jan. 24.

Today’s Indicator

1.3 percent

That’s how much U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose last year, marking the second year in a row the nation’s carbon footprint grew since dropping due to the pandemic in 2020, a new analysis found. The finding highlights the Biden administration’s ongoing struggle to fulfill its own climate agenda.

Extinction Rebellion protesters block Lambeth Bridge on April 10, 2022 in London, England. Credit: Hollie Adams/Getty Images
Extinction Rebellion protesters block Lambeth Bridge on April 10, 2022 in London, England. Credit: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

A prominent climate advocacy group in the United Kingdom says it will temporarily pause disruptive protests this year, acknowledging that some of the bolder demonstrations aimed at raising awareness on global warming have caused a significant public backlash.

With both global greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel financing continuing to rise to record levels, frustrated climate activists have resorted to increasingly radical—and sometimes bizarre—forms of protest in recent months. Over the last year, climate activists have targeted famous artworks by throwing food at them and gluing themselves to their frames, deflated the tires of gas-guzzling SUVs en masse and blockaded major highways and airports around the world.

But in a statement last week titled “We Quit,” Extinction Rebellion’s founding branch in the U.K. announced that it would “prioritize attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks” this year by halting disruptive protest tactics at least through spring. The international climate group, which was established in 2018 and has since played a key role in the escalation of civil disobedience in climate demonstrations, said it will instead focus on building a broader coalition of supporters ahead of a massive protest they have planned on April 21, when they hope to gather 100,000 demonstrators at the U.K. Parliament—a rally it’s calling the “Big One.”

“As we ring in the new year, we make a controversial resolution to temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic,” the group’s statement said. “We recognise and celebrate the power of disruption to raise the alarm and believe that constantly evolving tactics is a necessary approach.”

Experts who study social protest movements generally agree that civil disobedience has long played an important role in shaping history, especially in democratic superpowers like the United Kingdom and the United States. And a respectable body of research suggests nonviolent civil disobedience is an effective tactic in achieving the aims of social movements.

But last year’s wave of climate protests, held at famous art galleries, popular sports events and in the middle of major transportation hubs, have appeared to strike a nerve for many people, with even some of the climate movement’s most prominent figures calling the demonstrations counterproductive. 

Recent polls conducted in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany, where many of last year’s disruptive protests occurred, suggest that the majority of the people in those countries disapprove of the climate activists’ tactics, even if they agree with their cause. One poll found that just 21 percent of U.K. residents approve of disruptive climate protests, with 64 percent disapproving. Another found 14 percent of German residents approve, with 83 percent disapproving. Similarly, a U.S. poll showed an approval rating of 13 percent from its respondents, with 46 percent saying the disruptive tactics “decrease their support for efforts to address climate change.”

Marijn van de Geer, the media coordinator for the U.K. chapter of Extinction Rebellion, acknowledged those poor approval ratings in an interview with Good Morning Britain this week, saying she believes the group has achieved all it can using disruptive tactics and that building broader support will require a different approach. “We’ve listened to the public,” van de Geer told the morning talk show’s hosts. “They say over and over again, ‘We support what you stand for but we don’t like how you do it.’”

The protests have also triggered a wave of new anti-protest laws in several Western countries, levying stiffer penalties against demonstrators for trespassing, disrupting traffic and business operations, or for generally being a public nuisance. It’s a global trend that has concerned many civil rights experts.

So what does this mean for 2023 and should we expect a tamer climate movement? Maybe not.

Even with Extinction Rebellion temporarily sidelining its members when it comes to confrontational protests, other groups have vowed to double down this year on their efforts to interrupt art gallery visits and morning commutes to the office. Thousands of climate activists were arrested during protests last year in Europe, with more than a hundred more still in jail or awaiting trial, according to the climate advocacy groups Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain and Last Generation. Still, the groups say they’re undeterred.

“It’s 2023 and XR has quit,” Just Stop Oil wrote in a statement to Yahoo News. “But it’s 2023, and we are barrelling down the highway to the loss of ordered civil society, as extreme weather impacts tens of millions, as our country becomes unrecognizable. … We must move from disobedience into civil resistance.”

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

Today’s Indicator

68 percent

That’s how much of the world’s glaciers will disappear for good by 2100, even if the goals of the Paris Agreement are met, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

People wade past stranded trucks on a flooded street in Sunamganj, Bangladesh on June 21, 2022. Floods are a regular menace to millions of people in low-lying Bangladesh, but experts say climate change is increasing their frequency, ferocity and unpredictability. Credit: Mamun Hossain/AFP via Getty Images
People wade past stranded trucks on a flooded street in Sunamganj, Bangladesh on June 21, 2022. Floods are a regular menace to millions of people in low-lying Bangladesh, but experts say climate change is increasing their frequency, ferocity and unpredictability. Credit: Mamun Hossain/AFP via Getty Images

December, for many, marks a time for reflection—a moment to take stock of the year’s accomplishments before sliding back into the daily grind of life. That’s why the last newsletter edition for the year will be dedicated to looking back at the stories that resonated the most with Today’s Climate readers in 2022.

In general, it has been a big year for my colleagues at Inside Climate News. From getting the latest updates on COP27 in Egypt to documenting the food crisis unfolding in the Horn of Africa, our reporters have worked tirelessly to bring you some of the most important climate stories of the year. And we’ve gotten a lot of love from you, our readers, who continue to share and support our work.

It has also been a banner year for Today’s Climate, with readership seeing record growth since we relaunched the newsletter in fall of 2021. So, before we ring in the new year, I hope you’ll enjoy—as much as I have—looking back at the most popular Today’s Climate issues of 2022.

Here are the top 5 newsletter stories of the year:

1) Experts Debunk Viral Post Claiming 1,100 Scientists Say ‘There’s No Climate Emergency’

From Kentucky’s deadly floods to the record wildfires and drought across the American West, this summer epitomized, in many ways, what climate scientists have been warning about for decades.

So it was surprising to me, after yet another disaster-filled summer, to see a petition supposedly signed by “over 1,100 scientists and professionals” suddenly go viral online in mid-August, claiming that “there is,” in fact, “no climate emergency.” Immediately, I reached out to some of the leading climate researchers in their fields who were quick to point out that the petition wasn’t as it seemed.

“Looking at the list of signatories, there are a lot of engineers, medical doctors, and petroleum geologists and almost no actual climate scientists,” Zeke Hausfather, one of the world’s top climate modeling researchers, told me. Other climate experts noted that the group behind the message—the Climate Intelligence Foundation, or CLINTEL—has well-documented ties to oil money and fossil fuel interest groups, and that the petition appeared to recirculate old climate-denial tropes.

To me, the moment was a reminder of why I got into journalism in the first place: to provide accurate, verifiable and fair information for the sake of truth and healthy public debate.

2) In ‘Scientist Rebellion,’ Researchers Face Arrest for Climate Action

In April, an estimated 1,000 scientists in more than 25 countries staged demonstrations to demand that world leaders do far more to reduce climate-warming emissions, including a handful of researchers who were arrested for locking themselves to entryways leading into the White House and major banks that fund fossil fuel projects.

While the actions themselves were common for climate activists and social movements in general, it was a striking moment when members of the scientific community departed from their typical role as a neutral information provider and picked up the torch of activism.

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

3) ‘Apocalypse Papers’: Scientists Call for Paradigm Shift as Biodiversity Loss Worsens

This spring, in fact, was a particularly busy time for climate scientists, who remain key sources and subjects for our journalism at Inside Climate News. In this case, a grim February update from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was followed by an equally grim slew of research papers published this spring that predicted horrific biodiversity loss and mass extinction because of climate change and other human activity.

Scientists have long said that the most significant impact of global warming was its threat to plants, animals and the ecosystems that ensure a healthy environment for all life on Earth. And these reports, many of which were published at an alarming rate in the month of April, pointed to levels of mass extinction not seen since the end of the dinosaur era.

“You really need to remember that we are species on a planet, and our fate is tied to the health of all of the other species on this planet,” Tierra Curry, a prominent U.S. biodiversity scientist, told me. “Killing the planet is killing ourselves, and that’s the message that everybody needs to absorb and start acting on.”

4) Officials Take Unprecedented Steps to Safeguard Lake Powell Water Levels

The West’s megadrought, by definition, is old news at this point. The term megadrought, after all, can only be applied after 20 years of ongoing drought conditions. But I think this story blew up because it provided a measurable milestone for a dry period that has become all too familiar for those living in states like California or Arizona.

In May, federal officials took unprecedented steps to protect the water levels of the Colorado River and prevent a key reservoir from dropping below the point where it can no longer produce electricity for some 6 million people in seven states who depend on it. By delaying the release of hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water from Lake Powell—an annual task that has long been tradition—officials were able to safeguard the reservoir levels and keep the Glen Canyon Dam turbines spinning for the year.

For how long they can keep that up, however, remains to be seen. A December update on the dam from one of our publishing partners isn’t particularly promising, as conditions at the river have only gotten worse.

5) Scientists Say They’ve Created a Roadmap for Cutting US Emissions in Half by 2030

In June, scientists said they had created the “first detailed roadmap” for how the United States could achieve its ambitious climate pledge to slash the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

In a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Science, the researchers said it was both technically feasible and financially beneficial for the U.S. to rapidly transition to clean power sources and electric vehicles. In fact, one of the authors of the study told me, the only real obstacle holding the country back was a lack of political will.

While clearly a lot has happened since this study came out—most notably the passing of the historic Inflation Reduction Act—the research marked a rare positive moment in a news beat so often dominated by doom and gloom. In that sense, I also find it lovely that I get to end this list with an uplifting message—that while the evidence is clear that climate change is a serious and increasingly urgent threat, we also have the tools at our disposal to do something about it, so long as we can gather the political will to act.

Well, that wraps Today’s Climate for 2022. Thanks for reading and subscribing, and I’ll see you in the new year—but first:


Hot Gossip

What climate issues really caught your attention this year? And what will you be keeping an eye out for in 2023? We want to know. And of course, if you have any favorite editions of Today’s Climate that you want to share, we’d love to know that too.

Today’s Indicator

21,664

As of this week, that’s how many readers have subscribed to receive Today’s Climate in their inboxes. Thanks for supporting our work, and happy holidays! We’ll see you in the new year.

The area impacted by the Keystone pipeline rupture and subsequent oil discharge into Mill Creek near Washington, Kansas. Credit: U.S. EPA
The area impacted by the Keystone pipeline rupture and subsequent oil discharge into Mill Creek near Washington, Kansas. Credit: U.S. EPA

Crews continued to clean up the blackened banks of a northern Kansas creek Tuesday morning after a rupture in the Keystone pipeline last week released an estimated 588,000 gallons of Canadian crude—enough oil to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Translating to about 14,000 barrels, the incident is now the nation’s biggest onshore oil spill in nine years and the largest ever in the pipeline’s history, according to the federal government.

The pipeline, owned by Canada-based TC Energy, had previously leaked about 12,000 barrels of oil in 22 separate incidents since it began operating in 2010, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report published last year.

In that sense, last week’s spill is historically significant in its own right. But pipeline safety experts and environmental advocates say the rupture is also an example of what’s at stake as federal lawmakers consider overhauling the environmental review process for energy infrastructure—a move that could fast track billions of dollars of new fossil fuel pipelines already in the process of being built across the nation.

Speeding that federal approval process has become one of the oil and gas industry’s top priorities in the next Congress. A streamlining proposal that was championed by West Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin was effectively blocked in the Democratically controlled House of Representatives. But with Republicans taking control of the House in January, the industry sees a new opportunity to advance what perhaps could be a more sweeping plan—one spearheaded by the GOP that could pick up fossil fuel-friendly Democrats in the Senate like Manchin, though approval there would most likely be difficult.

“Permitting reform is essential for us,” Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, said during a post-election forum in November.

Keystone Pipeline Oil Spill

Although much of the industry’s focus has been gaining approvals for natural gas pipelines, like the Mountain State Pipeline project in West Virginia favored by Manchin, the United States has more proposed oil pipelines in the works than any other nation, according to a recent analysis by the Global Energy Monitor in California. Some 1,800 miles of new U.S. oil pipelines—$8 billion worth of infrastructure projects—are in the works, mostly in the Permian basin of Texas. 

It is part of a worldwide trend. Global Energy Monitor estimated that there currently are nearly 15,000 miles of oil pipelines proposed or under construction worldwide. That’s despite growing calls from the public to transition to renewable energy as a way to curb climate change, another major criticism from environmentalists who oppose Manchin’s push to overhaul the federal permitting process.

With the investigation ongoing, the cause of last week’s spill in Kansas is still unclear. But environmental groups have questioned whether it was related to a special permit the Keystone pipeline received from the Trump administration in 2017, making it the only oil pipeline in the U.S. that can run on a higher pressure than federal regulation allows. The pipeline has seen a notable uptick in incidents since that permit was issued, including three significant spills in the last five years. 

In fact, last week’s spill now puts Keystone’s safety performance below nationwide averages, according to reporting by CBS News. And according to the nonprofit watchdog organization Pipeline Safety Trust, Keystone has averaged one significant failure per year during its lifetime.

Bill Caram, Pipeline Safety Trust’s executive director, said in an interview that Keystone’s track record raises serious questions about how and why the pipeline received its permits, and he worries that streamlining that process for the sake of saving the industry money could result in more spills like the one in Kansas.

“As far as permitting reform, I think the continued spills on this pipeline illustrate the risks pipelines pose, especially when there are construction and pipe integrity issues,” Caram said.

TC Energy didn’t respond to questions from Inside Climate News, but the company announced Monday that it has so far recovered about 2,600 barrels of crude. Much of the spill had flowed downstream into a nearby local creek that connects to the larger Missouri River basin. State and federal officials have said that the spill appears to be contained, and that so far there’s no evidence that drinking wells have been contaminated or that wildlife has been harmed.

Richard Kuprewicz, who has worked in the energy sector for 50 years and is president of the pipeline safety consulting firm Accufacts Inc., said it’s still too soon to draw conclusions about the cause and environmental impacts of last week’s spill. But the fossil fuel industry’s outsized influence on federal energy policy is well known, he said, and if the Keystone investigation reveals that last week’s oil spill was caused in part by a failure in the regulatory process, he hopes that Congress takes the issue seriously.

“I understand … on these multibillion dollar projects—with the time value of money—that yeah, we want to rush these things through,” he said. “But if it turns out that it’s something where there was a serious gap in the regulations, we need to address that.”

Pipeline operators have long touted their ability to run their infrastructure safely, often pointing to new technological advances that help them detect and mitigate leaks more quickly. But past reporting from Inside Climate News has revealed those technologies often miss the leaks they’re designed to catch, aren’t always built into projects in the first place and are susceptible to human error even when they are running properly.

Research also suggests that climate change itself poses a growing threat to fossil fuel infrastructure, including pipelines. More frequent and destructive extreme weather, rising sea levels and rapid temperature swings and melting permafrost in the Arctic can directly damage pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure that wasn’t designed with global warming in mind. A study published this year in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering found that climate change can increase oil spill risks in the coastal and offshore regions. And our own reporting on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline shows how melting glaciers and shifting land mass pose a serious threat to that pipeline system.

For Kuprewicz, he hopes Congress weighs all these factors before they commit to making any major changes to the federal permitting process. “Congress needs to be very careful that they balance what’s good for the country, what’s good for the population,” he said. “Money can make a group of very smart people do incredibly stupid things. And time and time again, I see that.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate. And a special thanks to my colleague Bob Berwyn for his help researching and writing today’s issue. I’ll be back in your inbox Tuesday.

Marianne Lavelle contributed to this report.

Today’s Indicator

700

That’s how many new animal species now face the threat of extinction, according to a recent update to a list maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Announced at COP15, the latest update brings the total number of animal species facing extinction to more than 42,000.

"STOP EXTINCTION" projection at COP15 in Montreal, Canada, December 5, 2022. Photo credit: Patrick McCormack

This month, “the fate of the entire living world will be determined in Montreal, Canada.”

That’s the dramatic warning three of the world’s leading biodiversity scientists wrote in an editorial for the journal Science Advances this week to mark the kickoff of the United Nations’ annual global summit aimed at halting and reversing the loss of biodiversity.

The 15th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, or COP15, which began Wednesday in Montreal, has been described by some environmental experts as “the most important global meeting you have probably never heard of” and “the most important United Nations Biodiversity event of this decade.”

That’s because for the next two weeks, environmental ministers and other world leaders will work on setting the official international agenda for the next decade about how they can protect the roughly one million plant and animal species now believed to be at risk of extinction. While the biodiversity COP hasn’t received the same kind of attention as COP27, the U.N.’s global climate summit held last month, many wildlife and climate experts believe it’s the more significant conference of the two.

“In a century marked by horrific environmental crises … it is perhaps not surprising that climate change dominates the global change agenda,” the three researchers wrote in their essay. But COP15 “must take center stage. We say this because of the many dimensions of anthropogenic global change, the most critical, complex and challenging of which is that of biodiversity loss.”

In other words, one of the key reasons society is even talking about climate change is because the most significant impact of a warming climate on the world is the threat it poses to plants, animals and wildlife habitats—the same ecosystems that also ensure a healthy environment for humans.

But since it was first established some 30 years ago, the conference has failed to accomplish any meaningful gains on its mission, and scientists say this year’s summit may be one of the last chances for governments to establish a path forward that averts a future of accelerating mass extinction while also ensuring an equitable outcome for historically disadvantaged communities.

A growing body of evidence shows that the Earth is experiencing levels of mass extinction not seen since the end of the dinosaur era. In fact, because of human activity, some of the world’s most iconic modern animals, including the Monarch butterfly and the Komodo dragon, are now at risk of blinking out of existence, researchers say.

Already, early reports of the Montreal summit show a messy and contentious process, bogged down by disagreement and far from reaching any kind of official pact. That follows a recent U.N. report that showed that not a single target from the summit’s previous 2010 agreement has been met.

The targets under that agreement, known as the global biodiversity framework, included protecting 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water areas from human development by 2020, as well as establishing consensus around policies that could help curtail pesticide and plastic pollution—all while prioritizing the needs of women, Indigenous groups and low-income communities. Those goals remain top priorities during the global talks this year, and in some cases have become more ambitious, such as the new “30×30” effort that aims to conserve 30 percent of the planet by 2030.

Indigenous rights groups are also pushing for stronger protections for their communities to be built into this year’s framework, pointing to their outsized role in maintaining global biodiversity levels. While indigenous groups account for about 6 percent of the world’s population, their lands safeguard about 80 percent of Earth’s current plant and animal species, according to the World Bank.

Among the disagreements are Indigenous groups who fear the 30-by-30 target is being used to take away their land in the name of conservation, while others worry that 30 percent isn’t an ambitious enough target. Violent encounters between Indigenous communities and hired security patrols in places like Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo are just a few of the most recent examples highlighting the unintended consequences of the Western world’s conservation efforts.

Because the COP15 framework requires full consensus from all 196 nations involved in the process to pass, some scientists have expressed deep concerns over whether any meaningful agreement can be reached at all. A recent draft revealed some 1,400 instances where the document is marked to show the language is still under debate, according to the Guardian. That report also found that delegates waited until the last minute to even begin addressing points of contention in the draft framework despite having two years to work on the issues ahead of COP15.

Complicating the matter further is the fact that the United States, by far the world’s most significant carbon emitter and a leading contributor to biodiversity loss, is not an official party to the COP15 delegation. While the reason for that lies mainly with a long history of Republican opposition, the outcome remains that the U.S. will play a backseat role in this year’s critical global talks.

“We do not have an official voice at the table, so we cannot actively weigh in in real time during negotiations,” Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, a prominent U.S. environmental advocacy and research center, told me in an interview from the summit. “And obviously it looks terrible to the rest of the world and reflects that we aren’t seriously committed to safeguarding global biodiversity.”

Curry is one of the roughly 50,000 people, along with more than 100 organizations, who have signed a petition calling for an immediate end to human-caused mass extinction and urging the COP15 delegates to ratify a strong framework this year. Even though the last agreement ended in failure, she said, it doesn’t mean negotiators should aim for less ambitious targets and they, in fact, should be doubling down on their efforts.

“There is so much potential for us to turn the ship around if we get this framework right,” Curry told me. “But if the delegates do not agree on a strong framework and commit the resources to enact it, then it is no exaggeration to say that the extinction and climate crises are going to continue to spiral out of control to our own peril.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox Tuesday—but before you go:


Hot Gossip

Would you eat meat if it didn’t harm animals and was better for the environment? That’s the vision of a burgeoning $1.4 billion industry that procures its meat from a Petri dish rather than a slaughterhouse, and it could soon be a reality.

The global livestock industry is responsible for nearly 15 percent of the world’s human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, with much of it coming from cattle ranching that takes up large swaths of land—leading to deforestation and a reduction in natural carbon sinks. Now more than 100 companies aiming to grow meat in labs instead say they can provide the world’s meat cravings without the massive environmental footprint.

One Israeli startup called Aleph Farms could be selling its lab-grown beef as soon as next year. “The idea is to create our own space in the meat universe,” the company’s CEO told Bloomberg.

What are your thoughts? Innovate climate solution or sci-fi horror story? Inside Climate News wants to hear from you.

Today’s Indicator

800

That’s about how many plant species have disappeared since the 18th century, a new report warns, while thousands more are considered functionally extinct—meaning they’re no longer playing a role in their environment or are so rare they are no longer able to reproduce.

An illustration picture taken in London on Dec. 18, 2020 shows the logos of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft displayed on a mobile phone and a laptop screen. Credit: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images
An illustration picture taken in London on Dec. 18, 2020 shows the logos of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft displayed on a mobile phone and a laptop screen. Credit: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Any effort to curb global greenhouse gas emissions and stave off catastrophic warming is doomed to fail unless far more is done to address the “foundational” role Big Tech companies now play in exacerbating the climate crisis. That’s the conclusion of a new report released last week by the international environmental nonprofit Global Action Plan.

From amplifying conspiracy theories and misinformation to their increasingly massive energy footprint, the world’s biggest tech companies aren’t only making global warming worse, the report said, but pose “a systemic digital roadblock to effective climate action” by driving unsustainable consumerism, increasing political division and pushing society further away from democracy.

“Big Tech billionaires are the oil barons of the 21st century and their impact on climate change is no less destructive,” Susie Alegre, the report’s author and a longtime human rights attorney, said in a press release. “This paper should serve as a wake-up call to the climate movement.”

It’s certainly not the first time Big Tech has been thrust into the spotlight over its climate impacts. Just five companies—Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple and Meta—use as much electricity as the entire country of New Zealand, according to reporting from the Financial Times. And research shows that climate disinformation continues to flourish on the biggest social media platforms, including Twitter and TikTok, which experts say makes finding global consensus on climate policy a nearly impossible task. 

In fact, experts warned that a blitz of disinformation during the COP27 global climate talks last month undermined the summit’s progress. And many climate activists were outraged after the U.N. conference ended without any official commitments to phase out, or even phase down, fossil fuels—something experts say must begin immediately to fulfill the Paris Agreement targets.

Amazon, Google and Apple didn’t respond to questions from Inside Climate News about the Global Action Plan report. 

In an email, a Meta spokesperson pointed to progress the company has made related to its climate goals, including fully running its direct global operations with renewable energy as of 2020, which have helped reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 94 percent from a 2017 baseline. That reduction doesn’t include the emissions related to Meta’s supply chain. The spokesperson also said Meta’s “fact-checking partners regularly review and rate a wide range of climate-related claims, including false information that outside experts say undermines the existence or impacts of climate change, misrepresents scientific data and mischaracterizes mitigation and adaptation efforts.”

In a separate statement, a Microsoft spokesperson said that the company understands that public policies “will play a critical role” in addressing climate change and noted that it is expanding its climate action advocacy efforts.

“There is a growing gap between the pace of desired policy outcomes and economic and scientific indicators that show accelerating climate impacts,” the Microsoft spokesperson said. “To help close this gap and support communities and companies in their efforts to achieve their climate pledges, governments around the world need to accelerate policy action.”

Over the years, tech giants have made increasingly ambitious pledges to address their climate impacts, including all five Big Tech companies promising to some degree or another to drastically reduce their carbon emissions. Amazon has promised to reach net-zero emissions by 2040 and power its operations fully with renewable energy by 2025. By 2030, Facebook pledged to fully offset or eliminate emissions from its supply chain, Apple committed to become carbon neutral across its supply chain, Google promised to fully power its operations with carbon-free energy and Microsoft pledged to become carbon negative, meaning it will remove more carbon than it emits.

Tech companies also drove the surge in new renewable energy capacity last year and are now pressing U.S. energy regulators and lawmakers to adopt favorable power grid policies that speed procurement of clean power—though research shows that their supply chains are still heavily powered by fossil fuels and remain a serious source of climate-warming emissions.

Still, many climate action advocates remain highly skeptical of tech industry promises, saying they rely too heavily on unproven carbon removal technologies and questionable carbon offset programs. Disinformation experts also say the spread of climate falsehoods online has only gotten worse over the years despite promises from Big Tech companies, including Twitter, Google and Meta, to crack down on misleading and false information on their platforms.

Thursday’s report, titled “Big Tech’s Dirty Secret,” reiterated those criticisms, concluding that the tech industry remains a top threat to the global fight against climate change. Taken altogether, the scope of the problem “goes well beyond” any of the individual threats tech giants pose to climate change and the efforts to slow it, Oliver Hayes, the policy and campaigns lead for Global Action Plan, told me in an email.

According to the report, tech giants rely entirely on something called online surveillance advertising. That’s when tech companies collect online user data, create sophisticated consumer profiles and then target individuals with specialized advertising aimed at maximizing sales. But “surveillance advertising is extremely energy intensive,” the report said, with an estimated 1 percent of the total global electricity consumption used in servicing online ads alone. In fact, advertising adds an estimated 32 percent to the carbon footprint of every United Kingdom resident, the report added.

“If Big Tech’s business model entirely relies on continued advertising growth, how can we collectively challenge over-consumption?” Hayes said. “And if that ad growth is delivered by an algorithmic design that systemically promotes divisive, conspiratorial, hateful content, how can we as a society possibly hope to unite to confront the climate crisis?”

The report also criticized tech companies for not using more of its massive lobbying power to advocate for strong climate policy. Between July 2020 and June 2021, the companies dedicated an average of just 6 percent of their lobbying activity to climate-related policy, an analysis of the tech giants’ self-reported data found.

Bill Weihl, who spent 15 years leading sustainability and climate initiatives at Google and Facebook, similarly criticized the tech industry for failing to back climate policy in the United States. When U.S. lawmakers were still debating President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which included some $370 billion for climate efforts, only one of the five Big Tech companies—Microsoft—endorsed the proposal, Weihl wrote in an opinion essay back in September.

Weihl, now the executive director and founder of ClimateVoice, a climate advocacy group that pressures companies to support strong climate policy, chalked up that lack of support to opposition from tech companies against tax provisions in the law that affected stock buybacks. But he also said Big Tech remains beholden to major trade associations that have consistently fought against national climate policy, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “All of the Big Five—except Apple, which left years ago under the leadership of the late Steve Jobs—still belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” Weihl wrote. “The chamber is well known for its obstructionist tactics on climate bills, and this latest policy showdown was no exception.”

An analysis published last year by Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab found that for 20 years, the chamber played a central role in national and global campaigns to thwart ambitious legislative efforts to curb the world’s rising carbon emissions and downplay the threat of climate change.

When asked about lobbying, a Microsoft spokesperson replied: “Over the past two years, Microsoft has advocated for climate and energy investments as part of the recent U.S. infrastructure and climate laws, a robust and consistent framework for climate disclosure requirements by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and a comprehensive European Union decarbonization plan, to name just a few.”

Meanwhile, watchdog organizations continue to sound the alarm over climate disinformation.

Last Tuesday, the Center for Countering Digital Hate and the Anti-Defamation League released their latest findings monitoring hate speech on Twitter since Tesla CEO Elon Musk took over the platform. In the week’s following the purchase, the groups’ analysis found, hate speech has risen to unprecedented levels. And disinformation experts worry it’s a sign that climate disinformation, too, will be allowed to freely spread on the platform.

“Since Musk’s takeover I have ramped down my own use of Twitter,” climate scientist Twila Moon told The Guardian. “Folks noticing a rise in climate denialism and disinformation is particularly worrying and I am concerned that it could slow climate action in ways that are devastating to economies, communities and health.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll be back in your inbox Friday—but before you go:


Hot Gossip

Have you left Twitter since Musk took over? Do you still visit Facebook? What social media platforms do you spend your time on and why? Inside Climate News wants to know.

Last week, we asked for your opinions on the controversial climate protests, including activists recently gluing themselves to an airport runway. Here’s how some Today’s Climate readers responded:

Judi Gray wrote: “I think it was foolish of the group to glue themselves to an airport runway. Many people will make jokes about their having to be ‘unglued.’ Fighting for climate change is wonderful but putting themselves in the way of an airplane could be labeled suicidal and no doubt caused more traffic pollution.”

Liz de Goursac, however, said she believed the protests were “definitely too tame” and that activists would be justified in taking even bolder actions of civil disobedience.

“We are lobsters in a pot set to boil, acting as if we are tourists on a sunny beach oceanfront,” de Goursac wrote in her comment. “The NYTimes persists in running stories and ads telling us all we are missing out for not visiting the ‘Top 20 bucket destinations in the World’ or ‘Surfing the sand dunes of Qatar.’”

Want to share your opinion on climate protests or any other climate-related issue? Maybe you just want to share a tip or ask a question. Whatever it is, we want to hear from you.

Today’s Indicator

500,000

That’s roughly how many times the phrase “climate scam,” or some variation of it, has been mentioned on Twitter since July, according to a recent analysis by a coalition of global disinformation experts and environmentalists.

Customers visit the American Mall dream mall during Black Friday on Nov. 25, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Kena Betancur/Getty Images
Customers visit the American Mall dream mall during Black Friday on Nov. 25, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

We’ve all heard the horror stories of Black Friday.

Fueled by the promise of discounted merchandise, the Friday after Thanksgiving remains one of the busiest shopping days of the year, with online sales this Black Friday hitting a new world record of $9.12 billion. The consumer-frenzied tradition—whose nickname comes from the economic phrase “in the black,” signaling a company has become profitable—also has a reputation for bringing out the worst in people.

Stuck in massive lines and competing over limited products, customers who participate in Black Friday sales have been known to camp out overnight in front of stores and even get into physical fights over products. In 2019, one fight caught on video shows two Marines exchanging blows in a Walmart in California, resulting in at least one broken nose.

But a growing number of retailers, including some major international brands, are opting out of offering Black Friday discounts, pointing not only to the annual tradition’s tendency to spur ugly customer behavior, but also to its “enormous environmental impact.” Other businesses are offering alternative takes on the Friday shopping holiday aimed at promoting a more circular economy, where products are used for longer before being recycled back into the marketplace in some way rather than simply becoming trash.

Because manufacturing and transportation still rely overwhelmingly on the burning of fossil fuels, the production and delivery of consumer goods make up the majority of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. One 2015 study concluded that household goods and services were responsible for 60 percent of global emissions. Consumer goods, and especially their plastic packaging, are also the primary source of physical waste.

Companies then amplify those already disproportionate environmental impacts over the Black Friday weekend, critics of the tradition say, by offering bulk discounts that encourage wasteful and excessive consumption—often of cheaply-made products that aren’t intended to last and are either returned to the sellers or thrown away sometimes after just one use.

“Black Friday is an extremely worrying trend,” Phil Purnell, a civil engineering professor at the University of Leeds who researches the environmental consequences of Black Friday sales, told the German news broadcaster Deutsche Welle. “The consumption of all of that material has an enormous environmental impact, not just in terms of the pollution that’s created during mining and the depletion of natural resources to create the things you buy, but also in terms of carbon from transportation.”

In 2019, Purnell co-authored a study that found that up to 80 percent of the items purchased through Black Friday sales, including the plastic packaging they’re wrapped in, very quickly end up in landfills or are burned in incinerators. At best, the report said, products go to “low quality recycling” facilities after “a very short life.”

A separate report, published last year, also found that deliveries for Black Friday sales made online in 2021 were responsible for an estimated 386,243 metric tons of carbon emissions in the United Kingdom alone. That’s equivalent to the emissions released by more than 215 flights taken between London and Sydney in just 24 hours, the report’s authors said.

In response to those environmental impacts, some major companies, including outdoor apparel giant REI and popular beauty brand Deciem, have begun closing their stores and halting all website sales on Black Friday to encourage more sustainable consumer and business habits. For REI, which closed its stores the day after Thanksgiving for the seventh year in a row and is widely credited for spearheading the movement against Black Friday, the day has also become a paid holiday for employees, who are encouraged to spend that time outside in nature.

In Europe, clothing retailer Xandres and home and garden chain Dille & Kamille also closed their stores and halted website sales this year for Black Friday. Xandres took the move a step further and also offered to repair any old clothes bought from their stores for free so long as customers brought it to their headquarters in Ghent, Belgium, by Friday.

“The idea behind Black Friday is to buy as much clothing as possible at the biggest discount possible. That does not match our sustainability philosophy,” Xandres CEO Patrick Desrumaux told Reuters. “You cannot buy anything at all from us today. All our shops are closed, the webshop is closed and instead of selling, we are going to grant a longer life to clothes by repairing all the clothes that were brought in.”

Desrumaux isn’t alone in that sentiment, and, in fact, a growing chorus of sustainability advocates see the burgeoning fast fashion industry as a major problem for the environment. The global apparel industry is responsible for roughly a third of the world’s microplastic waste, as well as 4-8 percent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Critics also accuse popular fast fashion brands, such as China-based Shein, of preying on younger generations and promoting a “throwaway culture” by offering clothes so cheaply that they’re often worn only once before being discarded. Shein, for example, offers between 700 and 1,000 new styles every single day with price tags that rarely exceed $20—not just during shopping holidays like Black Friday. 

Other companies, including clothing retailers Patagonia and Everlane, as well as furniture chain Ikea, didn’t pause their Black Friday sales, but offered alternative takes to the shopping holiday to promote more sustainable practices or support environmental causes—a trend many companies are now referring to as “Green Friday.” Both Everlane and Patagonia, for example, donate their Black Friday profits to organizations fighting climate change. And Ikea offers a Black Friday discount to customers only if they bring in used furniture as part of its recycling program it started last year.

But activists have criticized many of those efforts as overstating their environmental benefits, warning consumers to be wary of greenwashing when it comes to companies claiming to be against Black Friday and the environmentally harmful consumer culture the tradition promotes.

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways, for example, offered as part of its Green Friday deal this year to match the carbon offsets customers purchased with their plane tickets for the day, theoretically doubling the carbon emissions reduced for each trip. But climate experts have long criticized the lack of oversight and questionable benefits promised by proponents of carbon markets, which allow companies to essentially pay others to offset their carbon emissions rather than the company reducing its own emissions.

“Companies linking offsets to promotional deals may reinforce the false impression among consumers that their emissions don’t need to be reduced and can simply be compensated through offsets,” Rob Macquarie, policy analyst at the Grantham Research Institute, a climate change think tank, told The New Statesman.

Libby Peake, head of resource policy for the Green Alliance, another environmental think tank, put it in simpler terms: “The key is to buy less and buy better.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate. I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday—but before you go:


Hot Gossip

Before the holiday break last week, I wrote about the increasingly bizarre and confrontational climate demonstrations this year that have sparked heated public debate over what’s an appropriate way to protest. Activists have broadly argued that they’re highlighting the lack of urgency from world leaders and general global failure to address the climate crisis.

But last week, on Thanksgiving, climate activists took that boldness to a new level when they cut through the wire fence surrounding the Berlin International Airport, casually strolled onto the tarmac and glued themselves to a runway before placing an emergency call to the police to inform them of what they had done. The publicity stunt, which arguably exceeded the boldness of past demonstrations by an order of magnitude, raised immediate questions from public officials over safety and security concerns.

While the controversy of the protests have mostly involved demonstrators throwing food at famous works of art, some critics of the recent protests said this incident clearly went too far and potentially put both the lives of the protesters and passengers on incoming flights in danger. It even prompted one Forbes contributor to ask: When does a climate protest become terrorism?

We want to know what you think. Did the protesters go too far? Does the climate crisis, and the lack of urgency surrounding  addressing it, justify even bolder acts? Reach out to us and let us know.

Today’s Indicator

5.1

That’s approximately how many Earths would be needed if every person on the planet consumed as many resources as the average American, according to research from the Global Footprint Network.

Five Just Stop Oil activists spray paint the wall and glue themselves to the frame of the painting the Last Supper on the July 5, 2022, Credit: Kristian Buus/In Pictures via Getty Images
Five Just Stop Oil activists spray paint the wall and glue themselves to the frame of the painting the Last Supper on the July 5, 2022, Credit: Kristian Buus/In Pictures via Getty Images

Increasingly bold climate protests are triggering a wave of harsh new laws in Western nations that aim to prevent the type of disruptive demonstrations experts say have long played an important role in healthy democracies.

From Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to British rule in India to Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous civil rights marches in Jim Crow America, many of the freedoms people enjoy around the world today are owed in large part to social protest movements and civil disobedience. In recent demonstrations that have caught international attention—including climate activists splattering food onto the glass covers of famous artwork, letting the air out of SUV tires en masse and even shutting down airports in several different countries on the same day—protesters have pointed to those historical moments as both their motivation and justification for their actions.

Last week, climate activists dumped baking flour on a sports car painted by the famous U.S. pop artist Andy Warhol that is on display in Italy’s financial capital.

But as climate protesters adopt more radical tactics to highlight what they say is a world moving far too slowly to prevent catastrophic global warming in the coming decades, they’re being met with a slew of new anti-protest laws from policymakers who say the demonstrations are going too far.

In Britain, climate protests that have jammed highways and disrupted places of commerce have emboldened lawmakers to pass new legislation that gives police broad new powers to regulate demonstrations. That includes being able to dictate when a protest can take place and how loud it gets. The new law also threatens protesters who block highways with harsh new penalties, including up to six months in prison and unlimited fines. And lawmakers are also considering new legislation, known as The Public Order bill, which could extend those penalties to protesters who lock themselves onto construction sites or other places of business, as well as give police new powers to stop and search someone for a “protest-related” offense.

In Australia, lawmakers passed a new law in April that similarly increased penalties on protesters who disrupt economic activities, turning what was once a $400 maximum fine into a $15,000 one, with the possibility of serving up to two years in jail.

In the United States, too, protests that have been broadly tied to environmental, social and climate justice issues, such as demonstrations attempting to halt construction of major international oil and gas pipelines, have triggered new laws in more than a dozen states. In some of those cases, trespassing and “impeding” the operation of pipelines, power plants and other “critical infrastructure” can now lead to a felony conviction.

“Protest is a fundamental right, not a gift from the state,” Martha Spurrier, director of U.K.-based civil rights organization Liberty, said at a recent press event in reaction to the new anti-protest laws in Britain. “Our right to protest continues to be attacked by a government intent on making it harder for people to stand up for the causes they believe in.”

Proponents of the new laws say they’re necessary to prevent a “small minority of protesters” from causing significant disruptions to daily life, which they say can inflict serious economic losses on businesses and taxpayers and even put lives at risk. Last month, for example, German officials blamed at least one death in Berlin on activists after a climate protest delayed emergency responders trying to reach a traffic accident. Developers for Britain’s HS2 high-speed railway line have also claimed that protests against the project have increased its costs by about $145 million.

But human and civil rights groups say the laws pose a serious threat to free speech, which they call “an integral part of democracy.” And many of those laws now face legal challenges, including at least one lawsuit over Australia’s new anti-protest law that will be heard in front of the nation’s supreme court.

Many activists have also argued that they’ve had no choice but to adopt bolder tactics after their governments have failed for decades to adequately respond to the climate crisis, which scientists say is exacerbating natural disasters and food insecurity in many parts of the world and driving the extinction of plants and animals to levels not seen in the last 10 million years. Meanwhile, the world’s governments and financial institutions continue to fund new fossil fuel development at record levels.

In fact, as the pivotal COP27 global climate talks came to a close last week, some delegates expressed immense frustration that more wasn’t being done to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. Without further intervention, climate experts say, the world will quickly overshoot the Paris Agreement target of limiting average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Instead, they say, the planet remains on track to warm between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius by that time—a scenario that would bring about devastating ecological consequences in the coming decades, including far more deadly natural disasters and an accelerating mass extinction crisis.

Yet the most recent climate protests, especially ones including famous artwork, have sparked heated debate within the climate movement over what’s the “right” and “wrong” way to protest. While there’s plenty of research that suggests civil disobedience and confrontational protests are quite effective at spreading awareness of social movement causes, blocking specific projects and even normalizing social movements in the eyes of the public—a phenomenon sociologists call the “radical flank effect”—more recent research also suggests that disruptive protesting can be counterproductive.

A 2020 study found extreme protest actions can reduce the overall popularity of a social movement. A study released earlier this month that surveyed more than 1,300 people in Germany, where several of the climate protests targeting artwork have taken place, found that 83 percent of the respondents thought the demonstrations had gone too far. And another study published this month, conducted by renowned climatologist Michael Mann and University of Pennsylvania political scientist Shawn Patterson Jr., found that 46 percent of the public said they became less sympathetic to the aims of climate protesters after witnessing demonstrations involving famous artwork.

“I have devoted much of my time and effort over the past several decades to the cause of meaningful climate action” and “worried that events like this could harm the cause to which I (and so many) have devoted my life,” Mann wrote in a recent opinion essay for TIME Magazine, referencing the protest where two activists threw tomato soup on a Vincent van Gogh painting. “From a communications standpoint, the protest seemed like an even bigger mess than the soup-splattered painting.”

On Tuesday, two climate activists who had glued their hands to an 18th century frame containing a separate van Gogh painting, were also found guilty of causing criminal damage to it. The painting itself was unharmed.

Still, many climate activists have said they’ll continue participating in confrontational and disruptive protests until their governments do more to address the climate crisis, and urge their leaders to ban new development of fossil fuels. More than 2,000 activists have been arrested in the U.K. due to disruptive climate demonstrations, activists said, and as the COP27 climate talks wrapped up over the weekend, more than 30 protesters remained in jail for demonstrations that took place during the summit.

“Until they put the death sentence as the repercussions for what we’re doing, it won’t deter us,” Cameron Ford, a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil, one of the core groups coordinating the recent protests, told the Guardian last month. “Because the alternative to us not getting the change that we’re demanding is death.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate, thanks for reading. I’ll take a break from the newsletter this Friday to observe Thanksgiving and continue my ongoing search for the perfect pie. Look for me in your inbox next week—but before you go:


Hot Gossip

Record snowfall in upstate New York led to a surge of climate disinformation online, recirculating a long-debunked myth that global warming can’t be real if we’re getting more snow. This BBC journalist took the time to debunk the myth again.

And Republicans are expected to eliminate the House’s Select Committee on the Climate Crisis when they retake power in the lower chamber next year. So what are they hoping to concentrate on instead? You may have guessed it: more oil and gas.

Today’s Indicator

15.1 billion

That’s how many metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions are expected to be released from coal-fired power plants worldwide this year, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency, putting 2022 on track to break the previous all-time record for coal emissions.

Oil and petrochemical refinery, Kaduna, Nigeria. Credit: Andrew Holt/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images
Oil and petrochemical refinery, Kaduna, Nigeria. Credit: Andrew Holt/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

Some came from Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. Others traveled from Uganda and Mozambique. Believing this year would finally be the first “African COP,” activists from all across the Mother Continent trekked to Egypt this month to witness the historic event and represent their communities at the United Nations’ keystone global climate summit.

Many had hoped a deal would be struck on a global “loss and damage” fund through which rich nations would compensate poorer ones for the harms they face from climate change. They also hoped to see increased funding go toward new solar development across the sunshine-rich continent, which hosts 60 percent of the world’s best solar resources, according to the International Energy Agency.

What Africans encountered instead was Europe “wanting to turn Africa into its gas station,” Mohamed Adow, founding director of Power Shift Africa, a clean energy think tank based in Kenya, said while speaking on a COP27 panel last week. “We don’t have to follow the footsteps of the rich world that actually caused climate change in the first place.”

This year’s climate conference has been “African in name only,” Adow added during a separate U.N. event the following day.

Still reeling from the global energy crunch, caused in large part by the repercussions of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many European countries are turning to Africa in their search for alternative sources of oil and gas. Dozens of fossil fuel companies are eyeing potential new reserves in 45 African countries, including areas in Egypt’s Red Sea region, where the U.N. climate talks are wrapping up Friday. In fact, three deals that would deliver oil and gas produced in Egypt, Nigeria and Tanzania to European markets were announced during the last two weeks alone, all while COP27 was taking place.

Those announcements—combined with the fact that the summit’s delegates have yet to resolve major elements of the potential loss and damage agreement—has outraged African climate activists, including Adow, who say their countries are being left out of the global clean energy transition and worry they’ll soon be stuck with stranded assets as rich Western nations wean themselves off fossil fuels in the coming decades.

On Tuesday, more than a dozen African climate activists held a demonstration in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian resort town where the summit is being hosted, loudly chanting “don’t gas Africa!” and “climate justice now!” through a megaphone. It was one of the few protests that managed to crop up at all inside the city amid Egypt’s heightened COP27 security measures—which many human rights groups have characterized as an authoritarian crackdown on political dissent.

But the role African nations should play in the global energy transition, and whether they should be allowed to build their economies around fossil fuels the way wealthy Western nations did before them, remains a complicated and hotly debated topic. Some 600 million Africans lack access to electricity today, with almost a billion relying on the burning of wood, kerosene or coal to cook, according to the International Energy Agency’s Africa Energy Outlook.

In that sense, building out their energy systems quickly, rather than addressing climate change, remains a top priority for many African nations. And many African energy ministers have argued that switching to renewable energy isn’t a viable option for them without far more help from the West.

“We are going to develop all of our energy resources for the benefit of our people because our issue is energy poverty,” Maggy Shino, Namibia’s petroleum commissioner, said last week at COP27. “If you are going to tell us to leave our resources in the ground, then you must be prepared to offer sufficient compensation, but I don’t think anyone has yet come out to make such an offer.”

African energy ministers have also argued that it’s unfair that they would be expected to transition to clean energy before they can build their own wealth using fossil fuels, considering how little their nations have contributed to global warming.

Rich Western nations, especially the United States and countries in Europe, are responsible for a whopping 80 percent of the world’s human-caused greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution. By comparison, the entire African continent contributed just 3 percent during that same time period.

Western countries also owe much of their historic wealth to fossil fuels and continue to generate billions in annual revenue by exporting them. And the leaders of many African countries argue that they, too, should be allowed to build wealth by tapping and selling their own reserves. In fact, some African nations, such as Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria, are highly dependent on revenues from oil and gas production and could face real financial trouble if their ability to sell those products is constrained.

The European Union has also argued that fossil fuels should play a “transitional role” for African countries on their way to clean economies. But many African climate activists have called those arguments disingenuous, saying it’s Europe, not the African people, who will benefit most from efforts to boost oil and gas production across the continent.

“All projects coming to the continent are for exploitation. It’s very colonial,” Omar Elmawi, the executive director of the Kenya-based Muslims for Human Rights, told Insider. “Despite Africa’s renewable-energy potential, we’re not seeing investors or banks look at it as an opportunity. Africa is becoming a petrol station that feeds the interests of the Global North.”

Tapping new oil and gas reserves could ultimately trigger what economists have long called the “resource curse.” That’s when a country discovers a valuable resource like gold or oil, which should benefit its residents. But ultimately the discovery ends up harming the public by leading to increased conflict, corruption, poverty and poor health outcomes. Experts have even pointed to the poverty and corruption in Nigeria as a prime example of this trend.

Recent reports released by the African Climate Foundation also suggest that new fossil fuel development in Mozambique, Tanzania and other African nations will likely become a drain on public finances in the long term. Nations that invest too heavily in liquified natural gas extraction, for example, may find short term profit in today’s market, but could soon be left with few buyers and a glut of unsold gas as the cost of renewables continues to fall and Western countries accelerate their transition to those technologies.

African nations are also top candidates for solar development, IEA’s Africa Energy Outlook noted, suggesting that money currently being invested in new oil and gas operations might better be spent on solar projects. The report found that Africa has around “60 percent of the world’s best solar-energy resources, but only 1 percent of installed photovoltaic capacity.” 

EIA’s outlook also estimated that every African nation could provide its residents access to affordable energy with an annual investment of about $25 billion through 2030, so long as most of that money goes toward renewable projects. That’s the same amount of money needed to build just one liquified natural gas export terminal, the report noted.

For Adow, the choice couldn’t be simpler. He just hopes African leaders at the COP come to the same conclusion. “We must embrace renewables,” he said. “Let’s never ever accept the notion that in order to transition, we need to expand fossil fuels. I don’t want Africa left with the infrastructure of 100 years ago.”

That’s it this week for Today’s Climate. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday—but before you go:


Hot Gossip

Activists and disinformation experts are chastising the United Nations for giving a platform to Njock Ayuk Eyong, the chairman of the African Energy Chamber, a pro-oil and gas trade group. Not only was Ayuk convicted of fraudulently obtaining U.S. visas and accused of laundering $2.5 million in Ghana, they said, but he was actively spreading climate misinformation online ahead of COP27 as part of his “drill baby drill” communications campaign at the global climate summit.

Plus, former U.S. President Donald Trump officially announced this week that he was running for president for the third time, taking the time on the campaign trail to ridicule efforts to tackle global warming and drastically mischaracterize climate science

“The Green New Deal and the environment, which they say may affect us in 300 years, is all that is talked about,” Trump said, grossly exaggerating the well-known timeline scientists have laid out in their climate impact studies. “They say the ocean will rise one-eighth of an inch over the next 200 to 300 years, but don’t worry about nuclear weapons that can take out entire countries.”

Today’s Indicator

80

That’s how many times more likely global warming made the floods that killed more than 800 people in Nigeria, Niger and Chad this summer and fall, according to  a new attribution study.

United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan arrives to deliver a speech on the second day of the COP27 climate conference at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre, in Egypt's Red Sea resort city of the same name, on Nov. 7, 2022. Credit: Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images
United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan arrives to deliver a speech on the second day of the COP27 climate conference at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre, in Egypt's Red Sea resort city of the same name, on Nov. 7, 2022. Credit: Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt—The slow pace of global climate talks is once again on display at COP27 this week and can be partially explained by a renewed blitz of climate disinformation, according to watchdog groups that analyze media ecosystems.

On Tuesday, the Climate Action Against Disinformation coalition released a new analysis of efforts to undermine climate action and found that false and misleading claims made by right-wing media outlets about global warming and clean energy continue to affect public perception about the climate crisis. The fossil fuel industry, the authors said, is riding that wave of disinformation into the climate talks to promote false solutions.

“Misinformation has sowed uncertainty and impeded the recognition of risk … and the rise of climate misinformation is undermining climate action here at COP27,” Jacob Dubbins, a coauthor of the new report, said here at a press conference.  

The report said that Fox News remains a significant source of false and misleading information about the climate crisis, fueling unfounded public skepticism in a way that could even inspire violence against policymakers who advocate for strong climate action.

The report included a scientific survey on the media consumption habits of thousands of people in six different countries: Brazil, Australia, India, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. It found that Americans, especially those who regularly watch Fox News, are the most likely among the study’s participants in all six countries to hold false beliefs about global warming.

People who watch Fox News at least five times a week, the survey found, were far more likely than the general public to believe a host of false climate narratives, including that renewable energy sources are unreliable and more expensive at generating electricity than fossil fuels and that the world’s science community is still debating the cause of global warming.

These “stark” findings, the report’s authors said, show that climate misinformation remains a rampant problem around the world and continues to be disproportionately spread by right-wing media. If more isn’t done to address the issue, they said, those false narratives will continue to hinder constructive debate, including at the United Nations’ COP27 global climate summit.

“The misconception around climate change is too widespread and significant to ignore,” Erika Seiber, a press officer with environmental nonprofit Friends of the Earth and a spokesperson for the coalition that produced the report, said in an interview. “One quarter of Americans think that climate change is a hoax, a consistent and false talking point from Trump and the GOP. We can’t do much to address the climate crisis with this level of discrepancy over reality.”

Harriet Kingaby, co-chair of  the Conscious Advertising Network, an organization trying to ensure ethics in advertising and one of the groups behind the report, said at the COP27 press conference that the problem extends far beyond the U.S. 

“Climate disinformation is a global problem, and it is a huge problem for those of us who are supportive of, and working toward the kind of climate action that we need extremely rapidly now,” she said. “We have created an open letter with a series of asks that we think can play a huge role in solving this problem.” 

The letter was submitted to the COP27 presidency, country delegations, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the CEOs of major tech platforms. 

“We are on track for 2.8°C of global warming,” the letter said. “While emissions continue to rise, humanity faces climate catastrophe, yet vested economic and political interests continue to organize and finance climate misinformation and disinformation to hold back action.”

Addressing the issue in the final COP27 documents with language that acknowledges the threat of climate mis- and disinformation could create a positive cascade effect that would “incentivize tech platforms to embed this within their policy definitions,” Kingaby said.

Among the report’s most troubling findings was that a significant portion of the population across all six countries still believes that climate change isn’t being caused by humans, including nearly half of the 2,396 American participants. Of those survey respondents, false climate beliefs were even more prevalent among those who regularly watch Fox News.

Specifically, 59 percent of Fox News consumers believe that a significant number of scientists disagree on the cause of climate change, compared to just 35 percent of the broader U.S. sample. Additionally, 56 percent of Fox viewers think renewable energy is more expensive than energy from fossil fuels, compared to 34 percent of the bigger sample. And 60 percent of respondents who watch Fox say that renewables are unreliable energy sources, compared to 32 percent of the American sample as a whole.

Regular Fox viewers were also far more likely to believe that natural gas is needed to reduce climate-warming emissions, with 57 percent of those respondents agreeing with that premise, compared to 38 percent of overall U.S. respondents.

Those beliefs contradict what the vast majority of climate scientists have said in recent reports, including the latest major assessment from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A staggering 99.9 percent of peer-reviewed studies on global warming conclude that climate change is real and that humans are causing it by burning fossil fuels and clearing land for agriculture.

Additionally, improvements in long-life batteries have made renewable energy sources just as reliable as fossil fuel power plants, if not more reliable in some instances, many experts say. And solar is now the cheapest form of energy in history, according to the nonpartisan International Energy Agency, which has also said that all new fossil fuel development, including natural gas production, must immediately halt to achieve global climate goals.

The findings of Tuesday’s survey add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that the prevalence of climate falsehoods perpetuated by Fox News and other conservative media outlets have serious impacts on public opinion when it comes to climate change.

At the COP press conference, Jennie King, head of civic action and education with the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said that a recent surge in climate disinformation is likely linked with dramatic world events like the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

King, who is at COP27 to monitor climate information, said those events resulted in “major shifts in the information landscape … when it comes to trying to support climate action, by shifting the dynamics across social media platforms, both mainstream and fringe, and also mainstream media.”

The pandemic and the Russian aggression “turbocharged the disinformation ecosystem” and acted as a crucible for a number of conspiracies, movements and grievance politics movements to converge under one umbrella,” she said. “During that time, we saw the growth of a number of new conspiracies surrounding climate change, linking  grievances or outrage around the public health response to the pandemic with a push back on environmentalism.”

That included conspiracies like a “climate lockdown, which claimed that the pandemic was manufactured as a pretext to implement a more insidious green agenda going forward,” she said. The Russian invasion also fueled a number of actors who “were already very vested in maintaining the status quo; maintaining reliance on fossil fuels, and preventing decarbonisation, or net zero transitions.”

“On that basis,” she said, “we have seen argumentation which suggests the idea that Putin was emboldened to invade Ukraine because of the West’s fixation on net zero agendas, and that it is our obsession with the Paris Agreement that is allowing conflicts like this to occur.”

The disruptions to supply chains and increased fuel and food prices also fed the fires of disinformation, she added. 

“There has been an incredible effort by disinformation actors to frame that situation as the fault of green levies and other net zero policies,” she said. Those actors have leveraged those concerns to try and make people believe that price increases and other economic impacts are caused by policies aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, she added.

The next step in the climate disinformation campaigns is to try and get people to believe “that the climate agenda is dead, that people can’t afford it and that it’s going to bankrupt hardworking people,” she said. The subsequent message from the disinformation campaigns is to tell people that it is essential right now to maintain reliance on polluting technologies like oil and gas, she added.

“I think for our coalition, this has been extremely concerning, and in some way surprising, because up until this year, denialism still existed, but it had been pushed more to the periphery,” she said. “We were seeing delay-ism, or subtler forms of disinformation, but now we are seeing that out and out denial is making an absolute comeback.”

Using the uncertainty of the times, the voices of denial have become emboldened to frame their agenda in a broader anti-elitist context, particularly targeting institutions like the  World Economic Forum, which aren’t particularly liked or trusted to begin with. 

“The final thing I wanted to mention is a renewed energy and investment in fossil fuel greenwashing, being pushed  very heavily by the fossil fuel lobby, which we’ve seen here at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh,” she said, noting the record number of fossil fuel lobbyists and other representatives at the climate conference. “In particular, the African gas lobby has been very vocal in making the suggestion that net zero transitions are a form of neocolonialism or Western imperialism, and that maintaining the use of fossil fuels is essential to human rights.”

There are the recent reports out by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, as well as from the University of Exeter, showing that fossil fuel companies are spending millions of dollars to run as many as 850 ads a day and getting tens of millions of views “that aim to confuse the public about what are viable climate solutions going forward,” she said.

Above all, they are trying to create the impression “that companies whose investment portfolios are almost entirely grounded in oil and gas, are somehow climate champions, and are going to lead the charge on a netzero transition.”

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate. I’ll be back in your inbox Friday, but before you go—some important updates:


Corrections: 

Last Friday’s newsletter incorrectly listed the nations donating to the global loss and damage fund. It has been updated to reflect that Austria pledged about $50 million.


Hot Gossip:

From those attending COP27, Inside Climate News still wants to hear about your experience and what you hope can still be accomplished in the summit’s remaining days. You can reach us here, and for sensitive tips, learn how you can keep your message confidential and secure here.

Finally, ongoing protests that involve priceless works of art continue to generate controversy within the climate community over what’s the “right” and “wrong” way to protest. But what about changing your name? Actor Rainn Wilson, famous for his role as Dwight Schrute on the hit sitcom “The Office,” has changed his name to “Rainnfall Heat Wave Rising Sea Levels Wilson” to raise awareness on climate change, though it’s unclear if he intends to make the change legal.

Today’s Indicator

40.6 billion

That’s how many metric tons of carbon dioxide are expected to be released into the atmosphere by the end of the year, according to a new analysis, breaking the global record in 2019 and leaving a 50 percent chance the planet will warm an average of 1.5 degree Celsius in just nine years.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks during the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Implementation Summit (SCIS) of the UNFCCC COP27 climate conference on Nov. 8, 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks during the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Implementation Summit (SCIS) of the UNFCCC COP27 climate conference on Nov. 8, 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Correction: A previous version of this newsletter incorrectly listed the nations donating to the global loss and damage fund. It has been updated to reflect that Austria pledged about $50 million.

After decades of delays, excuses and outright resistance, a small but growing number of wealthy European countries have committed to paying direct aid to developing nations to help them deal with the climate crisis, which burdens them disproportionately even though they had little to do with causing it.

Delegates at COP27 will officially discuss for the first time the creation of a global fund for “loss and damage”—the idea that rich nations are largely responsible for causing global warming and therefore owe a financial debt to poorer countries struggling to deal with the costs of worsening drought, storms and other climate-fueled disasters.

For 30 years, developing countries—predominantly in the Global South—have called for such a fund and been met with resistance. But this week, several European countries committed to begin paying that debt with cash, signaling a notable shift in the decadeslong fight and marking one of the most surprising developments so far this year at the United Nations’ cornerstone climate summit.

“The COP must make progress on minimizing and averting loss and damage from climate change,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during her Tuesday speech at the conference in Egypt, during which she encouraged other world leaders to also support the loss and damage fund. “It is high time to put this on the agenda.”

As of Friday morning, Germany has pledged $170 million for the fund, while Austria has pledged about $50 million, Ireland has pledged $10 million and Belgium has promised $2.5 million. Scotland—which pledged $2.2 million to the cause when it hosted COP26 last year—increased that commitment this week by an additional $5.7 million. And in September, Denmark promised $13 million to the effort.

The announcements, however, were met with mixed reactions from climate activists and world leaders living in some of the world’s most climate-vulnerable places, including Pakistan, which suffered deadly and historic flooding this year that left a third of the country underwater for months.

At just over $250 million, the recent commitments fall drastically short of the $200 billion in annual funding for “climate reparations” that the U.N. says is needed this decade alone to adequately address the issue.  It also falls far below the $100 billion in annual international climate spending that the world’s wealthiest nations previously promised in a similar 2009 U.N. agreement, but have failed so far to deliver.

Two of the most significant carbon emitters, the United States and China, were also notably absent from the slew of announcements. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the U.S. has produced roughly a quarter of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, making it by far the most significant overall contributor to the climate crisis, according to 2020 data from the Union of Concerned Scientists. And in the short span of China’s industrial boom, it quickly became the second leading historical contributor, responsible for 14 percent of total emissions.

Rather than committing federal dollars directly, the U.S. announced this week that it was launching a global carbon market as soon as next year, saying it would help raise money for developing countries by selling so-called “carbon credits” to companies that want to offset their emissions. Switzerland, too, announced a similar plan to leverage money raised through carbon credits to pay for its climate commitments. And China said it would be willing to participate in a global carbon market scheme once it’s up and running.

Carbon markets are financial schemes that allow a participant to pay other people to reduce their emissions rather than the participant reducing its own emissions. For example, Company A could pay Company B to plant trees or upgrade their buildings to make them more energy efficient, which in theory will reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere. But Company A isn’t necessarily reducing its own emissions—it’s paying other companies to reduce theirs.

But carbon markets, along with other voluntary market-based solutions that rely on incentives, not regulation, to reduce emissions, have long been a source of controversy in the climate community. It’s not surprising, then, that the U.S. announcement this week was met by fierce backlash from environmental advocates who say carbon markets rarely deliver the climate benefits they promise, suffer from poor management and regulation and delay meaningful efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by promising to address the issue in the future. Rather, advocates say, that money should be spent on proven climate solutions, such as building new renewable energy sources.

Take California, for example, which runs one of the world’s largest carbon markets. Instead of reducing their own emissions, companies participating in the state’s carbon market—including major conglomerates like Microsoft—have poured billions of dollars into projects that planted trees. But even though an estimated 153,000 acres of forests that were part of the state’s carbon market burned in wildfires last summer, the companies can still claim those forests for credits in the program.

In fact, just a day prior to the U.S. announcement this week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned delegates not to rely on carbon markets to achieve their climate goals. 

“The absence of standards, regulations and rigor in voluntary carbon market credits is deeply concerning,” Gutteres said in a speech Tuesday. “Shadow markets for carbon credits cannot undermine genuine emission reduction efforts, including in the short term. Targets must be reached through real emissions cuts.”

On Thursday, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry defended the carbon market plan, saying there was “not enough money in any country in the world to actually solve this problem.”

Quickly evolving geopolitics, high inflation and soaring energy prices have prompted many governments to backtrack on climate pledges in recent months. On Friday, President Joe Biden touted U.S. efforts to help adaptation efforts in Africa, but refrained from mentioning the new carbon market plan. The U.S. initially pledged $11 billion to help developing nations, but a divided U.S. government only approved $1 billion this year for that effort—an issue that’s largely out of Biden’s hands.

“We desperately need money,” Kerry told CNN. “It takes trillions and no government that I know of is ready to put trillions into this on an annual basis.”

But debate over who should pay—and how—when it comes to dealing with the costs of climate change remains fiercely undecided. And many climate activists see this week’s U.S. proposal as the latest evidence that COP27 has been co-opted and compromised by corporate interests. Activists have chastised the summit’s organizers for allowing one of the world’s biggest plastic polluters to sponsor the conference, as well as hiring a global public relations firm that also represents major oil companies as clients.

Still, excluding corporations from COP27, even those that are greenwashing their images, would be a bad idea, said Michael Vandenbergh, a law professor and the director of Vanderbilt Law School’s Climate Change Research Network. In many ways, he told me in an interview, buy-in and cooperation from the private sector is vital for the larger international effort to be successful.

Vandenbergh, who conducts research on the private sector’s role in combating climate change, said companies are failing to meet their climate goals at the same rates as countries and cities, so exiling them now would only hurt the broader effort. Instead, he said, people should focus on reducing greenwashing and holding companies accountable to their promises.

“Climate change poses an urgent, major threat, so all options, including private sector action, should be on the table,” Vandenbergh said. “It is true that, as a globe, we are not meeting the Paris Agreement terms, but that is not a reason to give up hope or to abandon smart strategies.”

Today’s Indicator

393 million

That’s how many metric tons of carbon dioxide are released every single year from the investments of just 125 of the world’s billionaires, a new study found. That’s a million times more than what’s emitted by the average person.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi speaks during the COP27 climate conference on Nov. 7, 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi speaks during the COP27 climate conference on Nov. 7, 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Egypt’s official COP27 app poses a “credible” threat “at the highest level” to any mobile device that downloaded it, a coalition of cybersecurity and disinformation experts warned early Tuesday morning. 

The app has been marketed by COP officials as a way for delegates and other conference attendees to navigate the United Nation’s two-week global climate summit by providing a calendar of the events, routes for local public transit and other services. According to the Google Play Store, more than 5,000 people have downloaded the app so far.

But the program requires access to a slew of private and potentially compromising information, including a user’s GPS location, photos, emails and even passport number, the Guardian reported Sunday. And cybersecurity experts warned that the data could be used to track protesters and help Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s regime further crackdown on political dissent in Egypt, which has already detained some 65,000 political prisoners. 

On Tuesday, the Climate Action Against Disinformation Coalition, a group of more than 30 disinformation watchdog and environmental organizations from around the world, released its own assessment that reaffirmed those concerns, telling anyone who downloads the app to exercise “extreme caution.”

“There is credible reason to believe the app compromises a device at the highest level,” the coalition wrote in a Tuesday press release. “Having spoken to those involved, this appears to include ‘hot-mic-ing’ a user’s phone—essentially co-opting the microphone, camera and GPS system for surveillance—as well as permissions for screen recording, attempts to access stored mailboxes and ‘root access.’”

It’s unclear if deleting the app or even resetting a phone’s original factory settings will resolve the security threat, the coalition said, adding that anyone who already downloaded the app should be wary of their communications possibly being monitored.

Protests are commonplace at United Nations climate talks and offer alternative channels for activists and other nongovernmental organizations to voice their concerns and demands to decision makers. But Egypt’s military is heavily patrolling this year’s conference, which started Sunday, and the government has limited demonstrations to a designated zone far from Sharm el-Sheikh, the resort city where COP27 is being held.

Egyptian authorities are also being criticized for cracking down on any dissent during COP, a move that many observers say tracks with the country’s long history of repressing political opposition.

Human and civil rights activists, as well as Egyptian citizens critical of their government, say they’ve been subjected to targeted surveillance by government authorities since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2010 and 2011, when thousands of citizens of countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East participated in massive pro-democracy protests—including in Egypt. Many Western onlookers who watched the uprisings on social media believed the protests would result in a new era of free elections in a region historically dominated by dictatorships. But those hopes were mostly dashed by brutal government responses and calculated power grabs.

In Egypt, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi rose to power when he was elected president in 2014, following a messy and violent string of events sparked by the Arab Spring uprisings. They included the 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the nation’s authoritarian president, as well as a 2013 military coup led by al-Sisi, a former Egyptian general, against the then-Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy. Since his election, however, al-Sisi’s administration has consolidated power in the same manners of the former regimes, often using strong-arm tactics to repress political opposition.

Groups working to advance human, civil and political rights in Egypt have reported “ongoing and extensive” campaigns to monitor their activities. Recent incidents include a widespread phishing campaign that targeted civil-society groups in 2017 and the phone hacking of a prominent political opposition figure last year while he was living outside the country.

Last month, an Egyptian organizer with Human Rights Watch accused al-Sisi of “mass spying on everyone,” after a government official bragged on local television about the installation of surveillance cameras in some 500 taxis operating in Sharm el-Sheikh.

In fact, organizers of the global climate summit have faced widespread criticism from human rights groups in the days leading up to the conference, as more evidence of Egypt’s crackdown on protests emerged. The groups are accusing the government of arbitrarily detaining protesters and setting up security checkpoints in the nation’s capital of Cairo, where authorities force people to hand over their phones to check for evidence of planned protests.

As of last Wednesday, at least 93 people had been arrested in Egypt, according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. The human rights nonprofit also said that some protesters were charged with abuse of social media, spreading false news and joining terrorist organizations—which the nonprofit says are baseless charges commonly used by the government against activists to repress political opposition.

In many ways, the treatment of protesters at COP27 contradicts the spirit and goals of the global summit, climate activists have said. While wealthy corporations are being placed in the spotlight this year—including the Biden administration preparing to unveil a plan for private companies to take a leading role in climate action decided at the summit—grassroots organizers have largely found themselves unable to gain access to the conference.

Many activists, especially from poorer nations, say that Egyptian authorities haven’t given them a fair chance to apply for accreditation to attend this year’s summit. And the event’s extreme security measures—which, in addition to the expansive security checkpoints, also include concrete and wire barriers—are making it impossible for many civil-society groups to express their demands in person or hold delegates accountable for the decisions they make during the talks.

The situation could be viewed as particularly problematic in terms of the summit’s optics. As my colleague Zoha Tunio reported today, this year’s COP will, for the first time, officially address the topic of climate reparations—the idea that wealthy nations historically responsible for causing the climate crisis owe a financial debt to developing countries that disproportionately bear its consequences. 

But those official talks about reparations won’t address which countries are responsible for the cost of climate “loss and damage” or who, exactly, should front the bill. And some individuals who offer compelling cases for reparations may not have a seat at the negotiating table at all.

Ugandan youth activist Nyombi Morris, who—like 400 of his neighbors—lost his home in 2008 to devastating flash floods, was met with bitter disappointment this week when he arrived in Egypt only to learn that he wouldn’t be allowed into the summit and he could face arrest and serious criminal charges if he attended any rallies “to ask for compensation for” his mother’s farm and his community.

“I was so happy when they announced that COP would be in Africa. I thought maybe I would get a chance to be at the room where the negotiations are taking place,” the 24-year-old activist told the French television news network France 24. “When they started asking about our locations, where we will be staying, our passports, our names, we were worried.”

“It will not be easy for us to continue with our plan,” he said.

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


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Today’s Indicator

$1 billion

That’s how much federal funding Congress approved this year to go toward helping developing nations adapt to the worsening impacts of climate change. That falls far short of the $11.4 billion figure the Biden administration promised last year for those efforts.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is pictured as he attends the start of the production at Tesla's "Gigafactory" on March 22, 2022 in Gruenheide, Germany. Patrick Pleul / Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is pictured as he attends the start of the production at Tesla's "Gigafactory" on March 22, 2022 in Gruenheide, Germany. Patrick Pleul / Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Less than a week after Elon Musk purchased Twitter for $44 billion, the tech billionaire became embroiled in a series of scandals on his own platform. They included a spike in the use of hate speech on the website and Musk himself posting a baseless anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theory about the attack on Paul Pelosi, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband. 

The scandals have prompted dire warnings from disinformation experts and environmental advocates, who say the popular social media platform plays an outsized role in the spread of falsehoods that are muddying healthy public debate and sowing division ahead of the consequential U.S. midterm elections and COP27 global climate talks.

Musk, the founder of Tesla and a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist,” sought to quell fears that false and misleading information would spread more freely on Twitter under his leadership, promising to advertisers in an Oct. 27 tweet that the platform would not become a “free-for-all hellscape.”

But hate speech surged on the site in the days immediately following Musk’s acquisition, compelling Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, to address the issue publicly in a tweet. Mentions of the n-word skyrocketed 500 percent in just the first 12 hours, one analysis found. And a study by Montclaire State University found that, during that same timespan, homophobic, antisemitic and racial hate-driven terms posted on the site quadrupled from 84 posts an hour in the week before Musk’s takeover to 398 posts an hour after the purchase.

Musk found himself in yet another scandal a few days later when he shared an article on Twitter that made unsubstantiated claims that Paul Pelosi was drunk and fighting with a male escort on the night he was viciously attacked in his home with a hammer and sent to the hospital with a serious head injury. Police testimony and posts by the attacker online presented a very different story—one where a Canadian citizen, politically motivated by right-wing conspiracy theories, broke into the Pelosi home to kidnap the House Speaker.

“There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” Musk wrote in the Oct. 30 tweet, sharing the false story. Musk deleted the post later that day amid strong public backlash, but not before it was shared more than 16,000 times, with over 76,000 likes. 

To many disinformation experts, the moment presented the clearest sign to date that Musk’s takeover of Twitter was a serious threat to the global effort to curb the spread of lies, misinformation and conspiracy theories online, making it difficult for world governments to maintain healthy democracies and build consensus around shared international challenges like combating the climate crisis.

“Musk’s promises in no way accurately portray his plans for Twitter, nor are they a reflection of the evolving reality of the platform as it transforms by the minute,” a coalition of more than 40 civil-society groups wrote Tuesday in a letter to Twitter’s top 20 U.S. advertising partners, urging them to use their influence to ensure the social media site maintains strong community standards and content moderation practices.

“Not only are extremists celebrating Musk’s takeover of Twitter, they are seeing it as a new opportunity to post the most abusive, harassing and racist language and imagery,” the groups wrote to the companies, which included Amazon, Coca-Cola and HBO. “We know that brand safety is of the utmost importance to you. As such, you also have a moral and civic obligation to take a stand against the degradation of one of the world’s most influential communications platforms, and to hold Musk to the pledge he made to you to ensure that Twitter is a welcoming and civil place for everyone.”

The issue, however, goes well beyond Musk’s foray into social network ownership.

Pretty much every major tech company has promised in recent years to crack down on the spread of false and misleading information on their platforms amid mounting public scrutiny, as well as a burgeoning legal framework led by the European Union that seeks to hold Big Tech accountable for the content posted online. But despite those efforts, a growing body of evidence suggests the problem has only become worse over the years, especially when it comes to accurate information on climate change.

Research published this summer found that falsehoods about global warming continue to flourish on social media sites and are often framed through the lens of Western culture wars, placing climate change alongside other hot button topics like gay and transgender rights and gun control. A separate analysis released last month found “a sprawling online network” of Spanish speakers on Twitter, TikTok and other major social platforms who “consistently amplify” climate misinformation and other right-wing conspiracy theories. 

And another October report found that an array of online advertisers, most notably Google Ads and Yahoo Ads, have been spreading climate disinformation over the last year to potentially tens of millions of internet users every week by promoting paid content from some of the most prolific online publishers of global warming falsehoods, including Breitbart, Fox News and Epoch Times. Google alone, the report said, likely made around $7.67 million from those ads.

“We can’t solve the climate crisis if Google continues to enable and fund the sites that expose millions of people to climate denial,” Erika Seiber, a spokesperson from the environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth, said in a press release announcing the October report. 

In an email interview with Seiber, she told me that Musk’s recent scandals have been particularly worrisome. And with U.S. midterm elections happening next week and COP27 beginning Sunday, she said, their coalition of watchdog and environmental groups will be monitoring the platform closely for spikes in disinformation in the coming days and weeks. 

“Musk claims he wants an open debate, but he bullies activists and politicians who disagree with him,” Seiber told me. “Governments and advertisers must hold him accountable and prevent him from creating an explosion of hate speech, extremist conspiracies and climate disinformation.”

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

$200 billion

That’s how much money developing nations would need on average every year, for the remainder of the decade, to adequately manage the widespread and devastating impacts of climate change, a new U.N. report says. That’s double what wealthy countries have promised, and failed, to provide.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on oil company profits in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on October 31, 2022 in Washington, DC. Biden is calling for a windfall profits tax on oil and gas companies as major producers including Exxon Mobil and Chevron approach record profits in the third quarter. Biden was joined by Treasury Secretary Janey Yellen (L) and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on oil company profits in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on October 31, 2022 in Washington, DC. Biden is calling for a windfall profits tax on oil and gas companies as major producers including Exxon Mobil and Chevron approach record profits in the third quarter. Biden was joined by Treasury Secretary Janey Yellen (L) and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Monday threatened to pursue new legislation that would tax the windfall profits made by fossil fuel companies this year if they don’t ramp up production to help bring down the historically-high energy costs being felt by everyday Americans.

While Biden’s announcement primarily took aim at inflation, which polls suggest is the biggest issue threatening Democrats in the next week’s midterm elections, activists have long called on taxing the fossil fuel industry to help pay for efforts to address climate change, close environmental justice disparities and accelerate the clean energy transition.

Annual inflation in the United States remains near a 40-year high, hitting 8.2 percent last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And economists broadly agree that the Russian war in Ukraine, which has upended global energy geopolitics, continues to play an outsized role in the historic inflation plaguing much of the world.

That has translated to higher prices on any number of goods and services for Americans, who have struggled with exorbitantly expensive gasoline in recent months. While the national average for a gallon of gas has fallen to $3.76, back in June it hit a record-high of $5.01 per gallon, according to AAA.

But while customers have suffered at the pumps, the biggest oil companies in the world are reaping windfall profits this year. ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips and TotalEnergy have together earned more than $100 billion in profits so far this year. That’s more than they earned all of last year, and nearly triple what they earned during the same period in 2021. Last quarter alone, Exxon reported $19.7 billion in earnings.

“It’s time for these companies to stop war profiteering, meet their responsibilities in this country and give the American people a break,” Biden said at the Monday press conference. “Oil companies’ record profits today are not because of doing something new or innovative—their profits are a windfall of war, a windfall for the brutal conflict that’s ravaging Ukraine and hurting tens of millions of people around the globe.”

Democrats would need to keep their congressional majorities this November to have a fighting chance of passing a new tax law. Republicans and fossil fuel interest groups were quick to denounce Biden’s announcement, accusing the administration of playing politics ahead of the elections and jeopardizing the country’s energy future.

But progressives and environmentalists praised Biden for the move, accusing Big Oil of gouging working Americans at the pump while lining the pockets of their investors. That includes many leading climate groups, which have argued for years that oil and gas companies should pay the costs of dealing with human-caused global warming because their products are the primary driver of it.

“We’re thrilled to hear President Biden’s support for a Windfall Profits Tax to hold oil and gas companies accountable,” Lauren Maunus, advocacy director for the Sunrise Movement, said in a statement. “This is what Democrats should have been championing all year.”

A “windfall tax” is when a government targets a certain industry—say because they cause significant pollution—then taxes it when profits exceed the industry’s annual average. The government would then use that money for initiatives that benefit the greater good, such as implementing programs that clean up water or air pollution caused by the industry. When applied specifically to polluting industries, such as in this case, it can also be called a “polluters pay tax.”

Many activists and other climate-conscious lawmakers have argued for years that a polluters pay tax would be one of the most efficient and effective ways to tackle the climate crisis. The Biden administration included such a tax in the bipartisan infrastructure law passed by Congress last year, which will help pay for cleanup efforts of toxic Superfund sites that are seriously backlogged because of years of underfunding. Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen also proposed legislation earlier this year that would tax Exxon, Chevron and a handful of other major oil and gas companies to pay for damages and other costs associated with floods, wildfires and other natural disasters that scientists have linked to rising greenhouse gas emissions. 

That legislation, which has the support of progressive lawmakers—including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren—would raise an estimated $500 billion over 10 years, proponents said. It’s unclear if that bill would be linked at all to Biden’s proposal on Monday.

Discussions about polluters pay taxes will also likely make an appearance at next week’s COP27 global climate talks, held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. While the world’s wealthiest nations are largely responsible for causing the climate crisis, it’s mostly poor, developing countries that are suffering the worst of its consequences. Addressing that topic is expected to be a top priority during the talks, as my colleague Marianne Lavelle reported.

A study published earlier this year by Dartmouth College, for example, concluded that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions alone cost the world more than $1.9 trillion in climate-related damages between 1990 and 2014. Emissions from four other top emitters—China, Russia, India and Brazil—caused an additional $4.1 trillion, it said, and altogether the five countries caused losses equal to roughly 11 percent of annual global GDP.

“A just transition means leaving no person or country behind,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during a separate climate conference held in New York City back in September. “It is high time to put fossil fuel producers, investors and enablers on notice.”

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

Today’s Indicator

71 percent

That’s how much of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 can be attributed to just 100 fossil fuel companies, according to a 2017 report from CDP, a nonprofit that works with companies and investors on disclosing their environmental impacts.