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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

70,000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

$1.9 trillion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

1,540 square miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

0.32°C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

3 billion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

$40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

77 percent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The truth,” he added, “is scary.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

7 million

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The region’s drought has also pitted farmers, city leaders and private industries against each other over a dwindling water supply in the Colorado River Basin. In May, federal officials took unprecedented steps to protect the already record-low levels in the river, which supplies more than 40 million people and about 5 million acres of farmland with fresh water. The water level at one reservoir has dropped so low that, if it falls any further, it will no longer be able to produce electricity for some 6 million people across seven states.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

38,000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social media companies have come under increasing scrutiny for their role in the spread of false or misleading information online, and Thursday’s report is the latest in a growing body of evidence that suggests the problem is only getting worse. One analysis found that Americans consumed twice as much news from “unreliable” sources in 2020 as they did in 2019, for example. Another study found that false information spreads faster online than accurate information, with falsehoods being 70 percent more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than the truth.

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

Many social media platforms have promised to crack down on both misinformation and disinformation amid growing public pressure to address them. Misinformation refers to the spread of inaccurate knowledge unknowingly, while disinformation refers to the explicit spread of lies. Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that climate disinformation was “a big issue” on the platform and established the Climate Science Center as a way to promote scientifically accurate information. And in April, Twitter announced it would no longer allow advertisers on its site who deny the scientific consensus on climate change, following a similar move by Google back in October.

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

38 million

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

6 hours

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

The White River weaves through the landscape near where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would pass on October 13, 2014 south of Presho, South Dakota. Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images
The White River weaves through the landscape near where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would pass on October 13, 2014 south of Presho, South Dakota. Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency advanced its plans on Thursday to reverse a Trump-era rule that curtailed the right of states and tribes to block natural gas pipelines, coal terminals and other energy projects that potentially threaten their rivers and lakes. But the decision could also have broad implications in the fight against climate change, as a paralyzed Congress continues to thrust the burden of drastically reducing the nation’s emissions onto states.

While Section 401 of the Clean Water Act has traditionally been used to protect state and tribal waterways from pollution, regulators have more recently begun to use that provision to bolster their arguments aimed at blocking fossil fuel projects they say are in direct conflict with state climate laws. 

In 2019, Washington state cited climate change among its reasons for blocking a proposed terminal that would have shipped coal overseas. And in 2020, New York regulators cited similar concerns when they rejected a pipeline that would have delivered natural gas into the state from Pennsylvania. Those moves infuriated the fossil fuel industry, which had been complaining about cumbersome environmental regulations for years and accused states of abusing their power in the pursuit of a political agenda.

The Trump administration reacted by altering Section 401 in 2020. Trump officials imposed strict new deadlines that forced states to approve projects within a year or waive their right to block them. They also limited what could be considered as “harm” to waterways, forcing regulators to focus on pipeline leaks and other “point source pollution,” rather than broader environmental threats like climate change.

In fact, Andrew Wheeler, the EPA administrator under President Trump and a former oil lobbyist, proudly pointed to state climate efforts when he announced the regulatory changes back in 2020. “Now you won’t be able to use 401 in the future going forward citing climate change as the reason,” Wheeler told reporters in the press call, adding that states could no longer “hold the nation’s energy infrastructure hostage.”

Thursday’s draft rule could reverse many of the changes imposed under Trump, returning a useful tool to states and tribes that have taken on an outsized role in fighting climate change amid federal gridlock, said Adam Carlesco, a staff attorney for the environmental group Food and Water Watch.

“Given the opposition of certain fossil fuel-funded senators to any form of legislative climate action, certain states are still at the forefront of the fight,” Carlesco told me in an interview. “That said, there is potential for this rule to empower states in their fight against climate change.”

But regulators using Section 401 to advance their climate goals must use the provision “intelligently” by fully documenting how fossil fuel projects harm state and tribal waters, not just relying on the climate argument, Carlesco added.

Despite Democrats holding slim majorities in both chambers of Congress and a sitting Democratic president, lawmakers have failed to pass national climate legislation—mostly because of vocal opposition from the party’s most conservative member, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. 

As part of rejoining the Paris climate accord, President Biden has set a goal of slashing U.S. emissions in half by 2030. But it’s unclear how that goal can be achieved without a federal climate law, and new research indicates that the country is far behind other nations when it comes to following through on its climate commitments.

On Wednesday, an annual report that evaluates the progress of 180 countries on their environmental and climate efforts, ranked the United States 43rd—a particularly low score considering that the U.S. is the largest historical contributor to global warming. When compared to other wealthy nations, the U.S. scored even lower, ranking 20th out of 22, the index compiled by Yale and Columbia universities found.

Considering climate change in the nation’s future water and energy planning is also pertinent to the ongoing drought in the West, as states like California, Utah and Arizona all struggle to manage their quickly dwindling water supplies. Last month, federal officials took unprecedented steps to safeguard the already record-low levels of water flowing through the Colorado River Basin.

Still, environmental advocates celebrated Thursday’s announcement, saying it was the first step to removing a highly problematic environmental regulation. Many legal scholars have said Trump’s 2020 rule not only goes against a past Supreme Court decision, but also disregards a 50-year precedent of deferring to states to enforce the Clean Water Act.

The draft rule will now go through a public comment period and won’t be finalized until 2023, according to the EPA. And many details, including whether states and tribes can consider broader environmental harms like climate change, have yet to be decided. Until then, Carlesco said he’ll be watching the process closely. “I’m certainly feeling more optimistic than I was under the prior Section 401 rule but keep my skepticism,” he said.

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

Today’s Indicator

77 percent

That’s how much more visible vegetated areas above the treeline in the Alps have become since 1984, a new study found. Known for its snow-white peaks, researchers say climate change has made the mountains notably greener from space. 

Overhead electric power lines photographed in Redondo Beach, California on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Overhead electric power lines photographed in Redondo Beach, California on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Much of the United States will face higher chances of power outages this summer, as soaring heat combined with skyhigh energy prices strains the nation’s electricity grids, the regulatory authority overseeing the country’s energy infrastructure said in its latest assessment. It’s yet another warning in recent years that climate change is making it harder for the nation’s aging power grids to reliably provide electricity amid increasing storms, heat waves, wildfires and even drought.

In fact, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s report points to droughts as one of the main factors likely to drive energy shortfalls this summer. Hydroelectric dams are struggling to generate electricity because of record low water levels in the Colorado River Basin. Fossil fuel-fired power plants also use that water to cool their equipment.

The report comes just a week after utilities and governments in the Midwest, Texas and California issued similar warnings, worried that surging use of air conditioning during a summer that is predicted to be hotter than average would strain their tight supply of fuels amid surging global prices for oil and natural gas. After Russia invaded Ukraine in late February and aggravated an already volatile global energy market, analysts have urged governments to diversify their energy supplies and hasten their transition to renewable power sources like solar and wind.

The problems aren’t exclusive to summer. The U.S. has faced growing threats of power failures during the winter months in recent years, as well. And news reports this week warned that as many as six million households in the United Kingdom are facing similar risks during the coming winter.

But even before the Ukraine war, and the latest predictions of an unusually hot and dry summer, blackouts had become a growing reality for Americans. To get a better idea of what this all means, Today’s Climate is revisiting an earlier newsletter that was originally published Feb. 1.


One of the worst blizzards to hit the Northeast in four years left more than 96,000 homes and businesses without electricity over the weekend, as governors in five states from New York to Maine declared a state of emergency. In the South, Texans are preparing this week for another potentially devastating cold snap almost exactly a year after a winter storm triggered massive power outages that left hundreds of people dead. And in December, Colorado utilities implemented rolling blackouts after a bizarre winter wildfire terrorized Boulder County. 

In every corner of the nation and during every season, blackouts are becoming more commonplace as climate change exacerbates extreme weather and tests America’s aging power grids. Power failures have increased by 60 percent since 2015, according to research published last year

The outages are also lasting longer, specifically because of extreme weather. Between 2013 and 2020, blackouts caused by major events—such as snowstorms, wildfires and hurricanes—have tripled in duration, according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In 2020, Americans experienced an average of 8 hours of power loss, with 6 of those hours tied to major weather events, compared to just 2 hours in 2013.

It’s an increasingly deadly combination when the outages are paired with the extreme weather itself. In 2021, hundreds of deaths were attributed, at least in part, to a lack of power. The Texas storm last February was a prime example, where the combination of widespread power outages and freezing temperatures led to more than 200 deaths in the state. And in the summer of 2021, blackouts caused by Hurricane Ida contributed to at least 14 deaths in Louisiana as some of the poorest parts of the state sweltered for weeks in 90-degree heat without working air-conditioning.

“A widespread blackout during an intense heat wave may be the deadliest climate-related event we can imagine,” Brian Stone Jr., a professor at the School of City & Regional Planning at Georgia Institute of Technology told the New York Times.

Last year, Stone published a study finding that in Atlanta, Detroit and Phoenix, heat waves combined with power outages would expose at least two-thirds of residents in those cities to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. That threat is particularly pronounced for the lowest-income households, who are 20 percent less likely to have central air-conditioning than the highest-income households. And that’s not to mention the threat blackouts pose to those who rely on plug-in medical devices, such as ventilators, to live.

In fact, growing fears over losing power and decreasing faith in utilities has led to a boom in home generator sales, NPR reported. One manufacturer, Generac Power Systems, had a nearly 50 percent jump in revenue last year with sales of close to $3.7 billion. Places like the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, which was ravaged by major hurricanes in 2017, has seen a similar trend toward private generators after the storms resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths—many of them attributed to a lack of electricity.

Puerto Rico’s daily blackouts have sparked a heated debate over what solution the government should pursue as it works to replace the island’s still mangled electrical grid. Utilities have continued to push natural gas as the answer, saying the infrastructure can be “hardened” against climate-fueled disasters. But Puerto Ricans have overwhelmingly called on their government—and the Biden administration—to quickly transition the island to renewable energy, saying solar energy paired with battery storage and smaller grids can better withstand future hurricanes.

It was a heated debate in Texas last winter, too, with many Republican lawmakers falsely blaming renewable energy for the state’s catastrophic blackouts. As the state prepares for another potentially consequential cold snap this week, and as New England recovers from yet another major storm, and as the Biden administration prepares to roll out more than $1 trillion in infrastructure funding, you can expect that debate to rekindle as hot as ever.

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

Today’s Indicator

4 percent

That’s how much U.S. carbon dioxide emissions rose during the first three months of 2022 compared to the same period last year, driven by a record-high number of motorists on the road, according to an analysis of government data.

People attend a vigil across the street from Tops Friendly Market at Jefferson Avenue and Riley Street on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 in Buffalo, NY. The Supermarket was the site of a fatal shooting of 10 people at a grocery store in a historically Black neighborhood of Buffalo. Credit: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Two recent mass shootings in communities of color are renewing fears among environmental groups and climate activists that a growing number of young men are adopting racist right-wing ideologies to explain the worsening climate crisis and justify extreme violence.

On Tuesday, a gunman walked into an elementary school in the predominantly Latino city of Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and 2 adults in the worst school-related mass shooting since the one at Sandy Hook Elementary. Less than two weeks prior, a shooter targeted Black shoppers at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 and injuring three more.

While the motivations behind the Uvalde shooter, who was killed by police at the scene, remain unclear, the Buffalo shooter posted a manifesto online that was rife with racist underpinnings. That includes the mention of “ecofascism,” a theory that blames immigrants—particularly immigrants of color—for causing overpopulation and environmental degradation in Western nations.

“For too long we have allowed the left to co-opt the environmentalist movement to serve their own needs,” 18-year-old Payton Gendron, the alleged shooter in Buffalo, wrote in his 180-page document. “The left has controlled all discussion regarding environmental preservation whilst simultaneously presiding over the continued destruction of the natural environment itself through mass immigration and uncontrolled urbanization.”

Climate activists, many who have been tracking the proliferation of ecofascism among far-right groups, say the Buffalo shooting is just the latest in what appears to be a growing movement in the United States and Europe. In fact, Gendron pulled much of the language in his manifesto from the screeds of past shooters.

In 2019, a gunman walked into two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 Muslim worshippers. Later that year, another man entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and shot 46 people, killing 23—most of them Latino. Both shooters, who were also young white males like Gendron, cited ecofascism to justify their actions.

Once relegated to the fringes of society, ecofascism has found its way into mainstream discourse in recent years. Its origins, in many ways, trace back to the Tanton network, a collection of more than a dozen anti-immigration groups founded or funded by John Tanton, a wealthy ophthalmologist from Michigan. Tanton, who was once a leader of the Sierra Club, believed that the root cause of environmental destruction is overpopulation by the “wrong” sorts of people.

Tanton died in 2019, but his legacy has lived on through others. In 2019, Tucker Carlson, the conservative pundit for Fox News, alluded to the concept of ecofascism on air with a member of the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank that has long perpetuated misinformation on climate change. “Isn’t crowding your country the fastest way to despoil it, to pollute it, to make it a place you wouldn’t want to live?” Carlson mused in the interview.

In 2021, Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, alleging that the Biden administration’s immigration policies were harming his state’s environment by allowing immigrants to “drive cars, purchase goods, and use public parks and other facilities,” resulting in “the release of pollutants, carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”

And a growing number of scholars say eco-fascist ideas are now swirling around right-wing circles as a way to address climate change while also advocating for anti-immigration policy. The groups are “always twisting” climate research “to support some rhetoric that we certainly were not aiming to support,” Jenny Rowland-Shea, deputy director for Public Lands at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, told the Christian Science Monitor. Her own research was used for “criticizing immigrants and people of color and saying they were responsible” for environmental damage, she said.

While right-wing groups blame immigrants for their environmental problems, research has long shown that it’s really the world’s affluent who are contributing most to the climate crisis.

A 2020 report by Oxfam found that from 1990 to 2015—a period when humans doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—the wealthiest 1 percent of the world’s population accounted for more than twice as much carbon emissions as the poorest half of the Earth’s population.

Still, the continued emergence of ecofascism is particularly worrisome given that worsening storms, droughts and other consequences of climate change are already displacing more people from their homes and sending refugees into neighboring countries. At the U.S.-Mexico border, climate change is contributing to a record-high backlog of immigration cases, ICN’s Aydali Campa reported last week.

“It is getting to the point where, around the world, we see the climate change impacts overriding a lot of people’s ability to adapt,” said Rebecca Carter, the acting director of climate resilience practice at the World Resources Institute, a global research non-profit based in Washington. “Whether it’s because they don’t have access to what they need, or because things are so severe that there really are not solutions to the challenges they’re facing.”

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

2080

That’s the year scientists had initially anticipated seeing the kind of intense winter storms they’re now witnessing in the Southern Hemisphere, a new study found. The finding marked another bleak milestone for researchers, who say the reality of climate change is far worse than expected.

Demonstrators outside Central Hall, Westminster, London, as the petroleum giant Shell are holding its annual general meeting. Picture date: Tuesday May 24, 2022. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images
Demonstrators outside Central Hall, Westminster, London, as the petroleum giant Shell are holding its annual general meeting. Picture date: Tuesday May 24, 2022. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images

A longtime safety consultant for the fossil fuel industry has terminated her contract with energy giant Shell, accusing the company of “double talk on climate” by publicly pledging to reduce its carbon footprint while continuing to drill for new oil and gas. The announcement, which took off on social media Monday, is the latest incident to cast doubt on the sincerity of recent “net zero” pledges from oil and gas companies, whose products are the primary driver of human-caused climate change.

“It pains me to end this working relationship, which I have greatly valued,” Caroline Dennett, whose small consulting firm has advised the UK-based company on safety issues for 11 years, wrote in an email to Shell’s executive board on Monday. “But I can no longer work for a company that ignores all the alarms and dismisses the risks of climate change and ecological collapse.”

In a video that Dennett posted on social media along with a copy of her email, she also accused the oil giant of knowingly deceiving the public on its climate commitments and urged others working for Shell to leave the company if they, too, were concerned about the climate crisis.

“Whatever they say, Shell is simply not winding down on fossil fuels,” Dennett said in the video. “If you can find a way out, then please walk away while there’s still time. Do it now.”

Climate activists, who have long criticized oil companies for not taking responsibility for their role in causing global warming, celebrated the announcement, sharing the post thousands of times on LinkedIn and Twitter as of Tuesday morning. 

Several of the world’s top oil companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, have made so-called “net zero” pledges. Those mean that by 2050, at least in theory, the companies would either no longer emit greenhouse gases or they would remove from the atmosphere as much as they release so that their net contribution to global warming would be zero.

In response to questions about Dennett’s post, Shell said in a statement that it was “determined to deliver” on its goal to become net zero by 2050. “We’re already investing billions of dollars in low-carbon energy, although the world will still need oil and gas for decades to come in sectors that can’t be easily decarbonized,” the company added.

But many environmentalists remain skeptical of Big Oil’s goal to reach net zero, saying oil and gas companies are attempting to appease public outcry over climate change without actually changing their behavior. A growing body of research has shown that fossil fuel companies aren’t attempting to reduce their emissions at all, meaning their goals to address climate change have so far amounted to “greenwashing.” And a report released today by the advocacy group Oil Change International found that some of the world’s biggest oil companies, including Shell, are investing in at least 200 new fossil fuel projects through 2025, which could cause an additional 8.6 gigatonnes of carbon pollution—or the emissions equivalence of 77 new coal-fired power plants.

In fact, the stated net-zero “ambitions,” as oil and gas companies generally call them, do not require that greenhouse gas emissions fall to zero at all, wrote ICN’s Nicholas Kusnetz. Instead, they rely either partly or largely on capturing or canceling out these emissions with unproven technologies and reforestation at a difficult scale to achieve. Technologies known as direct air capture would need to suck billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the air every year and then store it for those plans to work.

Dennett isn’t the only former worker for Big Oil to point out these contradictions. An engineer who worked for Exxon for 16 years also quit his job, saying he realized the company had no intentions of seriously addressing climate change. 

While it’s unclear if Dennet’s action will make any change at Shell, she said she hopes it will at least force Shell’s executives to “look in the mirror and ask themselves if they really believe their vision for more oil and gas extraction secures a safe future for humanity.”

But her message has clearly gotten through to others. Shell executives had to delay an annual shareholder meeting this morning after climate activists interrupted the session.

“Stop kidding yourself that you are doing no harm,” the protesters shouted at stockholders, according to CBS. “Think of your children and your family. They will not escape the effects of the climate emergency.”

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

Today’s Indicator

$29 billion

That’s how much federal funding the Biden administration has tallied so far being filtered through its Justice40 initiative, a program that aims to deliver more investment to environmental justice communities that bear the brunt of pollution and climate change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

26,000 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Indicator

421.68 parts per million

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Today’s Indicator

2.3 billion

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