The POW Dispatch: Our take on climate news, April 16, 2021
Header Image: James Q Martin
April 22 is Earth Day and in addition to being a day for reflecting on the importance of protecting our natural world, Earth Day 2021 marks a point the United States has been building toward since Inauguration Day. The United States is holding the Leaders’ Summit on Climate, where it will reveal its plan to steeply cut its emissions by 2030, as part of its Nationally Determined Contributions for the Paris Climate Agreement. The importance of Earth Day 2021 leads off this week’s Dispatch, followed by a call to action in Aspen, Colorado, details surrounding how global investments could shift in the face of climate change and much more.
The New York Times
“Summitry is theater, and it can be extremely impactful if there is a big centerpiece. That centerpiece is the U.S. plan.” – Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a climate adviser for the United Nations Secretary General
On Earth Day 2021 (April 22), all eyes will be on the Leaders’ Summit on Climate hosted by the United States. The most influential countries in the world will convene virtually to unveil the United States’ plan to steeply cut its emissions by 2030 and set the globe up for a productive United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. It’s a bit like course previews of any high-profile outdoor sports event. Whether it’s the X Games, Red Bull Rampage or Natural Selection, athletes arrive at the venue early to get a run-through of the course to prepare themselves for the real deal. The success of the Leaders’ Climate Summit will directly impact the success of COP 26.
The Climate Summit is a huge deal. It’s the first time in five years that international leaders will convene to discuss the topic of climate change, and the United States carries the added weight of making up for lost time by announcing new aggressive Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs—here’s a reminder on what those are) and position itself, once again, as a global leader on climate change. While the United States has worked with countries like Canada, South Korea and Japan to help bolster the NDCs of all four countries, there are still outlier countries like China, India and Brazil that will require further cooperation to solidify similar deals. Those three nations, along with the United States, also produce more than a third of the world’s emissions combined. It’s evidence that the goals of the Paris Agreement—to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels—will only be achieved through a global cooperative effort. Similar to how the collective efforts of the Outdoor State—the combined advocacy of over 50 million outdoor enthusiasts—is the greatest strategy for protecting the outdoors from the effects of climate change.
The Climate Summit will take place on Earth Day, which is significant in its own right. April 22 offers the opportunity to reflect on the importance of preserving the incredible natural environments on our planet. On Earth Day 2021, we’ll be hosting the world premiere of Drop, a new film from Hilary Hutcheson and Liam Gallagher that highlights the impact climate change is having on the rivers of the western United States, and how that ripples out and impacts the people who depend on healthy rivers not only for their lifestyle but for their livelihoods. We’ll be taking the time to outline some of the systemic solutions for curbing climate change that Hutcheson and Gallagher discovered during the filming of Drop, and how that can be applied more broadly to help achieve the goals that will be discussed during the Global Climate Summit. Don’t miss out on the world premiere; RSVP here.
“Win-win situations that generate usable electricity by reducing greenhouse gases and make money simultaneously are ones that should be supported by our state and federal policies; not forced to shut down. If not, my future grandkids will be the last generation of skiers in the United States.” — Mike Kaplan, president and CEO of Aspen Skiing Company
Skiing and snowboarding is a lifestyle for so many people on the planet. It’s a mental escape from the constant noise of the world, promotes physical well-being and is a catalyst for relationship building. Skiers and snowboarders can’t imagine a world where it’s simply impossible for them to do what they love. Unfortunately, climate change could drive skiing and snowboarding to extinction, ripping away that mental and physical outlet for future generations.
That’s how Aspen Skiing Company President and CEO Mike Kaplan begins his op-ed, discussing his concern that his future grandchildren won’t be able to ski. Aspen Skiing Company has led the charge in terms of ski resorts addressing the current and future impacts of climate change on the ski industry. The company became an energy producer, capturing leaking methane from the nearby Elk Creek Mine to turn into usable electricity—the same amount of energy used annually by its four ski resorts. The project generates $100,000 each month through electricity and carbon credits sold to the local utility company and eliminates three times the carbon pollution created by Aspen Skiing Company each year.
However, so much methane is leaking from the mine that it’s overwhelming the ability to capture it for usable electricity. Without swift action, the project will need to be shut down in two years. Sealing the mine completely to restrict methane leaks will solve the problem, but bureaucratic roadblocks could prevent that from happening. Toward the end of the Trump presidency, the administration rolled back methane requirements that monitored and reduced leaks from fracking wells as a financial gift to oil and gas companies. While the rollbacks were said to be “good for business” that train of thought is completely flawed. Methane is a monster problem—it’s 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide and the second biggest contributor to human-caused climate change. Eliminating inactive and abandoned coal mine methane not only prevents needless pollution of the atmosphere but also offers an opportunity for job creation. The American Jobs Plan includes $16 billion meant to transition fossil fuel workers into new jobs capping oil and gas wells and reclaiming defunct coal mines to prevent methane leaks.
There’s also a huge connection to public lands, where many of these oil and gas developments live. Oil and gas infrastructure on public lands is responsible for a quarter of the United States’ carbon emissions, and further development threatens those natural lands that belong to the American people and exacerbates the methane problem. Secretary of the Department of the Interior Deb Haaland has the opportunity to require projects that would destroy federally-owned abandoned mines that leak methane. Additionally, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act would direct the Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to implement a pilot program to lease and generate energy from excess methane in existing and abandoned coal mines in the North Fork Valley, the location of the Elk Creek Mine. This not only helps support the local economy but addresses the emissions problem on our public lands. POW and the Outdoor State have worked extensively on the CORE Act and will continue to provide updates concerning our ongoing efforts toward its passage.
The bottom line is that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is good for business—it can generate electricity and cold hard cash in the process—and ensure that economic drivers, like skiing, can continue to support local communities in the future.
“The fact that there is out there, globally, a $23 trillion market for clean energy products, for products that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is a massive opportunity for this country.” – Jennfier Granholm, secretary of the Department of Energy.
A future where the energy required to partake in our favorite activities—skiing, hiking, climbing, fishing—comes in the form of renewables and a carbon-neutral infrastructure, will require a massive influx of money. Fortunately, it’s a process that’s already well underway.
At a foundational level, there are financial tools at our disposal to address climate change. POW’s Theory of Change highlights financial instruments, specifically, as a way to address climate change directly and the energy investments tied into the American Jobs Plan reflect that. Now, we’re going to watch closely for a forthcoming executive order which would establish new guidelines related to the financial risk of climate change. According to Politico, which obtained a draft of the executive order, the federal directives would “touch every sector of American industry, including banking and insurance, oil and gas, housing, agriculture, and federal contracting, purchasing and lending.” Regulators in the banking, housing and agriculture sectors will be tasked with incorporating climate risk into the management of major industries and lending of federal funds. Independent regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Reserve, not under direct orders from the White House, have already begun work on regulations that would require companies to disclose contributions to global warming and police banks for climate risks. This could influence how investors spend their money and result in a shift in investment strategies focused more on carbon neutrality. We’re likely to see a big change in how money is spent and rapid investment in the shifting energy infrastructure is necessary to ensure the necessary systemic solutions are put in place.
The upcoming infrastructure changes are akin to the Moon-landing of the current generation. Or, better yet, it’s a first descent down one of the world’s most imposing mountains. It represents a new system that will forever alter the world for the better. Like that brand new mountain bike you’ve had your eyes on for weeks, it won’t be cheap, but it’ll definitely be worth it.
“The concept may sound complicated, but it’s actually simple. When the fuel moisture is high because plants are lush and water-filled, wildfires don’t ignite and spread easily. When it’s low because vegetation is dry, parched, even dead, wildfires start easily and spread rapidly.” – Amy Graff, SF Gate
California’s 2020 wildfire season was historic, with over 4% of the state’s 100 million acres of land going up in flames. New research now indicates that this year could be as bad or worse. The current fuel-moisture content (FMC) at the Mount Umunhum FMC site in the Santa Cruz Mountains is the lowest it’s ever been. FMC measures the ratio of moisture to combustible materials in plants. A high FMC indicates vegetation that’s full of water and less prone to wildfire, and a low FMC reveals moisture-starved plants that can start and spread wildfires easily.
As any snow sports enthusiast in California will tell you, this season was tough; it was the third driest on record. And while this meant infrequent powder days during the ski season, it now has huge impacts on fire season this summer and fall. Craig Clements, the director of the San Jose State University Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Centera indicates that this upcoming fire season could be very similar to last year’s. The situation in California is further evidence that climate change isn’t some far-off-in-the-future problem, but one that’s affecting everything we do in the present. Not only will a dire wildfire season negatively impact recreation opportunities with closed forest access and harmful particles sitting in the air, but, much worse, it presents a clear danger to lives, property and the economy of California.
“On the Snake River, we have an opportunity for the greatest river restoration effort the world has ever seen … saving iconic salmon and orcas, bolstering clean energy and strengthening the region’s economy.” — Tom Kiernan, president of the American Rivers advocacy group
In the summer months, America’s system of rivers, creeks and streams take on a whole new level of importance. Healthy fish populations support the nation’s anglers. Adequate run-offs flood the waterways with rapids to satiate the appetite of kayakers. Clean creeks provide drinking water for backpackers. The health of the rivers directly impacts outdoor recreation during the warmer months.
Our freshwater sources are being strained, however, but the impacts of climate change. Warmer waters are threatening fish species; extreme weather events cause flooding that can alter the terrain and bring in chemicals from abandoned mines; and snowmelt that comes too early can lead to minuscule river levels later in the season. According to the annual report from American Rivers, ranks the top 10 most endangered waterways in the country that pose a threat to the health and livelihoods of those who depend on them. This year, the Snake River, which flows from the Tetons in Wyoming all the way into the Columbia River in Washington, sits atop the list. The Snake River is coveted by anglers, rafters and outdoors people for its recreational opportunities. Its salmon runs are also on the brink of extinction, which poses a huge threat to the northwestern Indigenous people who depend on the fish for food and cultural identity. Not to mention the disruption to the entire ecosystem.
America’s river systems are a microcosm of the interconnectedness of the impacts of climate change. It’s a topic at the center of POW Alliance Member Hilary Hutcheson’s new film, Drop. Join POW on April 22 for the world premiere of Drop, followed by a discussion surrounding how climate change is impacting the rivers of the American west and how a single drop of water that starts in the mountains and travels to the oceans can reveal all of those impacts along the way.
Local Climate News
While national climate topics often dominate the news cycle, there’s still plenty going on surrounding renewables, electrified transit, public lands and more in states and local communities across the nation. Take a look at what’s going on locally via the news blurbs below.
Author: Donny O'Neill
Donny O’Neill is the digital content producer at Protect Our Winters.