The POW Dispatch: Our take on climate news, April 9, 2021
WORDS: DONNY O’NEILL | HEADER IMAGE: ADAM CLARK
Welcome to The Dispatch, Protect Our Winters’ weekly wrap-up of climate news, complete with our take on each topic and how that impacts our ongoing efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.
The recently proposed American Jobs Plan once again dominates the news cycle in this week’s POW Dispatch. We dive into how exactly it correlates with systemic climate action, as well as what it means for the White House climate summit set to take place on Earth Day.
In more frightening news, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached its highest levels in recorded history, a disturbing development that underscores the urgency of tackling human-caused climate change.
To round out this week’s news wrap-up, we look at new vehicle emissions standards and the diminishing snowpack across the American West. Enjoy this week’s POW Dispatch!
The view from the top of Mauna Loa.
“We can’t avoid climate change — it’s already here… it’s still possible to escape the worst with smart policy that recognizes the scale of the threat and the need for quick action.” — Kate Marvel, NASA climate scientist
For the first time in recorded history, the world’s concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) has reached over 420 parts per million. It’s not a good milestone, in fact, it’s a horrifying one. It means we’re halfway to doubling pre-industrial CO2 levels. The reading was taken atop the Mauna Loa Observatory at 11,135 feet, where some of the purest air on Earth is available to help scientists study a clear picture of human impacts on climate systems. For reference, 350 parts per million is considered the “safe” concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Studies show that doubling pre-industrial CO2 levels could lead to a global temperature rise between 2.3 and 4.5 degrees Celsius. As a reminder, the goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit temperature rise to well under 2 degrees Celsius.
We continue to hit these disastrous milestones—record levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, the hottest year on record—which provide clear evidence that climate change is here, and smart policies and cultural recognition of the scale of the climate threat in the here and now are imperative. The science is clear, and relying on the data to drive policy decisions is a surefire way to make progress on climate action.
Joining together to advocate for systemic climate action to protect the outdoor spaces and lifestyles we cherish does much more than just preserve our ability to safely ski, hike, fish, climb and mountain bike. It also helps protect the people in frontline communities that will be most affected by climate change. Learn more about what you can do by visiting our take action page.
Photo: Donny O’Neill
“We need to go as far as we can to meet the demands of the day… The science indicates we have a short window in time to reverse the path that we’re on and mitigate against certain climate impacts… We’re taking a strong look at what the science is urging us to do. We’re looking at where technologies are. We’re marrying our regulatory policy and what we have the statutory authority to do with where the science directs us and where the markets and technology are.” —EPA Administrator Michael Regan
The urgency in Michael Regan’s statement on new regulations for the transportation sector is driven by what science is telling us. And science is telling us that sweeping changes to address the climate problem were needed yesterday. The new regulations are coming to the transportation sector, which will hopefully put some momentum behind its effort to curb its carbon footprint. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will review a former Trump administration rule that relaxed emissions limits for vehicles and loosened fuel economy standards. According to administrator Michael Regan, stricter emissions standards consistent with the urgency of the climate crisis will be proposed by the end of July, per an executive order from President Biden. Regan also didn’t rule out that additional regulations further down the line could essentially ban conventional gas-powered vehicles.
The transportation sector is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. There are an overwhelming amount of cars on the road—just ask anyone who’s pounded their fists on the dashboard in frustration sitting in ski traffic on I-70 or in Little Cottonwood Canyon. This is why the widespread adoption of electric vehicles and electric vehicle infrastructure has become a critical part of the POW policy agenda and will continue to be as the American Jobs Plans (Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure package) progresses.
Combating climate change and protecting the outdoors from its effects will take a science-based approach to policy. Science, you’re the real MVP.
“Congress has barely begun digesting President Biden’s proposed $2.2 trillion infrastructure package that’s stuffed with the biggest clean energy investments any president has put forward. But a top official hinted Tuesday that it would rely on all the climate policy moves it has set into motion when Biden convenes world leaders for a virtual White House climate summit on April 22-23.”
Have you ever stood atop a puckering ski line or frightening mountain bike descent, then watched your buddy drop in safely and say to yourself, “well, here goes nothin!”? Someone has to make the first bold move in order for others to follow, and that’s what the United States is hoping to accomplish during the White House climate summit. When world leaders convene for the virtual climate summit beginning on Earth Day, April 22, President Joe Biden and his administration hopes that the strong climate policy proposals put forth during the infancy of his presidency will be enough to influence other nations to take strong action on climate.
Jeremy Jones founded POW with the intention of making advocating for climate solutions cool. Looks like President Biden got the memo. His slew of executive actions as well as the recent announcement of the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, puts climate change in the spotlight and is the biggest clean energy investment ever proposed by a President. It shows the urgency with which the administration is treating climate change. With the high price tag associated with it and the intention that cash flow will come from corporate tax hikes and the end of fossil fuel subsidies, the American Jobs Plan is sure to meet opposition in the months ahead. We understand that it is costly, but so is a ski season pass, right? But the costs are worth it.
The eight-year package centers on a swift transformation of the transportation and energy sectors, the two biggest greenhouse gas emissions culprits in the country. It calls for a Clean Electricity Standard, large investments in climate change and electric vehicle technology, the extension of clean energy tax credits and the modernization of the electric grid, among many other policies. It will put into motion the systemic changes need to really put a dent in the impacts of climate change. The progress of the American Jobs Plan will be something POW is watching closely and will update the Outdoor State on the details and ask for your help when action is inevitably necessary.
The Jobs Plan, built on an eight-year timeline, centers on a quick transformation on two of the biggest losers in the greenhouse gas emissions category—transportation and energy—and aims to put into motion the systemic changes that can finally put a dent in our climate efforts. The list is long, but roughly, the plan calls for a Clean Electricity Standard, large investments in climate change and electric vehicle technology, the extension of clean energy tax credits and the modernization of the electric grid and so much more. Rest assured we’re keeping a close eye on all of the ins and outs of the proposal and will keep you up to speed on how to get involved.
The actions taken by the Biden administration in the lead-up to the climate summit also show a commitment to federal leadership on climate, which is especially important following four years of state-led legislation in the absence of federal action. This resumption of leadership by the United States will empower not only our own country but other nations as they work to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Photo: Donny O’Neill
“A misleading way to think about all this is to think that climate action can live on its own island and economic policy is part of the continent. The output of good economic policy is good climate outcomes.” — White House deputy climate advisor Ali Zaidi
If you refer back to POW’s Theory of Change, you’ll see that, in order to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, a combination of financial and technological advancements, political will and a cultural shift regarding how the nation views climate change are all necessary components to that goal. It takes a combination of all of those, together, to achieve carbon neutrality. The American Jobs Plan—a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal—can be thought of in the same way. Infusing the components of the infrastructure plan with a foundation of climate-focused initiatives will both stimulate the nation’s economy while changing the country’s systems to ones that support a clean energy economy. The big policies with big price tags attached get all the attention, but smaller items that may get lost in the shuffle have inherent climate ties. The plan proposes an $18 billion investment in Veterans Affairs facilities but calls for new hospitals to be built with low-carbon materials and powered by clean energy. A $40 billion investment in training programs for unemployed Americans emphasizes jobs in the clean energy industry. And the $100 billion planned to be invested in public education includes building energy-efficient schools.
The infrastructure proposal, and climate action, in general, is a sum of all parts. Just like when you’re carefully arranging items in your backpacking pack to ensure you have everything you need and you’re using space efficiently, it’s a complex puzzle that requires careful consideration of all of its pieces.
The American Jobs Plan will be driving a lot of the conversations at POW over the coming months. We’ll make sure to keep educating you on the specifics, let you know how to get involved and ensure that the Outdoor State’s voices are heard, as they’ll have a huge impact on these types of policies. The American Jobs Plan will be expensive, but it’ll be worth it and pay off in spades.
Photo: Donny O’Neill
“Our water resource infrastructure in the West is built around snowpack. It’s built around the accumulation in the winter and the melt in spring and summer of the mountain snowpack, and water allocations are based on that infrastructure as well. That system is changing.” — Keith Musselman, research associate at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.
A healthy snowpack is crucial to good ski conditions, that’s obvious, right? A deep snowpack allows us to extend our ski seasons past resort closures into the late spring and summer in good years. But it also supports our ability to dive into all the other seasonal activities we love. When the snow melts, it rushes down mountainsides and allows us to fish on the rivers, enjoy trails that aren’t dry and dusty or access forests that aren’t ravaged by wildfires.
Unfortunately, that snowpack is melting earlier and earlier than in the mid-to-late 20th century. According to a study by the University of Colorado, snowpack has declined by about 11% while earlier winter snow runoff is three times as widespread. When the snow begins to melt earlier in the season, there’s less runoff flowing on and through the ground during the summer, which not only dries up water resources dependent upon by the population of the western United States but also intensifies drought conditions. This has detrimental effects on the water resource infrastructure of the West as well as all of the recreational activities that depend on the snowmelt systems.
This is also evidence that while climate change is often talked about in future terms, its impacts are being felt now and it’s important to recognize them and treat them with a sense of urgency.
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.