The POW Dispatch: Our take on climate news, February 26, 2021

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WORDS: DONNY O’NEILL | HEADER IMAGE: MING POON

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.

Another week full of important climate news has come and gone. We hope you all took the opportunity this week to get outside for some relief from the newswire. If not, there’s always the weekend, right?

This week’s Dispatch touches on Representative Deb Haaland’s Secretary of the Department of the Interior confirmation hearing, the prospect of electric airplanes, a call out to the mountain bike community and much more. Dig in!   

Notable Quote:

“Haaland, through her life’s journey and her record in Congress, has shown that she understands we don’t inherit the earth from our parents — we borrow it from our children and the yet unborn. She knows the damage that unbalanced energy development can levy not only on our air, land and water, but also on the profound health and cultural costs that front-line and Native American communities are forced to endure.” – Mark Udall and Tom Udall, authors of the USA Today op-ed

Our Takeaway:

The impending confirmation of Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Department of the Interior (with Senator Joe Manchin pledging his support for Haaland this week, Haaland’s prospects for confirmation are promising) will be a massive win for our public lands. As the Udall cousins—both former Senators, Mark of Colorado and Tom of New Mexico—stated in their op-ed, unchecked energy development can have profound effects on our air, land and water. Right now, a quarter of America’s carbon emissions can be attributed to fossil fuel development on public lands. Stiff-arming that production can drastically reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions—something Haaland has supported. On top of that, energy development on these public lands disproportionately harms Indigenous communities that call areas near these lands home. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo people and could be the catalyst for healing the relationship between the federal government and Native Americans.

Haaland’s nomination should’ve been a slam dunk, but as the cousins Udall suggest in the op-ed, the resistance to Haaland’s views on public lands conservation and climate change has been called radical. Although, the Udalls believe if they were calling for the same policy measures, they wouldn’t have been met with such opposition, suggesting another reason for opposition to Haaland’s nomination.

While Haaland’s confirmation continues to look promising, the murmuring critics of her nomination reflect a continued effort by those with fossil fuel interests to throw a wrench in the country’s plan to combat climate change to help keep wallets fat without general awareness of the consequences to the planet.

POW looks forward to Haaland’s influence over the country’s public lands once being confirmed as Secretary of the Department of the Interior.

Notable Quote:

“The Climate Science Information Center connects people on Facebook with science-based news, approachable information and actionable resources from the world’s leading climate change organizations. The center includes detailed deep dives that go beyond the basic facts, as well as ways to get involved. It also has information relevant to where you live.” – Facebook

Our Takeaway:

Disinformation is one of the biggest obstacles to national and global action on climate change. When untruthful speculations about the impacts of climate change spread, it disrupts all the momentum generated to protect outdoor landscapes and the world from detrimental impacts. A cultural shift in how the United States, and world at large, views climate change is imperative in reaching crucial climate goals by mid-century. 

Have you ever rushed to get first chair at your favorite ski area after a snow report of 12 inches of fresh, only to arrive to far less accumulation than was reported? That disappointment is almost at the level of how we feel about climate change disinformation. 

Since so much information is spread via social media these days, highlighting the scientific facts and truths about climate change is imperative in this cultural shift, as well as dispelling any misinformation on the cusp of being spread across these digital platforms. Debunking climate change myths on Facebook, itself a source of much misinformation, is an important step.

Image: SurfAir Mobility

Notable Quote:

“Replacing small regional planes that run on fossil fuels with hybrid or electric aircraft would help reduce climate-damaging CO2 emissions. It could also make air travel easier and cheaper for people living in smaller cities not served by major airlines.” – Joann Muller, author

Our Takeaway: 

POW fully embraces the momentum currently held by electric vehicle manufacturing and infrastructure. Our goal is to utilize innovative transit solutions to minimize and ultimately eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. While a ton of this work is currently being done with regards to automobiles, electric airplanes could be making an appearance sooner rather than later. According to the International Energy Agency, 2.8 percent of global emissions can be traced back to air travel (not factoring in restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic). Hybrid-electric aircraft could be a solution to this issue, allowing passengers to fly to their favorite destinations without racking up a huge carbon footprint. 

While hybrid-electric aircraft are limited by battery technology and large-scale implementation of electric aircraft among trans-continental operators is at least a decade or two away, regional travel can stand to benefit in the present and near-future from electrification. 

Currently, electrification comes in the form of upgrading today’s aircraft for electric power. Surf Air Mobility, a regional air service, is set to acquire Ampaire, a manufacturer of hybrid electric powertrains for aviation. Surf Air plans to upgrade current turboprop aircraft with hybrid technology on regional routes.

This is a big deal, especially for those who take several trips a year via plane to visit outdoor recreation hotspots not too far from home. Imagine you live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and the snow is, meh. It just snowed a boatload in Jackson, Wyoming, though, and you want to take a quick weekend trip to score some pow. With hybrid-electric air travel, this trip can be taken, with far less of a carbon footprint. Pretty cool, right?

Ski touring in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Photo: Donny O’Neill

Notable Quote:

“I’m so honored to be elected chair of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee as we begin critical work to preserve our public lands, restore our forests and protect our communities from record-breaking wildfires.” – Representative Joe Neguse

Our Takeaway:

Representative Joe Neguse, who serves Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, was elected as the chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands on Wednesday. Not only is Neguse the first Coloradan to hold the position, but the first Black representative to serve in the role in the committee’s 215-year history. Having the right people in office—climate champions, climate Rocky Balboas, if you will—to craft legislation that supports climate solutions is vital to protecting our lands from climate change. Joe Neguse definitely fits the bill.

This is major news, as Neguse will lead the congressional group responsible for managing America’s public lands, themselves at the center of reducing the country’s carbon emissions output. Currently, about a quarter of the country’s carbon emissions come from public lands, and preventing oil and gas extraction from those federally owned parcels is a huge step in reducing emissions and preserving more acreage for outdoor recreation and enjoyment. Picture shredding singletrack in Moab, Utah, backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado or rafting the Snake River in Wyoming. Pretty beautiful, right? Those places shouldn’t be soiled by oil extraction. 

One of Neguse’s first big initiatives in the role will be guiding the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act through the House and into the Senate. The Act includes the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, a huge public lands preservation initiative from Neguse’s home state, and a piece of legislation we’re huge fans of. We knew it sounded familiar. It seeks to protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, establish new wilderness areas, safeguard existing outdoor recreation opportunities and designate a first-ever National Historic Landscape for the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale. On top of all of that, the bill takes 200,000 acres off the table for future oil and gas development and creates a program to reuse methane (a potent greenhouse gas) waste.

Neguse’s influence, and the passing of legislation like the CORE Act, is crucial in safeguarding public lands from development and ensuring they remain in the hands of the American people for continued enjoyment for generations to come.

Notable Quote:

“I don’t want to wait until trails are burning up every year or until this sport’s on the brink of being gone. I think having the fear of the world being a worse place galvanizes people to protect what they know.” – Dillon Osleger, pro mountain biker and POW Athlete Alliance member

Our Takeaway:

This video from Specialized, featuring pro mountain biker, advocate and POW Athlete Alliance member Dillon Osleger, perfectly aligns with what we’re all about at POW. In The Constant Gardner, Osleger recounts seeing his local trails in Santa Barbara, California, completely destroyed by the Thomas Fire; trails that he had ridden just months prior to the fire. 

Rather than having to tell his fellow mountain bikers that certain local trails are unrideable due to fires and other extreme weather events, Osleger calls for preemptive conservation and protection. Osleger notes that growing up in an outdoorsy family taught him the value of trail exploration in his own backyard and of public lands as a whole. He goes on to underline the importance of closing the gap between recreation and environmental activism for mountain bikers and encourages the community to evolve their outdoor passions into action. 

At POW, we strive to do the same; to give passionate outdoors people the resources, tools and guidance they need to help protect our cherished outdoor spaces from the effects of climate change. Check out this video featuring Dillon Osleger, as it’s a great example of how the Outdoor State can step up and protect the places we love. 

Dillon Osleger penned a blog post for POW back in September during a wildfire season that ravaged the Western United States. Check it out, here.

Notable Quote:

“Texas shows that America needs both a cleaner grid and a more reliable one.” – The Economist

Our Takeaway:

The intense winter storm that hit Texas and middle America last week points to a need for a more reliable grid in the United States. As the climate continues to change, extreme weather events like what took place in Texas will grow more frequent. Last week, the Texas energy grid buckled in the face of an unusual cold snap, with frozen energy sources, too little capacity and a poorly connected infrastructure all contributing to the failure. 

The Economist calls for a focus on clean energy infrastructure to provide a reliable nationwide grid that also contributes to reducing carbon emissions from the energy sector. The article notes that American voters are increasingly concerned about the effects of climate change, regardless of party affiliation. In addition, over the past decade wind and solar power costs have gone down from 70 to 90 percent, and a majority of states have implemented clean energy mandates. In order to introduce these mandates on a national scale, America must invest in a regulatory framework surrounding renewable energy advancements and grid connections to hook them up and distribute them. The article emphasizes that these innovations need to be deployed at scale, rather than just wasting away in research laboratories. 

So, what does all of that wonky policy talk mean? It aligns with POW’s Theory of Change, which states a combination of technological and financial innovation, political will and a cultural shift is needed to achieve the country’s goal of net neutrality by 2050. Just like a skier packs a beacon, shovel and probe before heading out for a tour, these three strategies are crucial for America’s journey toward carbon neutrality. President Joe Biden has consistently stated his intention to implement a clean energy infrastructure into America’s future and we’ll be sure to keep tabs on him to help fulfill that promise.

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.

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