The POW Dispatch: Our take on climate news, January 15, 2021
WORDS & HEADER IMAGE: DONNY O’NEILL
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 United States is accelerating towards Inauguration Day and the news could not be noisier. Media coverage over the past week has circled around the insurrection attempt at the United States Capitol as well as the second impeachment of President Trump. That doesn’t mean that climate news isn’t still circulating, and we want to make sure you can dive into important updates surrounding that topic with this week’s POW Dispatch.
The New York Times
“The tools of deception are decades-old…”
“The tobacco industry’s strategy was applied to environmental and health issues more broadly…”
“Underlying many of the arguments are paeans to personal freedom that undercut the belief that the government should or even can, solve our problems.” – Naomi Oreskes, science historian and POW emeritus board member
The consistent attacks on proven scientific data and the merit of scientists collecting and analyzing that data are more than just a symptom of climate denial, it’s a sickness spread by many elected officials that threatens the foundations of our democracy. The abominable actions taken by many last week at the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. were driven largely by disinformation campaigns intent on formulating a false narrative surrounding the validity of the 2020 presidential election. These tactics have been used in politics and big business for years to cloud the view of facts for political and financial gain. It’s eerily similar to the campaigns, paid-for advertorials and straight-up lies spread by the fossil fuel industry to shift attention away from the growing scientific evidence that fossil fuel-caused emissions were causing exponential global warming that threatened the planet.
Naomi Oreskes, Henry Charles Lea Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, has noted that many of these invalid arguments pander to the widespread ideal of individual freedom. Purveyors of disinformation know this and will push the conversation toward that with every opportunity. The New York Times article notes that “efforts to limit disinformation just move the myths around. If history is any guide, it will pop up again elsewhere, virulent as ever.”
This emphasizes how important it is to lift up our scientific community in order to help their work shine through the muddy waters of disinformation and help continue the cultural shift toward making climate action a priority. Our Science Alliance is part of that scientific community. Learn more about their work, here.
Photo: Graham Zimmerman
“…surface temperatures stop warming and warming stabilizes within a couple decades. What this really means is that our actions have a direct and immediate impact on surface warming. It grants us agency, which is part of why it is so important to communicate this current best scientific understanding.” — Michael Mann, renowned climate scientist and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.
Often, solving the issue of climate change seems like some far-off goal in the distant future. New analyses of natural systems of the Earth that factor in the ability of oceans, wetlands and forests to absorb carbon indicate that warming could be addressed much sooner if net-zero emissions are reached. Over 100 countries that have signed onto the Paris Agreement have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. More and more scientific evidence points to the solution to global climate change is to reach this net-zero benchmark.
This highlights just how important it is for President-elect Joe Biden to make good on his promise to have the United States recommit to Paris immediately upon taking office. All signs point to him doing so, but a little encouragement couldn’t hurt, right? Take action today and urge the incoming administration to Keep Paris the Priority in 2021.
A wildfire sunset in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, August 2020.
Photo: Donny O’Neill
“[The year] 2020 stands out for its exceptional warmth in the Arctic. It is no surprise that the last decade was the warmest on record, and is yet another reminder of the urgency of ambitious emissions reductions to prevent adverse climate impacts.” — Carlo Buontempo, director of the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service
The year 2020 tied 2016 as the hottest year on record. Sound familiar? It seems every year we hear that news, because, well, the past six years have been the hottest in recorded history. Even with plummeting global emissions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached new high marks in 220. Two-hundred and forty four metric tons of carbon dioxide was released within the Arctic Circle alone in 22, and in July and October, the Arctic sea ice was at its smallest extent on record.
We are at an inflection point where the United States, and global nations as a whole, can either make bold policy changes to mitigate the most harmful consequences of the changing climate or continue down the current path of extreme weather, water shortages and economic hardship for the planet, notably the outdoor industry and the communities reliant on it. Luckily, the incoming administration has vowed to make climate change a priority and has already put the right people in place to take bold action on day one. Learn more about them and what policies could look like to address climate change in 2021, here.
The New York Times
“Unfortunately, 2020 tells us little about what we can expect to see in 2021 and beyond. The vast majority of 2020’s emission reductions were due to decreased economic activity and not from any structural changes that would deliver lasting reductions in the carbon intensity of our economy.” — Kate Larsen, Hannah Pitt and Alfredo Rivera, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimates for 2020”
The pandemic-induced slowdown in economic activity, notably the transportation sector, heavy industry and electricity providers, contributed largely to a 10 percent reduction of carbon emissions by the United States in 2020. It’s unfortunate and heartbreaking that it took a deadly global pandemic to reveal the effects of reduced emissions, but, nevertheless, the United States can see what a future looks like with fewer greenhouse gases being pushed into the atmosphere. It was the largest single-year reduction in global emissions since World War 2, and put some of the United States’ nationally determined contributions (NDC) tied with the Paris Agreement within reach.
However, with a vaccine beginning to be distributed and economic activity set to resume, those emissions will rebound as 2021 continues, unless large policy changes are made. A single-year drop in emissions is likely a fly on the back of an elephant in terms of the bigger problem of climate change, and implementing legislation that propels the United States, and other countries, forward toward carbon neutrality by the middle of this century is the only way to put a dent in the damage done by global warming. Read more about the Paris Agreement and its goals, here.
Greg Hill gets some work done while his electric vehicle charges on Rogers Pass in British Columbia.
Photo: Travis Rousseau
General Motors (GM) is launching a new business unit devoted to electrifying the goods delivery market and says package giant FedEx will be the first customer.
It’s obvious that COVID has hyper-charged the momentum of e-commerce, and GM says it sees an $850 billion market for “parcel, food delivery and reverse logistics” by the middle of this decade. General Motors has developed a new “ecosystem of electric first-to-last-mile products, software and services” for delivery and logistics companies called BrightDrop. A crucial part of BrightDrop is a fleet of electric delivery vehicles arriving later in 2021, each boasting a 250-mile-per-charge capacity.
GM joins a litany of other companies investing in electric delivery and commercial vehicles, including Amazon, Ford, UPS and more. The increasingly competitive electric vehicle market is an encouraging sign that points to improvements in fuel efficiency, fuel economy standards, electric vehicle availability and infrastructure and widespread cultural adoption of electrified transit as a current and future solution to curbing emissions from the transportation sector.
It’s been said, ”As GM goes, so goes the nation,” and having the United States’ top car manufacturer putting its weight behind reducing transportation emissions will certainly spur more companies to follow. Read more about electrifying transit, here.
High Country News
The Roundhouse Wind Energy Center in Wyoming.
Photo: Platte River Power Authority
“Once the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project is complete, we estimate 114 permanent jobs will be created.” — Kara Choquette, Power Company of Wyoming’s communications director
If you need further evidence of the benefits of renewable energy, look no further than the state of Wyoming.
Local officials in the state’s capital of Cheyenne feared a huge hit to the town’s budget at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic due to lost tax revenues and plummeting prices for oil, gas and coal. Like many towns in Wyoming, Cheyenne benefits hugely from royalties from the extractive energy industry.
Instead, Cheyenne benefited from a 20.5 percent increase in tax revenue year-over-year, with September alone revealing an 83 percent hike to the tune of $1.4 million. It was all due to the Roundhouse Wind Project, and revenues from wind farms across the state showed a similar positive uptick. This evidence has Wyoming residents and government officials looking at wind energy as a solution to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic as well as a reliable source of revenue in the future.
Wyoming is traditionally dependent on the oil, gas and coal industries, but the benefits of renewables are increasingly clear. Wyoming is also a huge hotspot for outdoor recreation, which stands to lose the battle with climate change driven by these emissions-causing industries. In terms of wind energy capacity, Wyoming is in the top 10 of the United States, and a commitment to renewable energy infrastructure can both sustain the state’s energy economy as well as protect its large swaths of outdoor recreation opportunities now and in the future. For information on how renewables can be a solution to climate change and help protect outdoor playgrounds, click here.
The CalWood fire preys upon Boulder, Colorado, in October 2020.
Photo: Donny O’Neill
Climate scientists and indigenous leaders are urging policymakers to embrace traditional burning to avoid catastrophic wildfires like those experienced in the American West in recent years.
Wildfires will continue to be a problem, particularly for the western United States, as the effects of a warming climate induce more drought and extreme weather events. New strategies to prevent and address largescale wildfires are needed to preserve the loss of human life and property, but also to curtail emissions. BloombergNEF estimated that the record-setting wildfire season in the western United States could offset the emissions reductions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by up to three percent.
Trusted indigenous practices of prescribed and cultural burns set during favorable conditions help reduce vegetation density and clear undergrowth in forests that help drive these recent extreme wildfire events. And these strategies are beginning to be implemented in states like California.
Deb Haaland is set to assume the role of Secretary of the Interior under the Biden administration, and as the first Native American appointed to the position she’ll bring the voices of America’s indigenous peoples to the table to discuss topics pertaining to public lands and wildland fire. Not only does the management of public land and fire disproportionately affect native people, but they’re also topics to which native perspectives can provide solutions. It will be all hands on deck as the Biden administration sets out to achieves its goal of addressing the climate crisis, and bringing in diverse voices with climate at the top of their priority list is imperative. Learn more about what you’ll see once the United States joins the Paris Agreement, here.
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.