With the presidential campaign dominating the news cycle, it's easy to get distracted from what our current administration is doing—and not doing—to tackle climate change. We can't afford to wait and see what the election brings. That's why communities from the Gulf South to Alaska and around the globe are uniting in an incredible wave of resistance to fossil fuels this week.
Here's why taking action matters:
1. Business as usual for the fossil fuel industry cannot continue.
The consequences of our reliance on dirty energy are no secret, but that hasn't stopped fossil fuel companies from going to extremes to protect their bottom lines.
Exxon, for one, knew the climate impacts of burning fossil fuels 40 years ago. But instead of acting in the interest of humanity, the company campaigned in secret to cover up climate science so it could continue to plunder and pollute in search of more oil to burn.
"[#ExxonKnew] poses the biggest existential threat the company has faced in decades." https://t.co/GlgEL0PppW https://t.co/mVjTRi2CoA— 350 dot org (@350 dot org)1462804050.0
Not to be outdone, Shell spent three years and $7 billion trying to drill in U.S. Arctic waters, a campaign that ended in a very public, ego-bruising failure in 2015. But the company is still clinging to its Arctic drilling hopes by a thread, relinquishing all but one of its Alaskan leases on Tuesday.
What do these two stories have in common? People power winning out over corporate greed. Thanks to tireless activism, Exxon is finally taking its scandal seriously, deploying the full force of its lawyers and lobbyists. And the movement that pressured Shell to leave the Arctic also prompted President Obama to protect Alaska from offshore drilling through 2017 and make the Atlantic off limits through 2022.
2. The path to a sustainable future does not include fossil fuels.
The science is clear: to avoid the worst effects of #climatechange, we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. https://t.co/I2XqukBNzO— Greenpeace USA (@Greenpeace USA)1462658765.0
If we have any hope of preventing runaway climate change, we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground—starting now.
A 2015 study in the journal Nature revealed that we need to leave at least 80 percent of the world's known remaining fossil fuel reserves untouched, including more than 90 percent of U.S. coal reserves and a whopping 100 percent of Arctic oil and gas.
In the U.S. alone, keeping publicly owned fossil fuels in the ground would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 100 million metric tons per year.
Of course, communities on the frontlines of the fight against fossil fuels have known this for years, but policymakers are just starting to catch up.
3. Actions speak louder than words.
If last year's Paris climate talks showed us anything, it's that the world's political leaders are ready to talk the talk on climate action.
But are they ready to walk the walk? So far, the answer is no.
President Obama, for example, said last year, “As long as I am president, America will lead the world to meet this threat [climate change] before it's too late."
But his actions aren't on pace with the change we need. He's failed to protect the U.S. Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico from offshore drilling and his Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell called the keep it in the ground movement “naive" in a recent speech.
#keepitintheground isn't just a slogan, it's a scientifically proven necessity. Details here https://t.co/EpfpmHlnix https://t.co/OvyTeop99B— Annie Leonard (@Annie Leonard)1462563011.0
If you think it's “naive" to preach climate action one minute then turn around and sell our public land to the highest bidder the next, then it's time to speak up!
4. Momentum for a clean energy revolution is on our side.
Breaking free from fossil fuels won't happen overnight, but we're far beyond square one. People power has already stopped major projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and forced Shell to abandon immediate Arctic drilling plans.
And we didn't stop there.
Canceled. Rejected. Delayed: 20 fossil fuel projects halted in the wake of KXL rejection https://t.co/AZOcWTfMZN https://t.co/DVGrYr0VBc— InsideClimate News (@InsideClimate News)1462561545.0
This series of wins is no accident—it's because people like you and me are uniting around one clear message. We only have one choice to protect our future: keep fossil fuels in the ground.
From financial stress to increased pressure from people like you, the fossil fuel industry is reeling. Right now is our best chance to turn up the heat and make 2016 a tipping point in the journey towards a clean, just, renewable energy future.
Communities all over the country—from Alaska to the Gulf South—have already pushed us closer and closer to this tipping point. Now it's time to build on their actions and break free from fossil fuels for good.
Sound like a movement you want to be a part of? Find a Break Free action near you and get involved.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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'Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution': New Paper Outlines Vision for Climate Action
By Andrea Germanos
A white paper out Friday declares that "there is hope right beneath our feet" to address the climate crisis as it touts regenerative agriculture as a "win-win-win" solution to tackling runaway carbon emissions.
Graph from Rodale Institute's new white paper "Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution."<p>The claim made in the new paper is bold: "Data from farming and grazing studies show the power of exemplary regenerative systems that, if achieved globally, would drawdown more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions.</p><p>"Regenerative agriculture, as the researchers describe, represents "a system of farming principles that rehabilitates the entire ecosystem and enhances natural resources, rather than depleting them."</p><p>In contrast to industrial practices dependent upon monocultures, extensive tillage, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers, a regenerative approach uses, at minimum, seven practices which aim to boost biodiversity both above and underground and make possible carbon sequestration in soil.</p><ul><li>Diversifying crop rotations</li><li>Planting cover crops, green manures, and perennials</li><li>Retaining crop residues</li><li>Using natural sources of fertilizer, such as compost</li><li>Employing highly managed grazing and/or integrating crops and livestock</li><li>Reducing tillage frequency and depth</li><li>Eliminating synthetic chemicals</li></ul>