By Chris McGreal
After a century of wielding extraordinary economic and political power, America's petroleum giants face a reckoning for driving the greatest existential threat of our lifetimes.
An unprecedented wave of lawsuits, filed by cities and states across the US, aim to hold the oil and gas industry to account for the environmental devastation caused by fossil fuels – and covering up what they knew along the way.
Coastal cities struggling to keep rising sea levels at bay, midwestern states watching "mega-rains" destroy crops and homes, and fishing communities losing catches to warming waters, are now demanding the oil conglomerates pay damages and take urgent action to reduce further harm from burning fossil fuels.
But, even more strikingly, the nearly two dozen lawsuits are underpinned by accusations that the industry severely aggravated the environmental crisis with a decades-long campaign of lies and deceit to suppress warnings from their own scientists about the impact of fossil fuels on the climate and dupe the American public.
The environmentalist Bill McKibben once characterized the fossil fuel industry's behavior as "the most consequential cover-up in US history". And now for the first time in decades, the lawsuits chart a path toward public accountability that climate activists say has the potential to rival big tobacco's downfall after it concealed the real dangers of smoking.
"We are at an inflection point," said Daniel Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment.
"Things have to get worse for the oil companies," he added. "Even if they've got a pretty good chance of winning the litigation in places, the discovery of pretty clearcut wrong doing – that they knew their product was bad and they were lying to the public – really weakens the industry's ability to resist legislation and settlements."
For decades, the country's leading oil and gas companies have understood the science of climate change and the dangers posed by fossil fuels. Year after year, top executives heard it from their own scientists whose warnings were explicit and often dire.
In 1979, an Exxon study said that burning fossil fuels "will cause dramatic environmental effects" in the coming decades.
"The potential problem is great and urgent," it concluded.
But instead of heeding the evidence of the research they were funding, major oil firms worked together to bury the findings and manufacture a counter narrative to undermine the growing scientific consensus around climate science. The fossil fuel industry's campaign to create uncertainty paid off for decades by muddying public understanding of the growing dangers from global heating and stalling political action.
The urgency of the crisis is not in doubt. A draft United Nations report, leaked last week, warns that the consequences of the climate crisis, including rising seas, intense heat and ecosystem collapse, will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades even if fossil fuel emissions are curbed.
To investigate the lengths of the oil and gas industry's deceptions – and the disastrous consequences for communities across the country – the Guardian is launching a year-long series tracking the unprecedented efforts to hold the fossil fuel industry to account.
The legal process is expected to take years. Cities in California filed the first lawsuits back in 2017, and they have been tied down by disputes over jurisdiction, with the oil companies fighting with limited success to get them moved from state to federal courts where they think the law is more favorable.
But climate activists see opportunities long before verdicts are rendered in the US. The legal process is expected to add to already damning revelations of the energy giants' closely held secrets. If history is a guide, those developments could in turn alter public opinion in favor of regulations that the oil and gas companies spent years fighting off.
A string of other recent victories for climate activists already points to a shift in the industry's power.
Last month, a Dutch court ordered Shell to cut its global carbon emissions by 45% by the end of the decade. The same day, in Houston, an activist hedge fund forced three new directors on to the board of the US's largest oil firm, ExxonMobil, to address climate issues. Investors at Chevron also voted to cut emissions from the petroleum products it sells.
Earlier this month, developers of the Keystone XL pipeline cancelled the project after more than a decade of unrelenting opposition over environmental concerns. And although a federal court last year threw out a lawsuit brought by 21 young Americans who say the US government violated their constitutional rights by exacerbating climate change, the Biden administration recently agreed to settlement talks in a symbolic gesture aimed to appease younger voters.
For all that, American lawyers say the legal reasoning behind foreign court judgments are unlikely to carry much weight in the US and domestic law is largely untested. In 2018, a federal court knocked back New York City's initial attempt to force big oil to cover the costs of the climate crisis by saying that its global nature requires a political, not legal, remedy.
Other regional lawsuits are inching their way through the courts. From Charleston, South Carolina, to Boulder, Colorado, and Maui, Hawaii, communities are seeking to force the industry to use its huge profits to pay for the damage and to oblige energy companies to treat the climate crisis for what it is – a global emergency.
Municipalities such as Imperial Beach, California – the poorest city in San Diego county with a budget less than Exxon chief executive's annual pay – faces rising waters on three sides without the necessary funding to build protective barriers. They claim oil companies created a "public nuisance" by fuelling the climate crisis. They seek to recover the cost of repairing the damage and constructing defences.
The public nuisance claim, also pursued by Honolulu, San Francisco and Rhode Island, follows a legal strategy with a record of success in other types of litigation. In 2019, Oklahoma's attorney general won compensation of nearly half a billion dollars against the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson over its false marketing of powerful prescription painkillers on the grounds it created a public nuisance by contributing to the opioid epidemic in the state.
Other climate lawsuits, including one filed in Minnesota, allege the oil firms' campaigns of deception and denial about the climate crisis amount to fraud. Minnesota is suing Exxon, Koch Industries and an industry trade group for breaches of state law for deceptive trade practices, false advertising and consumer fraud over what the lawsuit characterises as distortions and lies about climate science.
The midwestern state, which has seen temperatures rise faster than the US and global averages, said scorching temperatures and "mega-rains" have devastated farming and flooded people out of their homes, with low-income and minority families most at risk.
Minnesota's attorney general, Keith Ellison, claims in his lawsuit that for years Exxon orchestrated a campaign to bury the evidence of environmental damage caused by burning fossil fuels "with disturbing success".
"Defendants spent millions on advertising and public relations because they understood that an accurate understanding of climate change would affect their ability to continue to earn profits by conducting business as usual," Ellison said in his lawsuit.
Farber said cases rooted in claims that the petroleum industry lied have the most promising chance of success.
"To the extent the plaintiffs can point to misconduct, like telling everybody there's no such thing as climate change when your scientists have told you the opposite, that might give the courts a greater feeling of comfort that they're not trying to take over the US energy system," he said.
Fighting the Facts
Almost all the lawsuits draw on the oil industry's own records as the foundation for claims that it covered up the growing threat to life caused by its products.
Shell, like other oil companies, had decades to prepare for those consequences after it was forewarned by its own research. In 1958, one of its executives, Charles Jones, presented a paper to the industry's trade group, the American Petroleum Institute (API), warning about increased carbon emissions from car exhaust. Other research followed through the 1960s, leading a White House advisory committee to express concern at "measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate" by 2000.
API's own reports flagged up "significant temperature changes" by the end of the twentieth century.
The largest oil company in the US, Exxon, was hearing the same from its researchers.
Year after year, Exxon scientists recorded the evidence about the dangers of burning fossil fuels. In 1978, its science adviser, James Black, warned that there was a "window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategy might become critical".
Exxon set up equipment on a supertanker, the Esso Atlantic, to monitor carbon dioxide in seawater and the air. In 1982, the company's scientists drew up a graph accurately plotting an increase in the globe's temperature to date.
"The 1980s revealed an established consensus among scientists," the Minnesota lawsuit against Exxon says. "A 1982 internal Exxon document … explicitly declares that the science was 'unanimous' and that climate change would 'bring about significant changes in the earth's climate'."
Then the monitoring on the Esso Atlantic was suddenly called off and other research downgraded.
What followed was what Naomi Oreskes, co-author of the report America Misled, called a "systematic, organised campaign by Exxon and other oil companies to sow doubt about the science and prevent meaningful action".
The report accused the energy companies of not only polluting the air but also "the information landscape" by replicating the cigarette makers' playbook of cherry-picking data, using fake experts and promoting conspiracy theories to attack a growing scientific consensus.
Many of the lawsuits draw on a raft of Exxon documents held at the University of Texas, and uncovered by the Columbia Journalism School and the Los Angeles Times in 2015.
Among them is a 1988 Exxon memo laying out a strategy to push for a "balanced scientific approach", which meant giving equal weight to hard evidence and climate change denialism. That move bore fruit in parts of the media into the 2000s as the oil industry repositioned global heating as theory, not fact, contributing to the most deep-rooted climate denialism in any developed country.
The company placed advertisements in major American newspapers to sow doubt. One in the New York Times in 2000, under the headline "Unsettled Science", compared climate data to changing weather forecasts. It claimed scientists were divided, when an overwhelming consensus already backed the evidence of a growing climate crisis, and said that the supposed doubts meant it was too soon to act.
Exxon's chairman and chief executive, Lee Raymond, told industry executives in 1996 that "scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activities affect global climate".
"It's a long and dangerous leap to conclude that we should, therefore, cut fossil fuel use," he said.
Documents show that his company's scientists were telling Exxon's management that the real danger lay in the failure to do exactly that.
In 2019, Martin Hoffert, a professor of physics at New York University, told a congressional hearing that as a consultant to Exxon on climate modelling in the 1980s, he worked on eight scientific papers for the company that showed fossil fuel burning was "increasingly having a perceptible influence on Earth's climate".
Hoffert said he "hoped that the work would help to persuade Exxon to invest in developing energy solutions the world needed". That was not the result.
"Exxon was publicly promoting views that its own scientists knew were wrong, and we knew that because we were the major group working on this. This was immoral and has greatly set back efforts to address climate change," said Hoffert.
"They deliberately created doubt when internal research confirmed how serious a threat it was. As a result, in my opinion, homes and livelihoods will likely be destroyed and lives lost."
Exxon worked alongside Chevron, Shell, BP and smaller oil firms to shift attention away from the growing climate crisis. They funded the industry's trade body, API, as it drew up a multimillion-dollar plan to ensure that "climate change becomes a non- issue" through disinformation. The plan said "victory will be achieved" when "recognition of uncertainties become part of the 'conventional wisdom'".
The fossil fuel industry also used its considerable resources to pour billions of dollars into political lobbying to block unfavourable laws and to fund front organisations with neutral and scientific-sounding names, such as the Global Climate Coalition (GCC). In 2001, the US state department told the GCC that President George W Bush rejected the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "in part, based on input from you".
Exxon alone has funded more than 40 groups to deny climate science, including the George C Marshall Institute, which one lawsuit claims orchestrated a "sham petition" denying manmade global climate change. It was later denounced by the National Academy of Science as "a deliberate attempt to mislead scientists".
Drilling DownTo Sharon Eubanks the conspiracy to deny science sounded very familiar. From 2000, she led the US justice department's legal team against nine tobacco firms in one of the largest civil cases filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (Rico) Act, which was designed to combat organised crime.
In 2006, a federal judge found that the industry had spent decades committing a huge fraud on the American public by lying about the dangers of smoking and pushing cigarettes to young people.
Eubanks said that when she looked at the fossil fuel industry's strategy, she immediately recognised big tobacco's playbook.
"Big oil was engaged in exactly the same type of behaviour that the tobacco companies engaged in and were found liable for fraud on a massive scale," said Eubanks. "The cover-up, the denial of the problem, the funding of scientists to question the science. The same pattern. And some of the same lawyers represent both tobacco and big oil."
The danger for the fossil fuel industry is that the parallels do not end there.
The legal process is likely to oblige the oil conglomerates to turn over years of internal communications revealing what they knew about climate change, when and how they responded. Given what has already come out from Exxon, they are unlikely to help the industry's case.
Eubanks, who is now advising attorneys general and others suing the oil industry, said a turning point in her action against big tobacco came with the discovery of internal company memos in a state case in Minnesota. They included language that talked about recruiting young people as "replacement smokers" for those who died from cigarettes.
"I think the public was particularly stunned by some of the content of the documents and the talk about the need for bigger bags to take home all the money they were going to make from getting people to smoke," said Eubanks.
The exposure of the tobacco companies' internal communications shifted the public mood and the politics, helping to open the door to legislation to curb smoking that the industry had been successfully resisting for decades.
Farber, the Berkeley law professor, said the discovery process carries a similar danger for the oil companies because it is likely to expose yet more evidence that they set out to deceive. He said that will undercut any attempt by the energy giants to claim in court that they were ignorant of the damage they were causing.
Farber said it will also be difficult for the oil industry to resist the weight of US lawsuits, shareholder activism and shifting public and political opinion. "It might push them towards settlement or supporting legislation that releases some from liability in return for some major concessions such as a large tax to finance responses to climate change."
The alternative, said Farber, is to take their chance on judges and juries who may be increasingly inclined to take the climate crisis seriously.
"They may think this is an emergency that requires a response. That the oil companies should be held responsible for the harm they've caused and that could be very expensive," he said. "If they lose, it's catastrophic ultimately."
This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Tim Radford
London, 15 February, 2021. Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a "Break Glass in Case of Emergency" kind of tool.
But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change − driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.
The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.
But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.
Not for Dummies
There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.
People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They'd be wrong.
First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) U.S. Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.
Then Gates writes as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.
Crude oil, he calculates, "is cheaper than a soft drink." By mid-century "climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly."
And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world's building stock will double. "That's like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years."
I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn't deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an "absurdly high" carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he's always trying to learn more.
And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there's no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It's going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.
He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.
He touches on biofuels, nuclear power ("this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company"), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.
That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.
"There are two numbers you need to know about climate change," he writes in his opening sentences. "The first is 51 billion. The second is zero."
Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.
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Medically reviewed by Anna H. Chacon, M.D.
From eating foods for healthy skin to switching up your morning and routines, taking care of the largest organ in the body can get overwhelming. Recently, vitamin C has grown in popularity in the skincare world — but do the best vitamin C serums live up to the hype?
Vitamin C is not only an essential supplement for your immune system and overall health, but it's also a great skincare ingredient that can help limit inflammation, brighten skin, dull fine lines and wrinkles, fight free radicals, and reduce discoloration and dark spots.
Adding vitamin C to your skincare routine seems like a no-brainer, but before you start shopping for a serum, it's important to be aware that vitamin C is an unstable ingredient. Dermatologists say it's important to find legit and properly formulated vitamin C serums to capitalize on the benefits of the antioxidant. In this article, we'll help you find the right dermatologist-approved vitamin C serum to add to your routine.
Our Picks for the Best Vitamin C Serums of 2021
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
- Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
- Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
- Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
- Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Skincare Benefits of Vitamin C
Also known as ascorbic acid or L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an antioxidant that is present in the formation of collagen and that protects against aging, according to Dr. Anna Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist with MyPsoriasisTeam. A vitamin C serum may be a solid addition to your skincare routine because it has a great safety profile, and it's safe for most skin types.
"Vitamin C serum restores and neutralizes environmental stressors that accelerate signs of aging and can be used morning and evening," Dr. Chacon says. However, she warns, "it does not come with sun protection, so additional use of sunscreen is recommended."
As an antioxidant, vitamin C protects skin cells from being damaged by free radicals from things like UV exposure, vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke. It also hampers melanin production, which can help to lighten hyperpigmentation and brown spots and even out your skin tone.
6 Best Vitamin C Serums
Based on dermatologist recommendations and our market research, the following products are the best vitamin C serums available today.
Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
Our overall recommendation for the best vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. The product contains 10% vitamin C, which has anti-aging properties and minimizes the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and sunspots by promoting collagen production. "I have this in my bathroom," Dr. Chacon says. "It is gentle and non-irritating, and it leaves your skin radiant afterward."
Customer Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars with under 100 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Along with L-ascorbic acid, this serum includes ingredients like Coenzyme Q10 for multi-layer antioxidant protection and plant-derived squalane for added hydration. ZO Skin Health's products are all cruelty-free.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
Made with plant- and vitamin-derived antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, peptides and CoQ10, Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum will help rejuvenate your skin. The formula fights dullness, enhances firmness and reduces the appearance of wrinkles.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with about 300 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This product is paraben-free, fragrance-free and cruelty-free, as it's not tested on animals. The container is 100% recyclable through TerraCycle, and it's formulated and manufactured in the U.S.
Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid offers high value at a reasonable price. It is a hydrating vitamin C serum that's fragrance-free, paraben-free, non-comedogenic and budget-friendly to boot. The formula uses 10% pure vitamin C to prevent free radical damage as well as soothing vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid to make the skin look smooth and create a moisture barrier for your skin.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 20,000 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Chacon calls CeraVe "a trusted, dermatologist-oriented brand" that comes at drugstore prices, so it's a great choice if you want to try out a budget-friendly vitamin C serum.
Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
Timeless Skin Care's vitamin C serum promotes healthy cell turnover to help minimize the effects of hyperpigmentation and even out your skin tone. According to Dr. Chacon, "vitamin C, E and ferulic acid are all key ingredients that help to brighten skin, building up collagen and evening out tone." This product's formula is non-greasy and lightweight, so it absorbs quickly and clearly into the skin.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 1,700 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The Timeless Skin Care formula is paraben-free, synthetic dye-free, fragrance-free and polyethylene glycol-free. The company doesn't test on animals, and the product is made in the U.S. from natural ingredients. It's also part of the TerraCycle recycling program.
Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
Using dermatologist-approved ingredients, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is lightweight and helps to firm, smooth, and brighten the skin for a more youthful look. The formula utilizes 15% pure vitamin C as well as vitamin E and ferulic acid to protect against environmental damage from things like sunlight, ozone pollution and diesel engine exhaust. Plus, it helps firm the skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Customer Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars with over 200 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is one of the best vitamin C serums for anti-aging purposes. It has an oil-like formulation that goes on smoothly and works effectively without clogging pores.
Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is a topical form of vitamin C that's rich in antioxidants to target aging and brighten the skin. It uses a high concentration of L-ascorbic acid as well as hyaluronic acid spheres for skin hydration. The brightening serum helps enhance skin smoothness and radiance without being too harsh. However, to test skin sensitivity, it is always recommended to perform a patch test before a full application.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 4,500 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This vitamin C brightening serum is cruelty-free and vegan and does not contain alcohol, phthalates, gluten, fragrance, nuts, oil, silicone, parabens or sulfates. The moisturizing serum is good for all skin types, including acne-prone skin and dry skin.
FAQ: Best Vitamin C Serums
What vitamin C serum is the most effective?
Our top recommended vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. It is a dermatologist-approved antioxidant powerhouse, yet it is gentle, non-irritating and leaves you with glowing skin.
Should you use vitamin C serum every day?
Dermatologists recommend using vitamin C serum either every day or every other day. After you cleanse and tone your face, use your vitamin c product before applying moisturizer and reef-safe sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
Does vitamin C serum really work?
According to dermatologists, the best vitamin C serums work to protect against skin aging. However, if you do not purchase a doctor-recommended product, you run the risk of wasting your money on a low-concentration serum that won't give you any benefits.
What are the drawbacks of vitamin C serums?
Many vitamin C serums on the market, especially cheaper products, have nearly immeasurable concentrations of antioxidants, which makes them ineffective. Additionally, as with any skincare product, some individuals may have reactions to vitamin C serums including itchiness and redness.
Anna H. Chacon, M.D. is a dermatologist and author originally from Miami, Florida. She has authored over a dozen peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and has been published in JAAD, Archives of Dermatology, British Journal of Dermatology, Cosmetic Dermatology and Cutis.
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet is the latest must-read book by leading climate change scientist and communicator Michael Mann of Penn State University.
Published Jan. 12, 2021, The New Climate War describes how outright denial of the physical evidence of human-caused climate change simply is no longer credible. It describes in explicit detail how forces of denial and delay – fossil fuel companies, right-wing partisans, media and talking heads, and oil-funded governments – continue to profit from our dependence on fossil fuels. It explores how they have shifted to new tactics, using "an array of powerful Ds: disinformation, deceit, divisiveness, deflection, delay, despair-mongering, and doomism."
In better understanding how prospects for climate action still are threatened, readers will learn fascinating climate history and science, and will be uplifted by Mann's take on how close society may be to a tipping point on solving the climate crisis. "A clean energy revolution and climate stabilization are achievable with current technology," Mann writes. "All we require are policies to incentivize the needed shift."
The new Mann book consists of nine sections:
The first two chapters, "The Architects of Misinformation and Misdirection" and "The Climate Wars," outline the history of climate science denial over the years.
The Crying Indian' and the Birth of the Deflection Campaign details how vested interests use deflection campaigns to defeat policies they dislike. A classic example is the iconic "Crying Indian" commercial of the 1970s, which alerted viewers to accumulating glass bottle and can waste litter. The commercial was part of a successful deflection campaign by the beverage industry to blame the public rather than corporations, emphasizing individual responsibility over collective action and regulations.
It's YOUR Fault describes how fossil fuel interests, using deflection campaigns, "are actually all too happy to talk about the environment. They just want to keep the conversation around individual responsibility, not systemic change or corporate culpability." Mann also details how deflection campaigns criticize individuals for their air travel to attend conferences.
Internet bots and trolls from oil-rich Russia are also involved in deflection campaigns, Mann writes. He writes that barbs aimed at 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton "appeared to come from the environmental left, criticizing her climate policies (for example, her position on fracking). We now know that many of those attacks were actually Russian trolls and bots seeking to convince younger, greener progressives that there was no difference between the two candidates (so they might as well stay home)." Mann writes also that Russia is believed to have helped instigate the 2018 'Yellow Vest' revolts that undercut French governmental efforts to introduce a carbon tax.
Mann describes a number of "wedge" campaigns run to divide climate advocates. He points to a 2020 news story in The Guardian reporting that "the social media conversation over the climate crisis is being reshaped by an army of automated Twitter bots." That article estimated that "a quarter of all tweets about climate on an average day are produced by bots," with a goal of "distorting the online discourse to include far more climate science denialism than it would otherwise."
Put a Price on It. Or Not. This chapter begins with Mann's concerns that "the fuel industry has been granted the greatest market subsidy ever: the privilege to dump its waste products into the atmosphere at no charge." When implicit subsidies are included like the health costs and environmental pollution damage, including the damage done by climate change, Mann writes, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated subsidies of over $5 trillion were paid in the year 2015 alone. These subsidies need to end, Mann argues, preferring a price on carbon emissions to force polluters to pay for the climate damage done by their product, fossil fuels, and a tilt giving an advantage to clean and renewable energy forms.
Mann rejects flat-out concerns over a potential carbon tax. For instance, he writes that "whether a carbon tax is progressive or regressive depends on how it is designed. A fee-and-dividend method, for example, returns any revenue raised back to the people."
Mann also expresses support for supply-side measures like "blocking pipeline construction, banning fracking, stopping mountain-top-removal coal mining, divesting in fossil fuel companies, and putting a halt to most new fossil fuel infrastructure."
In Sinking the Competition, Mann backs explicit incentives for renewable energy and elimination of incentives for fossil fuels. He says fossil fuel interests and their backers have "put their thumbs on the scale by promoting programs that favor fossil fuel energy while sabotaging those that incentivize renewables, and engaging in propaganda campaigns to discredit renewable energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels."
The Non-Solution Solution chapter details Mann's concerns that those opposing climate action promote "solutions" (natural gas, carbon capture, geo-engineering) that Mann argues aren't real solutions at all. "Part of their strategy is using soothing words and terms – 'bridge fuels,' 'clean coal,' 'adaptation,' 'resilience' – that convey the illusion of action but, in context, are empty promises," he writes. Mann's preferred "viable path forward on climate involves a combination of energy efficiency, electrification, and decarbonization of the grid through an array of complementary renewable energy sources. The problem is that fossil fuel interests lose out in that scenario, and so they have used their immense wealth and influence to stymie any efforts to move in that direction."
The Truth Is Bad Enough decries obsessive pessimism and "doomism" as unhelpful to tackling the climate crisis. "Exaggeration of the climate threat by purveyors of doom – we'll call them 'doomists' – is unhelpful at best," he writes. "Indeed, doomism today arguably poses a greater threat to climate action than outright denial. For if catastrophic warming of the planet were truly inevitable and there were no agency on our part in averting it, why should we do anything?"
Meeting the Challenge presents a summary of Dr. Mann's four-point battle plan, which he outlines in the introduction to the book:
Disregard the Doomsayers: The misguided belief that "it's too late" to act has been co-opted by fossil fuel interests and those advocating for them, Mann argues. It's just another way of legitimizing business-as-usual and a continued reliance on fossil fuels. Overt doom and gloom arguments should be ignored.
A Child Shall Lead Them: Youths are fighting to save their planet, and there is a moral authority and clarity in their message that only the most jaded can disregard. Youths are the game-changers climate advocates have been waiting for, and their actions, methods, and idealism are models for all.
Educate, Educate, Educate: Most hard-core climate-change deniers are unmovable, with an ideology impervious to facts. Don't waste time and effort trying to convince them. Instead, work with and help inform victims of climate change disinformation campaigns so they can join efforts to combat the climate challenge.
Changing the System Requires Systemic Change: Those responsible for fossil fuel disinformation engage in either-or arguments rather than address larger systemic issues and consider incentives. Policies need to incentivize shifts away from fossil fuel burning toward a clean, green global economy, and those policies warrant the support of elected leaders.
The bottom line on The New Climate War: The book could benefit from more graphics and cartoons as complements to its 267 pages of text. Overall, though, the book still is a must-read for every climate-savvy and climate-dependent. (Only air breathers need apply!)
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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By Jake Johnson
The Biden administration is facing backlash from climate activists and scientists after filing a court brief Wednesday in defense of a major Trump-era Alaska drilling project that's expected to produce up to 160,000 barrels of oil a day over a 30-year period — a plan that runs directly counter to the White House's stated goal of slashing U.S. carbon emissions.
"This is a complete denial of reality," said Jean Flemma, director of the Ocean Defense Initiative and former senior policy adviser for the House Natural Resources Committee. "The project is expected to produce about 590 million barrels of oil. Burning that oil would create nearly 260 million metric tons of CO2 emissions — about the equivalent of what is produced by 66 coal-fired power plants."
Approved by the Trump administration in October of last year, fossil fuel giant ConocoPhillips' multi-billion-dollar Willow Master Development Plan aims to establish several new oil drilling sites in part of Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve and construct hundreds of miles of pipeline.
Environmental groups promptly sued the Trump Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department over the move, charging that the agencies signed off on Willow "despite its harms to Arctic communities, public health, and wildlife, and without a plan to effectively mitigate those harms."
But in a briefing submitted in the U.S. District Court for Alaska on Wednesday, Biden administration lawyers defended the Trump agencies' decision to greenlight Willow against the environmental coalition's legal challenge.
"The agencies took a hard look at the Willow Project's impacts, including impacts from the alternative proposed water crossings and impacts from building gravel roads and other infrastructure," the filing reads. "The analysis did not suffer for lack of specific project information."
[email protected] has to choose a side: the people or fossil fuel CEOs? Keep your climate promise @JoeBiden: Stop approvin… https://t.co/WoUWTlvupb— Ben Goloff (@Ben Goloff)1622093972.0
The Biden administration's filing does not explain how support for the massive drilling project — a top priority of Alaska's Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan — comports with the White House's pledge just last month to cut U.S. carbon emissions in half by 2030.
"This is climate denial," author and environmentalist Naomi Klein tweeted in response to the Biden administration's brief, which came just days after the International Energy Agency said nations must immediately stop approving new fossil fuel projects and urgently transition to renewable energy sources if the world is to avoid the worst of the climate emergency.
A federal judge temporarily halted construction of the Willow project in February, arguing environmental groups demonstrated that "there is a strong likelihood of irreparable environmental consequences once blasting operations commence."
But the New York Times reported Wednesday that "oil and gas industry officials and members of Alaska's congressional delegation, some of whom personally appealed to President Biden this week, said they believed the administration's support would help [the drilling project] proceed" despite the legal challenges and dire warnings from climate experts.
In what the Times described as "a paradox worthy of Kafka," ConocoPhillips is aiming to install cooling devices in Alaska's rapidly melting permafrost to keep the ground stable enough to support drilling that is contributing to warming temperatures.
"When someone describes a project with words like 'in a paradox worthy of Kafka,' you can bet it's not what climate action should look like," said Trustees for Alaska, an environmental justice organization. "We'll see the administration in court."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Eco-friendly outdoor brand Patagonia has a colorful and timely message stitched into the tags of its latest line of shorts. "VOTE THE A**HOLES," it reads.
PATAGONIA’s New Tag! https://t.co/llY71SwsQG— Outlander Magazine (@Outlander Magazine)1599929596.0
The new tags are already a hit online. They became a trending topic on Twitter after a photo of the message went viral, CNN Business reported Tuesday. Company spokesperson Tessa Byars confirmed to Euronews Living that the tags were genuine, and that "a**holes" in this case meant climate deniers specifically.
"It refers to politicians from any part who deny or disregard the climate crises and ignore science, not because they aren't aware of it, but because their pockets are lined with money from oil and gas interests," Byars said.
Patagonia is no stranger to taking a stand on environmental issues. Spokesperson Corley Kenna told CNN that CEO Yvon Chouinard has been saying "vote the a**holes out" for years when talking about climate-denying politicians. The company also sued President Donald Trump for his decision to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah and even endorsed two Senate candidates in 2018 because of their support for protecting public lands. It also decided to give away its $10 million windfall from the Trump tax cut to conservation groups.
The company's latest political message is sewn into its 2020 Men's and Women's Road to Regenerative Organic Stand-up Shorts collection, according to Euronews Living.
"[W]e have been standing up to climate deniers for almost as long as we've been making those shorts," Byars told Euronews Living.
The company first started making the shorts in 1973, CNN said.
But Patagonia is doing more to encourage voting than just sharing a cheeky message with customers, the company's director of copy Brad Wieners explained on Twitter. The company has worked with BallotReady to design a widget on their website that helps people make a voting plan for November.
"We need to elect climate leaders," the website reads. "The 2020 US Senate races will have a significant, long-lasting impact on the strength of our nation's climate policies and the existence of our wild places."
The website also features a map where the company recommends certain candidates, such as Barbara Bollier in Kansas for her support of renewable energy and Steve Bullock in Montana for his defense of public lands.
On Election Day 2020, Patagonia will repeat its practice from 2016 and 2018 and close its stores, headquarters and distribution center to encourage voting, CNN reported.
But the company is going farther this year. For the first time, it will also give employees up to four days off to train and work as poll workers to address the national shortage, Patagonia told EcoWatch in an email. It is also providing information on state voting policies in its retail stores.
"Patagonia is doing our part to ensure this November's elections are accessible for all eligible voters," Patagonia general counsel Hilary Dessouky said in the email. "Already this election has been marred by misinformation about voting, roadblocks to accessible voting and threats to cut essential voting services like the US Postal Service, which allow people to vote safely and securely. Patagonia is prioritizing time off to vote, and we encourage others to vote, serve as poll workers and share localized information to help make sure all voices are heard this November."
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By Kenny Stancil
In a historic rebuke of fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil, shareholders on Wednesday voted to elect at least two people to the company's board of directors who were backed by activist investors eager to accelerate the transition to clean energy.
During Exxon's annual shareholder meeting, an activist hedge fund called Engine No. 1 — which "owns only about 0.02%" of the oil company's stock, according to climate reporter Emily Atkin — ran four of its own director candidates in opposition to the fossil fuel corporation's hand-picked board members. At least two of Engine No. 1's candidates won, with the races for additional boardroom seats too close to call as of this writing.
"The outcome is a sign that Exxon's morally inept and fiscally questionable long-term climate strategy is finally catching up with it," wrote Atkin.
Journalist Brian Kahn tweeted: "Hard to overstate how much Big Oil is getting its ass kicked today by courts and shareholders alike," before proceeding to highlight three major victories claimed by climate activists on Wednesday.
In addition to the shareholder revolt at Exxon, 61% Chevron's shareholders voted Wednesday in favor of slashing carbon emissions, and Royal Dutch Shell earlier in the day was ordered by a court in the Netherlands to reduce its carbon emissions 45% by 2030, compared with 2019 levels, as Common Dreams reported.
Hard to overstate how much Big Oil is getting its ass kicked today by courts and shareholders alike. 🔥Shell loses… https://t.co/1K6NY9xB1a— Brian Kahn (@Brian Kahn)1622049489.0
"It's important to understand," explained a news dispatch by The New Republic about Exxon's board election, that Engine No. 1 "is fundamentally a financial company, not some kind of environmental justice collective." The outlet continued:
As such, its criticism of Exxon, outlined in an investor presentation, stems from the fundamental principle that "ExxonMobil has significantly underperformed and has failed to adjust its strategy to enhance long-term value." But the source of this underperformance, the hedge fund claims, is something approaching climate denial: "A refusal to accept that fossil fuel demand may decline in decades to come has led to a failure to take even initial steps towards evolution, and to obfuscating rather than addressing long-term business risk."
Environmentalist Bill McKibben emphasized that the election of Engine No. 1-nominated candidates to Exxon's board happened despite the company's "strenuous objections."
Jess Shankleman of Bloomberg News, meanwhile, described the news this way: "A tiny activist investor has just held a proxy referendum on Exxon's climate plans — and won."
The Guardian reported that the "rival upstart" received a boost when BlackRock — the world's biggest asset manager and the second largest shareholder at Exxon with a 6.7% ownership stake — threw its support behind three of Engine No. 1's four director candidates, all of whom "have a background in fossil fuels but leadership experience in green energy innovation... due to frustration with the company's refusal to take climate concerns seriously."
As Atkin noted:
Exxon's long-term strategy, you may remember, is to significantly ramp up oil production over the next decade, climate crisis be damned. The company released an absolutely laughable "climate plan" a few months ago, which allows the company to increase its carbon emissions in line with that strategy.
The oil giant has also faced heat in recent months for refusing to fully explain to investors how climate change poses a risk to the company; how much and to whom is it giving political contributions; and where its political lobbying efforts are focused.
While BlackRock "has previously pledged to make climate change central to its investments, and has received a good deal of praise for it," Atkin wrote, the financial giant "did not back all of Engine No. 1's candidates... [and] still likely voted to retain Exxon CEO Darren Woods — who has been central to pushing the oil giant's current strategy — as director of the board."
Environmental campaigners echoed Atkin, simultaneously celebrating Wednesday's surprise boardroom victory while calling for more far-reaching changes that are consistent with what scientists and climate justice advocates say is necessary.
"Make no mistake: the shareholder vote to shake-up Exxon's board represents a seismic shift for the company," said Ben Cushing, financial advocacy campaign manager at Sierra Club. "It's a culmination of years of activist energy and a result of massive shareholder frustration with the company's failure to change course on climate."
"However," Cushing added, "change must come from the top as well. And with Darren Woods still in charge of Exxon, we question if the new board members will be able to change course quickly or drastically enough. Exxon needs to stop greenwashing, align with the goals of the Paris Agreement, and phase-out oil and gas production, starting now."
Roberta Giordano, finance program campaigner at The Sunrise Project, said that "what Engine No. 1 could accomplish with such a small ownership stake at Exxon is remarkable."
"Imagine what BlackRock, Vanguard, and other major asset managers could do if they really wanted to effect change at the major polluters of the world," Giordano continued.
"New board members are a start," she added, "but Exxon needs new leadership at the very top."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Mainstream news outlets gave disproportionate coverage to climate denial and opponents of climate action for nearly thirty years, a new study found.
The research, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used plagiarism detection software to detect coverage of 1,768 press releases from 1985-2013 across nearly 35,000 articles in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.
"The way climate change has been covered in the media could help us understand why there's so much public disengagement on this issue," Rachel Wetts, the study's author and an assistant professor at Brown University's sociology department, told the Independent.
Even though just 10% of all press releases contained messaging against climate action, they were twice as likely to garner coverage.
Edward Mailbach, director of the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communications, called the study's conclusions unsettling.
"Rather than marginalize self-interested voices and give prominence to expert voices, these papers did just the opposite," he told Grist.
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By Rich Collett-White
Facebook is "fuelling climate misinformation" through its failure to get to grips with misleading content, according to a new report that calls on companies to boycott the platform until significant action is taken.
Campaign group Stop Funding Heat, which produced the report, warns that the problem is likely to escalate in the coming months as the next major UN climate summit, COP26, approaches and wants to see action taken against "repeat offenders."
The social media giant recently announced its operations were now running on 100 percent renewable energy and it had reached "net zero" emissions. But the new report argues this counts for far less than the role Facebook plays in allowing climate misinformation to spread on its platform.
Bringing together existing research on the issue, the report calls on the company to incorporate climate misinformation into its policies governing use of the social media platform, which do not make explicit mention of climate change currently.
Lead Researcher Sean Buchan told DeSmog: "This year sees the most important UN climate summit since the Paris Agreement in 2015. Important events like this have been derailed by disinformation campaigns before — as seen with "climategate" in 2009 and the recent UN Compact for Migration. Facebook needs to take action before misinformation escalates on its platform at this crucial time."
"People should certainly be free to say and post what they want, but freedom of speech does not equate to freedom of reach. Facebook has control of how much it spreads harmful content and our recommendations all focus on reduction, not censorship. The exception is paid adverts, because we firmly believe that no organization, Facebook included, should directly receive money to spread climate misinformation," he added.
Last year, DeSmog revealed a Facebook page called Eco Central, linked to a number of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs, had been running paid adverts claiming climate change was a "hoax."
Stop Funding Heat, a spin-off from the Stop Funding Hate campaign, which aims to pressure companies into pulling its adverts from papers spreading "hate and division," says there has been a disproportionately small amount of attention paid to misleading climate-related content on the platform, compared with other forms of "false news" — Facebook's term for misinformation.
A petition has been launched based on the report calling on the platform to ban climate denialist pages from running paid adverts, close "fact-checking loopholes" whereby politicians are exempt from climate-related fact-checks, and open up its internal research on climate misinformation to researchers and journalists.
The report also argues that efforts to tackle the problem so far by Facebook, the world's largest social media company, are "insufficient". It argues that despite the use of third-party fact-checkers to add labels to misleading content and the launch of a "Climate Science Information Centre," people exposed to climate misinformation are not always guided to a relevant fact-check.
When the center was launched last year, Facebook's Vice President of Global Affairs and former UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the company only removed content when there was an "obvious link to immediate and impending real world harm," which did not apply to climate change.
Facebook has hit back at the criticism, however, pointing to the work it has already done to tackle the problem.
Speaking to DeSmog, a company spokesperson said:
"We combat climate change misinformation by connecting more than 100,000 people every day to reliable information from leading organizations through our Climate Science Information Center and working with a global network of independent fact-checking partners to review and rate content."
"When they rate this content as false, we add a warning label and reduce its distribution so fewer people see it. We also take action against Pages, Groups, and accounts that continue to share false claims about climate science."
Facebook also said its own analysis had found that misinformation makes up a small proportion of the overall content about climate change on its platforms and that it did not allow adverts rated false by its fact-checkers.
It rejected a claim in the report that its "machine-learning" models do not help identify new forms of climate misinformation for its fact-checking partners to review.
Rich Collett-White is Deputy Editor of DeSmog. He joined the organisation in December 2018 as a UK researcher and reporter, having previously worked in communications for the climate charity Operation Noah.
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
Anger, anxiety, overwhelm … climate change can evoke intense feelings.
"It's easy to feel dwarfed in the context of such a global systemic issue," says psychologist Renée Lertzman.
She says that when people experience these feelings, they often shut down and push information away. So to encourage climate action, she advises not bombarding people with frightening facts.
"When we lead with information, we are actually unwittingly walking right into a situation that is set up to undermine our efforts," she says.
She says if you want to engage people on the topic, take a compassionate approach. Ask people what they know and want to learn. Then have a conversation.
This conversational approach may seem at odds with the urgency of the issue, but Lertzman says it can get results faster.
"When we take a compassion-based approach, we are actively disarming defenses so that people are actually more willing and able to respond and engage quicker," she says. "And we don't have time right now to mess around, and so I do actually come to this topic with a sense of urgency… We do not have time to not take this approach."
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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By J. Mijin Cha and Manuel Pastor
You may not know it, but Democrats and Republicans share a growing concern about the climate and environment. With extreme weather events becoming more common, many young Republicans now question their allegiance to a party that denies the reality of climate change. After the destructive environmental policies of the Trump administration, there are high hopes among many Americans that progress will be possible under a new administration — even if Biden's reluctant to abandon fracking or adopt all the language of a "Green New Deal."
But to envision a path forward on environmental policy, we should remember some key lessons from the original New Deal, the 1930s-era policies that pulled the United States out of the Great Depression through a combination of relief programs, public-works projects, financial reforms and progressive regulation.
The first key lesson: The New Deal was implemented in DC, but many of its policies emerged from earlier state experiments. A second point: The space for progressive presidential action was opened up by labor and grassroots organizing that didn't just rely on elected leaders but shifted the political calculus of what was possible.
We should also be careful not to repeat past mistakes. For the New Deal had a major Achilles' heel: In an attempt to secure support from Southern Democrats, many of its programs left Black Americans and other people of color behind (such as by excluding domestic and agricultural workers from Social Security).
For a new national environmental policy to be successful, we need to lift up state experimentation, provide political pressure and political cover for doing what's right, and be sure to center, not derail, racial equity.
Our scholarship has been looking at just these issues for the past few years, examining how some states are trying to transition off fossil fuel in a way that protects workers and communities and addresses environmental injustice. Known as "just transition," this notion focuses not only on the technical and policy aspects of power generation but also on the nitty-gritty of power-building to organize for change.
There's good news to report from states and localities. For example, in keeping with its ambitious approach to greenhouse gas reduction over the past decade and a half, California recently declared that the state would phase out the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035, creating impetus for a market in electric and other zero-emission vehicles. Meanwhile, in New York, more than 200 groups have come together as NY Renews and won the most ambitious climate protection bill in the nation. Passed in 2019, it will dramatically limit emissions, invest in vulnerable communities, and chart a path to 100% carbon-free electricity.
Part of what's making such policy change possible is power-building among those whose voices have traditionally been sidelined. As a NY Renews coalition member told us, "Power is built when you stand shoulder-to-shoulder and when you stand up for someone else, not just yourself." So the group built a broad coalition, ranging from labor unions to environmental justice organizations to faith-based organizations, that aimed not just to reduce emissions but to support vulnerable communities.
A similar success story can be found in Arvin, California, a small town in the southern San Joaquin Valley, where local advocates have shown how to dig in against Big Oil. After launching a multifaceted campaign to keep new oil and gas drilling 300 feet from residential or commercial properties, Arvin quickly became a battleground pitting over-polluted residents against the behemoth fossil fuel industry. Despite the pressure, advocates launched a full-scale electoral push that brought in a new, progressive mayor and a wave of young Latina city council members who passed the first setback ordinance in California.
These are examples of state and local innovation — inspired by grassroots activism and multiracial and multisector coalitions — that should now make their way to the federal level, much as the New Deal picked up ideas such as unemployment insurance, minimum wages and labor protections from experiments in New York, Wisconsin and Massachusetts.
The combination of state experimentation, local power-building and attention to racial justice is all the more urgent now because we also need to make our way to a post-climate, post-COVID world. Both our environmental and public health challenges have some common themes and present an opportunity for a new narrative: In each arena we need to prioritize those with the highest risks, act to shield those we may never know, and learn to replace "me" — the spirit of self-interest — with "we," the impulses of solidarity with people and the planet.
On the policy side, we can clearly learn from state efforts to address climate change. But just as important will be learning from state and local organizing. The secret sauce is not in the technology: moving away from an oil- and coal-fueled power grid to a people-driven power structure will require the science of coalition-building.
Power must be built to hold a new administration accountable, push it further toward bold climate policy and economic and racial justice, and create the political space for a massive federal investment in public health and clean energy. The future of America and the planet depend on it.
J. Mijin Cha is an assistant professor of urban and environmental policy at Occidental College.
Manuel Pastor is a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California and the director of USC's Equity Research Institute.
The opinions expressed above are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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In Parting Blow to Climate Science, Trump Admin Removes Expert in Charge of National Climate Assessment
The National Climate Assessment, which is released every four years, combines the expertise of 13 federal agencies along with independent scientists, The New York Times explained. The last assessment, released in 2018, said unequivocally that the impacts of climate change were already being felt in the U.S. and would get worse if nothing was done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Trump administration tried to bury the report by releasing it Thanksgiving weekend, and President Donald Trump claimed that he did not believe it. Now, there is concern the administration is trying to influence the findings of the next assessment.
"Even in their final days, they are continuing to attempt to bury the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change," Union of Concerned Scientists senior climate scientist Rachel Licker told The New York Times.
The administration on Friday reassigned Michael Kuperberg, a climate scientist who runs the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which produces the report. The move was confirmed to The Washington Post by one current federal official and one former White House official, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity. Don Wuebbles, a University of Illinois climate scientist and friend of Kuperberg's, who directed the Fourth National Climate Assessment, also confirmed the news.
"Mike called me on Saturday and said he was just notified that he was let go, that his detail was over and that he should go back to the Department of Energy," Wuebbles told The Washington Post.
Kuperberg had led USGCRP since 2015 and had expected to continue to oversee the completion of the Fifth National Climate Assessment. Two people close to the administration told The New York Times he would likely be replaced by David Legates, a new appointment to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who has worked with climate denying groups and argued that carbon dioxide is "plant food and not a pollutant."
"It might be a short-term appointment," Competitive Enterprise Institute Director and former member of Trump's transition team Myron Ebell, who approves of Legates' appointment, told The New York Times. "If he only directs it for two months and a week, then he may not get very far, but let's see what can get done in two months. Maybe the next administration will throw it all away, but maybe some changes will be adopted, who knows."
One concern is that, if Biden replaces Trump's new appointment, it could further delay the next climate assessment, which was due in 2022 but has been pushed back to 2023. The new appointee could also influence the writers of the report, POLITICO pointed out. Nominations for report authors are due Nov. 14, and the new USGCRP head could select people who deny mainstream climate science. However, a mainstream U.S. Geological Survey climate scientist named Betsy Weatherhead has been put in charge of coordinating the assessment itself, according to The Washington Post.
"I would be more concerned if Trump had won the election," Kathy Jacobs, who ran the Third National Climate Assessment and now directs the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona, told The Washington Post. "If USGCRP is rudderless for a few months, I don't consider that a devastating situation. The question is: What are they going to do in the interim?"
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Less than three years after California governor Jerry Brown said the state would launch "our own damn satellite" to track pollution in the face of the Trump administration's climate denial, California, NASA, and a constellation of private companies, nonprofits, and foundations are teaming up to do just that.
Under the umbrella of the newly-formed group Carbon Mapper, two satellites are on track to launch in 2023. The satellites will target, among other pollution, methane emissions from oil and gas and agriculture operations that account for a disproportionate amount of pollution.
Between 2016 and 2018, using airplane-based instruments, scientists found 600 "super-emitters" (accounting for less than 0.5% of California's infrastructure) were to blame for more than one-third of the state's methane pollution. Now, the satellite-based systems will be able to perform similar monitoring, continuously and globally, and be able to attribute pollution to its source with previously impossible precision.
"These sort of methane emissions are kind of like invisible wildfires across the landscape," Carbon Mapper CEO and University of Arizona research scientist Riley Duren said. "No one can see them or smell them, and yet they're incredibly damaging, not just to the local environment, but more importantly, globally."
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