By Andy Rowell
Five years ago, the leading climate denial organization in the UK, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), published a pamphlet entitled: Carbon Dioxide, the good news.
The paper reiterated many of the climate deniers' favorite, but long discredited, arguments. In many ways, the GWPF's claims on climate science would be laughable if the ramifications were not so serious. They boil down to two main arguments: firstly, that there has been no warming and secondly, even if there has been warming, carbon dioxide is good for you.
The paper was written by Indur Goklany, described as "an independent scholar and author."
He stated that the "benefits of increasing carbon dioxide have been under-estimated" and that "the risks from increasing carbon dioxide have been overestimated."
Goklany continued: "there is little or no empirical evidence that the warming that has occurred — or any changes it may have caused — since the end of the last ice age or since the putative start of manmade warming around 1950is actually causing net harm or diminishing human or environmental wellbeing."
And also that: "the direct effects of higher carbon dioxide levels may benefit mankind and the natural world."
How anyone can describe tens of thousands of peer-reviewed research papers, along with numerous reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, along with hundreds if not thousands of other scientific assessments by Governmental panels or scientific bodies, plus thousands of credible reports by NGOs all describing our increasing climate crisis and the role that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide have had, as "no empirical evidence" — is beyond me. It is just plain stupid.
The deniers have long argued that CO2 is good for plant growth, and I had heard it in the early nineties at an OPEC conference, spoken by Dr. Richard Lindzen. At the time, the OPEC delegates lapped it up as a simplistic and fundamentally flawed argument that would allow them to carry on drilling with a so-called clean conscience.
Goklany has also written papers for other denier organizations such as the Cato Institute and the Heartland Institute. Over a decade ago, he appeared in a film entitled Policy Peril: Why Global Warming Policies are More Dangerous than Global Warming Itself.
But for years, Goklany's day job has been an official at the U.S. Interior Department. You can understand why someone like Goklany, with his die-hard denial views, would flourish well under Trump. And so when Trump was elected, he was promoted to the Office of the Deputy Secretary, with responsibility for reviewing the agency's climate policies.
Therefore, today's New York Times story is on the one hand not surprising, but at the same time, deeply worrying.
The paper notes that Goklany "embarked on a campaign that has inserted misleading language about climate change — including debunked claims that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is beneficial — into the agency's scientific reports."
According to the Times, the misleading language appears in at least nine reports, and became so embedded in documents that it was colloquially known as "Goks uncertainty language." The Times outlined how in Interior Department emails to scientists, Goklany pushed "misleading interpretations of climate science" reminiscent of his GWPF briefing:
"Firstly, that we "may be overestimating the rate of global warming, for whatever reason," and secondly that rising CO2 was beneficial because it "may increase plant water use efficiency" and "lengthen the agricultural growing season."
As the Times points out: "Both assertions misrepresent the scientific consensus that overall, climate change will result in severe disruptions to global agriculture and significant reductions in crop yields."
Samuel Myers, a research scientist at Harvard University's Center for the Environment told the Times that the language "takes very specific and isolated pieces of science, and tries to expand it in an extraordinarily misleading fashion."
But that is what the climate deniers do: set out to mislead and confuse. The reviewers for Goklany's GWPF paper, included known climate skeptics Craig Idso and Will Happer. Both men authored a petition sent to Trump in 2017, asking him to withdraw the United States from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Trump, Goklany, Lindzen, Idso, and Happer exist in a denial echo chamber. They will continue to deny the evidence as the earth warms and burns around them. We must resist this — with a new energy and vigor. In this new decade, we must ensure that the deniers' day is finally done. As Greta Thunberg and the millions of young climate activists demand every week: it is time to listen to the science.
Reposted with permission from Oil Change International.
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By Anne-Sophie Brändlin
So why not spend your lockdown binge-watching environmental documentaries that come with an impactful message about the fate of our planet?
1. My Octopus Teacher (2020)
No person has ever gotten as close and intimate with a wild octopus as South African filmmaker Craig Foster, who decided to head out to an underwater kelp forest in the Atlantic Ocean every day for an entire year to capture the life of the mesmerizing creature. An unusual, touching friendship develops that will likely change the way you see your relationship to animals and the planet.
2. David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet (2020)
David Attenborough is the godfather of environmental docs. In his 94 years, the Briton has visited every corner of the world, documenting nature in all its variety and wonder. His latest film is a witness statement, in which he reflects upon the devastating changes he's seen in his lifetime. He also gives a vision of the future in which we work with nature, rather than against it.
3. The Human Element (2019)
This doc follows environmental photographer James Balog on his quest to portray Americans on the frontlines of climate change whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by the collision between people and nature. Balog captures how the four elements of earth, water, air and fire are being transformed by a fifth element — the human element — and what that means for our future.
4. Before the Flood (2016)
In this doc, actor Leonardo DiCaprio teams up with National Geographic to travel the globe and witness the effects of global warming that are already visible, such as rising sea levels and deforestation. Featuring prominent figures such as Barack Obama, Ban Ki-moon, Pope Francis and Elon Musk, the doc offers solutions for a sustainable future and shows how we can challenge climate change deniers.
5. Tomorrow (2015)
Need an optimistic view on how to tackle the climate crisis? Then this upbeat French doc seeking out creative alternatives to our current form of agriculture, energy supply and waste management is for you. It introduces everyday sustainability innovators from across the world, such as urban gardeners and renewable energy enthusiasts, to inspire the rest of us to make local changes
6. Racing Extinction (2015)
In this film by Oscar-winning director Louie Psihoyos, a team of activists expose the illegal trade of endangered species and document the global extinction crisis, which could result in the loss of half of all species. By using covert tactics and state-of-the-art technology, they take you to places where no one can go, uncover secrets and show you images you have never seen before.
7. Virunga (2014)
Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the only places in the world where you can still find wild mountain gorillas. But the park and its inhabitants are under attack from poachers, armed militias and companies wanting to exploit natural resources. This gripping doc follows a group of people trying to preserve the park and protect these magnificent great apes.
8. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014)
This crowdfunded documentary explores the impact of animal agriculture on the environment and investigates why the world's leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it. The film has caused controversy by suggesting that animal agriculture is the primary source of environmental destruction and the main emitter of greenhouse gases, rather than fossil fuels.
9. Years of Living Dangerously (2014)
In this Emmy-winning documentary series, celebrity correspondents travel the world to interview experts and scientists on the climate crisis and its effects. But rather than focusing on its star power, the two-season series also shines a spotlight on ordinary people affected by the climate crisis and shows how we can save our world for future generations.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
By Julia Conley
A new campaign unveiled this weekend by the nonprofit organization Fossil Free Media aims to expand on the goals of the fossil fuel divestment movement, cutting into oil and gas companies' profit margins through their public relations and ad campaigns.
Along with the support fossil fuel giants get from Wall Street, the industry has been propped up for decades by PR and advertising agencies that aren't always transparent about their relationships with companies including Shell, Exxon, and BP.
"PR and ad agencies pollute the airwaves so that fossil fuel companies can pollute the atmosphere," said Duncan Meisel, campaign manager for Fossil Free Media's project, titled Clean Creatives. "The spread of climate misinformation can be directly traced back to firms with names like WPP, Omnicom, and Edelman. As long as they continue to engage in polluter relations, these firms will be one of our greatest barriers to climate progress. It's time for PR and ad agencies to come clean."
Fossil fuel companies have spent more than $3.6 billion on advertising since the 1990s, increasingly focusing their efforts on convincing the public that they're concerned about the climate crisis and committed to "sustainability" even as they continue extracting planet-heating oil and gas.
Tens of millions of dollars also go into advertising by industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute (API), which paid PR firm Edelman $327.4 million between 2008 and 2017.
Clean Creatives' campaign will be a multi-pronged one, engaging directly with PR and ad firms as well as the creative artists who work for them—often helping to prop up the reputations of companies whose work is increasingly unpopular with the public—non-fossil fuel clients, and lawmakers.
The campaign "will be reaching out to creatives directly, including high profile directors and artists...who likely feel conflicted making propaganda for oil and gas companies," Clean Creatives said.
PR and ad companies' work for the fossil fuel industry is pushing the planet past the breaking point.… https://t.co/wOuDBM26ne— Clean Creatives (@Clean Creatives)1605974060.0
At its website, Clean Creatives urged creative artists in the PR and ad industries to take a pledge stating, "We are the heart of our industry, and our best brands want creatives that will help them find their purpose and make a difference—not take their money and then sit down with the biggest polluters on the planet."
"Sign the pledge if you are committed to using your power for good, not fossil fuels," the website reads.
The campaign will run targeted ads on LinkedIn and other social media to find employees who are willing to sign the pledge.
Clean Creatives will also expose the fossil fuel companies that major ad and PR agencies work with—information that often isn't made public by the agencies.
"Despite their sustainability goals and past pledges to stop working with climate deniers, nearly all of the world's largest PR and ad firms continue to work with fossil fuel industry clients," said Jamie Henn, founder of Fossil Free Media and producer of the Clean Creatives campaign. "WPP does business with Shell and Chevron, Omnicom's BBDO does much of ExxonMobil's advertising, Ogilvy runs branding exercises for BP. Our campaign will expose the depth and breadth of these relationships."
As the relationships are made public, Clean Creatives will engage with other clients who work with the agencies, calling on them to withhold their business unless they stop "spinning fossil fuel industry propaganda."
"Clean Creatives will be circulating a business sign-on letter via networks like the American Sustainable Business Council and the Ceres BICEP Network (Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy) in the coming days," the group said.
Fossil Free Media was encouraged recently by global PR firm Porter Novelli, which announced it would cut ties with the American Public Gas Association (APGA) at the end of the year after 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben wrote about the relationship in The New Yorker in an article published Saturday.
Starting in 2017, the firm helped the APGA develop a campaign called "Natural Gas Genius," the message of which "was 'I choose natural gas to live better,' and the firm found a mid-tier Instagram influencer to help disseminate it."
According to the APGA, the campaign's "target audience is homeowners who are looking to buy or renovate a home in the next five years. We are confident in the ability of this new type of message that speaks to the emotional aspect of natural gas, to help us achieve our goal of increasing consumer consideration of natural gas direct use in their homes."
That is, they were trying to do the opposite of what climate science suggests. If you're buying a new home or renovating an old one, you can install an electric air-source heat pump instead of a gas boiler. It will heat (and also cool) your home effectively and cheaply, and produce far fewer greenhouse gases in the process. You can also install, instead of a gas stove, an induction cooktop—an appliance whose use is growing rapidly in Asia and Europe.
Responding to McKibben's inquiries, Porter Novelli announced it had "determined our work with the American Public Gas Association is incongruous with our increased focus and priority on addressing climate justice."
Fossil Free Media applauded the move, and the climate action movement's role in pushing the agency, on social media.
Porter Novelli isn't some small shop: they've got offices and clients in 60 countries and are part of @Omnicom, the… https://t.co/iw0BCmrdzx— Jamie Henn (@Jamie Henn)1605980652.0
"It's a BIG deal that they're dropping fossil fuel clients—let's make sure it's the drop that starts a flood," wrote Henn.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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The attorney general for Washington, DC filed a lawsuit on Thursday against four of the largest energy companies, claiming that the companies have spent millions upon millions of dollars to deceive customers in about the calamitous effect fossil fuel extraction and emissions is having on the climate crisis, according to The Washington Post.
The suit names ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Chevron as the defendants, and argues that the companies "systematically and intentionally misled consumers in Washington, DC ... about the central role their products play in causing climate change," according to The Hill.
Karl A. Racine, the DC attorney general, said in a news conference on Thursday that the four companies painted a false picture of what effect their products had and therefore violated consumer protection laws.
"For decades, these oil and gas companies spent millions to mislead consumers and discredit climate science in pursuit of profits," Racine said in a statement, as The Washington Post reported. "OAG filed this suit to end these disinformation campaigns and to hold these companies accountable for their deceptive practices."
New York and Massachusetts have both sued ExxonMobil for fraud related to the climate crisis, though New York lost its case against the energy giant. California and Baltimore have filed similar suits. On Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a complaint in state court accusing ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Flint Hills Resources and the American Petroleum Institute of consumer fraud, failure to warn, deceptive trade practices, and fraud and false advertising, as Courthouse News reported.
Ellison's complaint said that Minnesota was already feeling the effects from the climate crisis as droughts, flooding and crop failures have damaged the state's economy. That has all happened while the companies named in the suit invested in public relations campaigns that denied the climate crisis and even promoted increased CO2 as a solution to world hunger, according to Courthouse News.
"Impacts from climate change hurt our low-income residents and communities of color first and worst. The impacts on farmers in our agricultural state are widespread as well," Ellison said in a statement. "Holding these companies accountable for the climate deception they've spread and continue to spread is essential to helping families to afford their lives and live with dignity and respect."
The two suits drew praise from environmental activists and the science community.
In a statement Thursday, Greenpeace USA climate campaign director Janet Redman said, "Climate denial is not a victimless crime. Now, one by one states and local governments are stepping up to hold the perpetrators accountable," as Common Dreams reported. "Just yesterday it was Minnesota Attorney General Ellison standing up to big oil, today it's D.C. Attorney General Racine."
The Union of Concerned Scientists also issued a statement noting that the fossil fuel industry long knew about the devastating impacts of burning fossil fuels, but followed the Big Tobacco playbook and waged a disinformation campaign.
"When scientists, including some employed by ExxonMobil, warned that burning fossil fuels could catastrophically alter the climate, ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell funded decades-long disinformation campaigns designed to undermine climate science, while simultaneously unleashing an army of lobbyists to block state and federal policies that sought to limit global warming emissions to protect communities across the country," said Rachel Licker, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in a statement.
"As a result, the nation's capital and communities across the country and world now have to battle worsening floods, heat waves, wildfires and many other avoidable climate impacts," she added.
In the DC suit, Racine specifically mentioned the fossil fuel companies' strategy lifted from Big Tobacco. "The companies not only employed the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition — a fake grassroots citizen group created by Big Tobacco as part of the industry's misinformation campaign — they also funded and promoted some of the same scientists hired by tobacco companies," he said in a statement.
The lawsuit also alleges that the companies have recently exaggerated their investments and commitments to renewable energy.
"Defendants have shifted their advertising strategies to mislead DC consumers into believing that buying Defendants' products supports companies committed to reducing and reversing the effects of climate change," the lawsuit asserts, as The Washington Post reported. "In fact, the opposite is true."
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First, David Legates, a University of Delaware professor who has questioned the scientific consensus that human activity drives the climate crisis and has argued carbon dioxide emissions are actually beneficial, was named deputy assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation. Now, the Trump administration is in the process of appointing meteorologist Ryan Maue to serve as the agency's chief scientist, two NOAA officials confirmed to The Washington Post Monday. Maue, who runs the site weathermodels.com, does accept that the burning of greenhouse gases is impacting the global climate. However, he has spoken out against worst-case-scenario climate predictions and criticized activists for using extreme weather events to argue for reducing the burning of fossil fuels.
"For the second time this month, a person who misrepresents, distorts, and disagrees with climate science is being placed in a science position at NOAA," professor Katharine Hayhoe tweeted in response to the news.
Maue previously served as an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that questioned mainstream climate science, The Washington Post pointed out. He co-wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal challenging the climate predictions of NASA scientist James Hansen, which have been supported by peer-reviewed studies. Most recently, he has lashed out against California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his supporters for linking the climate crisis to the state's record-breaking wildfire season.
"Seems the Democrats have coordinated their efforts to use the devastating California fires as an opportunity to score political points in the upcoming election by blaming them solely on climate change (and Trump)," he wrote in a deleted tweet recovered by The Washington Post.
However, a number of studies have shown that changes to the climate are making the state's fires more frequent and more intense.
As chief scientist, Maue would influence NOAA's research agenda for oceanic and atmospheric science, as well as its scientific integrity policy. He still has to pass ethics and security reviews, but would not require Senate confirmation.
Other scientists questioned whether Maue had the credentials for the role.
"Normally, when people are chosen for high-profile positions relating to climate change, I've heard of them. I have no idea who this person is, other than I've seen him saying things about climate that are wrong on social media and in op-eds. I suspect that he has the one and only necessary qualification for the job: a willingness to advance the agenda of climate deniers," Texas A&M climate scientist Andrew Dessler tweeted in reaction to Maue's likely appointment. "To me, this emphasizes how thin the climate deniers' bench is. I'm sure they'd prefer to have someone with actual credentials take the job, but this shows that credentialized experts who dispute mainstream climate science simply don't exist."
Maue told E&E News he believes in "lukewarming."
"Lukewarming is not climate denial," Maue said. "Most of us on this side of the issue believe in lower climate sensitivity. We don't believe there's going to be 5° of warming; we figure it's at the lower end of 1.5°."
However, most scientists think the world could hit 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within the next two decades and then continue to heat up.
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By Tara Lohan
Election Day 2020 — the day before the United States officially left the Paris climate agreement — didn't deliver an immediate rebuke to President Trump or relief for environmentalists.
That would have to wait.
"The election hasn't produced the outcome that the planet badly needed," Bill McKibben of 350.org summed up in The New Yorker the following day.
But as the votes continued to be counted in battleground states, the mood shifted from despair to hope, and finally, on Nov. 7, to celebration when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were pronounced victors.
So much was riding on this election — and not just in the United States.
"There is no pathway to meaningful global climate action without our federal government playing a prominent part," wrote Mary Annaïse Heglar in The New Republic just before the election.
A Biden-Harris victory doesn't undo all the environmental harm caused by the Trump administration and its 125 rollbacks of environmental protections, but it provides a much-needed opportunity to restore scientific integrity and take action on climate change, environmental justice, biodiversity and other pressing concerns.
That's good news. And looking down the ballot there were also other environmental victories — as well as some places where ground was lost. Here are the biggest takeaways:
The Good Stuff
Few big-ticket wins were clear early except for the fact that Democrats held onto the House of Representatives — an expected but not inconsequential victory. And although their majority slimmed, several new additions will be a boon for environmental issues.
One of those is progressive Cori Bush, who cruised to victory in Missouri's 1st congressional district. She's the first Black woman from the state to be elected to Congress. The nurse, pastor and Black Lives Matter activist is also a Green New Deal supporter.
In gubernatorial fights, Washington's climate champion Jay Inslee won re-election. So did Democrat Roy Cooper in North Carolina, which E&E News called a significant victory in the state's push for clean energy.
Mark Kelly flipped a Senate seat blue in Arizona, and so did John Hickenlooper in Colorado.
Hickenlooper, a booster of the fracking industry during his time as Colorado governor, is not exactly beloved by environmentalists in the state. But his defeat of Cory Gardner was hailed by the League of Conservation Voters, which called Gardner one of "worst anti-environmental candidates" running this year. It was also the first time in 84 years that Democrats swept all statewide races in Colorado.
Along with those victories came one for wolves, too. Colorado voters passed Proposition 114, which will require the state Parks and Wildlife department to develop a restoration and management plan for the reintroduction of gray wolves. It comes less than a week after the Trump administration removed federal protection from gray wolves across the country.
Photo by Steve Felberg/Pixabay (CC)
In other statewide races, Nevada's Question 6, which would require electric utilities to get 50% of their electricity from renewables by 2030, was approved by voters. But how much that helps the state's clean energy future is a matter of debate. Nevada has already passed similar legislation. Enshrining this benchmark into the state constitution could help protect it from future rollbacks — or it could make efforts to raise the target even harder.
Much further down the ballot, climate champions made gains in city council positions in major cities such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco and Portland.
Denver also approved an increase in sales tax to help fund climate and clean energy initiatives. And Columbus, Ohio passed a measure that would help the city secure more locally sourced renewable energy.
"City leadership is important for advancing climate action but new research finds U.S. cities falling behind," Daniel Melling, communications manager for the UCLA Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, wrote for Legal Planet.
The Bad Stuff
An anticipated, decisive retaking of the Senate by Democrats never materialized, and whether it remains in Republican hands won't be decided for a bit. Two Georgia races are headed to a January runoff.
If Republicans do hang on to the Senate, that will mean any bold new climate legislation — or likely any meaningful environmental legislation at all — coming out of the House will be stymied, especially if Mitch McConnell retains his role as Senate leader.
Meanwhile several Republican senators with dismal environmental records will be back, including Iowa's Joni Ernst, Mississippi's Cindy Hyde-Smith, Alabama's Tommy Tuberville and Roger Marshall from Kansas. Lindsay Graham, who has a mixed at best record when it comes to climate legislation, also returns.
While Colorado may have seen a blue wave, Montana was awash in red. A Republican sweep across the state included a victory by coal-industry ally Greg Gianforte, who took the governor's mansion out of control of Democrats for the first time in 16 years.
Coal train loading at Spring Creek mine, Montana. Photo: WildEarth Guardians, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
"Montana didn't just go Republican on Tuesday," wrote Gwen Florio in The Nation. "It went deeply conservative Republican." The effect of that will be felt not just on energy policy, but the fate of public lands and wildlife, including sage grouse and grizzlies.
In a new low, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia became the first QAnon conspiracy theory believer elected to Congress. In addition to a record of racist statements, she ran on a platform that included blocking the Green New Deal.
Democrats had hoped to make a small gain in Texas. But even $2.5 million in backing from Michael Bloomberg couldn't get Democrat Chrysta Castañeda elected to the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees issues related to oil and gas — a state race that has worldwide impact.
The race was won by Jim Wright, whom the Huffington Post describes as "a hardcore climate change denier and owner of an oil-field services company."
The oil industry may have also garnered a victory in Alaska. There Measure 1, which would raise taxes on some North Slope oil companies, is trailing by a wide margin.
But when you tally it all up at the end of the day — or week, really — even McKibben had to concede that overall things are looking up.
"It could have gone much better," he wrote on Nov. 7. "(Specifically, a deadlocked Senate will make action on the dominant issue of our lifetimes, climate change, more difficult to address than it should be.) But it went."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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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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President Trump's claim that the U.S. has the cleanest air and water in the world has been widely refuted by statistics showing harmful levels of pollution. Now, a new biannual ranking released by researchers at Yale and Columbia finds that the U.S. is nowhere near the top in environmental performance, according to The Guardian.
Not only is the U.S. not in the top 10, it's not in the top 20. It ranks 24th in the 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which was released on Thursday. The top ranked country, Denmark, has made commitments to a carbon-free future, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. By contrast, the U.S., during the Trump administration, has worked at breakneck speed to rollback environmental regulations, expand fossil fuel development, and ditch international treaties protecting the environment. He has even questioned climate science and ridiculed its findings.
"If you look at Denmark, they're doing great but they're a tiny fraction of overall carbon emissions or greenhouse gas emissions broadly," said Zach Wenderling, lead researcher on the index, as The Guardian reported. "The U.S. is one of the top five players in every greenhouse gas, so we need to do better than just OK if we're going to generate the best practices."
Many signatories to the Paris agreement have ramped up their commitments to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, especially in Europe. European countries performed the best in the new index. After Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom rounded out the top four, according to The Guardian.
Researchers at Yale and Columbia universities produce the global report, which is released every two years. It ranks 180 of the world's nations on 24 key indicators in 10 categories related to environmental health and ecosystem vitality.
The data-driven and empirical approach to environmental protection makes it easier to spot problems, track trends, highlight policy successes and failures, identify best practices, and optimize the benefits of investing in environmental protection, said Daniel Esty, a professor of environmental law and policy at Yale, in a university press release.
"[T]he EPI provides a clear and compelling way to see which countries are leading issue by issue, who is lagging, and what the best policy practices look like across a range of critical environmental challenges," said Esty, in the university press release.
Since the EPI was created in the year 2000, the U.S has never reached the top of the rankings.
"Countries that make an effort do better than those that don't don't and the U.S. right now is not making an effort. That shows up in a stagnation in the rankings where others are really seeing some significant improvements," said Esty, as The Guardian reported.
The U.S., which is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions after China, is near the bottom of the rankings for advanced industrial countries. China, which suffers from poor air quality, has made significant investments in solar energy and reducing its dependence on coal, and climbed the rankings to 120th place. China is still a big polluter but has made "much more dramatic progress than other countries," Esty said, as The Guardian reported.
China's ranking as the world's worst contributor to the climate crisis is only recent. Over time, the U.S. has put more heat trapping gases into the air than any other country. India, which also sees its cities choking under polluted air quality, ranked 168th.
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Seventy percent of U.S. voters want the government to act on the climate crisis. But if you are one of those voters, what does that actually mean when you go to fill out your ballot? How can you decide which candidates will make America green again?
Luckily, several organizations have put together guides to help you decide who to vote for if climate action and environmental protection are your deciding issues.
EcoWatch does not endorse any of these guides or the candidates listed on them. Rather, we are sharing them with our readers as tools they can use to make up their own minds.
1. Vote Climate U.S. PAC's 2020 Climate Change Voter's Guide
How it Works: This guide gives each candidate running for U.S. House or Senate a score based on their overall climate record. For incumbents, the scores are based on voting records, leadership, positions and the candidate's stance on charging a fee for carbon pollution. For challengers, the scores are based on their policy positions, including their opinion on a carbon fee.
The site lets you search for your senators by state and your representatives by zip code. You can also click on the green plus button to the left of each candidate's name to get more detailed information about their positions and records.
Why It Exists: Vote Climate U.S. PAC put the guide together in order to provide a resource to voters who want to make climate change their biggest priority.
"A recent report from the IPCC makes it clear that if we are going to limit global warming to 1.5ºC, we will need historical changes in our politics," Vote Climate U.S. PAC President Karyn Strickler said in a press release emailed to EcoWatch. "Vote Climate U.S. PAC's unprecedented, national voter's guide could dramatically shift the American paradigm toward political climate-action."
How it Works: The Sierra Club's Election Center makes the voting process simple for anyone, no matter where you live. Just enter your address, and you will be taken to a screen that offers a link to any Sierra Club endorsed candidates on your ballot, as well as a place to check your voter registration status and request a mail-in ballot.
The list of endorsed candidates appears as a printable "Slate Card." In addition to national races, the card also includes candidates running for state office. Be sure to check back before election day, as more endorsements may be added.
Why it Exists: The Sierra Club endorsement process is also designed to prioritize candidates who favor climate action.
"Our endorsement process is rooted in the strongest part of the Sierra Club: our more than 3.8 million members and supporters," the group's political director Ariel Hayes told EcoWatch. "Endorsements originate with our grassroots, and go through multiple steps and votes to ensure the candidates we support will advance legislation and action to tackle the climate crisis and complete the transition to a clean energy economy."
How it Works: Outdoor brand Patagonia has been putting its love of nature into civic action over the past four years. It has closed stores on every major election day since 2016 to encourage voting and endorsed two candidates for Senate for the first time in 2018.
This year, it has created a web page that helps visitors make a vote plan and select environmentally-friendly Senate candidates to support. The brand has formally endorsed Senate candidates in four states: Arizona, Montana, Maine and North Carolina. But the page also includes a map of the U.S. with recommendations for each contested Senate race, based on candidates' stance on climate action and protecting public lands. For further guidance, the page hosts a link to candidates' League of Conservation Voters scorecard.
Why it Exists: Patagonia chose to endorse the four candidates that it did because they were running in states with a significant community of Patagonia customers, environmental issues were highlighted by the campaigns, there was a big difference between the two candidates and they were close races where Patagonia thought its input would make a difference. The company is also running digital ads in support of the candidates it endorsed.
In general, however, Patagonia began endorsing candidates because it thought its community would want to know, spokesperson Corley Kenna told EcoWatch.
"It's not about engaging in politics," Kenna said. "It is about our mission to save the planet, and a part of that is electing leaders who will protect the planet."
James is the younger son of the Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch who owns News Corp, and the younger brother of Lachlan Murdoch who runs Fox News.
"Kathryn and James' views on climate are well established and their frustration with some of the News Corp and Fox coverage of the topic is also well known," a spokesperson for the couple told the Daily Beast. "They are particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence to the contrary."
James Murdoch is CEO of Lupa Systems — a private investment firm he founded — but sits on the board of his father's companies. Recently, he has distanced himself from his father's businesses and political positions, according to CNN.
News Corp Australia dominates the media landscape across the continent. It publishes more than 140 newspapers and employs more than 3,000 journalists in print, broadcast and online, according to the Daily Beast.
While Australia has seen an estimated 15.6 million acres burn in the recent brushfires, nearly 1 billion animals have perished, and residents have choked on the hazy air, the Murdoch's newspapers continue to deny the climate crisis as the cause of the fires, as TIME reported. While scientists attribute Australia's unforgiving drought and heat to a changing climate, News Corp Australia has called such claims "silly" and "hysterical."
Some commentators and hosts on Fox News have tried to blame the fires on arsonists.
In last May's elections, most of Murdoch's papers in Australia endorsed Prime Minister Scott Morrison who has also shown skepticism about the fires' connection to the climate crisis, as CNN reported.
The Daily Beast highlighted a few egregious examples of Murdoch's papers giving voice to climate deniers in its papers.
In late November, while the fires were burning, News Corp columnist Chris Kenny wrote in The Australian, "Hysterical efforts to blame the fires on climate change continue, even though we have always faced this threat and always will."
A day later, News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt wrote in The Herald Sun: "Let's assume you're silly enough to think global warming is causing worse bushfires around the world. (In fact a recent NASA study found that the area burned by fire has dropped 24 percent over 18 years.) … True, the world has warmed slightly as it rebounds from the little ice age that stretched from 1300 to around 1870, but can we cool it on this panic? In that time of warming, life expectancy has shot up, world grain crops have set new records, and the death rate from extreme weather has been slashed by 99 percent."
And last week, on Fox News, contributor Raymond Arroyo — speaking on The Ingraham Angle about Golden Globes winners warning about climate following the Australian fires — said, "They just arrested 12 people in Australia for those fires and they were blaming it on climate change. Wrong again!" Then a couple of days later, Arroyo said, "Though Australia has had the highest temperatures on record — the driest season ever — it's not correct to say climate change caused these wildfires."
James Murdoch's outspoken statement could embolden shareholder activists to attack management and put pressure on News Corp to respond to the climate crisis, according to The Guardian.
"The pressure's mounting on them on climate change, so let's see," said Brynn O'Brien, who heads the Australasian Center for Corporate Responsibility, which has no holding in News Corp, to The Guardian. "It's a very unusual situation where you have a board member on the record, through a spokesperson, attacking the governance and operations of the company."
By Karen Charman
When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.
While Trump declared that the weather will just "start getting cooler" and that science is irrelevant to the wildfires, millions were struggling to breathe through the toxic smoke that gave Portland the week-long distinction of having the most hazardous air on the planet, with pollution levels in Seattle and San Francisco close behind. Whole towns in California and Oregon have been destroyed by the wildfires.
A growing body of scientific evidence over the last several decades confirms that as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases rise, so too will frequent, intense and increasingly deadly weather events. Strange new weather phenomena like fire tornadoes, "snowacanes" and "rain bombs" are now part of our experience and language. Droughts, unprecedented heat, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding are happening more often, becoming more severe, and occurring over larger and larger areas.
This year several strange and extreme weather conditions combined to create the perfect firestorm across the Western U.S. A prolonged record-breaking heatwave saw temperatures reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley, California, on August 16, and 121 degrees Fahrenheit in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills three weeks later on September 6. In mid-August, more than 10,000 dry lightning strikes began igniting fires in Northern California, Oregon and Washington, including all over the Bay Area where they were eerily close to heavily populated areas. Lightning-induced fires are also torching Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico. Subsequent high winds in drought-stricken landscapes then turned the initial sparks into major conflagrations.
By the morning of Trump's California appearance, 28 major fires had incinerated more than 3 million acres just in California. Fires in California, Oregon and Washington had combined to create a hellscape of toxic smoke that turned the skies in those states orange, blood red and deep magenta and was detected as far away as Europe. At least 35 people had died.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Hurricane Sally, one of five named storms then swirling in the Atlantic, was just two days away from flooding coastal communities from the Florida Panhandle to Louisiana. Sally, which submerged downtown Pensacola in five feet of water, hit just three weeks after Hurricane Laura caused massive flooding and 10 deaths. Slamming into the Louisiana coast with 150-mile-an-hour winds, Laura was one of the strongest hurricanes to make landfall in U.S. history.
So far, 2020 has been an extremely busy hurricane season with more than 20 named storms, seven of which formed in the first half of September. With two more months before the hurricane season officially ends, there could be several more. Meanwhile, many of the fires across the West are still burning.
Nor has catastrophic weather spared the middle of the country this summer. On August 10, a particularly strong derecho, a quick-forming massive wall of intense winds, blasted through Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. The derecho cut a path 770 miles long, held its strength for 14 hours, and clocked winds up to 140 miles per hour. Four people died, and crops and buildings on some 10 million acres in Iowa — nearly a third of the state's farmland — were heavily damaged. This storm also caused significant damage to cars and homes, downed power lines and destroyed massive numbers of trees in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and parts of Chicago.
In 2019, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a comprehensive report mandated by Congress to study the impacts of climate change, found that without substantial and sustained greenhouse gas reductions along with vast infrastructure upgrades, unabated climate change will threaten much that many Americans take for granted and lead to an unrecognizable, dystopian existence for large swaths of the population.
Among the report's findings: food will become harder to grow and be lower in quality but more expensive. Clean, safe water supplies will become scarce in many parts of the country. Human health will take a significant hit from worsening air and water pollution, greater exposure to disease-carrying insects, pests, foodborne and waterborne pathogens, as well as the emotional strain of having to deal with the reality and uncertainty of catastrophic weather events and their aftermath. Heat will kill more people. Energy supplies will become increasingly unstable and more costly (because most U.S. power plants need a steady supply of cooling water to operate).
Moreover, the report predicts that already compromised roads, bridges, and the safety of pipelines all over the country will be vulnerable to damage from violent storms and flooding. Whole communities, especially those facing rising sea levels along the coastline, will be forced to move. Increasing production and supply chain disruptions will cause significant damage to the economy as a whole. Areas and industries that depend on natural resources and good, stable weather will likely be hardest hit with annual losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, an amount exceeding the current total economic output of many U.S. states.
Overall, the report predicts "substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century," though it notes that poor and disadvantaged communities will disproportionately bear the worst impacts.
A stark illustration of what current levels of greenhouse gas emissions will look like is provided in maps by the Rhodium Group, a New York-based independent research organization, which forecasts a much harsher living environment for many parts of the U.S. over the next 20 to 40 years. Temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit will become much more common, especially in the South and Southwest, with places like Phoenix, Arizona, much of interior Southern California and southern Texas likely sweltering in 95 degrees or hotter for half the year.
Along with rising temperatures, humidity is expected to dramatically increase, even in places like Arizona, Southern California and Nevada, which have long been known for their dry heat. When excessive humidity combines with extreme heat, it creates "wet bulb" temperatures where sweating fails to cool the body. Such conditions make it dangerous to work outside or for kids to play outside. According to Rhodium's projections, current emissions are on track to turn much of the Mississippi Valley, the above-mentioned areas in the Southwest, southern Texas, and coastal areas in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina into high wet bulb zones.
Despite all of these future threats — on top of the climate disasters we are already seeing — Trump, the ruling Republicans, the fossil fuel sector and their defenders in right-wing media continue to deny climate change.
"If we don't have a stable environment to live in, there's no way to have life, liberty, or pursue happiness," Jeffrey Potent, adjunct professor of sustainability at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, told Truthout, decrying the Trump administration's attack on the government's ability to oversee and protect our environment.
"This is completely different from anything I have encountered in Washington," said Tyson Slocum, director Public Citizen's energy program. "It's an all-out assault on everything for the public interest."
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse
Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don't profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.
Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for self-dealing and abusing their positions of authority. One example is Trump's first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who aggressively worked to overturn Obama's climate regulations, spent most of his time in private meetings with fossil fuel and chemical company executives, sidelined career EPA staff and reconfigured independent scientific advisory boards to make them more supportive of the industries EPA is charged with regulating. Dubbed "one of the most scandal-plagued Cabinet officials in U.S. history," Pruitt resigned in disgrace after revelations about his multiple brazen abuses, including using the agency as his personal concierge service and piggy bank.
Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist and longtime Republican Washington insider, took over and has continued Trump's deregulatory agenda apace.
At the Department of Interior (DOI), a sprawling agency that oversees 75 percent of the country's public federal lands and includes the U.S. Geological Survey, which is tasked with evaluating natural hazards that threaten life and the health of our ecosystems, Trump installed another flamboyant anti-environmentalist to head the agency. Like Pruitt, Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke aggressively attacked environmental regulations, ditched more than 200 advisory panels, and pushed to open up vast swaths of public land to oil and gas drilling. Described by one environmental group as "the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation's history," Zinke was forced out after numerous highly publicized conflict-of-interest scandals.
The DOI is now run by Zinke's deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, another longtime Republican Washington insider and former oil industry lobbyist who has also been the subject of several government ethics complaints for various violations favoring polluting industries.
More recently, longtime climate change denier David Legates, a climatologist at the University of Delaware previously funded by fossil fuel interests, was hired for a top job advancing weather modeling and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Legates has called for increasing carbon emissions.
The Trump administration has done much more than stack government agencies with fossil fuel industry proponents. It has removed or diluted discussion of climate change from as many government platforms as it can and decimated independent scientific advisory boards that provide unbiased, fact-based information the government needs to enact policies that protect the public. It has also slashed environmental agency staffing and budgets.
The Damage So Far
A September 17 report by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. These include repealing Obama's main climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce dirty emissions from power plants; increasing pollution from cars by rolling back fuel economy standards and challenging California's longtime authority to set stricter emissions standards; targeting controls on hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigerators and air conditioners that also destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer; and allowing unreported and unregulated emissions of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, by oil and gas companies.
Besides these measures, Trump is also trying to gut core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, all of which were enacted to protect human health and preserve a livable world.
The Paris agreement aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and hopefully cap it at 1.5 degrees C or lower. We are now at approximately 1.2 degrees C and counting.
This story originally appeared in Truthout 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 Ajit Niranjan
When private equity giant Blackstone invested in alternative milk maker Oatly this summer, furious customers pledged to boycott the dairy-free drink.
"Blackstone investments have been linked with deforestation activities in Brazil," wrote British local produce shop Buth Bharraigh in a tweet announcing they would stop selling Oatly products.
"I don't want my money going to the destruction of the planet ... just so that I can have a creamy coffee in the morning!" wrote sustainability influencer Laura Young in Instagram and Twitter posts that were shared thousands of times.
They criticized Oatly for enabling Blackstone — an investment firm managing $564 billion (€478 billion) in assets — to greenwash climate-damaging investments. "Learn how we're backing sustainable, plant-based alternatives to dairy with our investment in @oatly," Blackstone wrote on its Instagram page.
The social media spat between a corporate giant, a "woke" food brand and disenchanted customers is part of a wider debate about the role of capital in fighting climate change. It has grown more significant in the food sector as investors start to divest from the highly polluting meat and dairy industries, and consumers look for sustainable alternatives.
Divesting From Deforestation
Meat production is the biggest driver of tropical deforestation. Driven by demand for foods like burgers and milk, rainforests are burned to create land for cattle ranches, and to grow soy that is then mostly fed to livestock.
Blackstone, which has invested billions of dollars in the fossil fuel sector, partly owns Hidrovias do Brasil, a Brazilian logistics company that was linked to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest by U.S. news organization The Intercept last year. A spokesperson for Blackstone told DW the deforestation claims were "completely false and wholly fabricated."
Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman is a major donor to U.S. President Donald Trump, a climate-science denier who has rolled back environmental regulations and brought the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
Pressured by customers, campaigners and policymakers, some food companies are starting to assess their own ecological footprints.
In 2018, McDonald's pledged to clean its supply chains and cut its emissions. In July, Brazilian food processing giant Marfrig said it would remove deforestation from its production chain by the end of the decade.
Then, in September, JBS, the world's biggest meat-processing company, said it would monitor its entire supply chain to cut out deforestation by 2025. Its announcement came two months after investor Nordea Asset Management said it would divest holdings of about €40 million in the company because of a lack of engagement on environmental issues.
Last year, after fires devastated the Amazon rainforest, a group of 251 investors called for a reduction in deforestation, identifying its environmental impacts as "systemic risks" to their portfolios.
Biodiversity and climate change matter to agricultural markets at risk of extreme weather and environmentally conscious consumers, said Matt McLuckie, research director at Planet Tracker, a UK-based nonprofit that aims to redirect capital toward sustainable development. "The trends are not looking positive for these agricultural producers, particularly in the beef sector."
Alternative Sources of Protein
The IPCC, the gold-standard on climate science, has said climate change could in part be slowed by switching to plant-based diets, particularly in richer countries. This is where oat milk comes in.
Oatly, the biggest player in the alternative milk industry, is valued at $2 billion, and is considering an initial public offering that could push that up to $5 billion, Bloomberg News reported in September. For a business whose core product is made by mixing two cheap and readily available ingredients — oats and water — the Swedish food company founded in the 1990s has seen incredible growth since entering the U.S. market four years ago.
While campaigners have spent years pressuring the financial world to take their money out of dirty investments like fossil fuel companies, little attention has been paid to finance in the agriculture sector, which is responsible for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.
Shareholders are also typically the ones pressuring companies they own to improve their environmental record, and not the other way around.
The backlash against Oatly's partnership with Blackstone is fascinating because it's "looking through the other end of the telescope," said Daniel Firger, managing director at climate finance consultancy Great Circle Capital Advisors. "The target of so many people's anger here is Blackstone, a private equity group. And private equity, as compared to other parts of the financial markets, has not really had as much scrutiny."
Diverting Capital to Climate Change
By accepting a $200 million investment from a group led by Blackstone and including U.S. talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, musician Jay-Z and actor Natalie Portman, Oatly said it was diverting capital to sustainable causes. The returns Blackstone makes from the investment could inspire other private equity firms to green their portfolios, it said in a statement justifying its decision.
"We have to have a fundamental shift in basically everything we do: the way we eat, the way we move, the way we live," Ashley Allen, chief sustainability officer at Oatly, told DW. "The only way to do that, in my mind, is to incentivize finance toward those solutions and disincentivize finance toward high-carbon, high-risk, high-polluting entities."
Asked whether Oatly would set red lines on who could invest in it — for instance, fossil fuel companies — Allen said she wasn't sure. "I haven't been part of any discussions on that."
Oatly is not the first ethical food brand to anger customers by accepting money from an investor with a poor environmental record. U.S. ice cream producer Ben and Jerry's — which champions its commitment to social justice — was bought out in 2000 by Unilever, a global conglomerate that has come under fire from campaigners for deforestation and plastic pollution.
In recent years Unilever has begun to engage more with critics on environmental issues, threatening to sell off brands that do not contribute positively to society. But is still a major contributor to plastic pollution, for instance, responsible for more than 70,000 tons of plastic pollution a year, according to a report published in March by NGO Tearfund.
While it's important for activists to draw attention to inconsistencies in investments, said Firger, the scale of the climate emergency means hundreds more companies like Oatly need to grow as fast as they possibly can. "I'm not one for purity tests. I feel like we don't have time to waste."
Reposted with permission from DW.
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