It's Official: 2017 Was the Hottest Year Without an El Niño

The United Nations announced Thursday that 2017 was the hottest year on record without an El Niño event kicking up global annual temperatures.

Last year's average surface temperatures—driven by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions—was 1.1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial times, putting the world on course to breach the internationally agreed "1.5°C" temperature barrier to avoid dangerous climate change set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

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Trump Watch

Trump Re-Nominates Anti-Wildlife Climate Denier to Top Environment Post

The Trump administration re-nominated Kathleen Hartnett White on Monday to be chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) after she failed to secure a Senate confirmation last year.

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From Pond Scum to Food Bowl, Dutch Designers 3D-Print Algae Into Everyday Products

You might not think of pond scum as something that's good for the environment, but Dutch designers have developed a bioplastic made from algae that they hope could replace petroleum-based plastics.

According to Dezeen, Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros have been cultivating live algae and processing it into material that can be used for 3D printing. This algae polymer can be churned into everyday items, from shampoo bottles to bowls to trash bins. 

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Los Angeles traffic. Luke Jones / Flickr

Why Transportation Is Now the Top Source of U.S. Pollution

With the holidays coming around, it may be a good time to note that the countless miles that Americans will drive, train or fly has a big planetary impact.

In fact, the transportation sector is now the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., unseating electricity production for the first time in four decades.

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In China, about 70 percent of the rivers and lakes are contaminated by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by the textile industry. RiverBlue

Fashion Industry Report: One Truckload of Clothing Is Wasted Per Second

When we think of environmental foes, the fossil fuel industry is often pegged as one of the biggest villains. But the shirts off our backs also leave a devastating planetary impact.

According to a new report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry's current "take-make-dispose" system creates greenhouse gas emissions of 1.2 billion tonnes a year—that's "more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined."

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Rising temperatures and more atmospheric carbon dioxide cause rice fields to yield less and release more methane. Shutterstock

Report: Social Cost of Carbon Has Been Drastically Underestimated

Our understanding of the social cost of carbon (SCC) relied on outdated science from the 1980s, and is likely wrong.

The latest calculations based on new modeling by UCLA and Purdue University show a drastic divergence with previous results—an increase of 129 percent, which moves the figure to $19.70 per ton of carbon dioxide. This calculation rests on the Climate Framework for Uncertainty, Negotiation and Distribution, or FUND model.

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Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Here's What You Need to Know on the Upcoming War on Our Health and Environment

Before Inauguration Day, the Trump era has opened with an extremist agenda that poses an alarming threat to our people, our environment and the core values we share about justice, fair play and our commitment to leave future generations a livable world. Already, we've seen a set of cabinet nominees dominated by fossil fuel advocates, billionaires and bankers; a president-elect who says "nobody really knows" what's happening to our climate; and a full-on witch hunt for the experts who know the truth.

This is not normal. It's the most radical approach to American governance we've seen in our lifetime. Whatever we voted on in November, nobody voted for dirty water and air. Nobody voted to walk away from climate leadership and millions of clean energy jobs. And nobody voted to hand over our country to a pollute-ocracy that puts polluter profits first—and puts the rest of us at risk.

The following list addresses some, but not all, programs, policies and initiatives the Trump administration and GOP lawmakers have targeted. This could become the worst legislative and executive assault in history against the common sense safeguards we all depend on to protect our environment and health. At risk is the water we drink, the air we breathe, our public oceans, coasts and lands and the very approach we've taken for generations in this country to protect our common inheritance.

At the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), we will stand up and hold this government to account, by making sure the public understands what's at stake—for our country, our people and the common future we share.

Climate and Energy

The Clean Power Plan: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set the first national standards reducing dangerous carbon pollution from our largest source, fossil fuel power plants. The Clean Power Plan provides reasonable state-specific goals for carbon cuts, flexibility for states to meet them and a federal plan that will cut a key driver of climate change 32 percent by 2030 and stimulate growth in clean energy. More here and here.

International Climate Agreement: The Paris climate agreement signed by nearly 200 nations and effective as of Nov. 4, 2016 is a global response to the threat of climate change. It aims to hold global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. More here and here.

HFC International Commitments: In October 2016, more than 140 countries signed onto the Kigali Agreement, which calls for phasing down powerful climate-warming pollutants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that saved the ozone layer. Industry supports the agreement. More here.

Reducing Methane Pollution and Natural Gas Waste in the Oil and Natural Gas Industry (BLM & EPA): These standards will reduce methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and toxic air emissions from fracking and other oil and gas operations. Leaks and purposeful venting waste gas that could be sold and used while threatening health and worsening climate change. More here and here.

Restrictions on public financing for overseas coal projects: The Obama administration restricted U.S. funding for overseas coal power plants to limit climate change. This affects the Export Import Bank and other entities. More here.

Assessing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (CEQ): The White House Council on Environmental Quality issued guidance to federal agencies on analyzing the climate impacts of their proposed actions before deciding on how to proceed. More here.


Salt Lake City Makes Historic Commitment to 100% Renewables by 2032

Salt Lake City announced Wednesday its commitment to transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2032. The city also plans to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2040.

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How Far Will Elected Officials Go to Protect One of World’s Biggest Carbon Polluters?

By Elliott Negin

When a handful of attorneys general launched investigations of ExxonMobil for climate fraud, I wonder if they had any idea that they would be attacked for attempting to stifle the company's right of free speech.

After all, if ExxonMobil publicly downplayed warnings by its own scientists about the threat posed by burning fossil fuels in its communications with investors and the general public, it very well may have committed fraud, which is not protected by the First Amendment.

Legal experts have cited the case against the tobacco industry as an apt analogy. For years, tobacco companies emphasized uncertainty about their products' risks to stave off government regulations. ExxonMobil essentially has been doing the same thing.

Regardless, attorneys general from 13 states and more than a dozen members of the House Science Committee have entered the fray on ExxonMobil's behalf, all making the same indefensible First Amendment argument. And—surprise, surprise—most of them are climate science deniers who get significant campaign funding from fossil fuel companies and electric utilities.

"AGs United for Dirty Power" Strikes Back

In late March, 17 attorneys general announced the formation of the AGs United for Clean Power coalition to defend the new federal rule curbing power plant carbon emissions and investigate energy companies for fraud. So far, coalition attorneys general from California, Massachusetts, New York and the Virgin Islands have opened investigations of ExxonMobil and more are likely in the offing.

In response, Attorneys General Luther Strange of Alabama and Ken Paxton of Texas filed an intervention plea in May in a Texas district court on behalf of ExxonMobil to quash one of the investigations. They then followed up with a June 15 letter to AGs United for Clean Power cosigned by 11 other state prosecutors calling for an end to the ExxonMobil probes. The group—essentially "AGs United for Dirty Power"—maintained "[u]sing law enforcement authority to resolve a public policy debate undermines the trust invested in our offices and threatens free speech."

Just whose interests are Strange et al. representing?

Strange has been Alabama's attorney general since 2010. In 2014, his reelection campaign contributors included the American Coal Association, American Gas Association and Koch Industries, but his biggest energy industry supporter was Alabama Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, one of the nation's largest electric utilities. Three Southern coal-fired power plants are the biggest carbon emitters in the country.

Paxton, meanwhile, received more money from the oil and gas industry than any other sector when he first ran for attorney general in 2014. His benefactors included Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Koch Industries, Marathon Oil and Phillips 66. ExxonMobil sat out Paxton's 2014 campaign, but the company contributed to his campaigns when he served in the Texas statehouse.

Eight other attorneys general who signed the Strange-Paxton letter also enjoy fossil fuel industry support. Jeff Landry of Louisiana and Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma pulled in the most contributions. Landry's 2015 campaign was funded by more than 40 oil and gas companies, including Halliburton, Hilcorp Energy, Koch Industries and Phillips 66. Pruitt's 2014 campaign, meanwhile, was backed by American Electric Power, Arch Coal, Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy, Koch Industries, Marathon Petroleum and … ExxonMobil.

Not surprising, AGs United for Dirty Power prosecutors are not only going to bat for ExxonMobil, they are running interference for the coal industry, too. Eleven of the 13 attorneys general on the letter, including Strange, Paxton, Landry and Pruitt, are among the more than two dozen AGs who have sued the Environmental Protection Agency to block the Clean Power Plan, the new federal power plant carbon emissions rule.

ExxonMobil-Funded Reps Defend ExxonMobil

House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith also leapt to the defense of the oil giant. In mid-May, Smith and 12 other committee members sent letters to the AGs United for Clean Power coalition and eight foundations and nonprofit groups, including 350.org, Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists, demanding they turn over all documents and communications related to their efforts to hold ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies accountable for climate science deceptions. Echoing the Strange-Paxton argument, their letters charged that the attorneys general and the nonprofits are trying to "silence speech."

Twelve of the 13 signatories—including Smith—received campaign contributions from ExxonMobil since the 2010 election cycle and 10 of them got donations from Koch Industries.

The 17 AGs United for Clean Power members and other recipients of Smith et al.'s request refused to comply. In separate letters, they explained that the aim of the ExxonMobil investigations is to determine whether the company provided investors and the public with accurate information and reminded Smith and his colleagues that the First Amendment does not protect fraud. They maintained that Congress has no jurisdiction over state law enforcement activities and therefore has no right to demand documents and communications. Finally, they pointed out that—ironically enough—the committee's request threatens the nonprofit advocacy groups' First Amendment rights of free speech and association.

Indeed, the allegation that the attorneys general investigating ExxonMobil and the nonprofit organizations that have provided them information are somehow infringing on the company's free speech rights is absurd. No corporation has a First Amendment right to deliberately misinform about the harm associated with its product and attorneys general have every right to investigate whether a company's actions amount to fraud. Likewise, attorneys general have the right to consult with experts either publicly or confidentially in the course of their investigations. Moreover, the nonprofits singled out by Smith et al. have the right and responsibility to provide information to state prosecutors when they have reason to suspect corporate wrongdoing.

How did Smith react to this resounding rejection? On June 17, he and 16 other House Science Committee members sent a second round of letters to AGs United for Clean Power, the foundations and the nonprofit groups, again asking for documents related to the investigations. And again the recipients said no.

What's next? Will Strange and Paxton intervene in court again to try to stop another ExxonMobil investigation? Will Smith, who has a history of harassing federal climate scientists with subpoenas, resort to that tactic to force compliance with his request? Just how far will fossil fuel industry-funded elected officials go to protect one of the biggest carbon polluters in the world?

Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists. All federal campaign contribution data came from the Center for Responsive Politics. All state campaign contribution data came from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.


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