What Fossil Fuels Have Done to Summer Is Unforgivable

What Fossil Fuels Have Done to Summer Is Unforgivable

Ah, Memorial Day: the time to haul out the grill, peruse those make-ahead salad recipes, and throw your back out dragging your aging air conditioner out of the closet, because it’s going to be a heck of a summer.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently unveiled its seasonal temperature outlook, which estimates most of the United States is likely to experience above-normal temperatures this summer. The probability of that outcome depends on where you live, ranging from 33–40 percent in West Virginia and central Montana to 60–70 percent in parts of the Southwest.

Source: NOAA

NOAA also released its Seasonal Precipitation Outlook, which predicts that much of the Midwest, South, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic may experience above-average precipitation, while the Southwest—already in crisis due to an ongoing drought—is likely to suffer from below-average precipitation, which could also hit the Pacific Northwest. (The 2023 hurricane season outlook will be announced at a news conference later this week.)

Global warming gives us different things to mourn in different seasons. The changing climate, for example, can make people nostalgic for the autumns and winters of yesteryear—you know, when leaves changed color on schedule and drinking hot cider in October didn’t just make you sweat, or when backyard skating rinks didn’t melt into vernal pools in January.

But climate change’s effect on summer feels simultaneously more subtle and more foreboding. It doesn’t make summer less summery. But it does make summer less fun and more dangerous, in a variety of insidious ways.

At the more prosaic end of the spectrum, 75-degree days turning into 85- or even 90-degree days is just an unpleasant hassle, making it harder to enjoy the outdoors and more costly to keep the indoors comfortable; air conditioners are expensive and a pain to deal with, and heat screws up people’s sleep.

Then there are the deadly waves, whose toll is probably undercounted in this country. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Eric Margolis previously wrote for TNR, “only counts deaths where heat illness is explicitly noted, so the official CDC count of heat-triggered deaths sits at just around 600 per year. Epidemiologists estimate that the real figure may be closer to 12,000—20 times higher than the official count.”

Those numbers could soon rise. For a while, heat deaths were decreasing—probably due, the CDC has surmised, to “better forecasting, heat-health early warning systems, and increased access to air conditioning.” But there are a few reasons that trend might not hold. For one, the number of dangerously hot days in many areas is growing. Here in D.C., for example, the “baseline” number of heat emergency days is supposed to be 11. But by the 2050s, even under a “low emission scenario,” that number will more than double, to 25—and could be as high as 45. (Already, this decade, the city is expecting the number of heat emergency days to range from 18 to 20.)

The second reason is that air conditioners, which are hardly evenly distributed across society to begin with, aren’t much help if the electrical grid fails. In the 2021 heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest, over 6,000 people lost power in Portland alone during a 112-degree-heat weekend. As Vox reported that year, the U.S. power grid is dangerously underprepared for these kinds of scenarios, and not just because of overall energy capacity: “If the weather gets hot enough, power lines start to sag—a result of the metal inside them expanding—and risk striking a tree and starting a fire. At the same time, power plants are highly dependent on water, which they need to cool down their systems,” but which isn’t necessarily available in some areas during drought.

And that’s to say nothing of work-related heat deaths, for both outdoor workers in fields like agriculture, construction, and delivery and indoor workers in poorly ventilated warehouses. It’s to say nothing of the increasingly plausible link between heat and derechos, or the dangers of drought, fire, or flash floods—all of which climate change is making more likely in various regions in the summertime. It’s to say nothing of the well-documented annual spike in violent crime, which researchers show is particularly likely on days above 85 degrees.

As a fall and winter person myself, I spend a lot of time mourning what petro-hegemony is doing to those seasons. But what rampant emissions are stealing from summer people—and all of us—is arguably worse. Climate change isn’t simply removing what’s enjoyable about these months (like snow in winter). Instead, it takes those enjoyments and dials up the temperature until the fruits of the season start to rot—until the former beach days, al fresco park gatherings, and mornings in the garden just aren’t very pleasant, or even carry the risk of heat stroke, and “scorchers” turn into multiday death traps.

Happy unofficial start to summer. It’s a lovely time to get angry and demand better.

California, Arizona, and Nevada have come to an agreement on water cuts to address the crisis in the Colorado River basin. It’s not final, and it’s absolutely not enough to resolve the situation permanently. But after an incredible amount of stalling, it’s a start.

The G7 meeting in Hiroshima over the weekend failed to result in a commitment to coal phaseout and included explicit praise for natural gas: not a great outcome for the climate.

That’s what the top fossil fuel companies (think BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Total, Chevron, and more) would owe in regular reparations for the cost of extreme weather, sea level rise, and other climate disasters, according to new hypothetical calculations.

She’s Out to Save Rare Wildflowers, but First She Has to Find Them

One of the upsides of California’s torrential rain earlier this year has been a “super bloom” of wildflowers. That gives botanists a brief window in which to locate rarer species and possibly save them from extinction, Jill Cowan reports:

This spring and summer, Dr. Fraga and other rare-plant biologists are in an exhilarating race to find wildflowers before they disappear again.

The botanists’ ultimate goal is to secure endangered or rare species designations for the most threatened plants. That can lay the foundation to legally force land managers to make accommodations for threatened species. (For instance, the Center for Biological Diversity has made wildflower protection a key piece of its lengthy fight against development of the Tejon Ranch, where almost 20,000 new homes have been proposed north of Los Angeles.)

In order to get endangered or rare species designations, Dr. Fraga and her colleagues must first prove that the plants still exist.

Read Jill Cowan’s report at The New York Times.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

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What’s the best way to make your yard more environmentally friendly? Articles on the topic abound this time of year. We’re now halfway through “No Mow May,” an interesting initiative that began in the U.K. and is spreading in the United States. Abstaining from lawn maintenance for a month to help bee populations is certainly easier than ripping up your lawn and planting native wildflowers—which can be pretty expensive and time-consuming. But No Mow May doesn’t solve the broader issues of water use, pesticides, and fertilizer runoff. And it might even be counterproductive.

To help me make sense of all of this, I called up Paul Robbins, dean of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who literally wrote the book on lawn culture. His advice wasn’t what you typically hear in these conversations. Instead of encouraging individuals to plant wildflowers to save the bees or guilting people for their front-yard greenery, he said, we might be better off chipping away at some of the industry issues that make lawns so pervasive in the first place.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

We’ve known for quite a while that lawns aren’t the most environmentally friendly option for a variety of reasons, but they remain the overwhelming norm in this country. What do you feel are the top factors in that?

There’s a really simple answer to this: Most of the houses that people live in have already been built. This is deeply structural: The actual housing stock, the lot size, the footprint of the house, the landscaping choices made by developers—which are all value-engineering choices—have all already been made. No one puts in a lawn; they buy a house and it has a lawn, which puts the burden on them to somehow get rid of it, which is actually an enormous undertaking. It takes more work than just leaving it where it is.

Having said that, people don’t like lawns. That’s the irony; more and more people don’t want them, but nothing has changed. The reason it hasn’t changed is that everything that has nothing to do with lawns would have to change first.

It sounds like you’re saying, at least in part, it’s an industry problem.

As in the housing industry, yes. I’m not even talking about the fact that there’s a $10 to $40 billion lawn industry that’s actually invested in keeping them. There’s a deep investment in maintaining your need for lawns and to off-load the pain that they are to you by providing services—massive amounts of service provision.

And they tell people that they have problems. Scotts won awards for telling people to ask for such and such a product: “You have a problem, go ask for that.” You would never have done that back when it was a mom and pop hardware store in the 1980s. If you had a problem with your lawn, you might go and ask somebody at Ace Hardware, but to go and say, “I need this chemical, this product”?

The press is constantly saying lawns are about “American culture—we have this weird anomalous culture, and aren’t Americans odd?” when in fact it’s all rather obvious: We’ve got a really weird housing market, once you get outside the urban core, and you’ve got an industry that needs to sell this stuff. And most people really don’t want to have them and would love to replace [them] with something else.

But presumably that’s incredibly labor intensive, because it’s much easier to pay someone to mow your lawn.

Yeah. Well, it’s possible people are more interested in DIY culture in general terms. You know, The New York Times is filled with stories about beekeeping. But how many people keep fricking bees? Not that many. So that’s great that some hipster in Brooklyn is keeping bees—I think that’s wonderful. But am I counting on hipsters in Brooklyn to save the planet? No. Nor am I counting on busy, middle-class people pulling up their lawns. It’s unfair to burden them with this problem because they can’t solve it. So: Could we come up with an industry that somehow can make margins by replacing your lawn with something that takes less struggle and supports pollinators? Yeah, I actually think we can.


Well, I don’t have much confidence in capitalism. But having said that, yeah, there’s enough people out there who are interested in alternatives that if you squeeze a little you can start getting some options. In Canada, when we started studying this stuff, bans were being placed on the sale of certain chemical products—pesticides in particular. That’s something you can put tighter controls on. Once you pull pesticides out, that opens out all kinds of alternatives to lawns, because you’ve got to have something, and you’ll pay for it. So there might be some regulatory action to open the opportunity for that.

So there are a couple ways bans and regulations are starting to enter the American system. One, with water use.

Yeah, water’s going to kill it west of the hundredth meridian. East of the Mississippi, it’s a little harder to imagine. We’ve got plenty of water here, and it’s only going to get wetter.

And then, two, with bans on gas-powered either leaf blowers or lawn mowers, which is starting to happen. To what extent do these things make a difference in terms of the viability of lawns, or are we going to need something much bigger?

Banning these engines is a good thing in and of itself for air quality, to say nothing of like, carbon. But it’s not going to make the lawn go away. Everything’s just going to be electric.

The pesticide market could be regulated better I think, by a long shot. I do see room for regulatory interventions here.

Well there might be political support for that, given the research about what pesticides are doing in terms of cancer risk.

Cancer risks, and God knows what they’re doing to reproductive health. I’m not a public health expert, but we’re all buying organic cause we’re so worried about all these chemicals in the system, and people are dumping this shit on their own lawns! And it tracks into the house—I’ve seen the organic chemistry—it’s all over. It tends to decay in sunlight, but once it’s in your house dust, your kids are eating it, curtains—man, it’s everywhere. It’s in your body. We’re covered in this stuff. See, homeowners, they have no margin, so homeowners will always use more pesticides than they need, cause they’re not a farmer. No farmer would ever use a drop more Roundup than they have to, whereas a homeowner will use about 50 times as much because the marginal cost is so small relative to their other expenses.

That could have some regulatory legs. I think people don’t want that.

So maybe going the human health route rather than the “save pollinators” route might be more effective?

Yes, and I say that as someone who runs an environmental studies program. Environmental justice comes first. Most of these things are totally unnecessary cosmetic pesticides, as opposed to growing food for millions of people.

So when you do see these lawn clashes come out—I’m thinking of a suit in Maryland involving a homeowner association—is it because people are worried about home value? Because as you say, people don’t love lawns so much, but there’s something going on here.

HOAs are fascist about everything. I mean, have you ever seen what a homeowners’ association code looks like? There are still racial covenants on some people’s property—they’re inactive because of the Fair Housing Act, so they’re trumped by federal law. But then why are they still on there? There’s a lot of reasons that HOAs operate the way they do, and they are about property values, without question—resale value. And of course it’s a kind of moral economy that comes with that that enforces all these things, and lawns are just one tiny piece of that.

It sounds like you’re saying that regulating input is going to be more effective than regulating behavior or giving people some kind of marginal incentive for planting native plants or something like that.

I’d like to think that positive incentives work, I’m willing to be proven wrong. I haven’t studied it, so I’m not here to say it’s a bad idea. But you’ve got to offset the cost, because coming up with alternatives is a pain; it’s really difficult.

In Madison we also have a law on the books—I call it a freedom-to-farm law because that’s the only correlate in the law books that I know, but it’s not a freedom to farm, it’s a freedom to let your lawn go to shit. It makes it harder for you to be sued by your neighbors if you choose alternatives like prairie grass. It’s not a law that tells you to do something or even pays you to do something; it just keeps you from being sued for doing something. Even that would be a good step from a regulatory point of view.

Rooftop solar, if installed aggressively, could potentially meet a third of the U.S. manufacturing sector’s power needs, according to a study from Northeastern University researchers.

We’re now on track to hit the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by 2027, thanks to climate change and the added effects of El Niño.

That’s how much air pollution from oil and gas production costs in terms of health effects across the U.S., according to a new study. States with higher oil and gas production had correspondingly higher health costs.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations to cut almost all the emissions from the power sector by 2040—understandably making headlines. But as Emily Pontecorvo and Robinson Meyer point out at Heatmap, the EPA has to strike a delicate balance between climate goals and a Supreme Court ruling last year that said the agency has relatively limited authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and would have to restrict itself to things taking place “within the fenceline” of the plants themselves:

The EPA’s new proposal tries to hew within those guidelines. The agency has determined that the best available technology to reduce emissions directly from fossil-fuel-burning power plants is to install carbon-capture equipment. Carbon-capture-and-storage technology, or CCS, is now affordable and feasible, the agency asserts.

“There’s a 100% chance that this will be challenged in court,” Michael Gerrard, a Columbia Law professor and the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told us. “The debate will largely be about if CCS is ‘adequately demonstrated.’”

At stake, too, is the question of whether the rules represent a Trojan horse—that although the proposal appears to comply with the Court’s guidelines, the expense and hassle of installing carbon-capture equipment is meant to force utilities to shift to renewables anyway. That could in fact be the rules’ practical effect. (Some environmentalists will admit—although not on the record—that they like the rules for this reason.)

Read Emily Pontecorvo’s and Robinson Meyer’s article at Heatmap.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

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Investing in renewable energy has long been politicians’ favorite solution to the political difficulties of weaning society off fossil fuels. If we just stimulate the renewables market, the thinking goes—an easier policy to implement than forcibly shuttering fossil fuel plants, which Republicans and others would try to block—eventually renewables will outcompete oil and gas and the country will gradually switch over without the need for sacrifice.

That thinking is misguided for the simple reason that our window to slash emissions or suffer catastrophic consequences is too brief for investing in renewables to save the day. But recent news stories show why it’s also not a viable political solution.

As renewables start to overtake fossil fuels in the United States, the GOP is fighting to reverse that progress: House Republicans are sticking to their proposal to only agree to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts that include most of the clean energy incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act, the Democrats’ signature legislative achievement this term.

Taken at face value, this is a nonsensical position for two reasons totally unrelated to climate change. First, as TNR’s Kate Aronoff pointed out several weeks ago, these tax credits overwhelmingly will benefit Republican districts because that’s where most renewable energy installations are located. (Analysis published Sunday by the Financial Times finds that, since last summer alone, Republican districts have secured over five times the investment in clean energy projects that Democratic ones have.) Second, if fiscal responsibility were really the point, then it would make sense to cut some of the biggest federal spending categories—like defense, next to which energy spending is minuscule. The Republican plan exempts defense cuts.

The GOP’s crusade against renewable energy goes well beyond Congress. Republican legislators in Texas are proposing a variety of regulations to hamper renewable energy installations—from a difficult approval process to a yearly fee, and even mandating wind turbines be situated more than half a mile from property lines. This last one is particularly ironic given that it’s oil wells and fracking waste injection, not wind turbines, that stand accused of poisoning nearby properties and water supplies. (The mandated distance of a new oil well from a property line, by contrast, is 467 feet.)

These kinds of regulations could change the course of energy generation in Texas, which leads the nation in wind generation and has the second most solar installations, as of 2022. Supporters of these new regulations have their reasons—or at least reasons that they give others. “While some landowners have cited environmental concerns,” The Washington Post reports, “others have claimed that nearby renewable projects are lowering their property values.” Both these things are arguably more true of fossil fuel installations than renewables. (Other reasons cited are a little wilder, for example billionaire Dan Friedkin reportedly arguing that an electric transmission line on his property would “lead to increased illegal drug trafficking.”)

This war on renewables, a recent Texas Monthly piece argued, has the potential to really hurt residents, a majority of whom “support greater access to green energy”:

One recent estimate found that renewables lowered the cost of electricity to Texans by $11 billion last year, or $423 for every customer served by the state’s predominant power grid. Over the past five years, Texas has added 2,800 jobs to support wind and solar power generation at the same time that the state has lost 44,000 oil and gas extraction jobs, in part because automation has allowed producers to drill more wells while employing fewer roughnecks.

The people who profit from trashing renewables, the piece notes, are less numerous. There are the fossil fuel executives who donate heavily to Republicans, of course. And then there are right-wing politicians who are either ideologues or who think portraying themselves as lone warriors against the fictitious forces of “woke” investment is the key to electoral success.

Right now, all evidence suggests that policies to stimulate renewable energy growth are working about as well as or even better than their proponents hoped. They’re creating jobs and saving consumers money. They’re giving both red and blue America a reason to care about wind and solar power.

And now the GOP wants to roll them back.

Skepticism of the liquefied natural gas industry’s expansion in recent years (read TNR’s coverage of how the war in Ukraine benefited the industry) is going mainstream: On Monday, 44 Democratic lawmakers pressed the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality to “include greater scrutiny on the entire LNG supply chain” in its forthcoming guidance on existing environmental laws.

Food crops in the U.S. aren’t just loaded with pesticides, a new study finds: Those pesticides are in turn contaminated with PFAS, termed “forever chemicals” because they take so long to break down.

That’s how much home insurance premiums increased nationwide from 2021 to 2022—a trend that’s expected to continue, with much higher increases in especially disaster-prone areas, Benjamin Keys observes at The New York Times.

Climate Still Changes Everything

While the Inflation Reduction Act represented a huge victory, Alyssa Battistoni writes for Dissent, it also seems to have lulled a lot of people into a false sense of security, believing that climate policy is on the right track. We’re not out of the woods yet—in fact, we’ve barely entered.

While climate is far more central to mainstream politics than it was fifteen years ago, carbon emissions have continued their steady rise. Recent models suggest that temperatures are more likely to stabilize somewhere between 2–3ºC of warming than at 3º or more. But if this has prompted a surprisingly optimistic turn amongst some commentators, it hardly counts as good news. Even this ostensibly “moderate” level of warming significantly exceeds the demand of “1.5º to stay alive” long made by small island states and other vulnerable countries—a goal that a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has stated is all but out of reach.… The struggle to decarbonize is just beginning. So too is climate change itself, which will spur novel political developments of its own.

Read Alyssa Battistoni’s article at Dissent.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

“The biggest Green New Deal win in US history.” So said the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America after the Build Public Renewables Act made it into the state’s budget on Monday evening. Readers who haven’t been following this battle may not appreciate why climate watchers were so giddy about the workings of a state legislature this week. They might, for example, instead focus on New York passing the first statewide ban on new gas hookups, starting in 2025. And that’s a big deal, but there’s a reason activists are even more worked up about the BPRA. So let’s unpack it.

The Build Public Renewables Act hides a revolutionary idea behind a wonky title: “that the state should be empowered to provide clean energy if the private sector fails to,” as TNR columnist Liza Featherstone wrote last month, calling it “the boldest challenge yet to the fossil fuel industry.”

In practice, the BPRA would require and empower the New York Power Authority to rapidly build renewable energy infrastructure to meet the goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2030. It’s easy to underestimate what a big step that is in a country that has overwhelmingly adopted a privatized model of energy generation. “The bill is therefore seen by proponents and detractors alike as a possible foundation for socializing and centralizing control of all energy in order to effectively address the climate crisis and keep energy affordable and accessible to all,” Liza explained. “It provides a way of ensuring that public interest, rather than the profit motive, dominates energy generation.”

But that’s not the only reason the BPRA has generated this outpouring of emotion. The act previously failed twice in New York. After the failure in 2021, TNR staff writer Kate Aronoff wrote,

its backers within and without the legislature worked on expanding their coalition, opening up conversations with environmental justice and labor groups, among others. New language added as a result of those conversations aims to safeguard low-cost power for low-income New Yorkers and those who live in disadvantaged communities and ensure that projects don’t violate Indigenous sovereignty. The bill also provides project labor agreements for the construction of clean energy projects and would democratize the process by which NYPA approves and locates new projects. Strengthened labor provisions … helped to move labor groups from oppositional to neutral, and some from neutral to supportive.

So when, after all this work, the legislative session ended in June 2022 again without the proposal making it to law (despite passing the state Senate), this was seen as a particularly depressing signal for U.S. climate policy—all the more so because it wasn’t “Republicans to blame,” Kate explained, “but Democrats ostensibly committed to climate action.” If Democrats couldn’t manage to pass a policy to reconfigure energy generation and make good on their 2019 climate goals in New York while controlling the Senate, Assembly, and the governorship, Kate reasoned, it’s hard to imagine them making much progress anywhere else.

All of which brings us back to this year’s drama. Legislators at long last managed to finalize and pass the 10-bill series for the state’s budget, including the BPRA in the package, on May 1, a full month after the original state budget deadline of April 1. As of early April, it wasn’t at all clear that the BPRA was going to make it in—at least not in anything like its original form. And it seemed that Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul might be one of the people standing in the way. “If New York finally does start passing bills to make good on its four-year-old climate law,” Kate wrote in an update on the fight, “it’ll be the result of near-constant pressure from outside groups and having certain kinds of Democrats—those who’ve sworn off fossil fuel cash, for instance—making the case and whipping votes on the inside.”

The passage of the BPRA on Monday without one of the loopholes that was under discussion (letting municipalities opt out) is therefore credited as a victory not just for climate activists in general but for the specific progressive organizers and their legislative allies who refused to give up on this policy. It’s likely to be considered proof of concept for battles in other states. TNR will have more on this shortly.

The U.N. climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in November, known as COP 28, will dedicate a day to the health implications of climate change.

Researchers are increasingly concerned about record ocean temperatures, which might be explained by a cyclical shift from the La Niña weather system to the El Niño weather system in the Pacific—but might also indicate the ocean is warming much faster than previously anticipated. That would be very bad for both ocean carbon storage and marine ecosystems, including fisheries.

That’s how much ExxonMobil and Chevron made in profits in the first quarter of this year, despite lower gas prices. (Read Kate’s coverage of what the companies plan to do with the cash.)

Google Promised to Defund Climate Lies, but the Ads Keep Coming

Well, you knew it couldn’t be all sunny headlines this week. Back in 2021, Google pledged to pull the cord on climate deniers trying to make money on YouTube. The follow-through leaves something to be desired, The New York Times reports:

If you recently clicked on a YouTube video titled “who is Leonardo DiCaprio,” you might have found a ramble of claims that climate change is a hoax and the world is cooling after a Paramount+ ad for the film “80 for Brady,” starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sally Field and Rita Moreno.…

These are not aberrations, according to a coalition of environmental organizations and the Center for Countering Digital Hate. In a report released on Tuesday, researchers from the organizations accused YouTube of continuing to profit from videos that portrayed the changing climate as a hoax or exaggeration. They found 100 videos, viewed at least 18 million times in total, that violated Google’s own policy.

Read Nico Grant and Steven Lee Myers’s report at The New York Times.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

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The gas stove wars are back: Three Ninth Circuit judges on Monday struck down Berkeley, California’s ban on gas hookups in new buildings. The panel, consisting of one Reagan appointee and two Trump appointees, unanimously overturned a lower court’s decision and sided with the California Restaurant Association, which claims the ban passed in 2019 violates the Federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act. That act stipulates that only the federal government gets to regulate the energy efficiency and energy use of certain products. The Restaurant Association says its members have been hurt by the ban because, it claims, opening a restaurant in Berkeley is harder now.

This probably won’t be the final ruling in this case; the Justice Department filed a brief backing Berkeley, arguing the Restaurant Association misinterprets the FEPCA. But it does represent the latest salvo in what’s become a full-out culture war over gas stoves. And like many culture wars, this one doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense—unless you know where to look.

Whether switching to electric truly hurts restaurants is an interesting question. Despite high up-front costs for induction ranges, some chefs who have made the switch love them, citing both their superior performance and better labor conditions (the kitchen doesn’t heat up as much, and there are fewer burns). The switch can save money over time too. Christopher Galarza, founder of Forward Dining Solutions, told The Washington Post in February, “When you’re able to talk about cost savings and talk about the operational efficiencies and how it’s going to benefit the operations, all of a sudden everyone forgets about gas versus electric and they say, ‘How can I get there?’”

But as the dangers of gas stoves become clearer, the Post noted, “the restaurant business has, by and large, sided with gas.” In November 2022, the National Restaurant Association released an aggressive two-page flier listing an array of alleged problems with using anything other than gas stoves, arguing that banning them would have “little to no effect on climate change overall” and concluding: “Restaurant owners and operators want to be a part of the climate change conversation but banning a reliable and affordable source of energy is a disastrous mistake for the industry.”

It was a striking straw-manning of the anti–gas stove argument—not least because by November, concerns about gas stoves were increasingly focused on their health effects rather than their greenhouse gas emissions. While over four decades of research suggests gas stoves increase kids’ risk of respiratory illness, health concerns reached a noticeable tipping point last October after a widely covered study revealed that gas stoves also leak benzene, a known carcinogen.

This growing awareness eventually led to the goofy fracas that erupted in January, when Bloomberg published a rather sparse and contextless quote from U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr., who said that “products that can’t be made safe can be banned.” Many on the right went predictably apeshit, vowing to defend their gas stoves with their last breaths against imaginary feds showing up to rip the appliances from the walls.

Why this fervent devotion to gas stoves? And why now, specifically? (After all, Berkeley first banned new hookups in 2019, with some 70 jurisdictions following suit since then!) “Your guess is as good as mine,” wrote TNR’s Alex Shephard as the furor grew. “A few weeks ago, gas stoves were just stoves.”

As TNR explored in a subsequent podcast, there are several reasons that a political divide over gas stoves doesn’t make sense: U.S. households are majority-electric; red states are particularly electric-dominated; and gas stoves, as literary editor Laura Marsh pointed out, are disproportionately associated with liberal “foodie culture” and concentrated in majority-liberal states.

So what is this actually about? In honor of Earth Day on Saturday, TNR is running a weeklong series on environmental culture wars, and I’ll confess I’m partial to something Jan Dutkiewicz and Gabriel Rosenberg wrote while dissecting the growing cult of right-wing meat masculinity.

The fundamental premise of a culture-war framing is that an existing material problem must be seen as a surrogate for a larger clash between two (and only two) irreconcilable views of the world held by two irreconcilable groups of people. Us versus them, elites versus the people, woke versus MAGA, globalists versus purebloods.… The role of the culture warrior is to establish new fronts within this symbolic struggle.… Because the larger struggle is itself vague and irresolvable, this mode of engagement is less about practically addressing the instigating problem than about signaling to adherents how they should feel about the problem’s stubborn irresolution; how it should shore up their opposition to whatever the other side is doing. Culture-war framings are intended not just to polarize but to separate the audience from any material analysis of the problem at hand and the means of fixing it.

Culture-war framings, accordingly, tend to wildly amplify and distort real, less sensational messages. “We should eat less meat” is real. “The elites are going to make cows illegal” is not.

This applies pretty well to the gas stove case. The risk of gas stoves poisoning kids is a material problem. The current culture-war backlash almost inevitably avoids talking about that material problem, instead focusing on in-groups and out-groups. (See Representative Ronny Jackson’s tweet contrasting his own gas stove attachment to “the maniacs in the White House” or Ron DeSantis’s “Don’t tread on Florida” tweet, even though Florida residents overwhelmingly use electric appliances.) The message “Gas stoves have demonstrable health risks, and maybe we should protect people from those” is real. “The feds are coming to pry the stove from your walls” is not.

Jan and Gabriel also pointed out that because these culture wars distract from material problems, they almost inevitably hurt the consumers embroiled in them (the people getting sick from mass-produced meat and stoves) while benefiting the corporations causing the material problem. Although, once started, the culture wars take on a life of their own, industry lobbying can certainly provide a match or opportunistically fan the flames.

With that in mind, the timing and framing of the backlash make a lot more sense. The October report that gas stoves could be leaking a carcinogen considered unsafe at any level is far more threatening to the industry than climate concerns. Consumers might not be motivated to switch their range if this device, like many, many others, is vaguely contributing to the greater problem of climate change. But if this device is hurting them, directly? The National Restaurant Association’s weird pro-gas flier said only 20 percent of consumers supported gas stove bans—data from an early fall Morning Consult poll before the benzene study came out. By January, that support was up to 42 percent of all adult-age Americans, and 56 percent of Democrats. And progressive pollsters at Data for Progress found consumer interest in switching to electric increases further after respondents are informed about health risks.

While the politicians who tweeted inflammatory misinformation about the federal government coming to take people’s stoves don’t live in majority-gas-stove states, they do receive big donations from the fossil fuel industry. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who implied on Twitter that his gas stove was his family’s most prized possession, was the top senatorial recipient of oil and gas money in 2022. Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who along with Manchin later introduced the baffling Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act (to block a gas stove ban that doesn’t seem to have been on the table), won that honor in 2018.

The gas stove culture wars are like a lot of other cultural divides in American life, it turns out. If you want to understand who’s fueling them, follow the money.

2023 could be the first year ever that electricity generation from coal, oil, and gas drops without a global recession or pandemic, the BBC reports.

A heat wave smashed numerous records across Southeast Asia and China this week.

That’s the average value produced by the world’s kelp forests per year, according to a new estimate published in Nature Communications. The breakdown is just as striking: Their contribution to fisheries averages over $12,000 per acre of kelp forest per year, and in total they sequester 4.91 megatons of carbon per year.

Senator’s Bill Would Fine Texans for Multiple Environmental Complaints That Don’t Lead to Enforcement

A Republican bill in Texas proposes to fine residents “if they make three or more complaints to environmental regulators in a calendar year and their complaints don’t result in an enforcement action.” The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would be tasked with carrying this out. Environmental advocates say this will intimidate people out of filing complaints. And that’s not the only problem:

Tim Doty, an independent environmental consultant and former TCEQ air monitoring employee, said responding to citizen complaints is part of the agency’s job: “Just because it doesn’t lead to an enforcement action doesn’t mean your complaint is not valid.”

Doty said residents often file multiple complaints because TCEQ typically takes weeks or months to resolve investigations.

Doty said it can take TCEQ weeks just to send an investigator to check out a complaint, and by then the problem may have disappeared or changed. If Springer’s bill becomes law, that situation would result in a strike against the complaining person, even though the problem they reported may have been a violation had the agency responded faster.

Read Alejandra Martinez’s and Martha Pskowski’s report at Inside Climate News.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

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The time draws near. Those working in climate and environmental coverage can feel it approaching like the rumble of an oncoming train: Earth Day.

The celebration on April 22 started with the best of intentions in 1970—part of a radical, nationwide movement that also helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency and extend the Clean Air Act. In recent decades, though, Earth Day has felt a bit more nebulous—and susceptible to cliché, pablum, window dressing, and corporate greenwashing. Reliably, at least one oil major each year uses the day to release some bonkers ad copy suggesting they’re environmentalists.

TNR has published several pieces about this long-running trend, from Bradford Plumer’s short post in 2008 comparing the corporate co-opting of Earth Day to Christmas to Emily Atkin’s 2017 classic about Earth Day having become a “corny celebration of green living” mostly for white and privileged people, while low-income and minority populations face toxic air and water every day. Going forward, she wrote, “the onus is on the more privileged classes to change Earth Day from a feel-good exercise for well-off liberals to a day of mass activism to help the underprivileged, who have more immediate concerns than environmental injustice (let alone global warming).”

Liza Featherstone struck a similar note in her plea last year to resurrect the radicalism of the original Earth Day. But on the optimistic side of things, she argued, we can point to the original as powerful proof of concept:

If not for the climate crisis—which scientists and environmentalists warned about on that first Earth Day and the world has struggled and largely failed to address ever since—we’d probably view ’70s environmentalism as one of the most transformative social movements in history. That first Earth Day kicked off many of the important changes. As National Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes said in a 2020 interview, before that first Earth Day the Cuyahoga River was routinely on fire, breathing the air in major American cities like Pittsburgh and Los Angeles was like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, and the bald eagle—America’s national bird—was in danger of going extinct. None of that is true today. Our waterways are also much cleaner, and fewer children suffer from lead paint poisoning in their homes (in fact, childhood lead poisoning has declined by 90 percent). The massive mobilization of Earth Day helped focus the general public’s attention on the environment, and in turn, that of politicians. Looking at this history tells us something that we need to know right now: We have solved pervasive and deadly environmental problems in the past, and we can do it again.

As part of a series next week on the origin of various environmental culture wars, we’ll have more coverage of how, exactly, this moment of consensus fractured and climate policy got stuck in partisan deadlock. But in the meantime, as we gear up for a week that will doubtless feature its usual share of corporate shenanigans, it’s worth sparing a thought for what meaningful celebration might look like.

Denis Hayes, the original organizer of Earth Day in 1970, offered five suggestions to Outside magazine’s Heather Hansman last year: Focus on the biggest, and ideally the most discrete, issue (that would be emissions); name a “clear enemy”; pinpoint specific political changes (as when Earth Day activists identified the “dirty dozen” congressmen in flippable districts who were blocking environmental policy); take the imperfect, passable policy over no policy at all; and give people a goal that doesn’t feel “hopeless.”

Notably, none of these sound much like the program you’ll see if you visit EarthDay.org’s rundown for 2023. The official theme is “Invest in Our Planet”—a word choice evoking start-up culture, business-led solutionism, and so-called sustainable investment, none of which have performed all that well in recent years when it comes to reducing emissions. (In any event, the right is now engaged in all-out war on the entire idea that investment should be sustainable.) Under the heading “How to Do Earth Day 2023,” visitors are offered six ideas: “Climate Literacy,” “End Plastics,” “Plant Trees,” “Vote Earth,” “Global Cleanup,” and “Sustainable Fashion.”

If Hayes is right, then for Earth Day to be effective again, it might need to choose one issue. It might need to be more explicitly political and less universally inoffensive. A useful Earth Day might not look like a product you can buy but a fight you can sign up for—and an affirmative vision of what winning the battle might look like.

We don’t need the toxic and long-lasting chemicals known as PFAS to make things stain-resistant, a new peer-reviewed study finds. Furniture fabric that hadn’t been treated with PFAS held up just as well as untreated fabric. “PFAS on treated fabric can break off and end up in indoor air, attach to dust, or be dermally absorbed, and the pollution is especially a problem for homes with small children,” The Guardian’s report on the study notes. “The product is commonly applied to stain-resistant apparel and products for babies and children.” Find more information on what we know about the health effects of PFAS here and here.

Sea levels are rising more quickly than predicted along the southeastern and Gulf coasts, which might exacerbate the effects of hurricanes that make landfall there.

That’s how much the “collective market value of the biggest US [oil and gas] companies” fell in just three days when Ireland’s parliament voted to divest from fossil fuels, even though the value of the divestment itself (i.e., the value of the stocks in the sovereign wealth fund) was only about $78 million. That seems to indicate, according to a new study reported by the Financial Times, that divestment pledges and “viral divestment tweets” serve as important market signals.

This Is How Fast Humans Have Changed the Ecosystem

The forest of aspen trees known as Pando, in Utah, is actually a single organism, “perhaps the world’s largest living creature. It might also be the oldest living thing on the planet, having survived for over 10,000 years,” writes Faye Flam at Bloomberg. Each tree is a clone stem of the same plant, all connected by an underground network of roots. But now the organism is under threat:

In the last 100 years, human activity has made growing new stems much tougher for Pando. The main threats, said Rogers, are deer and elk, as well as a few domestic cattle and sheep. Aspen grow fast, which makes their young stems tender and tasty to these herbivores, and so most are getting eaten before they have a chance of becoming a new tree. Areas that used to hold 200 adult stems now have just 50. “It hasn’t shrunk from the outside,” said [Utah State University biologist Paul] Rogers. “It’s thinning and collapsing from the inside.” The fact that it’s getting eaten isn’t the fault of the herbivores. Their populations exploded when, in the early 20th century, people decided to exterminate their main predators—wolves, bears and cougars.

The impact of climate change is harder to predict, said Rogers. “We have these two opposing forces.” On the one hand, warming temperatures could shrink aspen habitat, pushing them to cooler, higher elevations. On the other hand, aspen thrive in fire.

Read Faye Flam’s article at Bloomberg.

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One thought in particular has dominated my mind this week amid the media frenzy of the Trump indictment: Do you remember when every week was like this?

Obviously, not every week literally involved a former president turning himself in for arraignment on 34 felony charges related to misusing campaign funds to pay hush money to an adult film actress. But for entire stretches of the Trump administration, it felt like each day brought a new political tornado, a new scandal, a new baffling situation where it was hard to get answers about what was going on because no one in power seemed to know. As TNR legal writer Matt Ford put it in one memorable, viral tweet in early 2017, “It’s less of a ‘news cycle’ these days and more of that [Battlestar Galactica] episode where the Cylons attack every 33 minutes.”

While Trump, of course, has not exactly faded into dignified, dog-painting retirement like George W. Bush, it’s been easy until the past week to forget what the adrenaline-fueled chaos of his administration felt like. One of the tragedies of that era was that, while the ethics violations, racist rhetoric, and international incidents that dominated headlines were unambiguously worthy of attention, they also made it hard for the average media consumer to get a handle on the Trump administration’s policies—the concrete, substantive legacy of the three-ring circus parked at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

So as recent climate news—deadly tornadoes across 14 states, a U.N. report characterized as a “final warning” on global warming, the abrupt reappearance of an inland sea in California—again fades from the headlines this week in favor of Trumpernalia, it seems appropriate to look back at just how many destructive climate and environmental policies got pushed through in those years while the Russia investigation or Melania’s jewelry line competed for the nation’s attention.

Donald Trump began his presidency by making climate denial more or less the official position of the United States government. He did this, TNR’s Emily Atkin observed in 2017, by first nominating a bevy of climate deniers to key positions: Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Rick Perry as energy secretary, Kathleen Hartnett White to the Council on Environmental Quality (this was later withdrawn), and Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine to head NASA. Meanwhile, Department of Agriculture employees were instructed to avoid the term “climate change” in favor of euphemisms like “weather extremes.”

Before his resignation the following year, Pruitt accrued so many bonkers ethics scandals—a soundproof phone booth, four-figure spending on fountain pens, use of a military helicopter to visit a coal mine, and a really great deal on a Capitol Hill rental owned by an energy lobbyist—that sometimes his policies flew under the radar. In 2018, for instance, Pruitt announced a boring-sounding new rule blocking the EPA from considering studies that contained confidential information about human subjects. The upshot, as Emily Atkin wrote at the time, was that the EPA could no longer use “much of the research showing how pollutants damage public health.… If science based on confidential human health information couldn’t be used by the government,” she wrote, “the tobacco industry likely never would have been subject to strict regulation.” Pruitt also attempted to gut the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, a crusade that his successor, Andrew Wheeler, continued—despite the EPA calculating that this would result in an extra 1,400 premature deaths per year. (The plan was halted by a federal appeals court.)

As the Trump administration entered its final year, Trump’s long-announced withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement became official, the Senate passed his climate-hostile replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta, and his administration’s effort to gut environmental regulations went into overdrive. Miranda Green chronicled the dizzying timeline for TNR that summer:

Since March, the Environmental Protection Agency has weakened mercury air pollution standards, permanently lowered regulations for vehicle tailpipe emissions, and finalized a reinterpretation of the Clean Water Act that opens the door to expedited pipeline development.

At the White House, Trump has been just as busy. In June he signed an executive order that allows companies to bypass key environmental reviews on infrastructure projects like mines and issued a proclamation to allow commercial fishing in a protected monument off Maine’s coast that was created specifically to limit such activity.… As of May 20, [the administration] has revoked, replaced, or weakened 66 environmental rules, according to a count by The New York Times.

By the time of The New York Timesfinal update on its deregulation count on Inauguration Day, that list of scrapped environmental rules had risen to 98, with 14 more in progress. Less than a week before Election Day 2020, the administration also attempted to open more of the Tongass National Forest—part of the world’s largest intact coastal temperate rainforest—up to logging.

This isn’t even close to an exhaustive list of Trump-era climate and environmental policy. It’s intended, instead, as an attention exercise. Whether Trump committed multiple felonies during the 2016 presidential election matters. But it’s far too easy, in cases like these, to get sucked into the daily drip of drama that seems to accompany the former president. This court case, even if it results in a conviction and scuppers Trump’s 2024 presidential bid (a long shot), is hardly the final word on the lasting impact of the Trump era. In 2050, as we plausibly approach a once unfathomable two degrees Celsius of global warming, the Trump legacy people may find most appalling is the one which lacked any salacious headlines.

European Union countries have approved a law to require all new cars sold starting in 2035 to be zero-emission, despite some controversy.

On the whole, the drought in California is probably not over, despite the deluge of rain in the past few months.

That’s how much households currently heated by fuel oil may save on average by switching to an electric heat pump, according to Rewiring America. Check out The Washington Post’s fascinating article (with visuals!) about the geographical divides in U.S. home heating, which cited this number.

“Tornado alley” is shifting farther into the U.S. east, climate scientists warn

Last weekend’s shocking tornado outbreak—over 80 tornadoes across 14 states in the Midwest and Southeast—may be a sign of things to come, The Guardian reports:

Previous research has shown that over recent decades there has been a stagnation, or even slight drop, in the number of tornadoes in their traditional home range of the Great Plains, but an uptick in states further east, such as Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Illinois and Indiana.

These dervish-like storms also appear to be hitting earlier in some instances – tornado season usually starts in spring but parts of the south just had their most active tornado winter season on record and recent research found that milder US winters could be helping spur conditions ripe for earlier storms…. As tornadoes, on average, edge east they are coming into contact with more densely populated areas – think sprawling suburbia more than the isolated Kansas farm in The Wizard of Oz.

Read Oliver Milman’s report at The Guardian.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

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Two weeks ago, I promised this newsletter would have more to say about the emotional sustainability of climate coverage and climate activism—which seems to be a theme of late. In the wake of the most recent U.N. climate report, for example, several prominent voices in the climate space have returned to the question of how to frame climate news optimistically, so that people don’t feel too overwhelmed.

In a world where fossil fuel executives, meat megacorporations, and the like possess vastly more wealth and power than activists, tone probably isn’t the primary challenge in climate communication, as Kate Aronoff argued last week. At the same time, it’s true that sustainability continues to have the reputation of being a lot of work. And that’s a fascinating conundrum—because despite the plethora of popular articles promising five, 10, 12, 20, 22, 40, 58, or 101 ways to live more sustainably and fight climate change, a lot of the easy answers about how to live more sustainably involve doing less.

Four years ago, climate writer Mary Annaïse Heglar penned a classic essay at Vox about being tired of people confessing their environmental sins to her. Too often, she wrote, people feel they need to “convert to 100 percent solar energy, ride an upcycled bike everywhere, stop flying, eat vegan,” or else they’re bad environmentalists. “And all this raises the price of admission to the climate movement to an exorbitant level, often pricing out people of color and other marginalized groups.” Personal action isn’t irrelevant in the fight for a livable future, she wrote, but it’s not the best place to focus one’s efforts, particularly if people then get overwhelmed and stop at the personal—neglecting to vote for robust climate policies because they’re so busy trying to find a place to recycle those pesky plastic bags.

A lot of people clearly feel sustainable living means doing more: taking more time to sort recycling or buying special reusable containers, sourcing clothes from thrift shops or researching the most sustainable varieties of seafood. A lot of people also want guidance about how to live more sustainably (how to have a more sustainable yard, for example, was one question I recently heard raised in a meeting) but feel intimidated by the amount of work it might require (killing off your grass and installing a bunch of native plants is pretty daunting for nongardeners).

But let’s take that sustainable yard question as a good case study. Sure, there’s a case for killing off your grass, planting a meadow of native plants, as The New York Times recently urged to ward off the insect apocalypse, or even adding a frog pond, as Emma Marris suggested at The Atlantic. But if you’re not ready or equipped to do that, there really is one easy trick to make your yard more sustainable: Do less. Mow it less frequently—the estimates on emissions from gas-powered lawn mowers vary, but all of them are staggering (greater than a car operating for an equivalent amount of time), and longer grass is more hospitable to insects and other wildlife anyway. Apply pesticides or herbicides less frequently—the runoff is terrible for watersheds (in fact, that might be an easier way to help amphibians than installing a frog pond). If you’re in a water-strapped part of the country, water it less frequently.

Greater effort doesn’t necessarily mean greater environmental friendliness. This holds for so many other things as well, like clothes shopping. Donating your clothing or looking for sustainably produced labels has some serious limits, as recent reporting on the deluge of unused clothing donations and greenwashing of the fashion industry has shown. The real way to dress sustainably, as a growing number of experts acknowledge, is simply to buy less. The real way to make your commute more sustainable may not be to spend hours researching and then financing the latest e-bike, but to work less—by pushing for a four-day workweek, as Kate wrote about last year.

You’d think that this would be a popular “solution” in a world where people are always bemoaning how little time they have, how little cash they have, how bad inflation has gotten. Yet “do less” isn’t always what people want to hear. Perhaps that’s because “do less” has a hint of austerity to it or because doing less may require swimming against the flow of a culture obsessed with aesthetics. Try doing or not doing anything remotely unorthodox with your lawn in a neighborhood with a neurotic homeowners’ association, and see how that goes. (Although, that being said, this Maryland couple sued those bougie troglodytes and won, so there’s hope.) Buying fewer clothes means ignoring the pressure to engage in competitive social signaling.

Yet it’s worth remembering that it’s precisely this culture of aesthetics over substance that the corporations driving climate change have relied on again and again: by championing the idea of a personal “carbon footprint” in the first place, to make people feel guilty about their own lifestyles instead of questioning fossil fuel companies’ culpability; by marketing gas stoves as a lifestyle upgrade or plastics as convenient and more pleasant to use; by trend-churning to force seasonal purchases; and a multitude of other examples.

If individual consumers are going to take on the task of fighting all this, perhaps the least they can do for themselves is—instead of adding 20 items to their to-do lists and shaming themselves for falling short—choose the path that saves them time and money, by rejecting the cult of aesthetics in the first place. There’s beauty in that too.

Renewable electricity generation surpassed coal in this country for the first time in 2022, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports.

Over a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine catapulted heat pumps and home insulation to the top of the Western European political agenda—to save on winter fuel—an independent report has found that the United Kingdom only “stuttered further” in 2022 on its path to energy efficiency. The chair of the independent commission blamed insufficient funding and an overreliance on “low-stakes incremental changes” and called for bolder policies. “The risk of delay in addressing climate change,” he said, “is now greater than the risk of over-correction.”

That’s the degree to which stricter limits on fine-particulate-matter air pollution could reduce mortality rates among older Black and low-income people in the U.S, according to a new study. Read the New York Times write-up here.

The Gospel of Disaster

Slate has a pretty wild story this week about the Christian relief organizations that are stepping up to the plate to help communities recover from climate disasters when the Federal Emergency Management Agency fails to get the job done (unfortunately a frequent occurrence, due to persistent underfunding):

The Christian relief organizations that have stepped in as first responders—with little oversight—are diverse, spanning from well-intentioned community churches with decades of goodwill to billion-dollar evangelical charities that use far-right outrage to fundraise and take advantage of disaster to spread their gospel.

The overwhelming majority of these organizations’ on-the-ground volunteers serve out of genuine compassion. But some of the country’s largest disaster charities are helmed by far-right extremist leaders who encourage volunteers to make proselytization a main part of their mission, bragging in press releases about how many disaster victims “prayed to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” For Samaritan’s Purse, that leader is president and CEO Franklin Graham, the evangelical titan who has called Islam a violent religion, compared trans people with pedophiles, and praised Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay policies, saying LGBT people will burn in “the flames of hell.”

Read Nick Aspinwall’s story at Slate.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

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The bottom line of the dire new U.N. climate report this week is that our current policies to reduce emissions aren’t enough. The Summary for Policymakers released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizes that while we have lowered our projected emissions trajectory a bit (here’s a useful graph), we’re still on track for at least three degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by 2100—a truly disastrous scenario. Limiting warming to 1.5 or two degrees, which is still globally disruptive, would require major policy changes almost immediately. “Every decision from here on out matters,” Ketan Joshi wrote at TNR in response to the report. And decisions like last week’s approval of the Willow project in Alaska need to stop: “Every next step must be a step where emissions fall.”

That’s going to be tough. As illustrated by the Willow decision and the battle over last year’s big climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, it is really hard to get a majority of lawmakers to take a “no new fossil fuels” position. But there’s no shortage of ideas about how to change that. Here are five that have been proposed at TNR and elsewhere.

Mobilizing nonvoting environmentalists. One of the big reasons often given for American politicians’ lack of ambitious climate policy is that politicians need to get elected, and there just aren’t enough climate-first voters to keep climate-first politicians in power. (This is one of the rationales, presumably, behind Joe Biden’s demonstrable tack to the center ahead of 2024.)

Liza Featherstone, however, spoke last year to members of a nonprofit that thinks all that could change very rapidly. “The polls are right that there are not enough climate-first voters to scare politicians,” Nathaniel Stinnett of the Environmental Voter Project told her. But those polls look at likely voters. And EVP’s research has found that “far more nonvoters list climate as their top priority.” Nonvoting environmentalists, Liza reported, “tend to be young, low-income, or people of color. All those groups vote less than other demographics.” And EVP is betting that helping those people get to the polls via registration, reminders, and transport—rather than earlier climate activists’ attempts at persuading skeptics—might be the way to sway elections.

Liza followed up on this topic after the midterms and found that in the 2022 midterms, “more ‘climate voters,’ people whose top issue is the climate crisis, showed up to cast ballots than in any other election in U.S. history.” There’s a lesson here, she concluded: “Climate voters exist, and Democrats should stop campaigning—and governing—as if they do not.”

Getting fossil fuel money out of politics. Joe Manchin’s frequent obstruction of policies that would transition us off fossil fuels isn’t exactly a mystery, as TNR’s Kate Aronoff has pointed out many times. The West Virginia Democrat gets a lot of both his personal income and his political donations from the fossil fuel industry. And while most of the top recipients of such donations are Republicans, Joe Manchin isn’t the only Democrat raking in oil and gas money! Even at the state level, as Meaghan Winter pointed out in 2019, energy companies wield a tremendous amount of power over politics via political donations.

Fixing this starts with increasing awareness. Media organizations should mention whether a politician receives significant fossil fuel donations when reporting on that politician’s positions on climate change. People can also check the OpenSecrets database to see how much their elected representatives are receiving. Then there are pledges that have circulated in recent years, by which politicians can commit to reject such donations. There’s evidence that these pledges make a difference: “Prior to signing the pledge,” The Guardian reported during the 2020 election, “nearly all of the 2020 Democratic candidates took money from fossil fuel executives, other employees and via political action committees.”

To build momentum, Aaron Regunberg argued last year, activists could “start stigmatizing fossil fuel enablers wherever they exist”—not just the politicians who take donations. Or, of course, there’s always Kate Aronoff’s “one quick trick for curbing the fossil fuel industry’s political influence”: nationalization.

Getting fossil fuel money out of policy. The oil and gas industry influences politics in more subtle ways, for instance by funding a lot of the research from which policies get drafted. ExxonMobil has routinely given six-figure sums to Brookings, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and similar D.C. think tanks, Kate Aronoff reported in 2021. That’s something that ought to be disclosed when experts from those think tanks write blog posts denouncing investigative exposés of the company, as happened that year, or get quoted about how increased gas exports could help Ukraine—a frequent occurrence in 2022.

The divestment campaign at universities is also picking up steam, as people realize just how much climate research at top-tier research institutions is funded by fossil fuels. Recently, Data for Progress and Fossil Free Research calculated that six fossil fuel companies alone had probably spent $700 million funding research at 27 different U.S. universities between 2010 and 2020—something that ought to be taken into account, the authors argued, when considering the research those universities produced favoring things like carbon capture, a questionable climate “solution” that the industry loves because it allows it to continue with its core business model. If you’re interested in a particularly chilling case study in this process, don’t miss Kate Aronoff’s look at Ernest Moniz—the MIT professor emeritus, Obama alum, and former Biden adviser who has built a substantial portion of his career taking fossil fuel money and churning out emissions-heavy “all of the above” energy policies.

The rights-of-nature movement. Climate journalist Amy Westervelt recently wrote about this for Orion magazine. Given that the Inflation Reduction Act is the most ambitious climate policy that the U.S. has ever passed—in fact, it almost didn’t pass—and yet the final form lacked any mechanism for reducing fossil fuels, she writes, there’s a strong case for “rethinking our decision-making framework altogether so that maybe, eventually, we have a shot at not repeating the same damn mistakes over and over for the next century.”

The rights-of-nature movement, she points out—which emerged from Indigenous approaches—offers a way to modify the Western legal system to make more room for the kind of policies we need in the current era. The framework doesn’t just grant “ecosystems the right to survive and thrive” but also “grants the communities surrounding those ecosystems the ability to protect those rights.” And in so doing, she argues, it would fix the “fatal flaw in the U.S. operating system”: the “social contract” theory that, in the end, has assigned vastly more rights to corporations and individuals than to the community or the resources that community needs. “Rights of nature kicks that idea to the curb. No person or entity is more important than its ecosystem, no one gets out of their obligation to protect it.”

Making climate a local issue. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe has written extensively about how even some climate skeptics can be won over if you start by talking about local weather patterns. Often, they’ve noticed that weather is getting weirder, and they’re concerned. That’s an underutilized technique when it comes to politics, as well, Liza Featherstone argued ahead of last year’s midterms. Primary challengers who talk about climate not in national terms but in terms more immediately relevant to their potential constituents—hurricanes, water shortages, wildfires—often get more traction than the political establishment might have predicted.

TNR politics reporter Grace Segers also noticed this trend when it came to the general election, when many Democrats shied away from the climate topic in a way that may have cost them winnable votes:

This data suggests that, contrary to conventional wisdom that candidates should focus solely on “kitchen table” economic issues, talking about climate change could help boost turnout for Democrats. But given the nuances of individual elections, that rhetoric may be most effective if it is tailored to the particular races they are trying to win and the voters they are hoping to convince.

The European Commission has proposed new rules to crack down on corporate greenwashing in the EU, by making companies substantiate vague claims like “climate neutral” that they might slap on labels to entice customers.

Oil executives are preparing to spend big on new offshore oil projects in the next two years, as new investments rise “to levels not seen in a decade,” Climatewire reports.

No, you’re not imagining it if you feel your allergies are lasting longer. The “freeze-free season,” i.e., possible allergy season, has expanded on average by 15 days in the U.S. since 1970, according to recent number crunching from Climate Central. Here in D.C., allergy season has gotten 20 days longer. Oh, and a 2021 paper in the journal Environmental Sciences found that allergy seasons across the U.S. are more intense, with pollen concentrations increasing by 21 percent, “strongly coupled to observed warming.”

A “Rocking Chair Rebellion”: Seniors Call on Banks to Dump Big Oil

A series of demonstrations across the country this week staged by environmentalist Bill McKibben’s Third Act group for older activists received a rousing writeup in the Times with plenty of pictures of the demonstrations. Cara Buckley described the scene in D.C.:

Bundled in long johns, puffer coats, layered knit hats and sleeping bags, and fortified by cookies sent by courier from a sympathetic supporter, dozens of graying protesters sat in rocking chairs outside of four banks in downtown Washington for 24 hours, in a nationwide protest billed as the largest climate action ever undertaken by older folks …

Their targets were Chase, the subsidiary of JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Bank of America, the biggest investors in fossil fuel projects, according to a 2022 report by the Rainforest Action Network and other environmental groups. Collectively, the four banks have poured more than $1 trillion between 2016 and 2021 into oil and gas.

Read Cara Buckley’s Report at The New York Times.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

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It’s a tough week to be an environmentalist, or really any person concerned about the future.

The Biden administration’s announcement Monday that it will approve the Willow oil project on Alaska’s North Slope represents more than just another retreat from the president’s campaign promise to end drilling on federal lands. It represents more than just the potential degradation of vulnerable Arctic ecosystems. And it’s not just that Willow is projected to add emissions equivalent to 64 coal-fired power plants, at a time when even the International Energy Agency has concluded that new oil and gas development needs to stop immediately to prevent catastrophic levels of global warming.

In addition to all of these things, the Willow approval underlines that the climate phase of the Biden administration is over. The Inflation Reduction Act, a bittersweet compromise, is behind us, and there’s not much hope of passing more ambitious emissions reductions anytime soon. Biden’s once-ambitious biodiversity agenda is languishing in the congressional discard pile. The tack to the center, ahead of 2024, has begun. And what Democrats managed to shove through the last Congress, good though it was, wasn’t enough—not to prevent catastrophic warming, not to prevent ecosystem collapse, not to shore up and reform the country’s vulnerable and unsustainable food system.

So if you’re worried about this, what should you do now?

In the past decade, much of the most effective environmental and climate advocacy has come from rejecting the 1990s and early-aughts emphasis on personal lifestyle change and instead encouraging people to pour their anxieties into collective action. If the prototypical twentieth-century environmentalist was a bird-watcher, the prototypical twenty-first-century environmentalist would be an organizer. Showcasing these principles, the Sunrise Movement in two short years went from being airily dismissed by Nancy Pelosi as “the green dream or whatever” to being widely credited, among other leftist and youth-focused groups, with changing the Democratic Party’s approach to climate change, pulling Joe Biden left, and influencing the early architecture of the Inflation Reduction Act.

But at a moment when this kind of political action seems pretty comprehensively stymied, how do you do what you can without feeling futile? One answer, which has been floated by a number of different environmental thinkers, is to focus on hyperlocal instead of national issues. It’s the approach many urged as a political strategy back when the legislation that eventually became the IRA looked like it wouldn’t pass at all. And in a slight twist from the organizing push of the last few years, nourishing your local sensibilities as an individual is now the approach a growing number of voices seem to be suggesting for spiritual refreshment, as a personal way of dealing with a political reality that feels overwhelming.

This was one of the themes of Jenny Odell’s surprise bestseller in 2019, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy—that shutting down Twitter, closing the news websites, and reconnecting to the natural world around you is itself a radical act and could furnish the emotional reserves for better political action: “sustenance for those feeling too disassembled to act meaningfully” at present. Odell’s second book, Saving Time, was published last week, and it similarly rejects strict productivity culture in favor of a more organic way of life intimately connected to place (Odell is big on bird-watching and bioregionalism).

Odell’s not alone in pointing to the power of reengaging with what’s directly in front of you, nor the need for an almost spiritual antidote to activist burnout. That’s also one of the themes of British author and former religious sister Karen Armstrong’s Sacred Nature, which came out last fall and argued that contemplating nature in “silence and a degree of solitude” might be necessary, as part of a broader “spiritual revolution,” to fuel policy change. “If we want to halt the environmental crisis, we need first, like Coleridge, to seek a silent receptiveness to the natural world, bringing it into our lives little by little every day.”

Mainstream outlets seem to be catching the vibe. The Atlantic’s climate newsletter recently touted the benefits of creating a frog pond in your backyard, noting that “saving species in the 21st century isn’t just about protecting big, undeveloped parks,” adding that “it can be dizzying to think about all the species that need help right now, but engaging in everyday conservation can also just be fun.” This came barely a week after The New York Times’ climate newsletter linked the obsessive tracking of New York City’s escaped Eurasian eagle-owl to compassion and “radical care” in the Anthropocene, and closed by asking readers, “Tell us: what’s wild around you?”

I’ll admit to a tiny bit of skepticism about this “bird-watching, but make it socialist” approach. While it suits my own proclivities just fine, this kind of solitary engagement with nature is easier recommended by people who already find it compelling than carried out by people with little background in, or space for, avian observation and garden projects. Many people may not know how to start engaging with nature, find it time-consuming, or may not feel inclined to persist in it as a solitary pursuit. And while reconnecting with nature may lead to collective action, there’s no built-in mechanism for it if we’re all walking the urban forests alone.

This is where citizen science comes in. You can focus on the nature around you—even get guidance on doing so—and then submit it to a collective project. Contemplate a nearby stream, then contribute data to a group tracking salt runoff from winter roads. If you do like bird-watching, your time reconnecting with feathery neighbors could feed into a broader effort to figure out the impact of climate change on avian communities. For those who find birds too high-energy for their particular breed of burnout, bivalves are always an option: Volunteer oyster gardening is a thing these days. Where I live in D.C., some of the best information on community water quality gets collected by community members. And these networks are still a way of meeting others—so while they’re a break from politics, they can also furnish not just the data but the connections for subsequent reengagement.

TNR’s climate desk has more to come on the topic of recharging—the emotional sustainability of the climate fight, if you will, in addition to ecological sustainability. But in the meantime, give one of the options here a try. If bad news is getting you down, focus on your immediate surroundings for a while. There isn’t a wrong answer here. Just don’t let despair swallow you whole and spit you out as someone who has given up caring about our fate.

The distance the average electric vehicle sold in the U.S. can go between charges is now quickly approaching 300 miles, Bloomberg reports. That’s four times the average range in 2011—one of many changes, along with increasing charging station availability, subsidies, and more, that are making E.V.s practical for a wider range of consumers. (Caveat: As TNR’s Kate Aronoff has pointed out, there are problems with “simply recreating current American car culture with electric batteries,” though. Shifting to more of a public transit–oriented system might be more sustainable.)

There are possibly PFAS (a.k.a “forever chemicals”) in your toilet paper, and also coffee is going to get more scarce and expensive due to climate change. The Biden administration announced its intent to start restricting PFAS on Tuesday by requiring utility companies to remove them from drinking water.

That’s the amount by which a Washington Post investigation found insurance companies were “adjusting” (i.e., reducing) claims from Hurricane Ian survivors, rewriting and even deleting elements of licensed insurance adjusters’ reports to result in lower payouts.

Landowners Fear Injection of Fracking Waste Threatens Aquifers in West Texas

Fracking sites in West Texas, Dylan Baddour reports, “can produce five times as much wastewater as oil.” And the wastewater is typically reinjected into the ground. While researchers know injection wells can cause earthquakes, they don’t have definitive proof yet that they are contaminating groundwater (although there’s plenty of reason to suspect it’s possible, especially given the earthquakes). The practice is starting to unnerve even reliably conservative farmers in the area:

Shifflett, 74, has nothing against oil. He votes Republican, hangs a cross above his door and leans an old rifle on his living room wall. Oil companies are doing their jobs, he said. For this situation, he blames the government—specifically, Texas’ oil field regulator, the Railroad Commission, which issues permits for fracking wastewater injection wells.

“If they ruin the water out here, there won’t be anyone left. This will be a desert with no inhabitants,” he said from his dining room table. “It’s only a matter of time.”

Read Dylan Baddour’s story at Inside Climate News.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

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