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How We Can Help the Youth Leading the Climate Fight
It got…somewhat less coverage than the imploded sub, but for me the titanic story of the last week was the truly remarkable trial held in Montana over the last ten days—one of the first times that the climate story has played out in an American courtroom.
The plaintiffs were 16 Montana youth, who charged that by continuing to issue permits for oil and gas production, the state was violating its constitution, which was amended decades ago to include this phrase: “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.”
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The plaintiffs presented their case over the first week, and it was a doozy. (You can read the daily summaries here). Some of it was testimony from experts on climate and energy—Steven Running, say, emeritus professor at the University of Montana and a team member of NASA’s Earth Observing System, who explained the earth’s rapidly worsening energy imbalance and the need to reduce co2 in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, or Stanford’s Mark Jacobson, who “described the technological and economical feasibility to transition Montana off of fossil fuels by 2050 and supply its energy needs via water, wind, and solar. The primary barrier, he stated, was the lack of government direction to move energy policy towards renewables, as well as current government policies that continue to favor a fossil fuel-based energy system.”
But much of the testimony came from experts on being kids.
Grace talked about playing soccer in high school, including how “a lot of practices were smoked out.” Eva shared her experience filling sandbags for seven hours during severe flooding of the Yellowstone River near her home. Mica K. spoke of his love for outdoor activities, especially running. He was recently diagnosed with asthma and is especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke. “I hope people try to make a difference and I hope the state of Montana can change its ways on fossil fuels,” he said.
Sariel, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, testified the she learned about the science behind climate change in high school, including how greenhouse gases are breaking down the ozone layer, and then had her education expanded when she experienced firsthand the effects of wildfire and wildfire smoke. "It is really scary seeing what you love disappear before your eyes,” she said. Georgi, a competitive Nordic skier, who trains year-round, testified that wildfire smoke was so bad in the summer of 2021, she was forced to train indoors. “She recounted looking out the window and barely seeing the buildings across the street for all the smoke.”
Or maybe you’d like to hear from Kian T.,18, who described trying to play soccer outdoors in excessive heat. "I have had many, many soccer practices canceled for smoke and heat," he said. "Playing soccer on turf in the heat is miserable. Imagine your feet are boiling in your cleats, burning every single step you take on the field. It burns you out."
On the last day of testimony from the plaintiffs, the renowned psychologist Lise van Susteren described how children are more susceptible to the impacts of climate change due to unique characteristics like their dependency on adults, their brains and bodies still not being fully developed, and an increased exposure and cumulative toll of trauma. “The kids have told you this week very compellingly how their world is different,” she said. “They are very aware of something called intergenerational injustices. Their world is spinning out of their control and they have first-hand experience.”
This week was supposed to feature the rebuttal from the state—but it didn’t last long. A couple of state environmental bureaucrats (one of whom said he’d never heard of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which would be like the state treasurer announcing she’d never heard of the Fed) said state law forced them to grant permits, and a senior economist from the Hoover Institute at Stanford was confronted with the fact he’d made a series of math errors in his presentation. The state then decided not to call its long roster of expert witnesses, including well-known climate minimizer Dr Judith Curry. I have no idea her reasons for not appearing, but it strikes me as wise: what are you going to say to the kid who can’t breathe?
We’ll wait a few weeks for the verdict in the case, and—given Montana—perhaps one shouldn’t hold one’s breath (except in the case of wildfire). But no matter the outcome, it was a moment of very high drama—and a reminder that we have a chance to see precisely the same remarkable scenes play out on a national level.
As you may recall, Our Children’s Trust filed suit on behalf of 21 young Americans in 2015 (they’re not so young any more). That case, Juliana v. U.S., was resuscitated on June 1, when federal district judge Ann Aiken ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, putting “their case back on the path to trial where the evidence of their federal government’s conduct that is causing the climate crisis and violating their constitutional rights will be heard in open court.”
But here’s the thing: the US Department of Justice may try and stop that trial from happening. Under President Trump, it invoked the little used legal tactic of a writ of mandamus six times—apparently a record—in an effort to keep the case out of court. Now attorney general Merrick Garland—and the Biden administration—must decide whether to mimic the former guy, or whether to give the kids a fair shot at judgment. Two hundred and fifty different environmental groups have called on the administration to do the right thing.
And if you want in, the good folks at People vs Fossil Fuels have provided a handy form to let you email the DOJ and tell them to give our young people their moment in court. (Look for the little orange box on the right). If we’re going to damage their lives this profoundly, that seems the absolute least we can do.
In other energy and climate news:
+White House adviser John Podesta attempted to excuse the inexcusable decision to permit the Mountain Valley Pipeline with the declaration that its approval was “inevitable.” Sadly for him, he chose a day when Politico’s reporting made it clear that not only was it not inevitable, it was entirely unnecessary:
The contentious Mountain Valley pipeline will likely operate at an average of only 35 percent capacity once built, resulting in a "limited impact" on Appalachian gas production, according to an energy analytics firm.
East Daley Analytics, a company that monitors operational risk across the oil and gas industry, predicted the pipeline would carry far below its capacity of 2 billion cubic feet per day, citing the limits of the Transco gas pipeline system.
+The Bridgetown Initiative—an attempt by the prime minister of Barbados to update the Bretton Woods global financial structure for the global warming era—is continuing to gain supporters. At a large-scale Paris conference organized by French prime minister Emmanuel Macron, delegates from dozens of countries, as well as large financial institutions, endorsed various parts of the proposal.
Ms. Mottley described the financial systems created three-quarters of a century ago as “imperial,” set up as they were before many countries in the world had become independent. She called for a major overhaul so that developing countries most prone to climate change disaster — and already facing debt crises — could access capital to address poverty and damage, and to pay for their transition to a green economy.
On the agenda are many of the things Ms. Mottley has called for: using public money to leverage large-scale private investment for developing countries; increasing the access of those countries to financial support from the I.M.F.; and allowing countries to pause payments on international loans after climate-related disasters.
+According to Marc Lee, senior economist at Canada’s Centre for Policy Alternatives, the massive forest fires across the country have put more carbon into the air than all the driving, heating, cooling, lighting, flying, and other energy combustion that the country will engage in this year. This, I believe, is known as a vicious cycle; Bill Henderson ponders the implications in a new piece for The Hill Times, “Canada’s Politics and Government News Source.” And Tzeporah Berman, writing in the Guardian, fingers the culprit
For more than five decades, oil and gas companies have muddled the truth and blocked progress. They’ve spent millions on PR campaigns to convince the public that expanding fossil fuels is safe, reasonable and unavoidable and that the alternatives are problematic and unreliable. It’s working. Canadians are alarmed about climate change yet are largely unaware that most of Canada’s carbon pollution comes from fossil fuels like oil and gas. Half of the public say they’re unsure whether “solar panels emit more greenhouse gases during manufacturing than they end up saving”.
These messages and those who peddle them have an impact on politics. Canada subsidises oil and gas more than any other G20 nation, averaging $14bn annually between 2018 and 2020. Now big oil is getting tax breaks for carbon capture and storage – an unproven technology that won’t change the fact that Canada needs to phase out fossil fuels. Funding the industry to continue is like giving arsonists a tinderbox to play with.
+Worth reading: a remarkable account (from those unredeemable leftwing activists at the Financial Times) of the life of Shanna Swan, who has spent her long life investigating the links between plastics and the ongoing and dramatic fall in sperm counts around the world. It’s…fairly shocking
For more than two decades she has devoted her life to studying the effects of “endocrine disrupting” chemicals (EDCs), which can interfere with the body’s natural hormones. These include pesticides, bisphenols, which harden plastic so it can be used in food storage containers and baby bottles, and phthalates, which soften plastic for use in packaging and products such as garden hoses. In recent years, traces of EDCs have been found in breast milk, placental tissue, urine, blood and seminal fluid. In the glare of orange spotlights, Swan led the Copenhagen audience to her conclusion: that the innocuous products in your kitchen cupboard, bathroom cabinet or garden shed may be lowering sperm counts.
They could also affect the reproductive systems of your unborn children. The implications of EDCs for human health don’t stop there: they can disrupt thyroid function, trigger cancer and obesity. Then Swan got to the “ass-ball connector”. A slang term for ano-genital distance (AGD), the span from the anus to the base of the penis, it is “also known as ‘the taint’, ‘the gooch’ and ‘the grundle’”, she told the crowd in Copenhagen. She enunciated the words with an innocence that stripped them of prurience. The audience listened intently as she described one of her pivotal discoveries: that AGD can act as a predictor of a man’s ability, years later, to conceive a child. It has provided evidence for her thesis that inadvertent exposure to EDCs in utero can inflict harm on a developing foetus.
+Dominion Energy—Virginia’s big utility and an enormous political force in the state—had a lousy night on Tuesday, when a bunch of its Democratic favorites lost primaries to more progressive candidates.
+A fascinating account from a team at the Washington Post about a unique Canadian lake where annual deposits of sediment make it easy to track the developments in the larger world—plutonium from bomb tests, for instance. It may be selected as the “Golden Spike” site for declaring our current geological epoch the Anthropocene.
+The never-ending efforts of the fossil fuel industry to corrupt our political life took a familiar turn in California, when the governor proposed a cap on its profits. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports:
California lawmakers were on the verge of passing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to allow the state to cap the profits of oil companies when a trio of advocacy groups with innocuous-sounding names went on an advertising blitz.
The groups — nonprofits that call themselves Californians Against Higher Taxes, Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy and Californians for Energy Independence — campaigned against Newsom’s measure in a blizzard of social media posts and television ads. The groups said that further regulation of oil refineries would make the state more dependent on foreign crude oil imports or would raise the cost of gas for consumers, dubbing the proposal “Gavin’s gas tax.”
Those groups also billed themselves as coalitions of thousands of concerned taxpayers or small-business owners. Their ads and websites are rife with stock images of everyday-looking people.
But the organizations, according to corporate and lobbyist filings, weren’t created by average Californians or small businesses. One attorney from the North Bay, who has a long history of working with oil companies and trade associations, was central in organizing all three groups.
Steven Lucas, a San Rafael attorney who specializes in political law, is listed as the CFO and secretary for two of the groups, Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy and Californians for Energy Independence. He also held the same roles with Californians Against Higher Taxes until last year.
Not to be a jerk, but it’s really hard to imagine deciding to make this your life’s work.
+I’ve long held that environmental organizing needs more art and music. Ken Grossinger makes the same point more coherently, and for all progressive campaigning, in his new book Art Works. Meanwhile, you can help crowdfund what promises to be an excellent account of the fracking of Colorado.
+A 64 year old climate activist faces ten years in jail for sending a letter pretending to cancel a New Zealand oil and gas conference. She wrote to the oil industry reps preparing for their junket that:
“We are deeply concerned at the rapidly accelerating social and political changes engulfing us, highlighted by many of our own children preparing to strike from school to demand a safe future…Furthermore, despite our best efforts at secrecy, activists have discovered this year’s conference and were yet again planning noise and disruption. But there is a silver lining to all of this: we will not be there to listen to that incessant chanting.”
Any oil exec who was taken in by this should probably be sentenced for stupidity, and it is high time that governments stop over-charging peaceful protesters. I mean, here is a picture of this desperate criminal:
+Moving account from journalist Matthew Green, who worked for years at Reuters, about his reaction to learning that his long-time employer was sponsoring a conference for oil and gas execs about how they could use new digital technologies to maximize their profits
Why did reading about the conference trigger so much activation in my nervous system, to the point that I started to lose sleep?
If I track the feeling of anger, I discover it is connected to an underlying belief that Reuters Events was crossing an ethical boundary by voluntarily setting out to use the company’s reputation to enable the closer integration of Big Tech and Big Oil.
Tracing this thought further, I noticed that there were several distinct layers to my ethical objections, which I could broadly group into “betraying human values in general” and “betraying Reuters’ values in particular.”
+The committed people at Rewiring America are trying to keep track of the rapidly expanding electrification of American life. It is entirely worth reading to understand just how quickly we need to be adding heat pumps and e-bikes to keep up with our climate targets. Bottom line: on the bleeding edge of the possible
+One last push is underway to pressure the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to block the proposed GTN Express gas pipeline in the Pacific Northwest, brought to you by the same good people who tried to build the KXL pipeline. As opponents point out,
Pipeline and compressor station expansions create increased health risks for nearby communities, which are often rural, low-income, and communities of color. Not only is this infrastructure prone to accidents like leaks, fires, and explosions, but communities near the compressor stations would experience increased exposure to cancer-causing pollutants if FERC approves GTN XPress.
TC Energy has failed to demonstrate that the Northwest needs or wants the GTN Xpress proposal. Communities in the Northwest fought hard to pass climate commitments at the state level. In August, Attorneys General of Oregon, Washington, and California told FERC they oppose GTN XPress because it’s out of line with state and federal climate goals. Columbia River Tribes also voiced their opposition and concerns. Thus far, FERC is ignoring the valid concerns raised by our region.
+Hurricane season is off to a blistering start. As Bob Henson at the invaluable Eye on the Storm website points out, there’s a train of storms emerging from the coast of Africa and headed towards the Caribbean right now, beginning with Bret that should be lashing the Antilles tonight.
Hard as it is to fathom on the summer solstice — months before peak hurricane season — it’s possible we will be dealing with a second named storm in the tropical Atlantic by the end of this week.
A well-defined tropical wave designated Invest 93L continued to organize on Wednesday between the Lesser Antilles and West Africa, near latitude 10 degrees north and 36 degrees west. Showers and thunderstorms were limited around 93L, but it was in a moist environment (midlevel relative humidity around 65 percent) and wind shear is expected to remain light to moderate (5 – 15 knots). Most notably, sea surface temperatures are at near-record highs for late June, around 28 degrees Centigrade (82 degrees Fahrenheit).
If she forms, we’ll know her as Cindy
+If for some reason you absolutely positively have to go on a cruise, perhaps wait till 2030 when the first big zero-emissions passenger ship comes online:
Instead of towering over the ocean, the ship seems to cling close to the water, the better to reduce air resistance. In place of smokestacks, the designers envision retractable sails that double as solar panels. It runs on batteries instead of the thick, sticky fuel oil that powers most ships.
+The wood pellet industry—cutting down trees to fire up electric power plants—is a menace in so many ways. Here’s some on the ground reporting about the small southern towns near its epicenter:
While the climate damage is concerning, it’s the harm that pellet manufacturing is doing to his community that upsets Harding the most. The dust coming from the plant has had a major impact on the few dozen families that live in the vicinity of the Enviva plant in Garysburg. Harding and Alston take me around to look at some vehicles sitting in neighbors’ driveways. They are all coated with a thick layer of dust.
“So if you have this on the vehicles, what’s their HVAC unit look like?” asks Harding. “What do their lungs look like? People are sneezing out sawdust.” Harding knew a guy that lived next to the plant who used to cook outside on a barrel-type grill. “He had to just open it a little bit, because the dust would be falling on top of it,” says Harding. “You didn't want to have that all down on your food.”
The process of manufacturing wood pellets releases other pollutants that are even more hazardous to the health of residents than the gritty dust that settles on homes and vehicles. The plants emit extra-fine particles called PM2.5 that can damage lungs, worsen asthma, and cause heart attacks. The manufacturing process also produces byproducts, such as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, including acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, which can be toxic or carcinogenic even in small amounts.
+Clara Vondrich argues persuasively that carbon offsets are the modern day equivalent of indulgences from the medieval church:
Under the law, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has the power to hold companies liable for marketing that harms consumers’ health or wealth by misleading them into buying a product or service based on a false or deceptive claim. The FTC just closed public comment on how to amend its classic Green Guides in light of new market realities — the first such update in a decade. The Guides lay out the do’s and don’ts for companies seeking to make green marketing claims and provide a basis for the FTC to impose hefty financial penalties for violations.
Of the many types of claims the FTC sought input on — including terms such as ‘recyclable,’ ‘eco-friendly,’ and ‘sustainable,’ — carbon offsets are arguably the most significant due to their dismal record of abuse and failure. Last year, an investigation found the Verra carbon offsets registry, the biggest in the world, was running a scheme that “could make global heating worse.” The Guardian reported that “more than 90 percent of its tropical forest offset credits are likely to be ‘phantom credits’ and do not represent genuine carbon reductions.”
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