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Thoughts, Prayers, Rage, Resistance
A night to remember just how grim the oil industry really is
I’m writing this late at night on the West Coast. I’ve spent the evening at a rally in Sacramento, listening to residents from around the area tell about the effects of oil drilling on their lives: the asthma, the cancers, the spills. And now I’m watching with mounting horror the weather radar for the Bay of Bengal, as a massive cyclone bears down on the border between Burma and Bangladesh. It’s passing over remarkably warm water (indeed the world’s oceans, measured as a whole, have never been hotter), and seems to be building into a monster storm, one that will—by the time you get out of bed and read these words—be crashing into the world’s largest refugee camp, home to a million Rohingya Muslims chased from their homes by terror.
It’s called Cyclone Mocha, but it might as well be called Cyclone Exxon or Cyclone Chevron—they were among the companies that ignored the clear evidence of pending climate crisis and kept pushing their product till the Bay of Bengal was a hot tub. And it’s oil companies that are currently mounting a drive in California to overturn a law that would simply prevent them from drilling directly next to schools, hospitals, and homes. Rage is not an answer, but it is the thing that comes before an answer.
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I know Bangladesh, this gorgeous coastline. I’ve spent time there, with some of the nicest people on earth. It’s a crowded nation, as densely populated as any spot on earth. But it’s a river delta, and so fertile that it feeds itself. People can deal with water—houses sometimes have canoes on the roof in case of flooding. But no one can deal with a storm like this. Bangladesh has worked hard to build an early warning system, so hopefully it won’t kill hundreds of thousands. But no warning system can prevent the overturned lives that will surely come tomorrow.
In truth, we can’t do anything at this point about this cyclone except offer those thoughts and prayers, and aid (Here’s a website for Islamic Relief). And we can’t do anything about the California kids already sick with asthma, except provide them with decent medical care.
But we can keep this from getting any worse. We live on a world where the oil companies could be made superfluous in a matter of years—on our planet, the cheapest way to produce power is to point a sheet of glass at the sun. And if we did we would prevent some increment of horror in the years to come.
It will only happen if we build mass movements, however, and it will not be easy. In California, after endless organizing, the legislature passed the bill mandating 3,200 foot setbacks for oil wells—but the law is now in limbo since the oil companies have spent $20 million collecting signatures for a referendum to overturn it. Big Oil Resistance is helping coordinate the fight to protect Californians, and everyone from Fridays for the Future (high schoolers) to Sunrise Movement (under-30s) to Third Act (over-60s) is fighting to protect the planet. Please, join in if you haven’t already. Please, push harder.
In other climate and energy news:
+A truly important counterweight in the permitting reform fight—a large coalition of environmental justice campaigners, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, released a progressive version of how to get a timely and fair transition to clean energy in this country. Highlights: maximize energy conservation and efficiency, concentrate on distributed assets like rooftops for solar, and put someone in charge:
Rapid decarbonization in a just manner
demands deliberate planning to make sure
we are deploying the right technologies and
machinery in the right places. Under the
current system, there are no central nodes of
planning to get things right from the start.
Instead, we have a balkanized system
involving not only the Department of Energy
and FERC, but also central roles played by
private, for-profit companies and the regional
transmission organizations many of them
effectively control. The result is that across
the country we have inefficiencies in the
application process (17), increased grid
congestion and reliability concerns, and
minimal regulatory oversight and
accountability. Less than a quarter of solar
and wind projects are making it through the
+The health effects of oil and gas production (not combustion, just production) cost Americans $77 billion annually. Not to mention, a lot of impaired lives.
+The endless battle to get bureaucrats to treat climate change as an emergency continues. An example: Colorado has been absolutely hammered by wildfires, drought-driven pest outbreaks and the like, and it has a Democratic governor. And yet a new report shows that the Public Employees Retirement Association voted its shares against resolutions that asked companies to do more on climate change 62 percent of the time.
Coloradans, including PERA members, are already
experiencing grave losses due to climate change. The
2021 Marshall Fire destroyed over 1000 homes, with the
estimated cost of damage totaling over $513 million.
Colorado has already lost $37 billion since 1980 due to
natural disasters, $16 billion of which are attributed to
disasters in the past 5 years.
PERA is also losing money by holding on to their fossil
fuel investments. A recent report conducted by
Corporate Knights and commissioned by Boulder County
found that PERA lost $2.7 billion by not divesting from
fossil fuels in the last decade.
+ It’s always election year somewhere! Sara Innamorato has a long record of fighting fracking in Pennsylvania, and she’s up for County Executive in Allegheny County this month. She’s in the lead, but her opponents are spending big money to cast her as ‘Socialist Sara.’ Perhaps you could help her fend them off!
+A new study finds that seawater is penetrating farther than expected into Greenland’s glaciers, and that means that the ocean may be rising, wait for it, faster than expected. . UC professor Eric Rignot, co-author of the study. "We have reasons to believe that the current [sea level rise] projections are too low, not too high. They could be as much two times too low."
+The New York Times puts some numbers on the scale of the “interconnection queue,” the wind and solar projects that are ready to go but that can’t be built because the antiquated grid lacks enough transmission capacity to hook them up.
More than 8,100 energy projects — the vast majority of them wind, solar and batteries — were waiting for permission to connect to electric grids at the end of 2021, up from 5,600 the year before, jamming the system known as interconnection.
PJM Interconnection, which operates the nation’s largest regional grid, stretching from Illinois to New Jersey, has been so inundated by connection requests that last year it announced a freeze on new applications until 2026, so that it can work through a backlog of thousands of proposals, mostly for renewable energy.
It now takes roughly four years, on average, for developers to get approval, double the time it took a decade ago.
+Old oil wells are a menace, leaking greenhouse gases and other pollutants. The cost to clean up offshore abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico alone …$30 billion. As the invaluable Hiroko Tabuchi reports:
The $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Biden signed into law in 2021 sets aside $4.7 billion to plug orphaned wells, both onshore and off. That’s a sizable sum, but not nearly enough to cover the backlog of orphaned wells.
Still, in federal waters, the government can hold prior owners of wells liable for plugging them, even if the current owners go under or otherwise don’t fulfill their cleanup obligations. Eighty-seven percent of wells under federal jurisdiction were once owned by one of the supermajors, many of which have recently booked record profits.
+In case you wonder if Clarence Thomas’s habit of taking gifts and money really matters, new reporting shows that after he was befriended by billionaire Harlan Crow he reversed his position on the Chevron doctrine, and his change of heart is about to gut the government’s ability to regulate, among other things, pollution.
The so-called “Chevron deference” doctrine stipulates that the executive branch — not the federal courts — has the power to interpret laws passed by Congress in certain circumstances. Conservatives for years have fought to overturn the doctrine, a move that would empower legal challenges to federal agency regulations on everything from climate policy to workplace safety to overtime pay.
Thomas wrote a landmark Supreme Court opinion upholding the doctrine in 2005, but began questioning it a decade later, before eventually renouncing his past opinion in 2020 and claiming that the doctrine itself might be unconstitutional. Now, Thomas could help overturn the doctrine in a new case the high court just agreed to hear next term.
Groups within the conservative legal movement funded by Leonard Leo’s dark money network and affiliated with Thomas’ billionaire benefactor Harlan Crow have organized a concerted effort in recent years to overturn Chevron. That campaign unfolded as they delivered gifts and cash to Thomas and his family in the lead-up to his shift on the doctrine.
+Officially unveiling this week, at the Umana School in East Boston, a mural about sea level rise. It’s beautiful and bilingual, and local artist Lois Hetland, who helped in its design, says:
+The mural’s nine panels depict central concepts around resilience to sea level rise and flood adaptation. Six panels feature students’ depictions of the various plants and animals of Boston Harbor to emphasize the importance of biodiversity in sustainable and resilient ecological communities. A seventh panel shows the Umana community’s passions and values (soccer, dogs, bilingualism, inclusivity, joy, LGBTQ+, respect). An eighth panel shows how vulnerable the school is to flooding from sea level rise – a graph depicts 100-year flood levels above mean high high tide in 2030 (14”), 2050 (33”), and 2070 (55”), with an image of East Boston housing and the street flooded at those levels.
+ Justin Guay has long been one of the savviest watchers of the clean energy transition. In a new essay he argues for more sticks and fewer carrots in energy policy:
If a key part of the problem is that the financial system has enough money, but investors are not making investment decisions aligned with societal goals, we need to change the rules that govern their behaviour.
Laws like Dodd-Frank in the US give us enormous powers to do that. While we may not need those powers broadly given the lavish subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act, there are some sectors, like offshore wind, where rising interest rates are hammering investment. By deploying green credit guidance in the form of outright lending quotas or more narrowly targeted refinancing facilities with preferential lending rates for key sectors, we can force the financial system to work for us, not against us.
+An interesting first-hand report from Norway finds that the country’s conversion to electric cars is only a part of the transportation revolution underway there
Electric cars were a crucial first step to flush out all of those polluting, gas-guzzling ICE vehicles. But that’s exactly what they were: a step. They weren’t the end goal; they were a step along the way.
The true end goal is a sustainable transportation landscape that truly serves the people in the form of diverse, efficient, and environmentally conscious options. Electric cars are part of that solution, but so are the electric trams and the efficient trains and even cycling/walking/scootering.
And all of this is happening in a country that is so cold that I was walking around with ice on my face without even noticing. If it can work there, it can work here. Wherever here is.
+I guess everyone knew. New research finds that Italian oil giant ENI was well aware of climate change way back in the day as well
Greenpeace Italy and ReCommon have also unearthed a 1978 report produced by Eni’s Tecneco company, which included a projection of how much atmospheric CO2 levels would rise by the turn of the century.
“It is assumed that with the increasing consumption of fossil fuels, which began with the Industrial Revolution, the CO2 concentration will reach 375-400 [parts per million or ppm] in the year 2000,” stated the report. “This increase is considered by some scientists as a possible long-term problem, especially since it could change the thermal balance of the atmosphere leading to climate changes with serious consequences for the biosphere.”
+Not-to-be-missed profile of ‘swaggering’ clean energy pioneer Jigar Shah, now the guy charged with shoveling the Inflation Reduction Act cash out the door.
Before arriving in government in 2021, Mr. Shah was a celebrity of sorts in energy circles. A pioneer in the solar industry who earned millions, he co-hosted a popular energy podcast for nearly a decade where he bluntly riffed on everything from driverless cars to Canadian energy policies. (“Countries should not have stupid policy” he told listeners in 2017, dubbing it “the Jigar Shah Rule.”) He has relentlessly promoted the view that shifting to clean energy is nothing to fear, but will amount to the “largest wealth-creation opportunity of our lifetime.” He is a regular presence on social media, where he banters with the public.
+Here’s a surprise: new research finds that 4/5ths of the board members at the big banks that lend huge sums to the fossil fuel industry have…ties to the fossil fuel industry or its allies
Despite the increasing global attention paid to the climate crisis, the proportion of board members at these banks with climate conflicts has not changed in two years. The proportion of directors at the six banks linked to the fossil fuel industry remained the same as in 2021 – despite a number of changes at the top of these companies – as did the number of directors linked to other high-carbon industries.