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Two Really Dumb Things We Might Be Able to Stop
Private jetports, fracked gas pipelines--the zombie projects of the fossil fuel era
It is 2023. Chances are growing that the air temperature will set a new record this year; if not, then almost certainly next. The temperature of the oceans is at an all-time high, even before a widely forecast El Nino begins. Fitfully, the world seems to be finally rousing itself to build clean energy—but that won’t matter if we can’t turn off the supply of hydrocarbons. And we’re not: the zombie projects of an earlier age lurch forward still, running on momentum and vested interest. Logic and economics alone won’t stop them: that requires organizing. So here are two places we can go to work
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Massachusetts is a liberal Democratic state, home to Ed Markey, Senate father of the Green New Deal. The mayor of its largest city, Michelle Wu, divested the city from fossil fuels within days of taking office. The new governor, Maura Healey, has been a long-time friend of the climate movement, with an ambitious green agenda.
And yet, in the belt of particularly liberal suburbs outside Boston, there’s now a plan for an expanded private jetport. The Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) wants to build 27 new hangars for parking private jets at Hanscom Field, which borders the national park commemorating the beginning of the American Revolution. I feel like an idiot explaining why this is a bad idea, but here goes: private jets, as the Boston Globe pointed out, emit about ten times more carbon per mile traveled than commercial aviation, and on shorter hauls that number is even higher: Flights from New York to Washington, D.C., on private jets are responsible for about 45 times the emissions per passenger of commercial planes flying the same route, and more than 1,100 times the emissions per passenger of train travel to those cities. In our wretchedly unequal society, the number of these flights is growing rapidly, up 11 percent last year. We have to, you know, stop this kind of thing, not build it an extra half million square feet of hangar space. That’s why, in Switzerland this week, activists closed down Geneva’s airport by blocking the private jet area, and it’s why Amsterdam’s Schihpol Airport said this month it would shut down private jet flights entirely in 2026. (As Time reported, “around 30% to 50% of private jet flights from Schiphol are to holiday spots like Ibiza, Cannes and Innsbruck, the airport said — all destinations that are also served by commercial flights.) France went one step farther this week, shutting down air routes to and from cities where trains could make the trip in less than 2 1/2 hours, thought the Times reports the effect of this step may be largely symbolic.
But in the case of Massachusetts, stopping the expansion of private jetports is so clearly the right thing to do that I think it might actually happen. Governor Healey—again, a first-rate climate champion—has ultimate control over Massport. Here’s a petition you can sign to let her know what a bad idea this is. And I wouldn’t worry about not being from Massachusetts—I mean, planes cross state boundaries, so comments should too.
The MVP pipeline may be the ultimate zombie project—a pipeline begun in 2014 and slated to run 303 miles through the hills and dales of Appalachia to deliver fracked gas that is even less valuable than it was at the scheduled completion date of 2019: remember that the current trend is for communities to ban the use of methane in new construction, and last year sales of electric heat pumps outpaced the sale of gas furnaces. This thing is a boondoggle, and one that local groups have risen up en masse to protest, because it endangers local water supplies (and even cuts across the Appalachian Trail). As Elle De La Cancela of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network put it earlier this year,
MVP is still in court for violations of the Endangered Species Act and a challenge to a certificate of need from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, issued back in 2020. The company is on a third rewrite of a permit to cross the Jefferson National Forest after prior versions violated federal forest management standards. The Forest Service anticipates a final permit this summer, but MVP will likely face legal challenges to this permit (if it is granted) and the company would have to finish all construction to ensure its promised 2023 operation date.
Also, the pipe that’s been laying out in the sun is old and dangerous.
But it is a pet project of Sen Joe Manchin (D?-Carbon), who tried to make approval of the pipeline a deal for the passage of the climate bill last summer. Thanks to great organizing by progressives he came up short, and again when he tried to attach it to the defense budget, and again when he tried to attach it to the budget budget. Now it’s in play once more, as part of the negotiations over the debt ceiling, and there’s worry that Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer will trade it in return for Marjorie Taylor Greene not shooting the global economy in the temple. Progressives in Congress are doing their best—77 signed a letter asking the president not to make these kinds of deals—but there’s worry aplenty. The company behind the pipeline is a big donor to Schumer; Biden seems to have abandoned environmental concerns post-IRA, greenlighting massive projects in Alaska and the Gulf. So, one more time, local citizens are rallying with everything they’ve got. To make it an effective campaign, they need not just their neighbors who fear the immediate effects, but all of us who need to fear the carbon and methane this archaic project will produce.
Pretty much every legislator is going to be important here, so please let yours know that you don’t want to trade a working global economy for a working global climate—you’d like both, please. (It would be a great help if Biden would show some actual moxie, and invoke the 14th Amendment to take away the GOP’s leverage). You might also write Biden, and tell him what the Pope said…yesterday: "According to the commitments undertaken in the Paris Agreement to restrain global warming, it is absurd to permit the continued exploration and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructures."
And if you can make it to DC, there will be a gathering outside the White House on June 8, organized by People vs. Fossil Fuels (with spirited backing from my colleagues at Third Act, who are also taking on the Hanscom Field jetport. The Rocking Chairs will be there for the protest!). Remember—precisely the same climate logic that led the Obama/Biden administration to shut down the KXL pipeline a decade ago should lead the Biden/Harris administration to shut down the MVP pipeline. The only difference is that it’s a decade hotter now.
More news of climate and energy:
+Talk about zombie projects—lured by a surge in export volumes as Putin began his invasion of Ukraine, shipbuilders are churning out giant LNG carriers. As a new report concludes
In 2022, 34 LNG carriers were added to the global fleet, and 335 LNG carriers are expected to be added between 2023 and 2028, according to data from Clarkson Research. This surge in orders was largely driven by the oil and gas industry’s dash for LNG following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.This report finds that the uptake in shipping capacity far exceeds global forecasts of LNG trade as the world transitions away from fossil fuels to limit global warming to 1.5°C, and that the LNG shipbuilding business could become stranded under the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s net-zero scenario.
And here’s another, at least as dumb: the Biden administration may permit a new route for oil -laden trains along the banks of the Colorado river. What could go wrong? As Lever News points out,
“For about 100 miles of the railroad, it is close enough to the river that if you’re sitting in a raft in the middle of it, you could throw a rock and hit the railroad,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that has been fighting the project.
In addition to the general dangers of siting an oil train right next to the river, the specific route would run through Glenwood Canyon, a narrow 12-mile gorge where steep, unstable walls loom hundreds of feet over the river.
“Glenwood Canyon is a difficult and fragile canyon,” said Jonathan Godes, former mayor of nearby Glenwood Springs, which was threatened by a wildfire in the canyon in 2020. “In the winter, highway I-70 will be shut down for 20 to 30 days for semi-truck accidents,” referring to the highway that runs along the railroad. “It’s a treacherous place to transport anything.”
+The Supreme Court’s war on the environment continues, this time in the water instead of the air. The black-robed scientists ruled today that wetlands were insufficiently wet to bother protecting.
+The Guardian’s Nina Lakhani reports—and here’s a surprise—that Chevron’s climate pledges are built on buying a series of carbon offsets that are essentially worthless
New research by Corporate Accountability, a non-profit, transnational corporate watchdog, found that 93% of the offsets Chevron bought and counted towards its climate targets from voluntary carbon markets between 2020 and 2022 were too environmentally problematic to be classified as anything other than worthless or junk.
According to the report shared exclusively with the Guardian, almost half of Chevron’s “worthless” offsets are also linked to alleged social and environmental harms – mostly in communities in the global south, which are also often the most affected by the climate crisis.
“Chevron’s junk climate action agenda is destructive and reckless, especially in light of climate science underscoring the only viable way forward is an equitable and urgent fossil fuel phase-out,” said Rachel Rose Jackson from Corporate Accountability.
+In-N-Out Burger is emerging as a villain in the fight to track carbon emissions. It’s one of the corporations pressuring California governor Gavin Newsom to exclude “Scope 3” emissions from reporting requirements, even though this is where companies do most of their climate damage.
If you need a reminder why companies are so eager to pass the buck, a pioneering study puts the cost of climate reparations owed by big oil and gas producers at $209 billion…annually.
Amid growing debate about who should bear the economic cost of the climate crisis, the paper, titled Time to Pay the Piper, presents a moral case for the carbon corporations most responsible for the climate breakdown to use some of their “tainted wealth” to compensate victims.
The study considers this to be a substantial yet conservative price tag, as the methodology excludes the economic value of lost lives and livelihoods, species extinction and other biodiversity loss, as well as other wellbeing components not captured in GDP.
+The Texas legislature has turned against renewable energy, offering tax breaks to fossil fuels instead. From a great piece in the Texas Tribune
Legislators have passed bills to prop up gas-fueled power generators. One would offer companies low- or zero-interest loans to modernize existing plants or build new ones; another would likely raise electricity costs to send more money to plants that promise to be available to produce power when grid conditions are tight. Senators also pushed a bill that would restrict wind and solar developments.
The stark turn has disappointed renewable energy advocates such as Matt Welch, state director of Conservative Texans for Energy Innovation. Welch wondered if he was living in “a version of ‘The Twilight Zone,’” he wrote, where limited government intervention in the free market no longer mattered in Texas.
+It turns out that former workers in the oil and gas sector are ideally suited to building new offshore wind.
Every morning, more than 600 workers clock in at the Louisiana shipyard where the Eco Edison, the first US-built vessel to service offshore wind farms, is under construction. At quitting time, a parade of pickups and dusty sedans forms a traffic jam on the road back into town, past buildings that serve the long-dominant oil and gas industry.
This is just one slice of the energy transition reshaping the Gulf of Mexico region, which is increasingly dotted with offshore wind projects. In February, the Biden administration announced the first-ever sale of offshore wind leases in the Gulf, off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. Dominion Energy Inc. is spending $500 million on the first US-built installation vessel, the 472-foot Charybdis, in Brownsville, Texas; and hundreds of people are working on the first US-built substation near Corpus Christi. In Louisiana, where the National Football League team wears black because that’s the color of oil, new companies and jobs are sprouting up to support the nascent $100 billion industry.
+Solar panels are playing a key role in the brave Ukrainian resistance. As Michael Birnbaum reports:
A less carbon-intense, decentralized energy system is emerging as a key element of Ukraine’s reconstruction efforts. Seven months of Russian attacks on the energy grid have left it severely damaged. Ukrainian doctors, teachers and others have discovered that efforts to boost sustainability can also improve security by making it harder to knock power offline. Ukrainian policymakers, meanwhile, are setting ambitious clean energy goals, trying to shake off their prewar reputation as lagging on climate issues.
+Global warming is robbing the average earthling of 44 hours of sleep a year, a new study finds. The research looked at 47,000 adults in 68 countries, and
found a notable change in sleep duration when nighttime temperatures rose above 50 degrees (10 degrees Celsius). On nights above 86 degrees, people slept about 14 minutes less on average. Nights have warmed faster than daytime temperatures in many places around the globe. By 2100, individuals worldwide could lose about 50 to 58 hours of sleep per year.
+Always read Amy Westervelt; in this case her reporting on a court case in Guyana that could make it very hard for the oil companies to keep on drilling offshore when an oil spill could run up tens of billions of dollars in damages.
The ruling ordered the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require an independent liability insurance policy from Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL) and an “unlimited guarantee” from its parent company, ExxonMobil, in the case of any damage caused by the company’s oil and gas development in the country.
Since news of the ruling broke, Exxon’s stock price has dropped more than $10, a nearly 12% decline in two weeks.
Meanwhile, environmental lawyers are looking to the case for inspiration. “Lawyers from around the world who are fighting oil and gas, off the coasts of southern Africa, off the coast of Mozambique, and in other places in the Caribbean are going to be looking at this decision and, and paying close attention to whether the financial guarantees being provided in other oil and gas exploration and development permits are at an equivalent level,” said Carroll Muffett, the CEO and president of the Center for International Environmental Law.
+An otherwise splendid run of early summer weather across the northeast last week was hazed-over with smoke from huge wildfires in Alberta. David Wallace-Wells reports that this will get steadily worse:
You may think of fire in terms of scorched homes and go bags sitting ready for sudden evacuation. But distance is no cordon sanitaire for smoke. In fact, according to one not-yet-published study led by Stanford researchers exploring the distribution of wildfire smoke, an estimated 60 percent of the smoke impact of American wildfire is experienced by those living outside the states where the trees are in flames. Eighty-seven percent of the impact is experienced by those living outside the county of the original fire. And the problem is getting much worse.
+Actions across Africa today to push for more renewable energy. As Landry Ninteretse, regional director for 350.org, said
“While our continent is sadly on the frontlines of the climate crisis that we have done little to cause, we are fortunate to have access to some of the solutions. Africa’s wealth of renewable energy potential presents a great opportunity for the continent to not only address her own energy needs, but also potentially lead the global energy transition. What is required are concerted efforts by governments and other stakeholders to address the barriers to renewable energy - starting with finance and policy- by creating an enabling regulatory environment for its adoption, accelerating the shift away from polluting fossil fuels, while investing consistently in powering up community-centered renewable energy solutions that are absolutely critical to ensuring that we avert catastrophic climate impacts and secure a liveable future for us all.”
+The definitive take on the value of wood biomass in fighting climate change: none, at least in a relevant time frame. Burning trees for electricity is among the falsest of false solutions. From an excellent article published this morning in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
After approximately the year 2040, the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the harvest and combustion of the wood begins to fall as regrowth outpaces the growth in carbon in the no-harvest case. However, atmospheric carbon dioxide remains above the level it would have had but for the harvest well beyond the year 2100. Even when wood displaces coal, the excess carbon dioxide is not taken back up by forest regrowth until after the year 2140: The carbon debt payback time in this scenario is approximately 115 years. When the wood displaces zero-carbon energy, atmospheric carbon dioxide remains above its initial level well past the year 2200.
+Leaders from the Indigenous Women’s Treaty Alliance yesterday joined with 150 environmental groups to shut down the Line 5 pipeline due to threat of ‘imminent rupture.”
Due to recent flooding, erosion of a local riverbank has led to Line 5’s centerline to be within 11 feet or less of the river waters, creating an immediate threat. The letter notes that erosion from receding waters or the next rainfall could cause a “guillotine rupture” – a vertical break causing oil to gush from both sides, poisoning the Bad River watershed and Lake Superior, impacting the Great Lakes region which holds one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water, and provides drinking water for 40 million people in North America.
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