The climate war heated up significantly today as President Trump signed a series of executive orders gutting the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce U.S. carbon emissions (The Washington Post). The orders instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite rules Obama instituted that would have led to the closing of old coal-fired power plants across the country. The policy is being pushed under a banner of “energy independence.” But the U.S. gets all of its coal domestically already, so: Huh?
The president doesn’t have legal authority to unilaterally revoke the Obama rules, known as the Clean Power Plan. That means these orders will kick off a long legal fight. Meanwhile, employment in the U.S. coal industry has been contracting for decades, thanks to reduced demand, competition from other energy sources, and increasing automation of those mines that remain open.
Twitter was a potent weapon in Donald Trump’s campaign arsenal. But the power of social media constantly mutates, and right now it’s working against the Trump team’s efforts to control the flow of information from the ranks of the federal civil service out to the public.
Most incoming administrations go through rough patches as their political appointees take the reins of career-run agencies. But this transition is the first one to feature rogue Twitter accounts pushing back against the dictates of new bosses — or at least, as in the case of the National Parks social media managers who decided to Tweet-blast straightforward climate facts, do what they view as their public-information jobs. The Ringerhas a good summary of January 2017’s “digital insurrection” (the Associated Press’s apt phrase).
Last week we told you about the federal climate scientists who are backing up their data to protect it from Trump administration tampering or neglect. But plenty of other information we need to steer our economy through the dangers of climate change is under threat.
Over the past decade the federal government began adding calculations of the social costs of carbon emissions to the ledgers it uses when it does cost-benefit analyses of rules and regulations. But Trump administration transition officials have said they plan to drop that practice. Michael Greenstone and Cass Sunstein, two policy experts who helped shape the Obama administration’s carbon cost estimates, argue (in The New York Times) that without such calculations, we’ll be flying blind into the climate disaster, unable to make informed choices about balancing economic costs and climate benefits. “Wishing that we did not face this trade-off,” they write, “will not make it go away.”
Clean energy development will continue whether the White House supports it (as it has for the past eight years) or not. President-elect Trump may doubt the reality of climate change and favor fossil fuels, but a small army of his fellow plutocrats — led by Bill Gates — just announced a new billion-dollar fund to seek technology fixes for global warming (Quartz). Other initial investors in the new Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund include Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio, and Softbank’s Masayoshi Son.
The fund has a 20-year life and will begin making investments next year in a wide variety of clean-tech areas: electrical generation, batteries, industrial processes, farming, and energy efficiency. An earlier wave of clean energy investments a decade ago failed to pay off. But it did speed deployment of solar panels, electric cars, and other foundations of a new energy economy that might be riper today — readier to provide returns in profits as well as reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.
The destructive deluge of plastic waste blighting our oceans is a huge environmental problem. 5 trillion pieces contaminate our seas and the accumulation is set to quadruple in the next 20 years. In fact, there is expected to be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
The large mass of fishing nets, plastic containers, bottles, packaging and other discarded items are killing and harming marine life and poisoning our fragile ecosystem.
Did Yahoo sell out its users and its values? Last year, Yahoo complied with U.S. intelligence demands to scan all incoming emails for a search phrase, according to an investigation by Joe Menn at Reuters. The company has denied aspects of the report. If Yahoo did what Reuters describes, it not only went beyond what other tech giants that manage our mail (like Google and Microsoft) have been willing to do; it also violated the basic trust that customers of internet services place in their providers. The Reuters report comes on the heels of news that 500 million Yahoo user accounts had their information exposed by a massive break-in. That leaves Yahoo with a double black eye — right as it’s trying to sell itself to Verizon. Users expect and deserve privacy and security. The government wants to foil terrorist plots. It’s up to companies to carefully walk the narrow line between customer rights and law-enforcement needs; instead, it looks like Yahoo staggered drunkenly into a roadside ditch. If the company hopes to retain a shred of public trust, CEO Marissa Mayer should commission an impartial external investigation — but that’s unlikely in the middle of an acquisition.
No one is looking our carbon problem in the eye. Hey, now that the European Union has joined the U.S., China, India, and many other nations in embracing last year’s Paris climate agreement, it’s going to become binding (NPR). Good news, everybody! Or maybe not. The fuzzy goals the Paris agreement sets, and its lax system for letting countries adopt their own plans, means that we are almost certainly going to miss the Paris target of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. If we were actually serious about 2 degrees, writes David Roberts (Vox), it would mean “no more exploring for new fossil fuels. No new mines, wells, or fossil fuel infrastructure. And rapid, managed decline in existing fossil fuels.” Nobody’s proposing that. Even the best-case scenarios we’re playing under assume that, as the 21st century progresses, the human species is going to have to develop some extremely effective new technologies to recover carbon from the atmosphere and bury it in the ground. This, according to Roberts, is “a huge and existentially risky bet” on the future of humanity and the planet. Maybe there should be a question or two on this at the next presidential debate. Maybe it should get an entire debate of its own.
Over the last few years, much of the trailblazing, waste-busting progress against Food Waste in Europe has been taking place across the Channel in France, from impactful legislation changes to quirky campaigns and dancing (yes, dancing). Sacré bleu!
They have just banned plastic cups, plates and cutlery
Patagonia wants you to stop buying its clothes. That’s the message it conveyed in a New York Times full-page ad in 2011, taking the opportunity to remind consumers of the environmental cost of “everything we make.” It’s not a typical advertisement, but Patagonia is not a typical company.
Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder, got his start in business by pursuing what he loved — climbing. Not satisfied with the metal spikes used for climbing, Chouinard began making reusable pitons after teaching himself blacksmithing. It turned into a business: Chouinard Equipment. He continued climbing with his business partners and came back from adventures with ideas on how to improve the company’s product, but they eventually realized the product was the problem. Continually hammering pitons into the walls of Yosemite had disfigured it, so they invented something more sustainable, something better: the aluminum chock. It was a good business move that also happened to be good for the environment.
Chouinard kept climbing. Patagonia, his next venture, started nearly by accident when Chouinard bought a rugby shirt. Overbuilt to withstand the rigors of the game, it made for perfect climbing gear. As with his piton, friends wanted one as well. Clothing became an opportunity to support the “marginally profitable” hardware business, but it also became a platform for a new way to do business.