Pick a random Democrat who regularly follows politics to talk about the party’s messaging and you’re likely to get a reply along the lines of “it sucks” together with suggestions on how to do it better. This is usually accompanied by legitimate complaints about the lack of a friendly or at least neutral media.
What “better” means is, of course, subject to a boatload of disparate interpretations. Take messaging on the climate crisis, for instance. For years, most Democratic leaders on the campaign trail avoided talking about climate at all or, when they did, it was almost always only a glancing mention. That approach was justified on the grounds that, in survey after survey, the majority of Americans in polls do not rank climate as a top priority. Indeed, talking about climate was perceived as a turnoff to voters Democrats needed to win elections.
In 2020, however, there was a shift—such as here and here—to viewing climate as a winning issue for Democrats, especially among young voters. This was backed up by a Pew Research Center poll that showed 45% of Democrats and 14% of Republicans in 2010 thought climate should be a top priority for the president and Congress, while 78% of Democrats and 21% of Republicans thought so in 2020.
In 2015, when Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a Democratic primary debate that climate change was the No. 1 national security threat, he was widely ridiculed, and, of course, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, whose campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was intensely focused on climate, didn’t last long. But come 2020, and Joe Biden didn’t shy away from addressing climate change in his campaign, calling it the “number one issue facing humanity.”
And it paid off, according to a report last month from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Environmental Future. If it hadn’t been for the climate change issue, the authors asserted, Republicans might have gained a 3% swing in that election. Matthew Burgess, CIRES fellow and C-SEF director, told Newsweek, "We found three things: 1) Climate-conscious voters make up roughly two-thirds of voters; 2) Climate-conscious voters strongly prefer the Democrats, all else equal; 3) these two facts combined imply that climate change opinion provides the Democrats an electoral advantage, and we estimate that, in the 2020 presidential election, this advantage was probably large enough to change the outcome in Joe Biden's favor, all else equal."
The researchers say the same concerns could influence voters in the coming 2024 election. And not just the young. Marianne Lavelle at Inside Climate News reported in December that Older Voters Are Second Only to Young People in Share of ‘Climate Voters,’ New Study Shows.
Over the past year, several elected Democrats, including President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have made a point of focusing on the hundreds of billions of dollars included in the Inflation Reduction Act to address climate change by speeding up the transformation of the U.S. energy system. Most of that focus has been on the IRA’s positive effects on jobs and the economy, not just the 100,000 or so jobs already created by a policy that’s just gotten rolling but about what more will be done in the future. Sounds intuitively like an obvious winner. But Lisa Friedman reported in The New York Times:
One of the biggest climate marketing studies of its kind, a public opinion poll across the United States and 18 other countries that was conducted last summer, found that “protecting the planet for the next generation” overwhelmingly beats out other arguments for taking climate action. Researchers found the so-called “urgent generational message” was 12 times more popular than the promise of creating jobs.
“At the heart of this is love,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, which conducted the study with other nonprofit groups including Potential Energy Coalition, the Meliore Foundation and Zero Ideas.
“People love particular people, places and things,” Mr. Leiserowitz said. “And those people, places and things are being threatened.”
So, after years of hearing from the consultants that voters don’t really want to be told about the impacts of climate change, that they don’t want to learn about what may be harmed or destroyed, that it’s-the-economy-stupid that really matters, this survey says the opposite. Hmmmm. Here’s a thought. Do both. Tout the new jobs and the better economy as well as the mitigation and prevention of damaging climate impacts to “people, places, and things” being threatened. The key is developing a succinct and consistent message, and keeping to that selected narrative the way Republicans have done with their narratives for decades.
RESOURCES & ACTION
A rew report from the World Economic Forum says that stresses from climate change will lead to 14.5 million extra deaths and $12 trillion in economic losses worldwide by 2050. The worst impacts will occur in the global south, the region of the planet with the least financial and infrastructure resilience to mitigate them. Zoya Tierstein at Grist writes:
[C]limate change-fueled illness is a Hydra-headed challenge that erodes human health on multiple distinct fronts. Efforts are underway to tally this risk, and a growing body of research indicates that climate-related health threats, such as cardiovascular, diarrheal, and vector-borne diseases, have already killed millions of people — a count that will grow steeper as warming accelerates.
The burden of indirect impacts far outweighed the direct effects. For example, floods can trigger landslides that injure and kill people during or directly after a flood occurs. But the longer-term consequences of flooding kill more people. Floods eat away at coastlines, damage infrastructure, and kill crops, which in turn contribute to the expansion of mosquito habitat, increase moisture and humidity in the air, and fuel food insecurity. Infectious diseases, respiratory illnesses, malnutrition, and mental health issues follow. The report predicts that the greatest health consequences of extreme rainfall and flooding in central Africa and Southeast Asia, two of the regions that face the worst effects of climate-driven flooding, will be malaria and post-traumatic stress disorder, respectively. The economic impact of these illnesses and other flood-related health issues will top $1.6 trillion.
The report found that floods, which pose the highest risk of climate-related mortality, will kill an estimated 8.5 million additional people globally by mid-century because of climate change. Droughts linked to extreme heat, the second-highest driver of climate mortality, will lead to more than 3 million extra deaths. The report estimates that 500 million additional people could be exposed to vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus by 2050, many of them in regions that don’t typically have to contend with those illnesses today, such as Europe and the United States. The authors made these projections using a middle-of-the-road climate scenario, in which governments continue to make slow, halting progress toward achieving international climate goals. If fossil fuel use continues unabated or ramps up further through 2050, the health consequences of climate change will be much more severe, and millions more people will die.
To address the situation, the report’s authors say leaders must focus on two pillars: resistance to climate change and recovery from its impacts. That is a complex, multifaceted effort that requires significant advance planning that mostly isn’t yet being done or at least not with the seriousness it requires. One place the report goes that other climate-related reports ignore—actual workers:
For the healthcare industry, this must be a moment of reflection. What should its role be in this future, and how can it make its infrastructure, workforce and operations more resilient to the inevitable pressures from the climate crisis? The importance and fragility of healthcare workers must not be underestimated. Working tirelessly in the face of overwhelming numbers of patients and inadequate staffing and supplies, this workforce will need to be physically and mentally prepared with the adequate tools, infrastructure and resources both immediately and in the long term. The health emergency around climate change will prove relentless, with the added potential of physical destruction, power interruption and supply chain collapses.
Daniel R. Brooks, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto and author of a book on climate change and emerging diseases, told Tierstein that he’s encouraged to see business-oriented institutions like the World Economic Forum finally looking at the immediate and longer-term health effects of climate change. But he said not enough is being done to truly see just how much impact climate change will have on public health systems. “These staggering numbers are actually conservative.” Conservative. A refrain heard all too often these days about various statistics and forecasts even from climate optimists.
As Tierstein points out, the developed nations have both the data and tools needed to prevent the bulk of these deaths. First off? Nothing that hasn’t been heard before: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. While warming is happening and will continue to happen, every tenth of a degree of avoided warming means hundreds of thousands of lives saved around the world. Said Rolf Fricker, a partner at Oliver Wyman and a co-author of the report: “The holy grail will lie in prevention. This is the most important thing.”
Serious gardeners are familiar with the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Since the first iteration in 1960, it’s been meant to make it easer to figure out which perennial plants will do well in a gardener’s particular climatic zone. Chris Daly, a geospatial climatologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis and a key contributor to this and previous maps, told Katherine Kornei at Civil Eats, “You can think of the Plant Hardiness Zone Map as a plant selection and risk management guide.”
It’s been a dozen years since the last update of the map, and there have been a lot of changes since then:
The 2023 map is, on average, about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 2012 map. Roughly half of the grid cells shifted a half zone warmer, and the remaining grid cells didn’t change zone.
Despite a reluctance on the part of the USDA to pin the changes in the map on climate change, it’s telling that a significant fraction of the measurements for the new map all shifted towards warmer conditions, says Daly. “The fact that it’s so widespread, we can probably know that it’s real.”
As weather patterns continue to shift, however, one big question is how valuable the Plant Hardiness Zone Map will remain over time. That’s difficult to say, admits Daly, in part because the plant hardiness statistic is changing at different rates across the country. But in some ways it’s heartening that the shifts between the 2012 and 2023 maps were relatively small. “The average change was only a quarter of a zone, which is not earth shaking,” says Daly. “It’s a fairly small change overall.”
But those changes aren’t the whole picture. The hardiness map is just a single tool for pinning down which particular plant will flourish in one locale. It doesn’t include the regional effects of heat waves, droughts, or excessive rainfall, all of which are going to affect what gardeners can successfully grow or not grow wherever they live.
During a Feb. 1 webinar billed as a listening session on the American Climate Corps, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland urged young people get involved with climate and conservation. As reported by Robin Bravender at Green Wire, Haaland said, “One of the things President Biden has heard loud and clear is your strong desire to put more young people to work and to help tackle the climate crisis head on. That's why last year he launched the American Climate Corps. And that's why he's challenged all of us in his cabinet to think about how we can create good-paying jobs that restore our lands and waters, transition our nation to the clean energy future that we all need and build resilient communities.”
She said that when she was a child, she inherited “a deep respect for the natural world, mostly from my dad," who made sure she knew how to bait a fishhook. “It wasn't until much later in life that I realized a career in conservation was possible. Everyone deserves to build that profound connection to the great outdoors that I was gifted. … To the folks listening here today: Know that the Interior Department wants to work with you. Our doors are open because we truly can't do this without you.”
HALF A DOZEN THINGS TO READ (OR LISTEN TO)
More Than 1,000 New EV Stations Have Come Online in the US Since Summer by Kyle Stock at Bloomberg Green. Fast-charging infrastructure for electric cars grew by 16% in the second half of 2023. That’s before federal spending even kicks in. The vastness of rural America has long been a challenge for electric vehicles, but the country’s electron deserts are disappearing quickly. US drivers welcomed almost 1,100 new public, fast-charging stations in the second half of 2023, a 16% increase, according to a Bloomberg Green analysis of federal data. Put another way: There is now one quick-turn EV station for every 16 or so gas stations in the country (though many convenience stores now sell both kinds of go-juice). “This is just a very exciting moment,” said Katherine Garcia, director of Clean Transportation for All at the Sierra Club. “And I think we’re going to continue seeing this growth trajectory.”
These State Lawmakers Are Collaborating on Policies that Support Regenerative Agriculture by Naoki Nitta at Civil Eats. Progressive state legislators often find themselves in a David-and-Goliath battle against the conventional ag industry. One organization is equipping them with resources to support producers using regenerative practices instead. In a crisp weekend this past fall, 30 state legislators from across the nation descended on TomKat Ranch, an 1,800-acre ranch focused on regenerative agriculture in Pescadero, California, an hour south of San Francisco. In addition to learning about regenerative farming practices, the diverse group had gathered to understand how state-level agricultural legislation can bring about climate resilience, food security, and social equity. As Georgia state senator Kim Jackson began her welcome speech, she instructed the group to look around the room. “We are female; we are male. We are queer; we are people of color; we are Indigenous. We are rural, urban, and suburban,” she said. “Now raise your hand if this is what your [state’s] ag committee looks like.” Despite all hands staying down, “this is exactly why we’re here,” she continued, “because we all have a stake in ag.” The two-day workshop, which was organized by the State Innovation Exchange, a nonprofit, nonpartisan national policy, resource, and strategy center, highlighted the power of states to drive progressive change in food and agricultural policy. Against the backdrop of a carefully managed perennial pasture, the gathering focused on legislative approaches to promoting regenerative farming and ranching practices, which the group believes can galvanize support across partisan and rural-urban divides.
Helping Bison Find Their Way Home by Molly McCluskey at The Revelator. Bison reintroduction programs have gained traction on tribal lands in the United States and Canada in recent years amid growing understanding of their role in ecosystem management and the impact their eradication has had on First Nations and Indigenous people. The overarching initiative—often requiring vast interagency cooperation—shows no signs of slowing despite its challenges. The Canadian government views the bison program as part of its fundamental responsibility to address past harms against its First Nations. “With our truth and reconciliation objectives within the government of Canada, rematriating bison to First Nations and Indigenous peoples is one of our first priorities,” says Brad Romaniuk, Parks Canada’s resource conservation manager, who oversees wildlife transfers and is part of the team that helps turn wandering bison back from the border. Rematriation, he explains, is an overarching initiative to restore the relationship between Indigenous peoples and their ancestral lands that takes many forms, including the return of bison. “If a [tribal] nation approaches us and they have the facilities and we can help them get set up, they’re the first ones to get buffalo from us.” In September the U.S. Department of the Interior also reaffirmed its commitment to herd reintroduction, allotting $5 million to the restoration of bison and grassland ecosystems in tribal communities.
Tribes to sponsor 1 to 3 GW of renewables to help retire dams and restore salmon by William Driscoll at PV Magazine. Four Native American tribes, two states and the U.S. government have signed an agreement to work together to replace the energy now produced by hydroelectric dams. Federal funding potentially reaching more than $1 billion will support the agreement, which began as a proposal to the Biden Administration from the tribes and the two states. The agreement encompasses the original proposal, known as the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative, and has the ultimate goal of restoring salmon, steelhead, and other native fish populations in the river basin. A key feature of the agreement is the goal of breaching four dams on the lower Snake River. Salmon populations in the river system have been dwindling due to the presence of hydroelectric dams, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported. Salmon and steelhead populations on the lower Snake River are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A 2022 report sponsored by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray from Washington recommended that the services of the dams on the lower Snake River be replaced before any dams were breached.
New Evidence Reveals Fossil Fuel Industry Sponsored Climate Science in 1954 by Rebecca John at DeSmog. Documents shed light on the earliest-known instance of climate science funded by the fossil fuel industry, adding to growing understanding of Big Oil’s knowledge of climate change. These never-before-seen documents from the Caltech Archives and the U.S. National Archives, along with material from the Charles David Keeling papers at the University of California, San Diego, and local Los Angeles newspapers from the 1950s, establish the Air Pollution Foundation’s sponsorship of Keeling’s research at Caltech as the earliest-known instance of climate science funded by the fossil fuel industry. It’s possible it was also the first time that the oil industry was directly informed about CO2-induced climate change—five years before physicist Edward Teller warned the American Petroleum Institute of the disruptive consequences of burning fossil fuels. Keeling’s research director Samuel Epstein wrote in a letter at the time that the “possible consequences of a changing concentration of the CO2 in the atmosphere with reference to climate … may ultimately prove of considerable significance to civilization.”
Will Biden’s Temporary Pause of Gas Export Projects Win Back Young Voters? by Kristoffer Tigue Keerti Gopal. The fossil fuel industry and Republican lawmakers have said the expansion of American natural gas exports is critical for the U.S. economy and national security. But the export projects—and CP2 in particular—had become a major point of contention among young progressives, who played a critical role in electing Biden to office in 2020 and want the president to make addressing climate change a top priority. Just by itself, the $10 billion project was expected to increase the country’s daily exports of gas by as much as 20 percent, prompting some climate activists to call CP2 a “climate mega bomb.” One analysis found that CP2 would have 20 times the annual carbon emissions of the Willow project, an oil drilling venture in Alaska that gained notoriety among young Americans last year after videos opposing the project went viral on social media. The Biden administration approved that project last March. Online petitions to block or cancel Willow have received millions of signatures. Following Biden’s decision Friday, a coalition of climate and environmental justice activists announced they were canceling a mass protest that had been planned to take place from Feb. 6-8 outside the U.S. Department of Energy headquarters in Washington.
“[W]e have colonized the future. We treat the future like a distant colonial outpost devoid of people, where we can freely dump ecological degradation, technological risk, and nuclear waste, and which we can plunder as we please.”―Roman Krznaric
The collapse of NuScale’s project should spell the end for small modular nuclear reactors by M.V. Ramana at Utility Dive. This past November, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, or UAMPS, terminated what was to be “the first NuScale Power small modular reactor plant to begin operation in the United States.” This was a death foretold; the red flags have been obvious for years now. As announced in 2015, the UAMPS project initially involved constructing 12 reactor modules capable of generating 600 megawatts, with the aim of starting operations “around 2023,” and at an “overnight cost” of $3 billion. In 2018, NuScale announced a design modification with each module now producing 60 MW of electricity, or 720 MW for the whole plant. The estimated costs of the project rose to $4.2 billion in 2018, then $6.1 billion in 2020, and finally $9.3 billion in 2023, after it was scaled down to 462 MW in 2021. In the end, the costs were clearly too high for UAMPS members to bear. The engineers and accountants on the project were evidently unrealistic about the likely costs, or perhaps NuScale preferred to gently break the bad news about how immense the bill would be. Or both. NuScale also managed to retain members by claiming an unreasonably low cost of power from the project once operational, a cost derived using an opaque economic methodology without clarity over its assumptions. There is a lesson here: one just cannot trust initial cost estimates for nuclear reactors and their electricity.
Related Story: U.S. company that planned to build the first small nuclear reactor power plant cancels its project by Meteor Blades.
The US must balance climate justice challenges in the era of artificial intelligence by Joseph B. Keller, Manann Donoghoe, and Andre M. Perry at Brookings. The first-ever discussion of social justice in the National Climate Assessment was a landmark move. But there’s a history here. Legacies of policy inaction, neglect, and intentional segregation and exclusion have inequitably distributed environmental hazards and climate risks to disproportionately affect communities that often possess limited agency in decisionmaking processes. These inequities undermine the efficacy of U.S. climate policy, and therefore, the success of U.S. climate policy hinges on a strong climate and environmental justice (CEJ) foundation.Ultimately, climate policy isn’t just about lowering greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also social policy, shaping the well-being of individuals and communities. CEJ means that everyone—irrespective of race, ethnicity, income, or ability—has the right to the same environmental protections and benefits, as well as the opportunity to be meaningfully involved in decisionmaking. And it cannot just be an aspirational goal—it’s an indispensable factor in crafting effective climate governance. Meanwhile, the extraordinary progress of AI carries a growing, but often hidden, environmental footprint. The proliferation of tech applications such as generative AI and the expansion of ubiquitous cloud services remain tethered to digital infrastructure and supply chains. This elevates the challenge of stimulating economic growth without comparable increases in emissions—a task that University of Florence Assistant Professor Roberto Verdecchia has said is “physically impossible.” Verdecchia has also highlighted that environmental sustainability is often overlooked: “In the race to produce faster and more-accurate AI models, environmental sustainability is often regarded as a second-class citizen.”
Clean hydrogen has a serious demand problem by Jeff St. John at Canary Media. Experts worry that U.S. policies to make clean hydrogen cheaper aren’t enough to convince today’s dirty hydrogen users to make the switch. It will take more than cheaper clean hydrogen to convince existing users to make the switch.They’ll need far more certainty of production at the quantities they need, delivered at the steady, uninterrupted paces required for their particular uses. And they’ll need the infrastructure—pipelines and storage facilities—to move clean hydrogen from where it’s made to where they use it. Outside of existing hydrogen production and consumption hubs like the U.S. Gulf Coast, these conditions don’t yet exist. And without them, it will be hard for the sky-high policymaker expectations and investment plans of the past few years to come to fruition.
EPA’s New Scientific Integrity Policy: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Anita Desican at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The Environmental Protection Agency recently released its updated scientific integrity policy for public comment which will have major consequences for how the EPA conducts and carries out scientific activities, and particularly for how it protects EPA scientists and their work from political interference. Strong scientific integrity protections can prevent egregious attacks on science from occurring such as censoring or suppressing scientific reports, interfering with data collection, disbanding scientific advisory committees, and other kinds of political interference. When evaluating the EPA’s draft scientific integrity policy, we certainly found sections to celebrate but also parts that raise concerns. The EPA has some strong and unique sections related to building a culture of scientific integrity at the agency, but its policy also has gaps in its accountability section, a lack of language on the intersection between equity and scientific integrity, and several clauses that, in certain circumstances, could end up restricting the voices of scientists.
We Don’t Need to Reinvent Energy Storage for the Renewables Era by Tom Cassauwers at Sierra. Decades-old, yet reliable, technologies are making a comeback as batteries for wind and solar power. Innovations in battery technology are advancing quickly to increase their efficiency and storage capacity, but so far not quickly enough to cover the scores of renewable energy projects rising up across the world. That’s why scientists and companies are developing alternative ways to store energy—and many of these large scale options involve retrofitting, or reimagining, existing energy storage technologies for the 21st century. Deep under the surface of Texas and Louisiana, massive salt caverns store hundreds of millions of barrels of petroleum. This is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Created in the 1970s after the oil embargo, it remains one of the largest stores of petroleum in the world. The reserve, of course, isn't something the public would usually associate with a sustainable energy transition, but the way in which it was built might offer a solution to decarbonize our energy system. The salt caverns that are today pumped full of dirty petroleum might tomorrow house compressed air or excess wind and solar power that’s been converted into green hydrogen. "Salt has some very useful characteristics if you want to store energy," says Oliver Duffy, research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. "It serves as an excellent form of isolation."
I Really Hate It When Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Is Right by Liza Featherstone. Media hesitancy around microplastics is in part a defensive crouch against the torrent of misinformation on the topic. Noted crank and presidential hopeful RFK Jr., along with other dubious public figures, has made reckless claims, for example speculating that microplastics could be contributing to what Kennedy calls “gender confusion” among children. (He seems to be referring to queer and transgender identities.) There’s no evidence of that, and it’s red meat for the anti-trans far right. In deploying such queer-bashing and pseudoscientific narratives, Kennedy is fueling cultural tensions and hatreds that will do us no good. But the need to refute such misinformation shouldn’t obscure the seriousness of what we do know about microplastics. Researchers like the Dutch scientist who co-authored one of the recent studies are also stating the obvious: “Yes, we should be concerned,” ecotoxicology professor Dick Vethaak told National Geographic last year. “Plastic should not be in our blood.” Those who make their living hawking plastic toxins naturally seize upon scientific ambiguity to portray concern over plastic particles as fearmongering. The trade association that represents bottled water—one of the most unnecessary products on earth—gleefully crowed this month that there was “no scientific consensus” on the harms of plastics in drinking water, adding that media reports on the topic “do nothing but scare consumers.” But if you’re not the CEO of a bottled water company, it should be clear that having tiny bits of plastic in our bodies can’t be good.
The great American natural gas reckoning is upon us • The US Postal Service’s new EV chargers are here • 50 Years Since Nixon’s ‘National Speed Limit’: A Tale of Missed Opportunities • Energy transition investments hit record $1.8 trillion in 2023 • Microgreens made to order: Scientists tailor iodine and potassium content of radishes, peas, arugula and chard • Trees struggle to 'breathe' as climate warms, researchers find • GM’s ‘all-in’ electric future now includes gasoline • US and global climate policy: Can Podesta do both? • Utah Legislature Takes Aim at Rights of Nature Movement FEMA to help communities build back with grants for solar panels and heat pumps • Fighting for a Foothold in American Law, the Rights of Nature Movement Finds New Possibilities in a Change of Venue: the Arts