In the face of climate change, we all have to be optimistic, not because success is guaranteed but because failure is unthinkable. —Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac
Our Climate Crisis
A UN climate report card on progress since the 2015 Paris Agreement says countries are trying, but urgently need to improve their efforts. Many of the worst-case climate change scenarios now look far less likely yet efforts made thus far still aren’t enough to avoid calamity. The report is meant to serve as the foundation for the next round of climate negotiations, known as COP28, that will start in late November in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
Increased global warming will cause 500 million people around the world, particularly in places such as South Asia and the Middle East, to be exposed to life threatening extreme heat for at least a month by 2030—even if they can get out of the sun. This will create a new global wave of disease and death linked to climate change, according to an analysis of climate data and leading scientific studies. Pakistan will be the epicenter of places that bear the brunt of Earth’s heating.
Climate-fueled weather disasters have exponentially increased the cost of the Federal Crop Insurance Program from just under $3 billion in 2002 to just over $19 billion last year. Annual payouts in 2022 were 546% more than they were in 2001. Farmers pay about 40% of the premiums and taxpayers subsidize about 60%. Roughly 80% of crop insurance payments go to the largest 20% of farms that primarily grow one or two carbon intensive crops.
Politics and Policy
Research shows that the World Bank spent billions of dollars backing fossil fuels in 2022 despite repeated promises to refocus on shifting to a low-carbon economy. The money went through a special form of funding known as trade finance, which lacks transparency on funds used for oil and gas development. Until that is changed, the World Bank cannot claim to be aligned with the Paris climate agreement.
Virginia utility regulators ruled against Dominion Energy’s attempt to saddle rooftop installations with astronomical grid interconnection fees that were stifling the industry’s gains across Virginia. At stake were medium sized 25 Kw to 1 Mw solar installations that use power purchase agreements. These kinds of solar installations have appealed to universities, public schools, hospitals, churches, municipalities and small commercial ventures.
California is suing five oil companies and their trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, over what the state says is a long-standing pattern of deceiving the public over the risks associated with fossil fuel. According to the complaint, this is causing billions of dollars in damage to communities and the environment. The lawsuit claims the oil companies have created a public nuisance, damaged natural resources and state property and have violated California law with false advertising and misleading environmental marketing.
The great news is that Virginia is meeting short-term carbon-free targets laid out in the sweeping Clean Economy Act of 2020. A big challenge is that new clean energy projects are gummed-up in their regional grid operator’s transmission interconnection queue, potentially stalling this progress. Off-shore wind is projected to make up a big proportion of new clean energy installations in the coming decades.
Building the world’s first large-scale green steel plant just moved closer to becoming a reality. H2 Green Steel, the company behind the groundbreaking project in Sweden, recently announced that it has raised the necessary funding to build the plant and begin production in 2025. Clean hydrogen will replace fossil fuels in the steelmaking process. The steelmaking industry is responsible for between 7 and 9% of global carbon emissions.
Dominion Energy is seeking an air quality permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to build a new natural gas plant that will be a major new source of greenhouse gas emissions. Dominion claims the plant is needed to provide future projected demand for power from data centers and EVs. Environmental groups are sharply criticizing the proposed plant on the grounds that it goes against the goal of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which requires Dominion to decarbonize its grid by midcentury.
Offshore wind has had a rough summer due to rising interest rates and delays in getting key components. This has led developers to ask for new terms in existing deals. It’s a messy situation that threatens to undermine the future of offshore wind as a major and affordable source of clean electricity. More positively, rather than backing out of projects, companies are saying they need to renegotiate agreements. While this may mean delays and an increase in costs for consumers, it’s far from a catastrophe.
The European Union is on track to reach the renewable energy goal it set for 2030 three years early according to the 2023 annual report of Solar Power Europe. Solar is on a fast track around the world. In 2022, 45% more solar power capacity was installed than the year before. The positive market developments in the first months of 2023 promise another solar boom year, with expected growth of 43%.
Electric vehicles have heavy batteries that are filled with minerals extracted from around the world. You may have heard that this makes fossil fuel vehicles look good. Global fossil fuel extraction, however, dwarfs mineral mining for clean energy. Fifteen billion tons of coal, oil, and gas were extracted in 2019 compared to seven million tons of minerals that were extracted in 2020 for the entire clean energy economy. Furthermore, unlike fossil fuels, minerals can be reused and recycled.
Faith leaders joined the demand for climate justice at the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi hosted by the African Union and the government of Kenya. Activist groups had hoped that the summit would develop a radical vision for Africa, but the final declaration was disappointingly similar to previous climate summits that produced inadequate results. The climate activists then produced their own statement which said the final declaration imposed failed climate policies on the continent and reflected old colonial attitudes.
Kolkata, a city of more than 4.5 million in eastern India, is a microcosm of how global warming unequally affects the urban poor. Since 1950, the city’s average temperature has risen more than any megacity— by 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat is expected to keep soaring, along with more intense cyclones, monsoon rainfalls and rampant flooding. Living in densely built neighborhoods with narrow streets and alleys, little or no tree cover, and a paucity of basic services like electricity, the urban poor bear the brunt of these climate changes.
Developing countries are often on the frontlines of the climate crisis yet lack the resources to develop clean energy and to enact climate action plans. At the same time, large banks have been pouring some $3.2 trillion into the fossil fuel industry to expand operations in the global south. They have also loaned and underwritten at least $370 billion in developing countries for the expansion of industrial agriculture, which is a major a contributor to global warming.
Bhutan, a small Buddhist kingdom nestled in the Himalayas between India and China, has 70% forest cover and is carbon neutral. It has environmental commitments to maintain at least 60% forest cover and to remain carbon neutral. Despite its exemplary climate stewardship it faces risks from rising temperatures and melting glaciers. Agriculture employs 43% of the labor force with women making up 53.3% of that total. Given agriculture’s vulnerability to climate change, the country is focusing on training girls in climate literacy.
Looming over the United Auto Workers strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis is concern that many EV battery and assembly plants are being built in the South—a region long characterized by low wages and hostility to labor unions. Union leaders are concerned that this shift will lower wages and cut out unions from the auto industry’s future.
Over 75,000 climate activists marched in New York City at the start of Climate Week at the UN General Assembly. They demanded that President Joe Biden stop approving new oil and gas projects, phase out current ones and declare a climate emergency. Speaking to a cheering crowd, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exclaimed, “We have to send a message that some of us are going to be living on, on this planet 30, 40, 50 years from now. And we will not take no for an answer.”
One day after the March to End Fossil Fuels, climate activists blockaded multiple entrances into the Federal Reserve bank in an act of civil disobedience and more than 100 were arrested. They were calling attention to the fact that globally, government subsidies for coal, oil and gas are equivalent to 7% of global GDP and almost double what the world spends on education.
Electric cars are smashing sales records in the U.S. and now exceed 7% of new cars sold—a critical tipping point for mass adoption. It took 10 years to sell the first million fully electric vehicles in our country, two years to reach the second million, and just over a year to reach the third. We should be well on our way to a fourth million by the time the latest quarter’s figures for 2023 are tallied up.
The Harrisonburg City Council unanimously approved supporting the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy program that helps businesses in the city adopt renewable energy. Vice mayor Laura Dent was especially enthusiastic because it addresses the missing business sector in the city’s energy efficiency goals for the community.
NPR is dedicating an entire week to stories and conversations about the search for climate solutions. Reporting teams across the NPR Network have been scouring the world for solutions to climate change. They’re sharing what they found this week. This isn’t just about “covering” the climate — it’s meant to remind everyone that you can always do something. See highlights of specific stories at this link.
Climate Activist Social on Tuesday, October 24, 5pm – until, at Pale Fire Brewing Co., 217 S Liberty St #105, Harrisonburg, VA. Calling all Rocktown climate advocates, seasoned or interested! Come have a drink (or not) with us. Let’s have a meeting without an agenda. This social event is hosted by the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley. There will be a table for things to sign or pick up, but really, this is a social time. Come, invite your friends and RSVP here!
Earl Zimmerman is a member of the Steering Committee of the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley.