Earth Matters: Delay is denial whoever’s doing it; drilling permit lawsuit; nine new national trails

Earth Matters: Delay is denial whoever’s doing it; drilling permit lawsuit; nine new national trails

Companies around the planet are suing for big bucks under trade agreements in their fight against climate action and playing pretend with “net zero” pledges. Many national, state, and local administrations are pushing climate-addressing goals onto the back burner in the face of war, supply chain ailments, and high prices at the gas pump. These problems, of course, are all woven together. Putting climate policy on the back burner is, of course, not a new thing. It’s been going on for decades.

This has suited fossil fuel interests and their puppets in public office just fine. As long as the story was just about sea ice dwindling in the Arctic, they could keep up the lie of outright climate science denial and find enough willing shills in Congress and the presidency to achieve their key objective: a fatter bottom line. Even those who accepted the science secretly figured they could get away with lying about it because the worrisome changes were supposedly a century or more in the future.

But now the story is in millions of people’s backyards with heatwaves, floods, megadroughts, extreme storms, strange insects or no insects, and flowers that bloom two weeks earlier than before. One would think that such firsthand knowledge would be hard to shrug off. Yet only a small majority (54%) of Americans consider climate change to pose a major threat to the U.S. For people aged 18-29, it’s 62%. The companies and their pawns have done (and keep doing) a good job with their disinformation

It’s more sophisticated and insidious than flat-out denial these days. Deniers have switched to some version of “The climate has always changed and humans didn’t cause it in the past so they’re not causing it now.” However they qualify it, their disinformation dance has one key purpose: delaying action. For nearly two decades, as people who regularly read me know, I’ve viewed delay as just another form of denial. For example, in 2018, 2014, and 2012.

From 2014:

The consequence is that the delayers—those people with political clout who accept the scientific consensus about global warming but are too chickenshit to take action to reduce its impacts—have been aided in their procrastination by the IPCC’s striving not to appear alarmist in the five assessments it has issued over the past 24 years. Grim as the latest 116-page report officially released in Copenhagen Sunday is, and strong as the warnings in it are, it still gives delayers room to hem and haw and whine about how moving too quickly will ruin the economy. Still pretending that the environment and economy are two separate entities.

Liza Featherstone.

Two years back, in the coronavirus Before Times, I was glad to see what turned out to be a miniflurry of delay-is-denial media pieces. But it didn’t spread and didn’t last. Now I see Liza Featherstone has picked up the torch at The New Republic with her How to Fight Climate “Delay”—Denial’s Hipper, More Dangerous Cousin. A bullseye, in my opinion:

In recent years, climate has joined critical race theorytransgender student athletes, and mask wearing as a potent amulet in the culture war, animating a conservative base. Discourses of delay have been crucial in this process, this new report argues. You’ve probably heard some of these arguments before: that climate-friendly policy is an elite concern, that electric cars are just as bad for the environment as conventional cars, that it doesn’t matter what we in the United States do because China and India are even bigger polluters, or that renewable energy is unreliable.

Those of us pushing for immediate action will need to shift our own message to respond to this. … That doesn’t just mean counteracting the above misinformation …

It also means we need to stop talking so much about the future. When we make climate a problem of the future, we play into the hands of the climate delayists, who at this point are more dangerous than the climate denialists. The future, an uncertain place that is always difficult to imagine, is exactly where the fossil fuel industry wants climate advocacy to dwell. That’s because the future is never now.

WEEKLY ECO VIDEO

GREEN TAKES

Three Eco-groups Sue Biden Administration over Drilling Permits

The Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, and the Western Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Bureau of Land Management in an attempt to block some 3,500 permit applications for drilling for oil and gas on federal land. They argue that the Biden administration failed to consider the impact to endangered species via climate change that adding 600 million metric tons of greenhouse gases associated with extraction and subsequent burning of fossil fuels on federal land will cause. The suit asserts that permit approvals in Wyoming and New Mexico violated the Endangered Species Act. 

The same day, the environmental law firm EarthJustice and the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action released a report saying the leasing program “remains inconsistent with [President Biden’s] stated national climate pollution target and the goals of the Paris Agreement. … Beyond exacerbating the climate crisis, the U.S. federal fossil fuel leasing program is irreconcilable with the President’s environmental justice commitments. The impacts of the federal fossil fuel leasing program have all too often overburdened Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color living directly adjacent to the sites of extraction and upstream processing facilities.This environmental injustice must be rectified.”

A drilling rig on public land in Wyoming.

Early on, the administration sought to fulfill a campaign promise to suspend all new drilling on public lands, arguing that oil and gas companies already have 9,000 unused leases on federal land. But this pledge to end new leases ran aground on legal challenges from Republican-governed states and the oil and gas industry. In its first year in office, the Biden administration outpaced the Trump administration in its first year in approving new drilling leases. Oil and gas production on federal lands emits more than 400 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution, about 8% of all emissions from extracting and burning fossil fuel, or 1% of greenhouse gases on the planet. Unused leases have the potential to add 43 billion tons of missions.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement, “Fossil fuels are driving the extinction crisis, and the Bureau of Land Management is making things worse by failing to protect these imperiled species. The agency’s cursory approval of more than 3,500 drilling permits contradicts President Biden’s pledges to address the terrifying threat of climate change. Every new well takes polar bears and many other species one step closer to extinction.”

Said Jeremy Nichols, director of the Climate and Energy Program at WildEarth Guardians, “The Biden administration is literally drilling away the climate. Today’s lawsuit is about enforcing the reality that more oil and gas extraction only stands to fuel the climate crisis, contrary to the promises of President Biden.”

“The climate crisis is happening now, causing harms that are disproportionately felt by environmental justice communities, and it requires immediate action in order to maintain a livable planet,” said Kyle Tisdel, climate and energy program director with Western Environmental Law Center. “The federal government’s oil and gas program accounts for almost one-tenth of annual greenhouse gas emissions in the nation. While President Biden has acknowledged the urgency of this crisis, it is time for action to align with rhetoric. The Bureau of Land Management has admitted that continued oil and gas exploitation is a significant cause of the climate crisis, yet the agency continues to recklessly issue thousands of new oil and gas drilling permits, violating its duty to prevent unnecessary and undue degradation of public lands.”

Wildlife Needs Groundwater Too

The arid Upper Klamath Basin of eastern Oregon historically receives fewer than 15 inches of rainfall each year, so Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge wouldn’t exist unless springs steadily fed by groundwater seeped to the surface. But after a lengthy drought that has recently worsened, that groundwater is being pumped more than ever before for alfalfa, barley, and potato farms that edge up to the refuge. As Isabel Whitcomb at Sierra notes, “In competition with agriculture, wildlife is losing.” And the vital ecosystem of the refuge is in crisis. 

Klamath Marsh.

Previously, farmers fed their crops with water from Upper Klamath Lake, about 40 miles to the south of the refuge. But in 1988, two species of fish culturally important to the Klamath were assigned to the endangered species list, and farmers’ access to the lake was limited. As drought took hold, to keep from using lake water, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided in 2001 to subsidize groundwater pumping, which has since increased 300%. Bad move.

Klamath tribal biologist Alex Gonyaw told  Whitcomb that the bureau ignored the basin’s geology. Instead of accepting that underground water is a crucial element of the region’s lakes and wetlands, “they treat groundwater as separate from the surface.” As aquifer levels drop, marshes and wetlands in the Klamath dry up. According to tribal sociologist Clay Dumont, that has meant the 6 million migratory waterfowl that were common in the basin in the 1960s have dwindled to 120,000. 

It’s impossible to say exactly how much of this loss of habitat is due to groundwater pumping, as opposed to drought. “That is a big unknown,” Gonyaw said. But Gonyaw does know that Klamath Marsh should not be drying this quickly. In regions where rivers are fed by rain and snowmelt, rather than groundwater, drought has an immediate effect on surface water. But in otherwise healthy ecosystems, groundwater acts as a buffer—slowly releasing water into rivers and lakes at a steady rate, even as drought persists. Some scientists refer to groundwater-fed rivers and wetlands as “climate refugia,” meaning that they have the potential to escape the effects of climate change long into the future. Depending on the size of the aquifer, you could go anywhere from years to centuries before seeing a substantial change in the flow of a river, Gonyaw said. Sustainably managed groundwater has the potential to buy wildlife time as they adjust to a changing climate; runaway groundwater pumping is eroding that safety net.

These Are Nine New Trails Joining the National Trails System This June 

June is Great Outdoors Month and the first Saturday of the month is National Trails Day. In honor of both this year, the Department of the Interior announced two weeks ago that it was adding nine new national recreation trails in seven states to the National Trails System. The new trails add nearly 600 miles to 1,300 miles already part of the system, which has a presence in every state, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a press release:

“The National Trails System, which includes national scenic, historic and recreation trails, offers an abundance of opportunities to experience the breathtaking landscapes of our country, all while supporting outdoor recreation activities and boosting local economies. These new trails will help expand community connections to green spaces where children can play, families can connect, and a love and appreciation for the outdoors can be nurtured.”

Despite its hollow trunk, this massive cypress along the Revolutionary Rivers National Recreation Trail remains healthy.

The new trails are:

  1. The Seven-Mile Loop Trail in Florida’s Crystal River Preserve State Park. 
  2. The Fulbright Spring Greenway Trail in Missouri near Springfield. 
  3. The Inwood Hill Park Orange Trail in New York through Manhattan’s only forest.
  4. The New York State Canalway Water Trail, which you can only travel by boat.
  5. The Conotton Creek Bike Trail in Ohio.
  6. The Little Miami State Park in Ohio mostly follows the Little Miami River.
  7. The South Carolina Revolutionary Rivers Trail cuts through the swampland that Revolutionary War hero Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion used to hide from the British. 
  8. The Bob Woodruff Park and Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve Trails in Texas.
  9. The Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Trail System in Virginia.

ECO-TWEET

Horrific. Humans and wildlife alike are struggling for survival due to another historic drought in the horn of Africa. There is no planet B. There is too much to lose. #ActOnClimate#ClimateCrisis #Climateemegency #ClimateAction #climate #energy #WaterCrisis #GreenNewDeal pic.twitter.com/dapCLTrDjI

— Mike Hudema (@MikeHudema) June 12, 2022

ECOPINION

OPEC heavy Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia meets with fellow murderer President Vladmir Putin of Russia for a chuckle in 2018. Russia has cooperated with OPEC+ on oil production levels since 2016. 

We Should Have Busted OPEC While We Had the Chance by Timothy Noah at The New Republic. “The cartel clearly violates more than one U.S. law. We could help lower gas prices by going after it. So why don’t we?  Gasoline is priced at nearly $5 per gallon because after Russia invaded Ukraine the United States banned imports of Russian oil and the European Union imposed a partial import ban. The U.S. and its European allies are now weighing the creation of a buyer’s cartel against Russian oil sold elsewhere. The cartel would cap the price of Russian oil by directing companies that insure shipments of Russian oil, nearly all of which are in the U.S. or the EU, to refuse coverage to shipments of oil priced above the cap. Also under consideration is a scheme to punish countries that purchase oil above the price cap by denying them access to U.S. financial institutions. These are creative ideas, difficult to pull off, especially as China emerges from its Covid crisis, pushing oil prices even higher. ‘We are nowhere near the peak,’ United Arab Emirates energy minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei said last week. How did we get into this fix? Partly because we’re a freedom-loving people who revile the human rights atrocities Russia is committing in Ukraine. But partly, too, because as a nation we’re too lenient about white-collar crime.”

Ukraine helps feed the world—but its farmers, seeds and future are in danger by Michael Fakhri and Sofia Monsalve at The Guardian. “Only four companies—Bayer-Monsanto, DowDuPont/Corteva, ChemChina-Syngenta and BASF—dominate 60% of the global seed market, as a recent report from the UN special rapporteur on the right to food shows. These corporations provide seeds through commodity seed systems, which are dedicated to the reproduction of homogeneous varieties dependent on chemical inputs and protected through intellectual property regimes. The very same companies control 75% of the global pesticides market. This high concentration of corporate power allows a relatively small group to restrict people’s access to seeds, and to shape markets and research in a way that serves the ultimate goal of shareholder profit maximization and not the public good. This system creates dependency and erodes healthy, diverse diets and biodiversity. About 60% of all calories consumed worldwide come from just four crops: rice, wheat, corn and soy. Moreover, an alarming 75% of crop diversity has been lost over the past century due to the upscaling of industrial farming models, which are based on the use of commercial seed, synthetic fertilizer and pesticides.”

Ukraine War: Amid fossil fuel “gold rush,” Canada’s dirty tar sands back “in hot demand” by Andy Rowell at Oil Change International. “Last week, Climate Action Tracker issued a report entitled the ‘Global reaction to energy crisis risks zero carbon transition.’ In a damning indictment, it  concluded that despite the urgency, ‘so far, governments have largely failed to seize their chance to rearrange their energy supplies away from fossil fuels. Instead, we are witnessing a global ‘gold rush’ for new fossil gas production …This risks locking us into another high-carbon decade and keeping the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit out of reach.’ If we are not careful we will soon be locked into ‘irreversible warming.’ And one of those countries failing to seize the chance to step up to address the climate challenge is Canada. The country’s long-term problem is that much of its oil is from the dirty tar sands, which is extremely carbon intensive and ecologically destructive to produce. The oil is extracted as a heavy bitumen, which uses a huge amount of energy and water to process into crude oil. Vast areas of the tar sands production belt in Alberta now resembles a desecrated moonscape of destruction.”

Bitumen is excavated at the Syncrude Mildred Lake mining site. Giant tires line the traffic circle.

Climate change is all about power. You have more than you think by Rebecca Leber at Vox. “This is not another story about why you should feel bad about your carbon footprint. The idea of ‘doing your part’ for climate change has become synonymous with changing your personal consumption — your diet, travel, and habits. It’s too narrow a mindset to focus on your household footprint, because it doesn’t begin to tackle how entire industries and economies profit from fossil fuels. It’s also an argument that has been debunked repeatedly by academics and scientists. The United Nations’ climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has described individual action as ‘insufficient,’ unless it is ‘embedded in structural and cultural change.’ But this is also not another story about how individuals don’t matter to climate change. Blaming the crisis entirely on the politicians and fossil fuel companies who keep us in this mess and throwing up our hands is too easy an out when the stakes are so high. Unless you’re a Fortune 500 executive or have a taste for flying on private jets and owning supersized yachts, your biggest capacity for change probably won’t be as a consumer. It will be as a citizen, worker, and community member.”

How Fossil Fuel Executives Overheated US Public Classrooms by Sverre Leray and Richard Wiles at Common Dreams. “While the oil industry rakes in record profits—nearly $100 billion in the first quarter of this year—public schools are paying the price for their climate pollution and disinformation. … Last year, the Center for Climate Integrity and Resilient Analytics calculated for the first time how much it has—and will continue to—cost America’s public schools to keep their classrooms at a safe temperature for students and teachers as the planet warms. Our study, Hotter Days, Higher Costs: The Cooling Crisis in America’s Classrooms, found that K-12 public schools in the U.S. that did not need air conditioning in 1970 will face $40 billion in equipment costs by 2025 to install HVAC systems that meet current engineering and public health criteria. Schools that already required air conditioning in 1970 will need to spend $415 million to upgrade those systems to cope with hotter school days. Operating and maintaining this new equipment will cost more than $1.5 billion per year, or $46 billion over the 30 year life of a typical HVAC system.”

Heatwave make it rough on students and teachers in classrooms without air conditioning.

ECO-QUOTE

“The most important lesson to take from all this is that there is no way to confront the climate crisis as a technocratic problem, in isolation. It must be seen in the context of austerity and privatization, of colonialism and militarism, and of the various systems of othering needed to sustain them all. The connections and intersections between them are glaring, and yet so often, resistance to them is highly compartmentalized. The anti-austerity people rarely talk about climate change; the climate change people rarely talk about war or occupation. Too many of us fail to make the connection between the guns that take black lives on the streets of U.S. cities and in police custody and the much larger forces that annihilate so many black lives on arid land and in precarious boats around the world. Overcoming these disconnections, strengthening the threads tying together our various issues and movements, is, I would argue, the most pressing task of anyone concerned with social and economic justice. It is the only way to build a counter-power sufficiently robust to win against the forces protecting the highly profitable but increasingly untenable status quo.” — Naomi Klein On Fire: The Case for the Green New Deal

HALF A DOZEN OTHER THINGS TO READ (OR LISTEN TO)

Whales are among the creatures whose senses are overwhelmed by human noise and light pollution, altering their perception of the world.

How Animals Perceive the World by Ed Yong at The Atlantic. Jesse Barber, a sensory ecologist at Boise State University, “is one of a growing number of sensory biologists who fear that humans are polluting the world with too much light, to the detriment of other species. Even here, in the middle of a national park, light from human technology intrudes upon the darkness. It spews forth from the headlights of passing vehicles, from the fluorescent bulbs of the visitor center, and from the lampposts encircling the parked cars. ‘The parking lot is lit up like a Walmart because no one thought about the implications for wildlife,’ Barber says. Many flying insects are fatally attracted to streetlights, mistaking them for celestial lights and hovering below them until they succumb to exhaustion. Some bats exploit their confusion, feasting on the disoriented swarms. Other, slower-moving species, including the little brown bats that Barber tagged, stay clear of the light, perhaps because it makes them easier prey for owls. Lights reshape animal communities, drawing some in and pushing others away, with consequences that are hard to predict.”

Mangrove restoration in the Philippines 

Nature restoration and carbon removal are not the same. Here’s why it matters by Six carbon removal and forest experts at Climate Home News. “One popular way to take CO2 out of the atmosphere is restoring nature — for example, growing trees to build back carbon lost from deforestation or restoring carbon in soils. Restoring nature is one of the key pillars in our fight against climate change. However, the CO2 captured by nature is stored in the ‘biological’ or ‘short’ carbon cycle, where the risk of reversal is high. Forests can be cut or burnt down and succumb to diseases or pests. Soils can quickly lose any new carbon stored if the regenerative practices are discontinued. Fossil carbon and its atmospheric impacts operate on a much longer carbon cycle. Fossil fuels are part of the “long” carbon cycle, and consist of biomass put under pressure for millions of years and stored safely underground. When fossil carbon is released into the atmosphere, the CO2 sticks around for thousands of years. Because short and long carbon cycle storage have different effects on warming, it is essential to differentiate between these two approaches.”

End old-growth logging in carbon-rich ‘crown jewel’ of U.S. forests: Study by John Cannon at Mongabay. “Conservation biologist Dominick DellaSala and his colleagues found in a study that the the Tongass National Forest in Alaska holds about a fifth of all the carbon in the entire United States National Forest system. That’s equivalent to 1.5 times all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. ‘There are few places in the world that can exceed what’s on the Tongass,’ DellaSala said. … But today, the Tongass sits at the center of a decades-long debate over whether its old-growth forests should be protected from logging and roads. In 2001, then-president Bill Clinton signed the National Roadless Conservation Rule into law. Included were vast tracts of unbroken wilderness in the Tongass. But since that time, the rule’s protections of roadless areas in the Tongass have been repeatedly challenged in the courts. Republican presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump used executive orders to undo those protections, arguing that the forests are important for the provision of timber and the industry jobs that go along with it. President Biden wants to lock the Tongass protections into law so that a future president cannot strip them away.”

Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) trees.

Wind Power Is (Finally) Having a Moment by Tara Lohan at The Revelator. “Last year wind was the fourth largest source of electricity generation in the United States — following gas, coal and nuclear — and the largest source of renewable energy. On March 29 it even briefly shot into second place behind gas. Onshore wind dominates … for now. Texas leads the nation in wind and produces 20% of its generated electricity. In Iowa wind generates 57% of the state’s electricity, with Kansas (44%) and Oklahoma (36%) following. The pandemic didn’t slow wind development much. The past two years have seen record-breaking installation. In 2020 turbine capacity increased 14.2 gigawatts, with another 17 gigawatts following in 2021. This year 7.6 gigawatts are expected to come online — with half of that capacity coming from Texas.”

The Most Worrisome Threat to Global Climate Action You’ve Likely Never Heard Of by Nick Cunningham at Sierra magazine. “When governments around the world finally get serious about addressing the climate crisis, they will inevitably need to begin restricting oil and gas production. As the International Energy Agency concluded last year, any further expansion of the fossil fuel is incompatible with reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. But when governments do finally take that warning seriously and begin to put tougher restrictions on new fossil fuel projects, they may confront an often-overlooked obstacle: Obscure trade agreements and treaties that could allow the fossil fuel industry and its investors to file legal claims to win hundreds of billions of dollars in compensation from cash-strapped governments. A new study published in Science estimates that governments could be on the hook for $340 billion in legal claims, a sum so large that it could cripple the finances of developing countries that take climate action at a time when it is desperately needed. Worryingly, the mere threat of legal claims could dramatically slow the clean energy transition by encouraging fossil fuel investments for many more years, according to the study.”

An oil tanker in the Houston Ship Channel

Biden urged to suspend fossil fuel exports as gas prices hit record highs by Jake Johnson at Common Dreams. “’In recent months, companies and commodities traders have shipped more U.S. gasoline and diesel to Latin America and other foreign markets, reaping higher prices than the fuel could fetch domestically,’ The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. ‘The jumps in fuel shipments abroad are further draining U.S. inventories that were already languishing at low levels after output cuts during the worst of the pandemic.’ That news came as no surprise to Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program. In 2015 congressional testimony, Slocum warned that lifting the crude oil export ban would ‘erode surplus domestic stockpiles and allow domestic oil producers to sell oil overseas for higher prices than what they are able to charge domestically,’ resulting in ‘higher gasoline prices for U.S. motorists and small businesses.’ … ‘It’s time for the president to act, declare an emergency on behalf of working families, and limit exports of petroleum,’ said Slocum.”

ECOBITS

• A Growing Movement to Reclaim Water Rights for Indigenous PeopleThe sun bakes wildfire smoke, changing its toxicity • The Fossil Fuel Industry is Fighting Colorado’s Important New Rules for Oil and Gas Tesla deploys its 35,000th Supercharger Conservative shareholders attack ‘climate clown show’ Interior offers proposals for storing CO2 on public lands Allergies in overdrive as extreme weather drives higher pollen count In an Attempt to Wrestle Away Land for Game Hunters, Tanzanian Government Fires on Maasai Farmers, Killing Two • “Heat Ages People”: As Temperatures Rise, Scientists Study How Humans React 

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