Unless it's immediately proceeded by the word "no," the phrase "good news" rarely appears these days in stories about climate change. But in a year in which we found out that our oceans may rise this century by as much as three feet and that atmospheric carbon dioxide is higher than it has been in nearly a million years, there were still some bright spots. And in preparation for Thanksgiving, we've compiled a list of four environmental developments for which you can give thanks. You can see even more on Twitter by searching the hashtag #ClimateThanks.
1. The U.S. and the World Bank will avoid financing coal-fired power plants abroad.
The Arctic is melting, so the U.S. is rolling up there with its guns and ammo.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid out the Pentagon's first-ever Arctic strategy -- a military strategy designed to keep the fast-melting region peaceful and clean as it is plundered by drillers and traversed by shippers. From his speech on Friday [PDF]:
Climate change is shifting the landscape in the Arctic more rapidly than anywhere else in the world. While the Arctic temperature rise is relatively small in absolute terms, its effects are significant – transforming what was a frozen desert into an evolving navigable ocean, giving rise to an unprecedented level of human activity. Traffic in the Northern Sea Route is reportedly expected to increase tenfold this year compared to last year. ...
With Arctic sea routes starting to see more activities like tourism and commercial shipping, the risk of accidents increases. Migrating fish stocks will draw fishermen to new areas, challenging existing management plans. And while there will be more potential for tapping what may be as much as a quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas, a flood of interest in energy exploration has the potential to heighten tensions over other issues – even though most projected oil and gas reserves in the region are located within undisputed exclusive economic zones.
Despite potential challenges, these developments create the opportunity for nations to work together through coalitions of common interest, as both Arctic and non-Arctic nations begin to lay out their strategies and positions on the future of the region.
In doublespeak that would make any Times journalist scoff, newspaper management claimed at the time that the changes were being made in an effort to improve environmental coverage. "We have not lost any desire for environmental coverage," the paper's managing editor for news operations told Inside Climate News in January. "This is purely a structural matter."
By killing the environment desk, other desks would take a heightened interest in such wonky issues as national climate policy, greenhouse gas emissions metrics, and adaptation challenges in the Philippines. At least, that was the idea -- taking environmental coverage out of its "silo." (That, and saving money.)
But late during the two weeks of negotiations in Warsaw, Poland, known as COP19, which ended Saturday, a few drops of refreshing news splashed down. Here's a full rundown.
The big news
In 2015, each of the planet's nations will offer a proposal for contributing to a reduction in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. This agreement didn't come until Saturday night, a day after the talks were supposed to have ended. The AP reported that the "modest deal" averted "a last-minute breakdown."
As we reported this week, some of the world's richest nations are lagging behind on their climate protection pledges. Most often, these commitments follow the formula: "We aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions X percent below year Y levels by year Z." It seems like a straightforward proposition, but have you ever wondered where those numbers come from? The answer is a scientific concept known as the carbon budget, and like a teenager with her first credit card, we're well on our way to blowing right through it.
In the video above, Kelly Levin, a climate policy expert at the World Resources Institute, explains what our carbon budget is, how much we've already "spent," and why it matters.
This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion of some of the science behind Thanksgiving: Why thankfulness is good for us, and what kinds of food safety issues you should know about when it comes to Thanksgiving leftovers.
Simon Singh may not sound like your average fan of The Simpsons. He has a PhD in particle physics from Cambridge and made an award-winning documentary about Fermat's Last Theorem. Let's be frank: He's a math geek.
"There are lots of mathematicians on the Simpson's [writing team] … and they still have a great affection towards numbers and geometry," says Singh in this week's interview on the Inquiring Minds podcast (listen below).
The fracking industry wouldn't lie, would it? But how else to explain the massive discrepancies between the number of jobs that it claims to create and the number of jobs that it actually creates? Perhaps it's just confused about what's going on at its own operations.
Whatever the reason, the gulf between fracking propaganda and reality has been laid bare in a new report led by the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative, a watchdog group that studies employment trends, economic development, and community impacts associated with fracking and proposed fracking in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.
"Industry supporters have exaggerated the jobs impact in order to minimize or avoid altogether taxation, regulation, and even careful examination of shale drilling," Frank Mauro, one of the authors of the report, told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
When Senate Democrats blew up the filibuster Thursday, they didn’t just rewrite some rules. They struck a mortal blow to a tradition that has blockaded effective action on climate change. If you tried to summarize the cycle of hope and disappointment on climate policy during President Obama’s tenure, you’d bump into the filibuster at every turn. During Obama’s first term, Senate Republicans elevated the once-rarely invoked supermajority threshold required to end debate under Senate rules into a de facto 60-vote requirement to pass any legislation. Instead of merely voting against bills they opposed, the GOP filibustered all of them. They …
Seitz recently introduced legislation that would water down five-year-old state rules requiring utilities in Ohio to sell renewable power and invest in energy-efficiency measures. One of his bill's provisions would revoke a rule requiring half of renewable energy sold by utilities to be generated within the state, but that proved extremely controversial, so he says he's about to release an amended version of the bill that would delay instead of revoke that rule.
If you still don't dig Seitz's legislation, even after he's gone to all the trouble of amending it, well, then he has some strong and odd words for you. From The Columbus Dispatch:
Opponents say the bill is a giveaway to electric utilities and large businesses at the expense of the state’s “green” economy.
Seitz described the bill’s opponents as “the usual suspects,” a group that he said includes “enviro-socialist rent-seekers” who depend on government mandates, while he said its supporters include a wide array of businesses and labor groups.
Hey, that's some intelligent discourse! But guess what, Seitz, you're behind the times, even by right-winger standards.