Stuff that matters

Tar wars

ExxonMobil has doubled down on dirty tar-sands oil.

The company recently admitted that it has invested heavily in Canada’s tar-sands oil reserves, InsideClimate News reports — and it was not a good bet.

Tar-sands oil is difficult, expensive, and energy-consuming to extract, making it especially bad for the climate. It’s only profitable when oil prices are high. Exxon acknowledged in a public financial disclosure report this fall that it could be forced to take a loss on billions of barrels of tar-sands oil unless prices rise soon.

The company made this unwise investment despite long knowing, as InsideClimate News previously reported, that burning oil causes climate change and future climate regulations could make tar-sands oil unprofitable or impossible to drill.

In 1991, Exxon’s Canadian affiliate Imperial Oil commissioned an analysis that found carbon regulation could halt tar-sands production. “Yet Exxon, Imperial, and others poured billions of dollars into the tar sands while lobbying against government actions that would curtail development,” according to InsideClimate News.

This news comes just after Donald Trump nominated ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. The State Department is responsible for reviewing proposed pipeline projects that cross international borders, like Keystone XL, which would have carried tar-sands oil from Canada down toward U.S. refineries.

dangerous ground

A second Goldman prize-winning activist, Isidro Baldenegro López, was murdered this Sunday in Mexico.

The indigenous activist’s death marks the second murder of a Goldman recipient in less than a year, following the assassination of Berta Caceres last March, the Guardian reports.

The 50-year-old subsistence farmer and leader of the Tarahumara people devoted his life to indigenous rights. At age 19, Baldenegro witnessed the assassination of his own father — a Tarahumara leader who had organized protests against logging in the Sierra Madre mountains — before taking up the cause for himself. In 2005, Baldenegro won the Goldman prize for his nonviolent grassroots campaign to stop deforestation.

Baldenegro’s story is the latest installment in an ongoing global crisis. According to watchdog group Global Witness, 2015 was the worst year on record for assassinations of environmental activists, with 185 recorded killings total. Of those 185 murders, 122 occurred in Latin America and nearly 40 percent were indigenous activists.

The numbers for 2016 aren’t in yet, but things aren’t looking good. Higher-profile assassinations and attacks on Goldman awardees may catch international attention, but everywhere environmental activists continue to die more or less under the radar.

Cooling down on climate change

Obama doesn’t sound like a guy planning to fight for his climate legacy.

At his final press conference on Wednesday, the president said that some issues — for example, “how concerned are we about air pollution or climate change” — are just part of the “normal back-and-forth, ebb-and-flow of policy.”

Other issues, though, might get him riled up enough to speak out after he leaves office. “[T]here’s a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake,” he said. He listed a few things that he would see as threats to those core values: “systematic discrimination,” “obstacles to people being able to vote,” “institutional efforts to silence dissent or the press,” and deportation of so-called Dreamers.

It sounded like an articulation of his priorities in the Trump era, and global warming didn’t make the cut. Likewise, in Obama’s farewell address last week, he mentioned climate change and clean energy, but his more passionate points were dedicated to sustaining a healthy democracy.

In September, Obama talked about focusing on climate change after he leaves office, but at that point, he thought Hillary Clinton would be succeeding him. Now that Donald Trump is moving into the Oval Office, Obama seems to be indicating that he’ll focus on other problems instead.

We shall overcomb

Heading to D.C. this week? There’s a climate-themed protest for you.

Tens of thousands of protestors are expected to descend on Washington, D.C., ahead of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday. Organizers have plans to disrupt meetings, erect blockades, and hold a dance party. There may be glitter bombings.

Here’s a snapshot of what’s in store:

  • On Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is holding a morning meeting and, as it’s done for two years, Beyond Extreme Energy plans to disrupt it. More details are available on their Facebook event page.
  • The Women’s March kicks off Saturday at 10 a.m. in D.C. as well as in more than 600 cities across the country. The platform says that everybody has the right to clean air and water and that “our land and natural resources cannot be exploited for corporate gain or greed — especially at the risk of public safety and health.” The march has its own climate justice contingent.

Picture imperfect

Get those Instagrams in now: Climate change is going to mess up good weather days.

In a new study published in the journal Climatic Change, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration project that the globe will see fewer mild weather days in the future — days that are between 68 and 86 degrees with low humidity and little rain.

“It’s the type of weather where you can go outside and do something fun,” lead author Karin van der Wiel told the Associated Press. “It’s not too cold. It’s not too hot. It’s not too humid.”

For the past three decades, the world has seen an average of 74 of these mild days each year. But that number is projected to shrink to 64 by the last two decades of the century.

Of course, not all places have an equal number of nice days now, and disparities will get even wider as the planet continues heating up. Northern cities in Europe and North America could actually see an increase in mild days as winter temperatures rise, but nearly all of Africa, eastern South America, South Asia, and northern Australia will see a decrease. Rio de Janeiro is projected to lose 40 mild days by 2100. Seattle, on the other hand, is likely to pick up nine.

The poll truth

Americans want the EPA to do its job, even if Trump and Pruitt don’t.

According to a poll by Reuters/Ipsos, 61 percent of Americans want the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency to be preserved or strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidency (however short it may be).

Only 19 percent of Americans would like to see the EPA’s powers weakened or eliminated — but that small minority are in the same camp as Trump and his pick for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, who is a climate change denier and longtime adversary of the agency he will likely soon be running. As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt tried to sue the pants off the EPA, pursuing numerous lawsuits against the agency over President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and other regulations. Pruitt has sketchy ties and financial connections to fossil fuel companies and a record of siding with polluters instead of regular people.

According to this new poll, the American public won’t be pleased with Pruitt’s extreme agenda. More than 60 percent of respondents said they do not want protections for air, water, or wildlife to be weakened to help the energy industry.

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Pruitt expressed yet more skepticism about climate science and said EPA has been overreaching during the Obama administration. Despite all this, he’s expected to be confirmed.


Trump, Monsanto, and Bayer walk into a tower.

The leaders of the two major companies met with the president-elect and promised 3,000 new jobs and billions in research investment if regulators approve their proposed merger, Politico reports.

In September, Bayer made the offer to buy Monsanto and form what the clever people at Vox call a Ginormous Merged Organization, or GMO. Regulators both in the United States and Europe are scrutinizing the deal. It’s just one of many huge agribusiness mergers in the works, which could either stifle innovation and screw farmers, or supercharge innovation and set farmers free (Brad Plumer lays out the arguments on both sides).

This latest news looks a lot like a quid pro quo: If there’s anything Trump can do to lower the regulatory hurdles (quid), he’ll be able to claim responsibility for a little increased investment in the heartland (quo). But it might also piss off Republicans like Sen. Chuck Grassley, who have been suspicious of the deal, and that could hurt Trump’s larger political ambitions.