Category Archives: Climate action

A Grave Climate Warning, Buried on Black Friday

Repost from The Atlantic

In a massive new report, federal scientists contradict President Trump and assert that climate change is an intensifying danger to the United States. Too bad it came out on a holiday.

By Robinson Meyer, NOV 23, 2018

Firefighters battle the King Fire near Fresh Pond, California, in September 2014.
Firefighters battle the King Fire near Fresh Pond, California, in September 2014. NOAH BERGER / REUTERS

On Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, the federal government published a massive and dire new report on climate change. The report warns, repeatedly and directly, that climate change could soon imperil the American way of life, transforming every region of the country, imposing frustrating costs on the economy, and harming the health of virtually every citizen.

Most significantly, the National Climate Assessment—which is endorsed by NASA, NOAA, the Department of Defense, and 10 other federal scientific agencies—contradicts nearly every position taken on the issue by President Donald Trump. Where the president has insisted that fighting global warming will harm the economy, the report responds: Climate change, if left unchecked, could eventually cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year, and kill thousands of Americans to boot. Where the president has said that the climate will “probably” “change back,” the report replies: Many consequences of climate change will last for millennia, and some (such as the extinction of plant and animal species) will be permanent.

The report is a huge achievement for American science. It represents cumulative decades of work from more than 300 authors. Since 2015, scientists from across the U.S. government, state universities, and businesses have read thousands of studies, summarizing and collating them into this document. By law, a National Climate Assessment like this must be published every four years.

It may seem like a funny report to dump on the public on Black Friday, when most Americans care more about recovering from Thanksgiving dinner than they do about adapting to the grave conclusions of climate science. Indeed, who ordered the report to come out today?

It’s a good question with no obvious answer.


The report is blunt: Climate change is happening now, and humans are causing it. “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities,” declares its first sentence. “The assumption that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past is no longer valid.”

At this point, such an idea might be common wisdom—but this does not make it any less shocking, or less correct. For centuries, humans have lived near the ocean, assuming that the sea will not often move from its fixed location. They have planted wheat at its time, and corn at its time, assuming that the harvest will not often falter. They have delighted in December snow, and looked forward to springtime blossoms, assuming that the seasons will not shift from their course.

Now, the sea is lifting above its shore, the harvest is faltering, and the seasons arrive and depart in disorder.

The report tells this story, laying simple fact on simple fact so as to build a terrible edifice. Since 1901, the United States has warmed 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat waves now arrive earlier in the year and abate later than they did in the 1960s. Mountain snowpack in the West has shrunk dramatically in the past half century. Sixteen of the warmest 17 years on record have occurred since 2000.

Houses lay submerged in floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston in August 2017. The National Climate Assessment warns that climate change will make catastrophic floods more likely. (Adrees Latif / Reuters)

This trend “can only be explained by the effects that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, have had on the climate,” the report says. It warns that if humans wish to avoid 3.6 degrees of warming, they must dramatically cut this kind of pollution by 2040. On the other hand, if greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, then the Earth could warm by as much as 9 degrees by 2100.

“It shows us that climate change is not a distant issue. It’s not about plants, or animals, or a future generation. It’s about us, living now,” says Katharine Hayhoe, an author of the report and an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University.

The report visits each region of the country, describing the local upheavals wrought by a global transformation. Across the Southeast, massive wildfires—like those seen now in California—could soon become a regular occurrence, smothering Atlanta and other cities in toxic smog, it warns. In New England and the mid-Atlantic, it says, oceanfront barrier islands could erode and narrow. And in the Midwest, it forecasts plunging yields of corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice.

Its projections of sea-level rise are just as ominous. If carbon pollution continues to rise, a huge swath of the Atlantic coast—from North Carolina to Maine—will see sea-level rise of five feet by 2100. New Orleans, Houston, and the Gulf Coast could also face five feet of rising seas. Even Los Angeles and San Francisco could see the Pacific Ocean rise by three feet.

Even if humanity were to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, the report forecasts that New Orleans could still see five feet of sea-level rise by 2100.

Andrew Light, another author of the report and a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, said that although the report cannot make policy recommendations, it might be read as an endorsement of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“If the United States were to try and achieve the targets in the Paris Agreement, then things will be bad, but we can manage,” he said. “But if we don’t meet them, then we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of lives every year that are at risk because of climate change. And hundreds of billions of dollars.”


If you think the Friday after Thanksgiving seems like an odd day to publish such a major report, you’re right. The assessment was originally scheduled to be released in December at a large scientific conference in Washington, D.C. But earlier this week, officials announced that the report would come out two weeks early, on the afternoon of Black Friday. When politically inconvenient news is published in the final hours of a workweek, politicos call it a “Friday news dump.” Publishing a dire climate report in the final hours of Black Friday might be the biggest Friday news dump of them all.

So who ordered such a dump? During a press conference on Friday, the report’s directors in the government repeatedly declined to say. “It’s out earlier than expected,” said Monica Allen, a spokeswoman for NOAA. “This report has not been altered or revised in any way to reflect political considerations.”

Yet the change in scheduling took the report’s authors by surprise. John Bruno, an author of the report and a coral biologist at the University of North Carolina, told me that he only learned last Friday that the report would be released today. “There was no explanation or justification,” he said. “The [assessment] leadership implied the timing was being dictated by another entity, but did not say who that was.”

Hayhoe told me she only learned on Tuesday that the report would be released on Friday. At the time, she was preparing three pies for a family Thanksgiving. She put the pies aside and picked up her laptop  to submit any final revisions to the document.

The White House did not respond directly when asked who had ordered such a change. It also did not respond directly when asked if the report would lead President Trump to reconsider his beliefs.

But a White House spokeswoman did send me a lengthy statement saying that “the United States leads the world in providing affordable, abundant, and secure energy to our citizens, while also leading the world in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.” (This is only true if you start counting in 2005, when U.S. emissions peaked.) The spokeswoman said this new assessment was based on the “most-extreme scenario,” and promised any future report would have a “more transparent and data-driven process.”

Not that Hayhoe ever had high expectations about President Trump’s reaction to the report. “It wasn’t the hope that the federal government would look at it and go, ‘Oh my goodness! I see the light,’” she told me.

Rather, she said, she hoped the report would inform the public: “This isn’t information that’s only for the federal government. This is information that every city needs, every state needs, increasingly every business needs, and every homeowner needs. This is information that every human needs.”

“It’s not that we care about a 1-degree increase in global temperature in the abstract,” she said. “We care about water, we care about food, we care about the economy—and every single one of those things is being affected by climate change today.”

    Until California curbs its oil refineries, it won’t meet its climate goals (Benicia & others are heroes)

    Repost from the Los Angeles Times
    [Editor: Significant quote, Benicia in final paragraph – “In the absence of action at the state level, it has fallen to localities to prevent refineries from at least increasing crude oil imports to their facilities. Over the last decade elected officials in half-a-dozen communities from Benicia to San Luis Obispo County have blocked refinery infrastructure projects that would allow more crude oil imports. They’re the real heroes of California’s climate saga — too bad they won’t be the ones in the spotlight at the summit.”  – RS]

    Until California curbs its oil refineries, it won’t meet its climate goals

    By Jacques Leslie, Sep 11, 2018 | 4:15 AM
    Until California curbs its oil refineries, it won't meet its climate goals
    The Phillips 66 refinery in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

    While Gov. Jerry Brown and other California leaders bask under an international spotlight at this week’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, there is one highly relevant topic they’re not likely to bring up: oil refineries.

    That’s because refineries are crucially absent from California’s climate change strategy. The state has justifiably gotten credit for addressing climate change issues that the nation won’t — promoting renewable energy, cap-and-trade greenhouse gas emission limits, and electric vehicles — but it has backed off from challenging refineries, the centerpieces of California’s oil supply infrastructure.

    Concentrated in Los Angeles’ South Bay and the San Francisco Bay Area, the state’s 17 refineries comprise the largest oil processing center in western North America. Unless emissions from those refineries are curbed, the state has no chance of meeting its long-range climate change goals.

    Greg Karras, a senior scientist at Huntington Park-based Communities for a Better Environment, calculates that without restraints on refineries, even if emission reductions from all other sources hit their targets, oil sector pollution through 2050 would cause the state to exceed its overall climate goals by roughly 40%.

    “Refineries have been largely exempted from the state’s cap and trade program, which charges fees for emissions.”

    That’s primarily because refineries have been largely exempted from the state’s cap and trade program, which charges fees for emissions. Last year, the legislature extended the program for another decade, from 2020 to 2030, but only after bowing to the oil industry’s wishes. To win a needed two-thirds majority, cap and trade supporters exempted the industry from fees for all but a tenth of refinery emissions through 2030. The legislation also prohibited regional air districts from imposing their own limits on refinery carbon dioxide emissions, a severe blow to communities suffering from pollution from nearby operations. Instead of curbing refineries, these provisions gave them a decade-long free pass.

    To make matters worse, the oil that is being processed is bound to get dirtier, resulting in a higher rate of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the fuel-production chain. Oil used by the state’s refineries already contains the highest intensity of greenhouse gas pollutants of any refining region in the country. As drillers pump the dregs from the state’s nearly spent fields, that intensity is increasing.

    With California oil extraction in decline, its refineries will want to import more crude oil from other states and nations. That could include tapping the Canadian tar sands, notorious for its off-the-charts, climate-busting pollutants. Completion of the stalled Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Canada would facilitate what Greenpeace calls a “tanker superhighway” from Vancouver to California ports. California refineries have tried to win approval for rail terminals and ports that would receive tar sands oil but have so far been blocked by local governments.

    The refineries’ contributions to greenhouse gas emissions don’t end with their own production, of course. When the fuel they produce is used, it’s one of the primary contributors to climate change. As California shifts to renewable energy and electric vehicles, less refined fuel will be consumed here and more will be exported to other states and nations.

    As a result, the state could become, in Karras’ words, “the gas station of the Pacific Rim.” And as exports grow to countries like India with lax environmental standards, refineries won’t even need to meet California’s more stringent regulations on fuel composition; instead, they will export more pollution.

    The main reason state leaders have done little to limit oil supply is obvious: The oil industry remains a formidable adversary, wielding its financial and lobbying might to head off restraints. For virtually all Republican state legislators and a substantial number of Democrats, oil supply is too hot a topic to touch, Karras told me.

    Meanwhile, state policy calls for greenhouse gas emissions to drop by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. Given the oil industry’s cap and trade refinery exemptions in place through 2030, the only way to achieve that level is to place drastic limits on refineries as soon as those exemptions expire, which is unlikely to happen. A more realistic approach would remove the oil industry’s exemptions and impose cuts of 5% a year on refinery emissions immediately — an urgent task that state leaders have shown no interest in carrying out.

    In the absence of action at the state level, it has fallen to localities to prevent refineries from at least increasing crude oil imports to their facilities. Over the last decade elected officials in half-a-dozen communities from Benicia to San Luis Obispo County have blocked refinery infrastructure projects that would allow more crude oil imports. They’re the real heroes of California’s climate saga — too bad they won’t be the ones in the spotlight at the summit.

    Jacques Leslie is contributing writer to Opinion.

      Climate Action March in San Francisco, Sat. Sept. 8

      Repost from Natural Resources Defense Council – Expert Blog

      Marching for Climate Action Momentum

      Sept. 7, 2018, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, NRDC Chief Program Officer 
      Keystone XL climate action rally that took place after Trump announced he would be approving the pipelineNRDC/Maria Martinez

      Globally, the public sense of urgency to tackle climate change is strong. We are increasingly overwhelmed by evidence of climate change already happening. The health impacts of air pollution, the rising and warming of our oceans, and damage to our forests, communities and homes paint a bleak picture of what the future will be if we do not shift from our dependence on fossil fuels to a clean energy economy.

      It is often our most vulnerable communities and populations that suffer from these impacts of climate change and fossil fuel dependence. We are already seeing the economic benefits of shifting to clean energy and there is more that we can do to help this shift along and to ensure that no community is left behind.

      This is why on September 8, I’ll be joining the Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice march in San Francisco. We will show the strong support for bold action from world leaders gathering for the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco September 12 – 14, 2018. The Summit is meant to show how the global community is stepping up action in the fight against dangerous climate change.

      As countries the world over look to further strengthen their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement by 2020, the summit has the potential to mark a critical turning point. Those who still deny climate change will be held accountable for the damage that today’s climate pollution is already causing. They will be held accountable for their lack of leadership to put the needed clean energy solutions in place.

      In most of the world, the public debate over climate change is not about the reality or urgency but about political commitment to the solutions.

      However, the United States lags behind and climate change is highly politicized as a proxy for the question of whom to trust. More than a year ago, President Trump announced plans to withdraw U.S. participation from the Paris climate agreement and thereby abandon global leadership on the environmental challenge of our time. He also has moved to undermine four major climate change fighting initiatives through gutting the Clean Power Plan, rolling back clean car and fuel efficiency standards, delaying methane control on existing oil and gas wells and blocking the super climate change pollutant HFC controls.

      American federal government action is critical to meeting our domestic global carbon pollution reduction goals and to encouraging climate action progress internationally. Yet, with the U.S. federal government not only sitting this one out, but actively working to reverse progress on climate solutions, we must get as far as we can as fast as we can in the meantime while setting up the framework for when the U.S. again becomes a climate leader in the future.

      It is both necessary and possible for countries around the world to strengthen their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement as we work to hold down the rising global temperature. The summit will highlight the positive action that is already underway to combat climate change and put clean energy solutions in. Regional, state and local governments, communities, investors and businesses from around the world: that is where we see real reductions in climate pollution and innovative clean energy solutions emerging.

      The Paris climate agreement was an important step toward curbing climate change, but the world needs to go further faster if we are to keep our world habitable in the face of climate change.

      On Saturday, we will march to remind our leaders that we have their backs. Tackling climate change is a matter of survival. It is what is right: environmentally, ethically and economically. The march for climate, jobs and justice is a chance to remind ourselves about how critical it is to honor the connections between our natural world and the well-being of our communities and families. It is a chance to demand climate action.