Exxon helped cause the climate crisis. It’s time they owned up
Fossil fuel companies bear as much responsibility as governments do for humanity’s climate predicament – and for finding a way out. Our planetary house is on fire, and these companies have literally supplied the fuel. Worse, they lied about it for decades to blunt public awareness and policy reform.
There’s no better time for ExxonMobil and other petroleum giants to be held accountable than at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November. The Glasgow summit is more than just another international meeting. It is the last chance for world leaders to limit future temperature rise to an amount that civilization can survive. Doing so, scientists say, will require a rapid, global decline in oil, gas and coal burning.
Fossil fuel companies have fiercely resisted this imperative for years, lobbying governments, often behind the scenes, to maintain the status quo. Cop26 is an ideal setting to bring the companies’ resistance to the world’s attention and put it on trial, at least in the court of public opinion.
Dozens of these lawsuits seek financial compensation from fossil fuel companies for the loss and damage caused by the burning of the companies’ products. Some lawsuits – for example, those brought by New York City and the state of Minnesota – point out that oil and gas companies have known privately for decades that their products would cause catastrophic temperature rise and extreme weather. Nevertheless, these companies lied about what they knew, telling the outside world that human-made climate change was unproven.
An internal Exxon document dated 16 October 1979 and stamped “Proprietary Information” stated that increasing fossil fuel combustion “will cause a warming of the earth’s surface … and dramatic environmental effects before the year 2050”. Royal Dutch Shell even anticipated the current wave of lawsuits: an internal study in 1998 forecast a scenario in which environmental groups would band together to file “a class action lawsuit on the grounds of neglecting what scientists, including [the industry’s] own, have been saying for years”.
Indeed, last May the Netherlands branch of the advocacy group Friends of the Earth won a landmark case against Shell. A Dutch court ordered Shell to bring its global operations in line with the Paris agreement goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. This will require Shell to reduce both its own and its customers’ emissions by a staggering 45% from 2019 levels by 2030. Shell is appealing the ruling.
Such large, rapid emissions reductions happen to be exactly what the latest science says the Glasgow summit must achieve. Only by slashing heat-trapping emissions in half by 2030 can humanity plausibly achieve the larger imperative of ending emissions entirely by 2050.
Fossil fuel companies cannot be put on trial in Glasgow: the Cop26 summit is a diplomatic meeting, not a court of law. But wrongdoing can also be alleged and adjudicated in courts of public opinion. Cop26, as a high-profile gathering of thousands of government officials and civil society representatives that will receive extensive media coverage, could have a powerful impact on public narratives throughout the world.
The formal Cop26 proceedings also offer an opportunity to make fossil fuel companies a constructive part of the solution to the climate emergency. Governments and climate activists in the global south have long demanded compensation for the loss and damage poor countries suffer from extreme weather events that are worsened by the climate crisis, such as heat, drought, storms and rising seas. They justify this demand on two grounds: these climate impacts fall disproportionately on poor countries, even though they have emitted exponentially less heat-trapping gases than rich countries have.
Rich countries accept this logic: in the Paris agreement, they pledged to provide $100bn a year in climate aid to poor countries. They have yet to honor that pledge, however, and experts calculate that poor countries actually need at least twice that much money to adapt to climate impacts while also shifting their economies to clean energy.
Whatever the actual amount, taxpayers in rich countries are the ones currently slated to cover the cost of such climate aid. But why shouldn’t that burden fall instead on the true authors of the climate emergency?
Fossil fuel companies have known for decades that they were driving civilization to ruin. They didn’t care. Indeed, they lied to keep the profits rolling in. Isn’t it time for them to start paying for the trouble and suffering they’ve caused?
This story is published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of news outlets strengthening coverage of the climate story. Mark Hertsgaard is Covering Climate Now’s executive director
Climate change and drought threaten a way of life for Arizona farmers
Miranda Green, Contributor September 16, 2021
Nancy Caywood recalls the days when the white tufts on the cotton plants on her family’s 255-acre farm popped out against the stark blue desert sky, and their alfalfa fields were a sea of green yielding eight to 10 cuttings a year.
“To walk out and smell the fresh hay, there’s nothing like it,” the third-generation Casa Grande, Ariz., farmer told Yahoo News.
This year, thanks to the extreme drought that experts say is exacerbated by climate change, all they’ve been able to grow successfully is weeds.
“My grandfather may have experienced rough times, but never a mega-drought. He’s never had to tear out his entire farm,” said Caywood. “We’re scared to death.”
The water situation is dire in the state of Arizona, which is facing its 22nd year of drought. Despite some relief from the annual monsoons, daily temperatures in the state are still hitting record highs, and local rivers are running dry. In mid-August, the federal government announced its first-ever water shortage declaration for the Colorado River, triggering cuts in the amount of water Arizona will be allowed to draw from it, starting in January.
It’s a reality that scientists say is a result of a warming planet caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and Arizona’s farmers are facing what could be a make-or-break moment for their industry. But while agriculture is well represented in the state’s Republican-majority Legislature, many in the party have refused to acknowledge a link to climate change or pass bills to address it.
“They talk about drought, but don’t talk about the fact that climate change is intensifying the drought. They don’t acknowledge it relative to fires and the fact that fires are larger relative to climate change,” said Sandy Bahr, Grand Canyon chapter director for the Sierra Club. “They are just not in touch with science at all. Or any of the reports that come out that point to climate change as exacerbating many of these issues.”
Arizona was once a national environmental leader. In 2006, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano signed an executive order to create a climate action plan, making it one of the first states to do so. But there’s been a strong reversal since then. In 2010, the next governor, Jan Brewer, signed a law that forbade any state agencies from monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, and it remains on the books today.In 2015, Arizona’s Legislature prohibited cities from requiring any energy benchmarking in commercial structures. And in 2019, it passed a bill that prevents Arizona’s cities and towns from banning any natural gas or other fossil fuel hookups in buildings.
The state’s current governor, Doug Ducey, came close to acknowledging climate change in 2019, nearly four years into his term, saying: “Nobody knows better than the governor of a state like Arizona, that has such an arid climate and has had to make so many plans and sacrifices to have the rich and abundant water resources that we have, that we have to pay attention to our environment.”
Despite its “arid climate,” agriculture is one of Arizona’s biggest industries. Yuma County, near the southern border, is often referred to as the country’s “salad bowl,” due to its output of leafy greens in the winter. But the impact of the drought is likely to hurt farming in an outsized way.
Politicians in the state are considering desperate measures to help aid the industry, including an expensive water-desalination alternative, as well as a proposal to build a cross-state pipeline to drain water from the ever-flooding Mississippi River.
But agriculture is also a top consumer of water, using nearly 74 percent of the water in the state, according to a 2018 University of Arizona economic impact study, and that fact has created tension between municipalities and environmentalists who believe water conservation, not growing crops, should be the state’s main focus.
State Sen. Juan Mendez, a Democrat, said the bills that have so far been considered by the Legislature focus on conserving the “status quo,” instead of on a true solution. That’s because, he believes, the only real solution to Arizona’s problem is to restrict water allocation. Mendez himself has introduced and co-sponsored a number of bills on climate change in the state.
“No one wants to consider the idea of using less water. They want to throw money at a desalination plant. Now they are honestly considering moving water from another state,” Mendez said. “They are just keeping Pinal County farmers happy. There’s not going to be one answer that solves the drought problem or climate change — or all of these environmental disasters.”
Agriculture nets Pinal County $2.4 billion in annual profits, according to Chelsea McGuire, the Arizona Farm Bureau’s government relations director. It’s anticipated to be one of the first regions in Arizona to see its access to Colorado River water cut off, and instead will have to rely on limited groundwater supply and rain. Water shortage is expected to create a $66 million loss in crop sales there, and it’s causing farmers in the area to think deeply about the industry’s future. But there is also no obvious solution to their plight, says McGuire.
“No one is seeing this as temporary. We are seeing a dryer future. … I think everything is going to have to change, from what I’m growing, to how I’m growing it, to where I’m growing it,” she said.
Paul Ollerton grew up farming in Pinal County. His father, uncle and grandfather were also farmers. He said he’s facing a tough decision this year: He doesn’t have enough Colorado River water to grow all of his crops, nor the capacity to pump enough of it from the ground.
“We knew for a long time that this day was probably coming, and we just didn’t know when,” he said.
A partner and owner of Tierra Verde Farms in Casa Grande, Ollerton estimates he’ll have to leave nearly 25 percent of his fields fallow this year due to lack of water.
“Without really sounding negative and a Debby Downer, I don’t see a lot of future — it’s a tough battle here,” he said.
Many farmers’ frustration lies largely with the local municipalities, which get first choice of the water and then allocate the remaining surface water to farmers. But not all farmers lay the larger blame on climate change.
“I think there might be some things related to it, but I’m not saying climate change is the way to address all of these issues,” Ollerton said. “I don’t think it’s totally responsible for what’s happening. I don’t think I buy some of the theories or science. I think it’s just weather patterns. I think we’re just in a dry cycle.”
Caywood finds it equally hard to know where to place blame, though she says many in her town have pointed a finger at farmers.
“People don’t respect where their food is coming from. This growing in the desert has been done for decades, and we have ideal growing conditions,” she said. “Everybody asks if it’s climate change. I believe it’s cyclical. I believe it’s like climate change. … Whatever is happening, it’s happening fast. I thought something like this would happen over 100 years — this is happening over 20.”
Caywood says her family doesn’t expect to make any profits this year, and as that uncertainty plays out, she’s watched the worry lines grow on the face of her 40-year-old son Travis, also a farmer. She’s not sure what her family will ultimately do with their acreage, but many neighbors have already sold their land to a new growing industry in the state: solar.
“I’m losing my toughness over this. I want to be resilient and bounce back from this, but unfortunately, I am becoming an island surrounded by solar panels,” Caywood said.
She said there’s a chance her farm could be the next sale.
“My dad passed away in January. I was on my way to the farm in April. I drove over the canal and there was low water in it, and I just burst into tears, knowing that that was my livelihood drying up,” she said.
Native plants belong in Missouri and Kansas prairies — and in your front yards, too
Plants that are native to Missouri and Kansas — from our mighty oaks to brilliant wildflowers — support songbirds, monarch butterflies and other treasured wildlife. They also beautify home landscapes, city streets and parks, and can be used to manage stormwater, store carbon in the ground via complex root systems, and support pollinators. And if those weren’t enough virtues — I’ve got more: There are native plants for every gardening situation, from dry, rocky locations to poorly drained areas.
At the time it gained statehood, Missouri was blanketed with at least 15 million acres of tallgrass prairie — about a third of the state. Prairie here, and in Kansas, was part of the great North American prairie ecosystem that stretched from Ohio to the Rockies, north into Canada, and south to Mexico. Forty-eight percent of Jackson County was covered in prairie grasses and wildflowers. Today, there are fewer than 51,000 scattered prairie acres remaining in Missouri, with once vast landscapes converted to agriculture and other development.
Groups such as the Missouri Prairie Foundation, other land trusts and state agencies are protecting as much remaining, original, unplowed prairie and other habitats like forests, woodlands, glades and wetlands in the greater Kansas City area as possible — while they still exist to save. These natural communities provide vital habitat for pollinating insects, songbirds and other wildlife as well as perform carbon-capture, stormwater management and other services that benefit us.
These remnant wild spaces are also sources of seeds for the native plant industry. Purchasing native trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and other natives from native plant businesses to use in our yards, farms, businesses, schools and parks can restore ecological function to the metro area.
There are native plants that are compatible with every landscaping need and gardening condition. Natives adapted to dry rocky glades, for instance, are the same plants that work well in rock gardens or in the dry, poor soils in many urban parking lot borders. And wetland plants, evolved to tolerate periods of flood and drought, can be used in rain gardens, bioswales and other areas to slow and filter stormwater.
Many municipalities are using natives to convert unused turf areas into wildflower meadows to beautify parks, reduce mowing costs and provide pollinator and songbird habitat. Stormwater managers use prairie and wetland plants with complex root systems (some reaching 15 feet deep) to hold enormous amounts of stormwater, and to trap nitrogen and other nutrients that can pollute city-owned ponds and lakes.
There simply aren’t enough acres of intact natural habitats “out there” to sustain nature’s services that benefit us, nor to feed and fledge monarch butterflies, warblers and all the other animals that add to a community’s livability factor. We must make our human-scapes as habitable as possible, and restore nature’s web of life from the bottom up. That foundation is native plants. Happy gardening.
Carol Davit is executive director of the Missouri Prairie Foundation and its Grow Native! program. Native trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, sedges and vines will be available for purchase Sept. 18 at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center at the Missouri Prairie Foundation native plant sale. Find many free resources on native landscaping from the Missouri Prairie Foundation’s Grow Native! program at grownative.org. Learn more about Missouri’s prairie heritage and how you can be involved in protecting it atmoprairie.org.
‘Despondent’: Battered Louisiana city gets more rain from Nicholas; 100,000 without power in Texas
John Bacon, USA TODAY
More than 100,000 Texas homes and businesses remained without power for a second day Wednesday as the remnants of Hurricane Nicholas slid across the Gulf Coast from the Lone Star State into Louisiana, drenching a region still staggering from Hurricane Ida’s wrath less than three weeks ago.
Nicholas, downgraded to a tropical depression with sustained winds of 30 mph, was centered about 30 miles northeast of Lake Charles, Louisiana, early Wednesday. The storm was inching east-northeast at 5 mph.
“Much of South & Central Louisiana are under flood watch today as #Nicholas moves through the state,” Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted Wednesday. “Stay aware of conditions in your local area.”
Earlier, Edwards warned the state’s residents to “take this storm seriously and put yourself in a position to weather it safely.”
Almost 80,000 utility customers remained without power in the state, where the lights went out for more than 1 million homes and businesses during Ida’s peak fury.
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said city crews had scoured the drainage system to keep it free from debris that might cause clogs and flooding. Hurricane Laura struck the city a little more than a year ago. Then came Hurricane Delta, then a January freeze that shattered pipes across the city of nearly 80,000 residents just 60 miles east of Beaumont, Texas. A rainstorm in May swamped houses and businesses yet again.
“With what people have gone through over the last 16 months here in Lake Charles, they are very, understandably despondent, emotional,” Hunter said. “Any time we have even a hint of a weather event approaching, people get scared.”
In Pointe-aux-Chenes, 70 miles southwest of New Orleans, Ida tore the tin roof off Terry and Patti Dardar’s home, leaving them without power and water. Rains from Nicholas have now soaked the top floor of their home – but it also provided badly needed water their family collected in jugs. They poured the water into a large plastic container through a strainer, and a pump powered by a generator brought the water inside.
“We ain’t got no other place,” Patti Dardar said. “This is our home.”
The National Weather Center warned that Nicholas, which already dumped more than a foot of rain on parts of Texas and several inches on areas of Louisiana, was expected to generate an additional 3 to 6 inches across the central Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle through Friday, with isolated totals of 10 more inches possible in some areas.
“Life-threatening flash flooding impacts, especially in urban areas, are possible across these regions,” said Alex Lamers, a National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist.
Tornado warnings were issued in parts of southern Louisiana early Wednesday. The storm was forecast to gradually dissipate over central Louisiana on Thursday.
Hurricane Nicholas made landfall early Tuesday along the Matagorda Peninsula with torrential rains and storm surge. The cleanup was in full swing in Texas, where more than 14 inches of rain fell on parts of the Galveston area. Houston was hit with 6 inches, and the city set up cooling and phone charging centers in areas where power outages dragged on.
Earlier, first responders joined with members of the National Guard in rescuing people from flooded homes.
A historically Black town stood in the way of a pipeline – so developers claimed it was mostly white
Ben Paviour, VPM and Abi Cole, Floodlight
As fracked gas fields in West Virginia boomed over the past decade, energy companies jumped at the chance to build massive new pipelines to move the fuel to neighboring east coast markets. The 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have been the crown jewel.
But Union Hill, Virginia – a community settled by formerly enslaved people after the civil war on farm land they had once tilled – stood in the way. Residents fought against a planned compressor station meant to help the gas move through the pipeline, arguing that because Union Hill is a historic Black community, the resulting air pollution would be an environmental injustice.
But Dominion Energy, one of the pipeline’s two developers, kept pushing. It pledged to invest $5.1m in community services in exchange for the imposition. The company hired a former member of the governor’s cabinet, who grew up in Union Hill, to drum up support from church leaders to landowners. They flew local leaders on a helicopter to Pennsylvania to tour a compressor station there.
Dominion’s campaign split the Union Hill community, dividing church congregations, and in some instances, families. While some residents were for the investment, others saw their resolve to fight the pipeline deepen. In response to mounting opposition, Dominion took an unexpected tack: the company hired outside help to argue that the community around the site was, in actuality, mostly white.
“No environmental justice community is disproportionately impacted,” the pipeline project told state officials January 2019, arguing that the communities around the project were “not majority minority or low income”. Dominion did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
The locals who took on Dominion eventually became the linchpin of a campaign that helped to get the pipeline canceled. But the fight against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a familiar story now playing out around the country as gas companies expand a sprawling web of pipelines. Even when minority communities say no, the fossil fuel industry keeps saying yes.
Even when minority communities say no, the fossil fuel industry keeps saying yes
In Minnesota, Indigenous-led environmental groups are fighting the hundreds of miles of crude oil pipeline Enbridge is constructing for its Line 3 project from Canada to Wisconsin. In North Brooklyn, New York, community groups are alleging a civil rights violation against Black and Latinx residents over National Grid’s plans to build a seven-mile natural gas pipeline through the area. In North Carolina and Virginia, tribal advocates are opposing a 70-mile extension of the Mountain Valley Pipeline that would cut through Indigenous and Black burial sites and put a large compressor station near a largely rural Black and Native American population.
In many cases, energy companies have succeeded against the wishes of residents, winning local government support by pledging opportunities of economic growth. Environmentalists are growing frustrated with the Biden administration, considering its environmental justice agenda to be full of false promises, as it has been reluctant to fight specific fossil fuel projects.
“Union Hill was unique and not unique. The patterns are quite widespread,” said Mary Finley-Brook, who served on the Virginia governor’s advisory council on environmental justice at the time of the Union Hill battle. Historically, “infrastructure was definitively put through Black communities. We [saw] that with the interstate and with power lines and it continues to develop that way.”
Some residents believe Union Hill wouldn’t have been eyed by developers if different people lived there. “If it had been all millionaires living in that area, it would never have been considered,” said Paul Wilson, a Baptist pastor of a historic Black church near Union Hill.
Had the community been less effective in battling Dominion, he said, “all of the destructive forces from that pipeline were going to rest on a Black community”.
Formed in the chaotic aftermath of the civil war, Union Hill is one of the few historically Black communities in Virginia that retained its identity and history.
Formerly enslaved African Americans bought land in the area – in some cases, the fields they’d toiled in under slavery – and formed a small “freedman community”. In 1869, the Buckingham county courthouse burned down, possibly from arson, taking with it records that could have been used for restitution for the formerly enslaved.
Today, some locals are fifth-generation descendants of that initial settlement. Community surveys suggest the area contains burial grounds of the enslaved laborers and freedmen. When Dominion bought land for the compressor station in 2015, some residents worried about the effect development would have on the community, potentially uprooting historic grave sites, polluting the nearby water and air, and lowering the value of land.
Dominion argued the compressor station – a facility which pressurizes natural gas to transport it from one location to another – would be among the cleanest in the country and have a negligible impact on the Union Hill community. Locals were skeptical of the science, but were entirely unprepared for the next argument Dominion put forward in support of the pipeline.
Utilizing a 2017 report from federal regulators, the company used census data to claim that the facility wouldn’t disproportionately impact Black, low-income areas.
That finding contradicted the lived experience of most locals. As Chad Oba, who is white and the head of local environmental group Friends of Buckingham county, put it: “I’ve lived here for 35 years […] I know who my neighbors are. I know that I live in a mostly African American community.”
Dr Lakshmi Fjord, a visiting scholar at the University of Virginia’s anthropology department, organized a door-to-door survey in Union Hill, reaching three-quarters of households within a mile of the compressor’s proposed site. Fjord’s survey found that just 17% of residents self-identified as white, while nearly two-thirds were Black.
The question of whether or not to build out oil and gas infrastructure in Union Hill had real consequences for the community there. In the US, Black communities face higher rates of asthma and greater risk of premature death compared to white communities. African Americans are 75% more likely than whites to live in communities next to industrial facilities, according to a 2017 report from the NAACP and Clean Air Task Force.
The Virginia air board took up the issue in November 2018, in a meeting over whether to grant the facility a key permit. Several members raised questions about the competing claims about Union Hill’s racial makeup, and how the board should resolve them. The group decided to delay a decision. A few days later though, Virginia governor Ralph Northam (D) who has accepted nearly $400,000 from Dominion over his career – replaced two board members who’d raised questions, reportedly saying that their terms had already expired. His office denied it had anything to do with the pipeline issue.
‘Environmental justice is not merely a box to be checked,’ the court wrote, vacating the pipeline’s construction permit
To bolster their case before the board, Dominion hired PC Analytics to conduct an analysis of the demographics of the population. Its owner, researcher and Richmond professor Paolo Catasti, has a history of working with the tobacco industry. Catasti’s findings, which became one of the main arguments used by Dominion to support the pipeline, was that the residents in Union Hill were not Black, but instead representative of the county and state they resided in: majority white.
Catasti’s analysis for Dominion drew from forecasts built using 2010 census data and concluded that African Americans make up just 22% to 25% of the population surrounding the proposed site.
In January 2019, the reconstituted board approved the permits. Environmental and community groups sued, arguing the state air board failed to scrutinize Dominion’s methodology in assessing Union Hill’s racial makeup when Fjord’s study was much more detailed.
“They were given evidence that there was a deeper story, and they disregarded it in the favor of the applicant,” said Stephen Metts, an analyst at New York’s New School who focuses on gas infrastructure projects.
The battle came to a close in January 2020, when the fourth circuit of the US court of appeals found the state air board never resolved conflicting claims about the demographic makeup of Union Hill residents, and criticized the board for its “flawed analysis”.
“Environmental justice is not merely a box to be checked,” the court wrote, vacating the pipeline’s construction permit.
The Virginia department of environmental Quality said it “is considering” the Union Hill ruling as it grows its environmental justice efforts, pointing to its recently established environmental justice office this year.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was ultimately canceled on 5 July 2020. Dominion’s then CEO, Tom Farrell, cited “increasing legal uncertainty” that large scale energy infrastructure projects faced in the US.
Metts said the verdict was a welcome precedent for communities fighting pipeline ventures. Federal and state regulators are “coming to a reckoning” over the scale of community pushback to big gas projects,” he said.
In Virginia, a law passed in 2020 inspired by Union Hill now requires state officials to consider environmental justice concerns when examining proposals.
“That era of just accepting it – I think it’s really over,” Metts said.
More than a year after the pipeline was called off, the effects of that conflict are still playing out in Union Hill.
There’s a question of what’s to be done with the 31 miles of pipeline built and 83 miles of trees cut prior to the pipeline’s cancellation. Federal energy regulators like July recommended leaving the infrastructure and felled trees in place. Additionally, many residents who had signed deals with the pipeline to allow the project to use portions of their property for construction now want the easements rescinded so that Dominion can no longer access their land. Dominion has said it has no plans to return the easements in the short-term, but will negotiate their return on a case-by-case basis after it completes restoration efforts – a process that could take years.
Despite the pipeline’s cancellation, Dominion announced in February it was donating $3.5m toward community services in Buckingham county. Over half of that money went to a local foundation chaired by Basil Gooden, the former Virginia secretary of agriculture who’d lobbied on Dominion’s behalf in 2018.
Union Hill residents are already facing another industry that would like to do business just a few miles away – gold mining.
After gold was found near Union Hill, state lawmakers agreed to fund a study on the effects of its mining, declining to institute a moratorium demanded by activists.
Elsewhere in the region, other community fights against pipeline projects continue, including a 14.5-mile intrastate pipeline in eastern South Carolina proposed to cross the Great Pee Dee River, and a compressor station being constructed in Northampton county, North Carolina, whose census block is 79% Black.
While the Union Hill fight was a victory, residents and anti-pipeline activists acknowledge it’s just one of a few.
“It’s an incomplete success story and it’s definitely a cautionary tale,” said Finnley-Brook. “The community is still divided, the community still lacks investment. It is still in a situation of desperation….We still need to recognize that the [pipeline’s investments] did not improve the standards of living for that community.”
Pasture conditions in the US are the worst they’ve been since 2012. That’s bad for inflation.
By Claisa Diaz, Things Reporter September 15, 2021
The governors of 10 states in the American West recently called on the Biden administration to declare a drought disaster. It follows an intense summer of drought and record-breaking wildfires across the whole region. It’s been a month since the letter was sent and the administration has yet to act on it.
Data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that pasture and range conditions have been in decline for quite some time. Pasture varies in its uses but is important for harvesting livestock feed like hay, and provides range for animals to roam and graze. Less quality pasture means less food for livestock and other animals, which could lead to higher prices for meat and dairy products—or even a shortage. It also means more yellow and brown in typically green landscapes.
Drought is hurting US pasture and range
The USDA ranks pasture conditions from “excellent” to “very poor”, with “good” meaning yield prospects are normal. During the past two decades, only small portions of US pasture have regularly been in “excellent” condition but typically about 75% of US pasture is rated at least “fair.”
Conditions have continued to trend away from good since 2015. The portion of pasture and range rated “poor”, and “very poor” has increased—meaning more and more crops and grasslands are undergoing stress.
Less feed means higher prices
The cost of animal feeds is already going up for farmers, just as it did when pastures suffered in 2012. Though today, pandemic related supply chain issues and higher fuel costs are also contributing to the trend. Some areas are reporting shortages among increased prices.
California’s second drought in three years
“You have situations in central California where there’s not sufficient water at all and farms are collapsing, farms are failing,” said Rick Mueller who manages tools that measure crop conditions and soil moisture for the USDA. “It’s just a really hard cycle that we’ve been going through now.” Major drought started in California around 2011, broke around 2018 and now it’s back again. “It’s a matter of farmers being able to adapt and react to the climate that’s around them.”
Short term price increases, long term food supply risks
According to the letter, “There is little to no animal feed across much of the west, requiring farmers to import feed from out of state…Hay prices have skyrocketed, ranchers are selling off their livestock and others are considering selling prime agricultural lands for development.” The letter warns that drought could have long-term impacts on the food supply, wildlife, and livelihood of Americans in the West as these conditions persist.
As states lack resources to deal with drought and wildfires, among climate disasters of all kinds, national US disaster policy will need to reform. State lawmakers are asking the federal government to provide support beyond what is available through existing emergency programs.
The Greatest Killer in New Orleans Wasn’t the Hurricane. It Was the Heat.
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Katy Reckdahl
NEW ORLEANS — In many ways, Iley Joseph’s one-bedroom apartment was an ideal place to ride out a hurricane. It was on the third floor — much too high to flood — of a building that was sturdy and new, part of a sleek, gated community for older residents like him.
But in the days after Hurricane Ida, his home began to feel like a trap. The huge power failure that cut off electricity to New Orleans rendered Joseph’s air-conditioner useless and his refrigerator nothing more than a cupboard. Even worse, the outage froze the complex’s elevators in place, sealing him inside the building because his health problems prevented him from using the stairs.
Joseph, 73, insisted in telephone conversations with his sons that he was doing just fine. But in his apartment, No. 312, it kept getting hotter. On Sept. 2, the fourth day after the storm hit — the hottest yet — a friend found him lying still on the side of his bed.
“I call his name, he doesn’t respond,” said the friend, Jared Righteous. “I realized he was gone.”
Only in recent days, as the last lights flickered back on in New Orleans, have officials here discovered the true toll of Hurricane Ida. Unlike in the Northeast, where many who perished were taken by floodwaters and tornadoes, heat has emerged as the greatest killer in New Orleans.
Of 14 deaths caused by the storm in the city, Joseph’s and nine others are believed to be tied to the heat. Experts say there are probably more. And friends of those who died have begun to ask whether the government or apartment landlords could have done more to protect older residents before they died, often alone, in stiflingly hot homes.
“Heat is a hazard that we simply haven’t given sufficient attention to,” said David Hondula, a professor at Arizona State University who studies the effects of sweltering temperatures. “All cities are in the early stages of understanding what an effective heat response looks like.”
In New Orleans, officials set up air-conditioned cooling centers across the city and distributed food, water and ice around town. But for residents like Joseph who could not leave their buildings, the aid might as well have been worlds away.
All 10 people whose deaths have been tied to the heat were in their 60s and 70s, and they died over four broiling days, the last of which was Sept. 5, a full week after the storm.
Among the first was Corinne Labat-Hingle, a 70-year-old woman who had fled to Memphis during Hurricane Katrina but returned to New Orleans and was living at an apartment complex for older people near Saint Bernard Avenue, a short walk from the city’s largest park. She was found dead on Sept. 2, when the temperature reached 93 degrees outdoors and was most likely higher inside her apartment.
Two days later, another 93-degree day, four people were found dead, including Reginald Logan, 74, whose body was discovered after a neighbor saw flies in his window. On Sept. 5, the heat index reached 101, and one of the last victims of the heat was found dead: Keith Law, a 65-year-old man who lived in the Algiers neighborhood.
Heat most likely contributes to more deaths each year than are officially recorded, Hondula said. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports fewer than 700 heat-related deaths a year, some studies have estimated 5,000 to 12,000. Last month, The New York Times found that 600 more people died in Oregon and Washington in the last week of June, during a heat wave, than normally would have, a number three times the state officials’ estimates of heat-related deaths.
This comes as heat waves are growing more frequent, longer lasting and more dangerous. The 2018 National Climate Assessment, a major scientific report by 13 federal agencies, notes that the number of hot days is increasing, and the frequency of heat waves in the United States jumped from an average of two per year in the 1960s to six per year by the 2010s.
People who die from the heat may not recognize their symptoms as life-threatening, and heat-related deaths can also occur suddenly, with little warning. The most frequent cause is cardiovascular failure, when the heart cannot pump blood fast enough. Less frequent are deaths from heat stroke, when a person’s internal temperature rises by several degrees and the body cannot cool off, causing organs like the brain, heart or kidneys to fail.
Laura Bergerol, a 65-year-old New Orleans photographer, died on Sept. 5. She had planned to evacuate to Florida before the storm but told friends she had trouble finding a hotel room. By the time she arranged plans, it was too dangerous to leave. After the storm, an errant $400 charge on her bank account had left her without enough money to get out. She stocked up on candles and hunkered down in her second-floor apartment in an affordable complex built for artists in the Bywater neighborhood downriver from the French Quarter.
“Missed my window of opportunity,” she wrote on Twitter. “Curse you #HurricaneIda.”
Neighbors said Bergerol largely stayed in her apartment with the doors and windows closed. Still, she seemed to be surviving. On Sept. 3, she texted Josh Hailey, a neighbor, asking if she could visit his cat while he was out. “I have plenty of treats,” she wrote. The next day, she joined neighbors in the building’s courtyard for a showing of “Cinderella.”
On Sunday, Hailey let himself into her apartment when she did not answer the door. He found her lying on the floor and tried to resuscitate her, but it was too late. That evening, the neighbors played brass-band music in the courtyard and danced for Bergerol, recalling her vivid blue eyes and frequent, wide smile.
By then, city health officials had begun to realize the danger that older residents were facing. A day before Bergerol’s death, they evacuated eight apartments for older residents, including several where people had died. Now, city officials are considering mandating, during natural disasters, that subsidized apartments serving older or disabled residents have generators, conduct welfare checks or have a building manager on the property at all times, a spokesperson said.
The proposed measures are gaining momentum partly because of deaths like that of Joseph, the man stuck in apartment 312.
Joseph was well known at Village de Jardin, a relatively affordable complex in New Orleans East for people 55 and older. It is owned by the Louisiana Housing Corp., a state agency, and managed by Latter & Blum, a large real estate company that manages properties across several states. The housing agency said Latter & Blum had encouraged tenants to evacuate and then, after the storm, brought cooling buses to the property and supplies to tenants who chose to stay.
Joseph had retired years ago from a job selling car parts. He frequently chatted with neighbors, and his routine included grabbing coffee and beignets around town. He was known for his faith, his love of his family and, to some, his trademark reply, “Yes, indeed,” which led his grandchildren to call him Grandpa Yes Indeed. Many more people knew him for his humor, which is how he became friends with Righteous, 45, who was drawn to Joseph when he was cracking jokes at an event hosted by the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.
In the days after the hurricane, neighbors looked out for Joseph, who was subsisting on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One friend brought him a warm plate of food. A neighbor across the hall charged Joseph’s phone using a car battery and an inverter.
But Sept. 2 was the most grueling day yet. Around 1:45 p.m., the heat index was nearing 103, and Joseph’s phone had died again. He poked his head outside his door and motioned for a woman in the hallway to come closer. The woman, Rhonda Quinn, thought he looked unwell and asked if he needed some air. He brushed her off, joking that after days in the heat, he smelled too bad to go out, she said.
What he did need, he said, was to charge his phone to make a call. Quinn found someone to help, but when she tried to return the phone sometime before 3 p.m., he did not answer her repeated knocks. She assumed he had gone out, and she left.
Shortly after, Joseph’s friend from church, Righteous, pulled into the complex’s parking lot with a bag of oatmeal cream pies and other snacks. He, too, received no answer after knocking on Joseph’s door. When he opened it, he found Joseph slumped to the side of the bed, as if he had been sitting on its edge and looking out the window.
His death has left his two sons grief-stricken and stunned, unable to understand how their father could make it through the hurricane’s wrath without a scratch only to perish in the heat that followed.
“He didn’t die from flooding, he didn’t die from a lightning bolt,” said his oldest son, Iley Joseph Jr., 45. “It’s just, he’s gone.”
75% of the Young People Around the World are Frightened of the Future Because of Climate Change
UK Students Strike Over Climate Change. Students march on Westminster Bridge during the “Fridays for Future” climate change rally on February 14, 2020 in London, England. Credit – John Keeble—Getty Images
Growing up in the emerging reality of the climate crisis is taking its toll on young people’s mental health. According to a global survey and peer-reviewed study soon to be published in Lancet Planetary Health, a scientific journal, 75% of young people think the future is frightening and 45% say climate concern negatively impacts their day.
The study, which claims to be the largest investigation to date into youth climate anxiety, surveyed 10,000 people aged 16-25 across 10 countries. Four of the countries were in the Global South (Brazil, India, Nigeria and the Philippines) and the remaining six were in the Global North (Australia, France, Finland, Portugal, the U.K. and the U.S.) https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/7yTH7/9/
Levels of concern varied from country to country, tending to be higher in the Global South nations surveyed than in those in the Global North. When asked if their own family’s security would be threatened by climate change, for example, on average 65.5% of those in the South said yes, compared to 42% in the North.
The looming threats of the climate crisis—which include increased extreme weather and economic instability—are affecting how young people plan for their future, the survey suggests, with 39% of respondents saying they are hesitant to have their own children. The proportion reporting that hesitancy varied relatively little between countries, standing between 36% and 48% for all those surveyed, except Nigeria, an outlier on 22% https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/5xvj2/2/
Young people were also asked about how they see governments’ responses to the climate crisis. Broadly speaking, governments have failed to reassure young people through their actions, per the study, with 64% of those surveyed saying officials are lying about the impact of the measures they are taking and 58% saying governments are betraying future generations.
UPDATE 1-Biden says in Colorado that extreme weather will cost U.S. over $100 bln this year
GOLDEN, Colo., Sept 14 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that extreme weather events would cost the United States over $100 billion this year, as he visited Colorado to highlight drought conditions and raging wildfires in the U.S. West.
Colorado was his last stop on a three-state western swing in which he also visited California and Idaho to demonstrate how global warming has scorched the region’s landscape even as states in other parts of the country battle hurricanes and storms that have caused flash floods and killed dozens.
Tropical Storm Nicholas was battering the Texas and Louisiana coasts on Tuesday, flooding streets and leaving hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without power.
Biden has also used the trip to build support for his administration’s infrastructure spending plans aimed at fighting the growing threat of climate change.
“We have to make the investments that are going to slow our contributions to climate change, today, not tomorrow,” Biden said after touring the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.
Recent extreme weather events will “come with more ferocity,” he added.
Biden estimated the economic damage caused by such events this year would come in at more than $100 billion, a day after saying they cost the United States $99 billion last year.
“Even if it’s not in your backyard, you feel the effects,” he said.
During the tour, Biden examined a windmill blade resting on the ground outside the laboratory and also looked at a giant solar battery, saying such batteries would be important in ensuring homeowners have seven days of reserve power.
Biden hopes to tap into voter concerns about the climate to gain popular support for a $3.5 trillion spending plan that is being negotiated in the U.S. Congress.
Republicans oppose the legislation due to its price tag and because taxes would be raised on the wealthy to pay for it.
Democrats who hold narrow majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate are hoping to pass the spending plan with only Democratic votes, a difficult balancing act in chambers rife with competing interests. (Reporting by Steve Holland in Golden, Colorado; Writing by Nandita Bose; Editing by David Gregorio and Peter Cooney)
World Faces Growing Risk of Food Shortages Due to Climate Change
(Bloomberg) — Food supplies will struggle to keep pace with the world’s growing population as climate change sends temperatures soaring and droughts intensify, according to a report from Chatham House.
Yields of staple crops could decline by almost a third by 2050 unless emissions are drastically reduced in the next decade, while farmers will need to grow nearly 50% more food to meet global demand, the think tank said. The Chatham House report was drawn up for heads of state before next month’s pivotal United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
Food prices are already near a decade high, fueled by supply chain disruptions during the pandemic and extreme weather. Wheat prices surged over the summer due to crop losses in some of the biggest exporters. The Chatham House report suggests climate challenges could keep that trend intact.
“We can expect all basic food staples to significantly increase in price,” the report’s lead author Daniel Quiggin said in an interview. “We would also expect there to be shortages in some reaches of the world.”
Thе proportion of cropland affected by drought will more than triple to 32% a year, the report said. It also predicts nearly 50-50 odds of a loss of 10% or more of the corn crop across the top four producing countries during the 2040s.
Major crops from wheat to soy and rice “are likely to see big yield declines” due to drought, and shorter growing periods, Quiggin said. Severe climate impacts will be “locked in” by 2040 if countries do not reduce emissions, according to the report.