Hey Hot Cakes!
Thanks so much for your continued support of our work. This week, our features include a look at Biden's terrible turn toward LNG, a plea for Democrats to focus on actions over words, an overview of Latin America's leftward turn, and a look at this week's bizarre tornado warning in New Orleans. Plus your weekly digest of climate coverage; big thanks to Jules Bradley and Georgia Wright of Inherited for their work pulling it together every week.
Hope you enjoy, and thanks again for the support,
Mary + Amy
Biden Passes Gas
By Amy Westervelt
You know it's news the administration is proud of when they sneak it out quietly on a Friday, right? I'm talking about President Biden's announcements on "European Energy Security," aka increasing exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the U.S. to Europe. It's being framed as a quick fix to get Europe off of Russian gas—the sensible move, they say. “Transition takes a long time! People need stable energy in the meantime!”
Except…this "quick" fix will take at least three years, according to various estimates about the time required to build new import terminals in Germany to accept these shipments from U.S. companies. That includes a new terminal in the German port town of Brunsbuttel and another in the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven. The American Petroleum Institute, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, American Gas Association, Independent Petroleum Association of America, and the Natural Gas Supply Association have also lobbied the government to approve permits for some 17 export terminals and 15 gas pipelines.
This is not a short-term solution, nor will its impacts be short-lived. The Department of Energy already gave the go-ahead for some existing LNG export terminals to increase the volume of gas they're exporting. That could have been a short-term fix, except that the DOE explicitly gave long-term orders for an increase of around 5 million metric tons/year "to be exported to any country." How exactly is that about addressing an urgent need created by Russia's invasion of Ukraine?
Three years is a timespan that could see much of the need for gas in Germany and the rest of Europe drop to the point where those U.S. exports are deemed unnecessary. But here we are with long-term orders for increased exports and President Biden and the European Commission "ensuring, until at least 2030, demand for approximately 50 bcm/year of additional U.S. LNG that is consistent with our shared net-zero goals." …The fuck? How exactly is ensuring a sustained increase in the use of imported natural gas "consistent with net-zero goals"? If you needed any further proof that the phrase "net-zero goal" means absolutely nothing, there it is.
The White House fact sheet on this does note that a concurrent plan to reduce the use of gas in Europe is in the works, but while there are a number of very specific details around the gas exports there is nothing but a vague promise when it comes to efficiency and reducing use. Also…they're guaranteeing demand until 2030 so what happens with excess gas if Europe does, in fact, reduce its reliance on fossil fuels? It certainly won't be the case that U.S. companies will just reduce production or go "aw okay, Europe, you don't need anymore? That's okay we'll take it back!" No. It will either be exported to Africa as the next-closest market, or turned into more single-use disposable plastic that we don't need.
There's a lot to be disturbed about here, but for my money the biggest problem in all of it is the framing of LNG as part of a "net-zero" "sustainable" solution— like"diversifying liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies" could possibly be in any way "in alignment with climate objectives." In the first paragraph of the White House press release alone they use the word "sustainability" to describe…increasing the global supply of a fossil fuel. It's profoundly discouraging to anyone who knows how urgent our need to act on climate is to have the President of the United States become the Leader of the Greenwashing World. I guess Biden believes in science until the truth becomes a bit too inconvenient? Also incredibly problematic here: The idea that weaning Europe off of Russian gas by getting them hooked on American gas is somehow a climate win. Gas is gas is gas, folks, and it all stinks.
My biggest concern about Biden on climate was that he was such a giant booster of natural gas during the Obama Administration. He was the original "all-of-the-above" guy on energy. Early in his tenure it seemed like he was really listening to the many very smart climate people in his administration. Friday’s move represents a return back to a 2008 view of the world, one we can no longer afford precisely because we've spent so many decades on the bridge to nowhere that is natural gas.
It’s Not What You Say…
By Mary Annaïse Heglar
Earlier this month, the Democratic Party hosted a retreat in Philadelphia to brainstorm their messaging strategy for the midterm elections. They had fancy people from the advertising world and Hollywood on deck to encourage them to stop being so preachy and connect with voters through stories. And they floated the party leadership’s new slogan: Democrats Deliver.
I’m sorry…. Deliver what, exactly?
Look, I’m sick of Democrats and their perpetual search for the perfect message. This whole idea that if they just found the right words, they could get the vote overlooks the fact that, again and again, they actually get the votes and manage to do jack shit with them. Democrats do not have a messaging problem, they have an inaction problem.
Voters don’t want to hear from Democrats, they want to see from them. They want to see them cancel student debt and deal with this pandemic and, you know, stop the planet from burning. Yes, it’s a big job, but these fools campaigned on their ability to handle it and we elected them to do just that. I don’t want to hear all this shit about Manchin and Sinema and etc, etc. Bitch, this is the job. You knew that when you took it. Figure it the fuck out.
I don’t care if that sounds harsh or ignorant. It’s not possible for it to sound more asinine than Democrats pontificating about kitchen table issues—like anyone eats dinner at a table anymore! The midterms are essentially a performance review and voters are the Democrats’ boss. They can’t fool us with words because they know what they did and didn’t do. As James Baldwin would say, we can’t believe what they say because we see what they do. They don’t need to say something different, they need to DO something different.
Latin America's New Swing to the Left
By Amy Westervelt
Back in the early aughts, there was a major swing to the left in Latin America. It began in 1998, when Hugo Chavez was elected in Venezuela on a populist wave kicked off by crashing oil prices. In the decade that followed, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guyana, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay all elected leftist leaders. It was a resounding rejection of both rightwing governments and neoliberalism, and the first time in history that so many countries in the region had shifted their ideology leftward at the same time.
The shift in political ideology brought with it a resurgence of the environmental movement in some Latin American countries, tied explicitly to a strengthening of Indigenous rights. In 2008, for example, Ecuador became the first country in the world to write rights of nature—a concept that gives ecosystems (and the humans who depend on them) the right to place life over profit—into its constitution. Bolivia followed suit in 2010. Around the same time, both countries passed laws strengthening the rights of Indigenous communities to weigh in on extractive projects planned for their land, too.
But the Progressive wave was short lived. A decade later, some leftist leaders had taken an autocratic turn while others had been ousted in favor of pro-corporate neoliberal leaders who would cozy back up to the U.S. There's a detailed analysis to be written about the various forces that carried each of these countries back to rightwing leaders and neoliberalism, but in really broad strokes it was a combination of corruption, global economic forces, and the absolute terror that a leftist bloc in Latin America struck into the heart of corporate America. At any rate, most countries did swing back to the right and there they stayed for another decade.
Now the pendulum is swinging again.The past few years have brought the elections of Luis Arce in Bolivia, Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, Pedro Castillo in Peru, Alberto Fernández in Argentina, and Gabriel Boric in Chile. In Colombia's presidential race, the progressive candidate Gustavo Petro is the current front-runner by a landslide. In Brazil, beloved former president Luis Ignacio "Lula" Da Silva is preparing a return and hopes to oust Latin America's Trump, Jair Bolsonaro.
The leftward Latin wave is once again upon us, but this time it's different. Countries that have been dependent on oil and mining revenues for decades are struggling economically—hit hard by Covid, dwindling supplies, and rampant environmental problems—while grappling with very noticeable climate impacts.
In the past, revenues from extractive industries often funded socialist policies, even while progressive presidents made big moves to enshrine environmental protections. Now the math has shifted, not just in the economic sense but also in the polling. While the previous wave saw progressive leaders elected in landslide elections, those huge wins are less common now. That means leftists are eking out wins in countries where rightwing authoritarianism is also on the rise, a trend that is also being driven by a combination of economic downturns and climate-related extreme weather and resource scarcity.
Then there's the impact the "green transition" may have on Latin America. In Ecuador, for example, President Guillermo Lasso talks about his pro-mining stance as being part of a global energy transition, while Indigenous activists and environmentalists see it as a short-sighted move driving them further toward destruction.
It all makes for an interesting, albeit precarious, time in Latin America, once again marked by an embrace of rights of nature. Ecuador's Constitutional Court just ruled on its first rights of nature case, handing down a sweeping ruling in favor of the Los Cedros cloud forest—and all of the country's protected forests—and against extractive industries and the country's current president, who loves them. Panama adopted a rights of nature law in February 2022, and just this month Chile moved to write rights of nature into its Constitution. Maybe a turn toward ecosystems and away from neoliberalism could be a stabilizing force that makes the leftward swing stick this time? We can dream!
A Tornado In Hurricane Alley?
By Mary Annaïse Heglar
My Tuesday evening workout got a terrifying interruption this week: a tornado warning. For those of you who don’t know, a tornado warning (as opposed to a tornado watch) means a tornado has been spotted. On the ground. A warning is serious. It means take cover. Now.
As a child of Birmingham, Alabama and Port Gibson, Mississippi, these are things I know well. I knew to grab my cat, my phone, and some pillows and go to the lowest part of the house, away from windows. I know that if the ground starts shaking and I can hear “freight train” noises, I’m in real trouble, and I need to put the pillows over my head and get into position.
I know those things because tornadoes are common where I grew up. They are NOT common in New Orleans. They are rare. This shit was weird, and I don’t think enough people outside of the South realize that.
I’ve written before about how weird Katrina was in that, for a hurricane, she came really far inland. We thought, in Port Gibson, that we were safe from hurricanes. I thought, now in New Orleans, that I was safe from tornadoes. But of fucking course not, because: climate change.
The science is still being debated, but the increase in warmer and wetter air definitely increases the likelihood of tornadoes. Plus, the way the weather is changing across the country is pushing Tornado Alley out of the very flat, very empty Great Plains states and into the more populated, and poorer Southeastern states. Oh, and the storms are more likely to happen at night when it’s harder to take shelter. This whole southward, eastward shift was projected to happen some 50 years in the future, but it’s happening now. Of course it is.
The fact that there weren’t more fatalities on Tuesday night is a miracle. For a powerful tornado like that to happen in a place where people do not grow up doing tornado drills (like I did) or where they don’t have basements, or where folks are still waiting on roofs that were ripped off during Hurricane Ida is a travesty. For it to become the new normal is a tragedy.
P.S. If you want to support Tornado Relief here in New Orleans, there’s a ton of resources here.
Your weekly round-up of climate coverage.
Rising Temperatures, Rising Tides
Record-Shattering Heat at Both Poles Is Freaking Scientists Out by Angely Mercado for Earther
Birds are laying eggs earlier as climate change shifts springs | Reuters, by Gloria Dickie
As it enters a third year, California's drought is strangling the farming industry, by Scott Wilson for The Washington Post
Wildfires Spread Destruction in Texas Towns by Molly Taft for Earther
World 'sleepwalking' to climate catastrophe: UN chief, by AFP for Al Jazeera
'Never Supposed to Happen': North and South Poles See Unprecedented Heat, by Audrey Carleton for Vice
'Grave threat to life': UN climate chief issues warning for MENA, by Robert Kennedy for Al Jazeera
Biodiversity loss poses global financial threat, report says | Reuters, by Reuters Staff
Tree rings from centuries past may help reveal a warming planet's future, by Karen Peterson for The Washington Post
The Climate Presidency?
Why the Senate hasn't made a climate deal yet by Zoya Teirstein for The New York Times
US FAA extends environmental review of SpaceX program in Texas | Reuters, by David Shepardson
FEMA is giving homeowners money to prepare for floods — or move away by Zoya Teirstein for Grist
Biden officials walk political tightrope on gas exports, climate action - The Washington Post, by Maxine Joselow and Vanessa Montalbano
Biden and Europeans to announce major plan to redirect gas to Europe, by Tyler Pager, Ashley Parker, John Hudson and Jeff Stein for the Washington Post
Sen. Jon Tester, one of the Senate's only farmers, is an unlikely champion for climate action - The Washington Post, by Maxine Joselow and Vanessa Montalbano
Climate action has been 'a calamity', says Senate Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, by Chris McGreal for The Guardian
Methane Leaks in New Mexico Far Exceed Current Estimates, Study Suggests by Maggie Astor for The New York Times
Why the US Can't Quickly Wean Europe From Russian Gas by Clifford Krauss for The New York Times
Will War Make Europe's Switch to Clean Energy Even Harder? by Patricia Cohen and Stanley Reed for The New York Times
UN Chief Warns of 'Catastrophe' With Continued Use of Fossil Fuels By Lisa Friedman for the New York Times
Banks promised climate action. Where is it? by Emily Pontecorvo for Grist
New SEC rule mandates climate risk disclosure by Naveena Sadasivam for Grist
EXCLUSIVE Mexico flared record levels of gas in 2021, study says | Reuters, by Stefanie Eschenbacher
New corporate climate change disclosures proposed by SEC | AP News, by Marcy Gordon
Shell directors sued for 'failing to prepare company for net zero' by Damien Gayle for Grist
The gas prices are too damn high by Sarah Roach, Nat Rubio-Licht, Brian Kahn, Caitlin McGarry for Protocol
'Gargantuan task': Why India's renewable push will be hard | AP News, by Anupam Nath and Aniruddha Ghosal
Is California's cap-and-trade program hurting the environment more than helping it?, by Jonah Valdez for the LA Times
Exxon pilot project uses methane gas to mine cryptocurrency By Lisa Martine Jenkins for Protocol
Why Bill Gates' climate VC firm is focused on the tech we don't have By Brian Kahn for Protocol
Justice Is Justice Is Justice
New report a 'stark indictment' of rich nations' climate failure, by Al Jazeera and News Agencies
Boardrooms with more women deliver more on climate, says Arabesque | Reuters, by Federico Urso and Simon Jessop
Australia's Student Climate Strikers Are Absolutely Exhausted, by John Buckley for Vice
Death in the rainforest - The Washington Post, by Maggie Penman, Alexis Diao, Renna Flores, Jordan-Marie Smith< Rennie Svirnovskiy, Ariel Plotnick, Emma Talkoff, Sabby Robinson and Sean Carter for The Post Reports
War's Toll on Ukraine's Once Vibrant Environmental Movement - Inside Climate News, by Kristoffer Tigue
Course Correction | Atmos, by Lynda V. Mapes and Philip-Daniel Ducasse for Atmos
The Return of the Youth Climate Strike, by Kristoffer Tigue for Inside Climate News
Activists stage global climate protest, slam Ukraine war | AP News, by Frank Jordans
Big Oil Is Making Billions. Let's Tax It and Give the Money to the People. by Faiz Shakir for The New Republic
Glimmers of Hope
Reducing Our Reliance on Oil Will Increase Our Quality of Life by Kate Aronoff for The New Republic
'OK Doomer' and the Climate Advocates Who Say It's Not Too Late by Cara Buckley for The New York Times
Nations 'united' in seeking to cut Russian oil, gas imports | AP News, by AP News Staff
The next frontier in medicine: Doctors with climate training by Emily Jones for Grist
Climate in Culture
“Petromasculinity” Is Becoming Toxic, Too—at Least to Online Daters by Liza Featherstone for The New Republic
The Space Between | Atmos, by Willow Defebaugh
This Artist Is Reimagining the World After the Climate Crisis, by Shamani Joshi for Vice
Seeding Sanctity | Atmos, by Angely Mercado
Expanding Horizons | Atmos, by Kendra Pierre-Louis
How Should Art Reckon With Climate Change? By Zoë Lescaze for The New York Times
How an environmental creative tries to live sustainably: Eco-friendly accommodations, rest and appreciating nature, by Leah Thomas for WaPo’s “Climate Diaries”
Scott Pruitt called two fossil fuel billionaires while weighing a Senate run, sources say - The Washington Post, by Maxine Joselow and Vanessa Montalbano
A Very British Climate Project Unites Soggy Weather and a Victorian Work Ethic by Raymond Zhong for The New York Times
Who Drives the Climate Train? by Jane Braxton Little for The Nation
A Viking Settlement Mysteriously Vanished. Now, We Have an Answer, by Becky Ferreira for Vice
Alaska air pollution holds clues for other Arctic climates | AP News, by Mark Thiessen
Is hydrogen a climate savior or a disaster? Cutting through the hype, by Sammy Roth for the LA Times
A Chumash tribe and conservationists are fighting a controversial offshore wind power plan, by Louis Sahagún for the LA Times
Inside Clean Energy: Here Are The People Who Break Solar Panels to Learn How to Make Them Stronger, by Dan Gearino for Inside Climate News