By Amy Westervelt
If you spend any time on social media or reading the news online, you might have spotted the fossil fuel industry's new favorite term: "emissions intensity." As the world has tired of their endless torrent of meaningless net-zero drivel, the industry has pivoted to something that sounds more real and yet is an even bigger pile of bullshit. Chevron wants you to know that it takes climate change so seriously it has tied executive bonuses to reducing "emissions intensity." BP is aiming to cut the "carbon intensity" of its products by 50 percent by 2050 or sooner—the neat trick here is that by tweaking it to "carbon intensity" they can keep gas out of the equation entirely. ExxonMobil is on track to deliver a 15 to 20 percent reduction in "greenhouse gas intensity" by 2025. Amazing! So...what the fuck is emissions intensity?
"So what it means is you're reducing the amount of carbon dioxide or methane associated with producing a barrel of oil or a barrel of oil equivalent when talking about natural gas," explains Josh Eisenfeld, a campaigner with Earthworks. These are also what are sometimes referred to as "upstream emissions" or "Scope 1 and 2 emissions," and they account for 10 percent or less of the emissions associated with fossil fuels.
"It doesn't include the carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases that come from the product," Eisenfeld explains. "Because you can't reduce the number of greenhouse gases associated with a barrel of oil, that won't change. As long as you're producing a barrel of oil, that barrel of oil is going to have carbon associated with it...It's a term that was created by the industry to create the illusion of progress without actually holding industry accountable to any overall emission reduction."
Chevron has been so over the top with its claims on this front—bragging about its "emissions intensity" gains while also expanding oil and gas production—that it became the focus of a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year for violating the agency’s guidelines governing environmental marketing. Those guidelines, known collectively as the "Green Guides," include various industry-specific guidelines. "One industry that's not there—because when the FTC created the 'Green Guides' in 1992 I don't think they ever thought they'd have the audacity to claim to be environmentally friendly—is the oil and gas industry," Eisenfeld says. But that doesn't mean the guides don't apply to the industry. So in early 2021, Earthworks, Greenpeace, and Global Witness teamed up to file a formal complaint. In it, the groups ask the FTC to "investigate and take action to enjoin Chevron Corporation (“Chevron”) from making false and misleading claims about the company’s business practices."
The complaint calls particular attention to Chevron's various "emissions intensity" claims. So next time you see one of these ads on Twitter, or in a newsletter, or on the New York Times' website, please feel free to call these companies out for spreading an intense amount of bullshit.
Why it Took Me So Long to Write about Ida
By Mary Annaïse Heglar
If you’ve been a subscriber for a few months, you may remember that in late August, Amy and I both found ourselves fleeing historic climate disasters: Caldor Fire for Amy and Hurricane Ida for me. We wrote about the before and after in the newsletter, too. In the immediate wake, I got several emails from several editors asking if I wanted to write something longer, and I ghosted all of them. There’s a lot of reasons why.
For one, I was in shock. Of course, I knew what I was getting myself into when I moved to New Orleans. I was under no illusions about the precarity of the Gulf Coast, as a Mississippi native and years-long climate person. But it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, mentally or otherwise, going through hell is still going through hell. I couldn’t write because I hadn’t fully processed what had just happened to me. I didn’t know how I felt, much less what I thought. So what was there to write?
Second, my voice was not important in the immediate aftermath. That was the time for people to hear from actual Louisianans, folks born and raised here who had the swamp in their blood. Not someone like me who’d just moved here, even if I had Mississippi roots, even if I’d been down here for Katrina. I can never know or love New Orleans or Louisiana the way that long-time Louisianans can. I didn’t want to talk over them, I wanted to listen to them.
It took a while for me to figure out what I wanted to say and how to say it in a way that would not talk over Louisiana. By the time I felt like that risk had passed, I needed to think through what I had to say that hadn’t been said before. I decided to focus on the moments that I think we’ll forget: what it felt like to watch a storm intensify so rapidly, the chaos of evacuation, the agony of limbo, and the brain fog when it’s all over. That’s what I decided to focus on in my two-part essay for The Nation, published about three months after the storm. Because sometimes that’s how long it takes.
Before the Storm: How Do You Know When to Go?
By Mary Annaïse Heglar (Originally published in The Nation.)
I first got word about The Storm that Would Become Ida when a dear friend texted me on a Wednesday night at the end of August. She sent me a screenshot of ominous clouds gathering in the Caribbean headed to the Gulf of Mexico. I promised her I would keep an eye on them, and I remembered that just last summer she’d had a harrowing experience with a hurricane that intensified overnight on the Alabama coast. I thought, perhaps, this might be her trauma talking.
I didn’t know then that this would become the strongest storm to hit Louisiana since the 1850s, damn near making it to Category 5 status with peak winds of 172 miles per hour, that it would reverse the flow of the Mississippi River for three hours and devastate the power grid, leaving more than 1 million Louisianans to swelter in the post-storm heat. I didn’t know that the storm would remain fearsome long after leaving Louisiana, generating a tornado outbreak in the mid-Atlantic and even a tornado touchdown in Massachusetts. I didn’t know that within 24 hours, I’d be doing the incredibly painful calculus of deciding whether to stay or go.
That Wednesday night, I wasn’t thinking about leaving, largely because I’d fought too hard just to be there. I’d lived in New York for 15 years, and the past five of them had been marked by chronic homesickness, made acute by the pandemic and an especially harsh winter. In all that time in the North, my heart had remained in the South, and I became desperate to be whole again.
I’ve had a crush on New Orleans—this city both haunted and enchanted—since I was a child. I was born and raised in Alabama, and my extended family is still there, but my mother, brother, and I moved to Mississippi when I was 9. Where I grew up, nearly 200 miles north of New Orleans, the Mississippi River constitutes a fluid border between Mississippi and Louisiana, and New Orleans is the closest big city. I could see the city’s influence on the region just as well I could see the region reflected in the city. So, when my lease ended this July, I packed my things and bought a one-way ticket.
When I landed in New Orleans, I could breathe better. Freed from the shadows of skyscrapers, I felt taller. After a few weeks, I could walk better too, and I had to wonder if I’d been struggling to recover from a running injury for the past few years or if my homesickness had been physical too. When I told New Yorkers I was moving to New Orleans, they said, “But you’re not from there.” When I told people in New Orleans I was from Mississippi, they said, “Welcome home.” I greeted everyone I passed on the street, and my heart grew a new size each time they asked how I was doing. I heard crickets at night, and I wept. I was so, so happy to be here. I didn’t want to leave, not yet.
By Thursday morning, the meteorologists and climate experts I knew were worried about the Storm that Would Become Ida scheduled to make landfall in Louisiana on Sunday. I was torn between the wisdom I’d gathered from a lifetime of watching storms in the Gulf, and the knowledge I’ve built from being steeped in climate work for the past eight years. The first one told me that a storm that hadn’t even reached tropical storm status on Thursday couldn’t possibly get that much stronger by Sunday. The other told me that today’s storms are not like old storms, and that the Gulf, which had recently been on fire, was feeding extremely warm waters to the already powerful cyclone. I tried not to think about the fact that Sunday was August 29, and the last time I was in the region on August 29, 16 years ago, Hurricane Katrina came ashore.
When I went for my morning walk on Thursday, no one was talking about the storm, let alone about evacuating. By the time I went to my evening yoga class, however, the way that people asked “how are you?” had a new, heavier weight. We were expecting a Category 2, but didn’t know if it would be named Ida or Julian. Stores had begun to ration water. Snack aisles were sparse. Liquor stores were busy. Still, only one person I knew was planning to leave, and, by her own admission, she’d have left for a thunderstorm if the wind blew the wrong way.
By Friday morning, the air was charged with something I couldn’t readily recognize. It wasn’t fear or panic or sadness. The best way I can describe it is an “urgency” mixed with “purpose.” People were clearing storm drains, boarding up windows, and dropping off supplies for their carless neighbors (like me).
Now, we were expecting a Category 3, and we knew her name: Ida. Folks were saying it could even be a strong Category 3, bordering on a Category 4. A Category 3 is serious. Hurricane Katrina was a 3. Hurricane Zeta was a 3. We couldn’t realistically hope for the storm to weaken, only that it would change course, which we couldn’t do in good conscience because that would send it to another storm-battered place on the coast. Lake Charles, for example, is still reeling from Hurricane Laura last year. Almost everyone I knew was talking about leaving now. My phone exploded with offers for rides out of town or to go get supplies. I made plans both to stay and to go.
Whenever there’s a storm like Ida, people from far away wonder, loudly and aggressively: Why do they stay? It’s a question that raises another: Have you ever been in love? Yes, there are those who stay because they don’t have the means to go, but then there are so many who stay because they don’t have the heart to go. In New Orleans and the surrounding region, so much of the decision to leave or to go is animated by the trauma of Katrina, and the pain of long-term separation from a place people love with a depth I’ve never seen. I knew journalists who wanted to stay, because they wanted to tell the story right. I knew ex-Marines who wanted to stay, because they wanted to help their neighbors. I knew older folks who stayed, because they were simply too tired to go. Again.
That afternoon, the city issued voluntary evacuation orders. I started packing. It was a struggle to decide what to bring and what to leave. If I packed too much, was I willing the worst into existence? If I packed too little, was I being too cocky? Should I bring my yoga mat or my hula hoop, or should I forget about exercise altogether? Should I bring books? How many? How much hair conditioner?
I gave away the perishables from the groceries that had been delivered just the day before, and I accepted a ride out of town from my friend Jé. We were leaving at 5 in the morning. She was going to Florida and dropping me off at the home of the same friend in Alabama who first texted me about Ida. By Friday evening, the Category 4 status was all but confirmed. By the time I went to bed, there were rumors that it was already too late to go—less than 48 hours after that first text about those weird clouds. I closed my eyes and hoped for a miracle that I knew wasn’t coming.
Late that night, the rain and wind outside rattled my windows, and I texted a friend who’d stayed for Zeta last year: “This is just regular rain, right?” She wrote back immediately, to confirm that no, Ida had not come early, but that she too was triggered. I breathed easier, but didn’t sleep.
When Jé pulled up the next morning, it was still dark out. The rain had lifted the humidity. The air felt soft and carried the sweet and floral aroma from the petals that fell off the camellia tree in front of my house. It was so hard to imagine anything bad happening here that I was almost tempted to stay. But I am a Southerner. I know that awful things happen in beautiful places. I recognize a siren song when I hear one, and I knew there was only so much time before the roads got clogged. I looked up at the windows I’d X’ed out in duct tape the day before, and said goodbye for now.
The Fog After the Storm
By Mary Annaïse Heglar. (Originally published in The Nation)
The rain started Saturday night. Or maybe it was Sunday morning. I know that Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana at 11:55 AM Central Time on Sunday, August 29. I was on the Alabama Coast, east of Mobile, just out of the danger zone, according to the meteorologists. But I was still close enough to experience the “tropical storm” part of Ida’s wrath.
It’s hard to remember much from that Sunday. When I try, my chest tightens and my throat dries. The best I can muster is a series of images: Kermit Ruffins playing in the French Quarter in the early rains; the neighbor who went out in the heavy rains to reseal his neighbor’s window; the tornado warning in Baldwin County, Alabama, that sent me sheltering in the bathtub with my cat and my friend’s dogs; the 22 barges that got loose on the Mississippi River, menacing the levees, which managed, by a miracle, to hold; a flow of concerned texts and calls from my aunts in Birmingham, such that I had to keep my phone plugged in at all times; the cascade of power outages reported over social media until all of New Orleans, and much of Louisiana, lay in the dark.
I remember being glued to my phone as the worst of the storm passed, texting and tweeting while bags grew under my eyes. But when I scroll back through my timeline and text histories, I don’t recognize the woman doing the typing. I can picture her, but I can’t relate to being her. I’m told that this sort of brain jumble is something that happens after a traumatic event. It’s your brain trying to protect you from painful memories. Whatever it is, I’m still struggling to pull myself out of it three months later.
For days after, there was so much that was unknowable. Was my roof still on? (Yes.) Did my windows break? (No.) When would it be safe to go back? (Depends on your definition of safe.) When would the lights come back on in my house? (September 4.) How long would I be gone? (Until September 8.) The agony of not knowing and the inability to plan anything created a whole other storm in my stomach.
And then there was the guilt. I’d call it survivor’s guilt, but can I really say I survived something I fled? I don’t know, but I know I felt pangs of guilt when the story broke about the abandoned nursing home residents. Or the flooded hospitals in the bayou. Or any news out of LaPlace or Houma or Jefferson Parish.
Here’s something I remember very clearly, though: the way that Louisiana showed up for itself. While the rest of the country breathed a sigh of relief once it became clear that New Orleans—by which they meant the French Quarter—would survive, folks in the region were busy organizing mutual aid efforts. From the Houma Nation coordinating its own recovery to restaurants and churches jumping into action to feed the people who stayed, Louisiana, and the rest of the Gulf, organized itself with nothing short of military precision.
It wasn’t spontaneous. These systems had been developed and refined over the course of many disasters—from storms to freezes to pandemics—by people who have learned, again and again, that no one is coming to save them. After all, to save something, you have to understand it, and no one understands Louisiana the way Louisiana understands itself. For one thing, while the rest of the country thought New Orleans was “fine” because the levees held and the power would be back eventually, New Orleans understood that it would never be “fine” while the bayou suffered. There is no such thing as New Orleans without the bayou. So, mutual aid efforts in the city were just as focused on the rural communities as they were on the urban area.
Maybe this is what the climate experts call “adaptation.” It’s what the pundits called “resilience” and what Exxon called “#LouisianaStrong.” But that’s what people say to excuse structural abandonment and their own apathy. As a (strong/resilient/adaptable) Black woman, I know that trick all too well. What I saw in Louisiana after Ida was not resilience. It was defiance. It was people standing up in the teeth of the most terrifying odds and declaring: I deserve to be here. We deserve to be here. And I will fight for this place and these people as long as there is breath in my body. What I saw, in other words, was love—big, bold, and beautiful.
From the white sand beaches on the Alabama coast, I didn’t know what to do. I reposted every fundraiser I could find and bided my time. I checked Nextdoor and saw post after post beseeching evacuees not to return. The power outage, driven largely by a piece of critical infrastructure falling into the Mississippi River, looked like it could drag on for months. My friends and I texted back and forth about long- and short-term contingency plans.
I began to kick around the idea of taking a trip to Birmingham, my hometown and the seat of my extended family. When I mentioned it to my aunts and my cousins, they got excited, then I got excited. After a little less than a week, as the lights began to trickle back on in New Orleans, my cousin was on her way to the coast to pick me up.
I spent the next week at my aunt’s house, surrounded by people who have known and looked after me since I was an infant. There’s nowhere on earth I feel safer. This particular aunt is one of the best cooks in the family and, I believe, the world. I think her food helped me start to break through the shock. I vowed to never face another evacuation without a car, and my family rallied behind me to help me buy one and become a more confident driver, even though I almost killed my cousin on the interstate.
I felt as lucky as I did guilty. My entire evacuation had benefited from the kindness and generosity of others. I was given rides, shelter, and food, while so many other people were going deep into debt to extend their reservations at AirBnBs or smuggling their pets into hotels or sleeping in their rented cars. I kept donating.
After a week, when the power had been back on at my house for four solid days, I decided I’d been spoiled enough and it was time to go home. As much as I’d enjoyed my time with family I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic, I wanted to be back around people for whom Ida was a reality. I linked up with a fellow evacuee who’d been stranded in Opelika, Alabama, and drove back to New Orleans—taking my new car on her first big ride.
The drive was long, but mostly uneventful. We expected to see devastation as soon as we got to the Coast, but there was not a hint of it from the interstate. As we approached the Mississippi–Louisiana state line, we both expressed our surprise. But then we got to Louisiana: Roofs blown off, light poles bent to the ground, trees with their roots to the sky and their heads in the dirt.
We hit traffic on the edge of New Orleans, and I’m not sure if it was the nerves from the storm or the nerves from being a new driver, but I hit a car and managed to cause more damage to my own than the one belonging to the very kind woman I crashed into. She decided not to file a report, and I decided not to tell my family.
When I got back to New Orleans, the sweet smell of camellia petals was overpowered by the putrid smell of two weeks worth of uncollected garbage. Most of the traffic lights had turned flashing red, and roofs were dotted with blue tarpaulins. So many oak tree branches had fallen with their leaves dying and turning brown that the ground looked like fall and the sky looked like summer. Everyone, myself included, looked like they were stumbling out of a daze.
My house, which had been standing in the 1850s when the last storm of Ida’s might came through Louisiana, was still standing strong. The camellia tree in front of my house hadn’t lost a branch. The disco ball on my downstairs neighbor’s awning was even still spinning. Inside, water damage had caused the floorboards in my bedroom, where I would have ridden out the storm, to swell up like a pimple, and the little food I’d left in my freezer had begun to smell.
The way to the heart, they say, is through the stomach. That week, all of New Orleans it seemed was cooking red beans and rice, that age-old comfort food of Louisiana. It seemed instinctual, to each for that low-effort, high-sustenance dish that washerwomen used to make while they scrubbed the laundry. It was beautiful to behold, but I was keenly aware that it wasn’t my heritage. Armed with a new secret from my aunt in Birmingham, I set about the business of making butter beans and cornbread.
Rising Temperatures, Rising Tides
Eco Grief Around the World, by Mélissa Godin for Atmos
Climate Scientists on the Most Shocking Thing They've Seen, by Diyora Shadijanova for Vice
The Drought That May Never End, by Sasha Abramsky for The Nation
BC Flooding Sees Thousands of Animals Dead, Panic-Buying, Troops Sent In, by Anya Zoledziowski for Vice
Albatross 'Divorce Rates' Up Due to Climate Change, by Heather Chen for Vice
What It's Like When a Climate Disaster Permanently Alters Your Life, by Reina Sultan for Vice
Wildfires are erasing Western forests. Climate change is making it permanent. by Nathanael Johnson for Grist
Drought Study on Madagascar Underlines Complexity of Climate by Raymond Zhong for The New York Times
Rain to replace snow in the Arctic as climate heats, study finds by Damian Carrington for Grist
A Slow-Motion Climate Disaster: The Spread of Barren Land by Jack Nicas for The New York Times
What It's Like When a Climate Disaster Permanently Alters Your Life, by Reina Sultan for Vice
The Climate Presidency
Chile’s Far-Right, Climate-Denying Presidential Candidate Gets a Warm Welcome in Washington by Kate Aronoff for The New Republic
Fossil Fuel's Downfall Could Be America's Too, by Adam Tooze for Foreign Policy
Biden Is Worried about Gas Prices? He Should Bust OPEC, by Timothy Noah for The New Republic
Extreme weather caused by climate change shows the US needs smart energy grids, by Neel Dhanesha for Vox
The Best Way to Fight Inflation: Ditch Fossil Fuels, by Kate Aronoff for The New Republic
Biden signs infrastructure bill that cleans up pollution. Here's how, by Rebecca Leber for Vox
Can a new charter point the way to a greener future for the aid sector? By Jessica Alexander for The New Humanitarian
You Need to Care About Climate Change, I Am Begging, by Brian Kahn for Earther
Why some of your favorite podcasts are filled with oil company ads, by Amy Westervelt for The Guardian
If You Fund the Research, You Can Shape the World, by Amy Westervelt for The Nation
At COP 26, A Bigger, Stronger Climate Movement Made Its Mark, by Tina Gerhardt for The Nation
Shilling for Big Oil: Study shows PR's hidden role in climate crisis by Kate Yoder for Grist
Why COP26 leaves humanitarians wanting more, by Paula Dupraz-Dobias for The New Humanitarian
Interior’s new oil and gas leasing plan sidesteps climate action by Theo Whitcomb for Grist
Justice Is Justice Is Justice
Bolosonaro’s Violence Against Indigenous Amazonians Is Also an Environmental Catastrophe, by Kate Aronoff for The New Republic
RCMP Arrested 2 Journalists and Dozens of Land Defenders at Anti-Pipeline Standoff, by Anya Zoledziowski for Vice
How Bangladesh is beating the odds on climate disaster deaths, by Léopold Salzenstein for The New Humanitarian and Rafiqul Islam Montu for The New Humanitarian
For Kenya’s pastoralists, COP26 promises come too little, too late, by Obi Anyadike for The New Humanitarian
Pipeline Company Demands Land Defenders ‘Prove’ They’re Indigenous, by Anya Zoledziowski for Vice
Excluding the disabled in climate disaster response is an embarrassment, by Mildred Omino and Shubha Nagesh for The New Humanitarian
Supreme Stench by Steve Broder for The Nation
Canada's Known for Years Indigenous Peoples in BC Aren't Safe From Flooding, by Geoff Dembicki for Vice
Toxic Tides in California: What the future could look like on the coastline by Adam Mahoney for Grist
Despite low emissions, Black and Latino households pay more for energy by Adam Mahoney for Grist
Billions for Climate Protection Fuel New Debate: Who Deserves It Most by Christopher Flavelle for The New York Times
Glimmers of Hope
Foraging for Joy, by Whitney Bauck for Atmos
Amazon Is Helping Researchers Study How to Dim the Sun, by Brian Kahn for Earther
Chasing Dreams and Caribou, by Yessenia Funes for Atmos
Storytelling to Protect the Sacred, by Ruth H. Hopkins for Atmos
Climate in Culture
United Flies First Plane With 100% 'Sustainable Aviation Fuel', by Mack DeGeurin for Earther
Forget Pet Pics. Tree Planting Is a White Person's Solution to Climate Change, by Anya Zoledziowski for Vice
Pacific Northwest Heat Wave Roasted the Christmas Tree Crop, by Brian Kahn for Earther
The Great Divide, by Willow Defebaugh for Atmos
MrBeast's Team Seas Ocean Cleanup Stunt Misses the Point, by Molly Taft for Earther
America, Rediscover Thanksgiving's Radical Past, by Liza Featherstone for The New Republic
One Good Thing: The 1970s children’s book that envisions an America overrun by trash, by Dina Gachman for Vox
Calling climate change a 'crisis' doesn't do what you think by Kate Yoder for Grist
Why some of your favorite podcasts are filled with oil company ads by Amy Westervelt for the Guardian
What Privilege Means in the Climate Crisis Fight by Carola Rackete for The New York Times
5 Ways to Help the Climate That Will Make a Difference on Giving Tuesday, by Molly Taft for Earther
People Are Giving Money to the Wrong Climate Charities, by Molly Taft for Earther
Extremely Rare Giant Phantom Jelly Captured in Stunning 4K Video, by Brian Kahn for Earther
“Invasive species” has a harmful nativist bias, by Marina Bolotnikova for Vox
25 Stunning Wildlife Photographs for NHM's People Choice Award, by Molly Taft for Earther
Countries finally agreed to create an international carbon market. Here's why it's controversial. | Grist by Emily Pontecorvo for Grist
Extreme weather caused by climate change shows the US needs smart energy grids by Neel Dhanesha for Vox