The More Things Change…
By Mary Annaïse Heglar
In 2014, Chris Hayes published an incredibly prescient essay about the similarities between the political economy of American slavery and the political economy of fossil fuels. In the 1850s, the entire country rested on the existence of slavery. It didn’t look like there was an end in sight, much the way we look at fossil fuels today. Slaves performed essential labor, from the fields to the house. The idea that "the economy" could absorb the actual cost of that labor and survive was inconceivable to some. After slavery, that labor was largely replaced by three things: prisons, sharecropping, and machines powered by fossil fuels. It’s no accident that all three expanded rapidly after the Civil War, and simply exploded after the failed experiment of Reconstruction.
Last week, I went for my second visit to the iconic Whitney Plantation. If you know anything about the South, you know that it’s littered with still-standing antebellum plantations that host weddings and give tours, but they usually only casually mention the brutal institution to which they are a monument: slavery. Not at the Whitney. This is the only plantation that tells the story from the perspective of enslaved people. It is truly a treasure.
On the grounds, there’s a “jail,” a terrifying wrought iron structure that was used in the post-slavery convict leasing era to transport men to work on critical infrastructure like roads and levees—similar to the prison labor system we have today. Also, the Whitney has added a section dedicated to the climate crisis, detailing the damage of hurricanes, including Ida, to southeast Louisiana.
This is why we say that the climate crisis and the prison industrial complex have the same origin story. But the intersections between the two don’t end there. For more, I implore you to listen to this week’s podcast episode with Alleen Brown, who has done phenomenal work on the climate crisis and how it affects those in the mass incarceration system. We talk about everything from prison evacuations to prison labor to conditions in ICE detention centers. Prisons were already inhumane, adding climate change and they become a human rights horror house. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that this country will not have abolished slavery until its abolished fossil fuels and prisons.
P.S. If you’re ever in the New Orleans area, I strongly encourage you to visit the Whitney. If you’re not able to come in person, then consider leaving a donation. This history needs to be told.
P.P.S. If you want to learn even more about how climate change and prisons intersect, listen to our original episode on the topic with Drew Costley.
The D.C. Time Warp Will Kill Us All
By Amy Westervelt
This week, climate folks will be hyper focused on the expected vote on a newly proposed climate bill. For the past year, of course, Democrats have been trying to pass the much larger Build Back Better bill, and have been stymied in that effort by Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. This week, after it looked as though climate was totally dead in the water, Congressional staffers staged a sit-in at Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's office demanding that Democrats go back to the negotiating table and include climate in this round of budget reconciliation. Whether it was the protest or not only Manchin and Schumer know, but the two announced a surprise compromise bill this week, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. It includes around $370 billion in funding for various climate initiatives, so quite a bit shy of the $500+ billion Build Back Better included, which itself fell far short of the $2 trillion most experts say is needed. Around 70 percent of those cuts were programs that would have directly benefited BIPOC and working class communities, and meanwhile the IRA also includes various carve-outs for the fossil fuel industry, most notably a stipulation that the Department of Interior must auction off offshore oil and gas drilling leases within a year of offering offshore wind leases. So basically for every offshore wind lease, the government has to offer oil and gas companies an offshore drilling lease too. We don't know yet whether they'll bite on those leases, or whether they'll drill if they get them, but giving fossil fuel companies more ways to drill is just not a climate policy, no matter which way you slice it. Then there's the terrifyingly vague language around "permitting reform" that could not only make it easier to develop and distribute renewable energy, but also to build oil and gas pipelines.
If you're looking for a line-by-line breakdown, I did that here. The gist is that it's both the most the U.S. government has ever spent on climate, the farthest it's been willing to go, and nowhere near going far enough fast enough. There are some great things, like a methane fee (finally!) and a lot of funding for renewable energy, but the handouts to the fossil fuel industry are big fuck-yous to frontline communities. It's a lot more of the same "we'll get to you later," sacrifice-zone thinking that brought us to a crisis point in the first place. And let's not forget that climate change isn't contained by national borders; the more the U.S. dithers on climate action, the more people die in more vulnerable parts of the world, plain and simple. If anything, the fact that, if it passes, the IRA will be the most the U.S. government has ever spent to deal with climate change is an indictment of the country's criminal inaction in previous decades, not a reason for politicians to pat themselves on the back for a job well done. In the best case scenario, this bill is a first step and progressives can fight for more. In the worst case, it locks in fossil fuel development for another decade at a time when we need to be getting off of fossil fuels entirely. In either case, it's a clear example of the Achilles heel of U.S. politicians when it comes to climate: a total inability to understand the difference in timescale between this and every other issue. (Side note: Mary and I had a great conversation about exactly this with Brian Beutler on Positively Dreadful this week that you should definitely check out!)
Take almost any political issue, from abortion access to education to civil rights, and while bad policy will inflict damage, it's also almost always reversible. If Washington fucks up on healthcare, people will die, it's true. But we're not locked into mass death year over year, compounding and increasing all the time with no way to stop it. A new policy could literally stop the bleeding from one day to the next. The loss of Roe v Wade? It's a devastating setback, to be sure. But it's not a permanent one. Losing abortion rights today doesn't mean they are lost for the next century, for example. Failing to increase the minimum wage now doesn't mean it will never happen.
The same is simply not true on climate. It is an issue that is entirely out of step with the way U.S. politicians approach the world, primarily because it's one that requires placing civil service above campaigning, the public good over personal gain. A compromise today may well be smart politics, but it is also genocide. It is a choice to put corporate profits above human life, and not just the humans walking around right now but also those who will walk the Earth 50 years from now. CO2 is a very long-lived gas. The warming we're experiencing now is caused by emissions that were put into the atmosphere decades ago. The more we continue to dump into the air, the worse it will get; and while every tech bro worth their Series A funding has an idea for some sort of magical greenhouse gas vacuum, so far we have no way to remove legacy emissions from the atmosphere. In other words, every compromise that enables more fossil fuel development equals future lives lost—in the millions. Period. That science won't change no matter how much the Manchins and Bidens of the world love a political compromise.
So while I'm enough of a realist to know that something is always better than nothing, that every percent of a degree matters, and that taking a first step forward is better than taking a step backward, this bill is also the sort of thing that makes me wonder whether politics is just fundamentally incapable of meeting this challenge.
Rising Temperatures, Rising Tides
Counting Butterflies, by Madeleine Gregory for Atmos
‘Our Priority Is Not to Save the Planet’: Rainforest Auctioned for Oil Drilling, by Dipo Faloyin for Vice
Severe Weather and Flooding Is Expected to Push East to West Virginia, by Derrick Bryson Taylor for The New York Times
A Striking Satellite Image Shows a Major Greenland Meltdown, by Lauren Leffer for Earther
How Is Climate Change Affecting Floods? - The New York Times, by Elena Shao
Stopping wildfires before they start - The New York Times, by Manuela Andreoni for The New York Times
Climate Change Is Probably a Drag on Growth, but It’s Unclear How Much, by Lydia Depillis for The New York Times
A Heat Wave Is Going to Pummel the Pacific Northwest This Week, by Angely Mercado for Earther
The World Needs to Start Planning for the Fire Age, by Caroline Mimbs Nyce for The Atlantic
The Rio Grande Is Running Dry in Albuquerque, by Molly Taft for Earther
Dead Bodies Are Being Revealed Because of a ‘Mega-Drought’ Outside Vegas, by Greg Walters for Vice
The Climate Presidency?
Manchin's Inflation Reduction Act: What's Good and Bad for Climate, by Amy Westervelt for Drilled
Here’s what’s in the Senate’s $369 billion for climate and energy, by Julia Kane, Emily Pontecorvo, & Zoya Teirstein for Grist
Biden’s under-the-radar executive moves would make solar cheaper for low-income renters, by Lina Tran for Grist
Holy Shit, Democrats Might Actually Pass a Climate Change Bill, by Greg Walters for Vice
Federal Government Fires Up Website All About Heat, by Lisa Friedman for The New York Times
Manchin's Climate Pivot Is Smart Politics | The New Republic, by Liza Featherstone
What's Inside Manchin and Schumer’s Astonishing Climate Deal - The Atlantic, by Robinson Meyer
What the Surprise Spending Deal Means for Climate Change - The New York Times, by Somini Sengupta
165 Government Staffers Beg Biden to Do Something, Anything on Climate, by Edward Ongweso Jr. for Vice
The Manchin Climate Compromise Doubles Down on Car Culture, by Aaron Gordon for Vice
A Plan to Lower Gas Prices—and (Maybe) Help the Climate, by Robinson Meyer for The Atlantic
How the Government Is Failing Americans Uprooted by Natural Disaster - The New York Times, by Christopher Flavelle and Dedmund D. Fountain
Republicans Shouldn’t Get a Pass on Climate | The Nation, by Mark Hertsgaard
Oil Companies Are Making Record Profits—but Not More Jobs, by Molly Taft for Earther
Houston investigated for slow 311 response to Black & Hispanic residents | Grist, by Ramon Antonio Vargas
Too Many Servers Could Mean No New Homes in Parts of the UK, by Lauren Leffer for Earther
Florida’s Most Powerful Utility Reportedly Paid a News Site to Spread Propaganda, by Molly Taft for Earther
Texas Republicans Make Renewable Energy a Political Punching Bag, by Molly Taft for Earther
What’s At Stake for Young Voters | The Nation, by StudentNation
Pennsylvania just lost a key tool to address its abandoned oil well problem | Grist, by Naveena Sadasivam for Grist
Down With Petroleum Tyranny—or We Can Expect the Worst | The Nation, by Michael T. Klare
Justice Is Justice Is Justice
A Call for Native Bodily Autonomy | Atmos, by Ruth H. Robertson
The Tiny Pennsylvania Town Fighting Against Fracking | The New Republic, by Colin Jerolmack
Where Should the Climate Movement Go Next? | The Nation, by Thea Riofrancos
How Reproductive Justice Is Climate Justice | Atmos, by Yesenia Funes
Glimmers of Hope
Young Workers Are Bridging the Climate and Labor Movements | Teen Vogue, by Leanna First-Arai, originally appearing in Truthout
Unearthing the Secret Superpowers of Fungus, by Somini Sengupta for The New York Times
Forest Service announces emergency plan to save giant sequoias, by Julia Kane for Grist
Did Joe Manchin Actually Do a Good Thing? By Molly Taft for Earther
Extreme Weather Is Soaking New York City. Community Gardens Can Help, by Winni Hu for The New York Times
Climate in Culture
The Era of Climate Change Has Created a New Emotion - The Atlantic, by Madeline Ostrander
When the Heat Can’t Be Beat - The New York Times, by Jack Healy, Edgar Sandoval, and Elena Shao
60 Seconds on Earth with Plant Kween | Atmos, by Hannah Rose Méndez, video by Emma Blackman
Trees Are Overrated - The Atlantic, by Julia Rosen