The Roe-Climate Intersection
By Amy Westervelt
In this week’s podcast episode, among other things, we talked a bit about the various intersections between the leaked Supreme court draft opinion overturning Roe v Wade and climate—from the signal it sends that the Court is more than ready to overturn precedent to the fact that the very same people who have targeted reproductive rights have also worked against climate action.
There are distinct ecofascist undertones here, particularly with the language Justice Alito uses in the draft around “domestic supply of infants,” which yes comes from the Centers for Disease Control and that doesn't make it less weird and gross. I highly recommend listening to This Land Season 2 for a deep dive into the way white supremacy, the adoption industry, and legalization of abortion intersect. In broad strokes the legalization of abortion, combined with increased access to birth control and the reduction of the stigma around unmarried motherhood dramatically decreased the number of babies available for adoption in the U.S. from the 1970s onward. It particularly decreased the number of white babies up for adoption right around the time that evangelicals got brought into the rightwing anti-civil rights crusade via the abortion debate. One of the mandates for evangelicals involved in the anti-abortion fight has been to foster and adopt children.It’s often set up as a sort of pathway to Heaven and a way to show that you’re serious about anti-abortion morality. As American couples began looking outside the country to adopt, adoption rates skyrocketed in Russia, China, and throughout Latin America. Un some cases, it prompted countries to bar American families in particular from adopting for fear that they were losing large numbers of children. With international adoption less available and fewer and fewer white babies put up for adoption in the U.S., a preference has emerged for white-adjacent babies—mixed race kids, Latinx, and Indigenous children are all adopted at a higher rate than Black children, for example, and adoption agencies routinely include infants’ complexion in emails to prospective adoptive parents.
It’s also fueled the anti-abortion fight even more, but here’s where the ecofascist part comes in: many of the same people wanting to ban abortion also want to ban immigration. It all feeds into the “Great Replacement Theory,” long championed by Tucker Carlson and his ilk, and specifically noted as the inspiration for the explicitly ecofascist El Paso shooting in 2019. The “theory” is that there is an intentional, global plan orchestrated by “national and global elites” to replace white, Christian, European populations with nonwhite, non-Christian ones. Yeah. It’s dark and complicated and disturbing and it’s pretty embedded in the founding of this country. We’ll be talking about all that and more on some upcoming episodes of the podcast. In the meantime, the Roe decision also carries some specific legal implications for climate cases that I’ll be keeping an eye on:
- Massachusetts v EPA - This is the big precedent climate folks are keeping an eye on. This case established the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, even though the words “greenhouse gas emissions” weren’t included in the law originally. There’s a case the justices are considering right now—West Virginia v EPA—in which they could start to whittle away that authority. If Mass. v EPA goes, not only does it make it more difficult to enact climate policy, it means the government can’t even exercise the authority it currently has to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
- Climate Liability Cases - There are more than two dozen climate liability cases making their way through the courts at the moment. One has already been tossed up to the Supreme Court for a small administrative issue, and based on the court’s willingness to overturn key precedent like Roe, it seems highly unlikely that they would set a positive precedent for climate litigation by ruling against oil companies in any of these cases. (That said, these cases can still deliver wins at the state level, and via documents and information that might come up during discovery, so this doesn’t render them moot at all).
- The Next Citizens United? Oil company lawyers have consistently been making a free speech argument in response to not only the liability suits but the handful of fraud cases filed against them as well. Their argument is that their advertising and marketing campaigns downplaying the urgency of climate change or overplaying their role in addressing it constitute political speech, rather than commercial speech that’s subject to fraud and liability laws. If that argument makes it to the Supreme Court, they may well decide to further blur or even obliterate the line between fraud and protected speech, building on the Citizens United ruling, which expanded the individual rights of corporations and enabled them to give huge amounts of money anonymously to political candidates and campaigns, creating the whole dark money universe we’re dealing with today.
Silence Isn’t Civil. Or Civic.
By Mary Annaïse Heglar
Earlier this week, I published an essay with The New Republic in which I lamented the madness of moderate politicians. Not only is centrism a pointless exercise when one side of the political spectrum has gone full fascist, it’s ridiculous in the face of the climate crisis. Simply put, you can’t have a “climate” package that reduces greenhouse gas emissions AND expands fossil fuel infrastructure. It’s not like the two will cancel each other out. Instead, the fossil fuel incentives will reverse anything given to bolster clean energy—by several orders of magnitude.
I got a good bit of blowback on the old Twitter machine about how unproductive my piece was because criticizing the Democrats only helps the Republicans and we shouldn’t be eating our own. Somehow, it’s lost on folks that our civic duty doesn’t end when we leave the voting booth. It actually is our job to hold the people we voted for accountable. When they don’t do their jobs, it’s on us to get them back in line. They work for us, remember? The work of being someone’s manager doesn’t stop once you hire them.
And please spare me with all the excuses for why Joe Biden’s hands are tied. He’s been an elected official for decades. He entered the U.S. Senate—one of the most powerful lawmaking bodies on earth—in 1973. That’s a full 10 years before I was even born. He’s not even new to the White House. He was vice president for 8 years, and was invited to the Oval Office frequently. Joe Biden is new to the presidency, but not to power.
That was supposed to be the bargaining chip, right? Progressives were supposed to suck it up and make our peace with Joe Biden—who quickly went from laughing stock to frontrunner—because he was the elder statesman who had the skills and connections to move things through in a highly polarized environment. He was supposed to know Washington inside and out and be able to get shit done. Well… where’s that?
I’ll never understand why politicians will campaign their hearts out to get a job, but once they have it, it’s nothing but excuses about why they can’t do it. Did you not read the job description before you applied?? Especially when it comes to climate change, you can’t gaslight voters and then turn around and greenlight fossil fuel infrastructure. And if we see you doing that, we have a moral responsibility to speak out, scream out, act out. There is nothing civil about staying silent while people in power light the planet on fire.
Storytelling Is a Climate Solution
By Amy Westervelt
Last year I recommended folks check out El Tema, a brilliant web series about what climate change looks like on the ground in Mexico right now (if you haven’t watched it yet, go fix that!). Then last month, I got to take part in the Doc Society Climate Storytelling Lab and El Tema’s impact producer Pablo Montaño was there with an update on the project. He even gave Hot Take a shout-out for helping to inspire one of the many incredible things they wound up doing with the series. That work—from seeding community agriculture to developing educational guides for schools to convincing Mexicans to break up with the country’s big oil company Pemex—is ongoing, all over the country, and really incredible. Their approach is inspiring and I asked Pablo to share a bit more about it in a quick Q&A.
You have a celebrity host for this series, Gael Garcia Bernal, but you made a point of not centering him. Tell me more about that! Right now, the President of Mexico has a narrative that is very much, “are you with me or against me”? And that's it. So we didn’t want it to be like Gael against the President. But more like a famous artist is actually just talking to a bunch of activists and community leaders and Indigenous communities. And here's what they're saying. And they just happened to be talking to him.
It actually really comes off that way, so the strategy worked! Tell me about how you guys greentrolled Pemex in real life. We had one episode that was a bit more aggressive against the policies of the current government, which was the Energy episode, because there was no way to shy away from a conflict there. Most of the resources in our country are flowing in that direction. We have budget cuts to education, to health, even in a pandemic now. And one of the main budgets that is just soaring is the energy budget, and it's for the construction of Dos Bocas and other oil infrastructure. And we also needed to point the finger at Pemex, because Mexico loves this story that we’re a global south country, that we are not part of those who created the problem. But Pemex is one of the top 10 oil companies that has contributed to climate change…
They’re the ones who set the ocean on fire recently, no? Yes! That was them. So we came up with an idea of creating a series of different events in a single day. So it started with Tabasco, the main oil-producing area, and a a brave group of like four young climate activists displayed this huge banner that said Dos Bocas (the name of the refinery there) Equals Ecocide, and our hashtag, which was #PemexNoTeAma so Pemex doesn't love you. And they displayed this in the town that is crawling with military, because it's the soldiers who are building this refinery, along with other construction companies. So that was the kickoff, and then the grand finale was a projection onto the National Palace, which is the house of the President, of an animation that just showed how Pemex doesn't love you because Tabasco is going to be one of the first states in Mexico to be underwater because of sea level rise. It's very, very low. The calculations are that by 2050, a third of the state is going to be underwater. So we wanted to present that narrative like Pemex is killing you. Yes, Pemex gave you jobs. Yes, Pemex developed you. But now it's your biggest threat.
You managed to find a way to work with a lot of communities that were not real into climate folks. How did you manage to get into the big coal regions? Yes, the Coal episode was one of the most challenging, because we didn’t have deep connections in Coahuila at first [the primary coal region in Mexico], we were just DM-ing with some community activists there, and they worked with a lot of the mine workers and their families. And they said climate and environmental activists had been there before, but they always come in talking about transition and why don’t you go solar? This one activist we spoke with said ‘well no one knows what that looks like.’ And all the towns in the region were built by the coal companies. Usually when you get to a Mexican town, you're going to have the church in the middle of the town right next to the Plaza Municipal. And you don't have this here. You have just a random park and you have the usual important actors and stakeholders scattered all over. And so you don't have these links to what usually builds up communities in Mexico. So we decided we weren’t going to focus on energy transition there, we were going to focus on the people and building community. We started with women, because women in the region told us that “you're nobody until you become a widow.” There was nothing centering them. And there’s also a really high unemployment rate for women in this region—65 percent of the women are not employed. So we invited some of these women to create agricultural orchards and bring back their knowledge about growing food and about agriculture, which turns out they all knew a lot. And those orchards are now community spaces.
April Climate Coverage Missed the Mark
By Mary Annaïse Heglar
April is supposed to be Earth Month, but by looking at the scale of climate coverage, you wouldn’t be able to tell. According to the folks at the Media and Climate Change Observatory, global media attention to climate change in April 2022 increased a mere 4 percent from March 2022, but was down 13 percent from April 2021. In the United States, print coverage decreased by 2 percent from March 2022, but television coverage increased 86 percent from the previous month.
Before you celebrate that jump in television coverage… consider that not all press is good press. First of all, the combined network and cable coverage fell 48 percent from last year, but even more concerning is the quality of this year’s coverage. Most segments were shallow and focused on personal consumption and ways to “reduce your carbon footprint.” Fox News used the day to attack climate activists and undermine established climate science. Over there, it’s all about how climate policy is taking things away from you for no good reason and painting the people who want a livable planet as somehow elite. It sounds absurd, but it’s actually a really intoxicating story and falls neatly into the “us vs. them” narrative the right wing loves. (We talked a bit about how this plays out on Tucker Carlson on the latest episode of the podcast too.)
Meanwhile, that IPCC report that came out last month? Only got 16 minutes of TV coverage. Ouch. And May is not off to a great start, considering that on Friday, news broke that the planet has hit the highest levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in human history, but it barely made headlines—in print or TV media.
Given the fervor of climate commitments that so many media outlets have put out there—including TV giant CNN—these are not the numbers we should be seeing. This is a dereliction of duty and a grave injustice. If we are to build political will toward meaningful climate action, we need an informed public. That is the media’s job, and it is failing.
P.S. While the major news channels might be failing right now, the comedy programs seem to be coming to the rescue. Last weekend, John Oliver aired an excellent show on not just climate change, but environmental racism! It included on-the-ground activists and living legends like Jacqui Patterson and Bob Bullard. Shout out to him and his entire staff for an engaging and well-researched episode! It brought to mind an episode of W. Kamau Bell’s series on CNN, which goes to show: CNN is capable of better!
Rising Temperatures, Rising Tides
India Is Getting So Hot That Birds Are Coming Down With Heatstroke, by Pallavi Pundir for Vice
Climate change: Spring egg-laying shifts by three weeks - BBC News, by Victoria Gill
'Some Faint, Some Die': These People Are Living Through the World's Worst Heat Wave, by Pallavi Pundir for Vice
How Do We Track the Fortunes of the World's Peatlands? - The New York Times, by Matthew Thompson
The Climate Movement in Its Own Way | The Nation, by Charles Komanoff
Texas Preps for Hot Temperatures; Hope the Grid Holds On, by Molly Taft for Earther
Decades-Old Body Emerges from Drought-Stricken Lake Mead, by Angely Mercado for Earther
Extreme Drought Will Turn Up Previously Submerged Dead Bodies in Nevada, Cops Say, by Audrey Carleton for Vice
Huge volume of water detected under Antarctic ice - BBC News, by Jonathan Amos
The Climate Presidency?
Democrats Should Stop Listening to Joe Manchin | The New Republic, by Mary Annaïse Heglar (!)
A Fight Over America's Energy Future Erupts on the Canadian Border, by David Gelles for The New York Times
Biden Declares New Mexico Wildfires a Disaster, by Lauren Leffer for Earther
Is Joe Manchin Worth Compromising With Anymore? | The New Republic, by Kate Aronoff
New Department of Justice Office Will Target Climate Disparities, by Angely Mercado for Earther
Feds Plan Extreme Measures to Keep Lake Powell Generating Electricity, by Lauren Leffer for Earther
America is trying to fix the chip shortage one factory at a time, by Rebecca Heilweil for Vox
Elon Musk Isn't a Climate Hero, by Molly Taft for Earther
Get Ready for Another Energy Price Spike: High Electric Bills, by Ivan Penn for The New York Times
How phantom forests are used for greenwashing - BBC News, by Navin Singh Khadka
Redefining ‘Sustainable Fashion,’ by Vanessa Friedman for The New York Times
Justice Is Justice Is Justice
The Umbilicus | Atmos, by Tara Houska
Saad Amer: Combating Climate Change and India's Heat Wave | Atmos, by Yessenia Fumes
The Problem With Nature-Based Solutions | Atmos, by Yessenia Fumes
Glimmers of Hope
The Rise of the No-Compromise Climate Candidate, by Raina Lipsitz for The New Republic
A Lake in Florida Is Suing to Protect Itself, by Elizabeth Kolbert for The New Yorker
With Only 10 Vaquita Porpoises Left, There's Still Hope for a Comeback, by Isaac Schultz for Gizmodo
Making New Climate Data from Old Timber, by Rivka Galchen for The New Yorker
For a Shy Porpoise, Rare Good News - The New York Times, by Catrin Einhorn
Tata Steel: Poo converts CO2 to useful chemicals - BBC News, by Sarah Dickins
These batteries work from home, by Rebecca Heilweil, for Vox
Climate in Culture
Native Peoples Harvested Huge Amounts of Seafood Without Harming Ecosystems, by Angely Mercado for Earther
How the Ethical Fashion Movement Changed Policy | Atmos, by Whitney Bauck
Where Lawns Are Outlawed (and Dug Up, and Carted Away), by Henry Fountain for The New York Times
This is what we need to invent to fight climate change, by Umair Irfan for Vox
The massive, unregulated source of plastic pollution you've probably never heard of, by Neel Dhanesha for Vox
Portrait of a Lady on Fire | Atmos, by Daphne Chouliaraki Milner
Like Minds | Atmos, by Willow Defebaugh