What Covid and Climate Really Had in Common Was Science Denial

Hey Hot Cakes!

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Mary + Amy

What Covid and Climate Really Had in Common Was Science Denial

By Amy Westervelt

As we have often lamented at Hot Take, climate coverage fell off a cliff when Covid first took hold in the U.S.. At the same time,  healthcare reporters got their first taste of what climate journalists have faced for years: they had to battle hardcore disinformation. As Pro Publica's Caroline Chen—our guest on today's podcast episode—puts it, "We were used to people debating over whether or not there should be single payer versus private insurance where you could see people line up in their camps, but both sides, I think more traditionally would have reasons for those opinions. And then all of a sudden during the pandemic, things like masks, got so politicized that I felt like it was almost completely severed from any notion of, we want to see what the evidence is here."

We talked to Caroline about her experience navigating that minefiled, where public health and climate intersect, what happened when all the climate journalists got reassigned to Covid, how to better integrate the ways we talk about health and climate , and a whole lot more.

People generally understand that health and healthcare are much more than economic or scientific issues. They understand how it relates to their lives and our politicians are not afraid to get into the weeds of healthcare policy in public. That’s where we need to get to on climate, and it shouldn’t be that hard since it’s very much a story about health!

But while science denial goes way back, Covid was the healthcare beat's first dose of the most extreme flavor of it. Science denial can take many forms: industry-backed experts posing as independent sources, studies about all those other drivers of climate change (or cancer, or whatever problem companies are trying to separate their product from), personal attacks on scientists, and just straight-up refusal to 'believe'' science. PR experts have been doing it for fossil fuel, chemical, tobacco and pharma companies for about 100 years. So by the time Covid hit, millions of Americans were more than ready to believe it was a hoax and distrust anything scientists told them.

Week in Greentrolling: Cool Story, Chevron

By Mary Annaïse Heglar and Amy Westervelt

This week, the folks over at Chevron—or as they would like to call themselves, The Human Energy Company—would like you to know that they are investing in geothermal energy. It sounds great. Geothermal energy, in particular, doesn’t seem to get enough love in the conversation around renewables.

Thing is: Chevron has been in the geothermal business for legit decades, and geothermal resources are often the first things they sell if oil prices are down and climate regulations are nowhere on the horizon. In 2016, for example, it sold off all of its geothermal assets, worth over $3 billion; now it wants a pat on the back for returning to geothermal with a few small investments in a handful of geotech startups. The tide has turned toward climate action, so here they come crowing about geothermal like “look! Guys! We’re not like other energy companies. We’re a cool energy company.” But they’re not. It’s bullshit.

Something’s Rotten in St. Croix

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

This week, the EPA ordered a shutdown of the Limetree Bay oil refinery in St. Croix, one of the largest refineries in the United States. The refinery was just reopened in February and has been a hot mess ever since. This week, it rained oil down on the island….for the second time! There have also been incidents of chemical releases that produce odors so nauseating, schools have to be closed. Anything that smells that awful has to be toxic, yet the nearby residents are not getting useful information about what exactly they’re breathing in or what is now in their drinking water.

This is a textbook case of environmental injustice in frontline communities, and, yes, colonialism. As a territory of the United States, residents of St. Croix have no representation in the Electoral College and no voting member of Congress. While, in this case, the EPA stepped in to shut down the refinery, the people of St. Croix had no way of voting for the administration the EPA reported to. And the fact that St. Croix is 76 percent Black is not unimportant.

But also, you might be asking yourself….wait, did you just say that Limetree came BACK online in February 2021? Why was it taken off line in the first place and why was it brought back now? I can answer that in one word: BP. The refinery had been idle since 2012, but BP, as the plant’s main supplier and buyer, put pressure on the plant’s management to reopen back in January 2021 or it would walk away from a handsome deal.

I know I’ve said it before, but I literally can’t say it enough: Fuck BP.

Liz Cheney Still Sucks

By Amy Westervelt

There are a lot of reasons to be pissed off at 2020, and even more to tell 2021 to go fuck itself, but what's really got me fuming this week is the rehabilitation tour the liberal media (yeah, I said it) is throwing for Liz Cheney. To recap in case you missed it, Cheney voted to impeach Trump and has publicly criticized him and his GOP backers for "The Big Lie" about the election being stolen. On the heels of her most recent comment on the subject, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy moved to oust her from her position as House Republican Conference chair (the #3 power position for Republicans in the House). Cheney has won praise from everyone from Nancy Pelosi to Jake Tapper for "doing the right thing" but lest you be tempted to think that Cheney doing the absolute bare minimum—checks notes...not lying—makes her noble, let's remember who this woman is.

  • She is, was, and has always been a massive supporter of the Iraq invasion. Cheney's dad Dick was the architect of that war, the company he formerly led (Halliburton) made a fortune off of it, and dear Liz's problems with Trump did not start when he mocked disabled people or called Mexican immigrants rapists, it kicked in when he criticized the decision to invade Iraq and announced a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Talk about Big Dick Energy.
  • She threw her sister under the bus for a campaign..that she lost. For years, the Cheneys were asked how they squared their conservative politics with daughter Mary Cheney's "lifestyle," (she's gay and has been married to her wife for years), and they had an answer for that: gay marriage was a states rights issue, and not something the government should be weighing in on. Then in 2013, Liz was campaigning to become Wyoming's senator. People started probing her stance on gay marriage so she went on Fox News and said, "I am strongly pro-life and I am not pro-gay marriage." It was calculated and cold, and it didn't even work, she wound up withdrawing from the race a few months later.
  • She's a climate denier. Liz may roll her eyes at QAnon conspiracies, but she parrots long debunked talking points about "junk science" on climate and does that whole "it's snowing so global warming doesn't exist" thing… a LOT...so she and Marjorie Taylor Greene are still in the same club as far as we're concerned.
  • She's a coal shill. Like most Wyoming politicians, Cheney loves to give it up for coal. Her big contribution to climate policy this year is a carbon capture plan for coal mines. Cue sad trombone.

This, Too, Is Ecofascism

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

Last summer, Israel experienced its hottest day in history. In February of this year, it experienced a rare and bizarre snowstorm along with the rest of the Middle East. Still, concern about climate change remains low among the general public and a rare talking point among politicians. In fact, Israel’s climate commitment is so modest, they could meet it while increasing their greenhouse gas emissions. Why would a country that is well-resourced and already facing droughts and water shortages watch an existential threat like climate change coming toward it like a rocket and do….nothing?

Well, that’s because they’re not doing nothing.

In 2018, Israel did adopt a climate plan, but its biggest focus was on military preparedness. Its military is its climate plan. That means the bombing of Gaza is part of its climate plan.

To be clear, the conditions in the West Bank and Gaza strip were already apartheid. Add in that more than 90 percent of water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption and they are prohibited even the materials to build workable water infrastructure or adapt to climate change in any way, and it was already eco-apartheid. (That doesn’t even get into, as we mentioned on a recent episode, that the prisons are underground to prevent ventilation and they’re full of Palestinians.) But what happens when apartheid goes to the next level?

This is what happens when people are conditioned to believe that only their lives matter, that others are expendable. That this land is “my” land and mine alone, and I don’t care if you lived here already. How much worse does that get when resources are scarce? How much itchier does your trigger finger get when it’s well over 100 degrees all day every day, when potable water is a luxury? What is that but eco-fascism? And where does that lead but genocide?

Weekly Round Up

Rising Temperatures, Rising Tides

There’s a New Definition of ‘Normal’ for Weather by Henry Fountain and Jason Kao for The New York Times

Third of global food production at risk from climate crisis, by Fiona Harvey for The Guardian

U.S. has entered unprecedented climate territory, EPA warns, by Dino Grandoni and Brady Dennis for The Washington Post

Facing rising temperatures, Miami appoints chief heat officer, by Craig Pittman for The Washington Post

California and the West are in for another tough fire year, federal officials forecast, by Anna M. Phillips for The LA Times

Drought emergency declared in 41 California counties, by Faith E. Pinho for The LA Times

Australia stands alone in not having a significant climate plan, says UK expert, by Adam Morton for The Guardian

Asia is home to 99 of world’s 100 most vulnerable cities, by Agence France-Presse for The Guardian

Climate emissions shrinking the stratosphere, scientists reveal, by Damian Carrington for The Guardian

EPA Data Shows Climate Change's Impact on Americans by Christopher Flavelle for The New York Times

The Climate Presidency

Biden won't ban burgers. But his climate plan must fix our meat system, by Sigal Samuel for Vox

U.S. brings back climate change website detailing ongoing threats, by Andrea Januta for Reuters

Crying about hamburgers is dead-end on climate crisis, Republicans warned, by Oliver Milman for The Guardian

America is facing unprecedented utility debt. Here’s what might help, by Alexandria Herr for Grist

EPA says Missouri’s environmental agency violated the Civil Rights Act, by Jena Brooker for Grist

This Chicago scrapyard is testing Michael Regan on environmental justice, by Adam Mahoney for Grist

Hackers found America's energy weak spot, by Zoya Teirstein for Grist

Climate Accountability

Big Oil Is Trying to Make Climate Change Your Problem to Solve. Don't Let Them. By Amy Westervelt for Rolling Stone

What do voting restrictions and anti-protest laws have in common? By Naveena Sadasivam for Grist

St. Croix refinery halts operations after raining oil on local residents once again, by Juliet Eilperin for The Washington Post

How should utility companies spend your money? A debate rages, by Sammy Roth for The LA Times

Fed privately presses big banks on risks from climate change, by Pete Schroeder for Reuters

The Fight to Define What 'Clean' Energy Means, by Dharna Noor for Earther

CEO Says Shell Is 'Absolutely Needed' to Fix the Climate Crisis, by Dharna Noor for Earther

Study: ExxonMobil's language shifts the blame for climate change, by Kate Yoder for Grist

Justice Is Justice Is Justice

Youth activists urge bigger say in decision making for climate-hit Africans, by Amber Milne for Reuters

How to Kill the Oil Hydra—and Other Lessons From the Fight Against Keystone XL, by David Treuer for The Nation

Climate Justice Is About More Than Just Fossil Fuels by Matthew Sehrsweeney for The Nation

Air pollution from farms leads to 17,900 U.S. deaths per year, study finds, by Sarah Kaplan for The Washington Post

As climate change threatens Kenyan tea, millions of workers seen at risk, by Nita Bhalla for Reuters

One in four cities cannot afford climate crisis protection measures, by Fiona Harvey for The Guardian

Glimmers of Hope

Scientists say this E. coli won’t make you sick and could be good for the planet, by Tatiana Schlossberg for The Washington Post

Syria's Surprising Solar Boom: Sunlight Powers the Night in Rebel Idlib, by Ben Hubbard for The New York Times

Offshore wind project near Martha's Vineyard approved, by Patrick Whittle for The LA Times

Electric cars ‘will be cheaper to produce than fossil fuel vehicles by 2027, by Joanna Partridge for The Guardian

Florida Man Tries to Hold Back the Sea, by Molly Taft for Earther

Renewable energy didn’t just survive 2020 — it thrived, by Emily Pontecorvo for Grist

A breakthrough for US wind power by Lisa Friedman for The New York Times

Climate in Culture

Futuristic computer game hopes to be tonic for climate change anxiety, by Kim Harrisber for Reuters

The Beer of the Future Tastes Like Ass, by Brian Kahn for Earther

How to have the trash talk with your neighbors, by Eve Andrew for Grist

Archaeologists Are Making a Push to Improve Climate Modeling, by Sofia Quaglia for Earther

Plus More

Officials opened 12 slots to kill bison at Grand Canyon National Park. 45,000 people applied, by Paulina Firozi for The Washington Post

Letters to the Editor re: Climate Catastrophe for The Nation, by Readers + Jane McAlevey

UK climate activist arrested after attacks on HSBC and Barclays, by Guy Faulconbridge for Reuters

UK Honors Canadian Oil Company Executive as 'Climate Champion', by Molly Taft at Earther

What if Space Junk and Climate Change Become the Same Problem? by Jonathan O’Callaghan for The New York Times


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