Earth Matters: Young Georgians push climate in runoff election; Exxon thinks we’re stupid



Earth Matters is a Daily Kos compendium of wonderful, disturbing, and hideous news briefs about the environment.

U.S. will hold climate summit next year as it seeks to rejoin Paris Agreement: During the very, very busy first 100 days of the Biden-Harris administration, the United States will host a climate summit. President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to rejoin the agreement that Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the day after the November election. He reiterated his plan to put the nation on a trajectory to reach “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050, saying: “I’ll immediately start working with my counterparts around the world to do all that we possibly can, including by convening the leaders of major economies for a climate summit within my first 100 days in office … We’ll elevate the incredible work cities, states and businesses have been doing to help reduce emissions and build a cleaner future. We’ll listen to and engage closely with the activists, including young people, who have continued to sound the alarm and demand change from those in power.” COP26, the next of the UN’s climate change conferences, is scheduled for Glasgow the first two weeks of next November.

As required for participation, nations signed onto the Paris Agreement have come up with nationally determined contributions (NDCs) pledging how much they will cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The current pledges, scientists lament, would by the turn of the century produce an average global temperature of 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Anything above 2 degrees C means serious problems, according to climate researchers. Although representatives from 70 signatory nations met virtually last month at the Climate Ambition Summit, there were no major breakthroughs, something participants say they hope a renewed U.S. presence may remedy at COP26 and beyond.

Mark Putnam

Interviews with five young Georgians who are pushing climate and environment issues in the Senate runoff: Aged 16 to 19, they are frustrated but determined. Says Mark Putnam, 19, “For the last couple of months I’ve been working at my school to create voter guides around climate policy, because we’ve found that navigating the voter process while trying to understand what’s on the ballot can get confusing, especially for young people who haven’t voted before. We’ve put guides up in dining halls and Covid testing centers, and we’ve also circulated them in our group chats and on social media. We’re thinking longer term, too, to 2022, when Georgia will have a governor’s race and a Senate seat [the one currently held by Loeffler] on the ballot.”

• Lithium-ion battery pack prices hit “historic milestone”: A decade ago, prices for lithium-ion battery packs were around $1,100 per kilowatt-hour, which made electric vehicles extremely expensive. After 10 years in freefall, they reached $137/kWh in 2020. The most recent forecast of research company BloombergNEF forecasts the average battery pack price will be around $100/kWh by 2023. Naysayers not so long ago said that this would be too steep of a challenge. But battery packs for a fleet of electric buses in China have fallen below the $100/kWh price for the first time. BNEF’s 2020 Battery Price Survey—which scrutinizes passenger EVs, e-buses, commercial EVs, and stationary storage—predicts that by 2023 average pack prices will be $101/kWh. That is at or near where EV automakers should be able to sell EVs at the same price (and with the same profit margin) as comparable internal combustion vehicles in some markets. BloombergNEF predicts that battery price packs will average around $58 kWh in 2030. That is the level at which a $25,000, long-range Tesla electric car becomes possible. 

• Donald Trump Ends Efficient Showerheads’ Reign of Terror

On Tuesday, the same day 2,918 Americans died of a disease whose spread we’re choosing not to stem, the Department of Energy announced it had finalized a rule put forward in August for showerhead efficiency. Since 1992, showerheads have maxed out at 2.5 gallons per minute. That covered an entire multi-showerhead system, the likes of which a fancy person such as President Donald Trump owns. The new rule will let each showerhead in a system blast 2.5 gallons per minute, rather than all showerheads in a shower combined.

ExxonMobil oil refinery in Joliet, Illinois.

Exxon’s new “emissions reduction plan” won’t reduce any emissions: ExxonMobil announced its new “emission reduction plan” Monday. The folks at Grist point out that there’s a catch: Exxon didn’t actually promise to reduce emissions. It did vow to cut by 15-20% the greenhouse gas intensity of the part of its business dedicated to finding and extracting oil and natural by 2025 compared with its 2016 levels. But that doesn’t mean it will reduce its carbon footprint by 15-20%. Rather the giant company will cut the release of gases from each barrel of oil it produces. But it intends by 2025 to be producing another million barrels of oil each day. As Brian Kahn at Gizmodo points out, leaked documents viewed by Bloomberg show that Exxon’s business plan would mean a 17% increase in total carbon emissions. “It’s the equivalent of someone who’s lactose-intolerant chugging a gallon of half-and-half instead of a glass of heavy cream and pretending that’s somehow better for them and everyone around them.”

• Southwest U.S. communities and Latinos are more likely to have arsenic-laden water: Researchers found that, despite protective regulatory standards, arsenic is disproportionately high in some American communities. They studied 139,000 public water systems in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and American Indian reservations covering 92% of the total population served by public systems. Arsenic concentrations in these systems fell by an average 10% nationwide over the time studied. The levels were higher in water systems serving Latino communities and in areas of the Southwest. The findings were published in Environmental Health Perspectives. Arsenic is “the most significant chemical contaminant in drinking water, globally,” according to the World Health Organization. Chronic exposure can cause all sorts of organ damage, including to the brain. 

Data show wealthier, whiter areas are more likely to get help after firesResources for the Future, a Washington-based research group, found that after a wildfire, the feds are more likely to take action to reduce the severity of future fires in the same area, but only in cases where nearby communities are whiter or have higher than average incomes.

Trump regime finalizes new rule eliminating the public protest period on timber harvests: An advance notice published in Thursday’s Federal Register announced a rule to end to the current 15-day protest period after Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decisions have been made for timber harvests, sales, and other forest management projects on federal land that it oversees. “This discretionary protest process was largely duplicative of other opportunities for public involvement,” including opportunities for public comment mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act, the notice stated. A BLM press release said that “abuse of the protest process” had delayed “active forest management” directed at stopping or at least reducing the impact of wildfires. Moving quicker is necessary because “many of the BLM’s decisions are time sensitive in nature, such as fire resilience thinning, thinning for insect and disease resilience, or post-fire salvage sales,” the notice asserted. Critics say, however, that the new rule, which will go into effect Jan. 17, is just more of Donald Trump’s efforts to reduce oversight and public comment of forest management. 

• 10 tips for cleaner grocery shopping: 1. Your Most General Rule of Thumb: Try to Select the Bulk of Your Groceries From the Outside Perimeter of Your Grocery Store.

Most stores line the walls with the simplest of products: produce, the butcher, the bakery, dairy, etc. Aisles in the middle contain most of the processed foods that generally have additives and preservatives it’s better to avoid.

Now, there are caveats to this rule. For example, the bakery often also has items such as highly-refined cakes and cookies that are by no means beneficial to your health, and the dairy section provides a hearty supply of artificially flavored and sweetened creamers. You can find unhealthy products in every department, but the departments around the perimeter of the store contain the most whole, simple ingredients. […]

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