Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Corporate greed, hope for the Amazon, and progress in the US and EU
February 21, 2023
The Climate, Health & Equity Brief is GMMB’s take on the week’s news on the current impacts of climate change. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so by clicking here.
Hot Topic: Push and pull. Fossil fuel companies bear significant responsibility for the present and future dangers of climate change – and even now, with broad consensus on the need to transition to clean energy, they continue to obstruct progress and forestall solutions. In his State of the Union address, President Biden highlighted the oil industry’s record profits from last year, admonishing them for spending much of their $200 billion windfall on stock buybacks amidst a global energy crisis.
Despite those profits and the need for urgency, oil giants like BP and Shell are choosing not to increase their investments in renewable projects. Furthermore, even as fossil fuel companies like Exxon tout initiatives like improved plastic recycling, the production of single-use plastics using their petrochemicals continues to increase. Hypocrisy on sustainable initiatives is not limited to the oil industry, however, as a new report finds that many companies exaggerate their so-called “net-zero” initiatives, which—even if successful—would only amount to a 36% average reduction in carbon emissions.
The resistance of major industries adds further complexity to an already immense challenge, and it emphasizes the need for stronger federal regulations. Already, federal contractors are pushing back against President Biden’s proposal for carbon emission reductions, and one study found only a 20% chance of phasing out coal power plants by 2050 without stricter requirements.
Despite these challenges, new progress offers hope. Since taking office January 1, Brazilian President Lula has already cracked down significantly on Amazon deforestation. During his trip to the US this month, he and President Biden discussed the need for further international support to defend the crucial ecosystem.
The Biden administration plans to incentivize reduced emissions by increasing the social cost of carbon—which measures the cost to humanity of greenhouse gas emissions—from the current interim figure of $51 per ton of CO2 to $190 per ton. Additionally, green energy projects funded through the IRA and related U.S. climate policies are creating tens of thousands of new jobs, cleaning up toxic waste sites and expanding solar energy, which itself is projected to make up 53% of energy production projects in 2023.
Finally, three new developments offer a glimpse at what stronger commitments to zero emissions can look like. The European Union voted to prohibit the sale of fossil-fuel powered vehicles in its 27 member countries beyond 2035. In the U.S., the state of Minnesota passed a new law requiring the state’s electric utilities to transition to 100 percent carbon-free energy sources by 2040. And the U.S. has announced more than 100,000 new clean energy jobs since the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law, with more than 90 new projects representing nearly $90 billion in new clean energy investments.
While corporate recalcitrance continues to pose significant challenges, these small yet significant efforts provide optimism that we can make progress toward a cleaner, more sustainable future.
— Matt and Traci
According to a new Census Bureau report, more than 3 million adults in the U.S. were forced to evacuate their homes in the past year due to hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters worsened by climate change, in findings that suggest previous reporting has so far underestimated the scale of the domestic displacement crisis. (POLITICO)
A new report found that increased temperatures and severe flooding have contributed to the rise of antimicrobial resistance or “superbugs” —germs such as bacteria, viruses and fungi that are developing the ability to defeat the medications designed to kill them. (CNN)
In a new report, scientists are highlighting climate change as a contributing factor to increasing attacks on humans by carnivorous animals, as excessive heat, drought and extreme weather events reduce natural habitats, pushing animals closer in proximity to urban settings. (NBC News)
The amount of single-use plastic produced from fossil fuels rose to 137 million tons in 2021 and is expected to reach more than 154 million tons by 2027, prompting cries for new regulations and spurring negotiations for a global treaty to set new standards for plastic production and recycling. (Reuters, The New York Times)
A new study revealed there is just a 1 in 20 chance coal power plants are phased out by 2050, warning against limited agreements to phase out coal that exempt certain industries and risk disastrous climate impacts. (The Hill)
A recent MIT study found that widespread global adoption of self-driving cars would generate as much annual emissions as Argentina—a problem that could prove difficult to rectify even with improvements to onboard computers given the cars’ potential to encourage longer and more frequent drives. (Fast Company)
The EPA announced $1B in funding towards projects to clean up 22 toxic waste sites across the US, with 60% of the sites located in low-income or minority communities that contend with chronic over-pollution. (ABC News)
The EPA proposed to raise the social cost of carbon from $51 per ton of CO2 emitted to $190 per ton—an important step—but the proposal controversially assigns higher values to the lives of people in the richest countries. (NPR)
Destruction from wildfires is a key contributor to the housing crisis across the state of California, with wealthy, well-insured fire victims able to rebuild, while poorer residents that cannot afford adequate insurance or don’t qualify for federal emergency loans are forced to relocate to less expensive cities. (The Washington Post)
Politics & Economy
Oil giants are slowing down their support for the energy transition, with BP reducing investments in renewable projects and Shell deciding not to increase investments after major profits. (Axios)
A new report found that major global brands – including Nestle, Carrefour, and Volkswagen – are exaggerating their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions with net-zero pledges that actually only amount to a 36% reduction in emissions. (AP)
Many business are pushing back on President Biden’s proposal to require all major federal contractors to set targets for reducing their emissions in line with the Paris climate accord, citing a potential effect on small businesses and threatening legal action. (The Washington Post)
Life as We Know It
The Heartland Institute, a think tank that has perpetuated climate misinformation for decades, just sent 8,000 U.S. middle and high school teachers copies of its book Climate at a Glance, which claims “the data show the earth is not experiencing a climate crisis.” (Grist)
Electric vehicle batteries are now able to power homes for three days as a backup generator, and they could eventually form “virtual power plants” that would reduce the need for natural gas power plants and help redistribute clean energy throughout the day. (The New York Times)
A growing number of travelers are making no-flying pledges in an effort to curb emission rates from air travel, which currently accounts for 4% of human-induced global warming. (The New York Times)
Deforestation rates in Brazil fell by 61% in January—the first drop from a year earlier in five months—under new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has pledged to end surging destruction under his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro. (Reuters)
The U.S. has announced more than 100,000 clean energy jobs since the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law, with over 90 new clean energy projects representing nearly $90 billion in new clean energy investments. (Bloomberg)
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects solar power projects will represent 53% of new electrical generation projects in 2023, more than doubling the current record for utility-scale solar capacity added in a single year. (Reuters)
Minnesota passed a law requiring the state’s electrical utilities to transition to 100 percent carbon-free energy sources by 2040, despite the threat of a lawsuit from North Dakota for limiting commerce between the states. (Minnesota Public Radio)
Get to know Rosemary Enobakhare, the new associate administrator of public engagement and environmental education at the Environmental Protection Agency who grew up under constant boil advisories in Jackson, Mississippi and now leads environmental justice efforts at the Agency.
Let’s face reality. The climate crisis doesn’t care if you’re in a red or blue state. It is an existential threat.”
– President Joe Biden
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team—Thomas Baer, Aaron Benavides, Stefana Hendronetto, Sharde Olabanji and Quincy Tichenor. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.