Big banks loaned money to an oil giant under the guise of 'sustainability' — and more tales of Wall Street greenwashing

Fourteen months ago, Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, the world's largest money manager, wrote a letter warning that climate change was on the verge of "fundamentally reshaping" the financial sector. The crux of his message was that the finance sector would have an effect on preventing climate change, if only it changed who and what it invested in.

His words proved somewhat prophetic. Last month, Wells Fargo rounded out the list of Wall Street giants that have since committed to align their business model with the Paris Agreement, an international environmental accord.

This should please everyone concerned about climate change. Yet there is a danger that the financial sector now gets credit for acting on climate, when, in fact, it hasn't even begun to do what is necessary.

Yes, nearly all of the country's biggest banks have now committed to achieve "net-zero" climate emissions by 2050. But, at the same time, those same banks are continuing to loan trillions to the companies most responsible for causing climate change. As a major new report shows, since the Paris Agreement was signed in late 2015, JPMorgan Chase alone has loaned more than $317 billion to fossil fuel corporations. Even by the standards of oil companies, that is a lot of money; indeed, it's more than the market capitalization of Chevron and BP combined.

Reducing humanity's greenhouse gas emissions is a race against time, and no bank should be taken seriously if its 2050 climate promises are not accompanied by actions that immediately exclude financing for the coal mines and tar sands pipelines that we know are incompatible with reigning in catastrophic climate change. Even the few fossil fuel-exclusion policies that banks have passed amount to little more than empty gestures. In February 2020, JPMorgan Chase passed a policy to curtail its funding of Arctic drilling projects. Chase's policy prevents the provision of loans that are specifically designated to go toward a particular Arctic drilling project. That's all well and good. But it does nothing to prevent the provision of general purpose loans to companies that are engaged in the business of Arctic drilling.

It's a loophole the size of Arctic Wildlife Refuge, and, even after the adoption of its new policy, Chase loaned $825 million to companies engaged in Arctic drilling last year, more than any other bank.

This pales in comparison to the empty climate gestures made by some banks last month.

Enbridge Energy is currently trying to ram the Line 3 tar sands pipeline through northern Minnesota. If built, Line 3's greenhouse gas footprint would be more than twice that of the entire state of Washington.

To put it plainly, Enbridge is building an oil pipeline that is incompatible with preserving life on Earth as we know it ― a pipeline that is also vehemently opposed by the Indigenous people whose lands it cuts through. "Cultural genocide," is how tribal attorney Tara Houska described the effect of the pipeline.

This is what makes it so egregious that last month, after climate campaigners launched a concerted effort to convince banks not to fund the Line 3 boondoggle, a coalition of major banks decided to cancel a $2.2 billion loan to Enbridge Energy ― and replace it with an $800 million "sustainability-linked" loan.

The Canadian tar sands produce what is likely the most carbon-intensive oil on Earth, and its extraction results in colossal levels of deforestation and water and air pollution. Giving Enbridge ― a company trying to build a pipeline that could expand tar sands extraction by up to 10% ― a so-called "sustainability" loan is about as Orwellian as it gets.

Even voices from within Wall Street have begun decrying the industry's empty posturing. "Wall Street is greenwashing the economic system and, in the process, creating a deadly distraction," wrote Tariq Fancy, the former head of Sustainable Investing at BlackRock, earlier this month.

Unfortunately, it appears that for all the noise Wall Street has made on climate in recent months, the only division within the finance world that has been "fundamentally reshaped" by the climate crisis is its PR departments.

New study finds undisclosed ingredients in Roundup is lethal to bumblebees

Commonly used herbicides across the U.S. contain highly toxic undisclosed "inert" ingredients that are lethal to bumblebees, according to a new study published Friday in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

The study reviewed several herbicide products and found that most contained glyphosate, an ingredient best recognized from Roundup products and the most widely used herbicide in the U.S. and worldwide.

While the devastating impacts of glyphosate on bee populations are more broadly recognized, the toxicity levels of inert ingredients are less understood because they are not subjected to the same mandatory testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"Pesticides are manufactured and sold as formulations that contain a mixture of compounds, including one or more active ingredients and, potentially, many inert ingredients," explained the Center for Food Safety in a statement. "The inert ingredients are added to pesticides to aid in mixing and to enhance the products' ability to stick to plant leaves, among other purposes."

The study found that these inert substances can be highly toxic and even block bees' breathing capacity, essentially causing them to drown. While researchers found that some of the combinations of inert ingredients had no negative impacts on the bees, one of the herbicide formulations killed 96% of the bees within 24 hours.

According to the abstract of the study:

Bees exhibited 94% mortality with Roundup® Ready‐To‐Use® and 30% mortality with Roundup® ProActive®, over 24 hr. Weedol® did not cause significant mortality, demonstrating that the active ingredient, glyphosate, is not the cause of the mortality. The 96% mortality caused by Roundup® No Glyphosate supports this conclusion.

"This important new study exposes a fatal flaw in how pesticide products are regulated here in the U.S.," said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Now the question is, will the Biden administration fix this problem, or will it allow the EPA to continue its past practice of ignoring the real-world harms of pesticides?"

According to the Center for Food Safety, there are currently 1,102 registered formulations that contain the active ingredient glyphosate, each with a proprietary mixture of inert ingredients. In 2017, the group filed a legal petition calling for the EPA to force companies to provide safety data on pesticide formulations that include inert ingredients.

"The EPA must begin requiring tests of every pesticide formulation for bee toxicity, divulge the identity of 'secret' formulation additives so scientists can study them, and prohibit application of Roundup herbicides to flowering plants when bees might be present and killed," said Bill Freese, science director at the Center for Food Safety. "Our legal petition gave the EPA a blueprint for acting on this issue of whole formulations. Now they need to take that blueprint and turn it into action, before it's too late for pollinators."

Roundup—also linked to cancer in humans—was originally produced by agrochemical giant Monsanto, which was acquired by the German pharmaceutical and biotech company Bayer in 2018.

The merger of the two companies was condemned by environmentalists and food safety groups who warned it would cultivate the greatest purveyor of genetically modified seeds and toxic pesticides in the world.

Scientific American to use 'climate emergency' in magazine's future coverage

After over 175 years of publishing, Scientific American made a major editorial announcement on Monday: the historic U.S. magazine will officially adopt the term "climate emergency" for its coverage of the human-caused crisis.

The move came as part of a new initiative led by Covering Climate Now, a global consortium of media outlets dedicated to improving climate coverage. SciAm was one of the nine initial signatories of the Climate Emergency Statement.

Common Dreams is a member of the consortium, has signed on to the new statement, and has been using the term climate emergency in our reporting for several years.

Mark Fischetti, a senior editor at Scientific American, detailed the decision on the outlet's website Monday. He wrote:

An emergency is a serious situation that requires immediate action. When someone calls 911 because they can't breathe, that's an emergency. When someone stumbles on the sidewalk because their chest is pounding and their lips are turning blue, that's an emergency. Both people require help right away. Multiply those individuals by millions of people who have similar symptoms, and it constitutes the biggest global health emergency in a century: the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now consider the following scenarios: A hurricane blasts Florida. A California dam bursts because floods have piled water high up behind it. A sudden, record-setting cold snap cuts power to the entire state of Texas. These are also emergencies that require immediate action. Multiply these situations worldwide, and you have the biggest environmental emergency to beset the earth in millennia: climate change.

"This idea is not a journalistic fancy. We are on solid scientific ground," Fischetti added, citing a climate emergency declaration from over 13,800 global scientists.

That declaration, as Common Dreams previously reported, initially came in late 2019—but has garnered additional support since—and was spearheaded by William J. Ripple of Oregon State University's Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society.

"Global surface temperature, ocean heat content, extreme weather and its costs, sea level, ocean acidity, and area burned in the United States are all rising," Ripple said at the time. "All of these rapid changes highlight the urgent need for action."

Ripple and other scientists who launched the effort wrote for Scientific American in January that "as we move into 2021 and beyond, we need a massive-scale mobilization to address the climate crisis, including much more progress on the six steps of climate change mitigation." They outlined various priorities for energy, short-lived pollutants, nature, food, economy, and population.

Fischetti highlighted another pair of lines from the piece by Ripple and his colleagues:

The adverse effects of climate change are much more severe than expected and now threaten both the biosphere and humanity... Every effort must be made to reduce emissions and increase removal of atmospheric carbon in order to restore the melting Arctic and end the deadly cycle of damage that the current climate is delivering.

Echoing the new Climate Emergency Statement, Fischetti concluded that "journalism should reflect what science says: the climate emergency is here."

Scientific American's new policy comes months after another major move. Last September, SciAm's editors gave President Joe Biden the first-ever presidential endorsement in the magazine's long history, warning that "the 2020 election is literally a matter of life and death."

Antarctica's ice shelves are trembling as global temperatures rise

by Ella Gilbert, University of Reading

Images of colossal chunks of ice plunging into the sea accompany almost every news story about climate change. It can often make the problem seem remote, as if the effects of rising global temperatures are playing out elsewhere. But the break-up of the world's vast reservoirs of frozen water – and, in particular, Antarctic ice shelves – will have consequences for all of us.

Before we can appreciate how, we need to understand what's driving this process.

Ice shelves are gigantic floating platforms of ice that form where continental ice meets the sea. They're found in Greenland, northern Canada and the Russian Arctic, but the largest loom around the edges of Antarctica. They are fed by frozen rivers of ice called glaciers, which flow down from the steep Antarctic ice sheet.

Ice shelves act as a barrier to glaciers, so when they disappear, it's like pulling the plug in a sink, allowing glaciers to flow freely into the ocean, where they contribute to sea level rise.

If you cast your mind back to 2002, you may remember the sudden demise of Larsen B, an ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula – the tail-like landmass which stretches out from the West Antarctic mainland – which splintered over just six weeks.

A map of Antarctica with the peninsula highlighted by a red box.

The Antarctic Peninsula, highlighted in red, is the northernmost part of the continent. (Anna Frodesiak/Wikipedia)

Before Larsen B broke up, satellite images showed meltwater collecting in huge ponds on the surface, the precursor to a process called “hydrofracturing", which literally means “cracking by water".

Ice shelves are not solid blocks of ice: they're made up of layers with fresh snow at the top, which contains lots of air gaps. Over many seasons, layers of snow build up and become compacted, with the bottom of the shelf containing the densest ice. In the middle, there is a porous medium called firn, which contains air pockets that soak up meltwater every summer like a sponge.

In the Antarctic summer, ice shelves get warm enough to melt at the surface. That meltwater trickles into the firn layer, where it refreezes when temperatures dip below freezing again. If the rate of melting every year is greater than the rate at which that firn can be replenished by fresh snow, then those air pockets eventually fill up, causing the ice shelf to become one solid chunk.

If that happens, then the following summer when melting occurs, the water has nowhere to go and so collects in ponds on the surface. That is what we can see in the satellite images of Larsen B before it collapsed.

At this stage, meltwater begins to flow into crevasses and cracks within the ice shelf. The weight of water filling these rifts causes them to widen and deepen, until suddenly, all at once, the cracks reach the bottom of the shelf and the whole thing disintegrates.

Scientists believe the collapse of Larsen B was caused by a combination of persistently warm weather and a background of ongoing atmospheric warming, which drove unusually high melt rates.

After its collapse, the glaciers that previously fed Larsen B sped up, spitting more ice into the ocean than before. Currently, the Antarctic Peninsula, an area that has seen more than half its ice shelves lose mass, is responsible for around 25% of all ice loss from Antarctica. It holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by around 24cm.

Three future outcomes

But what might happen to the rest of Antarctica's ice shelves in the future is still uncertain. As the climate warms, ice shelves are more likely to collapse and accelerate global sea level rise, but by how much? This is something myself and a colleague have explored in a new study.

We used the latest modelling techniques to predict the susceptibility of ice shelves to hydrofracturing at 1.5°C, 2°C and 4°C of global warming – scenarios that are all still plausible. Like with Larsen B, the presence of liquid water on the surface of an ice shelf indicates that it is becoming less stable, and so vulnerable to collapse by hydrofracturing.

In our paper, we identified four ice shelves – including two on the Antarctic Peninsula – which are at risk of collapse if global temperatures rise 4°C above the pre-industrial average. If both were to disintegrate, the glaciers they hold back could account for tens of cm of sea level rise – 10-20% of what's predicted this century.

But limiting global warming to 2°C would halve the amount of ice shelf area at risk of collapse around Antarctica. At 1.5°C, just 14% of Antarctica's ice shelf area would be at risk. Cutting that risk reduces the likelihood of this vast and remote continent significantly contributing to sea level rise.

Clearly, reducing climate change will be better not just for Antarctica, but for the world.The Conversation

Ella Gilbert, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Climate Science, University of Reading

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Renewable energy smashed records in 2020

Despite the difficulties associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, the world added a record amount of new renewable energy capacity in 2020, according to data released Monday by the International Renewable Energy Agency.

IRENA's annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021 shows that global renewable energy capacity grew by more than 260 gigawatts (GW) last year, beating the previous record set in 2019 by nearly 50%. Last year marked the second consecutive year in which clean energy's share of all new generating capacity increased substantially, with renewables accounting for over 80% of all new electricity capacity added in 2020.

Total fossil fuel additions, by contrast, fell by more than 6% last year—from 64 GW worth of new electricity capacity in 2019 to 60 GW in 2020.

"These numbers tell a remarkable story of resilience and hope. Despite the challenges and the uncertainty of 2020, renewable energy emerged as a source of undeniable optimism for a better, more equitable, resilient, clean, and just future," IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera said in a statement.

"The great reset," as La Camera called the coronavirus-driven economic slowdown, "offered a moment of reflection and chance to align our trajectory with the path to inclusive prosperity, and there are signs we are grasping it."

Referring to 2020 as "the start of the decade of renewables," La Camera noted that "costs are falling, clean tech markets are growing, and never before have the benefits of the energy transition been so clear."

Though hydropower—responsible for more than 43% of the world's total renewable energy generation capacity—still constitutes the largest global source of clean energy, other sources are catching up; solar and wind contributed 127 GW and 111 GW of new installations, respectively, together accounting for 91% of the growth in renewables in 2020.

While La Camera described the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources as an "unstoppable" trend, he also emphasized that "there is a huge amount to be done."

Notwithstanding recent momentum in favor of clean energy, La Camera said that in order to limit global temperature rise to 1.5ºC, "significant planned energy investments must be redirected to support the transition if we are to achieve 2050 goals" of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as outlined last month in IRENA's World Energy Transition Outlook.

La Camera's words of caution about the inadequate pace of the global energy transformation echoes a recent warning by Fatih Bitrol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, who said last week that even though the world's biggest economies have pledged to achieve net zero GHG emissions by mid-century, few have implemented the policies necessary to realize that objective.

Regarding the worldwide expansion of renewable energy capacity in 2020, La Camera stressed that "in this critical decade of action, the international community must look to this trend as a source of inspiration to go further."

'EPA needs to step in': Florida workers race to prevent massive spill of radioactive waste

Florida workers over the weekend rushed to prevent the collapse of a reservoir wall containing hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater from a defunct phosphate mine, a looming environmental catastrophe that prompted mandatory evacuation orders and a declaration of emergency by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

A leak in the Piney Point reservoir was first reported late last month, sparking fears of a complete breach and possible upending of stacks of phosphogypsum, a radioactive waste product of fertilizer manufacturing. During a briefing on Saturday, a public safety official for Florida's Manatee County warned that "structural collapse" of the storage reservoir "could occur at any time."

To prevent a full-fledged breach and contain spillage, local work crews on Sunday continued actively pumping tens of thousands of gallons of toxic wastewater per minute into Tampa Bay. As The Guardian reported Sunday, Manatee County officials "warned that up to 340 million gallons could engulf the area in 'a 20-foot wall of water' if they could not repair" the leak.

Justin Bloom, founder of the Sarasota-based nonprofit group Suncoast Waterkeeper, said in a statement Sunday that "we hope the contamination is not as bad as we fear, but are preparing for significant damage to Tampa Bay and the communities that rely on this precious resource."

"It looks like this is turning out to be the 'horror' chapter of a long, terrible story of phosphate mining in Florida and beyond," Bloom added.

Aerial footage posted to YouTube by a local news outlet shows the leak at the Piney Point reservoir as of Sunday morning:

Piney Point reservoir breach: Leak continues Sunday morning www.youtube.com

The Environmental Protection Agency said late Sunday that it is "actively monitoring the ongoing situation at Piney Point" and has "deployed an on-scene coordinator" to work with local officials.

Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said Sunday that the crisis was "entirely foreseeable and preventable" and cries out for immediate intervention by the federal government.

"With 24 more phosphogypsum stacks storing more than one billion tons of this dangerous, radioactive waste in Florida, the EPA needs to step in right now," Lopez said. "Federal officials need to clean up this mess the fertilizer industry has dumped on Florida communities and immediately halt further phosphogypsum production."

Biden administration embraces a 'revolutionary moment' with a major climate announcement

Climate action groups and ocean defenders issued strong praise Monday after the Biden administration announced its intention to boost the nation's offshore wind capacity with a number of steps including preparing forfede leases in an area off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

"Today's announcement marks a revolutionary moment for offshore wind. This powerful renewable resource has been waiting in the wings of our energy system for too long, and now it can finally take center stage," Hannah Read, an associate with Environment America's Go Big on Offshore Wind campaign, told Common Dreams.

Taken together, the initiatives will create 77,000 jobs, generate enough electricity to power over 10 million homes for a year, and avoid 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, according to the administration.

The plan would general 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030—a capacity that would surpass the roughly 19 GW predicted (pdf) in 2019 by some industry analysts. As NBC News noted, the nation's offshore wind capacity is largely untapped:

[W]hile on-land wind farms have flourished in recent years, offshore wind has yet to take off in a significant way, in part due to bureaucratic and permitting hurdles that were a source of major frustration for renewable energy companies during the Trump administration. As of now, the U.S. has only one operational offshore commercial wind farm, with just five turbines.

According to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, making up for such inaction is urgent.

"For generations," Haaland said in a statement, "we've put off the transition to clean energy and now we're facing a climate crisis."

Although "every community is facing more extreme weather and the costs associated with that," Haaland said that "not every community has the resources to rebuild, or even get up and relocate when a climate event happens in their backyards." She noted that the "climate crisis disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income families."

"As our country faces the interlocking challenges of a global pandemic, economic downturn, racial injustice, and the climate crisis, we must transition to a brighter future for everyone," said Haaland.

Among steps announced by the Interior, Commerce, and Energy departments were a data sharing agreement between NOAA and offshore wind development company Ørsted Wind Power North America to help development of infrastructure; the identification of nearly 800,000 acres in the shallow ocean triangle known as the New York Bight to be "Wind Energy Areas"; $8 million for 15 new offshore wind research and development projects; and notice that BOEM would launch an Environmental Impact Statement for Ocean Wind's proposed 1,100 megawatt facility off the coast of New Jersey.

"The ocean energy bureau said it will push to sell commercial leases in the area in late 2021 or early 2022," the Associated Press reported.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.)—who's previously introduced legislation to incentivize offshore wind—framed the development as "a sea change in American energy policy and a new day in the fight against climate change."

"This is a down-payment on our national future for our children and their children after them," Pascrell tweeted.

Read, with Environment America, said the administration's announcement could serve as a major catalyst.

"The potential to power our country using clean, renewable energy off our coasts is immense, and the Biden administration's commitment forges a path to take full advantage of offshore wind. This federal leadership should give states the confidence to continue making bold commitments to go big on offshore wind. Now that the executive branch is throwing its weight behind timely and ambitious development, it's full-steam ahead," she said.

The news also drew praise from climate group 350.org, which, like Haaland, put the announcement in the context of the multiple crises gripping the nation.

"This is the type of climate action we need from the Biden administration: major investment in renewable energy that creates thousands of good-paying union jobs," the group's U.S. communications director Thanu Yakupitiyage said in a statement.

"In this moment of compounding health, economic, racial, and climate crises," Yakupitiyage continued, "it's beyond time to get our country off fossil fuels and on track towards a renewable future that centers the working class and communities of color."

For Oceana, the administration's good news for offshore wind must be matched with an equally important element—a forceful departure from dirty energy.

"We applaud the Biden-Harris administration helping to make offshore wind a reality in the United States—a necessary step in our climate strategy," said Jacqueline Savitz, chief policy officer with the group, adding that it must also have "strong protections for ocean habitat, especially for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale."

But for "the U.S. to successfully take full advantage of this unlimited resource that can help solve our climate and energy challenges, Oceana is calling for permanent protections from dirty and dangerous offshore drilling as well," Savitz added.

A call for more plant-based eating has started a meat war

Colorado Governor Jared Polis's declaration of March 20 as "MeatOut Day" to promote plant-based diets—which are beneficial to human health, the environment, and the prevention of cruelty to animals—sparked controversy between animal rights activists and the meat industry that went beyond state lines.

Polis is not the first major politician to promote this message to eat less meat; he joins governors and mayors in 40 additional states and cities who have signed similar proclamations in recent years. Originally conceived in 1985 as the "Great American Meatout" by the Farm Animal Rights Movement, an animal welfare nonprofit based in Bethesda, Maryland, to protest a U.S. Senate resolution proclaiming National Meat week, MeatOut Day has been proclaimed by state and national governments around the globe.

"Removing animal products from our diets reduces the risk of various ailments, including heart disease, [high blood] pressure, stroke, various cancers, and diabetes; and… a plant-based diet helps protect the environment by reducing our carbon footprint, preserving forests, grasslands and wildlife habitats, and reduces pollution of waterways," said Polis in his proclamation.

The announcement was applauded by environmentalists and animal rights advocates. But there has also been significant pushback, unsurprisingly, from the meat industry and the politicians who support it. The Colorado Cattlemen's Association (CCA) slapped back with their own call to have a "Meat In" on March 20. "On this day, CCA encourages Colorado to meet in a restaurant and order your favorite meat dish, meet your family and friends for a meal featuring meat!"

"For our governor to say that we should have a meat-free day is the last straw," said Republican State Senator Barbara Kirkmeyer. "It's just one more attack against my county." Polis's declaration also raised interstate hackles. "That is a direct attack on our way of life here in Nebraska," Governor Pete Ricketts said at a news conference at Frank Stoysich Meats, the Omaha-based butcher shop where he announced the creation of "Meat on the Menu Day." Colorado Public Radio dubbed the growing clash a "carnivorous culture war."

But if Nebraska's way of life involved a healthy and safe natural environment and stable climate, then Ricketts might take a deeper look at what eating meat is doing to the planet. "It's tempting to believe in quick technological fixes that will let us keep indulging in burgers without the climate guilt," Matthew Hayek, an environmental scientist at New York University, and Jan Dutkiewicz, a policy fellow at Harvard Law School, wrote on Wired. "But the fact is that currently, the only real solution available is to produce and eat less beef."

As Polis said, plant-based diets do help protect the environment, but that's merely a more pleasing spin on the main, terrifying fact: Meat-based diets are having devastating consequences on the environment and climate. The emissions alone from the meat industry are reason enough to curb our meat intake. The livestock sector is responsible for 16.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is currently on target to account for nearly half of the total amount of greenhouse gases that global human activity can emit into the atmosphere from now until 2030—if we are to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius maximum temperature increase outlined by the Paris climate agreement.

It's not just all the burps and farts that ruminants like cows, sheep and goats emit (which account for about 5.5 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gases), but the massive deforestation occurring, primarily in the Amazon, to make room for raising cattle and the grains, like soy, meant to feed them. The grazing land used for the production of meat and dairy combined with agricultural land used to produce the animals' feed takes up 30 percent of the Earth's land area—and 80 percent of all agricultural land in the United States.

In April 2020, scientists from the University of Michigan and Tulane University released new research that modeled different climate outcomes between 2016 and 2030 based on varying adjustments in Americans' diet. In one scenario, they found that if Americans were to replace 50 percent of animal products with plant-based foods, they would prevent more than 1.6 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution by 2030. In another scenario, in which Americans reduce their consumption of beef by 90 percent, that number would increase to preventing more than 2.4 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution from being emitted. That would be like taking nearly half of the world's cars off the roads for an entire year.

The scientists write that "this diet projection exercise emphasizes the important role that changes in diet can play in climate action," adding that such changes "will require the concerted efforts of policymakers, the food industry and consumers."

"Moving the American appetite from our burger-heavy diet to plant-based eating is a powerful and necessary part of curbing the climate crisis," said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit based in Tucson, Arizona, which supported the study and released a policy guide, "Appetite for Change: A Policy Guide to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Diets by 2030," to help decision-makers at the federal, state and local levels to promote the dietary shifts that must happen to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis from happening, like deadly heat waves, sea-level rise, the spread of disease and extreme weather events, species extinction and ecosystem collapse.

"We can't ignore that public health, sustainability, climate resilience and food security are all part of the same recipe. Our government has a responsibility to make healthy, climate-friendly foods more accessible to all Americans, and that starts with the dietary guidelines," said Feldstein. "The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the meat supply chain's vulnerabilities, but our food system faces even greater long-term threats from climate change. We desperately need policymakers to support sustainable diets and a resilient food system."

In declaring Colorado's "MeatOut Day," Gov. Polis became one of those policymakers. And he doesn't just have environmental and climate science to back up his decision. Health experts and animal rights advocates also have reason to cheer. In 2015, after reviewing more than 800 scientific studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organization's cancer research arm, classified processed meats as a Group 1 carcinogen for human colorectal cancer, while red meat was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans.

More recently, in a study published in the journal Diabetes Care in February 2020, researchers from Harvard University, University of Chicago, Oregon Health & Science University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine found "[c]onsiderable evidence from long-term prospective cohort studies… that diets high in red and processed meats are associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D), cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer (particularly colorectal cancer), and all-cause mortality." The researchers conclude, "For the prevention and management of diabetes and other chronic diseases, it is important to… emphasize dietary patterns high in minimally processed fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, while limiting red and processed meats."

There is also a powerful ethical argument supporting the shift from meat to plants, as factory farming is the largest source of animal cruelty in the entire span of human history. According to United Nations data, more than 70 billion land animals worldwide are killed for food every year. (Our fish consumption is another magnitude altogether, with commercial fish farms killing up to 120 billion fish annually, with another trillion fish caught and killed in the wild.)

"At no other time in history have so many animals died or suffered so much throughout their lives," writes the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Animal Equality. "For many animals, the only time they see and feel the light and warmth of the sun will be during the trip to the slaughterhouse."

"Meat has always been politicized and meat-eating tied to a lot of perceptions of American identity and masculinity, especially here in the American West," Heide Bruckner, a professor at Colorado University, told Colorado Public Radio following Polis's announcement. Bruckner, whose research involves alternative food systems like urban gardens, organic food and animal-welfare certified meat, supports MeatOut Day as an easy way for people to think about their food choices. "There is a large area in between that all-or-nothing approach that we really should explore," she said. "Realistically, one day isn't radically going to shift perception, change behaviors or reduce meat consumption. But I do believe it can provide an opening for some to consider the role that meat plays in their diet."

Perhaps there hasn't been a radical shift in perception regarding meat, but there has been a steady growing shift. Since MeatOut was first launched 35 years ago, Polis pointed out in his proclamation, "more than 35 million Americans have explored a plant-based diet and reduced their consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs; and major food manufactures and national franchises are marketing more vegan options in response to this growing demand."

Young people are driving that shift. According to research conducted in 2019 and published last year by YouGov, a London-based market research firm, millennials (22 percent) are far more likely than Gen Xers (13 percent) and Baby Boomers (11 percent) to say they've adopted a vegetarian diet. In 2019, YouGov polling found that more than one in five young Americans "say they would be willing to eliminate meat from their diet in order to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change." Younger Americans have shifted to veganism at nearly double the rate of older Americans, according to data compiled by Statista, a market research firm based in Hamburg, Germany. In 2018, half of American millennials were curious about a vegetarian lifestyle.

"Agriculture is the heart and soul of Nebraska," said Steve Wellman, the director of the state's agriculture department, who said meat products generate about $12 billion annually for the state. That may be true now, but he would be well-advised to look at the trendlines that show a big growth in plant-based diets—especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted food supplies, exposed the horrors of animal agriculture, and revealed the connection between the meat industry and pandemics. "[S]tartups focusing on plant-based protein—including Plantible Foods, Rebellyous Foods, Livekindly, and InnovoPro—have continued securing millions in funding amid the pandemic," reports CB Insights, a market intelligence firm based in New York. "Demand for vegan meat soared, with sales up by a staggering 264% in the 9 weeks ended May 2, 2020."

But it's not just startups that are getting into the plant-based market: Eight of the top ten meat processing companies, including JBS, Tyson and Cargill, are now making or investing in plant-based meat substitutes to meet the growing demand. Last year, Arkansas-based Tyson, a meat giant that is the world's largest food processing company, rolled out a vegan line. The company said it was part of their effort to adapt to "changing consumer demands." After OSI North America, which produces meat patties for major fast-food chains like McDonald's, partnered with vegan meat producer Impossible Foods in July 2020, Kevin Scott, the company's senior executive vice president, told Reuters that plant-based meat's "time and place is right now."

"Just as we will evolve past racism, sexism, ageism and religious persecution, we will evolve past barbarism toward animals, too," Earth | Food | Life contributor Nina Jackel, founder of the animal rights nonprofit Lady Freethinker, wrote in Salon. She may be right, but if we do, we will do so without the help of Gov. Pete Ricketts, whose meat-loving "way of life" is really a "way of death"—for people, animals and the planet.

Reynard Loki is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute, where he serves as the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life. He previously served as the environment, food and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy's Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Yes! Magazine, Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, EcoWatch and Truthdig, among others.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Texas snowstorm death toll was almost double the original reports — and could be even higher: officials

On Thursday, The Daily Beast reported that officials have doubled their estimate of the death toll for the freak snowstorm that paralyzed the state of Texas in February — and that even more could be reported as the investigation continues.

"The Texas Department of State Health Services said that the number of deaths, initially 57, was in actuality 111 and is still expected to rise as state investigators continue their work," reported Blake Montgomery. "The majority of the fatalities were from hypothermia, but lack of access to medical care, traffic accidents, and fires also played a part. Carbon monoxide poisoning, often caused by sitting in a car in a closed garage, was also a culprit."

According to Dallas County chief medical examiner Jeffrey Barnard, "We'll probably never have a really accurate number."

The storm swept across much of the country, but was particularly disastrous in Texas, which has an independent power grid that had not been properly winterized. Millions across the state lost power and water, and some were left burning their furniture to stay warm.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has come under heavy criticism for falsely suggesting wind and solar failures were a significant factor in the power failures. He has pledged reforms to ERCOT, the organization that manages the state's grid.

Major fossil fuels lobby makes a crucial concession about the reality of climate change

The American Petroleum Institute, a major fossil fuels lobby group that includes members of companies like Chevron and ExxonMobil, has been opposed to setting a national price on carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. But this week, NBC News is reporting, API reversed that policy — and the group's CEO is acknowledging climate change as a reality.

NBC News' Josh Lederman reports that this change "follows a fierce internal debate within the organization over whether to embrace a carbon price, which several of the group's members had already publicly backed."

Many strident proponents of fossil fuels, from former President Donald Trump to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to Fox News pundits like Sean Hannity, are climate change deniers. But API CEO Mike Sommers, in an interview with NBC News, acknowledged climate change as a reality.

Sommers, discussing API's change of policy on a national carbon emissions price, told NBC News, "It's a recognition of the situation that we're in today and the importance of dealing with this important issue. This is a top priority of the Biden Administration, and we also know that climate change is real and that we need to be part of the discussion on one of the marquee items of our time."

Lederman, however, notes that API "is not endorsing a specific approach to putting a price on carbon." But Sommers, during his interview with NBC News, called for "investments in clean technologies."

Lederman explains, "Although major business and industry groups long fiercely opposed making emitters pay for their emissions, that opposition has ebbed as (the) industry has seen major government action as inevitable and began coalescing around a market-based approach that avoids the federal government issuing mandates. In recent years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and other groups have voiced support for a carbon price."

EPA to conduct unprecedented 'public accounting' of Trump's political attacks on science

A newly transformed Environmental Protection Agency under the leadership of Michael Regan will conduct an unprecedented, public accounting of the Trump administration's four years of politically-motivated attacks on scientific inquiry, attacks that were used as a basis for dozens of regulatory changes calculated to benefit corporate polluters at the expense of the public health.

As reported by the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is taking the unusual step of making a public accounting of the Trump administration's political interference in science, drawing up a list of dozens of regulatory decisions that may have been warped by political interference in objective research.
The effort could buttress efforts to unwind pro-business regulations of the past four years, while uplifting science staff battered by four years of disregard. It is particularly explicit at the Environmental Protection Agency, where President Biden's political appointees said they felt that an honest accounting of past problems was necessary to assure career scientists that their findings would no longer be buried or manipulated.

In preparation for this inquiry, Mr. Regan has requested all EPA employees to bring any and all examples of political interference to the attention of the agency's inspector general and other officials responsible for maintaining scientific integrity at the agency, without fear of retaliation or retribution of any kind.

In a blunt memo this month, one senior Biden appointee said political tampering under the Trump administration had "compromised the integrity" of some agency science. She cited specific examples, such as political leaders discounting studies that showed the harm of dicamba, a herbicide in popular weedkillers like Roundup that has been linked to cancer and subsequently ruling that its effectiveness outweighed its risks.

As noted in the Times' report, former Trump officials involved in the deliberate distortion of scientific evidence and studies in order to justify their political motives have reacted to the announcement with varying degrees of concern, some characterizing the efforts to uncover their work as simply another exercise in "politicization" of the agency. They emphasize that their decisions were aided with the advice and concurrence from (presumably non-political) career employees. And while acknowledging that in many circumstances those employees did not agree with their decisions, they stress that their efforts were just "differences in scientific opinion" and the typical give-and-take of any "team."

It will be interesting to see how many of those career employees truly felt themselves as part of a "team" with these Trump political hacks. As reported in 2021 by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, the EPA lost 672 scientists during the Trump administration, many of whom felt they were forced out of their positions. A comprehensive report on the administration sidelining of scientific research conducted in December, 2019, by the New York Times, found that Trump's political appointees had "diminished the role of science in federal policymaking while halting or disrupting research projects nationwide:"

Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions and in some cases pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has particularly challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining. It has also impeded research around human-caused climate change, which President Trump has dismissed despite a global scientific consensus.

So corrupted from its intended purpose had the agency become under Trump that Former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler even went so far as to release an official pre-election memo in August, 2020, touting the agency's "removal" of environmental regulations that he characterized as "hamstringing" American businesses. Some of these actions are addressed in the Times article linked above, including the refusal to ban asbestos products; "declaring the health effects of chlorpyrifos, a widely-used pesticide, 'unresolved' despite years of agency research proving its danger to infants;" and attempting to limit the type of scientific studies which could be used to justify the imposition of any new regulations affecting corporate profits.

Wheeler's self-congratulatory memo bragged about such efforts as "rescind[ing] the Obama Administration's inadequately justified regulation of methane" and eliminating regulations on potentially cancerous emissions for suffering "small oil and gas operators." His tenure at EPA, like that of his disgraced predecessor, Scott Pruitt, was, as the Times report notes, "the epicenter of some of the administration's most questionable decisions."

So yes, it's understandable why certain people might be concerned about a report publicly revealing what they did, at the U.S. taxpayer's expense, in the guise of "protecting" the environment.

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