Is the US Dust Bowl back?
Is the Dust Bowl back in the US? And why is the Australian government buying back fishing permits? Welcome to The Climate Recap from the Beckisphere Climate Corner. Your go-to place for international and US-based climate news. I’m Becky Hoag, a science writer. Today is Tuesday, May 17. Let’s jump right into the news you need to start your day.
Let’s start with some climate events. India has decided to ban its wheat exports after the recent floods and record heatwaves have hurt their domestic supply. India is the second-largest wheat producer in the world but hasn’t been as major of exporter until Russia, the world’s largest wheat exporter, stopped supplying. Well now, India’s wheat is also off the market, so prices everywhere for wheat products are inflating even more. Agriculture ministers from G7 countries called this a bad move on India’s part because they worry it will inspire other countries to ban important exports.
Over in Texas, the heatwaves have shut down six power plants. The state is telling its people to conserve energy as much as possible by not putting their thermostats higher than 78ºF between 3 to 8pm.
Meanwhile, New Mexico’s governor is seeking more wildfire aid as multiple wildfires continue burning in the state. One of these fires is the second-largest in the state’s history, which was started by a prescribed burn by the US Forest Service. The governor says that because technically the fed started the fire, they should be responsible for providing the funds to put it out and clean it up.
Overall, wildfire risk in the US is growing and will continue to increase substantially in the next 30 years, according to a new study by the nonprofit First Street Foundation. The researchers mapped out every part of the country’s fire risk and where properties are at the most risk, which you can view in the source list.
The upper Midwest brought flashbacks to the 1930s Dust Bowl as hurricane-force winds created a dust storm that ripped through the region last Thursday, causing major property damage and killing at least two people. The conditions were brought on by drought and over-tilling the land, which is also what caused the Dust Bowl back then. History’s repeating itself.
Now for a climate study. A new rapid attribution study has come out showing that climate change made extreme rains in South Africa this year twice as likely. Over the past decade, the science behind determining how much climate change is behind an extreme weather event, known as attribution science, has gotten much faster and more accurate. There’s even a World Weather Attribution network dedicated to that exact goal. In this case, the network determined that the recent flooding event in South Africa that killed over 400 people was twice as likely to occur due to climate change, turning it from a once-in-40-year event to a once-in-20-year event. Climate change also made the rainfall more intense by 4–8% during that two-day period.
Over to some climate victories. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority announced it will buy back $20 mil in trawl fishing permits, citing climate change making fishing in the southeast no longer sustainable. The authority says climate change is impacting certain fish populations like redfin and — this is a real fish — jackass morwong. This is the first time Australia has made a move like this for the climate crisis or the environment.
This next one is for my Aussie listeners, who are about to vote in their general election on May 21. Carbon Brief has laid out all the pledges and claims each major political party has made pertaining to decreasing emissions and climate change, so you can be better informed on how your decision will impact climate action. The link will be in the source list for you to check out.
In the US, New York joined New Jersey last week in passing the most strict environmental justice law in the nation. It requires the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to restrict polluting industries from building more plants next to communities that have already had more than their fair share of facilities near them. This is seen as a huge victory for New York environmental justice.
Last week, the Biden Administration announced more than $250 mil in new grants to 265 communities to help them clean up and redevelop sites with dangerous chemicals like asbestos and lead. These properties, called brownfield sites, can include abandoned industrial mines and factories, landfills, gas stations, and even some residential areas. About $180 bil of this came from the infrastructure bill, while the rest came from an Environmental Protection Agency omnibus appropriation bill.
Now for some climate fails. The UK business secretary is trying to make gas count as a “green” investment to boost production in the North Sea. He believes that gas will be needed for a long time to power cars and said he wouldn’t want pushes to create environmental, social, and governance (ESG) targets to hinder gas development.
Gas is not a green form of energy, as it emits carbon dioxide and can often leak methane in its processes. A recent study that I talked about on Wednesday showed that it would actually be cheaper for countries to move straight from coal to clean energy, rather than using gas as a “transition fuel.” So let’s hope this idea doesn’t pan out.
Meanwhile, the UK has failed to deliver on £241 mil in net-zero pledges, giving it back to the Treasury at the end of the fiscal year. The money could have been used to increase housing energy efficiency and had even been linked to the green houses grant scheme. But for some reason, it didn’t happen.
Now to California. On the bright side, California lawmakers are considering a bill, called California’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, that would require the major California pension funds, California’s Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), to stop investing in fossil fuels by the end of the decade. Both pension funds have estimated holdings of $7.4 bil and $4.1 bil respectively in fossil fuel investments, so that would be a big deal if passed. But a report by Fossil Free California accuses CalPERS and CalSTRS of circulating misinformation by exaggerating the costs involved in removing their fossil fuel investments in documents they gave to lawmakers. The report claims they’re basically doing the same thing they did when told to divest from tobacco, firearms, and some forms of coal. CalPERS claimed to it would take anywhere from $75 to 100 mil to sell fossil fuel shares while CalSTRS estimated it would take $11.6 mil. Fossil Free California challenged these claims, saying the switch should have a minimal cost. I’ll keep you posted to see if this bill passes.
Another thing to keep an eye on is the 17 states currently suing the EPA for letting California set its own vehicle emissions standards. The states argue this gives California a sovereign governance other states don’t have. California has been allowed to set its own standards because it was already ahead of the curve when the EPA created the Clean Air Act. Since then, California has maintained a higher standard than the federal requirements, and states are allowed to follow California’s lead if they wish. Plaintiff states are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia, which leads the charge. West Virginia is also currently in a lawsuit against the EPA, challenging its ability to monitor air quality at all, and that case will soon be determined in the Supreme Court.
Let’s finish off with one more climate victory. Deutsche Bank has finally confirmed it is not financing a controversial pipeline project in East Africa after mounting pressure from environmentalists led by 350.org. The East African Crude Oil Pipeline, according to the protestors, will displace thousands of families and disrupt nature reserves as it stretches 1,400 km from Uganda to Tanzania. Deutsches was the last major bank still tied to the $3.5 bil project, which is being developed by the French energy company Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Deutsches claims it was never involved.
And that was your climate news for Tuesday, May 17. If you like the work I do, please consider checking out The Beckisphere Climate Corner YouTube channel at https://youtube.com/c/beckisphere and The Climate Recap podcast wherever you get your podcasts.
Remember to talk about the climate crisis every single day and to support your local news organizations. Bye for now!
Ukraine war: Global wheat prices jump after India export ban | BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-61461093
Texans told to conserve energy as six power plants go offline amid heatwave | The Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/texas-heatwave-ercot-power-b2079065.html?utm_campaign=Daily%20Briefing&utm_content=20220516&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter
New Mexico governor seeks more US aid for wildfire response | AP News: https://apnews.com/article/biden-fires-environment-new-mexico-santa-fe-e66ba3f231a68ce65b4b8fc13d42614b?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Climate+news%3A&utm_campaign=TDC+Daily
Dust storm, hurricane-force winds tear destructive path across US upper Midwest | Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/dust-storm-hurricane-force-winds-tear-destructive-path-across-us-upper-midwest-2022-05-13/
Where homes will face the most wildfire risk in the next 30 years | Axios: https://www.axios.com/2022/05/16/wildfire-risk-map-climate-change?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosgenerate&stream=top
Climate change made extreme rains in 2022 South Africa floods twice as likely | Carbon Brief: https://www.carbonbrief.org/climate-change-made-extreme-rains-in-2022-south-africa-floods-twice-as-likely/?utm_campaign=Daily%20Briefing&utm_content=20220516&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter
Australian authorities to buy out fisheries, citing climate crisis | The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/16/australian-authorities-to-buy-out-fisheries-citing-climate-crisis?utm_campaign=Daily%20Briefing&utm_content=20220516&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter
Deutsche Bank not financing controversial African oil pipeline, source says | Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/deutsche-bank-is-not-financing-controversial-african-pipeline-source-2022-05-15/?utm_campaign=Daily%20Briefing&utm_content=20220516&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter
New York passed tough new environmental justice law | Grist: https://grist.org/accountability/new-york-ambitious-environmental-justice-law/?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Weekend+Reader%3A&utm_campaign=Weekend+Reader+Email
Biden administration announces more than $250 mil in new grants to redevelop contaminated sites across America | CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/12/politics/epa-brownfield-sites/index.html
Natural gas to be classed as ‘green’ investment to boost North Sea | Daily Telegraph: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2022/05/13/natural-gas-classed-green-investment-boost-north-sea/?utm_campaign=Daily%20Briefing&utm_content=20220516&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter
As California Considers Dropping Fossil Fuels from Major Pension Funds, New Report Calls Out ‘Misinformation’ on Costs | DeSmog: https://www.desmog.com/2022/05/13/calstrs-calpers-pension-fossil-fuel-divestment-california/
Seventeen states sue EPA for letting California set vehicle standards | The Hill: https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/3487755-seventeen-states-sue-epa-for-letting-california-set-vehicle-standards/
Australian election 2022: What the manifestos say on energy and climate change | Carbon Brief: https://www.carbonbrief.org/australian-election-2022-what-the-manifestos-say-on-energy-and-climate-change/?utm_campaign=Daily%20Briefing&utm_content=20220516&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter