Top ED: Ecocide, Bailing Out the Oil Industry, and a 20-Year Drought
Activists demanding ecocide to become an international crime, new studies show lengthening of dry spells, and JP Morgan secretly tried to bail out the oil industry.
Trending Topics to Cover:
- As the Climate Crisis Grows, a Movement Gathers to Make ‘Ecocide’ an International Crime Against the Environment
- In the West, Signs in the Snow Warn That a 20-Year Drought Will Persist and Intensify
- JPMorgan Secretly Emailed the Trump Administration About Bailing Out the Oil Industry
As the Climate Crisis Grows, a Movement Gathers to Make ‘Ecocide’ an International Crime Against the Environment
Ecocide — widespread destruction of the environment — is proposed to become an internationally recognized threat to humanity by world leaders.
Pope Francis endorsed a campaign by environmental activists and legal scholars to make ecocide the fifth crime before the International Criminal Court in The Hague as a legal deterrent to the kinds of far-reaching environmental damage that are driving mass extinction, ecological collapse and climate change. He described it as “the massive contamination of air, land and water,” or “any action capable of producing an ecological disaster.”
As climate is getting disrupted across the globe, political leaders and corporate executives could face charges and imprisonment for “ecocidal crimes.” The Amazon fires in South America and the melting ice caps at the poles serve as valid evidence for the environmental advocates.
Here are some devastating hotspots listed by activists:
- Hurricanes, floods and other climate-driven disasters have forced more than 10 million people from their homes in the last six months.
- Fossil fuel pollution has killed 9 million people annually in recent years, according to a study in Environmental Research, more than tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS combined.
- One in four mammals are threatened with extinction. For amphibians, it’s four in 10.
- Chernobyl, the Ukrainian nuclear plant that exploded in 1986 and left the now-deserted area dangerously radioactive;
- The tar sands of northern Canada, where toxic waste pits and strip mines have replaced 400 square miles of boreal forest and boglands;
- The Gulf of Mexico, site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people, spilled at least 168 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean over 87 days and killed countless marine mammals, sea turtles, fish and migratory birds;
- The Amazon, where rapid deforestation encouraged by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro prompted Joe Biden, during his presidential campaign, to propose a $20 billion rescue plan and threaten the Brazilian leader with economic sanctions.
The campaign to criminalize ecocide is now moving from simple advocacy into global diplomacy, pushed by a growing recognition among activists and many political leaders that climate change and environmental causes are tied inherently to human rights and social justice.
The effort remains a long shot and is at least years from fruition, international and environmental law experts say. Advocates will have to navigate political tensions over whether national governments or the international community have ultimate control over natural resources. And they’ll likely face opposition from countries with high carbon emissions and deep ties to industrial development.
The environmentalists must also figure out how criminal law would address climate change, which has been driven by practices like burning coal and gasoline that are not only legal, but central to the global economy.
In the West, Signs in the Snow Warn That a 20-Year Drought Will Persist and Intensify
As the climate warms, it’s likely that drought conditions will worsen and persist across much of the West.
Dry spells between downpours and blizzards are getting longer, and snowpack in the mountains is starting to melt during winter, new research shows. The warming atmosphere may also be suppressing critical summer rains from the western monsoon.
A year ago, when California and Colorado experienced their worst fire seasons on record, drought conditions spanned about half the West, and no areas experienced “extreme” or “exceptional” conditions. But going into this year’s dry season, about 90 percent of the region is now in drought, with 40 percent in those two most severe categories.
At the end of last month, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed exceptional drought spreading across roughly half of Nevada, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, and extending up to northern Colorado.
This year’s parched conditions aren’t surprising to climate scientists who study the region. Nearly all recent research suggests that the West is experiencing what climatologists call aridification — decades of drying with rare relief from occasional wet years.
Research published this week by the American Geophysical Union analyzed daily temperature and precipitation readings collected between 1976 and 2019 from 337 weather stations spread from North Dakota and Texas to the West Coast.
The analysis showed that, across the West, the longest dry spells between measurable precipitation are increasing by 2.4 days per decade, while precipitation is declining about 0.09 inches and temperatures are increasing at 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit every 10 years.
Hardest hit is the Desert Southwest, where average dry spells increased by 50 percent — from 31 to 48 days — during the 45-year study period, and total annual precipitation declined by 0.75 inches per decade.
A 2017 study published in Nature Climate Change projected that precipitation from those seasonal thunderstorms could drop by up to 40 percent if the atmosphere continues to warm at its present pace through the end of the century.
JPMorgan Secretly Emailed the Trump Administration About Bailing Out the Oil Industry
In October, top executives at JPMorgan Chase wrote in an op-ed for Fortune that the “clock is ticking” on the climate crisis and that JPMorgan planned to be part of the solution. The bank, they said, would align its immense financing portfolio to meet the Paris climate goals in the oil and gas, electric power, and automotive sectors.
Environmental watchdogs have had their doubts about JPMorgan’s commitment — not least because the bank at the time had on its board of directors the former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond, a longtime climate skeptic who led the corporation when it aggressively fought government action to address climate change.
Recently, in a report on fossil fuel financing by the climate group Rainforest Action Network, JPMorgan Chase earned the distinction as the “worst banker of fossil fuels” between 2016 to 2020, financing nearly $317 billion for the fossil fuel industry in that period, including oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and tar-sands extraction in Canada.
In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, providing $454 billion to the Federal Reserve to support businesses. The move also gave then–Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin broad powers to adjust the terms of the lending as he saw fit.
Three weeks after the law passed, a top executive at JPMorgan forwarded on an email to then–Treasury Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich that outlined two items under the subject line “MSL industry review and Oil and Gas Banking Commentary.”
Part of the email referenced the Main Street Lending Program, called by the shorthand MSLP, targeting small- and medium-sized businesses that were left out of other COVID relief packages.
The same email includes a frank discussion of the ways the government could directly support bailouts for the oil and gas sector, and protect banks exposed to heavy losses when oil prices were in free fall.
The email listed ideas for the federal government to intervene on the banks’ behalf, including “additional direct government support to the energy sector (similar to programs for the airline industry).
Friends of the Earth program manager Lukas Ross says the exchange gives a “glimpse at the depths the industry was willing to go to protect fossil fuel investments when the entire future of the economy” is at stake.
JPMorgan characterized the emails differently. “We engaged with the government to provide feedback on the Main Street Lending Program broadly and across all industries,” a spokesperson at JPMorgan Chase said in a statement. She said that the part of the reviewed email was actually sent to the Treasury deputy secretary in error.
It’s unclear, based on the documents, how the Trump administration took up the specific items in the email. But there is plenty of evidence that both Wall Street and the fossil fuel sector did ultimately shape the terms of government lending to businesses.
A March report from Public Citizen found the fossil fuel sector “in part responsible for the program’s failure to meet its goals,” weakening language on employer retention, loosening requirements around financial needs, and increasing the loan size even to businesses employing fewer than 10 workers. The result was 46 fossil fuel companies receiving $828 million in MSLP loans by the end of November.
JPMorgan has taken a few small steps to restore its reputation around climate change: The bank has promised to phase out funding of Arctic oil exploration. Its financing of the fossil fuel industry did drop significantly in 2020, though whether that’s a reflection of the pandemic or sustainability commitments is unclear.