Climate and environmental news

Phil Anderson

Globally averaged surface air temperature anomalies relative to 1991–2020 for each October from 1940 to 2023. Data Source: ERA5. Credit: C3S/ECMWF.

“Despite decades of warnings from the scientific community, thousands of pages of reports and dozens of climate conferences, we are still heading in the wrong direction,” World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas talking about climate change.  

The news on climate change and other environmental issues continues to be bad. Headlines last week said that on Friday, November 17th, for the first time, the average global temperature hit 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels. This grim news came from the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) of the European Union.

According to NASA, 2 degrees C is considered a “critical threshold” above which “dangerous and cascading effects of human-generated climate change will occur."   Of course climate change is measured over longer time frames than one day. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses a 30-year average.

What is important are the long term trends and daily records become future trends. The C3S report says we can expect to see more record 2-degree days in the future.  

Another recent report by the United Nations Environmental Programme says the we should expect 2.5 C to 2.9 C (4.5 F to 5.2 F) in the future. The World Meteorological Organization agrees and says, “The current level of greenhouse gas concentrations puts us on the pathway of an increase in temperatures well above the Paris Agreement targets...”

The 2015 Paris Climate Accords set an international climate target of 1.5 degrees C to mitigate global warming.  

The world has been reducing fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions. But these efforts are not enough or happening fast enough to reduce overall increasing average world temperatures. The biggest polluters – especially the United States and China – are not moving fast enough to transition to alternative energy sources.  

What is the Republican response to these problems? As with all other environmental problems it is to deny, delay, de-fund and oppose any real steps in the right direction. A  small, but important, example just happened in Texas.  

Last week the Texas statewide school board rejected science texts that recognize fossil fuels' role in climate change. State law requires climate change education for 8th graders. To weaken this mandate, the Republican controlled school board chose five science textbooks (out of 12) that downplay the impact of fossil fuels on climate change. Protecting the image of the oil industry took precedence over teaching accurate science.

The Texas Tribune quoted Wayne Christian, a Republican state energy regulator, “America's future generations don't need a leftist agenda brainwashing them in the classroom to hate oil and natural gas." 

This is important because Texas has a huge impact on text books nationwide. The same denial of fact is occurring with text books on biology, history, evolution, human sexuality, and racism. Gore Vidal, a historical novelist, once  commented, “I am, or used to be, an authority on high school history books in America. And there’s not one that dares to tell the truth about anything.”

Promoting ignorance and science denial can only lead to future environmental, social, health, and economic decline for our country.  

Minnesota Rep. Pete Stauber and Wisconsin Rep. Tom Tiffany are prime examples of Republicans promoting misinformation and bad public policy on the environment. They claim to be protecting American families, jobs, and economic growth but are actually supporting policies that will hurt their constituents in the long run. Unqualified support for mining and  fossil fuel industries, with weaker pollution controls, is not in our best interests. Opposing alternative energy and electric vehicles is shortsighted and will not make America energy or mineral “independent.”  

Rep. Stauber unequivocally supports mining and fossil fuel extraction regardless of the environmental damage. Recently he co-sponsored legislation to reverse the Biden administration's decisions to limit drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Stauber claims the “responsible development of these resources” can “unleash economic prosperity.”

He says the Biden administration “ignores our nation’s energy and security needs... to deny Alaskans the right to safely produce these resources and instead continue our dependence on hostile foreign nations.” 

But how “responsible” is promoting more fossil fuel use given its impact on the climate and other forms of pollution? Petroleum extraction, refining, and related chemical production are major sources of water contamination, air pollution, and cancer clusters. Given the advances in alternative energy sources the “responsible” path is to reduce fossil fuel usage. Plus Alaskans have no “right” to nationally owned resources on Federal lands.

Mining and oil does produce economic activity (but not necessarily “prosperity”). And it rarely does so “safely.” Claiming use of Alaskan oil will lower “dependence on hostile foreign nations” is simply not factual.  

The U.S. is the world’s biggest oil and gas producer. According to the Department of Energy, “The United States became the world’s top crude oil producer in 2018 and maintained the lead position through 2022.” According to the nonprofit Energy Institute, in 2022 the U.S accounted for nearly one-fifth of the world’s oil supply.

According to Wikipedia, since the Pennsylvania oil strike in 1859, “for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the US was the largest oil producing country in the world.” Pontificating about “energy independence” is just more self-serving misinformation promoted by Republicans.  

Rep. Tiffany also supports expanding U.S. oil and mineral extraction. He earned the moniker “Toxic Tom” for his anti-environment and pro-mining voting record in the Wisconsin legislature.  Recently he discovered a “serious” environmental problem he does care about. He says, “I officially introduced the Trashed Border ensure increased accountability for illegals who litter on our public lands. The negative impact illegal immigration has on our environment is staggering...[and will] threaten wildlife, destroy habitats, contaminate water, endanger crop production, and attract disease-carrying insects.”

The bill would “force” federal land managers to create policies to reduce trash accumulation along the border. Unfortunately he doesn't have this level of concern for climate change.