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A weekly reckoning with our heated planet—and the fight to save it

Confessions of a Frequent Flier

Why is the airline industry so hard to decarbonize—and can we ever expect to fly guilt-free?

A person sits in a chair at an airport window, with a view of a plane on the runway.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images
A passenger waits near a Delta Air lines terminal in the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

This year, I became an Airport Person—an awkward position to be in as a climate journalist. Before, I tried to limit my regular travel to buses and trains where possible. But over the winter, I started a relationship with someone who lives on the West Coast, and now I find myself haunting JFK Airport every few months on jaunts to go see her. (I even bought one of those dorky neck pillows—all in the name of love.)

It’s awkward because long-haul flights are among the most atmosphere-damaging actions you can take as an individual. A one-way flight from London to New York can generate more carbon dioxide per passenger than the average person in 56 different countries emits in a year.

All that time dragging my suitcase around terminals and crammed into impossibly tiny seats in economy class has given me a lot of opportunity to think about the ethical conundrum I’ve found myself in. Not all fliers are created equal: People who travel by plane regularly are responsible for an outsize chunk of global airline emissions. The various airlines I fly on, I’ve noticed, have offered me some small consolations for my climate betrayal, from promises about more efficient aircraft design to assurances that they’re using “eco-friendly” packaging for in-flight snacks.

The whole thing feels like one of those impossible modern climate catch-22s. Am I really supposed to choose between not destroying the planet and seeing my girlfriend? Why is this industry so hard to decarbonize? And how are we supposed to trust that airlines are actually doing what their green P.R. says they are?

I’m far from the only one asking these questions. Late last month, Delta got hit with a class-action lawsuit claiming that it erroneously represented its green credentials. The lawsuit states that plaintiff Mayanna Berrin, a California resident, was led to buy tickets thanks to the airline’s advertising claims around its carbon neutrality, “due to her belief that by flying Delta she engaged in more ecologically conscious air travel and participated in a global transition away from carbon emissions.”

Delta had made a bold pronouncement in early 2020. “Starting March 1, Delta Airlines will become the first airline to go fully carbon-neutral on a global basis,” CEO Ed Bastian told CNBC’s Squawk Box in an interview. As the lawsuit details, the airline followed this announcement with similar claims on social media and in advertising—including on in-flight napkins—which led Berrin to feel better about buying so many flights.

Carbon credits were a key part of Delta’s sustainability strategy at the time: paying for a project somewhere in the world that theoretically pulls carbon out of the atmosphere—like planting trees or restoring carbon sinks—to offset the emissions damage done by flying. Dan Rutherford, a program director at the International Council on Clean Transportation, told me that Delta’s tactic was a pretty standard move for the industry at the time. “The focus was very much on, OK, the aviation sector is very hard to change,” he said. “Let’s not worry about the planes themselves and the fuels they burn. Let’s offset their emissions.”

Unfortunately, buying offsets doesn’t wave a magic wand to make all the emissions from a major airline go away. We published a great piece last week illustrating problems with offsets, but the offset market is, in sum, rife with problems—and, in many cases, can enable polluters to release even more emissions into the atmosphere. These issues are a cornerstone of Berrin’s lawsuit, which claims that Delta led consumers into thinking it emitted no CO2 after March 2020, even as it was continuing to do (mostly) business as usual.

Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, sustainability claims may change substantially for the industry moving forward. Over the past year, Rutherford told me, airlines have shifted their carbon-reducing strategies away from offsets to focusing more on sustainable aviation fuels—an umbrella term for different types not derived from fossil fuels, including some made with biomass feedstocks. While they have much lower carbon emissions, these fuels tend to be very pricey, costing several times more on average than traditional ones—a nonstarter for an industry that operates on razor-thin margins and tries to squeeze every last penny out of customers.

As part of its massive package of climate investments, the Inflation Reduction Act added an additional tax credit on sustainable aviation fuels that, Rutherford said, airlines can stack on top of other existing incentives to get a steep discount.

“We’re throwing a lot of money … very randomly at fuels,” he said. “And we’re throwing a lot of money at some technologies that have already matured and we don’t expect the cost to come down much more. Which is not great public policy.”

Still, Rutherford said he thinks there’s potential for flying to change. The industry has set a benchmark of totally decarbonizing by 2050; Rutherford said that by 2035, a combination of sustainable fuels, developing technologies like hydrogen and lighter batteries, and increased customer tools, like more detailed breakdowns of emissions by itineraries, should get us to a point where we’ll know if we’re heading toward that goal or not. That’s way longer than I hope my girlfriend and I will be living on separate coasts but seems promising given the huge scope of the problem.

Rutherford said he’s especially “bullish” on consumers being nudged to change their behavior. I’ve been using Google Flights to find lower-emissions options, but I wonder how many other consumers—most of whom don’t think about climate change for a living—do the same. And even if everyone sought out lower-emissions flights, would that make enough of a dent? Or do we simply need people to fly less?

The answer to that last question is, basically, yes. It’s an uncomfortable part of the conversation, Rutherford admits—especially given that most of the world’s policymakers are themselves super-fliers. “This fits into the big debate over collective action versus personal responsibility,” he said. “Long term, it’s a societal problem.”

Good News

Massachusetts announced last week that it was creating the country’s first green bank for affordable housing. The Massachusetts Community Climate Bank, created with an initial seed of $50 million from the federal government, will offer people living in low-income housing retrofits that help both decarbonize buildings and lower energy bills.

Bad News

The world just keeps getting hotter and hotter. Global air temperatures briefly breached 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels—the bottom warming limit set by the Paris Agreement—in June.

Stat of the Week


That’s the temperature reached in early June in Baevo, Russia, where summer temperatures usually only get up to the high 70s or low 80s. Siberia is experiencing a record-breaking heat wave this month, and several places across the region have seen all-time highs.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

Out of Balance: How the World Bank Group Is Enabling the Deaths of Endangered Chimps

Carbon offsets aren’t the only problem. Biodiversity offsets—a practice where corporations can pay for damaging flora and fauna in one region by funding conservation elsewhere—can have unintended and devastating consequences. ProPublica reports on how one mining company’s offsets in Guinea are leading to the mass death of chimpanzees and putting residents in a nearby village in danger:

Offsets are “mainly an instrument to sanction perpetual destruction,” said Jutta Kill, a researcher and environmental advocate who’s studied conservation programs in the Global South.

While biodiversity offsets have been used by governments, banks and industries at least 13,000 times across 37 countries, these arrangements have been subjected to far less scrutiny than carbon offsets, which my investigations have found to be profoundly flawed.

I reviewed the literature on the tiny sliver of biodiversity offsets that have been studied and found that, at best, their records are spotty or unproven. At worst, they function as greenwashing for destructive industries.

Those associated with the World Bank Group are among the most controversial, because unlike most others, some enable companies to write off the lives of critically endangered species.

Read Lisa Song’s full report at ProPublica.

This article first appeared in Life in a Warming World, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by contributing deputy editor Molly Taft. Sign up here.

The Fossil Fuel Industry Veterans Who Regulate Your Electricity

A closer look at the people in power who control your power

Eric Thayer/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Power lines in North Hollywood, California

When you think about your electric bill, what comes to mind? For most of us, it probably goes no further than annoyance at how high it gets when your spouse or roommate cranks the A.C. all summer. It’s safe to say that the average American doesn’t think too much about the people making decisions about electricity that both dictate the rates we pay and the amount of progress the country achieves on climate change.

But a new study of the professional background of these people ought to make us sit up and take notice, because many of them walked right through the revolving door from the fossil fuel industry.

First, some context: The nation’s 168 investor-owned utilities serve almost three-quarters of Americans. Because of the regulatory structure of how we provide electricity, these utilities can only turn a profit when they build new infrastructure—which incentivizes them to prioritize certain projects over others. The state bodies that regulate these utilities (and other services like water and telecommunications) are usually referred to as “public utility commissions,” and PUCs are staffed by commissioners who are either elected by voters or appointed by elected officials, depending on the state.

“PUCs are charged with ensuring reliable service to customers, at the lowest possible rates, while still allowing a ‘reasonable’ return on the investments that utilities make to run the electrical power system,” Jared Heern, a postdoctoral researcher at Brown University, told me. “The way it usually works is that utilities spend money on something or want to spend money on something, so they go to the PUC that rules whether it is a reasonable and needed expense or not, and then they set the electric rates that customers pay so utilities can recoup that money plus a profit on top.”

Research conducted by Heern and published in the July issue of the journal Energy Research & Social Science looked at the bios of more than 800 commissioners serving in all 50 states between 2000 and 2021 and found that 25 percent of the commissioners surveyed had worked in the fossil fuel or utility industries, compared to 19 percent with a background in environmental regulation.

This isn’t necessarily shocking. Having industry knowledge in a complicated field like electricity generation is, naturally, a good fit for many regulators. But this experience could also bias commissioners toward decisions that might be profitable for a utility while not necessarily helping customers or the environment. The commissioners’ experience working on PUCs is also potentially profitable for themselves: Heern tracked what half of the surveyed commissioners did after leaving the PUC, and a whopping 50 percent of them went back to work for the utilities they had just been regulating.

“Decarbonizing and decentralizing the electrical power system is a critical part of addressing climate change and will become even more important as we electrify other sectors like transportation and building heating,” Heern said. “Yet there are only about 200 public utility commissioners at a given time spread across all 50 states that are making these crucial regulatory decisions on what utilities can, cannot, and should do with the electrical power system.”

Utilities are, pardon the pun, real power players in state and national politics—Southern Company, one of the nation’s biggest utilities, spent more than $9.2 million on lobbying last year—while wealthy utility CEOs can also make significant financial contributions in local and state races. In many states, public utility commissioners are appointed directly by governors or legislatures, which can open up serious potential conflicts of interest when considering how personal interest and financial ties come into play.

Heern’s research found that both Democratic and Republican utility commissioners tended to have backgrounds working in the services they were then appointed to regulate. Partisanship, however, played a key role in one area: Some 30 percent of Democratic utility commissioners had a background in environmental regulation, whereas only 10 percent of Republican commissioners did.

Amid all the tangles of conflicts of interests, Heern’s work points to some encouraging news on climate. The number of commissioners with environmental experience soared from 12 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2020, as the energy transition kicks into gear—a change Heern says “seems positive for the necessary policy steps to be taken in addressing climate change.”

Heern told me that he hopes his work kick-starts more research and focus on these crucially understudied groups. “PUCs need more attention from researchers and journalists, but also from members of the public,” he said.

Good News

For the first time, wind and solar outpaced coal in America’s mix of energy generation consistently for the first five months of the year, according to an E&E News analysis of preliminary federal energy data. “From a coal perspective, it has been a disaster,” Andy Blumenfeld, an energy analyst, told E&E. “The decline is happening faster than anyone anticipated.”

Bad News

The Pakistani government said Tuesday it is planning to evacuate more than 80,000 people ahead of Cyclone Biparjoy’s landfall on Thursday. This week, the storm reached 105 mph wind speeds over the Indian Ocean, classifying it as a “very severe” cyclonic storm. High tides and strong winds from Biparjoy killed several people in India ahead of the storm’s landfall.

Stat of the Week


That’s how much more land has burned in California’s wildfires since 1971 thanks to climate change, a new study has found. Wildfires in the state have increased fivefold over the past 50 years.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

Alarm at rightwing push to reverse clean-energy success in Texas and beyond

Last week, Texas Republicans scrambled to pass a bill that would have imposed significant punishments for new wind and solar facilities. Portions of that bill were directly drafted and edited by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, ot TPPF, a powerful conservative think tank in the state with a history of lobbying against climate policies in Texas and beyond, The Guardian reports:

The burgeoning influence of TPPF, an organization substantially funded by fossil fuel interests and publicly lauded by Greg Abbott, Texas’s Republican governor, is the catalyst to a rightwing attempt to crimp the stunning progress of renewable energy in the state, which now produces more than a quarter of all wind-powered electricity in the US.

The group’s agenda is now extending far beyond Texas, bankrolling efforts to halt offshore wind turbines in Massachusetts and to prop up coal power on native American land in Arizona while spearheading efforts to crack down on sustainable finance in energy-producing states like West Virginia.

“We are very influential, we are meeting with policymakers to share recommendations and we’re having success around the country,” said Jason Isaac, a former state representative and now director of TPPF’s energy initiatives. Isaac said that TPFF regularly helped craft “certain aspects” of bills in Texas related to the state’s electricity grid or environmental, social, and corporate governance (or ESG) issues.

Read Oliver Milman and Dharna Noor’s full report at The Guardian

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by contributing deputy editor Molly Taft. Sign up here.

My Personal Gas Stove Saga

Improving indoor air quality is harder than it sounds.

A close-up of a lit gas stovetop.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Confession: When TNR began covering the most recent wave of gas stove news, I was still cooking on a gas range.

At first, replacing it didn’t feel like a realistic option: The stove came with our rental. And while I wasn’t wild about the well-established link to respiratory illnesses, I figured there were a lot of risks out there in every aspect of life. I also appreciated how quickly the range heated up, how responsive it was to adjustments during the cooking process, and how screaming hot I could crank the oven for homemade pizzas—in short, all the reasons people say they like gas stoves. And there was no chance any landlord would shell out for induction.

So as I interviewed people about new research showing gas ranges leak carcinogenic benzene, and reported their suggested policy solutions, I was compartmentalizing. I was even a little startled when my husband, reviewing the coverage, insisted that we had to do something about this too—and do it now, not merely prioritize electric when we eventually moved out. When he bought new filters for a long-unused air purifier and set it up in the kitchen, along with an air quality monitor, I suggested this might be overkill. (Caveat: Home air quality measuring devices are not very accurate, but you can watch the “volatile organic compounds”—which include benzene—spike when you turn the stove on, which has a way of making the theoretical risk feel a little more immediate. Great panic fodder for masochists.)

Without his insistence, though, I’d never have appreciated how hard it is to mitigate the effects of gas stoves with the tips many “service” journalism pieces offer.

One Slate piece last October suggested people cut their risk by using the exhaust hood. And that’s what our landlord suggested when we first contacted him asking whether he’d consider replacing the gas stove. The exhaust hood doesn’t do much, though, when it’s simply venting to a spot six inches above where it takes in air, rather than to the outdoors. Although this air is allegedly filtered before being dumped back into the kitchen, a lot of filters don’t work on benzene, and our filter was old and the vent cover even broke off shortly after this experiment began. The landlord said there was no way to vent to the outdoors given the kitchen’s setup.

Our main option was to open the window while cooking. As fall turned into winter, doing this every time we cooked got really flipping cold.

In January, all hell broke loose. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. told Bloomberg that “any option is on the table” regarding gas stove regulation and “products that can’t be made safe can be banned.” Conservatives went haywire, yelling about freedom and chaining themselves to their ranges, while liberals pointed out that no one was going to actually rip existing ranges from the walls and a full nationwide ban on gas stoves almost certainly wasn’t in the offing anyway.

But here’s the thing about people like Trumka using their pulpit: It may trigger the wingnuts, but it also raises public awareness. I can’t prove the connection, but when we emailed the landlord three days after this national debate kicked off, this time he said yes—that this issue had been on his mind—and offered a deal of replacing the gas stove in exchange for our signing a longer-term lease.

The physical act of replacing a stove still takes work: The gas range, it turned out, had no electrical hookup behind it, so that had to be installed. The technician who dropped off the new range for installation gave me a lecture about how his wife had demanded the opposite switch—that he put in a gas range rather than electric. Were we really sure about this, he asked, or was the rental management agency forcing us to take a substandard stove swap? I mentioned the research on gas stoves. He remained unconvinced.

I’m happier than I thought I’d be with the new range—it’s not induction, but regular glass-top electric stoves have gotten better since I last used them: They heat up faster and can reach higher temperatures. The heat in the electric oven seems a little steadier and more uniform than in our gas one (this is consistent with what others say, although I’m not aware of good data), so it’s a little better for cakes and more delicate stuff—and it gets very, very hot with enough time, so pizza and bread still work.

And here’s the thing: Not having to worry about what’s leaking out isn’t nothing. It feels better than you might think. Aside from the concern about respiratory problems and cancer—our basement gas line sprang an unrelated leak midway through this process, resulting in multiple emergency technician visits—it’s kind of nice to know that there’s one less way for the house to blow up.

Anyway, that’s one story of a gas-to-electric switch.

Now, some news: I’ll be going on tiny-human leave for a few months as of the end of this week (one of the reasons we pushed through this stove saga—kids are particularly affected by gas range emissions). I couldn’t be more delighted to introduce Molly Taft, who will be taking over this newsletter and the TNR climate desk in the interim. Molly was most recently a staff writer at Earther, Gizmodo’s climate site, and has also written for The Intercept, Vice, The Outline, and in fact The New Republic!

Simultaneously, we’ll soon be renaming this newsletter from its original launch title of “Apocalypse Soon” to “Life in a Warming World,” to better reflect the wide-ranging nature of topics covered. It’s going to be an exciting next couple of months—stay tuned!

Good News

Well, medium news: Chemical companies Chemours, DuPont, and Corteva have announced a preliminary settlement agreement in lawsuits over damages from PFAS (or “forever chemicals,” linked to many adverse health outcomes, so named because they are slow to break down) contaminating drinking water. The agreement involves setting up a $1.19 billion fund for removing PFAS. (Chemical company 3M also appears ready to settle on similar claims.) The good part of this is that it means money will go toward cleanup. The bad part is that it may not be enough, and it probably doesn’t hold these companies fully accountable for decades of misleading the public about the dangers from these substances.

Bad News

Both Allstate and State Farm have stopped writing new home insurance policies in California, due to climate risks and repair costs.

Stat of the Week


That’s the increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, comparing this year’s measurements to the preindustrial era, according to a new report.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

The Grand Canyon, a Cathedral to Time, Is Losing Its River

The great Western water crisis will have many casualties. The Times’ photo-intensive feature on the Grand Canyon takes one of them and uses it as a poetic stand-in for the greater Colorado River catastrophe:

The Colorado flows so far beneath the Grand Canyon’s rim that many of the four million people who visit the national park each year see it only as a faint thread, glinting in the distance. But the river’s fate matters profoundly for the 280-mile-long canyon and the way future generations will experience it. Our subjugation of the Colorado has already set in motion sweeping shifts to the canyon’s ecosystems and landscapes—shifts that a group of scientists and graduate students from the University of California, Davis, recently set out to see by raft: a slow trip through deep time, at a moment when Earth’s clock seems to be speeding up.

John Weisheit, who helps lead the conservation group Living Rivers, has been rafting on the Colorado for over four decades. Seeing how much the canyon has changed, just in his lifetime, makes him “hugely depressed,” he said. “You know how you feel like when you go to the cemetery? That’s how I feel.”

Read Raymond Zhong’s full report at The New York Times.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

I Wish I Were Joe Manchin

What is your personal Mountain Valley Pipeline? What would it be like to force your co-workers to pretend it’s a good idea?

Joe Manchin grins and points as he walks.
Bill Clark/Getty Images
Senator Joe Manchin, living his best life

Can you imagine what it must be like to be Joe Manchin? Seriously, picture it for a second. Imagine anytime your co-workers were on deadline to deliver a project, you could just toss in a line funding your pet obsession: if TNR’s editorial team were about to launch an expanded Supreme Court desk, for instance, and I said, “Welp, in exchange for my very titular support for this project, you must also fund my plan to plant Charentais melons around the Washington Monument.”

Now imagine that instead of saying, “Absolutely not, what are you smoking, this has nothing to do with fruit,” my bosses and colleagues stared at me blankly for a few seconds, said, “OK, we can work with that,” and issued a press release announcing their support for small-scale heirloom melon agriculture in downtown D.C.

This is pretty much how things have been playing out over the past year with Joe Manchin and the Mountain Valley Pipeline—the cursed imbroglio that has now made it into this week’s debt ceiling deal.

The melon seeds of this week’s news were sown last summer, when the West Virginia “Democrat” finally agreed to provide his vote for Democrats’ flagship piece of legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act. For his support, Manchin secured a promise from Democrats not just to speed up federal permitting in general but specifically to “require the relevant agencies to take all necessary actions to permit the construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and give the DC Circuit jurisdiction over any further litigation.”

The follow-up to this came in September, when Manchin introduced his Energy Independence and Security Act, a bill purportedly to reform the U.S. permitting system for energy infrastructure but especially to issue any new permits the Mountain Valley Pipeline might need, and which had been repeatedly blocked by the Fourth Circuit over environmental concerns, including the pipeline’s threat to at-risk species.

The White House duly issued its statement of support, despite 70 House Democrats pointing out that gutting the National Environmental Policy Act to please Manchin was maybe not the best idea, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tried unsuccessfully to get it into September’s continuing resolution to keep the government funded. When that failed, he attempted in December to attach the bill to the National Defense Authorization Act—with Biden’s blessing—before giving up on that plan as well.

Imagine how frustrated you’d be if you were Manchin at this point. After all, you provided a crucial swing vote on a piece of legislation that could save households thousands of dollars and help cut the emissions contributing to an existential crisis on Planet Earth, and your co-workers still haven’t delivered on their promise to ram through your ill-conceived, ill-executed little scheme that undermines that entire effort.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is, to use the technical term for something that would comprehensively flunk any rational utilitarian analysis, a bad project. The idea is to run a pipeline over 300 miles from northern West Virginia to southern Virginia, perhaps even including an extension into North Carolina, and fill it with fracked gas, which we now know is fueling a spike in global methane emissions, warming the planet at a much faster rate than earlier projections.

It’s been unclear from the get-go what demand this pipeline will allegedly be meeting, given that the region already gets gas from the existing “Transco” pipeline system. But Manchin likes the MVP, presumably, because it’s in his state and theoretically promises jobs and economic development to communities in dire need of them. He has repeatedly asserted that the MVP somehow enhances the country’s energy security. (He might also just like it because he gets a bonkers amount of money from the fossil fuel industry, but hey, let’s not be cynical.)

If the MVP is like other pipeline projects, the actual benefit to local communities is wildly inflated. But given what’s being promised, it’s impressive how much local opposition the pipeline has provoked, from environmental activists to landowners concerned about accidents and irritated about the seizure of their property via eminent domain.

It’s not just the pipeline’s projected emissions—equal to those of 26 coal plants—that have raised eyebrows, as TNR’s Kate Aronoff pointed out last year. Since 2018, the project has racked up hundreds of water quality violations. And as Inside Climate News reported last fall, there’s a particular concern about the safety and stability of pipeline sections that have been left outside for long periods of time. In April, the Fourth Circuit took a look at the pipeline’s copious water violations and ruled that West Virginia had “failed to provide a reasoned explanation as to why it believes MVP’s past permit violations will not continue to occur going forward.” Last week, the D.C. Circuit ruled that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission needs to either prepare a report on the MVP’s possible effects on erosion and sedimentation or explain why it hasn’t.

In short, there are a lot of reasons to let this questionable project die. And really, it would be sensible at this point for Schumer and Biden, after multiple attempts to honor last summer’s deal with Manchin, to mothball the thing. Instead, the long-awaited bill text to avoid a default on U.S. debt gets released, and what do we see? Round Three of “let’s try to insert special treatment for this bogus piece of mega-plumbing into must-pass legislation.”

Although Virginia Senator Tim Kaine immediately announced his intention to haul the MVP expedited approval back out of the bill text, on the grounds of it being “completely unrelated to the debt ceiling matter,” the Senate rejected his amendment late Thursday and passed the bill with the MVP provision intact.* Manchin, meanwhile, issued a statement early this week saying, “I am proud to have fought for this critical project and to have secured the bipartisan support necessary to get it across the finish line.”

And hey, why wouldn’t he be proud of himself? If you had managed to send your co-workers on a nine-month masochistic mission to insert your personal idée fixe into every big-ticket item that crossed their desks, wouldn’t you be pleased? Wouldn’t you be drunk on cantaloupes and power? Truly: What must it be like to be Joe Manchin?

Good News

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane outlook for 2023 predicts a “near-normal” year of 12 to 17 named storms.

Bad News

“Recycling has been promoted by the plastics industry as a key solution to the growing problem of plastic waste,” The Guardian’s Karen McVeigh reports. “But a study has found recycling itself could be releasing huge quantities of microplastics.” Specifically, the wastewater from a “state-of-the-art” recycling facility in the U.K. was found to contain 13 percent of the plastic processed in the plant. Installing a filter reduced that to 6 percent. Nevertheless: yikes.

Stat of the Week


That’s the number of climate protesters arrested by police in the Netherlands this past weekend, following a highway demonstration against fossil fuel subsidies.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

Regulators Want Fashion Brands to Pay for Their Textile Waste

Numerous countries and states are now considering making fashion companies pay fees—part of an “extended producer responsibility,” or EPR, approach—to help tackle the growing clothing waste crisis:

Fashion industry waste is a growing and largely unchecked problem. In the EU, textile waste totals about 4 million tons each year, while in the US it hit 17 million tons in 2018, up 80% over 2000. Garments that don’t end up in local landfills are often shipped in bulk to countries in the Global South. In Ghana, as many as 15 million discarded garments arrive every week, according to the Or Foundation, which advocates for fashion waste reform.… Supporters of EPR programs for textiles hope they will curb overproduction, lead to recycling innovations and encourage companies to make higher-quality products. It’s also likely that EPR fees would be passed on to consumers, whose thirst for cheap clothing is exacerbating overconsumption.

Read Olivia Rockeman’s report at Bloomberg.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

* This piece has been updated.

What Fossil Fuels Have Done to Summer Is Unforgivable

There’s nothing fun about deadly heat.

Dishes of crab, baked beans, vegetables on a skewer, salad, and condiments sit on a table alongside plastic cutlery and paper plates.
Bethany Lafrenier/Getty Images
A Memorial Day cookout in 2013

Ah, Memorial Day: the time to haul out the grill, peruse those make-ahead salad recipes, and throw your back out dragging your aging air conditioner out of the closet, because it’s going to be a heck of a summer.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently unveiled its seasonal temperature outlook, which estimates most of the United States is likely to experience above-normal temperatures this summer. The probability of that outcome depends on where you live, ranging from 33–40 percent in West Virginia and central Montana to 60–70 percent in parts of the Southwest.

Source: NOAA

NOAA also released its Seasonal Precipitation Outlook, which predicts that much of the Midwest, South, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic may experience above-average precipitation, while the Southwest—already in crisis due to an ongoing drought—is likely to suffer from below-average precipitation, which could also hit the Pacific Northwest. (The 2023 hurricane season outlook will be announced at a news conference later this week.)

Global warming gives us different things to mourn in different seasons. The changing climate, for example, can make people nostalgic for the autumns and winters of yesteryear—you know, when leaves changed color on schedule and drinking hot cider in October didn’t just make you sweat, or when backyard skating rinks didn’t melt into vernal pools in January.

But climate change’s effect on summer feels simultaneously more subtle and more foreboding. It doesn’t make summer less summery. But it does make summer less fun and more dangerous, in a variety of insidious ways.

At the more prosaic end of the spectrum, 75-degree days turning into 85- or even 90-degree days is just an unpleasant hassle, making it harder to enjoy the outdoors and more costly to keep the indoors comfortable; air conditioners are expensive and a pain to deal with, and heat screws up people’s sleep.

Then there are the deadly waves, whose toll is probably undercounted in this country. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Eric Margolis previously wrote for TNR, “only counts deaths where heat illness is explicitly noted, so the official CDC count of heat-triggered deaths sits at just around 600 per year. Epidemiologists estimate that the real figure may be closer to 12,000—20 times higher than the official count.”

Those numbers could soon rise. For a while, heat deaths were decreasing—probably due, the CDC has surmised, to “better forecasting, heat-health early warning systems, and increased access to air conditioning.” But there are a few reasons that trend might not hold. For one, the number of dangerously hot days in many areas is growing. Here in D.C., for example, the “baseline” number of heat emergency days is supposed to be 11. But by the 2050s, even under a “low emission scenario,” that number will more than double, to 25—and could be as high as 45. (Already, this decade, the city is expecting the number of heat emergency days to range from 18 to 20.)

The second reason is that air conditioners, which are hardly evenly distributed across society to begin with, aren’t much help if the electrical grid fails. In the 2021 heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest, over 6,000 people lost power in Portland alone during a 112-degree-heat weekend. As Vox reported that year, the U.S. power grid is dangerously underprepared for these kinds of scenarios, and not just because of overall energy capacity: “If the weather gets hot enough, power lines start to sag—a result of the metal inside them expanding—and risk striking a tree and starting a fire. At the same time, power plants are highly dependent on water, which they need to cool down their systems,” but which isn’t necessarily available in some areas during drought.

And that’s to say nothing of work-related heat deaths, for both outdoor workers in fields like agriculture, construction, and delivery and indoor workers in poorly ventilated warehouses. It’s to say nothing of the increasingly plausible link between heat and derechos, or the dangers of drought, fire, or flash floods—all of which climate change is making more likely in various regions in the summertime. It’s to say nothing of the well-documented annual spike in violent crime, which researchers show is particularly likely on days above 85 degrees.

As a fall and winter person myself, I spend a lot of time mourning what petro-hegemony is doing to those seasons. But what rampant emissions are stealing from summer people—and all of us—is arguably worse. Climate change isn’t simply removing what’s enjoyable about these months (like snow in winter). Instead, it takes those enjoyments and dials up the temperature until the fruits of the season start to rot—until the former beach days, al fresco park gatherings, and mornings in the garden just aren’t very pleasant, or even carry the risk of heat stroke, and “scorchers” turn into multiday death traps.

Happy unofficial start to summer. It’s a lovely time to get angry and demand better.

Good News

California, Arizona, and Nevada have come to an agreement on water cuts to address the crisis in the Colorado River basin. It’s not final, and it’s absolutely not enough to resolve the situation permanently. But after an incredible amount of stalling, it’s a start.

Bad News

The G7 meeting in Hiroshima over the weekend failed to result in a commitment to coal phaseout and included explicit praise for natural gas: not a great outcome for the climate.

Stat of the Week

That’s what the top fossil fuel companies (think BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Total, Chevron, and more) would owe in regular reparations for the cost of extreme weather, sea level rise, and other climate disasters, according to new hypothetical calculations.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

She’s Out to Save Rare Wildflowers, but First She Has to Find Them

One of the upsides of California’s torrential rain earlier this year has been a “super bloom” of wildflowers. That gives botanists a brief window in which to locate rarer species and possibly save them from extinction, Jill Cowan reports:

This spring and summer, Dr. Fraga and other rare-plant biologists are in an exhilarating race to find wildflowers before they disappear again.

The botanists’ ultimate goal is to secure endangered or rare species designations for the most threatened plants. That can lay the foundation to legally force land managers to make accommodations for threatened species. (For instance, the Center for Biological Diversity has made wildflower protection a key piece of its lengthy fight against development of the Tejon Ranch, where almost 20,000 new homes have been proposed north of Los Angeles.)

In order to get endangered or rare species designations, Dr. Fraga and her colleagues must first prove that the plants still exist.

Read Jill Cowan’s report at The New York Times.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

The Real Reason Americans Are Addicted to Lawns

“People don’t like lawns. That’s the irony.”

A sprinkler sprays water over a lawn with a house in the background.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A sprinkler waters a lawn in drought-stricken California.

What’s the best way to make your yard more environmentally friendly? Articles on the topic abound this time of year. We’re now halfway through “No Mow May,” an interesting initiative that began in the U.K. and is spreading in the United States. Abstaining from lawn maintenance for a month to help bee populations is certainly easier than ripping up your lawn and planting native wildflowers—which can be pretty expensive and time-consuming. But No Mow May doesn’t solve the broader issues of water use, pesticides, and fertilizer runoff. And it might even be counterproductive.

To help me make sense of all of this, I called up Paul Robbins, dean of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who literally wrote the book on lawn culture. His advice wasn’t what you typically hear in these conversations. Instead of encouraging individuals to plant wildflowers to save the bees or guilting people for their front-yard greenery, he said, we might be better off chipping away at some of the industry issues that make lawns so pervasive in the first place.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

We’ve known for quite a while that lawns aren’t the most environmentally friendly option for a variety of reasons, but they remain the overwhelming norm in this country. What do you feel are the top factors in that?

There’s a really simple answer to this: Most of the houses that people live in have already been built. This is deeply structural: The actual housing stock, the lot size, the footprint of the house, the landscaping choices made by developers—which are all value-engineering choices—have all already been made. No one puts in a lawn; they buy a house and it has a lawn, which puts the burden on them to somehow get rid of it, which is actually an enormous undertaking. It takes more work than just leaving it where it is.

Having said that, people don’t like lawns. That’s the irony; more and more people don’t want them, but nothing has changed. The reason it hasn’t changed is that everything that has nothing to do with lawns would have to change first.

It sounds like you’re saying, at least in part, it’s an industry problem.

As in the housing industry, yes. I’m not even talking about the fact that there’s a $10 to $40 billion lawn industry that’s actually invested in keeping them. There’s a deep investment in maintaining your need for lawns and to off-load the pain that they are to you by providing services—massive amounts of service provision.

And they tell people that they have problems. Scotts won awards for telling people to ask for such and such a product: “You have a problem, go ask for that.” You would never have done that back when it was a mom and pop hardware store in the 1980s. If you had a problem with your lawn, you might go and ask somebody at Ace Hardware, but to go and say, “I need this chemical, this product”?

The press is constantly saying lawns are about “American culture—we have this weird anomalous culture, and aren’t Americans odd?” when in fact it’s all rather obvious: We’ve got a really weird housing market, once you get outside the urban core, and you’ve got an industry that needs to sell this stuff. And most people really don’t want to have them and would love to replace [them] with something else.

But presumably that’s incredibly labor intensive, because it’s much easier to pay someone to mow your lawn.

Yeah. Well, it’s possible people are more interested in DIY culture in general terms. You know, The New York Times is filled with stories about beekeeping. But how many people keep fricking bees? Not that many. So that’s great that some hipster in Brooklyn is keeping bees—I think that’s wonderful. But am I counting on hipsters in Brooklyn to save the planet? No. Nor am I counting on busy, middle-class people pulling up their lawns. It’s unfair to burden them with this problem because they can’t solve it. So: Could we come up with an industry that somehow can make margins by replacing your lawn with something that takes less struggle and supports pollinators? Yeah, I actually think we can.


Well, I don’t have much confidence in capitalism. But having said that, yeah, there’s enough people out there who are interested in alternatives that if you squeeze a little you can start getting some options. In Canada, when we started studying this stuff, bans were being placed on the sale of certain chemical products—pesticides in particular. That’s something you can put tighter controls on. Once you pull pesticides out, that opens out all kinds of alternatives to lawns, because you’ve got to have something, and you’ll pay for it. So there might be some regulatory action to open the opportunity for that.

So there are a couple ways bans and regulations are starting to enter the American system. One, with water use.

Yeah, water’s going to kill it west of the hundredth meridian. East of the Mississippi, it’s a little harder to imagine. We’ve got plenty of water here, and it’s only going to get wetter.

And then, two, with bans on gas-powered either leaf blowers or lawn mowers, which is starting to happen. To what extent do these things make a difference in terms of the viability of lawns, or are we going to need something much bigger?

Banning these engines is a good thing in and of itself for air quality, to say nothing of like, carbon. But it’s not going to make the lawn go away. Everything’s just going to be electric.

The pesticide market could be regulated better I think, by a long shot. I do see room for regulatory interventions here.

Well there might be political support for that, given the research about what pesticides are doing in terms of cancer risk.

Cancer risks, and God knows what they’re doing to reproductive health. I’m not a public health expert, but we’re all buying organic cause we’re so worried about all these chemicals in the system, and people are dumping this shit on their own lawns! And it tracks into the house—I’ve seen the organic chemistry—it’s all over. It tends to decay in sunlight, but once it’s in your house dust, your kids are eating it, curtains—man, it’s everywhere. It’s in your body. We’re covered in this stuff. See, homeowners, they have no margin, so homeowners will always use more pesticides than they need, cause they’re not a farmer. No farmer would ever use a drop more Roundup than they have to, whereas a homeowner will use about 50 times as much because the marginal cost is so small relative to their other expenses.

That could have some regulatory legs. I think people don’t want that.

So maybe going the human health route rather than the “save pollinators” route might be more effective?

Yes, and I say that as someone who runs an environmental studies program. Environmental justice comes first. Most of these things are totally unnecessary cosmetic pesticides, as opposed to growing food for millions of people.

So when you do see these lawn clashes come out—I’m thinking of a suit in Maryland involving a homeowner association—is it because people are worried about home value? Because as you say, people don’t love lawns so much, but there’s something going on here.

HOAs are fascist about everything. I mean, have you ever seen what a homeowners’ association code looks like? There are still racial covenants on some people’s property—they’re inactive because of the Fair Housing Act, so they’re trumped by federal law. But then why are they still on there? There’s a lot of reasons that HOAs operate the way they do, and they are about property values, without question—resale value. And of course it’s a kind of moral economy that comes with that that enforces all these things, and lawns are just one tiny piece of that.

It sounds like you’re saying that regulating input is going to be more effective than regulating behavior or giving people some kind of marginal incentive for planting native plants or something like that.

I’d like to think that positive incentives work, I’m willing to be proven wrong. I haven’t studied it, so I’m not here to say it’s a bad idea. But you’ve got to offset the cost, because coming up with alternatives is a pain; it’s really difficult.

In Madison we also have a law on the books—I call it a freedom-to-farm law because that’s the only correlate in the law books that I know, but it’s not a freedom to farm, it’s a freedom to let your lawn go to shit. It makes it harder for you to be sued by your neighbors if you choose alternatives like prairie grass. It’s not a law that tells you to do something or even pays you to do something; it just keeps you from being sued for doing something. Even that would be a good step from a regulatory point of view.

Good News

Rooftop solar, if installed aggressively, could potentially meet a third of the U.S. manufacturing sector’s power needs, according to a study from Northeastern University researchers.

Bad News

We’re now on track to hit the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by 2027, thanks to climate change and the added effects of El Niño.

Stat of the Week

That’s how much air pollution from oil and gas production costs in terms of health effects across the U.S., according to a new study. States with higher oil and gas production had correspondingly higher health costs.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

​​What the EPA Can’t Say About Its New Power Plant Rules

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations to cut almost all the emissions from the power sector by 2040—understandably making headlines. But as Emily Pontecorvo and Robinson Meyer point out at Heatmap, the EPA has to strike a delicate balance between climate goals and a Supreme Court ruling last year that said the agency has relatively limited authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and would have to restrict itself to things taking place “within the fenceline” of the plants themselves:

The EPA’s new proposal tries to hew within those guidelines. The agency has determined that the best available technology to reduce emissions directly from fossil-fuel-burning power plants is to install carbon-capture equipment. Carbon-capture-and-storage technology, or CCS, is now affordable and feasible, the agency asserts.

“There’s a 100% chance that this will be challenged in court,” Michael Gerrard, a Columbia Law professor and the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told us. “The debate will largely be about if CCS is ‘adequately demonstrated.’”

At stake, too, is the question of whether the rules represent a Trojan horse—that although the proposal appears to comply with the Court’s guidelines, the expense and hassle of installing carbon-capture equipment is meant to force utilities to shift to renewables anyway. That could in fact be the rules’ practical effect. (Some environmentalists will admit—although not on the record—that they like the rules for this reason.)

Read Emily Pontecorvo’s and Robinson Meyer’s article at Heatmap.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

Why Do Republicans Hate Something That Creates Jobs and Saves Consumers Money?

This is your brain on fossil fuels.

An oil pump jack with wind turbines in the background
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
An oil pump jack surrounded by wind turbines in the Permian Basin oil field in Stanton, Texas.

Investing in renewable energy has long been politicians’ favorite solution to the political difficulties of weaning society off fossil fuels. If we just stimulate the renewables market, the thinking goes—an easier policy to implement than forcibly shuttering fossil fuel plants, which Republicans and others would try to block—eventually renewables will outcompete oil and gas and the country will gradually switch over without the need for sacrifice.

That thinking is misguided for the simple reason that our window to slash emissions or suffer catastrophic consequences is too brief for investing in renewables to save the day. But recent news stories show why it’s also not a viable political solution.

As renewables start to overtake fossil fuels in the United States, the GOP is fighting to reverse that progress: House Republicans are sticking to their proposal to only agree to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts that include most of the clean energy incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act, the Democrats’ signature legislative achievement this term.

Taken at face value, this is a nonsensical position for two reasons totally unrelated to climate change. First, as TNR’s Kate Aronoff pointed out several weeks ago, these tax credits overwhelmingly will benefit Republican districts because that’s where most renewable energy installations are located. (Analysis published Sunday by the Financial Times finds that, since last summer alone, Republican districts have secured over five times the investment in clean energy projects that Democratic ones have.) Second, if fiscal responsibility were really the point, then it would make sense to cut some of the biggest federal spending categories—like defense, next to which energy spending is minuscule. The Republican plan exempts defense cuts.

The GOP’s crusade against renewable energy goes well beyond Congress. Republican legislators in Texas are proposing a variety of regulations to hamper renewable energy installations—from a difficult approval process to a yearly fee, and even mandating wind turbines be situated more than half a mile from property lines. This last one is particularly ironic given that it’s oil wells and fracking waste injection, not wind turbines, that stand accused of poisoning nearby properties and water supplies. (The mandated distance of a new oil well from a property line, by contrast, is 467 feet.)

These kinds of regulations could change the course of energy generation in Texas, which leads the nation in wind generation and has the second most solar installations, as of 2022. Supporters of these new regulations have their reasons—or at least reasons that they give others. “While some landowners have cited environmental concerns,” The Washington Post reports, “others have claimed that nearby renewable projects are lowering their property values.” Both these things are arguably more true of fossil fuel installations than renewables. (Other reasons cited are a little wilder, for example billionaire Dan Friedkin reportedly arguing that an electric transmission line on his property would “lead to increased illegal drug trafficking.”)

This war on renewables, a recent Texas Monthly piece argued, has the potential to really hurt residents, a majority of whom “support greater access to green energy”:

One recent estimate found that renewables lowered the cost of electricity to Texans by $11 billion last year, or $423 for every customer served by the state’s predominant power grid. Over the past five years, Texas has added 2,800 jobs to support wind and solar power generation at the same time that the state has lost 44,000 oil and gas extraction jobs, in part because automation has allowed producers to drill more wells while employing fewer roughnecks.

The people who profit from trashing renewables, the piece notes, are less numerous. There are the fossil fuel executives who donate heavily to Republicans, of course. And then there are right-wing politicians who are either ideologues or who think portraying themselves as lone warriors against the fictitious forces of “woke” investment is the key to electoral success.

Right now, all evidence suggests that policies to stimulate renewable energy growth are working about as well as or even better than their proponents hoped. They’re creating jobs and saving consumers money. They’re giving both red and blue America a reason to care about wind and solar power.

And now the GOP wants to roll them back.

Good News

Skepticism of the liquefied natural gas industry’s expansion in recent years (read TNR’s coverage of how the war in Ukraine benefited the industry) is going mainstream: On Monday, 44 Democratic lawmakers pressed the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality to “include greater scrutiny on the entire LNG supply chain” in its forthcoming guidance on existing environmental laws.

Bad News

Food crops in the U.S. aren’t just loaded with pesticides, a new study finds: Those pesticides are in turn contaminated with PFAS, termed “forever chemicals” because they take so long to break down.

Stat of the Week

That’s how much home insurance premiums increased nationwide from 2021 to 2022—a trend that’s expected to continue, with much higher increases in especially disaster-prone areas, Benjamin Keys observes at The New York Times.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

Climate Still Changes Everything

While the Inflation Reduction Act represented a huge victory, Alyssa Battistoni writes for Dissent, it also seems to have lulled a lot of people into a false sense of security, believing that climate policy is on the right track. We’re not out of the woods yet—in fact, we’ve barely entered.

While climate is far more central to mainstream politics than it was fifteen years ago, carbon emissions have continued their steady rise. Recent models suggest that temperatures are more likely to stabilize somewhere between 2–3ºC of warming than at 3º or more. But if this has prompted a surprisingly optimistic turn amongst some commentators, it hardly counts as good news. Even this ostensibly “moderate” level of warming significantly exceeds the demand of “1.5º to stay alive” long made by small island states and other vulnerable countries—a goal that a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has stated is all but out of reach.… The struggle to decarbonize is just beginning. So too is climate change itself, which will spur novel political developments of its own.

Read Alyssa Battistoni’s article at Dissent.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

Why a Big Climate Victory in New York Matters Everywhere

After two years of last-minute failures, a groundbreaking bill made it into the state budget—providing a blueprint for climate activists in other states.

Kristen Gonzalez speaks at a podium.
Erik McGregor/Getty Images
New York State Senator Kristen Gonzalez, who campaigned on the Build Public Renewables Act

“The biggest Green New Deal win in US history.” So said the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America after the Build Public Renewables Act made it into the state’s budget on Monday evening. Readers who haven’t been following this battle may not appreciate why climate watchers were so giddy about the workings of a state legislature this week. They might, for example, instead focus on New York passing the first statewide ban on new gas hookups, starting in 2025. And that’s a big deal, but there’s a reason activists are even more worked up about the BPRA. So let’s unpack it.

The Build Public Renewables Act hides a revolutionary idea behind a wonky title: “that the state should be empowered to provide clean energy if the private sector fails to,” as TNR columnist Liza Featherstone wrote last month, calling it “the boldest challenge yet to the fossil fuel industry.”

In practice, the BPRA would require and empower the New York Power Authority to rapidly build renewable energy infrastructure to meet the goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2030. It’s easy to underestimate what a big step that is in a country that has overwhelmingly adopted a privatized model of energy generation. “The bill is therefore seen by proponents and detractors alike as a possible foundation for socializing and centralizing control of all energy in order to effectively address the climate crisis and keep energy affordable and accessible to all,” Liza explained. “It provides a way of ensuring that public interest, rather than the profit motive, dominates energy generation.”

But that’s not the only reason the BPRA has generated this outpouring of emotion. The act previously failed twice in New York. After the failure in 2021, TNR staff writer Kate Aronoff wrote,

its backers within and without the legislature worked on expanding their coalition, opening up conversations with environmental justice and labor groups, among others. New language added as a result of those conversations aims to safeguard low-cost power for low-income New Yorkers and those who live in disadvantaged communities and ensure that projects don’t violate Indigenous sovereignty. The bill also provides project labor agreements for the construction of clean energy projects and would democratize the process by which NYPA approves and locates new projects. Strengthened labor provisions … helped to move labor groups from oppositional to neutral, and some from neutral to supportive.

So when, after all this work, the legislative session ended in June 2022 again without the proposal making it to law (despite passing the state Senate), this was seen as a particularly depressing signal for U.S. climate policy—all the more so because it wasn’t “Republicans to blame,” Kate explained, “but Democrats ostensibly committed to climate action.” If Democrats couldn’t manage to pass a policy to reconfigure energy generation and make good on their 2019 climate goals in New York while controlling the Senate, Assembly, and the governorship, Kate reasoned, it’s hard to imagine them making much progress anywhere else.

All of which brings us back to this year’s drama. Legislators at long last managed to finalize and pass the 10-bill series for the state’s budget, including the BPRA in the package, on May 1, a full month after the original state budget deadline of April 1. As of early April, it wasn’t at all clear that the BPRA was going to make it in—at least not in anything like its original form. And it seemed that Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul might be one of the people standing in the way. “If New York finally does start passing bills to make good on its four-year-old climate law,” Kate wrote in an update on the fight, “it’ll be the result of near-constant pressure from outside groups and having certain kinds of Democrats—those who’ve sworn off fossil fuel cash, for instance—making the case and whipping votes on the inside.”

The passage of the BPRA on Monday without one of the loopholes that was under discussion (letting municipalities opt out) is therefore credited as a victory not just for climate activists in general but for the specific progressive organizers and their legislative allies who refused to give up on this policy. It’s likely to be considered proof of concept for battles in other states. TNR will have more on this shortly.

Good News

The U.N. climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in November, known as COP 28, will dedicate a day to the health implications of climate change.

Bad News

Researchers are increasingly concerned about record ocean temperatures, which might be explained by a cyclical shift from the La Niña weather system to the El Niño weather system in the Pacific—but might also indicate the ocean is warming much faster than previously anticipated. That would be very bad for both ocean carbon storage and marine ecosystems, including fisheries.

Stat of the Week

$18 billion

That’s how much ExxonMobil and Chevron made in profits in the first quarter of this year, despite lower gas prices. (Read Kate’s coverage of what the companies plan to do with the cash.)

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

Google Promised to Defund Climate Lies, but the Ads Keep Coming

Well, you knew it couldn’t be all sunny headlines this week. Back in 2021, Google pledged to pull the cord on climate deniers trying to make money on YouTube. The follow-through leaves something to be desired, The New York Times reports:

If you recently clicked on a YouTube video titled “who is Leonardo DiCaprio,” you might have found a ramble of claims that climate change is a hoax and the world is cooling after a Paramount+ ad for the film “80 for Brady,” starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sally Field and Rita Moreno.…

These are not aberrations, according to a coalition of environmental organizations and the Center for Countering Digital Hate. In a report released on Tuesday, researchers from the organizations accused YouTube of continuing to profit from videos that portrayed the changing climate as a hoax or exaggeration. They found 100 videos, viewed at least 18 million times in total, that violated Google’s own policy.

Read Nico Grant and Steven Lee Myers’s report at The New York Times.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

The Real Reason Gas Stoves Are Controversial Now

Municipalities have been banning gas hookups for years. There’s a reason the backlash only went national very recently.

Two eggs fry in a cast-iron pan on a gas burner.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The gas stove wars are back: Three Ninth Circuit judges on Monday struck down Berkeley, California’s ban on gas hookups in new buildings. The panel, consisting of one Reagan appointee and two Trump appointees, unanimously overturned a lower court’s decision and sided with the California Restaurant Association, which claims the ban passed in 2019 violates the Federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act. That act stipulates that only the federal government gets to regulate the energy efficiency and energy use of certain products. The Restaurant Association says its members have been hurt by the ban because, it claims, opening a restaurant in Berkeley is harder now.

This probably won’t be the final ruling in this case; the Justice Department filed a brief backing Berkeley, arguing the Restaurant Association misinterprets the FEPCA. But it does represent the latest salvo in what’s become a full-out culture war over gas stoves. And like many culture wars, this one doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense—unless you know where to look.

Whether switching to electric truly hurts restaurants is an interesting question. Despite high up-front costs for induction ranges, some chefs who have made the switch love them, citing both their superior performance and better labor conditions (the kitchen doesn’t heat up as much, and there are fewer burns). The switch can save money over time too. Christopher Galarza, founder of Forward Dining Solutions, told The Washington Post in February, “When you’re able to talk about cost savings and talk about the operational efficiencies and how it’s going to benefit the operations, all of a sudden everyone forgets about gas versus electric and they say, ‘How can I get there?’”

But as the dangers of gas stoves become clearer, the Post noted, “the restaurant business has, by and large, sided with gas.” In November 2022, the National Restaurant Association released an aggressive two-page flier listing an array of alleged problems with using anything other than gas stoves, arguing that banning them would have “little to no effect on climate change overall” and concluding: “Restaurant owners and operators want to be a part of the climate change conversation but banning a reliable and affordable source of energy is a disastrous mistake for the industry.”

It was a striking straw-manning of the anti–gas stove argument—not least because by November, concerns about gas stoves were increasingly focused on their health effects rather than their greenhouse gas emissions. While over four decades of research suggests gas stoves increase kids’ risk of respiratory illness, health concerns reached a noticeable tipping point last October after a widely covered study revealed that gas stoves also leak benzene, a known carcinogen.

This growing awareness eventually led to the goofy fracas that erupted in January, when Bloomberg published a rather sparse and contextless quote from U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr., who said that “products that can’t be made safe can be banned.” Many on the right went predictably apeshit, vowing to defend their gas stoves with their last breaths against imaginary feds showing up to rip the appliances from the walls.

Why this fervent devotion to gas stoves? And why now, specifically? (After all, Berkeley first banned new hookups in 2019, with some 70 jurisdictions following suit since then!) “Your guess is as good as mine,” wrote TNR’s Alex Shephard as the furor grew. “A few weeks ago, gas stoves were just stoves.”

As TNR explored in a subsequent podcast, there are several reasons that a political divide over gas stoves doesn’t make sense: U.S. households are majority-electric; red states are particularly electric-dominated; and gas stoves, as literary editor Laura Marsh pointed out, are disproportionately associated with liberal “foodie culture” and concentrated in majority-liberal states.

So what is this actually about? In honor of Earth Day on Saturday, TNR is running a weeklong series on environmental culture wars, and I’ll confess I’m partial to something Jan Dutkiewicz and Gabriel Rosenberg wrote while dissecting the growing cult of right-wing meat masculinity.

The fundamental premise of a culture-war framing is that an existing material problem must be seen as a surrogate for a larger clash between two (and only two) irreconcilable views of the world held by two irreconcilable groups of people. Us versus them, elites versus the people, woke versus MAGA, globalists versus purebloods.… The role of the culture warrior is to establish new fronts within this symbolic struggle.… Because the larger struggle is itself vague and irresolvable, this mode of engagement is less about practically addressing the instigating problem than about signaling to adherents how they should feel about the problem’s stubborn irresolution; how it should shore up their opposition to whatever the other side is doing. Culture-war framings are intended not just to polarize but to separate the audience from any material analysis of the problem at hand and the means of fixing it.

Culture-war framings, accordingly, tend to wildly amplify and distort real, less sensational messages. “We should eat less meat” is real. “The elites are going to make cows illegal” is not.

This applies pretty well to the gas stove case. The risk of gas stoves poisoning kids is a material problem. The current culture-war backlash almost inevitably avoids talking about that material problem, instead focusing on in-groups and out-groups. (See Representative Ronny Jackson’s tweet contrasting his own gas stove attachment to “the maniacs in the White House” or Ron DeSantis’s “Don’t tread on Florida” tweet, even though Florida residents overwhelmingly use electric appliances.) The message “Gas stoves have demonstrable health risks, and maybe we should protect people from those” is real. “The feds are coming to pry the stove from your walls” is not.

Jan and Gabriel also pointed out that because these culture wars distract from material problems, they almost inevitably hurt the consumers embroiled in them (the people getting sick from mass-produced meat and stoves) while benefiting the corporations causing the material problem. Although, once started, the culture wars take on a life of their own, industry lobbying can certainly provide a match or opportunistically fan the flames.

With that in mind, the timing and framing of the backlash make a lot more sense. The October report that gas stoves could be leaking a carcinogen considered unsafe at any level is far more threatening to the industry than climate concerns. Consumers might not be motivated to switch their range if this device, like many, many others, is vaguely contributing to the greater problem of climate change. But if this device is hurting them, directly? The National Restaurant Association’s weird pro-gas flier said only 20 percent of consumers supported gas stove bans—data from an early fall Morning Consult poll before the benzene study came out. By January, that support was up to 42 percent of all adult-age Americans, and 56 percent of Democrats. And progressive pollsters at Data for Progress found consumer interest in switching to electric increases further after respondents are informed about health risks.

While the politicians who tweeted inflammatory misinformation about the federal government coming to take people’s stoves don’t live in majority-gas-stove states, they do receive big donations from the fossil fuel industry. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who implied on Twitter that his gas stove was his family’s most prized possession, was the top senatorial recipient of oil and gas money in 2022. Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who along with Manchin later introduced the baffling Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act (to block a gas stove ban that doesn’t seem to have been on the table), won that honor in 2018.

The gas stove culture wars are like a lot of other cultural divides in American life, it turns out. If you want to understand who’s fueling them, follow the money.

Good News

2023 could be the first year ever that electricity generation from coal, oil, and gas drops without a global recession or pandemic, the BBC reports.

Bad News

A heat wave smashed numerous records across Southeast Asia and China this week.

Stat of the Week

$500 billion

That’s the average value produced by the world’s kelp forests per year, according to a new estimate published in Nature Communications. The breakdown is just as striking: Their contribution to fisheries averages over $12,000 per acre of kelp forest per year, and in total they sequester 4.91 megatons of carbon per year.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

Senator’s Bill Would Fine Texans for Multiple Environmental Complaints That Don’t Lead to Enforcement

A Republican bill in Texas proposes to fine residents “if they make three or more complaints to environmental regulators in a calendar year and their complaints don’t result in an enforcement action.” The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would be tasked with carrying this out. Environmental advocates say this will intimidate people out of filing complaints. And that’s not the only problem:

Tim Doty, an independent environmental consultant and former TCEQ air monitoring employee, said responding to citizen complaints is part of the agency’s job: “Just because it doesn’t lead to an enforcement action doesn’t mean your complaint is not valid.”

Doty said residents often file multiple complaints because TCEQ typically takes weeks or months to resolve investigations.

Doty said it can take TCEQ weeks just to send an investigator to check out a complaint, and by then the problem may have disappeared or changed. If Springer’s bill becomes law, that situation would result in a strike against the complaining person, even though the problem they reported may have been a violation had the agency responded faster.

Read Alejandra Martinez’s and Martha Pskowski’s report at Inside Climate News.

This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

Why Climate Journalists Hate Earth Day

The annual event began with good intentions. Now it’s a source of dread.

An inflatable globe rests on top of an oil refinery, reading "Earth Day 1970-1990."
Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Getty Images
The Unocal oil refinery in Los Angeles, on Earth Day 1990

The time draws near. Those working in climate and environmental coverage can feel it approaching like the rumble of an oncoming train: Earth Day.

The celebration on April 22 started with the best of intentions in 1970—part of a radical, nationwide movement that also helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency and extend the Clean Air Act. In recent decades, though, Earth Day has felt a bit more nebulous—and susceptible to cliché, pablum, window dressing, and corporate greenwashing. Reliably, at least one oil major each year uses the day to release some bonkers ad copy suggesting they’re environmentalists.

TNR has published several pieces about this long-running trend, from Bradford Plumer’s short post in 2008 comparing the corporate co-opting of Earth Day to Christmas to Emily Atkin’s 2017 classic about Earth Day having become a “corny celebration of green living” mostly for white and privileged people, while low-income and minority populations face toxic air and water every day. Going forward, she wrote, “the onus is on the more privileged classes to change Earth Day from a feel-good exercise for well-off liberals to a day of mass activism to help the underprivileged, who have more immediate concerns than environmental injustice (let alone global warming).”

Liza Featherstone struck a similar note in her plea last year to resurrect the radicalism of the original Earth Day. But on the optimistic side of things, she argued, we can point to the original as powerful proof of concept:

If not for the climate crisis—which scientists and environmentalists warned about on that first Earth Day and the world has struggled and largely failed to address ever since—we’d probably view ’70s environmentalism as one of the most transformative social movements in history. That first Earth Day kicked off many of the important changes. As National Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes said in a 2020 interview, before that first Earth Day the Cuyahoga River was routinely on fire, breathing the air in major American cities like Pittsburgh and Los Angeles was like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, and the bald eagle—America’s national bird—was in danger of going extinct. None of that is true today. Our waterways are also much cleaner, and fewer children suffer from lead paint poisoning in their homes (in fact, childhood lead poisoning has declined by 90 percent). The massive mobilization of Earth Day helped focus the general public’s attention on the environment, and in turn, that of politicians. Looking at this history tells us something that we need to know right now: We have solved pervasive and deadly environmental problems in the past, and we can do it again.

As part of a series next week on the origin of various environmental culture wars, we’ll have more coverage of how, exactly, this moment of consensus fractured and climate policy got stuck in partisan deadlock. But in the meantime, as we gear up for a week that will doubtless feature its usual share of corporate shenanigans, it’s worth sparing a thought for what meaningful celebration might look like.

Denis Hayes, the original organizer of Earth Day in 1970, offered five suggestions to Outside magazine’s Heather Hansman last year: Focus on the biggest, and ideally the most discrete, issue (that would be emissions); name a “clear enemy”; pinpoint specific political changes (as when Earth Day activists identified the “dirty dozen” congressmen in flippable districts who were blocking environmental policy); take the imperfect, passable policy over no policy at all; and give people a goal that doesn’t feel “hopeless.”

Notably, none of these sound much like the program you’ll see if you visit’s rundown for 2023. The official theme is “Invest in Our Planet”—a word choice evoking start-up culture, business-led solutionism, and so-called sustainable investment, none of which have performed all that well in recent years when it comes to reducing emissions. (In any event, the right is now engaged in all-out war on the entire idea that investment should be sustainable.) Under the heading “How to Do Earth Day 2023,” visitors are offered six ideas: “Climate Literacy,” “End Plastics,” “Plant Trees,” “Vote Earth,” “Global Cleanup,” and “Sustainable Fashion.”

If Hayes is right, then for Earth Day to be effective again, it might need to choose one issue. It might need to be more explicitly political and less universally inoffensive. A useful Earth Day might not look like a product you can buy but a fight you can sign up for—and an affirmative vision of what winning the battle might look like.

Good News

We don’t need the toxic and long-lasting chemicals known as PFAS to make things stain-resistant, a new peer-reviewed study finds. Furniture fabric that hadn’t been treated with PFAS held up just as well as untreated fabric. “PFAS on treated fabric can break off and end up in indoor air, attach to dust, or be dermally absorbed, and the pollution is especially a problem for homes with small children,” The Guardian’s report on the study notes. “The product is commonly applied to stain-resistant apparel and products for babies and children.” Find more information on what we know about the health effects of PFAS here and here.

Bad News

Sea levels are rising more quickly than predicted along the southeastern and Gulf coasts, which might exacerbate the effects of hurricanes that make landfall there.

Stat of the Week

$14 billion

That’s how much the “collective market value of the biggest US [oil and gas] companies” fell in just three days when Ireland’s parliament voted to divest from fossil fuels, even though the value of the divestment itself (i.e., the value of the stocks in the sovereign wealth fund) was only about $78 million. That seems to indicate, according to a new study reported by the Financial Times, that divestment pledges and “viral divestment tweets” serve as important market signals.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

This Is How Fast Humans Have Changed the Ecosystem

The forest of aspen trees known as Pando, in Utah, is actually a single organism, “perhaps the world’s largest living creature. It might also be the oldest living thing on the planet, having survived for over 10,000 years,” writes Faye Flam at Bloomberg. Each tree is a clone stem of the same plant, all connected by an underground network of roots. But now the organism is under threat:

In the last 100 years, human activity has made growing new stems much tougher for Pando. The main threats, said Rogers, are deer and elk, as well as a few domestic cattle and sheep. Aspen grow fast, which makes their young stems tender and tasty to these herbivores, and so most are getting eaten before they have a chance of becoming a new tree. Areas that used to hold 200 adult stems now have just 50. “It hasn’t shrunk from the outside,” said [Utah State University biologist Paul] Rogers. “It’s thinning and collapsing from the inside.” The fact that it’s getting eaten isn’t the fault of the herbivores. Their populations exploded when, in the early 20th century, people decided to exterminate their main predators—wolves, bears and cougars.

The impact of climate change is harder to predict, said Rogers. “We have these two opposing forces.” On the one hand, warming temperatures could shrink aspen habitat, pushing them to cooler, higher elevations. On the other hand, aspen thrive in fire.

Read Faye Flam’s article at Bloomberg.