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

The GOP Darling Who Claims Fossil Fuels Are Good for Humanity

The time is ripe for Alex Epstein’s particular brand of fossil fuel boosterism to become the GOP’s mainstream climate talking point.

Fox Business

Last week, a group of Republican senators gathered for a special closed-door lunch on Capitol Hill with author Alex Epstein, who distributed signed copies of his newest book to attendees. After the lunch, Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota told E&E News that Epstein was “brilliant,” adding, “He made the case that fossil fuels contributed more to people getting out of poverty than the other way around.”

Epstein’s name may not be recognizable to most Americans, but his star has been rising on the right for quite some time. We may all start hearing about him more often because the time is ripe for his particular brand of fossil fuel boosterism to become the GOP’s mainstream climate talking point.

Epstein began his career at the Ayn Rand Institute, where he rose to prominence with op-eds on subjects like abortion, animal rights, and keeping the United States hooked on oil, which he described in 2006 as “a wonderful, life-sustaining product.” In 2011, after leaving the organization, he founded the Center for Industrial Progress; per its website, CIP is devoted to “helping industry fight for its freedom, with new ideas, arguments, and policies that will improve our economy and our environment.” Since then, he’s written two books (2014’s The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels and 2022’s Fossil Future). He’s been on countless right-wing media shows extolling the virtues of fossil fuels, and debated climate activist Bill McKibben on the topic in 2015. Despite his carbon-loaded arguments, Epstein famously does not want to be called a climate denier, claiming that he “explicitly acknowledge[s] the phenomenon of global warming.”

CIP’s financial activities are harder to track than those of other right-wing organizations working against climate action. Epstein’s organization openly bills itself as a “for-profit foundation,” claiming on a (now-deleted) part of its website that it is “proudly not a 501c-3 non-profit.” Still, even without this financial information, it’s clear from the company Epstein keeps that he’s become a darling of groups with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. This year alone, he’s spoken at two organizations that are members of the State Policy Network, a cluster of groups that work with the Koch-funded American Legislative Council, or ALEC, and gave a keynote address at the Heartland Institute’s annual climate conference. Heartland has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from oil and coal giants to push climate denial.

There’s a big difference, however, between the rhetoric of these old-school organizations—which, traditionally, have challenged the science behind climate change—and Epstein’s schtick. While Epstein does his fair share of bad-faith science (like promoting the idea that carbon dioxide is necessary as a plant food), his central point is that using fossil fuels is a moral imperative. Because humans have achieved so much in the past using coal, gas, and oil, his thesis goes, we should keep using them. By contrast, stopping fossil fuel use will do nothing but stifle human “flourishing” and end up only hurting the world’s poor.

“The fastest way to decrease energy poverty and overall poverty is to end all favoritism for wasteful, unreliable solar and wind schemes,” he writes. “And above all reject any proposal to outlaw reliable fossil fuels and nuclear in favor of unreliable ‘renewable’ energy.”

This is, obviously, a colossal misdirect. People who are advocating that the world must transition off fossil fuels are not saying that we should all go back to less efficient forms of energy, like burning firewood, or that the poor must stay poor. The whole idea is to develop new technologies, curb some of our enormous energy use, and beef up alternate forms of energy like wind and solar. These emissions cuts, in turn, can protect the world’s most vulnerable, whom Epstein professes to care so much about, from the impacts of climate change.

But for Epstein, there’s no future in which we’re able to divorce ourselves from fossil fuels; no possible world where reducing our energy consumption and putting guardrails on our natural tendencies to use and produce more could be beneficial. This is an argument that Ayn Rand herself probably would have loved: Letting a gargantuan industry like oil or coal run wild with zero government intervention would, in a book like Atlas Shrugged, probably fix all sorts of societal ills. In the real world, it’s gotten us into a catastrophic mess.

But Randian rhetoric also makes Epstein an ideal tool for the GOP’s new approach to attacking climate policy. I’ve written before about how the age of old Republican climate denialism—embodied most famously by Senator Jim Inhofe, of snowball fame—is over. In this summer’s intense heat, with temperature records being smashed left and right, insisting that absolutely nothing is wrong with our planet is ludicrous. For a GOP politician focused on keeping fossil fuels in business, especially in the face of the rapid expansion of cheap renewable alternatives, squabbling over numbers and charts is counterproductive. It’s all about repackaging fossil fuels, turning them from the problem to part of the solution.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy demonstrated some of this new rhetoric this week. When a reporter asked him at an event about wildfires and climate change, McCarthy didn’t waste time denying them. Instead, he proposed planting a trillion trees, which the AP notes “would also require a massive amount of space—roughly the size of the continental United States,” and lauded “American natural gas” as having a key role in “a cleaner world.”

Epstein’s arguments are also an attempt to turn the tables on Democrats’ push for environmental and climate justice—the idea that cutting emissions is crucial to keeping people, especially Black and brown communities, safe and healthy. In Epstein-land, fossil fuels are the good guy. It’s climate “alarmists” who are the racists, who want poor people to suffer without energy access. It’s no wonder that in addition to right-wing dark money groups and traditional climate deniers, he’s also gained favor with conservative technocrats like Peter Thiel and “thinkers” like Jordan Peterson, who make scoffing at social justice the entirety of their brand.

This wasn’t Epstein’s first visit to Congress, but given the glowing reviews from the book signing, it definitely won’t be his last. In the Biden era, as temperatures keep getting hotter and climate action finally becomes federal policy, the GOP and its fossil fuel allies need a new savior—and Epstein is gunning for the job.

Good News

The Environmental Protection Agency said last week that it would be making $20 billion available from a specially earmarked “green bank” fund established by the Inflation Reduction Act for clean energy projects, especially those in disadvantaged communities, across the country.

Bad News

We’re still a few months away from the end of hurricane and fire seasons, but the federal government might have trouble helping with disaster. Officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency said this week its disaster fund would run out of money by late August.

Stat of the Week

$300 million

That’s how much a yacht vandalized by climate activists in Ibiza this weekend is worth. Activists posted a video on Twitter showing them spray-painting the boat, reportedly owned by a Walmart heiress, and holding a sign reading, “You Consume, Others Suffer.”

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

Energy industry uses whale activists to aid anti-wind farm strategy, experts say

The fossil fuel industry is enlisting whale lovers in the fight against offshore wind, The Guardian reports:

In the classroom, Roberts and his students have been studying how such rhetoric can stop renewable energy projects in their tracks—despite experts who say recent whale deaths have no connection to wind power. That night at the town hall, Roberts also spotted Elizabeth Knight, who founded Green Oceans earlier this year, another anti-wind organization in Rhode Island. Roberts said he felt compassion for Knight.

“She thinks a train wreck is coming,” said Roberts, referring to Knight’s fears of how wind power will push right whales to extinction. “And when you see that, you want to do all you can.”

But he is concerned that Knight and Chalke are falling into a trap laid out by rightwing interests that are sowing doubt to fuel public discontent over renewable energy projects.

Read Shanti Escalante-De Mattei’s full report at The Guardian.

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 Media Has No Idea How to Cover Extreme Heat

News outlets are reporting on record-setting temperatures—but telling us little else about this catastrophic inferno we’re living (and dying) through.

A woman with pink hair, seen from the outside of her building, stands at the window of her apartment in front of a fan holding a baby. A palm tree is seen next to the window.
Jason Armond/Getty Images
SoCal resident Karen Tapia, who lives in an apartment with no air conditioning, cools off with a fan by her window during a heat wave.

Stop me if you’ve heard this lately: This oppressively hot weather is our new normal. Or: The climate crisis is here, now. Or: It may be boiling right now, but this is the coolest summer of the rest of our lives.

Thanks in part to the El Niño weather pattern—but also thanks to greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere—our world is currently experiencing what could be the hottest year since recordkeeping began. Last week may have been the hottest week on record. The most horrific part is that these jaw-dropping records are just the beginning. Even if the world were able to magically cut all fossil fuel use tomorrow, we’ve emitted enough carbon dioxide and methane that global temperatures will keep rising until we hit 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels. The rest of this century will be a game of catchup as we work to undo what we’ve already done; we’re in for many more hot—and hotter, and hotter—summers ahead.

This is, to put it bluntly, catastrophic. This crisis should be front-page news everywhere this month—but it’s not in any meaningful way. Most news outlets are reporting on the record-breaking heat, and perhaps offering advice on how to “survive” it, but I’ve barely seen any elevated mainstream coverage that recognizes the severity of this emergency.

Global warming is the key driver of almost all other climate impacts: rising sea levels, shrinking ice caps, fierce storms, and raging wildfires. Extreme heat can also devastate the human body, causing both immediate and long-term trauma. And yet, oddly, the media often has trouble connecting heat to the climate crisis. A Media Matters analysis of coverage of an intense heatwave in Texas earlier this month found that only 5 percent of national TV news segments mentioned climate change.

One explanation for this disconnect is that heat simply doesn’t make for compelling journalism. Back in 2021—in another summer that we all thought would define the “new normal”—I wrote about how cable news at the time was struggling to cover the extreme heat. (One climate scientist I know was bumped as a guest last-minute from a big cable show, where she was supposed to talk about record-breaking heat, in favor of focusing instead on Richard Branson’s brief jaunt to space.) A producer for a major news show explained to me that when it comes to climate change, wildfires and storms made for better TV; showing footage of people sweltering in the sun or a chart about the changes in world temperature compared to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions is boring.

It’s not just isolated to cable news. Until very recently, most news outlets illustrated their stories about extreme heat with fun photos of people on the beach or sweating it out on runs, which research shows can put “positive” spins on otherwise devastating articles. After a wave of criticism, outlets began diversifying their images—but illustrating just how hot it is outside remains difficult. (And the problem persists: MSNBC, in teasing a segment Tuesday about extreme heat, used B-roll footage of people lounging on the beach.)

Moreover, heat’s impacts are overwhelmingly felt by the elderly and immunocompromised, by people who are forced to be outside, and by people who can’t afford air conditioning—generally not those who set the news agenda. This summer, Texas has seen a number of deaths in overheated prisons, while several workers across the United States have died on the job. Those victims haven’t gotten anywhere near the national coverage of the young family—a Snapchat engineer, a yoga instructor, and their one-year-old daughter—who likely died of heat exposure on a California hiking trail in 2021.

But it’s not just heat’s invisibility and inequity that make it hard to cover. Research suggests that humans are able to adjust to new weather extremes in just a couple of years. Back in 2016, when I was working my first climate-related job at a communications nonprofit, one of my first tasks was helping to prepare a press package around NOAA’s announcement that 2016 (another El Niño year) was set to be Earth’s hottest year since records began in 1880. Every year since then has stayed within the top eight hottest years on record, not to mention seemingly endless announcements about smaller monthly, weekly, daily, or seasonal records. The heat alarm has been sounding so loudly for the past few years that it’s easy to tune it out—even the particularly loud alarms of the past few weeks.

Perhaps that’s something that viewers and readers should take responsibility for: that the media is partially reflecting our own inability to fully panic about something that’s truly becoming the new normal. The world is going to keep breaking records, and what worries me is that we’re all used to it already—that our reaction is to shrug, turn off the TV, crank up the AC, and go about our lives.

Good News

The Biden administration said Monday it would make almost $660 million in grant funding available for states to plug abandoned oil and gas wells—which can be huge emitters of methane.

Bad News

Flash floods from intense rainfall have caused widespread damage in upstate New York and Vermont, killing one person in New York and forcing 50 to be rescued by boat in Vermont.

Stat of the Week


That’s the average amount of warming in the ground beneath Chicago since the middle of the last century—putting the city in danger of sinking as the bedrock beneath it warps, a new study finds.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

The ‘Game-Changing’ Technology The Nuclear Industry Is Betting On For A Revival

Small modular reactors could be a game changer for the nuclear industry—but could the climate promises of a technology that might be years away delay needed transitions in the present? HuffPost reports:

Rising temperatures were a big part of the reason a portion of the factory was undergoing renovations last fall, with workers raising the ceiling and rerouting part of the tracks that connect to a national rail line. Hickman was preparing for his plant to expand into a new product line: Holtec’s very own brand of nuclear reactor.

It is what some have called the “grave to cradle” model. The company plans to level the decommissioned nuclear plants it owns, including New York’s Indian Point and Massachusetts’ Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, and revive energy production at those sites with its own machines.

Holtec’s bid to produce the “phoenix of nuclear reactors” is unique. But it’s hardly the only party competing for a piece of what many in the industry predict is a dawning “nuclear renaissance.”

Read Alexander Kaufman’s full report at HuffPost.

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

How the Supreme Court Could Destroy Environmental Justice Efforts

Last week’s rulings have real ramifications for how the government could help vulnerable communities moving forward.

A photo of the front of the Supreme Court building with a few people walking by the steps.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
The Supreme Court building.

Since President Biden took office, his administration has put environmental justice front and center in its strategies to combat climate change. Last year, the Inflation Reduction Act made billions of dollars available to environmental justice–related initiatives; in April, the president signed an executive order mandating that environmental justice principles be worked into the mission of every federal agency, not just the ones dealing directly with the environment. It’s a long-overdue effort to correct the systemic inequities that Black and brown people face when it comes to climate change and other environmental factors.

Unfortunately, advocates and federal workers may have to grapple with the Supreme Court to make some of these changes a reality. None of the Supreme Court decisions that made headlines last week dealt directly with environmental issues, but the rulings have real ramifications for how the government could help vulnerable communities moving forward.

As E&E News reporter Pamela King reported this week, the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, which dealt with affirmative action on college campuses, could have serious implications for government attempts to prioritize racial equity, including on environmental matters. Last week’s historic ruling, which effectively banned race-based admissions policies, “does not mean that race-conscious environmental justice efforts are doomed—but the court clearly signaled that the strict-scrutiny test has very sharp teeth,” Emily Hammond, a professor and vice provost for faculty affairs at George Washington University Law School, told King. “Federal, state and local governments will need to tightly craft their environmental justice policies to meet this standard.”

The court is already looming large in how the administration deals with potential oncoming legal challenges from conservative states. Last Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would drop an investigation into whether Black communities living in an industry-heavy stretch of coastline in Louisiana suffered disproportionate cancer risks thanks to the state’s failure to regulate chemical plants there.

For decades, residents of the region, commonly referred to as “Cancer Alley,” have complained of health problems from petrochemical and oil facilities. According to the NAACP Legal Fund, one school district that sits half a mile from a chemical facility has a 25 percent higher incidence rate of all types of cancers compared to the rest of the state. The area has been the subject of countless media investigations over the past few decades, and Biden mentioned the region by name when signing a major environmental executive order at the start of his term.

The administration’s adoption of the case last year was seen as a substantial win for the environmental justice movement and a long-awaited chance to bring changes to Cancer Alley residents. But the EPA said last week, just two days before the affirmative action ruling was announced, that it had taken sufficient enforcement against Louisiana’s Departments of Health and Environmental Quality based on the deficiencies it found, and would not be pursuing a Civil Rights Act investigation.

The Biden administration has centered much of its environmental justice investigation and enforcement around Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in programs and entities receiving federal funds. Title VI has historically been used in areas like housing, education, and transportation, but the Biden administration has taken the idea for a new spin with regard to climate and health.

It’s seen some success with this strategy. Earlier this year, the Justice Department reached an agreement with the Alabama Department of Public Health, finding that the state had violated Title VI in neglecting to address sanitation conditions in the majority-Black Lowndes County. Residents have for decades complained about open sewage pits in their yards, high rates of disease, and a lack of help from the local government.

But in late May, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry—who is also running for governor—filed suit against the EPA and the Biden administration. While the suit doesn’t specifically name the agency’s investigation into conditions in Cancer Alley, it claims that the EPA’s attempted use of Title VI in enforcement procedures oversteps its authority. The EPA has “lost sight of the agency’s actual environmental mission, and instead decided to moonlight as […] social justice warriors fixated on race,” Landry wrote.

The majority opinion in the Harvard case last week focused mostly on the constitutionality of race-based admissions rather than specific issues with Title VI. But in a concurring opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch echoed some of Landry’s specific allegations about the use of Title VI. In the suit, Landry also raised the “major questions” doctrine, a conservative legal interpretation that aims to limit how much government agencies can do without explicit permission from Congress; the doctrine formed the bedrock of the court’s decision last year in West Virginia vs. EPA, which constrained the agency’s ability to regulate emissions from power plants. The doctrine was also brought up last week in the Biden v. Nebraska student loan ruling, suggesting that the question around what Congress explicitly allows specific agencies to do will be a continual theme in decisions to come.

Legal experts told the AP that it’s likely the EPA dropped the investigation in Louisiana in order to avoid the risk of this suit being brought before the right-wing court. But that raises questions of how the administration can otherwise help vulnerable communities—and it doesn’t mean anything to the residents of Cancer Alley, who have been living in environmentally dangerous conditions for years.

“I would never support the government abandoning their obligation,” Robert Taylor, a resident of St. John the Baptist Parish and founder and executive director of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, told The Washington Post. “It will not help the residents here. They know that we are the targets of these industries.… We have the least protection. And now the federal government can’t provide protection.”

Good News

Wind and solar are pulling more than their fair share in Texas, where a sustained heat wave and increased air conditioner use have made energy demand skyrocket. The state set a record for renewable energy generation last week, and renewables provided up to 40 percent of Texas’s energy mix during peak use times.

Bad News

It’s not just you—this July 4 was really, really, really hot. The global average temperature on July 4 reached 62.92 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the hottest day on record, according to data from the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Prediction.

Stat of the Week


That’s the rate at which incidences of domestic violence against women in South Asian countries increase as the ambient temperature rises by one degree Celsius, a new study published last week in the journal JAMA Psychiatry has found.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

Climate change could swamp this island. Home sales are surging.

An island in Maryland threatened by sea level rise is experiencing a surge in real estate sales, The Washington Post reports:

More homes have sold on Smith Island in the last three years than in the previous 11 combined, according to sales data. Locals see a story of hope. Their efforts to rescue a 400-year-old way of life tied to tide and season are beginning to bear fruit. Many question the doomsday predictions for the island or hope they can find a way to ride out rising waters.

Environmentalists see a dangerous kind of denialism. They say Smith Island’s long-term survival is doubtful, so the only rational path is retreat. They see the recent interest in the island as part of an unsettling national trend—studies show more Americans are moving into climate danger zones.

Read Justin Jouvenal’s full report at The Washington Post.

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 Right-Wing Groups Behind the War on ESG

A new report sheds light on state-level legislative attacks on the right’s newfound obsession.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy signs an anti-ESG resolution
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy signed an anti-ESG resolution in March.

If you’d have told me a couple years ago that ESG—an acronym for environmental, social, and governance principles—would be a major talking point of the 2024 Republican presidential primary, I would have laughed in your face. ESG began to gain popularity over the past decade in the financial sector amid shareholder pressure on corporations to incorporate environmental and social risks into investments as well as customer demand for Wall Street firms to provide more responsible investment options. What ESG definitely wasn’t was a Greta Thunberg–level Marxist revolution. BlackRock, of all companies, is on board with ESG.

Try telling that to the GOP. Over the past year, the right has turned viciously against this once boring investing principle, devoting chyrons on Fox News to the threat of “woke capitalism” and holding full House hearings to rage against the “cabal of global elites” supposedly behind the ideal. But anti-ESG sentiment on the right isn’t just a cable news talking point. A new report reveals the full scope of state-level legislative attacks on ESG, showing that they’re in fact part of a highly coordinated, national Republican offensive.

The report, released last week from research firm Pleiades Strategy, found that by the middle of 2023, Republican lawmakers in 37 states had introduced at least 165 bills and nine resolutions designed to target and/or eliminate ESG in state-level investment strategies and contracts. Most of these proposals were inspired by a handful of draft bills created by GOP dark-money powerhouses like the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Many of these organizations are members of the State Policy Network, a conservative group of think tanks that push so-called model legislation at the state level and have ties to the oil and gas industry and histories of pushing climate denial.

This state-level war on ESG isn’t going very well—not legislatively, anyway. Only 31 of those 165 bills and resolutions ended up passing, the report found; several of the successful ones only made it through legislatures after significant changes that effectively kneecapped many of their limits on financial entities. Meanwhile, 83 of the bills—just about half—failed to pass altogether or were vetoed by governors. (Of the other half of those 165, around a dozen are still active or have not had committee hearings, while 42 bills did not pass this session but will be readopted in future.)

This isn’t terribly surprising given that the targets of these anti-ESG bills are banks, businesses, and pension funds. In at least 17 states, the report finds, anti-ESG legislation met substantial opposition from business lobbyists. State-level chambers of commerce and bankers’ associations in various states have spoken out against the proposed laws. Many opponents of the bills also conducted state-level analyses that showed that they would do substantial financial damage to constituents if they passed.

Many have noted the irony that the party that professes to worship the free market now wants to tell private and public companies alike that they can’t manage their money however they please. But Republicans aren’t backing down in their anti-ESG fight, despite pushback from the business community.

“We used to be able to go to [lawmakers] and say, ‘Hey, this is going to hurt free markets and have a negative regulatory effect,’” Steven Killian, director of government relations for the Arizona Bankers Association, told The Washington Post. “They just don’t want to hear it anymore. They’re more interested in the political fight.”

And what’s the goal of that fight? A lot has changed since Senator James Inhofe tossed a snowball on the floor of Congress to disprove that the world was warming; even oil companies have net-zero pledges now, and “climate denier” is a much dirtier word than it used to be. Lawmakers can no longer simply stick their head in the sand and pretend nothing is happening. Instead, they’re trying to make ESG seem “woke,” in the hopes of attacking climate policy without seeming like they’re out of touch with the science or refusing to acknowledge how the world is changing. It’s all part of Republicans’ long game of delaying climate action while it gets hotter and hotter outside.

And despite the legislative failures laid out in the Pleiades Strategy report, the state-level ESG fight isn’t over. More than three dozen of the 165 bills will be readopted in the next legislative sessions, the report says, while one GOP presidential contender, Vivek Ramaswamy, has built his entire campaign around defeating ESG. Sounds like we’re going to be hearing a lot more about ESG in the months to come—until Fox News moves on to its next “woke” obsession, that is.

Good News

A county in Oregon filed a lawsuit last week against more than a dozen fossil fuel companies and lobbying groups, including ExxonMobil, Shell, Peabody Energy, and the American Petroleum Institute, alleging that the 2021 heat wave that killed hundreds in the Pacific Northwest was a “direct and foreseeable consequence” of these companies’ decisions to sell oil, gas, and coal while obscuring what they knew about climate change.

Bad News

There are more mosquitoes in everyone’s future. The number of “mosquito days”—days with high temperatures and humidity that are ideal for the bugs to thrive—have increased in more than 70 percent of the United States since 1979, a new report from Climate Central has found. (This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert that malaria cases had been reported in the U.S. for the first time in two decades.)

Stat of the Week

$10.3 billion

That’s the amount of the settlement chemical giant 3M reached last Thursday with hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. The money, which will be paid out over 13 years, is in response to thousands of lawsuits alleging pollution from PFAS, a.k.a. “forever chemicals,” in municipal water supplies.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

The Hidden Cost of Gasoline: Gas stations caused a $20 billion toxic mess—and it’s not going away.

Oil sold at gas stations doesn’t just destroy the environment once it gets into your car. Underground storage tanks can also be hugely damaging to soil and water, a joint investigation from Grist and Crosscut has found:

Much of this pollution has been stagnant for decades. Forty years ago, steel storage tanks began corroding, setting off a slow-motion environmental disaster all over the United States. Leaks often weren’t discovered until long after petroleum had poisoned the groundwater, when neighbors of gas stations began complaining that the water from their taps smelled like gasoline. In 1983, the EPA declared leaking tanks a serious threat to groundwater, and Congress soon stepped in with new regulations. One of the largest spills was in Brooklyn, where a 17 million-gallon pool of oil gradually collected beneath a Mobil gas station—a larger spill than the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, when a tanker ran aground in Alaska and poured oil into Prince William Sound.

Fast-forward to today, and more than half a million leaks have been confirmed around the country. The Government Accountability Office estimated in 2007 that the total bill for cleanups would top $22 billion. Those old, decrepit storage tanks have left a legacy: overgrown, empty lots that real-estate developers don’t want to touch. Of the roughly 450,000 brownfields in the country, nearly half are contaminated by petroleum, much of it coming from old gas stations.

Read Kate Yoder’s full report at Grist.

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

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.