Climate = Jobs
In front of Congress for his first address, Biden went with plain language: “For me, when I think about climate change, I think jobs.”
And in case anyone was missing the point:
“For too long, we have failed to use the most important word when it comes to meeting the climate crisis:
The strategy of selling climate action as a jobs bonanza isn’t new. But this is the most full-throated populist pitch we’ve seen from any national leader. The Biden team clearly believes they can build climate into a broad effort to retake momentum from the far right.
Biden is turning out to be unusually well-suited to make the case. Most of the speechifying for climate jobs falls pretty flat. Supposedly aimed at galvanizing the public, what we usually hear is politicians or advocates delivering technocratic mumbo jumbo about X trillions of dollars of “opportunity” in the economy of the future.
The language is almost always Universitese. Usually citing some study about employment projections and the lucrative potential for investors and companies in low-carbon sectors.
But union-supporting Joe from Scranton is showing people, not just telling them. He was specific about all kinds of people with all levels of education getting in on the action: construction workers, electrical workers, farmers. It had to be the first presidential address to Congress featuring cover crops as an applause line.
Biden’s refreshingly plain talk reveals how abstract the usual “messaging” is. At last week’s climate summit, he took a similar “show not tell” approach: “I see line workers laying thousands of miles of transmission lines for a clean, modern, resilient grid, I see autoworkers building fleets of electric cars…”
Political strategists think Canadian leaders ought to be taking notes: “Does Joe Biden have anything to teach Justin Trudeau about the transition to a green economy? The president’s speech… suggests he does.”
Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re already queasy about this whole notion of framing the climate crisis, with all its suffering, as some wonderful “opportunity.”
But it’s also undeniable that, as things stand today, we don’t have a truly mobilized political coalition for aggressive climate action. And we need very aggressive action, yesterday.
So, the important point isn’t just Biden’s communication chops, what’s really encouraging is to hear a national leader playing offense on climate, making a serious effort to rally the public behind a vision.
And it’s working to mobilize constituencies well beyond the climate crowd.
How would a concerted effort to rally the public play out in Canada? Labour leaders certainly seem ready. Unifor is Canada’s largest private-sector union, representing workers across the economy, including oil and gas. It was out in public this week supporting tougher action on climate change and real programs for workers and communities to make the energy transition.
Unifor’s Joie Warnock had some straight talk: "We know that there's an energy transformation happening.
“Get in front of it."
It’s striking how often First Nations and other Indigenous leaders are at the forefront of the race against climate change: building renewable energy and sustainable agriculture projects, running the best land management programs, designing communities for resilience and leading opposition to fossil fuel expansion.
For the latest on Indigenous climate action and the opposition to fossil fuel expansion across Canada and the United States, you might want to check out Melina Laboucan-Massimo on the podcast How To Save a Planet.
(And you might also want to register for National Observer’s conversation with Valérie Courtois and Dahti Tsetso from the Indigenous Leadership Initiative coming up on May 13.)
We’ve changed the freaking tilt of the Earth
We’ve now melted so much ice into the oceans — hundreds of billions of tonnes — that scientists are measuring changes in our planet’s axis of rotation. The poles are moving in new directions.
Those changes aren’t so big that you’ll notice them yet, but sit tight, the world’s glaciers are now melting twice as fast as 20 years ago.
Scientists say it all shows “how real and profoundly large an impact humans are having on the planet.”
Germany’s top court sides with youth
Germany isn’t cutting climate pollution quickly enough even to protect current generations, its top court ruled on Thursday. The judges ordered the German government to update its climate law and accelerate action because it is “violating the freedoms of the complainants, some of whom are still very young.”
Germany now has until the end of next year to bring in a stronger climate law.
The Dutch supreme court made a similar ruling at the end of 2019, finding that “the lives, well-being and living circumstances of many people around the world, including in the Netherlands, are being threatened… Those consequences are happening already.”
A similar case is moving ahead in Canada where seven young climate activists have fought their way through all the legal hurdles and won the right to sue the Ontario government (a date for the full hearing hasn’t been set yet).
Ontario: “No longer appropriate”
We tend to focus a lot on the feds when it comes to climate change. But the provinces have jurisdiction over everything from energy policy to land use to building codes.
Doug Ford’s Ontario government is trying to punch a new mega-highway through Ontario’s protected Greenbelt. The proposed 413 highway would destroy farmland and protected areas, and would increase greenhouse gas emissions by millions of tonnes. (But it would make some big developers and campaign contributors very happy.) The provincial government has just appointed a new chair of the Greenbelt Council — a former minister who voted against creating the Greenbelt.
Also in Ontario, the Ford government directed the province’s energy board that it’s “no longer appropriate” to prioritize renewable energy moving forward. “Are they living under a rock?” exclaimed the Ontario NDP environment critic in an interview with Emma McIntosh.
For the benefit of those of you outside Ontario, this is the same premier who said: “If I could tear up every wind turbine in this province, I would.”
True to his word, Ford’s government has spent $231 million cancelling more than 750 renewable energy projects. And they’ve spent $3 billion on fossil gas plants. Carbon emissions from the electricity sector are set to triple this coming decade.
Sky’s the limit for solar and wind
Doug Ford’s government might want to check in with the hippies over at Forbes magazine. How Renewables Could Kill Off Fossil Fuel Electricity By 2035.
The article covers a new study by Carbon Tracker that estimates solar and wind energy “have the potential to meet global electricity demand 100 times over.”
Renewables are getting so cheap they will price fossils off the grid by 2035. “The only impediment to change is political,” say the analysts.
Important nugget: even if the world got all its electricity from solar panels, they would cover less than the space currently taken up by fossil fuel operations — 0.3 per cent of the Earth’s land area. Which won’t be necessary since offshore wind and other renewables are booming as well.
Cut methane now
Methane isn’t as abundant as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but it’s a much more potent greenhouse gas. New research shows “a full-scale push using existing technologies could cut methane emissions in half by 2030.”
If we actually deployed the tools we already have in our toolbox to cut methane emissions, we could slow global heating as much as 30 per cent.
If you want a really deep dive into methane, the New York Times has it for you.
Toronto buying 300 electric buses
The Toronto Transit Commission claims to run the largest pure electric bus fleet in North America, with 60 buses (although Vancouver’s trolley fleet disputes the claim). Now the TTC has OK-ed the purchase of 300 more and is aiming for a zero-emissions fleet by 2040.
N.Y. senate requires trucks go zero-emission
Jurisdictions around the world are setting dates for the phaseout of new gas and diesel cars, and New York just passed a bill for 2035. What’s groundbreaking about this law is the added requirement for any new trucks and heavy-duty vehicles to be “100% zero-emission” by 2045.
Foodies for the planet
The popular foodie site Epicurious announced it has stopped posting any recipes for beef. The stampede of controversy was a bit comical because Epicurious had actually dropped the recipes without fanfare over a year ago.
“Our shift is solely about sustainability, about not giving airtime to one of the world’s worst climate offenders,” Epicurious says.
Beyond meat entirely, the growing appetite for plant-based foods stands to be a win for the planet and Prairie grain farmers. Sadly, Alberta’s government just can’t seem to get on the pulse.
Other Canadian companies are faring better. Winnipeg’s Merit Functional Foods makes plant-based protein from yellow peas and canola and got a $100-million boost from the feds.
Real meat, without livestock? Ezra Klein says he’s a vegan, “but I’m also a realist. There’s no chance humanity is going to give up meat, en masse, anytime soon.” He makes the case for a moonshot for meatless meat: “All we need to do is replace the animals, or at least a lot of them. Technologically, we’re closer to that than you might think.”
This week I’ll leave you with a comic strip. I’m sure you’re constantly seeing companies advertising how they use forests to offset their carbon emissions. Connor Carbon breaks it down (come for the comic, stay for the longform article: The Climate Solution Actually Adding Millions of Tons of CO2 Into the Atmosphere)
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