Category: Politics

How US President-Elect Joseph Biden plans to Combat Climate Change

by Kunaal Venugopal

With the results of the recent Presidential Election, Joseph R. Biden has been elected the 46th President of the United States, and the President-Elect has a climate plan that will go into effect as soon as he is in office. 

In a tweet, Biden outlined that he would rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office. Limit global temperature rise by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Agreement aims to “Limit global temperature rise by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, provide a framework for transparency, accountability, and the achievement of more ambitious targets, and mobilize support for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing nations” (NRDC). Biden’s decision reverses the action by the Trump Administration to pull out of the Paris Agreement in 2017.

Biden’s Administration proposes making US energy production carbon-free by 2035, with the ultimate goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. To do this, Biden plans to make buildings more energy-efficient, invest in public transport, and incentivize electric vehicle use. All of these implementations create new jobs for the American people, so jobs won’t be at stake even with Biden phasing fracking out.

At the end of 2019, Biden’s original climate plan received a 75/200 score, an F. Since then, Biden has taken more radical steps to create a quicker transition to cleaner energy. Sunrise Movement’s executive director Varshini Prakash said to Inside Climate News. “We forced [Biden’s advisers] to backtrack, and … he put out a comprehensive climate plan that cites the Green New Deal and names climate change as the greatest challenge facing America and the world.”

The world will have to wait and see if Biden’s plan will be effective in mitigating climate change, but for the first time in many years, the United States may have something to look forward to in respect to helping the environment; whether it works or not, it’s a change the world, and the US, needed to see.

Image: https://images.hdqwalls.com/wallpapers/joe-biden-ea.jpg

New Delhi Air Pollution Worsens

by Arun

Over the past week, the National Capital Region of New Delhi, India has had its air quality reach unprecedented levels in its history. The pollution is actually a record in Delhi – the Air Quality Index in Delhi reached as high as 735. For comparison, the Environmental Protection Agency states that a “Good” AQI is 0 to 50, and a “Moderate” AQI is 51 to 100. Clearly, the pollution in Delhi is a looming problem.

India has been known to struggle with its problem of pollution. A common image of India is the common sight of the jam-packed roads, filled with walkers and vehicles alike, moving around with no free space. Though the images have some truth to them, the pollution output of these vehicles is serious. Many of the vehicles Indian citizens use are often old and outdated, posing serious health hazards to the general public and the welfare of the people. India has recognized this issue and has made aggressive movements towards achieving carbon neutrality, but the fruit of these actions has not come to the scene yet.

The recent uptick in pollution is actually seasonal. There are three major factors responsible for the rise in hazardous air pollution. One being the abnormally high humidity. Another, the lack of surface winds which has caused pollutants to remain and not move off, causing them to be locked off in the city. Finally, in relation to the wind directions, pollutants from other cities have been blown into the capital. The current conditions in India caused a perfect storm of these events, resulting in unprecedented pollution in the capital.

On the positive, India is on the right track to combat pollution, as it seeks to modernize its economy away from fossil fuels and large factory output. However promising the future may be, there seems to be a long way to go in the path.

Norwegian Supreme Court Hears Case on Arctic Oil Drilling

by Arun

Norway is notoriously famous for its clean environment and fresh air. As a matter of fact, a section of the Norwegian Constitution states that all citizens have a right to a healthy environment. However, the economy, which is built around the oil and gas industry, seems to be contradicting the very basis of the constitution. How can Norway support a healthy environment if more than half the country’s exports contribute to an unhealthy environment? 

This question has stood for a while in Norway, but it hasn’t been until recently when the case has actually been brought up to the Norwegian Supreme Court, in which environmental groups seek to invalidate licenses for new oil exploration in the Arctic. This case marks the first time a case related to climate change has been brought up to the Supreme Court bench – consisting of 15 voting judges – under the Constitution’s environmental regulations. If the environmental organizations were to win, it would cause Norway to forfeit a large part of their economy, which is largely dependent on activities such as oil exploration.

According to Andreas Randoy, a win of this magnitude would mean “the beginning of the end of the oil age” and a shift towards modern, renewable energy. Environmental groups argue that the soil exploration plans in the Arctic had not been completely researched prior to their approval in 2016. The Norwegian government, however, claims that their arctic drilling is justified as they compensate for the negative effects of drilling by promoting a greener economy and landscape in other areas, as well as maintaining other environmental regulations.

Still, the case appears to be gaining steam. In what is largely a crowdfunded campaign to cover the legal costs of this case, the public has raised about $270,000 USD from contributors like Greta Thunberg.

In what is sure to be an interesting case of the environment versus the economy, a shift towards renewable energy as a whole seems to be looming not only in Norway but in the world.

Image: https://www.pixel4k.com/glacier-ice-snow-surface-4k-58435.html

US Department on Energy makes Statement Regarding Emissions of Electric Vehicles

by Kaushal Kumar

Recently, the US Department of Energy put to bed the myth that electric vehicles are worse, or not any better for the environment than gasoline-powered vehicles. This statement was made in response to a mass internet campaign claiming that due to the amount of energy and resources needed to form batteries for electric vehicles and the complications that come with disposing of them or re-using them, and that electric vehicles are not any better for the environment than gasoline power vehicles. An example of this campaign is a Facebook post, claiming that a 1000 pound electric battery requires 500,000 pounds of raw material to create, therefore making the vehicle it is placed in just as damaging to the environment. However, this claim has recently been proven false. The US Department of Energy recently compared the lifecycle emissions of fully-electric, hybrid, and gasoline-powered vehicles, finding that electric vehicles do, in nearly all cases, have fewer emissions than a gasoline-powered car. 

However, this barrage of misinformation does not only include internet memes and popular Facebook posts. In 2019, a German study claimed that the Tesla Model 3, a fully electric car, emitted just as much CO2 into the atmosphere as a Mercedes C-Class vehicle with a diesel engine. This was recently proven to be false with the co-author of the new study, Auke Hoekstra explaining, “A Tesla Model 3 currently emits 65% less CO2 than a Mercedes C-Class.” 

The disinformation regarding electric vehicles is an obstacle that will forever be a challenge to the renewable energy automobile industry. Critics and skeptics will continue to attack these new vehicles with factless claims and arguments. As the popularity of electric vehicles increases, so will the volume of this slander. 

Even the idea that the US Department of Energy felt that they had to make a statement on this proves the difficulty of our battle against climate change. A fact that seemed so obvious is something that people are willing to discredit and lie about. The fight against climate change is very much one about the battle for truth, with one side claiming they have the truth and the other side proving that they do. Ultimately, it is the role of the reader to sift through the lies and exaggerations of the deniers and find for themselves what the science supports.

Image: https://www.wuwm.com/sites/wuwm/files/styles/x_large/public/202002/AdobeStock_79753939.jpeg

European Union Votes for 60% Cut in Emissions by 2030

by Nakul

This past week marked a landmark event in the European Union’s attempt to strive towards a greener Europe. The member countries by 60% in the European Parliament unanimously voted in favor of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in its 2 comparisons to 1990. The proposal won the support of 392 Members of European Parliament (MEPs), with 161 MEPs voting against and 142 MEPs abstaining, as The Guardian reported. Previously, the goal had been set for a 40% emission reduction, and the European Commission recommended a maximum decrease of 55%. However, the EU simply rejected this suggestion, with the environmental committee leader Pascal Canfin explaining, “Having the parliament supporting 60% helps the progressive countries in the council to drive ambition upwards”. 

Support for the Decision

Evidently, many individuals were heavily in favor of the outcome of the vote, and many gave public statements to express their sentiments. Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout stated, “This vote shows that the European Parliament is listening to the science…”. Similarly, Swedish MEP Jytee Guteland explained, “The adoption of the report sends a clear message to the Commission and the Council, in light of the upcoming negotiations. We expect all member states to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest and we need strong interim targets in 2030 and 2040 for the EU to achieve”. Imke Lübbeke of WWF supported the decision but also explained that “[The] 60% result needs to be taken up by Member States so we can take real steps towards a green economic recovery and a planet that thrives.”

Opposition to the Decision

Right-wing politicians of many member countries were not impressed by the vote, to say the least. German politician and member of Parliament Peter Liese stated, “I regret that the majority in the European Parliament did not support the European Commission’s Climate Law proposal but voted for the overambitious 60%”. Liese was in favor of the 55% recommended cut in emissions, but felt that the 60% cut risked too many jobs. French MEP Agnes Evren concurred, saying “Going beyond 55% would endanger jobs. Let’s not be ideological”. Canfin responded to these claims, arguing, “There is no trade-off between prosperity and climate action. On the contrary, the cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of action”.
Ultimately, this vote by the European Union indubitably displays its authentic attempts to work towards establishing a more eco-friendly environment. Whether the member countries will accept this ambitious decision remains to be seen; as of now, there is not majority support among the member states of the 60% vote.

Image: https://euobserver.com/opinion/140843

China Looks to Achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2060

by Sudhit Rao

In a recent United Nations General Assembly, Xi Jinping, president of China, the largest polluter of greenhouse gases in the world today, announced that he plans for China to go carbon-free by the year 2060. He detailed a “green revolution,” and came out with plans to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and slowly reduce them by 2060. 

China is responsible for a large portion of pollution although it is also a global leader in renewable energy. He stated, “China will scale up its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions by adopting more vigorous policies and measures. We call on all countries to pursue innovative, coordinated, green, and open development for all.” 

Although many climate activists were excited to hear the announcement, they were more adamant that Xi lives up to his pledge and execute this decades-long plan. Jennifer Morgan, a well-known climate activist with Greenpeace International responded on Twitter saying that Xi’s plan “is an important signal that responding to the climate crisis is top of mind and top of agenda for China.”

As for the plan itself, consultancy Wood Mackenzie, detailed that the process would take an enormous investment of $5 trillion to accomplish. According to them, solar, wind, and energy storage would each have to increase tenfold by the 2050s to around 5,040 gigawatts of energy. Concurrently, coal and gas power would have to decrease by about half to get close to the goal. Moreover, Prakesh Sharma, head of markets and transitions, states how the world must change socially too saying, “The most challenging part of the shift is not the investment or magnitude of renewable capacity additions but the social transition that comes with it.”

While Xi’s plan leaves us optimistic about China, the question remains whether the US will follow in China’s steps. Fighting climate change is a global effort, and currently, there is no concrete plan by the United States detailing how US carbon emissions will reduce.

Image: https://media.wired.com/photos/5c05d69be02cdf2d57026ba4/16:9/w_2400,h_1350,c_limit/chinaemissions-625667906.jpg

Britain’s Prince Williams Creates New Annual Environmental Award

by Arun

British Prince Williams has created a new environmental award in an effort to encourage citizens to create solutions to the pressing issue of global warming and climate change. The Prince has dedicated $65 million towards the cause and will be awarded for the first time in 2021. The prize will be called the Earthshot prize and will be awarded annually to five people or organizations that successfully address one of the problems of protecting and restoring nature, cleaning the air, reviving oceans, building a waste-free world, or fixing the climate. Similar to the prestige of the Nobel Prize, each winner of the Earthshot prize will receive the equivalent of $1.3 million USD.

The effort is among the first of many global leaders who are now working tirelessly to address the issue of the current climate crisis. Just two weeks ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced California’s plan of banning the sale of gasoline cars by the year 2035. These series of laws and orders come with a recent surge in the effect of climate change from the recent hurricanes to the devastating fires on the west coast. The Prince states that “the next ten years are a critical decade for change,” noting how we are in an imminent and closing period to work towards mitigating climate change before it is too late.

Global warming and environmental regulations have been long linked to politics, but it hasn’t been till recently, where the issue has become increasingly prominent. So much so, that the topic is one of the highest on the list for presidential debates to see how we can mitigate climate change from a political standpoint. Some of the obvious consequences of climate change have been the devastating forest fires, hurricanes, and natural disasters in general which have constantly increased year over year as a result of climate change. Many people, however, are immune to these natural disasters and hence do not feel its powerful effect. Many argue that economic development should continue and flourish before addressing climate change, while scientists argue that it may be too late to address it if we leave it off.

There’s no doubt climate change will be a hot topic for years to come, but with politicians slowly shifting towards actively addressing climate change through creating regulations or offering new awards like Prince William’s, the world seems to be taking the right step in the fight.

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Take Down the Climate Crisis Countdown Clock

by Anna Subbanna

Recently, Union Square’s midnight countdown clock has been changed to a climate crisis countdown clock. Sprawled across the facade of the building facing the square, are large numbers constantly reminding the people walking by that there are only seven years left to save the planet from climate change. However, during a time of mass anxiety due to the pandemic, rising unemployment, and political struggles, is it wise to add a sense of impending doom to that? 

The citizens that truly care about environmentalism are taking measures to reduce their carbon footprint including putting pressure on their local legislature to pass environmental protection laws. Around 67% of adults believe that their government is not doing enough to protect them from climate change and 63% of Americans are ready to deal with the cost of implementing stricter policies (Funk, Pew Research Center). To curb climate change is to reduce carbon emissions, chemical effluent, and waste production. Only one hundred companies are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions (Riley, The Guardian). In fact, just twenty of those companies produce one-third of the world’s emissions (Taylor, The Guardian). It is the responsibility of businesses to reduce carbon emissions enough to stop the dire consequences of climate change. Moreover, other damaging practices such as oil spills and improper toxic waste burials cannot be stopped by everyday people. Putting up a countdown in Union Square for hundreds of New Yorkers to see and thousands of Americans to read about is not appropriate when looking at those responsible. Americans know that protecting the environment is increasingly important, now it is up to the companies and legislators to act. 

How do we hold companies responsible? 

Most companies will not change their environmental policies on a whim, they need to be told to do so by the government. This can be done in a myriad of ways, but the most efficient ways will be monetary consequences (The Sanders Institute). For example, increasing penalties on pollution will force companies to be more responsible for their production and transportation methods. If an oil company does have a major spill, like Deepwater Horizon’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico, they need to be held fully accountable for the direct impact and indirect impact of their mistake.  They should pay for the cleanup of the oil and restoration of habitats impacted by it. Harsh and decisive legal action is the only way to stop climate change, not a countdown clock in the middle of a busy city.

Image: https://www.democracynow.org/images/headlines/73/54573/full_hd/h13-climate-activists-unveil-climate-clock-nyc-ahead-global-climate-strike.jpg

California Passes Most Aggressive Plastics Recycling Law in America

by Daanyal Raja

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a new law that requires all plastic beverage containers to be made with more recycled materials. With its introduction, companies that produce beverages must use 15% recycled plastic in all containers by 2022, 25% recycled plastic by 2025, and 50% recycled plastic by 2030. The law is the first of its kind in the nation and aims to reduce plastic litter. 

Supporters of bill AB 793 claim it will increase demand for recycled plastics and reduce pollution and resource consumption for goods that are used to make new plastics. 

Mark Murray, the executive director of Californians Against Waste, an environmental group based in Sacramento, called the law “the most ambitious, aggressive recycled plastics content law in the world.” 

“We are doing a really good job of collecting things for recycling,” Murray said. “The difficult part has been finding an end-use market for it. This new law is about closing the loop. Now companies that manufacture the plastic bottles have to buy them back. They’ll have the responsibility.”

The bill is a welcome addition, as many companies have already been moving towards recycled plastics in their products. Naked Juice’s bottles are made of 100% recycled content for all of its products and Evian aims to make all of its water bottles from 100% recycled plastic by 2025.

Plastic waste has become a major environmental problem, especially in the Oceans, where trash heaps such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch grow larger and larger.

A study from Science Advances estimates that only 9% of all plastics sold in the United States are recycled, with 13 million metric tons of it ends up in Oceans around the world every year. Once in the ocean, plastics are ingested by sea birds, fish, turtles, seals, and many other creatures, resulting in their deaths. The study also states that half the plastic ever produced was made in the last 13 years, highlighting how important it is that we curb our plastic production.

Plastic lasts for centuries, and constantly producing new products uses up great amounts of petroleum, which directly contributes to climate change. By being the first state in the nation to reduce its plastic production, California is leading a charge against climate change and hopes to set an example for other states to follow.

Image: https://www.mercurynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/STC-L-Plastic-0912.jpg?w=780

Hundreds of Protestors Break into German Mine in their fight Against Coal

by Saarang Kashyap

Hundreds of anti-coal protesters entered a mine in western Germany on Saturday to protest the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels.

Environmentalists object to the German government’s decision to allow the mining and burning of coal in the country until 2038, a deadline the activists say is too late to effectively tackle climate change. As stated by The Independent, “ The Garzweiler mine and nearby power plants have been a focus of protests for several years. Environmentalists say they are among the biggest sources of harmful pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in Europe.”

The big problem with moving away from coal is the lack of alternative economic opportunities. Although tens of thousands of mining jobs have been cut since the 1990s, most available employment in the region is still tied to coal. Mainstream German parties still support the industry, and as in other parts of Europe, the impact of green policies on traditional or left-behind communities has become a convenient agenda for populists and far-right politicians to latch on to.

Brown coal, or lignite, is the most polluting fuel in the world, and it still powers 14 % of Germany’s energy, which is a higher reliance than any other EU country. Additionally, the environmental impact of Germany’s reliance on coal is gruesome. Germany’s lignite mines have destroyed 175,000 hectares of the country’s landscape. Soil is considered dead since nothing grows in it afterward. Once the mine shuts and the pumps regulating the water levels are turned off, the ground becomes waterlogged.For Wiebke Witt, a brown coal expert for the NGO Klima Allianz Deutschland, Germany’s 2038 closure timeline fails to honor the 2015 Paris climate agreement on ending coal energy production.“When the end date for coal was negotiated, talks revolved around the amount of energy produced from coal and not for instance the impact it continues to have on the climate,” Witt says. This situation highlights an important statement: we must consider climate change as a significant factor during the conception of new rules and regulations, so people may be both positively economically and environmentally impacted.

Image: https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/hundreds-of-anti-coal-protesters-break-into-german-mine-1.5121407