Category: Politics

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.


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.


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.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s extensive involvement on Environmental Issues as Supreme Court Justice

by Sudhit Rao

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the eldest Supreme Court Justice recently passed away at the hands of pancreatic cancer. Appointed as Supreme Court Justice in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton, she is popular for her work on gender equality. In addition to that, she has a long-lasting record of voting on cases regarding climate change and the environment. 

In 2011, she was part of the unanimous decision to protect power companies from lawsuits from the state or private companies in American Electric Power Co. Inc. v. Connecticut. She previously voted to allow the federal government to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Act in Massachusetts vs EPA, in 2007. She stated, “The Act itself thus provides a means to seek limits on emissions of carbon dioxide from domestic power plants—the same relief the plaintiffs seek by invoking federal common law.”

Gina McCarthy, a well-known expert on environmental health and air quality and former EPA administrator, praises Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She says, “Through her expansive mind, sound temperament and unwavering judicial integrity, she plied the Constitution as a living instrument of American life, lending it meaning in the life of us all.” 

In addition to being a firm believer in the threat of climate change, she has also praised young Swedish Activist Greta Thunberg as one of the future leaders in the fight against climate change. She is keen on encouraging and spreading awareness amongst the younger generation, saying “The young people that I see are fired up, and they want our country to be what it should be. One of the things that makes me an optimist is young people.”

Ginsberg’s stay as Supreme Court Justice will not only be remembered for her work on gender issues, but also for fighting against climate change. She has truly been revolutionary and her legacy will be remembered for years to come.


California Governor Newsom Officially Phases Out Gas-Powered Cars by 2035

by Arun

This past week, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he will phase out gasoline-powered cars in order to reduce fossil fuel demand. By this executive order, all sales of passenger vehicles must be zero-emission by the year 2035. This move came with the intention of shifting the state away from being fossil fuel dependent and exposed to renewable energy.

Though the ruling seems extreme, it appears to be proportionally justified. In California, the transportation sector is responsible for more than half of all carbon pollution, 80 percent of smog pollution, and 95 percent of toxic diesel emissions (Source: Banning the sale of these pollution-causing vehicles is a surefire way to reduce what is responsible for half of California’s pollution.

In wake of this ruling and with the rising share of electric vehicle (EV) companies, many car manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Ford, among others, are embracing this change and are involved in the design and production of electric vehicles to meet the new market. With the regulation set in place for 15 years from now, it gives companies plenty of time to master and mass produce these electric vehicles to make them both convenient and affordable.

It is key to note, however, the fine print of this ruling. The ruling bans the sale of passenger cars, but not the use of cars. Cars purchased after 2035 must be electric, though existing cars can remain. With the extended lifetime of cars with the help of modern technology and maintenance, it will be a while until we truly see a zero-emission landscape.

It is ambitious, though Governor Newsom states that it “is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change.” In addition to providing support from the effect climate change has been having on California in the wake of the wildfires that have devastated the state and surrounding regions, Governor Newsom states that “cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse – and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”

Through this order, California joins the 15 other countries that have committed to phasing out gasoline-powered cars that pollute their nations. The regulations set rules and standards that other states can follow to address climate change on a large scale. With incentivizing and promoting renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, Governor Newsom shows his commitment to the environment among recent events that have devastated areas of California.


Trump Blames Forest Management, Not Climate Change, for California Forest Fires

by Daanyal Raja

Within the past month, West Coast states have been dealing with one of the most dangerous wildfire seasons ever. An overwhelming majority of climate and environmental scientists attribute these fires to rising temperatures and warmer weather across the West Coast, making wildfires more common and damaging. However, President Trump, a fervent denier of man-made climate change and global warming, blames the issue on forest management.

President Trump recently visited California, one of the states that were greatly impacted by the fires, toured some of the wildfire damage, and sat down with local and state officials to discuss the matter. During one meeting, California National Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot told Trump, “We want to work with you to really recognize the changing climate, and what it means to our forests” before warning “If we ignore that science, and sort of put our head in the sand, and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed protecting Californians.” Trump responded to this by claiming that the climate “would start getting cooler,” to which Crowfoot replied, “I wish science agreed with you.” 

Trump has been more than vocal about his beliefs regarding forest management and the wildfires in the past. At one of his rallies in Pennsylvania, he said “I see again the forest fires are starting […] They’re starting again in California. I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests — there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up,” claiming that some trees and leaves can instantaneously combust. He also said, “Maybe we’re just going to have to make [California] pay for it because they don’t listen to us,” he added. This hasn’t been the first time Trump has blamed the predominantly Democratic state and threatened to withhold money from them; he did the same in 2018 and 2019 as wildfires ravaged the state. 

However, Trump’s threats have yet to be implemented in any way. In fact, last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a new “shared stewardship” that combines forces from the U.S. Forest Service and California to work towards managing forests to reduce fire risk. Newsom also said “Wildfires don’t stop at jurisdictional boundaries. As we respond to wildfires in real-time this summer, improving coordination between the major stewards of California’s forested land will help us protect communities and restore forest health across California.”

EU Claims 13% of deaths are due to climate change the same day POTUS claims he is the “No. 1 Environmental President”

by Kaushal Kumar

Earlier this week, the UN reported that 13% of all deaths in the European Union (EU), including England, are due to climate change and the rapid warming of the globe. This data was gathered from the 627,000 deaths that were reported in 2012 due to climate change, the latest year which this data is available for. The EEA claimed that many of these deaths were preventable and action to fight against climate change would have saved many and will continue to save others in the future.

The largest killer is air pollution, responsible for over 400,000 deaths a year in the EU. These deaths also leave citizens more susceptible to illness, especially those that affect the lungs or breathing of the patient. The current global pandemic is an example. Those with weaker bodies due to prolonged exposure to air pollution are more likely to have serious symptoms and are more likely to die if infected with COVID-19.

This news comes the same day as the United States President, Donald Trump, claims that he is the “#1 environmental president” at a campaign rally in Florida. He claimed that Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden would leave the environment “permanently injured” and that the Trump Administration has done an incredible job protecting America’s environment. Trump has claimed that “the left’s agenda isn’t about protecting the environment. It is about punishing America.”

These claims come with some backlash from opposers who were quick to highlight Trump’s past comments about the environment where he claimed climate change was a hoax. His administration has also repealed over 100 environmental protections to help benefit oil and gas companies.

Any way one puts it, it is clear that climate change is having a larger impact on society than ever before. We are seeing hundreds of thousands of people die a year due to climate change, and with the data being almost 10 years old it is almost sure to be larger now. Climate change will continue to be a battle that this world will continue to fight, it is just a matter of how long it takes to either win or lose.

Trump EPA Eases Regulations on Toxic Metal Dumped in Water Bodies

by Sudhit Rao

The Oak Creek power plant by Lake Michigan is one of the largest sources of toxic metal pollution in the lake. It is in the top seven of toxic metal pollutants nationwide but is the major pollutant in Lake Michigan by a large margin. 

The heart of the problem lies with metals within the ash produced by coal burning and leftovers from scrubbers, which are meant to lower air pollution. This metal waste is mixed with water into a sloshy mess and is slowly let out into water bodies such as lakes and rivers, lowering water quality. These metals, when consumed by humans can cause cancer, damage organs, or even cause reproductive issues. 

During Obama’s administration, Obama’s EPA strengthened regulations that limited the amount of toxic metal that could be released into the lake which would still be in effect today. That is until Trump’s EPA loosened the regulation once taking office in 2017. Last week, they finally eliminated the standard completely, which excuses coal power plants such as Oak Creek from any sort of regulation. 

These changes would come at the expense of the 20 million Americans who rely on these water bodies to drink water and eat fish. Betsy Southerland, who led the development of the Obama rule back in 2015 said “There is just no way anyone can justify that trade-off.” Since Trump took office in 2017, the EPA has rollbacked on several environmental acts and this is just one of many. 

Lobbyists from the ever-declining coal industry, which is said to have a share of just 18% of electricity production down from 50% from 10 years ago, have had to lay off many since Obama introduced his acts. They claim that the Obama Administration failed “to consider accurately the cumulative costs of EPA’s major rules affecting the utility industry, the coal industry, and the communities depending on them.”

Trump’s EPA has setback the fight against climate change by making coal power plants such as Oak Creek exempt from most requirements for another decade. These changes will be put in front of a court while coal companies have put any projects on hold until then. The future of the coal industry remains unknown but what we do know is according to Southerland, “They had an opportunity here to protect people at a fraction of the costs we estimated. They just choose not to do so.”

Trump Administration Rolls Back Clean Water Regulation Tied With Coal Plants

by The Incentive

This past Monday, the Trump Administration finalized a plan to roll back coal plant pollution regulations that were initially created during the Obama administration to reduce pollution in wastewater. 

The decision to roll back these regulations comes as a consequence as utilities will now be loosely regulated in their compliance with pollution regulations in that they now have a longer period of time to respond to the regulations, allowing for pollution to continue on. Additionally, at the benefit of these utilities, they will be able to use cheaper technologies that are less environmentally appropriate which can lead to an uptick in pollution in the near future. 

These rollbacks were made by EPA chief Andrew Wheeler in a decision that was made in the interest of the economy to preserve industrial jobs as utilities would save an average of $140 million annually. Though a temporary bolstering of the economy is warranted, concerns are rising over the lack of concern over the current status of the environment. 

The regulation, which was instituted during the Obama administration was made in part to the statistic that 30% of toxic water pollution, which leads to ocean acidification, is in due part to coal pollution. The fine print of the new rule set in stone by the EPA gives utilities several more years, until 2025, or 2028 if the company takes voluntary steps to reduce their pollution, to become more environmentally friendly as per the EPA’s regulation that aims to reduce pollution by over 1 million pounds annually. However, the short term implications of giving utilities a grace period to help the industry save money, though in the economy’s best interest, will have a significant implication on the environment.

Environmental law firms will challenge the ruling at court, though it is clear that there seems to be controversy around regulations that have been moved or shifted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A loss of jobs and an unemployment rate which is still at large, though improving, is warranting some extreme measures at the cost of the environment.

In the short term, these decisions seem to be problematic for the environment as there will be an uptick in pollution as utilities will be allowed to use cheaper technologies in the name of saving money. However, in the long term, the consequences of these decisions, along with the others made during the pandemic, are yet to be seen.

EPA Weakens Obama Administration Methane Pollution Regulations

by Kaushal Kumar

Over the past year, the Trump Administration’s EPA has been working on a rule to weaken the current laws that place heavy regulations on the amount of methane that energy companies can release into the atmosphere while forcing them to make sure they repair faulty infrastructure and maintain low levels of pollution. These old regulations were put into place by the Obama Administration and were meant to combat climate change through regulation of the fossil fuel industry. However, the EPA claims that these rules are greatly “harmful to small and medium businesses”, as it is very expensive to maintain pipes, storage facilities, and wells to ensure that they are not leaking gas into the air. The newest ruling eliminates that federal requirement, allowing businesses to not have to monitor methane pollution that may be coming from their pipes or other buildings.

This is just one of the many rulings that the EPA has made in favor of the American fossil fuel industry. Earlier this summer, the EPA passed a ruling that is meant to speed up the process of building energy infrastructure by shortening the time needed to get all required permits to build. This choice was highly controversial and was opposed by many who claim, “the decision curtail the public’s right to have a say in the development of pipelines and other projects in their neighborhoods.”

Methane gas pollution is a major cause of global warming and its impact on the atmosphere is estimated to be around 84 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Methane is also the driving factor for approximately 25% of total global warming over the last few decades, with at least a third of that coming from the US energy industry. With the newest regulations brought in by the EPA, experts only expect this number to rise, drawing serious concerns about the world’s future battle against climate change.

Even though the rulings seem favorable to the fossil fuel industry, many large companies have spoken out against the rulings citing their own pledges to fight against climate change and reduce their methane pollution. Smaller companies are happier with the decision, claiming that the old regulations were too restrictive and are especially happy to see something go their way with the recent drop in oil and gas prices during the pandemic.