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The Climate 202

These climate actions make the biggest difference, book says

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! ICYMI, Friday was Gina McCarthy's last day as President Biden's top climate adviser. We appreciated that the cake at her going-away party said “less carbon, more charging” — or “cah-bon” as McCarthy would say in her signature Boston accent. 🎂😂 But first:

Citizens can act on climate change. Here's how to start, according to a new book.

For many Americans, climate change can feel like a vast and insurmountable problem. And individual actions to combat the crisis, such as buying an electric car, can seem like they will barely register on a planetary scale.

A new book aims to counteract this mind-set and empower all Americans to become climate activists. In “The Big Fix: Seven Practical Steps to Save Our Planet,” energy expert Hal Harvey and journalist Justin Gillis argue that we can all become “green citizens” and take grass-roots political actions that will make a difference for our climate. 

Some of the most meaningful actions, they write, can happen at the state and local level. In Montgomery County, Md., for instance, a group of local citizens persuaded the school board to replace all of its diesel buses with electric buses. The move will protect children from diesel fumes, which can trigger asthma, and will slash carbon emissions from the transportation sector, the nation's biggest source of planet-warming pollution.

The Climate 202 spoke with Harvey, CEO of the think tank Energy Innovation, and Gillis, a freelance writer formerly with The Washington Post and the New York Times, before the book's release on Tuesday.

The following Q&A has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity:

Climate 202: What was the motivation for this book?

Harvey: Because the carbon budget is nearing exhaustion, we don't have time to make choices that are either the wrong choices or nice ideas that can't be scaled up. So one of our goals was to ensure that people who are interested in the climate world have very clear paths to action that will scale. It's a sad dissipation of energy to work on projects that just don't deliver. We can't afford that.

Gillis: For years, Hal and I have heard from people, “This problem just seems so big, and I'm so small. What can I possibly do about it?” People feel really disempowered by the climate problem. So we wanted to open up people's imagination and help them realize that decisions are being made all around them, every day, to perpetuate the fossil fuel economy. There's actually a lot of opportunities for people to intervene.

Climate 202: In the book, you give a lot of examples of climate activism at the state and local level. Can that have more impact than activism at the federal level, such as lobbying members of Congress?

Harvey: States set the regulations under which utilities operate. So whether your utility bill goes to a coal-fired power plant or offshore wind turbine, those are regulations set by states. And they're usually set by public utility commissions. There are 50 of them, and they have immense power. And they don't get that much attention. They should, because they are the single most important decision-making body in America with respect to our climate.

Gillis: Of course, Washington is quite important. This recent climate law is quite important. But it turns out that a whole lot of the political traction is not necessarily in Washington. A lot of the barriers that we face right now need to get solved at the state and local level. 

For example, we have to build a huge amount of renewable energy, but we're already seeing a lot of pushback on land use from “not in my backyard” people. Land use decisions are local decisions, with significant oversight by the state. If citizens don't get involved in this, then the naysayers and the NIMBY people are going to win and stop us from doing what we need to do. 

Climate 202: What is a good example of a climate action that an individual can take to make a meaningful difference?

Harvey: Whenever the federal government wants to set air quality regulations, they have to go through a public hearing. These are often obscure forums where industry representatives say the rules will be cost-prohibitive. But people who are affected by the decision can show up. So when they're permitting a new natural gas power plant, for example, there should be moms and dads of asthmatic kids in the room. There should be people from the front-line communities who are downwind of the pollution. And that can be fantastically powerful.

Extreme events

Hurricane Fiona knocks out power to all of Puerto Rico, creates dangerous conditions

Hurricane Fiona rammed into Puerto Rico on Sunday as a Category 1 storm, cutting power to the entire island, bringing 100 mph wind gusts to some areas and causing life-threatening flash flooding, Matthew Cappucci, Jacqueline Alemany and Praveena Somasundaram report for The Post. 

As the winds and rain escalated Sunday, all 3.2 million people on the island were without power, according to PowerOutage.us, a site that tracks power failures. As of early Monday morning, more than 1.3 million residents were without power. Luma Energy, the private energy company contracted by Puerto Rico to manage its electrical transmission and distribution system, said it could take several days to restore power and asked customers for “patience.”

The National Hurricane Center has warned of “catastrophic flooding” from the storm for both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. President Biden approved an emergency declaration for the island on Sunday, freeing up federal resources to support local disaster relief. 

Since Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico without power for months in 2017, residents have called on the local and federal government to improve the territory's disaster response and recovery efforts, as well as its beleaguered power grid.

On Monday morning, Fiona made landfall in the Dominican Republic, Elizabeth Wolfe and Melissa Alonso report for CNN. The storm came ashore at 3:30 a.m. Eastern time with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

On the Hill

Groups lobby Congress to create national clean fuel standard

An initiative representing utilities, renewable fuel producers, environmentalists, electric vehicle charging companies and other interests is calling on the next Congress to pass legislation creating a national clean fuel standard.

Members of the DriveClean initiative, which launched Monday, include the EV start-up Rivian, the Renewable Fuels Association and the New York League of Conservation Voters. The initiative has hired Lot Sixteen, a bipartisan lobbying and communications firm.

California and Oregon have already implemented a clean fuel standard, which requires fuel suppliers to reduce the carbon intensity of their products, including gasoline and diesel. In May, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed legislation to establish a clean fuel standard on Jan. 1, 2023, after suffering several defeats in his years-long quest to enact the policy.

The DriveClean initiative argues that a national standard is necessary because the Inflation Reduction Act will have minimal impact on cutting carbon emissions from transportation by 2030, according to modeling by the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm.

Opponents of a clean fuel standard have argued that the policy would raise gasoline prices for consumers. But Mary Solecki, a consultant for the DriveClean initiative, said on a Thursday call with reporters that California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard has had “no discernible impact on fuel prices” since its enactment in 2007.

Pressure points

The U.S. safety net was built for cold winters. Hot summers threaten it.

For decades, the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program has helped Americans with the costs of heating their homes during winter. But now, scorching summers and growing cooling costs are running up people’s energy bills for longer periods of time, straining the federal safety net and showing how the government is struggling to keep up with the ways climate change affects some of the most vulnerable Americans, The Post’s Dino Grandoni and Anna Phillips report. 

Already, about 85 percent of the $3.8 billion in funding given to the program this year has gone to winter heating bills, leaving very little for those enduring an extremely hot summer. While most federal and state lawmakers can agree that a warm home is essential, some still see cooling as a luxury, despite rapidly rising temperatures tied to human-caused global warming. 

On the Hill this week

On Tuesday: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment will hold a hearing on the Clean Water Act on its 50th anniversary.

  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will meet to examine the Public Lands and Waters Climate Leadership Act, which was introduced last week by Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and would ban new fossil fuel leasing and permitting on public lands and waters until the Interior Department and the Forest Service can prove that the emissions from additional oil and gas projects are consistent with President Biden’s near-term climate targets.
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on scientific solutions to climate change and the rapidly changing Arctic, which has warmed at least four times as fast as the global average.

On Wednesday: The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on the resilience of the nation's water infrastructure amid a prolonged drought in the American West and increased extreme precipitation events.

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a business meeting to consider multiple nominations, including Joseph Goffman to lead the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Air and Radiation and six candidates to be members of the board of directors for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Immediately afterward, the committee will hold a hearing on state and local implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law.
  • The Senate Energy and National Resources National Parks Subcommittee will meet to assess 16 pieces of legislation to designate new national monuments and historical sites.

On Thursday: The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy will meet to examine whether certain industries — including the fossil fuel sector — have raised prices for consumers and driven inflation. 

  • The House Natural Resources Committee will hold an oversight hearing on Luma Energy’s contract to manage, operate and rebuild Puerto Rico’s power transmission and distribution system. The hearing was scheduled before Hurricane Fiona slammed the island.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will meet to examine the benefits and challenges of deploying new battery and non-battery technologies for energy storage.

In the atmosphere

Viral

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