From the windows of the modern, asymmetrically-shaped conference center where the climate summit is being held in Katowice, Poland, are visions of giant smokestacks billowing coal emissions.
In fact, coal — the greenhouse gas producing scourge of environmentalists — can be seen in every direction in the city that sits on a huge coal deposit. It’s piled high in the distance near the smokestacks and proudly on display in an array of shapes and sizes at the city’s booth next to the official state kiosk. Even the color of the futuristic Jetsons-like conference center is charcoal.
It’s a sign that this United Nations climate summit isn’t business as usual for the delegates who’ve gathered to discuss ways to lower emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to make the world livable for the remainder of this century and those to come.
Not only is the host city absolutely crazy over coal, where everyone knows someone who labors in the mines, but President Trump, who has been dismissive of climate science, has changed the game. Environmentalists liken him to a pied piper for a number of climate skeptics who are attending for the first time.
The Heartland Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute sent delegates who deny the determination by an overwhelming consensus of climate scientists who say human emissions are causing the planet to warm, arctic ice to melt, oceans and temperatures to rise, and more wildfires to burn.
“He’s opened the door to people who were on the fringe to be in the room and spread their fact-free message,” Keith Gaby, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, said of Trump. “The president doesn’t believe his own government when it comes to climate change and he’s emboldened others to come forward.”
Gaby was referring to a major government report released on Black Friday showing that warming is quickly reaching a tipping point that could change the planet — for the worse — permanently in some cases. Amid the economic catastrophe it would cause, dozens of animal species will disappear.
Regardless, the Trump administration is planning an event Monday at the climate conference to promote the use of fossil fuels as the vast majority of delegates work to dramatically lower it. The Heartland Institute held a conference “to counter … alarmism” and critique climate science. The Associated Press reported that about 10 people showed up.
The defense fund felt compelled to send a long list of climate facts to counter those who say the research supporting it is a hoax, or “junk science.” Ninety-nine percent of scientists, including those from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stand with the United Nations and governments fighting climate change.
Reached by telephone to explain the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s position, its president Myron Ebell said he was busy. When called at an appointed time, he didn’t pick up or respond to voice messages.
On Thursday, Politico released a poll showing that a majority of Americans, 58 percent, believe climate change is real and being caused by humans. But opinions broke sharply along partisan lines, with 78 Democrats who responded pointing the fingers at human causes against only 34 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of independents.
Trump isn’t following the advice of the climate report: he’s doing the opposite. A few days after the blockbuster climate report alarmed Americans about the potential impacts of fossil fuel use, the Trump administration took steps to aggressively drill and mine for fossil fuels, as I reported along with The Post’s David Nakamura.
On Nov. 30, NOAA Fisheries issued “incidental take” permits giving five companies permission to harass, harm or kill marine mammals when blasting sounds underwater to map the Atlantic Ocean floor. The mapping could usher oil and natural gas drilling off the Eastern Seaboard for the first time in half a century.
On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency moved to erase the Obama administration’s attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. The EPA wants to remove regulations that requires such plants to install technologies that captures and reduces smokestack emissions.
That same day, the Interior Department greatly relaxed rules protecting an iconic bird called sage grouse on 9 million acres of land in the West to allow oil exploration, natural gas drilling and mineral mining. In addition to threatening the small remaining population of sage grouse, natural gas drilling — or fracking — produces significant quantities of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.
Carbon dioxide mostly from coal plants accounts for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Methane from the production and burning of natural gas pretty much covers the rest.
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— “This is not okay”: Some Democrats are questioning the lobbying ties of the panelists who spoke at a Harvard orientation for freshman lawmakers. In one session at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics Bipartisan Orientation Program, which The Post’s Jeff Stein reports is a “traditionally uncontroversial affair, “ a former congressman Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) who made remarks was described in an itinerary as a “vice chair in the Institute of Politics and a former member of Congress” but he “also founded a lobbying firm, the Delahunt Group, which in 2018 lobbied for Fuels America, a biofuel lobbying group, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.” Mark Gearan, director of the Harvard Institute of Politics, said the orientation was not meant to “push any agenda.”
Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is one of the freshman Democrats criticizing the orientation:
Whoah – looks like our Congressional orientation had a lot more lobbyists than we thought.
This is not okay. Lobbyists are not impartial – they are employed to influence legislation.
60 incoming members were listening to panelists without knowing which were hired lobbyists. https://t.co/hDHagMNAJE
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) December 7, 2018
— Plans to reclaim fracking waste water: In New Mexico, state officials have a plan to push oil companies to treat and recycle fracking waste water so it can be used in agriculture or even as drinking water. State officials are working with the EPA on the details, Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Post.
Reclaimed water waste could help New Mexico farmers and ranchers, factories, and wildlife habitats. “During fracking, oil companies inject fluid — a mixture of water and chemicals, plus sand — deep underground into rock formations to release oil and natural gas,” Beitsch writes. “For every barrel of oil fracking produces in New Mexico, it yields up to five barrels of ‘produced water’ — a combination of the excess fracking water and water released from the rock. Sometimes oil companies reuse the waste water to bring up more oil, but in many cases they dispose of it by pumping it deep underground using bore holes called injection wells.”
Still, environmentalists are skeptical: “Even after it is treated, they argue, the water can be tainted by harmful metals or chemicals used in fracking, creating long-term risks for people and the environment,” Beitsch reports.
— Macron to address nation following demonstrations: French President Emmanuel Macron is set to address his country on Monday following another set of protests over the weekend in Paris that initially sparked over a planned increase in fuel taxes. “Macron’s last televised address was on Nov 27, when he said he would not be bounced into changing policy by ‘thugs,’” Reuters reports. “Since then, he canceled a planned rise in fuel taxes last Tuesday to try to defuse the situation but the protests have morphed into a broader anti-Macron rebellion.”
— Carbon tax a hard sell: Environmentalists have increasingly turned away from the idea of taxing carbon to combat the changing climate, as evidenced by recent events including the defeat of a carbon tax ballot measure in Washington state last month and the fuel-tax protests in Paris, Politico’s Zack Colman and Eric Wolff report. “The story of the carbon tax’s fading appeal, even among groups that like it in principle, shows the difficulties of crafting a politically palatable solution to one of the world’s most urgent problems — including greenhouse gas levels that are on track to reach a record high this year,” they write. “Even some progressives who support a carbon tax, such as [Ocasio-Cortez] are promoting it as just one possible element of a sweeping ‘Green New Deal’ that includes pouring huge amounts of money into renewable energy.”
— A push for a climate agenda in 2020: Hundreds of demonstrators are planning to descend on Capitol Hill on Monday to push Democrats on the Green New Deal in part to push the party to support a sweeping climate change agenda ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign, the Associated Press reports. “Organizers with the Sunrise Movement activist group frame it as a make-or-break issue for Democratic voters, particularly young ones,” per the report. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who held a climate change town hall last week alongside Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, has already “staked out an early claim on the issue.”
— Coal is still king in Poland: The Post’s William Booth and Magdalena Foremska take a deep dive – half a mile underground to a coal mine in Pawlowice – to explain in part why Poland is not yet ready to move away from is major power production source.
“There is no strategy to fully phase out coal in Poland today,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said at the U.N. conference last Monday. “We have supplies for 200 years and it would be difficult for us to give up coal — thanks to which we have energy sovereignty.”
— The planet has experienced sudden warming before: The mass extinction that occurred 252 million years ago may parallel the climate change occurring today, the New York Times reports. A group of scientists detail in a new study published in the journal Science what happened at the end of the Permian Period, including how “global warming robbed the oceans of oxygen, they say, putting many species under so much stress that they died off.” “And we may be repeating the process, the scientists warn,” according to the Times. “If so, then climate change is ‘solidly in the category of a catastrophic extinction event,’ said Curtis Deutsch, an earth scientist at the University of Washington and co-author of the new study.”
— How a shortening ice season is impacting life in the Arctic: One of the most dramatic examples of climate change on the ground may be in Utqiaġvik, the northernmost town in the country, which NPR writes “sits right on the edge of the Arctic Ocean at the very top of Alaska.” The season where sea ice lines the coast is shortening and its impacting how the locals in the town hunt. “Iñupiat hunters eat ringed seal meat, use the skin for clothing and the oil to build hand-made boats. They can only hunt on the ice when it’s thick and stable enough to support their weight,” per the report. “But this year in October, instead of ice there were waves crashing on shore. Now in December, ice has been forming in fits and starts for about a month.”
— GM fights to keep electric car tax credit: General Motors is battling to retain subsidies for electric vehicles as the company faces the fallout from its decision to lay off thousands of workers and halt production at five plants. “Preserving the $7,500 tax incentive for buyers is crucial for GM as the company pivots from internal combustion engines in favor of building cars powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. Yet the layoffs and plant closings could imperil GM’s push to keep the incentive,” the Associated Press reports. “GM faces opposition from President Donald Trump and other Republicans who consider the credit a waste of taxpayer money and want it eliminated… The company already is on the verge of being phased out of the tax credit program unless Congress changes a law that caps the break at 200,000 vehicles per manufacturer.”
— Big company, big dollars, small community: Even as some in Virginia are protesting Dominion Energy ahead of a critical state permit vote over the building of a natural-gas compressor station, some are speaking on behalf of Dominion too. Those who are speaking out for Dominion, The Post’s Gregory S. Schneider reports, “have been swayed, in part, by an unprecedented $5.1 million ‘community investment package’ offered by the utility to the few hundred people in the area known as Union Hill,” he writes. “It’s a powerful inducement in a place with a difficult history, a remote area settled by free blacks and emancipated slaves after the Civil War…However, the money has done what it usually does when injected into a volatile mix of strong feelings, racial tension and fear of change: It has sharpened divisions.”
- The Atlantic Council holds an event on “American Research Leadership to Ensure a Safe Climate.”
- The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on environment is scheduled to hold a hearing on a discussion draft of the 21st Century Transportation Fuels Act on Tuesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks is scheduled to hold a legislative hearing on Wednesday.
- The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds a holiday reception with the president of American Public Power Association on Thursday.
— “You could never ask for better animals”: Madison, an Anatolian shepherd mix, survived the raging Camp Fire, and awaited the return of his owner near what was left of their home in Paradise, Calif. Last week, when evacuation orders were lifted, they were finally reunited, The Post’s Michael Brice-Saddler writes. “Imagine the loyalty of hanging in through the worst of circumstances and being here waiting,” Madison’s owner Andrea Gaylord told ABC10. “You could never ask for better animals.”