Don’t Strand Your Assets

Some of our oil and gas reserves “will never see the light of day.”

Dominic Emery, British Petroleum’s (BP) Head of Strategy, July, 2019

In fact, a LOT of BP’s oil and gas reserves will never see the light of day!  Neither will ExxonMobil’s, Chevron’s or Total’s. BP was one of the first of the Big Oil companies to admit that the immense reserves they have carried on their accounting books as “assets” for years may turn out to be “liabilities” instead. They are called “stranded assets,” meaning they were once assets to the company that are never going to be needed or used. 

Why?

The demand for fossil fuels is drying up. The Paris Agreement calls for every country in the world to limit their carbon dioxide emissions and prevent the atmosphere from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F). Burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation is the most carbon intensive and damaging environmental act there is.

Pie chart of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector in 2017. 27 percent is from electricity, 28 percent is from transportation, 22 percent is from industry, 12 percent is from commercial and residential, and 10 percent is from agriculture.
Source: EPA.gov

Each country around the globe signed it. When have you ever known all the leaders of the world to agree on anything? Then, in 2019, the US announced plans to withdraw from it. These plans are effective one day after the next Presidential election, on November 4, 2020. Luckily for the U.S., cities and states in America are taking matters into their own hands. Fed up with methane leaks, oil spills and water polluted by coal ash, communities across the nation have been embracing “clean” energy through solar, wind and thermal sources. It is better for our health and for the planet. Not to mention that the price of renewable energy has fallen dramatically, especially in the last 10 years. The green movement has caused investors to demand that colleges, pension funds, and IRA’s be “divested” of fossil fuel companies or those that rely on dirty energy. The rallying cry to “leave it in the ground” has gotten louder while Big Oil has been asleep at the wheel. 

Enter the coronavirus in January, 2020.

Talk about grinding the gears of the economy to a halt! Airplanes were grounded. Shipping cargo was set adrift. Cars and buses all but disappeared from streets and highways. People stayed home. In just 3 months, energy stocks crashed by 50%. What that looks like in dollars is staggering: the top 25 oil and gas companies lost an eye-popping $811 billion by the end of March. Close to one million fossil fuel workers have been laid off, and bankruptcies could number over 150 companies in the oil and gas sector. Shale-drilling companies will be among the first to go since they are already debt-heavy and unable to borrow any more money.

Much like the “tech bubble” of the 2000’s and the “housing bubble” of 2008, a looming “carbon bubble” has developed. Big Oil needs to earn about $40/barrel to be profitable. Today, it is going for $15.35, and it has been much worse. For Big Oil, stranded assets are not just their oil and gas reserves; its’ also the 2.6 million miles of pipelines and the fossil fuel power plants that they connect. Here are the numbers:

  • Over $120 billion of oil and gas assets will be stranded in the next 15 years in the U.S. ($90 billion in fossil fuel power plants plus $30 billion in pipelines).
  • Globally, there are $22 trillion worth of stranded oil and gas reserves. The U.S. fossil fuel industry can claim at least $5 trillion of this. 

Stranded assets are not a new concept. They are part of a technology evolution called “creative destruction”, which is essential for innovation and growth. The idea is that every new technology replaces or destroys the one before it. For example, handwritten manuscripts were replaced by printing presses which were replaced by word processing software. Railways replaced canals and were in turn replaced by automobiles. Whole societies have fallen victim to it as well. Remember the Ottoman Empire? By refusing to adopt the printing press, the Ottoman’s had no mass communication in place to warn their population when invading armies attacked. Over half of the Fortune 500 companies from the year 2000 do not exist today. How can Big Oil prevent becoming the next Kodak or Blockbuster?

The companies that embrace and morph into the next technology the soonest are the ones that will survive. Companies such as Orsted are successfully evolving. Formerly the Danish Oil and Natural Gas Company (DONG), it changed its name in 2017 after divesting of upstream oil and gas businesses and switching to renewables.

It’s named for the man who discovered electromagnetism, Hans Christian Orsted, and it built the largest offshore wind farm on the planet, the Hornsea Project in the U.K. It also built the first offshore wind farm to the U.S., off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island. There, the turbine bases serve as artificial reefs, attracting marine life and fisherman (so much so that it figures prominently in the Block Island Tourism Guide). The Madrid-based company, Repsol, is also adapting to the “new normal.”  A self-proclaimed “leader in the clean energy transition” it has committed to having net-zero emissions by 2050 by developing wind and solar renewable energy projects each year. Repsol is transparent about impairment caused by stranded assets, lowering the value of its reserves and taking a $5.17 billion dollar loss on production assets in 2019. Repsol considers it part of the price tag for their environmental ambitions. It may be a small price to pay for survival. Other fossil fuel companies would do well to follow their lead, writing off stranded assets and transitioning to renewable energy projects. That may be the only way to guarantee a place in the Fortune 500 in 2050. 

Photo at the top via Flickr Creative Commons

The Vanishing Need for Fracked Gas in Virginia

Last week, Governor Ralph Northam signed the Virginia Clean Economy Act into law, making Virginia the first Southern state with a goal of going carbon-free by 2045. Thanks to the bill, Virginia’s energy future looks a lot cleaner.

The future for gas, on the other hand, is a lot less rosy. 

The VCEA floors it on clean energy, taking Virginia from nearly zero to 100 in a matter of years. It mandates that the state’s biggest utility, Dominion Energy, switch entirely to renewable energy by 2045. Appalachian Power, which serves far southwest Virginia, must go carbon-free by 2050. It requires Dominion to build 16,100 megawatts of onshore wind and solar energy, and it proclaims up to 5,200 MW of offshore wind by 2034 to be in the public interest. 

The General Assembly also passed a bill this year allowing Virginia to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a regional carbon-trading program now in place from Maine to Virginia. With Virginia joining RGGI, all fossil fuel generating plants will be required to pay for the right to spew carbon pollution. 

What might all of this mean for gas? 

We got an early sign earlier this month when Dominion asked its regulator, the State Corporation Commission, to relieve it of a requirement to model new gas plants. In December 2018, the utility was planning for eight to 13 new gas combustion turbines (a plan the SCC rejected because the company inflated electricity demand).

Today “significant build-out of natural gas generation facilities is not currently viable, with the passage by the General Assembly of the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020,” the company wrote in its filing.

You read that right. Their previous plans are no longer viable.

If additional gas plants aren’t viable in Virginia, then what’s the purpose of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines? 

Dominion’s primary argument for the ACP has been that “Virginia needs new pipeline infrastructure” for home heating, manufacturing, and electricity. “Demand for natural gas is growing,” Dominio CEO Tom Farrell continued in an October 2018 op-ed in the Richmond Times Dispatch. Likewise, MVP claims its gas is desperately needed. 

Yet even before passage of the VCEA, the need for these pipelines was in question. Only about 13 percent of Mountain Valley’s gas was spoken for, with the destination for the remaining 87 percent “unknown.” And, in a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring argued that Virginia already had no demonstrated need for the expansion of fracked-gas infrastructure, with demand only projected to decrease in the foreseeable future. 

Is Dominion on its way to walking away from the project?

One sign that Dominion might be on the way to abandoning the ACP is the fact that the company did not oppose HB167 (sponsored by Delegate Lee Ware), which is now law. This bill requires an electric utility that wants to charge customers for the cost of using a new gas pipeline to prove it can’t meet its needs otherwise, and that the new pipeline provides the lowest-cost option available to it. This bill makes cost recovery for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline–and the Mountain Valley Pipeline–much more difficult. Dominion’s acquiescence to the bill could be an indication that the company is preparing to fold up shop on this project.

With Virginia now on a path away from fossil fuels, the ACP and MVP are not needed to supply electricity to Virginians, if they ever were. Dominion and EQT should cancel their plans and move on. 

Two other projects may also be on their way out under Virginia’s new commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Developers are proposing two huge new gas plants only a mile away from one another in Charles City County. Neither the 1,600 MW Chickahominy Power Station nor the 1,050 C4GT plant plan to sell power to Virginia utilities; their target is the regional wholesale market. So, while the VCEA won’t force them to go green, they will have to pay to pollute under RGGI. This added cost, plus the permitting issues the plants are encountering, could persuade them to abandon their plans. 

And, if the C4GT plant goes away, so too should Virginia Natural Gas’s plans for a gas pipeline and compressor stations to supply the plant, what we’re calling the Header Injustice Project.

All in all, gas is on its way out in Virginia. We only wish the companies had seen the writing on the wall before they started seizing land, cutting down precious trees, and clogging rivers and streams with sediment.

This Earth Month: Take these 4 local steps while you “think globally”

By Mike Tidwell

I used to be a globe-hopping environmental activist. I went to climate change conferences in Montreal and Copenhagen. I travelled regionally, too, to Richmond and Annapolis, to harangue legislators. The travel made me part of the pollution problem, of course. But I bought “carbon offsets” to compensate, saving Amazon rainforests. 

Now, like you, I’m quarantined. On the 50th anniversary of Earth Month, I occupy a roughly 10-square-block universe around my house. Yet I’ve discovered four new activities that give me the power to act locally – and I mean inside my house and neighborhood – while keeping global climate change at the center of my activist life. 

So cue the drum roll. Here’s a summary of four cool activities I’m taking this Earth Month, followed by more details below. 1) I’m saving hundreds of local trees with my bare hands; 2) I’m writing hundreds of letters to out-of-state swing voters; 3) I’m riding a bike to protest Big Oil companies; and 4) – perhaps most important – I’m laughing a lot. I seek out laughter more than ever. My comedian friend Robert Mac reminds me that jokes can go viral too and that laughter is contagious. So we’re organizing the first-ever zoom comedy show to celebrate Earth Month and support a local food bank. Buy tickets here.

Now, in more depth, here are the four things that keep me sane and busy – and that might help you too: 

EARTH MONTH ACTION #1: Saving hundreds of trees in my neighborhood – Every day I keep at least one tree, and sometimes as many as ten, from falling to the ground, decomposing, and making global warming worse.

It began with the biggest tree in my neighborhood, about 10 blocks from my house. That tree is at least 150 years old, a tulip poplar. I first noticed it from atop a high-rise office building where I live in Takoma Park, MD. The tree hovered in the distance, twice as tall as the rest of the urban canopy in my neighborhood, which overlaps Maryland and Washington, DC. It’s a magical tree, a giant at least 90 feet tall. 

I set off one recent morning to see the tree up close. I take more walks in this world of social distancing. When I arrived at the corner of 6th and Butternut Streets, NW, I was both amazed and horrified. The tree’s trunk – 14 feet in circumference – was supporting a vast network of titanic branches shading much of the block. 

But then I noticed the tragedy. The tree was being strangled to death. Half of its massive, godlike body was covered in, and choking from, English Ivy

Multiple studies show that rising CO2 levels worldwide act as a “super fertilizer” to noxious weeds and vines like English Ivy and wisteria. But it took a viral pandemic to get me walking more and seeing the mass death these vines are bringing to my own neighborhood – and yours. 

A few days later, my son Sasha and I needed only about 20 minutes to save the 150-year-old tree. With the permission of the homeowner (friendly but ivy “blind”) we used garden clippers and a simple pruning saw to remove a thick matt of ivy vines at the base of the tree, thus dooming the climbing vines above us. Twenty minutes to save a tree that’s been growing for one and a half centuries!!

Now I’m obsessed with saving trees from ivy. I hand out this educational flier at every house I see on my morning walks where trees are being choked. I estimate there are at least one thousand – one THOUSAND – trees dying from noxious weeds within ten blocks for my house, each of which can be rescued within a few minutes. My goal, this Earth Month, is to personally save 100 of them and to recruit my neighbors to save the rest. 

That’s a total of 1000 tons of carbon dioxide sequestered over the lifetime of those trees, by the way – a ton per tree. My 100 trees alone offset my personal carbon footprint for about 10 years! I know we need to plant trees by the billions worldwide to help fight climate change. But we’ve got to save what we already have too. Won’t you join me during your own pandemic morning walks? Learn more here and here.

EARTH MONTH ACTION #2: Writing letters to potential voters in swing-state Pennsylvania – So this one’s a no-brainer. A nonprofit called Vote Forward allows you to personally write voters in several key states and encourage them to vote. Vote Forward targets folks in Democrat-leaning districts who historically have not voted. The process is super simple. You sign up. They send you as many letters as you want to write, with the voter’s name and address already displayed. You hand write your encouraging letter. Then you sit on the letters until October and mail them in. I’m in the process of writing 100 letters now to residents of Pennsylvania. Will you join me? You can also pick other target swing states like North Carolina and Texas.

EARTH MONTH ACTION #3: Riding a bike to draw attention to oily banks and dirty companies – Okay, for this one I’ve got to leave my neighborhood to get political. On April 30th, my friends at #ShutdownDC are planning a safe and creative bicycle action as part of their “Earth Day to May Day” series of activities. We’ll be keeping our distance, riding in pairs or solo, as we swing by the offices of some of the world’s worst climate criminals in Washington, DC. Sign up for more information on the bike ride here. If you just want to take in the activities by zoom, sign up here

EARTH MONTH ACTION #4: Laughing and laughing. The first-ever CCAN comedy show to raise money for a local food bank — Now, more than ever, we need the medicine of laughter as we save Mother Earth. Every day, I find myself going out of my way to try to find humor in the world and share it with others. That’s why the Chesapeake Climate Action Network is so excited to sponsor DC-area comic Robert Mac and his hilarious show “Comedy Night for Earth Day.” It’s a one-hour Zoom comedy special that will premiere on Thursday, April 30th, 8 pm. Tickets are just $10. Proceeds go to the Capital Area Food Bank.

Robert Mac has a skill for bringing humor even to the topic of climate change, with laugh-out-loud results. Did you know, for example, that by switching to the metric system we can reduce future global warming in the U.S. from 7 degrees to 2 degrees? Overnight! Mac has been a grand prize winner of Comedy Central’s Laugh Riots and has been featured at the prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal — among other honors. He is one of the best “environmental comics” in the nation. You can check out some of his “50 Ways” tips here. For every $10 ticket sale we donate, the Capital Area Food Bank will be able to feed 25 people in this time of need. So RSVP now and tell all your friends. CCAN is proud to host this first-ever online comic show devoted to climate humor and virus justice.

EARTH MONTH WRAP UP: So there you have it. Four ways to keep you busy fighting climate change super close to home during a global pandemic. And here’s a PS: On April 24th at noon ET, CCAN is also hosting a cool hour-long program of music, yoga, and activism via zoom as part of the Earth Day Live event streaming worldwide. Sign up for our program here. Learn more about Earth Day Live here

In the meantime, stay safe, stay sane, stay active, and laugh whenever you can. 

Cross-posted from CCAN Action Fund with permission and recompense.

MDE Proposes Rejection of Corporate Attempt to Delay Pollution Reductions at 3 Coal-Fired Plants

Annapolis, MD –  Today, the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) announced its proposal to reject permit revision requests that would have significantly delayed water pollution safeguards at the Chalk Point (Prince George), Dickerson (Montgomery County) and Morgantown (Charles County) coal-fired power plants. The updated water pollution permits require the plants to put in place mandatory pollution control measures to reduce discharges of toxic metals into the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers by November 1, 2020. These metals include mercury and arsenic both of which are extremely toxic to humans and pose a serious threat to public health. Other metals like selenium and nutrients like nitrogen, are especially harmful to the aquatic life of the Chesapeake Bay and our communities.  

GenOn Energy, the operator of the coal plants requesting the permit modifications, has a history of fighting against clean water regulations and failing to comply with them. In 2019, GenOn’s efforts to sue to block implementation of the updated toxic pollution requirements in its permits failed and last fall GenOn was cited by MDE for illegal storage and handling of coal ash at the Morgantown facility.   

The Chair of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club Rosa Pinnola Hance released the following statement in response:

“This decision comes as a genuine relief for Marylanders living downstream of the coal plants.  At a time when we are in the midst of a public health crisis, it is comforting that our state agencies are upholding measures to protect the health of our families and environment. It is sad to see GenOn continuing to fight against ensuring basic health & safety of our beloved waters.” 

Leah Kelly, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, said:

 “The EPA issued these new pollution limits in 2015 after a delay of over 30 years. Instead of investing in control technology to bring its plants into compliance, GenOn Energy has spent its resources filing unsuccessful appeals in court and otherwise trying to avoid its obligation to reduce its pollution. MDE is doing the right thing here and we applaud their proposed decisions.”

According to Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman: 

“We’re sick and tired of splitting hairs through endless legal and permitting processes with GenOn over how much coal waste the public and the environment can tolerate and how much nature can withstand. These plants spew toxic poison for profit, and then want to foot drag toward more benign and sustainable sources of energy.  This is an inevitable step toward reducing the burden of coal waste contamination for communities that have had way too much of it for far too long.”  

Anne Havemann, general counsel with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said: 

“Every day that GenOn tries to delay implementation of these common sense standards is another day that Marylanders are forced to live with arsenic, mercury, and selenium pollution in their water. We’re glad to see MDE put clean water and public health ahead of corporate delay and profits, especially during this public health crisis.” 

Phillip Musegaas, Vice President of Potomac Riverkeeper Network, said: 

“We commend Maryland regulators for taking a stand against corporate polluters’ self-interest and fighting for the rights of all Marylanders to have clean water in their rivers, free of toxic chemicals from coal-fired power plants. These eminently reasonable and achievable standards will lead to healthier rivers and communities freed from the threat of coal industry pollution in their backyards and drinking water.”

Contact
Daniel Willis (317) 493-9154, daniel.willis@sierraclub.org

Climate podcasts to rock your quarantine

wired headphones on a wooden table accompanied by a plant in a white pot

Hi, my name is Lauren and I’m an extrovert. 

As the Hampton Roads Organizer for CCAN, this works in my favor. I never met a stranger I didn’t like to chat with and I roll through my speed dial list without advanced notice just to talk (my friends like it, I swear). So cold-calling people to ask them to sign a CCAN petition to resist pipelines to or attend a rally to pass the Virginia Clean Economy Act? Gotcha covered. 

This trait makes me an expert on today’s topic.

Podcasts: All day, every day

When I’ve run out of people to talk to, I turn to my library of podcasts; because even during my “quiet” time, I need some sort of conversation running in the background to keep me from feeling antsy or lonely. Although I’m working full-time from home, plus full-time 4 year old duty, my daily opportunities for fitting in a podcast are plenty. I prep for the day with a news brief (rec: The Daily) as I brush my teeth and swap my night pajamas for my day pajamas. A self-care show (rec: Forever35) keeps me positive during email time for me & nap time for Coulson. And a pop culture or investigative series (rec: Armchair Expert or Ear Hustle) staves off sleep during project time on the couch once the house is quiet.  

But today is not about those other podcasts — stop trying to distract me, people. Today is about the meat sweet potatoes of my podcast diet (vegetarians hollaaaa). 

Let’s get down to business

(to defeat the Huns….anyone?)

It’s 6pm. Michael arrives home from work. I give him the parent highlights (yes, Coulson had dinner; no, he didn’t nap; yes, he’s still wearing his pajamas), pass the baton, and I am GONE. The local, deserted college campus is 5 minutes from our house and I have one hour to get my steps, get some air, and listen to…..my climate podcast for the day!!! 

freshly mowed green grass quad of university with fall colors in background and low sun
Abandoned campuses: great places to listen to podcasts!

Now, you might be thinking, “Lauren, you spend all day thinking about climate change which is not the most relaxing topic anyway….you want to spend your free time listening to it, too??” An excellent question, thank you for asking. And the answer is a simple, “yep.” 

I began to work for CCAN precisely because climate change was what I spent my free time learning and thinking about. Organizing for CCAN allows me to focus professionally on an issue that I was previously fitting in where I could. If anything, being a full-time climate activist means I have to step up my game even more to be conversant on the latest news, science, and community stories.

Before COVID-19, I had way more time to devote to this audio learning; my work covers all of Hampton Roads so I spent hours weekly in the car binging through episodes. Now, I squeeze in listening time during my nightly walk and anywhere else I can. However, my shortage of time has not equated to a shortage of options. There are so many great climate podcasts & episodes and it’s time I share my carefully curated list with the world (jk, they’re all great and I download everything). 

There are lots of great lists of climate podcasts out there and you will likely find some overlap between my list & those. But who doesn’t need another list, right? So here are my favorite podcasts that are centered on climate change. 

author Lauren Landis smiling and chopping a cucumber with her headphones; photos in the background on the wall and vegetable peeler in foreground

Climate Podcasts

Climate Cast

Drilled

Mothers of Invention

No Planet B

Terrestrial 

The Environment in Focus

If you want a super personal recommendation from the list above, I have a special place in my heart for Mothers of Invention. This show focuses on women-led climate solutions and is hosted by Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and global climate activist) and Irish comedian, Maeve Higgins. Mary Robinson’s book, Climate Justice, inspired me to be an organizer! 

Next, let’s talk about a less-covered area: individual climate episodes within non-climate specific podcasts. I think this is the most important part of the list. For many people, subscribing & listening routinely to a podcast is a bit of a commitment, never mind catching up on the entire back catalog. If that sounds daunting, the individual climate episodes below are a perfect starting place! Dip your toe in the water with an episode or two and you may find your new favorite show. 

Climate Episodes (podcast name followed by episode name in italics)

Bad With Money, It’s Not Just A Few Feet Of Sea Level Rise 

Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, How Can We Twerk on Climate Change? with Bill Nye the Science Guy

screenshot of "There Goes the Neighborhood" podcast from the iTunes store, Season 3: Premium Elevation
Podcast about climate gentrification

Life Kit, How To Talk To Kids About Climate Change

Ologies with Alie Ward, Phenology Episode

Powering the Movement, Saving The World’s Fastest Sinking City

Science Rules! with Bill Nye the Science Guy, Fires and Climate Change: A Vicious Cycle

Ted Talks Daily, Climate Change Will Displace Millions

Ted Talks Daily, When The Tides Keep Getting Higher

There Goes the Neighborhood, Season 3, Episode 1-3

I assume I don’t need to convince you to listen to anything with Bill Nye the Science Guy so I’ll save my muscle to encourage you towards the There Goes the Neighborhood episodes. They focus on climate-caused gentrification in Miami and were the starting point of my current sea-level rise research project. Did you know that Hampton Roads is outranked only by New Orleans in terms of sea level rise risk? If you didn’t know, these episodes are for you. If you did know, these episodes are still for you, trust. 

Technicalities

Let’s check in on some technical details before I send you off on a date with your chosen episode. 

First, if you’re new to podcasts and you’re not sure how to find or listen to anything I’ve recommended above, you’re not alone. There are many “how to” articles that are easy to follow so rather than recreate the wheel, I would recommend “How to listen to podcasts: everything you need to know” by The Guardian or “The Beginner’s Guide to Podcasts” by The Wired. Alternatively, email me and we’ll set up a time to hop on the phone and walk through it together! 

Second, many podcasts can be listened to on a web browser so a smart phone is not a requirement (this is addressed in the how-to guides above). 

Third & finally, a lot of podcasts are creating transcripts to make sure their content is accessible to all. I make note of my favorite podcasts that are prioritizing this and I would love to hear any of your favorites that are doing the same.

It’s Go Time

You subscribe to CCAN’s emails, sign our petitions, follow us on Facebook, and read our blog (obviously). What can you do next to connect with CCAN and support climate action? The answer is this!! Fill your ears with one of our climate podcast recommendations and connect with climate activism in a new, easy way. Share what you learn over dinner, text an episode to a friend, or find a listener group online. Podcasts can be your constant companion throughout these tumultuous times and what subject integrates more importantly with all aspects of life than climate change? Send me an email or connect with us on social media to share your own podcast favorites or give a review of one of the recommendations above. 

Happy listening! 

Coronavirus and Climate Change

A couple of weeks into the worldwide observance of social distancing practices and pandemic-preempting government lock-downs, miraculous tales of a rejuvenated planet in typically smog-choked, polluted corners of the world began to populate our social media news feeds. Dolphins were frolicking in Venice’s canals again! From India, video footage emerged of a species of civet cat long thought to be extinct, strolling the empty streets of Calcutta like it owned the place. Over Chinese cities, clouds of toxic gas around industrial centers have dissipated, with emissions down at least 25% in February due to efforts to control the coronavirus, and residents can breathe freely for the first time in recent memory.

These are beautiful images, for all that they play into self-flagellating human narratives. Look how bad we are for the planet, the story goes, but isn’t it amazing how quickly Mother Nature rebounds to a state of pristine, Edenic glory when we leave her alone for a few days! The truly unfortunate thing about each of these stories, though, is that they aren’t true—or at best, they are heavily qualified. Each of the first two links in the previous paragraph leads to an article debunking the associated claim. There were no dolphins in the canals of Venice; the person who took that video of a civet cat in India had mistaken it for an endangered cousin. The third link, a CNN report about lower CO2 emissions and air pollution in China, verifies that these levels are down in Hubei and other areas under quarantine, but with the caveat that, as soon as the economies of these regions start back up, pollution levels will quickly rebound to previous levels, and may even exceed these levels, as the country tries to make up for many weeks’ worth of halted production.

two color-coded maps showing a dramatic reduction in NO2 pollution over industrial northeastern China
reduction in NO2 pollution in China resulting from Covid lock-downs

Although the day may seem far off now, there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when COVID-19 is no longer a meaningful threat. Treatments are likely to emerge that reduce the severity of symptoms and the mortality rate, and potential vaccines have already entered human trials, although it will take many months to sufficiently vet and produce these. When that moment comes, surely we will collectively breathe a sigh of relief. Yet we will still be facing record-high annual temperatures, rising sea levels and historically catastrophic weather. There can be no palliative treatment, no vaccine for these. Just as governments worldwide mobilized rapidly to counter the spread of the coronavirus, modern society must reorganize and restructure itself radically if it hopes to withstand the systemic shocks that the effects of climate change are all but certain to augur.

Some argue that the current pandemic is an opportunity to model effective long-term responses to climate change. As with a fire drill, or a dress rehearsal, we are learning first-hand how well we respond to a threat that majorly disrupts the functioning of society, but does not in itself threaten to destroy it. “COVID-19 is climate on warp speed,” says climate economist Gernot Wagner. “Everything with climate is decades; here it’s days. Climate is centuries; here it’s weeks.” Hence, the damage that climate change threatens to wreak will not occur in the span of a few weeks or months. Rather, following the progression of over a century of scaled industrial activity on this planet, these effects will continue to show themselves gradually—yet their impact will be orders of magnitude more profound.

“The virus has shown,” writes journalist Beth Gardiner, “that if you wait until you can see the impact, it is too late to stop it.” This statement is sure to hold true many times over for climate change. Yet in dealing with the current crisis, we seem to have lost sight of the primary threat to humanity’s continued growth and well-being in our time. Just last week, the EPA introduced “drastically relaxe[d]” rules for polluters in the midst of the coronavirus’ spread.

COVID-19 is a global emergency, to be sure, and we are right to focus the majority of our efforts and energies on preventing its spread and minimizing the loss of life that it causes. Nevertheless, we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to look further ahead than the end of the quarantine.

portrait of author: young white man with facial hair against white background

Text by Joseph Pickert. See his original blog post here.

Dominion Energy Abandons Gas Infrastructure Plans Due To Passage of Virginia Clean Economy Act

Statement: Dominion’s IRP a “Snowball” In Forthcoming “Avalanche” of Companies Abandoning Gas Plans

RICHMOND, VA — On Thursday, April 2, Dominion Energy signaled a shift away from its previous intentions to build out fracked-gas infrastructure in Virginia, and pointed to the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (SB 851) as the impetus. The monopoly utility asked  the State Corporation Commission for permission to change what it is required to model in its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). Dominion wrote in its request that  “significant build-out of natural gas generation facilities is not currently viable, with the passage by the General Assembly of the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020 (the ‘VCEA’).” The statement continues: “The VCEA establishes the objective of 100 percent clean energy by 2045, and permits the construction of carbon-emitting generating facilities only if there is a threat to reliability or security of electric service. For these reasons, the Company believes that the aforementioned requirements related to the development of those specific resources are no longer necessary.” 

Dominion’s previous IRP included 8-10 new combustion turbines and combined cycle facilities under various planning scenarios.

Harrison Wallace, Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, stated in response: 

“After passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, Dominion almost immediately abandoned all its plans for new gas plants. We believe this an open declaration that what we’ve been saying all along is true: There is no future for gas. 

“Dominion’s actions clearly represent the first snowball in what should soon become an avalanche of companies abandoning gas in all its forms including pipelines and generation plants. Now, Dominion should go the rest of the way and close shop on the doomed and unnecessary Atlantic Coast Pipeline boondoggle. And the other energy companies in Virginia behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Chickahominy gas plant, and more, should follow suit and end their new gas plans as soon as possible. Then they can join us in rebuilding Virginia with a clean energy economy instead.” 

CONTACT:
Harrison Wallace, Virginia Director, 804-305-1472, harrison@chesapeakeclimate.org
Denise Robbins, Communications Director, 240-630-1889, denise@chesapeakeclimate.org

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The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the first grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

From DC to CA: internships in the time of corona

By Mark Shipley

DC to California

 “Are they really cancelling our program?!”

A friend in my internship program in DC texted me on March 10. Amid the first appearance of coronavirus infections on the West Coast, our program at the University of California Washington Center–through which I was an intern at CCAN–decided to immediately pull hundreds of students out of the DC center and to end the program a month early. Counterintuitively, they were sending us back to California, which at the time was the second largest epicenter of the outbreak.

At first I was frustrated with their reasoning: why such a dramatic move? At the time DC had only a handful of cases, and it was unclear why sending students back home would provide any more safety or security than keeping us housed at the center. Students had to scramble to find housing and transportation. Some needed aid just to afford to leave DC.

But within a few days it became clear that they had made the proper decision: the sooner everything shut down, the better the outcome would be.

The University gave us until the following week to vacate, but I was already wondering if there would be travel lockdowns: the President had already floated the topic. I did not want to be stuck in DC without housing during a pandemic. I departed on Wednesday, March 18.

California to Chicago

Meanwhile, my family worried about my father.

He had just buried two brothers in one month’s time (unrelated to the virus). An 81-year-old with coronary heart disease, he had been cleaning out my uncle’s house in San Diego when the virus arrived. We wanted him to fly immediately back to his home in Chicago, but he had unfinished family business in California and insisted on completing his work. He decided it was safest to drive a car back to Chicago by himself.

He declined my offer to accompany him due to the increased risk of exposure.

Two days after he left, I learned that CCAN’s Anthony Field, with whom I shared a room in our office, tested positive for the virus. It started getting much closer to home.

California

By the time I arrived home in Oakland, California, the entire state was in lockdown.

I couldn’t see my friends who I had been away from for months. I learned that my friend Qilo was in isolation with coronavirus symptoms. They are a manual therapist who has many older and immune-compromised clients, and those clients were anxiously awaiting Qilo’s test results. Qilo had to try for days, however, to get access to a coronavirus test. Over a week later, their test came back negative, but they did not trust the results due to the widely reported inaccuracy of the tests. They also received widely-varying advice to self-quarantine for anywhere from three days to two weeks after symptoms have subsided.

It is also unclear whether one is immune after carrying the virus–information which will be crucial in the coming months for healthcare workers and manual therapists such as myself and Qilo, who depend on personal contact for our livelihoods. Since I can no longer see massage clients, I myself will have to file for unemployment, which luckily has been extended to gig workers, contract workers, and the self-employed during the crisis. Some service workers are using their vulnerable yet powerful position at this moment to demand better working conditions, benefits, and protections.

There is a clear parallel here with the climate crisis, where vulnerable communities who are the least responsible for climate change often suffer the worst impacts, yet receive the least support. 

Nesting in North Oakland 

Working from home in Oakland, California

Now I am sharing the strange collective experience of watching the virus spread throughout the world while sheltering in my apartment.

The increasingly tense and traumatic scenes inside hospitals and nursing homes elude me. Having spent most of my life as a physical laborer, the inability to take physical action to help those in need is unsettling and alienating.

Luckily, California acted earlier (as they have done with climate policy) than all other states with the shelter in place order–a wise move that has allowed California to dramatically lower the spread of the virus. Most people I know are taking the order seriously. While my fiance and I have still had an occasional friend over to our apartment while practicing social distancing, we have kept it to a bare minimum. My classes and internships are now online and most human contact is through Zoom or video chat. I spend over half my waking hours in front of a screen.

Working from home has proven difficult for the three members of my household, as I’m sure many of us have experienced. Every few moments I cannot resist the urge to look at data, read articles, and generally obsess about the pandemic. Luckily my supervisors and teachers have been forgiving.

Zain meets waffle

My fiance, Zain, has taken the opportunity of this crisis to advance one of his favorite hobbies: eating.

I’ve noticed lots of new treats making their way into our house–perhaps a reward for the half hour wait in line to enter the grocery store and a wait half as long to check out. A week ago, Trader Joe’s was rationing food: customers could take at most two of any given item. Our neighborhood grocery store, Berkeley Bowl, is limiting the number of people allowed in the store at once. Tape demarcates six-foot social distances for the line outside the store, which snakes around the block.

I’ve been taking the opportunity, amidst the toilet paper hoarding, to remind folks that wiping with water will save countless acres of forests. I’ve offered moral and instructional support for those transitioning to water wiping, and there are a few entertaining videos out there as well that I have discovered. People are panic-buying not just TP, but bidet toilet attachments! Luckily there are some still in stock, or one can use a simple plastic pitcher, as do most Muslims around the world, including Zain’s family. 

Personally, I have valued the domestic time to concentrate on home projects, personal wellness, and valuable bonding time with my household. Other unemployed friends of mine have used the time to do creative projects, to clean and organize, to meditate, and to read and watch movies. Yesterday Zain and I revisited the 2011 Hollywood film Contagion about a much more virulent (and deadly) global pandemic.

Maybe I am an optimist, and I certainly have privileges that buffer me from the worst economic effects of this crisis–which will undoubtedly throw thousands more into poverty–but I see some silver linings.

Zain is a biologist who studies HIV (and now coronavirus), and confirmed that the science in that movie was sound, more or less, which made me actually feel relieved that the Covid-19 pandemic is not nearly as bad as the one in the film. This is a test run, said my friend Alisa, who works in new antibiotic development. Her whole industry has been frustrated by the lack of public investment and lack of concern for growing antibiotic resistance and the threat of new pathogens. Another friend of mine, who works for the State Department combating the illegal wildlife trade, said this had the perverse benefit of finally bringing attention to the issue. While many have pointed out the failure of the US to contain the spread, Covid-19 will likely ensure that we are not caught unawares when the next virulent pandemic arrives.

This pandemic has also enabled policies that progressives have only dreamed of: direct checks to support those in need, the extension of unemployment to gig and contract workers, paid sick leave and extensions of publicly-funded healthcare, and the release of non-violent offenders from incarceration, among others.

While most are temporary measures, it will be difficult and unpopular for the federal government to claw those away when so many workers have been suffering under wage and healthcare insecurity. These measures, however, will obviously not be sufficient to stem the dramatic economic nosedive that we are undergoing, which could likely rival The Great Depression. This is why it is more important than ever that we continue to organize, build power, and fight for policies that will help us arise stronger from this crisis.

Panino

In addition to greater support for social safety nets, I have observed increasing mindfulness and intentionality around me.

While in normal circumstances people move about their daily lives on auto-pilot, social interaction and space have moved to the foreground. When walking my dog, Panino, I have to engage everyone I pass to acknowledge our distance, with a glance of social solidarity. When social distancing with friends, the desire for contact and greater closeness is palpable. In my online classes and meetings on Zoom, it is harder for me to turn away or tune out, as my face is intimately visible to all of my peers. In some ways on Zoom, it even feels more intimate than meeting in person, and there is a stronger sense of empathy and shared purpose.

I believe that this reinforcement of the social ethic will have a more profound impact on our society moving forward than we can currently comprehend.

The Future

Coronavirus seems to magnify everything and to put it under the spotlight.

It is inflaming domestic abuse. It is exposing the weaknesses in our economy, our public health system, and our social support system. It is testing the bounds of fiscal and monetary policy. A friend of mine is considering dropping out of school because he has been unable to cope with his ADHD without a proper place to study outside of his home. Other friends of mine with anxiety disorders and depression are struggling to cope. Anxiety and isolation can fuel addictions, and sheltering in place has certainly not helped me reduce screen time. I have found it helpful to video chat with family and friends, to reach out to those in need, and to connect with the various mutual aid networks that are arising everywhere to help myself and my community members cope. I have also found it important to remember that the outside world is immense, and it is safe to go outside: to hike in the forest, to garden, to support my local farmers market, and generally to not be confined indoors. 

It’s true that public health experts and others have been warning us about a pandemic for decades. While we were largely unprepared, we can now only control how we move forward. As the old saying goes, “never let a crisis go to waste.” There’s no turning back now. I look forward to organizing through this, and coming out the other end with strengthened social bonds, newfound courage, and a fighting spirit.

Let’s use this health crisis as a template for tackling the climate crisis, and let’s never forget what’s at stake.