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Decarbonization and detoxification

Car harm, nanoplastics, the SEC, and dancing the blues away


Last night, President Joe Biden delivered a forceful, blazing State of the Union address, in which he clearly framed the crises the world and our nation faces—the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Trumpist assault on democracy, the theocratic attacks against women’s autonomy, rising economic inequality and migration—in terms of the incompatibility of the continued existence of the fossil-fuel industry and of global society. He explained how fossil capitalism requires there to be disposable places and disposable people, where the fossil fuels are extracted and where they are burned. He talked about how the hundreds of thousands of clean-energy jobs his administration has helped create need to become hundreds of millions of jobs. He recognized that the United States is setting a catastrophic course for the future as the world’s largest oil and gas producer, and that the nation is woefully unprepared for the climate devastation on our doorstep as the planet is hotter than it has been for millions of years, because of the unrelenting burning of fossil fuels.

Ha, of course he didn’t. There was a paragraph three-quarters of the way through the speech in which he claimed, “I’m taking the most significant action ever on climate in the history of the world,” which, if true, errrrrrgh.

But Biden was aggressive, fiery, and combative, so that’s good. Genuinely!

In the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors argue that the plastinization of the human body due to the exponential rise in petrochemical-based plastics is somehow not good for you. Doctors in Italy found that patients with microplastics in their bloodstream were five times more likely to have heart disease than those without. Toxicologist Tracey Woodruff looks at the meteoric increase in endocrine-disrupting petrochemicals, and calls for doctors to organize against the fossil-fuel industry:

Reducing health harms from petrochemicals requires policies that promptly and substantively reduce fossil-fuel extraction, production, and use — an approach known as decarbonization and detoxification. . . . In addition to counseling their patients, clinicians can be critical advocates for policy changes to both decarbonize and detoxify the economy in order to address the combined health threats of petrochemical-derived EDCs and climate change.

And boy, does there need to be more of a push for decarbonization. On Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted on party lines to finalize their climate disclosure rule, which is a) voluntary and b) doesn’t cover the carbon footprint of fossil-fuel products. For more, I recommend you read Arielle Samuelson’s excellent interview with Clara Vondrich of Public Citizen. Vondrich’s summary: “The rule as it stands today sucks.”

One of the most Orwellian tortures of climate policy is renaming the chopping down and burning of forests as putatively “carbon neutral” “biomass,” eligible for massive government subsidies. The British wood-burning monster company Drax is moving forward with two wood-burning plants in California in coordination with Golden State Natural Resources. The ultra-right British-American Fox News pundit Steve Hilton is the lead of Golden Together, a new front group backing such projects as “modern forest management.”

In other grim Golden State news, the Gavin Newsom-backed California Public Utilities Commission has sided with utilities to kill off the solar-rooftop boom in California.

That said, here’s some good news on the decarbonization front: Voters in car-centric L.A. overwhelmingly approve Measure HLA to make room on streets for bikes and buses, taking on what scientists call “car harm,” or, in more fancy language, “automobility’s violence and pollution.”

Meanwhile, climate activists are continuing to put their bodies on the line to shut down construction of Joe Manchin’s beloved fracked-gas Mountain Valley Pipeline. “A vigorous protest movement has fought the project at every step of the pipeline’s plodding path, and they aren’t giving up now,” Cody Bloomfield writes in Truthout.

Detoxification isn’t going that well yet, either. Last year’s East Palestine train disaster was marked by the airborne toxic event of the multi-day burning of several tanker cars of highly toxic vinyl chloride. During a Senate hearing Wednesday, Jennifer Homendy, the chair of NTSB, “testified that the vent and burn operation was not necessary, as there was no sign of a chemical reaction, known as polymerization, that would cause tank cars to explode.”

“This town very well may have been poisoned to facilitate the rapid movement of freight,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) replied. His Republican colleagues have blocked the passage of his Railway Safety Act.

“Unlike other industrial facilities, such as chemical plants and oil refineries,” Pam Radtke writes in a must-read piece, “LNG operators don’t have to share with the general public information such as what chemicals are being used onsite and how an accident could impact the people who live around the facility.”

But in 1998, the EPA exempted facilities “used to liquefy natural or synthetic gas or used to transfer, store, or vaporize LNG in conjunction with pipeline transportation” from the the federal Emergency Planning Community Right to Know Act because the facilities are not considered “stationary.” PHMSA confirmed it does not enforce the Right to Know Act. 

Paige McClanahan ponders the ethics of last-chance tourism to see disappearing Alpine glaciers, shrugs.

Congratulations to Nick Berning, recently of the Green New Deal Network, and the Department of Energy’s Gina Coplon-Newfield, who are the new managing directors at Sunstone Strategies, a climate-justice consultancy. They have a few open positions and I can’t recommend them highly enough as people worth working with.

It looks like dancing is the best treatment for depression, so get your groove on!

Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word. If you’ve got job listings, event listings, or other hot news, I want to hear it. Connect with me—@[email protected], @climatebrad on Threads, and @climatebrad.hillheat.com on BlueSky


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