The real enemy is not alfalfa!

An electrifying look at the world we make together

PRESENTED BY

Hill Heat is mostly on break until the new year. But there’s plenty happening, so here’s a BIG ROUNDUP.

As you may have noticed, a megastorm is sweeping through the United States, as our polluted climate system acts like a lava lamp; the weakened polar jet allowing a blob of Arctic air to slop down the North American landmass as moist, tropical air is drawn toward Greenland. Rain, wind, ice, snow, flood, freeze. Thanks to the continued burning of fossil fuels, the Arctic is absurdly warm, about 5°C above the historic average.

The view of Forge Pond from the early-morning coal-train blockade. Credit: No Coal No Gas

Dr. Nathan Phillips and one other climate activist with No Coal No Gas were arrested after blockading a coal train on its way to Merrimack Station, the last coal-fired power plant in New England.

“We know this action is inconvenient for the railroad workers, but we want them to know this is about CSX, not them. I am the grandson of a union coal miner from Western Pennsylvania. There's a long history of resistance in Appalachia against greedy, profiteering corporations that don't care about people, whether the harms are black lung disease in coal miners or CSX refusing basic benefits like paid sick leave for the workers. People suffer while CSX generates enormous profits for the railroad and coal barons. We support railroad workers in their contract negotiations and consider CSX our common enemy in our collective fight for workers rights and climate justice.”

GETTING OMNIBUSY

The $1.7 trillion 2023 omnibus, the final spending bill under the unified Democratic Congress has cleared the Senate by a vote of 68-29 and the House 225-201. Military spending is up 10 percent, higher than overall inflation. All the other government spending is up 5.5 percent, lower than inflation. Priorities! Some climate toplines:

The omnibus also authorizes the US Department of Agriculture to set up agricultural carbon-offset trading markets, under the Growing Climate Solutions Act. More below.

THE SIXTH EXTINCTION?

In Montreal, representatives from pretty much the entire world except for the United States met for the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity, to which the United States is not a signatory. The conference, with Chinese negotiators playing the lead role, concluded with a landmark agreement, with a “commitment to protect 30% of land and water considered important for biodiversity by 2030, known as 30 by 30.”

However: Congress couldn’t find the money to slow extinction and habitat destruction in the United States, oh well. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, backed by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), was dropped from the omnibus at the last minute because they couldn’t find $1.4 billion in funding. Although the National Wildlife Federation chief Colin O’Meara has assiduously sucked up to Republicans in recent years, that completely failed to help his organization’s top legislative priority.

Congress was able to accelerate the extinction of the right whale in the omnibus, by overturning a court mandate to protect the fewer than 350 remaining whales from the lobster industry. The Maine delegation was very proud of this “Christmas miracle.”

Meanwhile, UN secretary general António Guterres marked the conclusion of the biodiversity summit with the announcement of a “climate ambition summit” for next September:

“The invitation is open. But the price of entry is non-negotiable – serious new climate action that will move the needle forward. It will be a no-nonsense summit. No exceptions. There will be no room for backsliders, greenwashers, blame-shifters or repackaging of announcements of previous years.”

EVERYTHING IS A BIGGER MESS IN TEXAS

Dylan Baddour has a wild read on the extinction of the Ogallala Aquifer amid the earthquake-inducing fracking boom in the Permian Basin:

Fracked wells in West Texas don’t just produce petroleum. Much more than anything else, they spit up salty, mucky water. 

Typically, companies have discarded that fluid, hundreds of millions of gallons per day, by injecting it back underground, occasionally causing small earthquakes. But as water becomes more scarce, they’re beginning to reconsider.

For now, hydraulic fracturing in arid West Texas uses large amounts of fresh aquifer water to crack open subterranean shales, unleashing a mixture of oil, gas and fossil brine 10 times as salty as the sea.

Increasingly, frackers are starting to reuse that brine, easing their burden on aquifers. . . .

Planners called it “managed depletion”—the intentional use of the resource to its end. Such a fate awaits the Ogallala Aquifer, the nation’s largest underground body of water, which swoops into West Texas from the north, and for which the Texas Water Development Board calls “managed depletion” its “management strategy.” . . .

It’s impossible to know exactly how many water wells are used for fracking or how much they pump because the Texas Water Code exempts oil and gas producers from reporting and permitting requirements. 

GENERALLY ELECTRIC

U.S. Postmaster Louis DeJoy has backed down—the U.S. Postal Service is going electric, starting with a 66,000 electric-vehicle order. “By 2026, the agency expects to purchase zero-emissions delivery trucks almost exclusively, DeJoy said.”

The Biden administration has proposed new light bulb efficiency standards that will phase out compact fluorescent light bulbs in favor of the much more energy-efficient LEDs. Now that’s a bright idea! (See, I believe in recycling.)

New York has moved closer to a climate action plan to achieve the goals of hitting 40 percent of 1990 carbon pollution levels by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050, which includes ending new gas hookups by 2025, endings sales of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035.

Eric Sippert has a great piece on the importance of community-owned community solar.

WATER KNIFE

Fun reading from Jennifer Yachnin on the “doomsday projections” for the Colorado River Basin and the 40 million people who rely on it. Anne Castle, the Biden administration’s appointee to be U.S. Commissioner of the Upper Colorado River Commission, almost admitted the fossil-fuel industy is the enemy:

“The gap between supply and demand is big enough so that no one basin, no one state, no one sector of the economy can solve it alone. It has to be all-hands-on-deck solution. The real enemy here is not the other basin. It’s not another state. It’s not alfalfa. It’s not golf courses. The common cause that we have to address is climate change-induced lower flows, and that’s what we have to work on together. It’s not an enemy that we can defeat. It’s one that we have to learn to live with.”

To find out what things will be like in 2030, read Paolo Bacigalupi’s Tamarisk Hunter, written in 2006. About that real enemy:

FOSSIL CORRUPTION

From Nina Lakhami: “In an ambitious move, an attempt will be made to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for ‘decades of deception’ in a lawsuit being brought by communities in Puerto Rico that were devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.” The plaintiffs in the racketeering suit against the likes of ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Rio Tinto are represented by Milberg, with Melissa Sims the senior counsel.

Have no fear, the deception is not some artifact of the past. NPR’s David Folkenflik Floodlight’s Mario Ariza and Miranda Green have uncovered the secret payments made by fossil-fueled utilities Alabama Power and Florida Power & Light to a network of conservative news sites to demonize their political opponents.

PUFFIN’ ON FUMES

JERBS: Climate Nexus is hiring a data scientist/survey research manager ($70K-$80K), an associate communications director ($105K-$115K) and a communications manager for the energy transition team ($70K-$77K), and two communications associates for its climate finance projects ($58K-$65K). All jobs remote/DC/NYC.

The Center for American Progress is hiring a research assistant/associate ($52K-$55K) and policy analyst/senior policy analyst  ($61K-$68K) for its conservation team, and an associate director ($77K) and research associate ($55K) for its domestic climate team. All jobs in DC.

Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word. A subscription to Hill Heat makes a great last-minute stocking stuffer!

May you be safe and of good cheer.@[email protected]

1 International disaster assistance—other than for Ukraine—remains the same as last year, at $3.90546 billion. So not much help for Nigeria or Pakistan, for example:

Unfortunately, the cameras have gone, the attention has disappeared, but there are still floodwaters in many areas of my country.” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan’s 34-year-old finance minister, of this year’s $32-billion flooding disaster.

The UN and Pakistan’s joint appeal garnered only about 30% of the $816 million funds requested, according to Julien Harneis, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan.

Subscribe to Hill Heat

Climate science, policy, politics, and action

Join the conversation

or to participate.