“The climate crisis is not a science problem. It is a human problem. The ultimate power to change the world does not reside in technologies. It relies on reverence, respect, and compassion—for ourselves, for all people, and for all life,” Paul Hawken, Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation.
Our Climate Crisis
As we write our monthly Climate and Energy News Roundup, Joy Loving and I find that it can be challenging to know how to honestly acknowledge the severity of our climate crisis, get into the nitty-gritty of politics, and advocate for climate action in ways that encourage resilience and offer hope. This tension is also evident in the words of Paul Hawken and Jane Goodall below.
In his book Regeneration, Paul Hawken states, “We live on a dying planet—a phrase that sounded inflated or over the top not long ago. . . The Earth will come back to life no matter what. Nations, peoples, and cultures may not.” In her forward to the book, Jane Goodall strikes a more encouraging note, “I have three reasons for hope: the energy and commitment of youth: the resilience of nature . . . and the way animal and plant species can be rescued from extinction; and the human intellect, which is focusing on how we can live in greater harmony with nature.”
While I want to recognize and celebrate progress and our human creativity, I don’t want to downplay the severity of the crisis we humans have created. For example, a recent scientific study published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that the present megadrought, exacerbated by climate change, in the Western U.S. and northern Mexico is the region’s driest period in at least 1,200 years. During that last comparable extended megadrought the region was still largely inhabited by scattered Native American tribes. Today it is home to more than 10 million people. This rapidly growing population has been relying on the amount of water that was available a century ago. Park Williams, the lead scientist of the study says that this megadrought in the southwest is forcing us to “pull out all the stops” and plan for less water.
When psychologist Thomas Doherty and his colleague, Susan Clayton, published a paper a decade ago proposing that climate change would have a powerful psychological impact, it was met with lots of skepticism. Eco-anxiety is now becoming widely recognized, affecting not only those bearing the brutal brunt of climate change but also people following it through news and research. Professional certification programs in climate psychology have begun to appear and the recently formed Climate Psychology Alliance is providing an online directory of climate-aware therapists.
Politics and Policy
In a win for environmentalists, Democrats in the Virginia Senate recently voted along party lines 21-19 to reject Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s nomination of Andrew Wheeler as Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, had served as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator under President Donald Trump, where he systematically worked to deconstruct environmental regulations.
Even though the Build Back Better bill hit a wall in the U.S. Senate, it now appears that a stand-alone climate bill has the possibility of moving forward with the crucial support of Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia. President Biden indicated that he has been talking to colleagues on the Hill and recently told reporters, “I think it’s clear that we would be able to get support for the $500 billion plus for energy and the environment.” Several Republicans also indicated support for portions of a climate bill, but none were willing to go on record as supporting the climate provisions that had been in the Build Back Better bill.
Top U.S. corporations like Google and Amazon have made pledges to combat climate change and to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. The question is if they are serious about this or if these public pledges are another example of corporate green-washing. The report Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor indicates that they are the latter. They are exaggerating their goals and their efforts lack transparency.
The historically high $770 billion military spending bill—$24 billion more than the president had requested—sailed through congress with broad bipartisan support. Yet, there is almost nothing in this mammoth bill that addresses climate change and its related disasters, which is the greatest threat to our national safety and well-being.
At the same time, the U.S. Army recently released its first ever climate strategy, an effort to brace the service for a world beset by global-warming-driven conflicts. “The plan aims to slash the Army’s emissions in half by 2030; electrify all noncombat vehicles by 2035 and develop electric combat vehicles by 2050; and train a generation of officers on how to prepare for a hotter, more chaotic world.” If implemented, this could be huge! The Defense Department accounts for 56 percent of the federal government’s carbon footprint and 52 percent of its electricity use.
It is projected that by this summer Harrisonburg residents will have the option to buy solar powered electricity from the Harrisonburg Electric Commission (HEC) for a few extra pennies per kilowatt-hour. ( A valid critique is why solar-powered electricity should cost more when it actually costs less to generate.) This will make HEC the first municipal utility in the state to offer a community solar option to customers. The solar-powered electricity will flow from a 1.4-megawatt array being developed by Dominion Energy on a 10-acre plot on Acorn Dr. that the city purchased for $550,000.
As wind and solar power have become dramatically cheaper, and their share of electricity generation grows, skeptics are propagating the myth that renewable energy will make the electricity supply undependable. While the variable output of wind and solar power is a challenge, it is neither new nor especially hard to manage. No electricity supply is constant.
Most discussions on managing variability focuses on giant batteries and other expensive storage technologies. There are less costly options such as increasing energy efficiency in buildings and managing demand flexibility around peak-use hours. The bottom line is that electrical grids can deal with a much larger percentage of renewable energy at zero or modest cost, and this has been known for some time.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down two government permits that are needed for the Mountain Valley Pipeline to pass through the Jefferson National Forest. The company vows to push through with the completion of the pipeline, which it says is 94% completed. Complying with changes necessary to get the permits will, however, most likely push back the completion date that had been projected for this summer to sometime in 2024.
House Bill 1257, prohibiting local governments from banning natural gas, is wending its way through the Virginia House of Representatives. No Virginia municipalities have been moving aggressively in that direction, but the Richmond City Council recently passed a climate resolution that committed them “to working with the city’s administration on an equitable plan to phase out reliance on gas and shift to accelerated investment in city-owned renewable energy.” The Virginia Oil and Gas Association has been urging the legislature to preempt local governments from placing restrictions on the use of natural gas.
Native American environmental activists were able to draw on the Virginia Environmental Justice Act passed in 2020 to advocate before the Virginia Air Pollution board against the proposed Lambert Compressor Station that the Mountain Valley Pipeline wanted to install in their community in Chatham, Va. As reported in The Nation, “In an astonishing precedent, the Air Pollution board agreed—by a margin of six to one. This has never happened before in Virginia, where regulatory boards always vote in favor of industry.”
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy reports that 2021 was a landmark year for energy efficiency legislation. At least a dozen states passed new clean energy legislation or adopted new energy-saving standards such as fuel switching and electrification, encouraging clean heating systems, strengthening building codes, and the creation of transit-oriented affordable housing projects. Now comes the hard part—implementing this legislation.
Mark and Ben Cullen, in their recent article in the Toronto Star, give some handy tips on fighting climate change in your own garden. These same practices can also be used on a larger scale by farmers and ranchers.
- Minimum tillage or “no-till” supports microscopic bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Tilling tears apart these beneficial structures allowing nutrients such as carbon to escape into the atmosphere.
- Cover-cropping and inter-cropping are climate-friendly tactics that prevent soil erosion and improve the fertility of your soil.
- Avoid synthetic fertilizers, which are a massive contributor to climate change. The production of synthetic fertilizers uses a tremendous amount of energy, including natural gas.
- Plant perennials such as berries and tree fruits. Perennial plants develop deeper root systems which enhance soil health, and they are more effective in attracting pollinators.
- Compost. Compost uses food waste from your kitchen as well as plant waste from your yard and garden. Composting greatly diminishes the greenhouse gas emissions from plant waste that would otherwise be bound for a landfill. Furthermore, finished compost will greatly enrich the soil in your yard and garden.
Mark and Ben Cullen say that “climate change can make us feel overwhelmed — and maybe helpless. But taking direct action in your own garden is one way to make a positive contribution to this major issue of our time, while enjoying the vast benefits of gardening.” I can personally attest to the psychological benefits of working in my garden when I feel overwhelmed by the severity of our climate crisis.
CAAV Steering Committee