Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.
It's pretty hard to be funny about climate change. Not just because the subject tends to be grim, but also because the solutions tend to be technical, wonky, and interesting mostly just to nerds.
The video above, released today by Funny or Die in affiliation with the League of Conservation Voters, makes a valiant effort. It features Jeff Goldblum explaining the Obama administration's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a boardroom full of cartoonishly evil fossil fuel executives. I won't spoil what he says, since it's the punchline (such as it is). Suffice to say the execs don't like it…and something about Miami Vice star Don Johnson.
I also won't go on record vouching for the jokes in this. I chuckled a few times. I will say that Goldblum—or rather his character, the mysterious "Fixer"—nails his description of the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from the power sector by about a third by 2030, and which will form the backbone of Obama's contribution to the upcoming global climate talks in Paris. The framing of the video is also spot-on: The plan is indeed facing stiff opposition from coal companies and the industry's allies in statehouses and in Congress.
The Clean Power Plan is admittedly kind of boring to most people, despite being a groundbreaking policy achievement and an important step toward saving the planet from global warming. So if it takes Jeff Goldblum to get people interested, I've got no problem with that. Enjoy!
With a major global climate summit in Paris less than two weeks away, the Obama administration's top environmental official is saying climate change is a major threat to US national security.
"There are a variety of impacts that we're feeling from a changing climate, and we need to stop those impacts from escalating by failing to take action—one of those is instability," said Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, in an interview Tuesday with Climate Desk. McCarthy pointed to drought and wildfires in California as examples of climate impacts that can displace people from their homes, and she noted that many of the same things are happening in less stable parts of the world. You can watch portions of the interview above.
"We can see that underlying issues in many countries that lead to animosity, and then can lead to conflict," she said. "So it is a national security issue for us, as well as an issue that's incredibly important for our local communities."
"It is a national security issue for us, as well as an issue that's incredibly important for our local communities."
McCarthy's comments join a growing chorus of experts who see a direct link between global warming and national security. The debate over that theory seems likely to intensify over the next few weeks, in part because the Paris climate negotiations follow closely on the heels of Friday's terrorist attacks that left 129 people dead in the French capital.
Just days before the Paris attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech in which he called climate change "a threat to the security of the United States." On Saturday, Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders said "climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism." President Barack Obama has made a similar point several times, as have numerous security experts and defense officials. (Donald Trump is skeptical.)
After the attacks, French officials were quick to confirm that the climate summit—which is meant to yield a groundbreaking international agreement to slow climate change—would go on, albeit with scaled-back public events and heightened security. Obama is expected to attend, along with White House negotiators. McCarthy has not yet said whether she will be there, and while her agency isn't responsible for conducting the core negotiations, she still has a vital role to play in convincing other countries that the United States is serious about climate action.
The US negotiating position—Obama has promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025—hinges largely on the Clean Power Plan, a new set of EPA regulations on emissions from power plants that was largely crafted under McCarthy. The plan itself cites national security as a justification for taking action on global warming. "Impacts of climate change on public welfare also include threats to social and ecosystem services…these impacts are global and may exacerbate problems outside the US that raise humanitarian, trade, and national security issues for the US," it states.
McCarthy said she is "very confident" the plan will survive all these challenges. But since it forms the legal basis for the US commitment in Paris, McCarthy said her staff has been in contact with their counterparts in other countries in an effort to assure them that they can count on the United States to follow through.
"We're moving forward, and we try to make people understand that," McCarthy said. The Clean Power Plan is "a signal of the seriousness of the United States and this president, and the fact that we are going to be driving reductions down that other countries can count on, so they can come to the table and also contribute."
Security was heightened across Paris following Friday's deadly attacks. A major international climate summit is due to start there in two weeks.
On Saturday, just a day after terrorist attacks in Paris left at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured, the French government vowed to forge ahead with a long-scheduled international summit on climate change.
The summit, which is scheduled to start in just two weeks, will take place at an airport in the northern suburbs of Paris, not far from the stadium that was the site of multiple bombings on Friday. There, world leaders plan to hash out final details of the most wide-reaching international agreement ever to combat climate change. White House officials confirmed to Politico that President Barack Obama still intends to attend the talks, as scheduled prior to the attacks. Dozens of other heads of state are expected to be there as well.
"[The summit] will go ahead with reinforced security measures," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. "This is an absolutely necessary step in the battle against climate change and of course it will take place."
Christiana Figueres, who chairs the UN agency overseeing the talks, released a similar statement on Twitter:
Of course #COP21 proceeds as planned. Even more so now. #COP21 = respecting our differences & same time acting together collaboratively.
Even prior to the attacks, 30,000 French police officers were scheduled to secure the event, according to Radio France International. More than 10,000 diplomats, non-governmental organization employees, and journalists are expected to attend the summit. Specific new security measures have not yet been made public, but Politico quoted an unnamed French official who said participants should expect "extremely tightened security" following the attacks.
Paul Bledsoe, a former climate advisor to President Bill Clinton, also told Politico that the attacks could actually improve the odds that the talks reach a successful outcome.
"The resolve of world leaders is going to be redoubled to gain an agreement and show that they can deliver for populations around the world. The likelihood for a successful agreement has only increased because of these attacks," Bledsoe said.
On Thursday, just a day before the attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to butt heads with his French counterpart over what the exact legal status of the agreement will be. Other questions remain as well, such as how wealthy, heavily polluting countries such as the United States will help developing nations pay for climate change adaptation. But overall, the Paris talks are expected to yield a better outcome than the last major climate summit, in Copenhagen in 2009, which failed to produce any meaningful action to curb greenhouse gas emissions or prepare for the impacts of global warming.
Meanwhile, on Monday French officials said they would block a series of rallies and side events that were scheduled to take place outside the main negotiations. Environmental groups are scrambling to work out how to change their plans following the attack. Several groups involved in organizing protests and rallies that were intended to coicide with the Paris talks confirmed to Mother Jones that a hastily arranged meeting to hash out a plan will take place on Monday evening, Paris time. Will Davies, a spokesman for Avaaz, one of the main advocacy groups involved, said that despite the flurry of activity, plans for global marches in cities other than Paris were still going ahead as scheduled.
One of the cruel ironies of climate change is that its impacts tend to fall hardest on the countries least equipped to manage them.
When drought or sea level rise strike the United States, communities at least have access to federal aid, top scientific expertise, public investment in expensive climate-ready infrastructure, and the like. But some of the most extreme effects of global warming are headed for developing countries—drought wiping out crops in East Africa, or catastrophic hurricanes pounding Southeast Asia—that don't have access to those resources.
New research from Maplecroft, a UK-based risk consultancy, paints a pictures of where vulnerability to climate change is most pressing. Their analysis drew on three criteria: exposure to extreme events, based on the latest meteorological science; sensitivity to impacts (i.e., does a country have other sources of income and food supply if agriculture takes a hit?); and adaptive capacity—are the country's government and social institutions prepared to work under adverse climate conditions and help citizens adapt to them?
Unsurprisingly, Africa and Southeast Asia ranked the lowest, while Scandinavian countries ranked the highest. (While definitely at risk from sea level rise, countries such as Norway and Sweden have rich, highly functional governments to manage adaptation.) The major global climate talks in Paris are coming up in just a couple weeks; the chart above makes it clear why it's so important for big players like the US and China to work closely with delegations from developing countries on solutions that will provide immediate support and relief.
With high-stakes climate negotiations just around the corner, things are looking rosy for the producers and sellers of wind turbines and solar panels.
In just a couple weeks, world leaders will gather in Paris to hash out a global agreement to combat climate change. On Thursday, top diplomats from the United States and France appeared to butt heads over the legal status of the agreement, with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius criticizing a statement made by Secretary of State John Kerry that the greenhouse gas reduction targets in the agreement will not be legally binding.
Each party to the agreement offers its own target based on its abilities. The US, for example, has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The targets are a key piece of the agreement, since they represent countries' plans to limit the emissions that cause climate change.
Clean energy "is clearly something that's on all countries' minds, not a device for only the rich," Thomas Damassa said.
The targets offered so far—known in UN jargon as intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs—have faced criticism from environmental groups, in part because it remains unclear how they will be enforced, as Kerry's spat with the French makes clear. Moreover, cumulatively, they don't put the world on track to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as scientists and diplomats have agreed is necessary to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
But that hardly means the agreement will be worthless. The INDCs also include information about how countries plan to reach their emissions targets. And as several recent reports have helped to illustrate, the Paris talks could be a huge boon to the global clean energy industry—an industry that was worth about $270 billion as of 2014 and is growing fast.
The first sign came from a United Nations analysis in late October, which combed through INDCs from almost every country on Earth and found that most of them include plans to invest in renewable energy within their borders. Some of those plans include specific policies—such as providing tax incentives or drawing on international aid dollars—and some more vague. Taken together, renewable energy appears to be the most common strategy for meeting emissions targets, compared to boosting energy efficiency, cleaning up the transportation sector, stopping deforestation, and other methods:
"Clearly countries are looking at renewables as a solution to tackle the energy challenges they're facing," said Thomas Damassa, a senior analyst at the World Resources Institute's climate program. "It's clearly something that's on all countries' minds, not a device for only the rich. It's a viable option for all countries."
According to Damassa's research, if Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, and the United States—which together represent 65 percent of global energy demand—follow through on their INDCs, the amount of clean energy on the grid will more than double by 2030. That represents an increase from approximately 8,900 terawatt-hours of global clean energy in 2012 to 19,900 terawatt-hours in 2030. (The US currently consumes about 4,000 terawatt-hours of total electricity—from renewable and non-renewable sources.) The chart below illustrates the projected change in a few of these countries:
Different countries have different definitions of "clean energy." For example, the US is the only one of Damassa's countries that doesn't count large hydro dams. India, China, and Mexico include nuclear power plants. In fact, China plans to increase its supply of nuclear power nearly 900 percent, Damassa found, accounting for nearly half of its total clean energy by 2030. That would be a big win for the climate, because nuclear power doesn't emit greenhouse gases, regardless of concerns about cost and safety.
Damassa found that the renewable capacity implied by these countries' INDCs is about 17 percent higher than the "business-as-usual" case, meaning that the Paris targets could have a significant impact on the industry's growth. Much of that extra growth could take place in countries such as India and Brazil that didn't previously have aggressive clean energy targets.
The impact of the United States' INDC may more muted. That target is based on the projected outcome of the Clean Power Plan, President Barack Obama's flagship climate regulations, which will limit greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector. Under that plan, the US aims to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030, up from 7 percent now. Environmentalist have criticized that goal as not being ambitious enough.
"In our view, the targets set by the [Clean Power Plan] are not terribly stringent above and beyond what we anticipate will occur in the marketplace anyway," said Ethan Zindler, the head of policy at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Still, in the face of repeated attacks on federal tax credits and state-level clean energy policies, the INDC could be an important backstop, Zindler said, because it "adds greater certainty around renewables into the next decade."
In any case, the INDCs are just one piece of the puzzle. There's little doubt about which direction the clean energy industry is headed, according to a projection released this week by the International Energy Agency. That report predicts global investment in clean energy will reach $7.4 trillion by 2040, by which time renewables will provide about a quarter of the world's electricity. Wind is likely to be the biggest new source, according to the IEA:
The IEA's analysis includes the INDC targets, which it says "provide a boost to lower-carbon fuels and technologies in many countries." But it also cites falling prices for both renewable technology and for natural gas (which integrates more easily with renewables on the grid than coal does) as major drivers of the industry's growth.
Tom Kimbis, vice president of executive affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, argues that the clean energy industry is already prepared to compete in the global market—with or without political targets. Still, he concedes that at the moment, it's difficult for companies to make decisions about investing in clean energy projects abroad because the details behind many INDCs remain murky.
It's worth noting that IEA projections are notoriously conservative. In the past, the agency has often dramatically low-balled the growth of wind and solar, so there's reason to think the final outcome could be even bigger than what that group is projecting. (David Roberts at Vox has an exhaustive explainer on what goes wrong in their analyses.)
The simple fact that renewable energy shows up in so many INDCs is a compelling sign of hope for the industry, Damassa said. Back in 2009, at the last major climate talks in Copenhagen, there was nowhere near this level of interest in clean power, he said.
"People never would have guessed that renewables would be deployed as quickly as they are," Damassa said.