January 21, 2022
Air Date: January 21, 2022
Climate Anxiety Therapy
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Climate change in the form of things like wildfires, floods, and droughts can have devastating effects on mental health. Now there is a growing consensus among therapists that these mounting challenges should be addressed. Julie Grant of The Allegheny Front explores how people in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and beyond are finding creative ways to tackle climate anxiety, often through community action and healing. (07:21)
Beyond the Headlines/ Peter Dykstra
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This week, Environmental Health News Editor Peter Dykstra and Host Steve Curwood discuss how an apparent rise in smoking during the pandemic could mean more plastic pollution from cigarette butts. Also, some good news about more protections for marine life around the Galápagos Islands. In the history calendar, 32 years ago a group of civil rights leaders wrote to the heads of green groups to point out their glaring lack of diversity, a problem that persists today. (04:21)
President Biden’s First Year
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Since President Biden took office a year ago his administration has emphasized the importance of addressing the climate crisis, arguably more so than any other in US history. Biden’s goals included halting federal oil and gas drilling, reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, and rectifying environmental injustices. Vermont Law School Professor Pat Parenteau joins Host Steve Curwood to discuss to what extent those words have translated into action and where more progress can be made. (15:40)
Financing Net Zero Carbon
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The world’s largest financial institutions have formed an alliance to tackle climate change called the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. Mindy Lubber, CEO of the sustainable investment group Ceres, joins Host Steve Curwood. They discuss the increasing pressure to steer capital away from fossil fuels and towards ventures that can put the world on a path to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. (08:48)
After the Indian Farmer Protests/ Omair Ahmad
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The farmer protests in India are largely over now that the government has repealed a set of controversial laws, but farmers are still looking for government action to fix what they consider a broken system. Omair Ahmad of The Third Pole joins Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb to talk about the outcomes from the protests and how one young climate activist drew the ire of the Indian government for speaking out. (06:13)
Ice Visions/ Erik Hoffner
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As winter settles in over the northern hemisphere people find creative ways to get outside and enjoy nature. For environmental journalist and photographer Erik Hoffner, winter is a time for ice skating, a passion which gave rise to some unusual art, now 20 years in the making. (03:29)
HOSTS: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Omair Ahmad, Erik Hoffner, Mindy Lubber, Pat Parenteau
REPORTERS: Peter Dykstra, Julie Grant
CURWOOD: From PRX – this is Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood.
An environmental report card for President Biden after his first year in office.
PARENTEAU: This is really the first administration in history that has prioritized the climate crisis for both domestic policy and obviously international, global policy and the president has stated some really bold goals for the nation.
CURWOOD: Also, the other-worldly images that form as ice fishing holes refreeze on a New England lake.
HOFFNER: The bubbles stretched as the water refroze, creating streaks that radiated from the center outward, much like the lines that radiate out in the iris of an eye. These holes seemed to become the lake’s own eyes, gazing at and reflecting the starry night sky.
CURWOOD: We’ll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth – Stick around!
[NEWSBREAK MUSIC: Boards Of Canada “Zoetrope” from “In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country” (Warp Records 2000)]
CURWOOD: From PRX and the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
The National Aeronautics and Atmospheric Administration is now reporting that 2021 tied with 2018 as the sixth warmest year on record. NASA says taken together, the last eight years have been the hottest since modern record keeping began in 1880, with most of the increase of some 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit occurring since the 1950s.
Yet as temperatures keep rising from human activities many people are still slow walking action to halt this existential threat. And the visible warming effects of raging wildfires, melting glaciers and damaging storms are taking a toll on mental health, especially among young people. So some mental health clinicians are preparing now for the onslaught of need they see on the horizon. Julie Grant of the Allegheny Front has this story from Pittsburgh.
GRANT: A small group of high school students from around Pittsburgh have set up chairs in a circle on the patio outside of Phipps Conservatory. They're here because they're concerned about climate change, and they each have their own reasons.
BERTOLET: My name is Claire Bertolet. I am a ninth grader at Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, PA. And I'm afraid that in the future, life is not going to be like it is today. And we're not going to be living as comfortably, and so I feel like in the future, it's going to be too late.
KURTZ: My name is Malcolm Kurtz. I am a junior at Allderdice High School. I'm an avid hiker and birdwatcher, and I'm really concerned with how species are affected by climate change.
GRANT: These and other students gather monthly to talk and plan ways to work on the issue. I kind of expected to hear they were angry with adults, sad or depressed about the state of the planet. And they did express some of those feelings like Ava DiGiacomo, a sophomore at North Allegheny High School.
DIGACOMO: It's kind of like a helpless feeling, like this summer I started spending a lot more time outside. And there were moments when I would just sit and think this world is so beautiful, and it's slowly getting like ruined, and sometimes it feels like personally, I can't do anything that's really going to make a big change. And that's not an easy feeling to deal with.
GRANT: But these students are creating community around climate action, so they don't have to do it alone. On the evening we met, some had just attended a Climate March and the group had organized a bicycling event called Pedal-Topia. Rebecca Carter is a junior at Pittsburg CAPA.
CARTER: Things like Pedal-Topia where we can get together and do something in nature as a group and as a group of activists can be really helpful and cathartic.
GRANT: Psychiatrist Elizabeth Haase thinks students like this are on the right track. She's Chair of the American Psychiatric Association's climate change committee, and says feelings of eco-anxiety, of grief and longing for what's been lost in the environment, and worry about what will happen with climate change are all becoming more pervasive. She's among a growing group of mental health professionals pushing for more climate awareness among counselors. Haase says treating climate anxiety is not the same as clinical anxiety disorders.
HAASE: It's a different animal, it's a different response, when you're facing a real world problem.
GRANT: Haase compares it with treating someone with claustrophobia. She would encourage that person to face their fear and spend time in enclosed spaces, like a subway car. But that doesn't always make sense.
HAASE: That is not an appropriate response when the subway car is on fire. The subway is on fire. You don't want to sit there and let your fear wash over you, right? You want to start doing stuff.
GRANT: When her patients express concerns about natural disasters, climate change, and ecological collapse, she advises them to find ways to talk with their family and friends about it. And to take action: to join a climate group, write to their local congressperson, or pack up photographs and important belongings in an emergency backpack.
HAASE: Even just doing something like that gives you a greater sense of control, and it creates a safer space for you to be in when something bad is happening.
GRANT: Psychiatrist Gary Belkin wants the mental health community to start taking action too, and quickly. He says there's already more mental health needs than there are available therapists, and climate change--the heat, droughts, and wildfires, and the general background stress it causes--is going to make that worse.
BELKIN: We really have to get good at rethinking how we can reach a ton of people across that spectrum. And the only way we're going to do that is by enlisting communities to be part of doing that.
GRANT: Belkin is a former deputy health commissioner of New York City and is now focused on the social aspects of climate change. He spearheaded a program in New York where mental health professionals trained employees at childcare centers, churches and programs for at-risk youth, places that he calls the front lines for mental health.
BELKIN: And we skilled those staff in screening for distress and illness, for basic counseling skills. We have to engineer things so you don't have to look for care or support, you trip over it.
GRANT: One group on the frontlines in Pittsburgh is starting to look into climate change and mental health: The Homewood Children's Village. President Walter Lewis says they have advocates who stay in touch with their 300 members. They focus on education, economics, food, and health, including mental health.
LEWIS: Probably three, four years ago for sure, it would have never dawned on me to think about some of the types of trauma, mental health impacts, of climate change.
GRANT: Disadvantaged communities like Homewood are expected to experience worse climate impacts than their wealthier neighbors. So even though his advocates are not mental health professionals, Lewis says he can still raise their awareness that a flood in the basement or some other climate-related event can be traumatic for clients.
LEWIS: Hey, you know, we just had a heatwave, you know, these are some things you might want to think about when you're talking to you know, your families or the children that you work with.
GRANT: As the number of people reporting anxiety and stress around climate change grows, others in Pittsburgh are trying to expand the available mental health care.
EVANS: Hello, everyone! My name is Gloria Evans, and I am one of the certified facilitators for integrated community therapy. We want to welcome you tonight.
GRANT: This integrated community therapy facilitator is using a technique developed and practiced in Brazil for 27 years, to bring groups of people together to share their experiences, learn from each other, and gradually deal with problems in their families and neighborhoods.
THOMPSON: The goals of this method are to help people learn how to express themselves, sort of have emotional literacy, to how to talk about their feelings.
GRANT: Ken Thompson is a community psychiatrist based at the Squirrel Hill Health Center in Pittsburgh.
THOMPSON: Also how to help people develop a sense of empathy with each other.
GRANT: Facilitators are trained over months, not years. There are now around 40,000 facilitators in Brazil. Thompson's group is starting to train facilitators here. And as the climate changes, he says, people are going to need safe spaces like this where they can talk and connect with others.
THOMPSON: When you share that, it becomes a real powerful glue. And I feel like we need glue. We need a lot of glue in this society, you know, at least to keep us hanging together.
GRANT: In our polarized society, efforts like this are starting to help more people relearn how to talk with others and see their shared humanity and hopefully re-weave some of the community fabric that's been pulled apart. Because as climate change worsens, people are going to need each other.
CURWOOD: That story from Julie Grant of the Allegheny Front.
- The Allegheny Front | “How to address the looming crisis of climate anxiety”
- About Pittsburgh Youth for Climate Action (PYCA) from Communitopia
- American Psychiatry Association | “Climate Change and Mental Health Connections”
- Climate Aware Therapist Directory
- Homewood Children’s Village
- Visible Hands Collaborative
[MUSIC: Agnes Obel, “Myopia,” on Myopia, by Agnes Obel, Deutsche Grammophon]
CURWOOD: Joining me for a look beyond the headlines is Peter Dykstra. Peter is an editor with Environmental Health News, that's ehn.org, and DailyClimate.org, on the line there from Atlanta, Georgia. Hi there, Peter, how you doing in this pandemic that just seems to go on and on?
DYKSTRA: Well, hi, Steve, and in one sense, I might be doing better than millions of other people in the world, who are stressed out and shut in because of the COVID pandemic. That has led, according to a National Institutes of Health Study, and many other anecdotal stories, that we're smoking more.
CURWOOD: Indeed, and by the way, I hear from someone on our staff that more young women are smoking in part because they feel that, you know, with the climate emergency, how long are their lives going to be? So sad.
DYKSTRA: It is sad, and we're sending it straight to our lungs. One more thing to worry about, and one more thing on top of the thing to worry about are cigarette butts. We already know that there are billions of them that are literally littering the ground—sidewalks, beaches, into the ocean. And those cigarette butts are not only the butt end of a polluting product, but they are also a source of plastic pollution. Every filtered cigarette butt has a lot of plastic in it.
CURWOOD: Yeah, boy, I've noticed it seems to take forever for them to degrade; maybe they don't biodegrade, for that matter.
DYKSTRA: In terms of the plastic, for all intents and purposes, they don't. They're everywhere. And we're just coming to terms about one more tragically easy way for people to pollute, and pollute with an addicting substance.
CURWOOD: Hmm. Hey, what else do you have for us today?
DYKSTRA: We go to a beautiful place, the Galapagos, treasured back to the 1800s as a source of wonder, a source of biodiversity, a source of great scientific knowledge, going back to Charles Darwin's work on The Origin of Species. But there has been an influx of fishing in the waters conserved around the Galapagos, that's brought in Chinese fleets and other nations' fleets. The Galapagos are protected to the tune of tens of thousands of square miles. And Ecuador, of whom the Galapagos are property, has decided to increase the conservation area around those treasured fabled islands.
CURWOOD: Yeah, I think that's gonna be a big help, I think, Peter, because the Galapagos attract fish from all over the ocean to come there for feeding and breeding. And that's why the fishing boats like to set up nearby, but hopefully this will help conserve more species. Alright, Peter, what else do we have for today? Oh, I guess it's that time that we look back in the history books, and tell me what you see now?
DYKSTRA: We surely do. And we're going to go back 32 years to January of 1990, when a coalition of American black and brown political groups sent a letter, rather sharply worded letter, to green political groups, that they're too white, you follow me?
CURWOOD: Indeed, I, in fact, I remember back then there was a first National Summit of People of Color on the Environment about that issue.
DYKSTRA: There was. The terms "environmental racism" and "environmental justice" had begun to come to the fore in the 1980s. They had worked their way into the vocabulary of the environmental movement, but not necessarily into the leadership of big national environmental groups like National Audubon, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club and others.
CURWOOD: That's right. Well, I know this is an item from history, but Peter, kind of feels like it's still going on.
DYKSTRA: Yeah, 32 years ago seems like a long time, particularly since so little has happened in the interim.
CURWOOD: Well, thank you, Peter. Peter Dykstra is an editor of Environmental Health News, that's ehn.org and DailyClimate.org. We'll talk to you again real soon.
DYKSTRA: All right, Steve, thanks a lot. Talk to you soon.
- Gothamist | “Foes Of The Single-Use Filter – Meet The New Yorkers Who Want To Eliminate The Cigarette Butt”
- The Washington Post | “Ecuador expands protections around Galápagos, creating ‘a new highway’ for sea life”
- NYTimes archive, 1990 | “Environmental Groups Told They Are Racists in Hiring”
[MUSIC: Boubacar Traore, “Kar Kar/Vincent” on Kongo Magni, by Boubacar Traore, World Village Music]
CURWOOD: Coming up – The green agenda of President Biden after his first year in office.
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[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Ken Bonfield, “Taos” on Homecoming, by Ken Bonfield, BWE Music]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.
A year ago Democratic President Joe Biden took office and dramatically changed the rhetoric on the environment from the previous Republican Administration.
BIDEN: We're standing at an inflection point in world history. We have the ability to invest in ourselves and build an equitable, clean energy future, and in the process, create millions of good paying jobs and opportunities around the world, cleaner air for our children, where bountiful oceans, healthier for us and ecosystems for our planet.
CURWOOD: Since his inauguration President Joe Biden has accomplished some firsts for conservation and the environment. He appointed the first Native Americans ever to run the Interior Department and National Park Service, in efforts to redress the trail of broken treaties and land expropriation that haunt US history. He is also the first president to restore more than 100,000 acres of National Monument designations in Indian country that had been rolled back by his predecessor. And Mr. Biden is the first president to set up a White House council on environmental justice. History will note his bold plans to address climate change. His goals include that at least half of all new cars be electric by 2030 and that the nation become carbon neutral by 2050. He also immediately rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. But in the remaining 3 years of his term Joe Biden has much still to do, as a divided Congress has trimmed or blocked much of the spending he wants for climate and environmental protection. And he faces a rocky road when it comes to executive orders and regulations since the Republican dominated Supreme Court is likely to oppose any orders or rules that rely on flexible interpretations of laws. Joining us now for more is Vermont Law School Professor Pat Parenteau. Welcome back to Living on Earth Pat!
PARENTEAU: Thanks very much, Steve, good to be with you.
CURWOOD: So what are some of the more immediate actions that Biden took during his first few months in the presidency? I'm thinking about a series of executive orders that he reversed, he got turned around.
PARENTEAU: Right. So day one, he signed a series of executive orders, one of which committed the nation to addressing the climate crisis, rejoining the Paris Agreement, delegating the authority to Senator John Kerry, and Secretary of State John Kerry, as the climate envoy to the world. And Kerry has been negotiating with China, for example, on some major attempts to reduce emissions. He's appointed Gina McCarthy as the sort of climate Czarina for domestic policy to make sure that all of the agencies of government are working in coordination and all pointing in the same direction. And just interestingly enough, there's been a lot of controversy over the reappointment of Jerome Powell to the Federal Reserve Board, but here he is in his confirmation hearing, and one of the things he says right out of the box was climate change is going to be a priority for the Federal Reserve that he recognizes the threat that climate disruption is posing to the American financial system. So we're really seeing for the first time in history an all of government approach to the climate crisis.
CURWOOD: So now in his first year in office, what has Joe Biden done in terms of managing public lands?
PARENTEAU: We've certainly seen a recommitment to designating national monuments like bears, ears, and others. But in terms of moving us away from using the public lands as a source of coal and oil and gas and moving them more into the category of the lands that we need to preserve the landscapes and the resilience and the biodiversity of the country, we're really not seeing that much movement in that area yet.
CURWOOD: Now, as I understand it, days after the climate talks in Glasgow, when the by Biden administration auctioned off approximately 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for offshore drilling, they were doing this in response to a court order. How correct is that?
PARENTEAU: Well, it's partially correct. That's another curious, frankly, decision by the administration. A Trump appointee, a federal district judge in Louisiana, did rule that the administration didn't have the authority to put a temporary halt on oil and gas leasing not only in the Gulf, but this judge said everywhere in the United States, including public lands in the West. And so the Biden administration has appealed that ruling, but they didn't request the court to stay the effect of the district court judge's opinion, which is a standard procedure when you disagree with the court. So the administration, instead of getting a stay of that order, has decided to comply with it by scheduling the first oil and gas leasing in the Gulf that we've seen since the Trump administration. But we're not seeing Biden following through on his promise to end oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters yet. Not seeing that, at this point.
CURWOOD: Pat, the Biden administration has promised to address environmental justice with a whole of government approach. And of course, there's no lack of environmental justice issues in this country. I mean, we've got Superfund sites located in black and brown and poor communities. We've got water pollution, lead pipes in particular. I mean, to what extent have those plans, those promises, been realized? To what extent are they being executed?
PARENTEAU: I think the Biden administration gets credit for prioritizing environmental justice in various areas. EPA, under Title six of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has both the authority and the obligation to make sure that when new facilities are being cited, particularly polluting facilities, you know, like power plants, like oil refineries, make sure that they're not being located in communities that have been disproportionately affected by air and water pollution. And I do see that EPA is beefing up its environmental justice office, it's giving it more priority and more sort of high visibility. What we haven't seen yet is has EPA actually acted on that authority and prohibited some of these new facilities that are being constructed? Or on the other hand, have they really stepped up the enforcement of environmental air and water quality laws in particular, to address the disproportionate impacts? I think we have to give the administration some time to do this. But I'm looking to see some more tangible evidence on the ground in these communities, that the commitment to environmental justice is real, but they need more tools, they need more, the administration needs a better mechanism to get this money out the door and into the communities that need it faster, and to make sure that the investments that are being made are actually accomplishing, right, the goals that the administration has for addressing these problems. I think the environmental justice community has been very patient so far, but I'm sensing Robert Bullard just gave a major address. He is the father of environmental justice in this country. He just gave a major address. He's on the President's Environmental Justice Taskforce, in which he said, you know, it's time to see some tangible results from these commitments. So that's what we're all waiting for now.
CURWOOD: So the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed into law back in November, and of course, the separate bill, the Build Back Better Bill, which is still pending--to what extent did this legislation really address climate disruption? I mean, how much of an impact would we see if both bills go into action, and what's the impact if the second one, if Build Back Better, never really gets done?
PARENTEAU: Right. If they both go into effect, and particularly Build Back Better, if those two bills both were enacted, and that money, guys, I say, got out the door and got to the places it needs, and really accelerated the transition to clean energy and clean transportation, that would be the biggest single movement of the federal government on climate ever. So it would be historic, there's no question about it. It's also true to say it wouldn't be enough. So you know, the Build Back Better Bill, which is, you know, currently at something like 1.8, or 1.7 trillion. That sounds like a lot of money, right? But the estimate is for a real transition to a carbon free economy, now I'm talking about across the board, and I'm talking globally, the estimate is you're going to need something on the order of $5 trillion a year, starting now, and continuing right on until about 2050. So the job ahead of us, is truly unprecedented. But getting the Build Back Better bill enacted is an absolutely essential piece of President Biden's climate agenda.
CURWOOD: I want to go back to environmental justice for a moment. So even with the first infrastructure bill that was signed into law, there's money, I think there's close to $20 billion dollars, for example, to deal with lead pipes. But what about the infrastructure for the infrastructure? In other words, what mechanisms has the Biden administration put in place so that communities can apply, get the qualified designers and engineers and social folks involved to actually apply for this money and then use it in an effective way?
PARENTEAU: Yeah. So that's what Robert Bullard is, one of the things he's most concerned about. And that is that the administration had promised that by now, there would be this thing called a screening tool, which would identify the communities that were eligible for this sort of earmark funding, but also identify how the funds were going to be dispersed. In other words, as usual, with federal money, there's all these strings attached and all these procedures, and this paperwork, and it takes time. So that hasn't happened, you know, its execution, its follow through. That's what's important. So lots and lots of very fine grain details need to be focused on right now.
CURWOOD: Spoiler alert, this Build Back Better Bill that's wrapped up in the so called reconciliation mechanism, may not actually get passed, in that form. So what is the Biden administration do to keep pressing on climate, if they don't get the big bill through?
PARENTEAU: What the administration has been saying, and this would be people like Gina McCarthy, is that they will make full use of all the authorities that they have, including things like regulating the oil and gas industry for methane emissions, including things like increasing fuel economy standards to 40 miles per gallon by model year 2023, including things like regulating some of these ozone depleting chemicals, these hydrofluorocarbons, which are massive greenhouse gas accelerators, and they are moving forward very aggressively on that. We just saw an announcement that they're going to crack down on the cleanup of these awful coal ash facilities, which are all over coal country. And EPA has also announced they're going to tighten the toxic effluent limits from coal-fired power plants. So, you know, Biden is going to make full use of all of his executive branch authority, including reversing all of Trump's anti-environmental rules, which is, you know, that's another undertaking that requires careful preparation of the record to support what you're doing, because it's going to be challenged in court, by the Red State Attorney General's, who've challenged everything that Biden has been proposing, so far, we can count on them continuing to do that, plus the coal industry and the fossil fuel industry. So, you know, this is what the Biden administration is looking at for the rest of their term. If they don't get meaningful action from Congress, it's going to be a guerrilla warfare, it's going to be fighting rule by rule, decision by decision. And that's really not going to move us very fast and very far towards where we need to go. We desperately need some legislation from Congress.
CURWOOD: Pat, the climate crisis, of course, is an existential one, right? So what do you think the Biden administration should really focus on, in the three remaining years of this term to deal with this crisis as a nation?
PARENTEAU: It really is about energizing the financial markets. That's the conclusion I've come to. I've been looking at the difficulty of getting anything through Congress, the difficulty of getting things through the courts. And that leaves me thinking that it's the financial markets. Believe it or not, that may be the salvation. You know, Jerome Powell said, he's going to seriously consider requiring that banks stress test their portfolios, meaning look at how much of their loans is based on fossil fuels, and have the banks taken into account the risk of stranded assets, the fact that the collateral that's being pledged for these multi-billion dollar loans is not worth the paper it's written on. And the analog for this, of course, is the housing bubble. And what happened when that collapsed? And what happened to banks and brokerage firms, when that happened? And we are seeing from the financial institutions a growing awareness and concern about the risks, the financial risks from climate. So if we could get some combination of either state, and hopefully federal policies, including some investments, including using tax money to leverage private investment. For example, Connecticut has a green bank. And it's been very successful. It's small scale in comparison to what's needed, but it's been very successful in leveraging state money to get private money at a ratio of eight to one. So for every $1 of public money, you get $8 of private capital. And it is being directed by the way in Connecticut, to environmental justice communities, for energy investments, solar and wind, for example. So that, to me looks like the model for the future: a combination of kind of strategic governmental policies and investments, coupled with the private capital, moving more aggressively into the clean energy, clean transportation field. That may be our only real hope of accelerating the transition that we need.
CURWOOD: Pat Parenteau's a former regional council for the Environmental Protection Agency, and a professor at the Vermont Law School. Pat, thanks so much for taking the time with us today.
PARENTEAU: You bet Steve. Always a pleasure.
- PBS News Hour | “Biden speaks at COP26 climate summit in Glasgow”
- Biden campaign website | “The Biden Plan to Secure Environmental Justice and Equitable Economic Opportunity”
- EPA | “EPA Announces Plans to Use First $1B from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funds to Clear Out the Superfund Backlog”
- Inside Climate News “Biden Promised to Stop Oil Drilling on Public Lands. Is His Failure to Do So a Betrayal or a Smart Political Move?”
- Learn more about the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council
- About Pat Parenteau
[MUSIC: Darol Anger/Barbara Higbie Quintet, “Egrets” on Live at Montreux, by Barbara Higbie, Windham Hill Records]
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[MUSIC: Darol Anger/Barbara Higbie Quintet, “Egrets” on Live at Montreux, by Barbara Higbie, Windham Hill Records]
CURWOOD: Coming up – The world’s largest financial institutions form an alliance to tackle climate change. That’s just ahead on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.
The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero has brought together some 450 financial institutions from about 45 countries with the common goal of net-zero carbon emissions. The alliance is the brainchild of Mark Carney, a former governor of the Bank of England, which is like the Federal Reserve in the US. Mark Carney also served as the financial advisor for the UK’s presidency of the COP26 climate summit last year. Mindy Lubber is the CEO of the sustainable investment group Ceres and joins me now to talk about the Glasgow Alliance. Welcome back to Living on Earth, Mindy.
Mindy Lubber: Terrific to be here. Thanks for having me.
CURWOOD: Our pleasure. So Mark Carney put together and brought the Glasgow financial alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) to COP26. Who has signed on to this initiative? And how difficult has it been to get some of the traditional institutions to sign up?
LUBBER: Well, who has signed on actually is hundreds of the key players in finance. And I'll tell you, that's a great place to start. That's great. When Blackrock, who managed $7.5 trillion in assets under management, or CalPERS, $200 or $350 billion. I mean, the largest public pension funds, insurance companies and banks are signing up. The question now, because really, in today's world, we have to immediately move from making commitments to showing us the money, what are those commitments mean? Committing to net zero by 2050? Whether your Global Fortune 500 company, or you're a major investor is all good, but that is words, the proof will be in the pudding, everybody's got a need to follow those commitments with specific deeds. What are your plans for 2025? For 2030? And for 2035? And are you willing to disclose those plans? And will you stand with us as we're in the middle of a campaign right now, to get that Securities and Exchange Commission to mandate the disclosure of climate risk?
CURWOOD: So Mindy, there are a few elephants in this room. And I'm thinking particularly of Saudi Arabia, I'm thinking of India, I'm thinking of the Russian Federation. The math is a little wobbly. But some say that, probably two thirds of the world's emissions come from state-controlled companies that don't issue shares, Coal India does not, Saudi Aramco, you can get in as an investor, but you're not going to get control. They're a big part of the problem here. And they don't operate under the sway of these institutional fund managers, and private sector bankers. As long as those folks who are running along the private sector is going to say, we're losing out.
LUBBER: Well, if you throw China in there, it is a really incredible 900 pound gorilla or elephant, as you said, in the room. It is not easy, we need to start making sure we're having an impact on demand as well. If the demand for coal doesn't keep growing, but rather stops growing, there'll be less of a demand for those countries to produce it. If the demand for oil doesn't grow at the same rate, there'll be less for recent now, that's not going to be easy. As you say, these are huge, huge countries with state-owned facilities. Our hope is that through global initiatives, like the COP, the Conference of the Parties, that we're able to, through partnership and pressure, see some progress. I mean, we saw some progress, and I will put a yellow highlighter on the word “some” –
CURWOOD: Yeah –
LUBBER: —from China, who said, we'll get to net zero by 2070. I will tell you, Steve, that's not good enough, our kids and our children will suffer mightily, and our economy will suffer more than we saw it in the subprime meltdown, if we think we could wait until 2070 to solve the problem. So we've got a ways to go and the United States stepping back in, and hopefully staying in and exerting pressure, is certainly a part of the equation.
CURWOOD: By the way, many of these asset managers don't actually own the things that they're managing. So where's the accountability that we can count on to make sure that the commitments are kept?
LUBBER: Yeah, perfect question. Because, as I said, words are just words, and without accountability systems, the climate is gonna continue to get worse and threaten our planet, our people and our economy. But truly part of the way to have accountability Steve, I just talked about the Securities and Exchange Commission. We need companies to be required, not voluntarily, but we need a standard by the government to make sure that climate risk is disclosed, that that disclosure is mandatory and available to investors and to the public. I mean, right now, we don't even know what the risk is for every company. And we need to know. And without climate risk disclosure with it all being voluntary, we see data in one place that looks one way we see disclosure in another place, that looks another way. It's got to be uniform, it's got to be consistent. We need a level playing field. And there's got to be transparency, so consumers, so everybody knows what the companies are really doing.
CURWOOD: Now, what's the plan for the Glasgow financial alliance for fossil fuel divestment?
LUBBER: Well, it's not immediate, and that's an issue. I will say that there is a theory and legitimate enough, that says over the short term if you haven't divested from fossil fuels, and many of the players have, and they ought to be on their way to doing so, you need to use your economic clout of ownership. Meaning if you're a pension fund, and you own Exxon Mobil, and you own Chevron and ConocoPhillips, if you haven't divested from them, you need to weigh in as an owner, because that's what these large shareholders are, and you need to tell them to come up with a plan for how they are going to transition out of fossil fuels. Now, five years ago, Steve, that was like talking to the wall. You know, we work with hundreds of investors who file hundreds of shareholder resolutions a year, telling companies that as their owners, they want to see more activity on climate. But look what happened in last year’s shareholder session: number one, three of Exxon's board members were taken out by activist investors who said, 'you are not being responsible fiduciaries, you are not doing your job as board members of one of the world's largest companies, you're not addressing climate change. And we're gonna take out board members and put in new board members.’ That was a revolution. We're seeing investors use their economic muscle and clout to change the companies and their portfolios. And look at what else happened. Not only was it the religious investors who voted for this, or the socially responsible investors who voted for this, it was BlackRock, it was State Street, it was Vanguard. So we are making progress. We've moved some of the largest players in finance, to see climate as a material financial risk that they have to do something about. Enough? Not even close. And not all of them are divesting from fossil fuels. If you even look at the banks, some of the largest banks who are taking steps, and they get credit for taking some steps, they are still financing. Some of the world's dirtiest projects that has to end. Financing, new coal fired power plants, oil plants, that's got to end, and the that should be an expectation of (GFANZ). We will keep pushing, we do a lot of similar work. We're aligned with them. But our job is as an advocacy group and think tank, working with some of the world's largest companies and investors to set the gold standard on what really needs to be done. Look, Mark Carney, and now Michael Bloomberg, who's his new co-chair and partner, deserve a lot of credit for bringing together bankers, and insurance company executives, and asset management firms like JP Morgan and pension funds. That's great. We've got to have them together, but we've got to have a goal of net zero by 2050 or sooner. Plans from each of them by 2030, about how we're going to get half of the way there. And they've got to start yesterday, not tomorrow. So GFANZ will help us push companies to get to that gold standard. Will we get there? It's just gotten started, but we're hopeful that this is one more way to set the standard for the world of finance.
CURWOOD: Mindy Lubber is CEO of the Sustainable Investment Group series. Mindy, thanks so much for taking the time with us today.
LUBBER: Great to be with you, Steve. Take care.
[MUSIC: Nashville Mandolin Ensemble, “Cuban Landscape with Rain” on Plectrasonics, by Leo Brouwer, CMH Records]
CURWOOD: India is home to more than 1.3 billion people and more than half of them make their living from farming. In recent years, the monsoon season has changed dramatically, causing many farmers to struggle with a changing climate. Then in August of 2020, the Indian government announced huge changes to farm laws and payment systems. The government claimed the moves would modernize India’s farming sector, but farmers worried the new laws would put them at a disadvantage over large corporate agribusiness. Chief among the farmers’ concerns was a plan to remove traditional government minimum support prices. So for more than a year millions of farmers took to the streets and held massive protests. In November, with key elections looming, the government met the farmers’ immediate demands by repealing the controversial measures. Now, the protests have been declared over, but farmers are still looking for several government actions to fix what they consider a broken system. For more Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb spoke with Omair Ahmad, the South Asia editor for The Third Pole.
BASCOMB: So did the farmers get everything they wanted here from the government? Or are they still holding out for some items?
AHMAD: No, the farmers got one thing, which is a rollback of the three laws. They didn't get the second thing, which is making minimum support price a law in itself. They wanted that to be encoded into a law. Right now, it is merely an administrative thing that the government does, and the government can, at any time that it wishes to, either water this down or actually get rid of it completely.
BASCOMB: So the culture has just been that this minimum support price is there, but the farmers want it codified. Are they still working towards that goal?
AHMAD: The farmers unions have raised that issue up. It is right now not being discussed, largely because India's going into election fever over its largest state, which is Uttar Pradesh, and that is also a state that's very critically dependent on farming as an income thing. But it has a population of over 200 million people and sends the most people into our parliament. So it's critically important politically. And so everything is right now just focused on that state. And for a lot of analysis of the government's decision to roll back the laws was fear that they might lose the elections in Yupi.
BASCOMB: Well, that's the obvious question here, you know, a massive protest in a largely agrarian state doesn't look too good when you're, you know, heading into elections. Do you think that that's part of the reason that the government capitulated now after a year and four months of protests?
AHMAD: Uh, well, it's impossible to tell, honestly. The government has said multiple things. And its representatives have also said that we're going to continue to push for these laws. And even in revoking these laws, the Prime Minister basically said that he had failed to convince people, not that he thought that there was anything in particular wrong with this law. So it's actually anyone's guess on why exactly the government decided that this was not worth pursuing. Because it was a big gamble, it would have changed the face of Indian agriculture. And that basically means facing face and changing the face of India.
BASCOMB: Now, early last year, we talked about the arrest of Disha Ravi. She was a youth climate activist who worked on a call to action called a toolkit to help farmers protest. And it was cited as evidence of sedition by the government and led to her arrest. What's the latest news with Disha Ravi?
AHMAD: Disha is out. She and a couple of other people have been released largely on bail. The case hasn't been tried yet. And unfortunately, India has a long history of very slow government systems, which is particularly ridiculous when you have serious cases like sedition, which should be for a government an incredibly serious topic. But India convicts very few people on sedition. It charges a lot of people on sedition.
AHMAD: It charges a lot of people under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which is a big bag in which it puts everybody that's a dissident or doesn't agree to people who are terrorists. And it has in the last few years convicted maybe 2% of those cases.
AHMAD: So unfortunately, a lot of these laws are easy to charge people with. But the vast numbers of these are people who are never proven guilty by the state. The process itself is a punishment. And this is used often by political parties against a political opponent, against people that they find inconvenient for something or the other. And unfortunately, I think Disha Ravi fell into that particular criteria.
BASCOMB: It sounds like maybe it's used to intimidate.
AHMAD: It is, it is often used to intimidate, especially in the case of Disha Ravi, I think. The government got a lot of negative press overseas about the farmers' protests, even by people who agreed in principle that there should be agricultural reform. It was largely said okay, that maybe these laws are necessary, but this is not the way how to do it. But when you have somebody like Disha Ravi, who was also linked to Extinction Rebellion, and then Greta Thunberg tweeting about this, then the Indian government gets adverse publicity that it does not like because it needs, you know, investments and support to pull India out of deep poverty. And therefore, I think she was seen as somebody who was part of all of this and it would send a message to young people, especially with global connections to stay away from this type of politics.
CURWOOD: Omair Ahmad is the South Asia editor for The Third Pole, speaking with Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb.
- The New York Times | “India’s Farmers Call Off Yearlong Protest Against Hated Farm Laws”
- Listen to our past coverage of the Indian Farming Protests
- Hear our past coverage of Disha Ravi’s arrest
- About Omair Ahmad
[MUSIC: Ravi Shankar, “Tarana”, on Inside The Kremlin, BMG Entertainment]
CURWOOD: As winter settles in over the northern hemisphere people find creative ways to get outside and enjoy nature. For environmental journalist and photographer Erik Hoffner winter is a time for ice skating, a passion which gave rise to some unusual art.
HOFFNER: The first house I rented after moving to New England two decades ago was on a lake. I love ice skating, and felt lucky when a cold, dry December created a perfect scenario for skating just outside my door.
[ICE SKATING SOUNDS]
HOFFNER: Most mornings I’d pull on skates and glide across that lake until my legs were shaky and sore. The hiss and scrape of blades on ice was often the only sound against the deep, cold quiet of the sleeping landscape. The ice that first year was so clear I could watch fish swimming below. In early winter as the ice formed I could even hear its cracks, and groans, and pings through the floor of my house.
[GROANS & PINGS OF ICE]
HOFFNER: Then ice fishermen drilled perfectly round holes in the lake. And overnight tiny bubbles filtering up from sediments below were caught in thickening water inside the holes while inches of new ice formed. The bubbles stretched as the water refroze, creating streaks that radiated from the center outward much like the lines that radiate out in the iris of an eye. These holes seemed to become the lake’s own eyes, gazing at and reflecting the starry night sky. The formations were all different, like snowflakes. In the morning light, they just could look like stars, cells, or galaxies. Now every year in early winter I strap on my skates in a kind of treasure hunt for the holes and shoot black and white photos of them. Over 20 years I built up a huge collection of these Ice Visions. I don’t know what’s more fun, taking the pictures or pulling on my skates to fly over the frozen water on those quiet winter mornings. Some years, though, it snows early, before the ice reaches a safe thickness, making skating impossible. And the photos I take on this choppy, gray canvas are less captivating than when refrozen holes are framed by that smooth, black ice which resembles deep space. Last winter started cold, and good, safe ice set early, but then the weather warmed for a long stretch well into January and what I saw inside the fishing holes surprised me.
Instead of building 2 or 3 inches of new ice in each hole overnight, there was often just a skin at the surface, so thin you could poke a finger through it. And the tiny bubbles trapped beneath that thin layer of ice pooled with others to create large, semi-frozen bubbles that oozed and flowed together. They looked entirely different, not so much like eyes or stars but rather distorted faces, and strange animals. It was like seeing the face of climate change. It’s too soon to say whether it will be too warm again this year. But there’s already safe ice on lakes in my town, so I’ve taken the cameras and skates out several times and look forward to discovering what wonders this winter will bring.
[ICE SKATING SOUNDS]
CURWOOD: That’s journalist and photographer Eric Hoffner. His work was recently acquired for the permanent collection of the Bates Museum of Art in Maine. For links to his photographs visit the Living on Earth website loe.org.
[MUSIC: Ken Bonfield, “Floating” on Homecoming, by Ken Bonfield, BWE Music]
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation.
Our crew includes Naomi Arenberg, Bobby Bascomb, Paloma Beltran, Jenni Doering, Mark Kausch, Mark Seth Lender, Don Lyman, Aynsley O’Neill, Sophia Pandelidis, Jake Rego, Teresa Shi, and Jolanda Omari. Tom Tiger engineered our show. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can hear us anytime at loe.org, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, and like us, please, on our Facebook page - Living on Earth. We tweet from @livingonearth. And find us on Instagram at livingonearthradio. I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening!
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