Welcome to Climate Point, your weekly guide to climate, energy and environment news from around the Golden State and the country. In Palm Springs, Calif., I’m Mark Olalde.
For months now, we’ve seen clear links between the environment and the COVID-19 pandemic, whether they be the urban-wildlife interface unleashing new zoonotic diseases or communities lacking clean water necessary for hygiene. The Navajo Nation has been hit hard by the virus, perhaps in part because nearly a third of households don’t have running water, an issue that will only become worse as climate change pushes the mercury higher.
Ian James of The Arizona Republic traveled to the nation, which spreads across much of what is now the Four Corners region, to report on its poor water access. Join him as he dives into what is “a deficiency rooted in colonial history and systemic racism, compounded by decades of insufficient funding and complicated by a host of other obstacles.”
Now, here’s some other important reporting….
The lungs of the world. Modeled on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of experts is building a new project to study the Amazon rainforest, which is teetering on the edge of a “disastrous rainforest-to-savanna tipping point.” Mongabay reports that the 150 scientists and economists hope to find solutions to manage the all-important biome that’s threatened by fires, climate change and the industry-first policies of Brazil’s ultra-conservative President Jair Bolsonaro.
Batteries are the future. Switch, a company that operates electricity-hungry data centers, plans to host the world’s largest solar-storage facility that ties directly to its customer. Greentech Media reports that the new project will be constructed in the Nevada desert and represents another big step toward the battery capacity needed to tether renewable energy to the world’s power demands.
The bailout continues. There are more clean energy jobs than those in the fossil fuel sector, Sarah Bowman of the Indianapolis Star reports, yet several large coal and gas companies in the Hoosier State received more than twice what renewable energy companies did in relief dollars. “For many environmental advocates, the Paycheck Protection Program data calls into question the number and size of relief funds allocated to an industry that was on the decline before the pandemic,” she writes.
An upstream battle. If the Pebble Mine ever receives its final permits and breaks ground, its owners stand to make billions of dollars. At the same time, the world’s most productive sockeye salmon fishery could be obliterated. Chris D’Angelo of HuffPost reports that, after the Obama administration worked to slow the project, the Trump administration reversed course. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers posted its final environmental impact statement and said the massive mine wouldn’t have any major impacts on fish, paving the way for it to receive the final green light.
Politicizing public lands? Earlier in the year, how to manage national parks during the coronavirus pandemic became a political flashpoint. Now, although the virus is anything but contained, they’re back open and once again causing controversy. The Fresno Bee reports that Yosemite National Park — which hosts 4.5 million visitors per year — has a COVID-19-positive resident. Instead of dealing with the issue, park management moved to quash the news, an employee alleged to the newspaper.
Corruption check-in. If you’re a fan of this newsletter, then (in addition to being the best) you’ve been following the corruption case unfolding in the Midwest. Republican Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was recently charged by the FBI for a scheme involving a nuclear and coal bailout. Now, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, a customer of the utility company in question, FirstEnergy, has filed a class-action lawsuit to get money back from the rate hikes that funded the bailout.
When clean water’s not cheap. Would you pay $74 a month to be able to turn on a tap that’s not clean enough to drink? That’s the question in this important story from the San Francisco Chronicle that looks at low-income communities around Fresno and their fight to finally get access to potable water. The catch? There are 310 public water systems out of compliance in the state, and just as some programs were getting underway to address these issues, the coronavirus pandemic hit, throwing their finances into disarray.
Come hell or high water. Weeks of unusually heavy rain have dropped on central and southern China, affecting 54 million people and putting unprecedented stress on the Three Gorges Dam, the Los Angeles Times reports. The dam is one of the largest in the world, and if it were to fail, an untold number of people would see their homes, farms and lives washed away.
Fossil fuels are thirsty. Our USA Today Network friends over at the Farmington Daily Times recently wrote about a new report from the Energy Policy Institute that looks at the high water usage at coal-fired power plants. Across the dry West, this thirsty fuel appears increasingly out-of-step with efforts to use less Colorado River water. The report analyzed data from 30 coal plants in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming and found that they guzzle about 208 million gallons of water every day.
AND ANOTHER THING
See you on the other side. Fossil fuels aren’t forever. But as the world transitions to cleaner energy sources, we can’t forget the communities whose economies are based on mineral extraction. The concept is called the “just transition” in the environmental movement, and it searches for solutions to find new jobs in a greener economy for former miners and roughnecks. First, E&E takes us to the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to examine what life looks like under the clouds of booms and, increasingly, busts. Then, the Casper Star Tribune covers a new report that found cleaning up coal mines might just be the economic parachute coal communities need to keep employment up and buy a little more time for that transition.
Scientists agree that to maintain a livable planet, we need to reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration back to 350 ppm. We’re above that and rising dangerously. Here are the latest numbers:
That’s all for now. Don’t forget to follow along on Twitter at @MarkOlalde. You can also reach me at [email protected] You can sign up to get Climate Point in your inbox for free here. And, if you’d like to receive a daily round-up of California news (also for free!), you can sign up for USA Today’s In California newsletter here. Wear a mask please! Cheers.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Climate Point: Saving the Amazon and clean water for Navajo Nation