The 7 Most Interesting Articles about the Environment I Read This Month (July 2020)

If you know me well, you probably know that I am passionate about fighting against climate change and protecting the environment. I feel that climate change is the greatest problem humanity is facing in this century. Corporations and people are pumping out fatal, unprecedented levels of carbon emissions, and we barely have any time left to turn things around.

I plan on writing a roundup of the most interesting articles I read about climate change at the end of every month. My goal is to inform others about recent developments and research about the environment.

These articles will probably be recent (published within the last month), but please remember that this list includes articles I read this month, which can include articles from >several months ago.

I will provide my personal commentary on each article in “Notes” and include an important quote from each article in “Quote.”

Note: Publication dates are written in the format MM/DD/YYYY (month/day/year).

The Guardian Coal

1) ‘Coal is over’: the miners rooting for the Green New Deal

From: The Guardian, 8/12/2019

Notes: A fascinating article I come back to about once every month. Politicians and regular citizens often mention coal miners to argue against the Green New Deal, saying coal miners would all lose their jobs and live in misery. However, this article interviews several U.S. coal miners who share compelling viewpoints about the decline of the coal industry and why the Green New Deal will positively impact the economy and the environment. Former coalminers also recount how Republican officials repeatedly failed to protect miners’ health and jobs despite promising they would do so.

Carl Shoupe, a retired coalminer in Harlan county, Kentucky, who worked as a union organizer for 14 years, said people in Appalachia need to start moving away from relying solely on the coal industry as an economic resource for the region.

‘What we’ve been doing is trying to transition into the 21st century and get on past coal,’ he said.

[Stanley Sturgill, a coalminer for 41 years in Harlan county, Kentucky, said,] ‘What you’re doing with the Green New Deal is you’re opening the door to infringe on the Republicans’ money and that’s what they’re afraid of. Republicans laugh and say you can’t pay for it. But if you tax everybody what they should be taxed, and I’m talking about the wealthy, there wouldn’t be a problem.’

The Economist carbon emissions

2) How much can financiers do about climate change?

The role that green investing can play must not be misunderstood or overstated

From: The Economist, 6/20/2020

Notes: You can sign up for an account for The Economist in 30 seconds to read this article for free. Don’t get scared by the paywall! The Economist shares their detailed research and analysis of “emissions disclosures from over 5,000 publicly listed companies which between them account for about 90% of the value of the world’s stockmarkets.” They share findings on the relationships between company ownership (is a company majority investor-owned?), carbon emissions, how much sway investors can have over reducing emissions, company revenue, and strategies for investors to reduce emissions.

The greening trend could be a force for good in the fight to reduce climate change. But the role that financial services can play must not be misunderstood or overstated. The sector is responding to changes in government and broader circles of opinion, not driving change itself. And there is a limit as to how much it can do. Calculations by The Economist suggest that the amount of direct control over carbon emissions exerted by companies in which investors hold sway is lower than is often thought. Less than a quarter of industrial emissions come from companies that can be influenced by investors in stockmarkets. And when one gets away from the key sectors of energy and natural resources, the amount that can be done by green investment may not be very much at all.

3) Two-Thirds of Americans Think Government Should Do More on Climate

From: Pew Research Center, 6/23/2020

Notes: A survey of 10,957 U.S. adults by Pew Research Center, one of the most prominent think tanks in America that consistently publishes excellent reports on public opinion and demographic trends. The majority of surveyed Republican and Democratic voters support 1) planting a ~trillion trees to absorb carbon emissions, 2) rewarding businesses for capturing and storing carbon, and 3) restricting power plant carbon emissions. 

Section headings:

Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans prioritize alternative energy over fossil fuel sources

Strong majorities of Americans back policies aimed at reducing the effects of climate change

Majorities of U.S. adults say federal government is not doing enough on the environment

Americans see local impacts from climate change, but that view is colored more by politics than place

Political groups continue to differ over role human activity plays in climate change

4) Coal industry will never recover after coronavirus pandemic, say experts

The Guardian, 5/17/2020

Notes: COVID-19 has harmed the world in many ways, but it has also helped people and corporations realize important things about climate change. Reduced human activity significantly reduced air pollution, and people are getting a glimpse of what worldwide cooperation for tackling an existential threat would look like. This article discusses how investors and governments are choosing alternative forms of energy over coal during the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries across multiple continents are choosing renewable sources instead because of economic and activism pressures.

A long-term shift away from dirty fossil fuels has accelerated during the lockdown, bringing forward power plant closures in several countries and providing new evidence that humanity’s coal use may finally have peaked after more than 200 years.

In India – the world’s second-biggest coal consumer – the government has prioritised cheap solar energy rather than coal in response to a slump in electricity demand caused by Covid-19 and a weak economy. This has led to the first year-on-year fall in carbon emissions in four decades, exceptional air quality, and a growing public clamour for more renewables.

5) You are alive at just the right moment to change everything

From: The Correspondent (a personal blog about climate change), 6/23/2020

Read climate scientist/journalist/blogger Eric Holthaus’s own words:

This is what it looks like to create systemic change from your own individual action: joining the crowd demanding justice. Doing everything you can to rest, recharge, lend aid, care for loved ones and strangers. And then heading back out into the streets again tomorrow. It looks like modelling the world we are trying to build together.

Don’t be silent. Don’t wait for a better moment. This is the best moment you’re going to get. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for.

It’s OK to be nervous, even scared. I am, every day. But there are billions of people on your side, and they’re depending on your courage and your moral clarity to utterly transform your tiny corner of this big broken system we’re all a part of.

Plastic Rain

6) Plastic Rain Is the New Acid Rain

From: Wired, 6/11/2020

Notes: You might have heard people argue that fast-paced consumerism in recent decades has accelerated climate change. This is absolutely true, and “plastic rain” proves this grim trend. Horrifying amounts of microplastic particles are infiltrating virtually every place on Earth, and this could mean disaster for humans and animals. Plastic can transport viruses, bacteria, and they can destroy food webs in every ecosystem.

Writing today in the journal Science, researchers report a startling discovery: After collecting rainwater and air samples for 14 months, they calculated that over 1,000 metric tons of microplastic particles fall into 11 protected areas in the western US each year. That’s the equivalent of over 120 million plastic water bottles. “We just did that for the area of protected areas in the West, which is only 6 percent of the total US area,” says lead author Janice Brahney, an environmental scientist at Utah State University. “The number was just so large, it’s shocking.”

Scientists don’t yet know what inhaling microbeads might mean for human health, but it’s reasonable to assume it’s not beneficial. Bits of plastic tend to leach their component chemicals over time, and have been known to transport microbes like viruses and bacteria. Researchers are just beginning to explore what this means for other organisms: One study published earlier this year found that hermit crabs exposed to microplastics have difficulties choosing new shells as they grow, a particular problem since they need those shells to survive.

7) Costa Rica’s Zero-Carbon Plan Could Be a Model for the World

From: Wired, 3/22/2019

Notes: In this article, the president of Costa Rica shares his plans on completely eliminating fossil fuels from Costa Rica by 2050. Some more recent news reports that Costa Rica is now aiming to be plastic-free and zero-carbon-emissions by 2021, but I wasn’t able to find articles from prominent/reliable publications saying so. (Only obscure, small websites were writing this.) Nevertheless, it’s possible that Costa Rica is even more ambitious now.

For most countries, emissions reduction begins with the electric grid. Not so for Costa Rica, which already has 99.5 percent of its electricity coming from renewable sources. Its abundance of rivers and rainfall allows it to rely heavily on hydroelectric dams; a smattering of geothermal, wind, and solar power installations make up the rest. Electricity was the easy part, accounting for only 30 percent of the country’s energy use.

“Do you have at least 5 million people in the United States who want to do something about climate change?” [The Costa Rican president] asks. “There! You already have more scale than Costa Rica. So what is it [that] we provide—some inspiration perhaps, or some model or excuse.”

If you enjoyed this list/summary of articles, please share widely with your friends and acquaintances.

Please share your thoughts on this article or suggestions for my blog by commenting below or emailing me: nadiaeugenejo ‘at’

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