President Biden Refuses to Make our Climate Crisis Worse

Cancels Canadian Tar Sands Pipeline Keystone XL

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Hello again, I hope you and yours are well. There’s been considerable press about the cancellation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline but much of it lacks context and some is plain wrong. So let’s start at the heart of this 12 year saga, a school bus in Canada’s tar sands. 

I wasn’t going to stop for the school bus stuck in the mud outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta in the heart of the Canada’s tar sands industry but my kids insisted. It had been raining most of the week and the grassy field was soaked and slick. We stopped and got out and looked at the 12,000 kilogram bus uselessly spinning its wheels, digging deeper into the mud. Someone got the driver to stop, essentially saying you’re making a bad problem worse.

No one had a vehicle large enough to tow or push the bus which would have likely become mired as well. A few other people came by, and collectively, we came up with ideas. I thought it an impossible task for a handful of people barely able to stand in the muck ourselves. A few trials, some planks of wood and a gleeful bouncing up and down inside the back of the bus produced the unexpected result of freeing the vehicle. 

I was surprised we’d done it and by my own feelings of intense satisfaction at what we strangers had collectively accomplished. By not making a bad problem worse, we figured out a way to solve it together. 

Keystone XL would have added 110 millions tons of CO2

President Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) oil pipeline is an example of not making a really bad problem worse. The Need-to-Know here is that KXL would have added 110 million tons of climate-heating CO2 into the atmosphere every year for at least 50 years a study in journal Nature Climate Change reported in 2014. That’s country-sized emissions — enough to put it on the list of the top 35 worst carbon-polluting countries in the world, as I wrote in Vice at that time.

I first learned of KXL more than ten years ago and ended up writing a dozen articles about it, including how Canada’s spy agencies were monitoring KXL protestors as potential threats to national security. The 36-inch diameter pipe was intended to pump 830,000 barrels of bitumen per day from the Alberta tar sands down to US Gulf Coast for refining. Calgary-based TransCanada Pipelines, now renamed TC Energy, originally claimed the pipeline was needed for US energy security, but environmentalists said it was to be refined into diesel and exported to Europe. An interesting Need-to-Know today is that the US doesn’t need the oil and Europe doesn’t want dirty diesel. In fact, Europe bought nearly 1.4 million electric vehicles in 2020, more than any other country in the world.

Here’s where things got interesting in 2020

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Pandemic Hacks: Feel Better, Safer and more in Control

This is part of a series from the World Health Organization

We’re all facing a very tough two or three months right now with the worsening pandemic, economic uncertainty, political messes, winter weather, etc. The COVID-19 vaccines are a light at the end of the tunnel but we’re still deep inside a pretty dark tunnel. Right now it looks like a damn steep climb to get the end and into the light. 

In this free issue of Need to Know: Science and Insight I‘ve collected ideas, tips and ‘hacks’ to help us get through the next few months. Please do share: https://leahy.substack.com\

Focusing on things we can’t control like politics, climate change, the weather and so on leads to anger, frustration and depression. The ancient Greeks recognized that trying to control the uncontrollable, including trying to control the future, was the main source of our misery and unhappiness. 

The Need-to-Know about feeling less helpless and more in control is to avoid dwelling on things we can’t control. There’s research showing that reducing exposure to depressing/negative information — pandemic reports, political shenanigans, crime reports — can help us feel better.

Doom-scrolling’ through negative stories and commentary cultivates what psychologists call “mean world syndrome” and affects how we see others and our feelings of security and optimism about the future. It’s not about ignoring what’s happening in the world but limiting exposure to the bad stuff and actively seeking out the positive. 

Here’s a bit of wisdom that helps me apply the brakes:

‘Your mind is like tofu; it tastes like whatever you marinate it in.’

— Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School, citing his meditation teacher.

Here’s a few tips and ideas I’ve collected from various sources to help get through the next couple of months: 

  • Connect with friends and classmates. Call up a couple this week and try not to talk politics. We need social connectedness to be healthy and happy
  • Look for your life’s bright patches and be grateful to have some. And trust that there will be more to come
  • Go for walks no matter the weather. Find a bit of nature to enjoy, it can make a big difference in how you feel. Go with family and friends or neighbours. Be social but stay 6 feet apart.
  • Learn new stuff. Books, seminars, courses, lectures, hobbies. Anything that helps me stay off-line is what I look for. 

For more go to Need to Know: Science and Insight

Europe’s Game-Changing Climate Action Commitment

The 6% Solution to the Climate Crisis

In this issue of Need to Know  I spent Saturday at the United Nation’s Climate Ambition Summit 2020. It was a virtual event to mark the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement on climate change. I’m happy to report there was a game-changing announcement.

When the Paris Climate Agreement was signed December 12, 2015, I wrote an article that said, with some sarcasm: ‘The Paris Agreement is a historic plan for at least 3.0 degrees C of warming’.  To be clear, 3.0C would be disastrous for much of humanity, but that is what countries’ Paris commitments to cut CO2 emissions would result in. That’s a long way from their agreement to keep the heating of our atmosphere to “well below 2.0C”. 

When challenged about this huge gap, many countries said they would have plans to improve their CO2 reduction efforts by 2020.  

Well, 2020 is nearly over, and most countries haven’t put in the effort to meet their original Paris reduction pledges, never mind improving their plans. Four countries have submitted plans to improve their reduction targets. Today’s big need-to-know is that one of those ‘countries’ has the potential to be a climate-action game changer: the European Union (EU).

The EU, a 27-member country union, just made a legal commitment to cut its CO2 levels at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. Equally significant is the United Kingdom new pledge to cut emissions by 68% by 2030. And then there’s Denmark; Europe’s largest oil and gas producer. They’ve announced a phase out of all oil and gas production by 2050 and legally committed to a 70% reduction below 1990 levels by 2030.

All fossil-fuel producing countries need to phase out their production by 2050 said the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen at the UN Climate Ambition Summit 2020

“We made a promise in Paris. The children of the world are depending on us to keep that promise,” said Frederiksen.

To read more go to Need to Know: Science and Insight.

Stay In Your Bubble — and Other Corona Safety Tips

How to wait for the vaccine without going crazy

In this issue of Need to Know is about how to stay safe over the next few months based on the latest science and medical advice to avoid encountering the coronavirus.

Two very good friends recently asked to meet for lunch while they were in town. These days to go or not to have lunch with friends is a very difficult decision. My friends are careful people who live in a rural community. The restaurant was large, tables well-spaced and unlikely to be busy. I really wanted to see these friends whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. 

What would you do in this situation? 

With much regret I said no.

To make my lunch date decision I used the Covid Risk Reduction Mantra I presented in the first issues of Need to Know. The mantra describes six main infection risk factors to help assess the overall risk of our various daily activities:

Time And Place, People And Space, Caseload and Consequence

Continued here.

Planetary Emergency vs Business as Usual

Some guiding principles for the world we want

This chart shows where economic stimulus money went in a few select countries. (Green is for low carbon, red is for high carbon fossil fuels; yellow is for social and health care.)

We’re in a state of planetary emergency. And yet hardly anyone seems to know or be bothered by it. This week’s Need to Know takes a brief look at why we aren’t rolling out the solutions we already have to end the emergency and how having guiding principles could help.

Read all about it the latest issue of Need to Know.

Climate Reality and the Politically Impossible

This close to meeting the 1.5C climate target

In the immortal words of Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “Things Are Only Impossible Until They’re Not“.

In this issue of Need to Know: Science and Insight I look at how politically realistic” and “political will” maybe finally coming to together to give hope for a 1.5C to 2.0C climate future. And how 2020 proves this can be done.

Read the issue for free today.

Extinction Crisis Solution: Stop Doing Dumb Things

Australian Cassowary, a rare flightless bird

In this issue of Need to Know: Science & Insight I look at some of the underlying causes of extinctions, what can be done, and how you and I can help. And, believe it or not, it starts with a breakfast with a cassowary, a really big en and dangerous endangered species.

Read the issue for free today.

Blowing Holes in Our Life Support System

In this issue of Need to Know: Science & Insight I investigate how and why we are poking holes in our life support safety net that is Nature. If Nature isn’t healthy that means we aren’t either. And I’ll look at what to do about it. But first, let’s meet my friend Lonesome George, the rarest creature on the planet. (Yes, those are pix of George I took).

This is a two-part series, each is a 5 to 10 minute read.

Read the issue for free today.

From Rhino Vision to Water Vision

Learning to value and respect the hidden water that is all around us is the theme of the latest issue of Need to Know: Science & Insight.

Average water footprint of bottle of cola

Water is far more valuable and useful than oil and yet water rarely gets the attention it deserves. Nor does water get our respect, or the reverence that nearly all cultures far older than ours had for it. This issue’s overarching need-to-know is understanding and awareness of our water reality.

To help this happen, let’s shift perspective and go looking for Rhinos.

Read the issue for free today.