Earth Day Edition: Biden’s Climate Summit, Gina McCarthy and More
We answer some big climate questions. Plus, this week’s news.,
We’ve got two special live events planned this week: At 1 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, there’s a panel for students on covering the climate crisis. Times journalists Hiroko Tabuchi and Veronica Penney will join the discussion. Then, at 1:30 p.m., a live discussion led by Rebecca Blumenstein, deputy managing editor of The Times, with leaders from the worlds of science and business, will explore the effects of climate on health.
By Julia Rosen
Earth Day is Thursday, and, as in recent years, climate change will be the main focus. Youth activists from all over the world met online this week to create a list of demands for world leaders. And President Biden will host those leaders at a virtual summit meeting aimed at reasserting American leadership on climate.
But even though the climate conversation is going strong, people of all ages still have questions. So, for Earth Day, we’re trying to help.
For young readers, we created an illustrated, interactive experience that shows how we got where we are today and what the future might hold. Long story short: it depends on us. If we keep going with business as usual, things will get bad. But if we take swift action, we can create a better future. The choice is ours.
For adults, we put together clear but detailed answers to some of the most common questions about climate science. We tried to explain not just what we know, but how we know it, and to correct common misperceptions. For instance, we look at how natural climate changes don’t disprove human-caused warming — they actually help scientists understand it. And we put all this information in one place, so it’s easy to find whenever you need it.
The good news: We have a solid understanding of climate science and what it will take to limit global warming. And it’s not too late to act. In other words, the science is settled, but the future is not.
Painting a Picture of Climate Change: To help explain to children the urgency of a warmer planet, we asked a visual journalist to create artwork with a playful approach.
America’s climate credibility problem
By Lisa Friedman
President Biden on Thursday will try to reassert America’s climate leadership at an Earth Day summit meeting by pledging aggressive measures to combat climate change.
According to people familiar with the president’s plan, he’ll announce that the United States intends to cut planet-warming emissions nearly in half by the end of the decade, a target that would require Americans to transform the way they drive, heat their homes and manufacture goods.
Mr. Biden’s challenge will be to convince other countries that the United States really means it this time. This is the second time in a generation that an American president has returned to a global climate pact — most recently the Paris Agreement, and before that the Kyoto Protocol — after it was rejected by his predecessor.
“Our diplomats will challenge the practices of countries whose action, or inaction, is setting us back.” — Antony J. Blinken, United States secretary of state.
The United States “has offered nothing on how it plans to make up for the lost four years.”
— Zhao Lijian, senior spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Gina McCarthy gets another shot
By Coral Davenport
There’s one big problem with Mr. Biden’s new climate target: under current domestic policies, it’s essentially impossible to hit.
That’s where Gina McCarthy comes in. Mr. Biden’s senior climate adviser is the most powerful climate policy official in America other than the president himself — and, as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration, she was also the chief architect of the climate rules that former President Donald Trump tore apart.
Now, after four years of watching her work being demolished, she is back with the charge to build it back, and this time to make it stick.
The hard part: Ms. McCarthy can oversee a push to write new climate rules and regulations. But they could still be swept away in a new administration. The real test will be whether she can help get durable new climate measures entrenched in law: For example, in the president’s economic stimulus bill.
You can read the full article here.
Also important this week:
Coal rebounds: To slow down climate change, new coal projects need to end. A global forecast this week shows demand rising sharply.
An ugly dilemma: President Biden’s vow to work with China on issues like climate change is clashing with his promise to defend human rights.
A bit of optimism: A display in New York City that reports the window to address global warming now also measures the rising use of renewable energy.
Listen: These five podcasts cover the problems, and potential solutions, of climate change.
A fighter to the end: LaDonna Allard, who led Dakota pipeline protests, has died at 64.
And finally, we recommend:
Can burning wood really fight climate change?
By Gabriel Popkin
On the surface, it sounds crazy: Cut down trees, press them into little pellets, ship them to Europe, burn them in power plants and declare that you’re fighting climate change.
But many experts endorse the idea. Their argument: If you create a new market for wood products, people will grow more trees. Those trees suck up carbon dioxide. Ergo, good for climate — at least if you’re using pellets to displace fossil fuels.
Other experts, however, say the premise is as crazy as it sounds. Trees grow with or without markets, and every tree burned is not sitting in the ground storing carbon and sequestering more, they argue. Moreover, logging can harm the environment, if done carelessly, and pellet mills make noise and emit chemicals that can irritate, or harm, people living nearby. Hundreds of scientists recently lobbied the Biden administration to bar wood energy from the United States’ still-developing climate plan.
I traveled to North Carolina, the heart of a booming pellet-making industry, to try to unravel this quandary. What I found was a fascinating, complex landscape in which thousands of forest owners are feeding this relatively new industry with wood — often low-value wood that would have been hard to sell to other buyers. One character I met was Jesse Wimberley, a loquacious fellow whose passion is restoring longleaf pine savannas. To him, the industry’s climate claims are questionable. But to restore longleaf, he needs to burn the forest floor, and to do that safely, he needs to first get rid of scraggly underbrush. A pellet company is paying for that scrap wood — a big win, in Mr. Wimberley’s book, for biodiversity.
The wood pellet industry, like any industry, has its fans and detractors. If it had just quietly gone about making pellets, it might not have attracted much attention. But when you say you’re fighting climate change and should be publicly subsidized to do so, you’re making a big claim that needs to be backed up with big evidence, to borrow a Carl Sagan-ism.
Please take a take a look at the full article and its amazing photos and video by my colleague Erin Schaff.
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