Washington Weekly: January 12, 2022
The Past Week in D.C.
- As of late last week, more than 60 million people across the country experienced winter weather alerts as multiple severe storm systems cut through the country.
- On the West Coast, record-breaking rain and snowmelt in Washington and California led to massive river flooding and avalanches.
- Across parts of the southern U.S., unusually cold temperatures caused icy road conditions that created traffic backups and accidents in many states, including a 20-car pile-up in Kentucky last Thursday.
- On the East coast, a fast-moving winter storm blanketed the region – from Virginia to Maine – prompting multiple state-of-emergency declarations and government and school closures.
Today, the Biden Administration unveiled multiple clean energy projects, including the largest ever sale of offshore wind leases off the coast of New York and New Jersey in order to accelerate the production of wind farms, and the development of thousands of miles of electric transmission lines to carry clean energy from solar and wind power to communities across the country. With Congress thus far unable to act to meet the president’s ambitious climate goals, his administration is left to do what it can to advance clean energy priorities.
Yesterday, President Biden formally endorsed changing senate rules regarding the filibuster in order for senate Democrats to pass voting rights legislation. During a speech in Georgia – a state that voted for President Biden in 2020 and elected two Democratic senators, and has since adopted one of the most restrictive voting rights laws in the country aimed at limiting voting access, especially for minorities – stopped short of calling for the all-out elimination of the filibuster, instead urging senate Democrats to adopt a filibuster “carve-out” pertaining to voting rights. Democrats are now weighing multiple proposals to scale back the filibuster.
Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?
As we reported last week – and for much of 2021 – the frustrations surrounding the slow, and for now stalled, negotiations on the Build Back Better Act are many, but none more than the impact that they are having on the fight against climate change. Experts tell us that we have no time to waste if we want to avoid the most disastrous impacts. We are, quite literally, at a tipping point, and even a year or two delay could push us beyond the brink.
This past week, we continued to receive more dire information regarding the worsening status of the climate crisis in Michigan and across the country – yet another reminder that we have to act now.
Latest Emissions Data
On Monday, a new study published by the Rhodium Group showed that United States greenhouse gas emissions increased by 6.2 percent in the past year, putting emissions almost back to pre-pandemic levels after a Covid-19 lockdown-related drop in 2020. The study shows a seventeen percent increase in coal-fired electricity, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels in the world that has found itself at the center of much of the BBB Act debate due to Senator Manchin’s ties to the coal industry. As the economy continues to bounce back from the worst parts of the pandemic, experts predict that greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise in 2022, putting the country further away from achieving the lofty climate goals outlined by the Biden Administration.
Warming Temperatures and Extreme Weather
Further, new data released on Monday by Copernicus, a European climate observation service, showed that the last seven years have been the warmest seven years ever recorded. 2021 was the fifth hottest year ever recorded, this despite the natural cooling effects that typically occur during a La Nina year in the Pacific Ocean.
The past year saw the hottest summer in recorded history, and record wildfires and other extreme weather events. Eighty percent of Americans experienced a heat wave in 2021, and forty percent live in a county that was hit by a climate-related disaster in the past year. Brian Haskins of the Graham Institute at Imperial College London, who helped interpret the data, called it “another nail in the planetary coffin.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also released data on Monday showing that the U.S. experienced 20 climate-related weather disasters in 2021 that cumulatively resulted in over $145 billion in damages and clean-up efforts, and killed 668 people.
Trends in Michigan
In addition to these extremely troubling 2021 trends that impact Michigan residents (along with everyone else), we are also receiving new data that highlights the toll climate change is having on our beloved Great Lakes. Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, is now one of the fastest-warming lakes on the planet, experiencing algal blooms once thought to be impossible in the cold, deep lake, and a consistent decrease in ice coverage in recent decades. Other worrisome Great Lakes trends include the increased presence of invasive species, more toxic algal blooms, ever-fluctuating water levels, and deep-water warming, which can have profound impacts on the freshwater ecosystems and long-term health of the lakes.
Not only are these climate impacts increasing in Michigan and across the country, they are occurring in an unequal way. A recent report shows that, in Michigan, heat stress vulnerability due to climate change is disproportionately affecting underserved populations and communities of color. The pattern is strongest in Metro Detroit, but is happening all over the state (and presumably all over the country).
As the BBB Act saga continues in Washington – this week with Senator Manchin reportedly struggling between backing mine workers (who support BBB) and mine owners (who don’t) – most Americans are fed up with the political theater and simply want climate action now. The new information from the past week highlighting the disastrous year that 2021 proved to be from a climate change perspective should only increase that demand, and frustration with their elected leaders.
A Deeper Dive
At the beginning of each year, the New York Times publishes a list of the top 52 places to travel in the coming year. This year’s list, released on Monday, highlights destinations from around the globe that are helping to make the world a better place, from environmental sustainability to positive cultural change, and how travelers can be a part of it.