Climate change speeding up, A GM boondoggle, Should Michigan nuclear plant shutter?

CO2 2022/2021 419.63 ppm / 416.51 ppm


Break glass: According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new report, the climate crisis is rapidly accelerating, speeding up the damage from droughts, floods, and wildfires as well as displacing people and putting food and water supplies at risk. “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a co-chair of working group 2 of the IPCC. Climate threats will increase, especially in the Global South, as the planet moves past 1.5 C of warming, which will likely occur in the next few decades. The planet is currently at 1.1 C of warming above pre-industrial levels. “Climate change impacts pose severe risks for communities who have experienced generations of economic, social, cultural and political discrimination," said Kyle White, a professor of environmental justice at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. "It remains to be seen whether countries will genuinely come to the table with solutions to lowering their carbon footprints that are—at the same time—environmentally just solutions. (Guardian, NY Times)

Ukraine and climate: As awful news continues to pour in from Russia’s multi-day war against Ukraine, environmental author and activist Bill McKibben argues that one of the best ways to limit Putin’s power is to ”get off oil and gas.” Oil and gas account for 60 percent of Russia’s exports. Despite a barrage of economic sanctions against Putin’s regime, oil continues to flow out of the country, which U.S. officials say is intended to reduce risks to global energy markets and keep a spike in prices from benefiting Russia. Meanwhile, Wall Street Journal commentator Holman Jenkins blames Europe for not developing its fracking infrastructure in the last decade. Yet, the cost of wind and solar energy has dropped significantly in recent years, showing a way to achieve energy independence from autocratic regimes and an alternative to the expansion of the U.S.’s own production of planet-warming hydrocarbons. (Al Jazeera, The Hill, Wall Street Journal/paywalled, Guardian, NY Times)

Court date: Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is hearing a case that could severely restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to respond to the climate crisis. At issue is the never-implemented Clean Power Plan from the Obama era, which would require states to lower carbon emissions from power generation, mostly by replacing coal-fired power plants with renewables. “If the court were to require the E.P.A. to have very specific, narrow direction to address greenhouse gases, as a practical matter it could be devastating for other agencies’ abilities to enact rules that safeguard the public health and welfare of the nation,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard. (NY Times)

Boon. Doggle. The Guardian took a look at the math around Michigan’s recent gift of $1 billion in tax incentives for General Motors’ new battery and electrical vehicle facilities, which are expected to create around 4,000 jobs. It does not look like a good deal for Michigan; the tax breaks could cost around $310,000 per job. Optimistically, each position would likely only produce $100,000 in tax revenue over the next 20 years. And other taxes associated with these jobs are only expected to create $300 million in revenue, far less than what the state is giving GM. Economists also question the claim that the project will bring $29 billion to the state through direct and indirect jobs. Whether the promised jobs are even created and how long these will stick around is an open question, with a state memo showing the company only has to create 3,200 positions and that GM could close plants after a few years while still keeping the money. In the past, Michigan has subsidized GM plants in Ypsilanti and Detroit, only to watch these projects create fewer jobs than promised or send them to other states and countries. (Guardian)

The nuclear question: A pro-nuclear, climate group wrote to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month, asking her to stop the closure of the Palisades nuclear power plant in southwest Michigan. This is one of the state’s three remaining nuclear plants, but its operator, Entergy, says it plans on “exiting the merchant nuclear power business”. Todd Allen, who heads the University of Michigan’s pro-nuclear “Fastest Path to Zero” program, expressed concern that energy from the plant would likely be replaced with fossil fuels. While the Biden Administration and celebrity philanthropist Bill Gates have endorsed nuclear power as a way to transition the country away from carbon-dioxide producing power sources, many environmentalists express concerns about the possibility of accidents like those that occurred at Chernobyl and Fukushima, Japan. The country also lacks a long-term plan for the storage of nuclear waste, which essentially remains radioactive forever. You can also add war to the list of possible threats from nuclear power after Russia bombed a radiocative waste storage site in Ukraine and took control of the Chernobyl site, causing elevated levels of radiation in the area. (Detroit News, The Week, NPR, MSNBC, Vice)

Wildfire crisis: Wildfires, like those that devastated British Columbia and the western U.S. this past summer, will become 50% more common by the end of the century, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Program. Fires are especially likely to increase in arctic areas and temperate regions of the U.S., where an increase in atmospheric CO2 could encourage plant growth and fuel blazes. Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist and dean of the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability had previously said that Michigan could see an increase in wildfire activity as the climate warms. The U.N. report urges governments to be more proactive with fire management, noting that in the U.S. 60 percent of the money spent on fires goes to emergency response, while much less is spent on reducing fire risk and helping communities recover in a way that encourages resilience to future threats. (NY Times, WEMU)

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