From the headlines— February 28 – March 4, 2022

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Crisis now: This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its most recent report showing that climate change is already seriously contributing to threats like wildfires, heat waves and sea-level rise, and the window to act and prevent some of the worst outcomes is rapidly shrinking. Countries in the Global South have contributed relatively little to the crisis but may pay the highest price in what some term “climate apartheid.” In Michigan, increasingly heavy rainstorms may be the biggest climate threat. State Climatologist Jeffrey Andresen says Michigan needs to do more to prevent floods like those that occurred in Midland and metro Detroit. “We have to build more capacity into the way we drain water off of the landscape,” he said. “And that comes at a cost.” Large emitters of greenhouse gasses also need to rapidly reduce their emissions to avoid some of the worst scenarios for global heating. “We are not seeing the action from the big emitters that is required to get emissions down in this critical decade – this means halving emissions by 2030 at the latest,” said Walton Webson, an ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda and the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States. “It is clear that time is slipping away from us.” (NY Times, Guardian, BBC, Bridge)

Ukraine and climate: The Russian war against Ukraine and the resulting disruption to oil and gas markets could be a roadblock to global climate action. U.S. oil companies are already pushing to increase drilling in the name of “energy security.” Although President Biden mentioned climate change at the State of the Union this week, he seems intent on releasing oil reserves to lower gas prices ahead of the midterm elections. “The president did not articulate the long-term opportunity for the U.S. to lead the world in breaking free of the geopolitical nightmare that is oil dependency,” said Paul Bledsoe, a strategic adviser for the Progressive Policy Institute. But while it’s true that oil money helps fund Russia and other autocratic regimes, the end of oil won’t necessarily mean the end of conflicts tied to mineral wealth. The eastern region of Ukraine holds an estimated 500,000 tons of lithium oxide that is critical for batteries and electric vehicle production. (NY Times)

Disruption, risk-taking, tax breaks: One destination for lithium and other minerals will be the General Motors battery and electric vehicle facilities that Michigan is subsidizing with $1 billion in tax incentives. The thousands of jobs that GM promises will be created may cost the state as much as $310,000 each. And these jobs would likely only generate $100,000 in tax revenue per position over the next 20 years, leaving the state deep in the hole on its investment. But never fear, the state promises the project will bring in $29 billion through additional jobs created by the project, the sort of claim that the Department of Commerce has labeled as “suspicious.” Ford announced it will break off its electric vehicle business from its commercial and internal combustion vehicle operations in other EV news. “Disruption, risk-taking, experimentation, fast-cycle innovation will be encouraged,” Ford CEO Jim Farley said of the EV business, which is called Ford Model e (the e is small). It’s unclear how much disruption and risk-taking we’re talking about here, but the company’s stock price rose following the announcement. (Guardian, Detroit News)

Buried headaches: A century-old underground storage tank is likely the cause of a chemical spill on the Huron River in Flat Rock. Investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency discovered the tank, likely used by a lamp factory for the Ford Motor Company. Leaks from abandoned and sometimes forgotten underground tanks are a major issue nationwide. (Bridge)

Info gap: Limited or non-existent information about pollution has an outsize impact on communities of color and low-income areas, according to data released by University of Michigan researchers. Patchy air monitoring and relying on polluters to self-report contribute to this problem, making it difficult for people in frontline communities to respond to pollution threats. “There was a time when there was an incident in industry in southwest Detroit and residents were not evacuated, and a neighboring community, Melvindale, was evacuated. And folks in southwest Detroit did not get information about what was happening. And folks in a neighboring community did receive information about what was happening,” said Laprisha Berry Daniels, executive director for Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, possibly referring to a 2013 explosion at the Marathon refinery in southwest Detroit. (MLive)

Public trust: Legislators are drafting a package of bills that could rein in companies that bottle water in Michigan and ship it out of the Great Lakes region. “Right now, the Great Lakes Compact protects the Great Lakes from water withdrawal so that a state like Arizona couldn’t come and hook a pipe up to Lake Michigan and start pumping. But as long as the water is bottled and in small containers, there is no prohibition on the amount of water that can be taken out of the Great Lakes,” said State Rep. Yousef Rabhi. Among other things, the legislation would expand the Public Trust Doctrine to include groundwater. This doctrine already requires the state to protect shared resources like surface water. (Bridge) 

Disparities: Legionnaires’ disease, a pneumonia-like illness, is disproportionately impacting Black Americans and showing up mostly in summer in the Midwest and Northeast, according to an analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Michigan, an outbreak of the disease in Flint coincided with the city’s lead drinking water crisis in 2014 and 2015, killing 12 people. Disproportionately high exposure to air pollutants and other health disparities may make African Americans more vulnerable to the disease. Large numbers of abandoned houses could also contribute to the problem because Legionella bacteria grow in stagnant water. Researchers found that the number of cases in 2018 was 5.5 times higher than the yearly average from 1992 to 2002, after adjusting for age. Those over age 65 are believed to be much more vulnerable to the disease. (Circle of Blue)

‘Blue economy’: Commercial greenhouse grower Dale Buist is having trouble getting enough water for his plants, even though his operation is just a dozen miles from Lake Michigan. Heavy demand from farmers and developers has affected his irrigation wells, highlighting an overlooked problem in a state that has often been pitched as a “climate haven” because of its freshwater. PFAS pollution, toxic algal blooms, lead drinking water crises in Benton Harbor and Flint, and water shutoffs in Detroit also show that the state’s abundant water isn’t necessarily safe or equitably distributed. Inland communities may be at particular risk because of the cost and regulatory difficulty of pumping in water from the Great Lakes. “Marketing the blue economy is a good idea,” said Alan Steinman, a water quality professor at Grand Valley State. “But we don’t want to go the way of the lumber barons who said they saw a century’s worth of timber in Michigan and wiped it out in 10 years.” (AP)


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