Follow the progress of renewable energy, a win for caribou conservation, and a conversation about fighting apathy and lies about climate change

This weeks current climate, which gives you a balanced overview of sustainability news every Saturday. Sign up to get it in your inbox every week.

For a president whose key climate legislation has been blocked by a member of his own party, the next best opportunity could be to show progress towards halving emissions by 2030 Budget for the next fiscal year. President Joe Biden’s $5.8 trillion budget proposal invests $44.9 billion to fight climate change, $16.7 billion more than what was passed in 2021. The proposal would distribute funds to government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, which would see the largest year-on-year increase in its budget in more than a decade, and allocate $11 billion to help other countries reduce their emissions and adapt to the consequences of higher global temperatures.

The budget’s provisions are no substitute for the $1.9 trillion Build Back Better bill, but they do demonstrate a comprehensive approach to funding a clean energy transition that involves multiple sectors of government. And it can serve as an example for the corporate world, where the sustainability area can feel lonely or isolated – all too often it is viewed by executives as separate from the rest of the organization rather than as an integral part. Breaking out of this silo is one of the topics I discussed this week with Alice Bell, nonprofit leader, journalist and author climate talks.

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great reading

Wind and solar power can paralyze Putin and secure climate goals, 5 new reports show

A report by British think tank Ember revealed that solar and wind power generated 10% of the world’s electricity for the first time last year – doubling their contribution in just five years. It was the latest in a series of reports showing this Potential for renewable sources to cover an even larger share of the world’s energy needs.

The progress

Farmers don’t have to dedicate their entire land to growing crops to maximize profitability. Identifying less productive areas and using that space to restore pollinator and bird habitat can be an efficient way to improve productivity and reduce agricultural emissions.

Canadian caribou populations are broadly declining, having fallen to nearly half their historical levels. But a herd in British Columbia is thriving because of conservation efforts by indigenous people, according to a new study.

The challenges

the Health effects of wildfire smoke It’s expected to deteriorate drastically in the coming decades, particularly for the Pacific Northwest region and parts of northern California, according to a new study.

An ice shelf the size of New York collapsed in Antarctica earlier this month, an unprecedented event for the region that dates back to extremely high temperatures.

The other great read

Educate leaders to drive the sustainability agenda

Like you sustainability-related goals and disclosures With increasing public and regulatory scrutiny, it is even more important for companies to hire and train business talent to drive leadership in this space.

climate talks

Alice Bell is Co-Director of UK climate charity Possible and works on a range of projects from community tree planting events to solar powered railways. She used to work in science and journalism and is the author of Can we save the planet? (Thames and Hudson, 2020) and Our Greatest Experiment: A History of the Climate Crisis (Bloombury, 2021).

If you focus on sustainability in other sectors like media or finance, you may come across colleagues or bosses who don’t fully understand it. Are there any tips people should consider when trying to communicate the urgency of the climate crisis?

There’s no easy way to go about it, but as with any communication, it’s all about keeping the audience in mind – there will be approaches that work better for different audiences. Think about where they are coming from and what might appeal to them. Some people will find themselves reacting to images of horrific disasters. Something is completely turned off by this. You can have a great line that you give to someone and really stay with them and have meaning in their life. Later, they can then take that message with them to other parts of their lives – the next day, talking about it with their friends in a coffee shop, or seeing it on TV or in an advertisement, only seeing it enough to make it meaningful and to encourage it, recognize it. That’s probably more important than just a message.

Does it become harder to forget or ignore climate change when we are constantly faced with the effects of extreme weather events?

Climate change is still seen as a problem for the future, although it has actually been present for decades. When we talk about climate change, we often talk about inequality between countries and that some parts of the world are richer than others. That’s a big part of the story – but it’s becoming increasingly important for us to think about inequality within these countries.

The US is a very, very good example of this because on average they are very rich. But there are many people in the US who are not contributing to the problem, who are very badly affected by climate change. It’s about making sure we listen to the people involved and remember that testimony.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, debunked notions about fracking and the cost and reliability of renewable energy continue to emerge. Is the resurgence of these myths a sign that we are doing something wrong?

There are many people in the UK who believe in climate change, who want to see action on climate change, but are uncomfortable with the speed of change because we have dwelt on it for so long. We need to change very, very quickly, and they are right to worry about who is going to drive that change to seriously address climate change. [Some politicians are] to seize the political opportunity of people who did not feel involved in the climate change debate. Good policy must involve the public. In this way we can act fairly, with which people feel comfortable.

From your research, is there any evidence that politicians are penalized by the public for pursuing unpopular policies that increase carbon emissions?

Politicians have a slightly odd take on what the public thinks, which isn’t always right. There was a report [last week] about how there appeared to be a split in the UK Cabinet over whether to allow it [more] Onshore wind turbines or not. And apparently some of those who oppose it think it’s expensive and unpopular, and neither is true. Onshore wind is the cheapest way to generate energy. It’s half the price of gas. It’s much quicker to get up and running than drilling for gas in the North Sea, and it’s incredibly popular. Politicians would kill for that popularity rating!

We need a better standard of public debate about energy, so that journalists, citizens and politicians challenge each other, because such statements should not be allowed to be made by a politician without great challenges.

How do you stay optimistic and motivated?

Ultimately, it is a very depressing subject and humanity has already done enormous damage to the earth and people are suffering and will continue to suffer. And you can’t just ignore that. In our organization, when one of us has a climate Heebie-Jeebie moment, other people pick it up – you can’t just bury it.

What gives me strength in general is seeing how people act. I gave a presentation to a company [last week], a large national company, and they talked about becoming an environmental leader. It’s encouraging to see mainstream companies thinking about what they want to do about carbon emissions and be part of the solution.

We also know that more and more people want to work for a company that is committed to combating climate change or has a sustainability policy. We know the oil and gas industry struggles to hire workers in their 20s and 30s. We live in a golden age of greenwashing – but at the same time, we also live in an age where many companies understand they need to take this seriously and are aware that customers will be checking them out because people aren’t. We don’t want to be ripped off by companies pretending to be green.

Alice Bell’s responses have been summarized and edited for brevity and clarity.

At the horizon

A nationwide transition to emission-free transport and electricity in the US could generate $1.2 trillion in public health benefits by 2050, according to the American Lung Foundation report.

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