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Hello! My colleague Somini Sengupta is just back from Costa Rica, where she reported on how the tiny Latin American country is trying to eliminate fossil fuels by midcentury to show that even small nations have a big part to play in tackling global warming. The main hurdle is the country’s transportation sector, which is Costa Rica’s biggest source of carbon pollution.
Here in the United States, the Trump administration is leading a new push against federal climate and renewable energy policies. In a $4.75 trillion budget proposal released this week, the administration called for cuts across multiple agencies to programs aimed at reducing planet-warming emissions. Many of those are likely to be restored by Congress, but the budget battles will drag out for months.
The administration is also working to relax rules on lighting efficiency, as my colleague Nadja Popovich reported in this terrific piece showing how the humble light bulb could lead a clean energy revolution.
You may have heard a Republican talking point that Democrats have a secret plot to take away your hamburgers. Well, that’s not true. But as our reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis noted, the Green New Deal resolution proposed in the House and Senate does aim to address the role that agricultural emissions play in climate change, and that’s a complicated endeavor.
The political feud over hamburgers has also raised questions about how far eliminating meat could go in aiding the planet. The answers, Kendra finds, are … complicated.
For more on the Green New Deal, listen to my colleague Coral Davenport on our podcast “The Daily.” She says that younger generations are bringing new energy to the climate policy debate, but also that the resolution poses political challenges for Democrats.
The Green New Deal may also be a rallying cry in some of the school strikes that students are planning for Friday to demand action on climate change. We will be following many of them as demonstrators take to the streets in the United States and throughout the world.
And finally, we want to hear from you. Here on the Climate Desk, we’re always looking for stories about how climate change is affecting your community. Drop us a line!
Upon reflection, solar geoengineering might not be a bad idea
Let’s talk about geoengineering, shall we? I’m referring to the spread-chemicals-in-the-upper-atmosphere approach to fighting climate change, which would lower temperatures as the tiny particles reflected more sunlight away from the earth.
This form of geoengineering, known as solar radiation management, has its proponents, who argue that it could be a relatively quick and inexpensive fix for global warming. They say that the concept is at least worthy of experimentation to better understand it in case society deems it necessary amid a future climate calamity.
But solar geoengineering has plenty of critics, and one of the main arguments against it is that it may have unintended consequences. Sure, these critics say, temperatures may be lowered worldwide, but the approach may have other, vastly unequal effects — drought in lands of plenty, perhaps, or fierce storms in areas that are normally untouched by extreme weather. That could lead to political instability, among other repercussions.
A new study by researchers at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other institutions suggests that those fears, at least, might be put to rest. The research, published on Monday in Nature Climate Change, shows that a halfway approach — spreading enough chemicals to lower temperatures somewhat, but not to preindustrial levels — would leave no region worse off than any other when it comes to large storms and other impacts.
David Keith, a Harvard physicist who is a prominent geoengineering researcher and one of the authors of the study, described the idea as “cutting off the peak” global warming that will occur later this century, and relying on steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to help avoid the worst of climate change.
“Nobody ever really thought that it made sense to use solar geoengineering as a substitute for emissions cuts,” Dr. Keith said in an interview.
Like all other geoengineering studies, this one was done through computer modeling (no outdoor experiments have been conducted yet, though Dr. Keith and others have proposed some).
The simulations were somewhat simplified, but Dr. Keith said this was a good start. “We looked at a much more policy-relevant set of variables than before,” he said, including “water availability,” which combines precipitation and evaporation and has more bearing on agriculture than evaporation alone.
At least one geoengineering skeptic remained unconvinced, however. Bill Hare, a physicist and chief executive of Climate Analytics, a nonprofit research and policy group, said that regardless of the study’s finding on regional impacts, it did not address other fundamental concerns about solar geoengineering — that it would do nothing about ocean acidification from carbon dioxide, for example, and that there could be “termination shock,” or a rapid rewarming, were it to be halted.
“If we’re trying to prevent dangerous changes to the climate system then we really have to deal with the fundamental carbon dioxide problem,” Dr. Hare said.
One thing you can do: My week of plastic-free shopping
By Eduardo Garcia
In a bid to reduce the amount of plastic I waste, I challenged myself not to buy anything in plastic packaging for a week. This is how it went.
Compulsive shopping is plastic packaging’s best friend, so, before I went to the store, I made a list: bread, fish, cereals, rice, cookies, avocados, arugula, coffee, milk and cheese.
I found most of those items in the bulk and produce aisles and packed them in cloth and reused plastic bags that I brought with me. I’m lucky because the food co-op I shop at in Brooklyn has a great selection in those aisles. The same goes for some retailers like Whole Foods, but going plastic-free at a big-box store would have been more challenging.
Regardless, most grocery stores are awash with plastics, and the co-op is no exception, so I had to use my imagination. To snack, I got bananas and cashews in bulk instead of potato chips and nachos. Most cheeses were wrapped in plastic, but I found a piece of waxed Cheddar — not my first choice, but it was pretty good.
I usually buy everything I need at the co-op, but this time I had to broaden my horizons. The owner of a deli placed a fresh loaf of rye bread in a paper bag for me. And when I asked a fishmonger to put some smoked cod in my Tupperware to help me reduce my plastic waste, he said, “Yes, we’re totally up for that here.”
To satisfy my sweet tooth, I got a piece of chocolate cake and an oatmeal cookie at the farmers’ market, in a paper bag.
I didn’t need to get any toiletries last week, but buying bars of soap and shampoo, bamboo toothbrushes and single rolls of toilet paper would have helped. I’ve been told that finding things like sunscreen, painkillers, contact lenses and prescription drugs in plastic-free packaging can be challenging, if not impossible.
I succeeded in slashing plastic waste for a week, but will I keep doing it? Sure. I’ve eaten a healthier diet as a result, it was fun to visit stores with personality, and it was not overly burdensome. But it would be more challenging for families shopping on a tighter budget and those who don’t have access to specialty stores or farmers’ markets.
Will I be one of those people who reduce their plastic waste to zero? That’s a laudable goal, but I don’t have the willpower to abandon things like goat cheese, baked tofu and nachos forever.
Celia Ristow, who says she has been trying to lead a “zero waste” lifestyle for about five years with “varying degrees of success,” told me that not being too strict can help in the long term.
“What I’m after now is not to do it perfectly for a month or a year and burn out and move on,” she said, “but to do it imperfectly in a way that is flexible and fluid enough that I can do it for my whole life.”
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