Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, one of the most vocal and active climate leaders on Capitol Hill, announced Friday morning he would not seek re-election in 2016.
The Senate minority leader's retirement is a major loss for the climate movement, several political and environmental experts told InsideClimate News.
Reid, 75, has championed dozens of environmental initiatives during his five terms in office, including designating more than 3 million acres of federally protected wilderness, promoting renewable energy, and thwarting three new coal-fired power plant projects in his home state. In recent years, he's become an outspoken advocate for climate action, calling global warming, "one of the greatest challenges of our time."
Copenhagen and Melbourne have committed to the most aggressive carbon reduction goals on the planet.
Now those two cities––homes to 4.5 million people––have been joined by a perhaps unlikely companion on the fast track to carbon neutrality: the Colorado college town of Fort Collins, home to 150,000.
Earlier this month, the city approved new targets to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2050. Those goals place Fort Collins among a handful of cities playing a prominent role on the world stage in combating climate change.
"In terms of their level of ambition, they're among the leading cities trying to tackle climate change," said Paula Kirk, an associate in the energy consulting group at Arup, a firm that routinely advises business and government on sustainability issues.
At least 228 cities have voluntarily set goals to reduce emissions, according to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, an organization that encourages cities to confront climate change. These cities vary widely in the targets that they've set––from a 10 percent reduction over five years to carbon neutrality over 35 years.
Fort Collins' six city council members, who are chosen in nonpartisan elections, voted unanimously to approve the revised goals. Although the council members don't have an official party affiliation, at least two of them identify as Republicans. The city's mayor, Karen Weitkunat, is also Republican.
The edges of Antarctica's ice sheets have been thinning at a rapid rate over the past decade—up to 70 percent faster than average in some spots—due to warming oceans and air.
Known technically as ice shelves, these edges float just offshore in bays or fjords and act as barriers that keep larger, land-based ice sheets from slipping into the ocean. Once they are gone, there will be nothing to hold back the continent-sized ice masses from sliding into the warmer oceans and melting, raising sea levels precipitously.
According to a new study published in the journal Science this week, this could happen by the end of the century.
"Within a lifetime of people who read this story, many of these shelves will be gone," said Andrew Shepherd, a polar scientist at the University of Leeds who reviewed the study before publication. "This is real, rapid environmental change. These shelves have been around for 10,000 years. It is a classic example of how drastically you can disturb the planet with small changes."
For the second year in a row, automakers in 2013 surpassed the ambitious fuel-efficiency and emission-reduction demands of federal regulators, the Environmental Protection Agency reported Thursday. The rules, first set in 2010, are meant to double the performance of American cars by the year 2025.
On average, the industry beat the annual goal for greenhouse gas emissions by 12 grams per vehicle-mile traveled, slightly better than the year before, the report said.
Will Maryland soon close its borders to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking?
The state's House of Delegates voted 94-45 Tuesday in favor of legislation that seeks a three-year ban on fracking, the controversial practice for extracting oil-and-gas reserves.
The largely Democrat-backed measure is now under review by the Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs. There's no set timeline for a vote in the Senate, where it's unclear if there's enough support to pass the bill.
If this bill becomes law, "we believe it will lead to Maryland not allowing fracking" permanently, following in the footsteps of New York, said Ryanne Waters, a spokeswoman for the environmental advocacy group Food and Water Watch, which has campaigned against fracking in Maryland.
In December, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned fracking after a state study determined there is insufficient data available to conclude it would be safe. Fracking currently takes place in 22 states. Waters said that the New York decision has given the anti-fracking movement nationwide "more steam” and “more credibility."
Government officials last week blocked a groundbreaking shareholder proposal on climate change from going to a vote at ExxonMobil. The move has confounded proponents, because the decision came just five days after the same agency cleared a similar resolution for Chevron's shareholder ballot.
"I'm completely baffled, frankly," said Natasha Lamb, director of equity research and shareholder engagement at wealth manager Arjuna Capital, lead sponsor of the ExxonMobil resolution. "The proposals are virtually identical."
The Chevron and Exxon rulings came from two different attorney-advisers at the Securities and Exchange Commission. The agency provides guidance to public companies that seek to exclude shareholder resolutions from the annual ballots distributed each year to vote on board directors, among other things.
Both of the resolutions at issue cite the threat from climate change as a reason to rein in spending on risky exploration projects in ultra-deep water, the Arctic and Canada's oil sands. They argue that those projects at Exxon and Chevron are chasing reserves that might become unsellable—or stranded—in a carbon-constrained world and in low-oil-price scenarios. The resolutions say the prudent course is for the companies to return that cash to shareholders instead, via dividends (Chevron) or a combination of dividends and share buybacks (Exxon).
The investigative series "Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil and Bad Air on the Texas Prairie," by InsideClimate News in collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel, was awarded first place by the Association of Health Care Journalists.
The series, by ICN reporters Lisa Song and David Hasemyer along with Jim Morris of CPI, capped an eight-month investigation into the toxic chemicals released into the air by hydraulic fracturing, highlighting the public health threats of the fracking boom.
Harvard's fossil fuel divestment movement recently hit a snag.
Last week, a Massachusetts court dismissed a novel lawsuit brought by seven Harvard students seeking to make the university in Cambridge, Mass., divest its $36.4 billion endowment of holdings in major coal, oil and natural gas companies.
The students made two claims in the lawsuit. The first claim, filed on behalf of themselves, argued that divestment is justified under their interpretation of the school's charter. The second claim, filed on behalf of future generations—people whose "future health, safety and welfare depends on current efforts to slow the pace" of man-made climate change—argued that the school was intentionally investing in a known dangerous activity and should be stopped.
A new campaign urging science museums to cut ties with David Koch has thrown a spotlight on the billionaire Koch brothers' enormous philanthropic footprint and their oil interests, as they continue to undercut climate science, environmental regulations and clean energy.
Fifteen non-profits, including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Daily Kos, launched a petition calling on the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History in New York to remove David Koch from their boards of trustees, because "he bankrolls groups that deny climate science." The non-profits cite a letter to museums, also sent Tuesday, by more than 30 scientists asking for a severing of ties to all fossil fuel interests.
David Koch's considerable donations to the country's two premier natural history museums are part of the Koch family's wide-ranging philanthropy. The family has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to leading cultural, medical and academic institutions over the last 40 years, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
David and his brother Charles have also emerged as the nation's top donors to a vast array of libertarian-conservative politicians and causes, creating and sustaining a large, influential network of advocacy groups and right-wing think tanks. Among the top causes championed by Koch-backed groups and individuals are climate denial and opposition to climate-friendly policies.
As the Kochs' political agenda has grown clearer and more muscular, their philanthropy is raising questions about how museums, medical centers and universities can accept money from donors whose business and political dealings are often in direct opposition to the institutions' missions.
Hundreds of museums across the country––including some of the most prestigious––are being asked by more than 30 scientists to cut their ties to the fossil fuel industry.
In a letter sent to more than 330 science and natural history centers on Tuesday, the researchers said that when "some of the biggest…funders of misinformation on climate science" give millions of dollars to science-focused museums, it acts to "undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions."
"Museums are feeling budgetary crunches, and these donors bring in large sums of money," said Beka Economopoulos, co-founder and director of the Brooklyn-based Natural History Museum, a new educational organization that coordinated the letter. "Museums, even unintentionally, are unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them. There is a threat of self-censorship where the philanthropy serves to make museums more reticent to offend the donor, or certainly to critique the practices of the donor."
The campaign comes just weeks after the release of public documents show Smithsonian-affiliated astrophysicist Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon published articles arguing that the sun, not greenhouse gases, is driving modern climate change after receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel interests. He later failed to disclose that funding in academic journals' conflict-of-interest statements.
Museums are some of the world's top tourist destinations, particularly for families. Science-related institutions made up four of the top 10 most visited museums across the globe in 2014.
Concern over these museums' close financial ties with major oil-and-gas donors has been mounting for years. Fossil fuel billionaire David Koch, for example, sits on the boards of trustees of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Koch gave the Smithsonian $15 million to build the Hall of Human Origins, which opened in 2010. The exhibit has been widely criticized for ignoring the role humans play in driving modern climate change, and the challenge it poses to modern society.