In this climate article, we look at some ‘known knowns’ of environmental disasters and the recent efforts to halt further declines in the Earth’s ecosystem. We’ll also look at the corruption underlying the oil industry and the actions of a few brave young kids from Montana who are taking their state to justice.
Bzzz… Bees are still dying!
The honeybee's plight has been well documented over the last two decades, but recent results show that the situation is far more precarious than previously thought.
Last year, nearly half of the United States honey bee population was decimated due to a combination of pesticides, climate change, parasites, and starvation caused by a reduction in natural habitat. The loss has been increasing yearly above the 12-year average. Losses may lead to a total colony collapse, affecting the honey trade and pollinating over 100 crop species. When bees go, there’s no ready alternative.
The stability of bee populations is thanks to the efforts of beekeepers, who have learnt over the last fifteen years how to manage large-scale population reductions. As experts suggest, this may prevent the extinction of bees but leaves little wriggle room when it comes to maintaining bee populations. Events such as the varroa destructor mite, which first decimated New Zealand’s bee population in the early 2000s, may not totally destroy bee colonies, but compiled with rising temperatures, pesticides and other climate events, leaves bee populations much more vulnerable than they would be naturally.
So, although the situation may not be getting much worse, the evidence suggests it's not getting any better either, with the level of risk far from acceptable.
Stop using roads
While the introduction of electric vehicles, public transport systems and recycled materials are incredibly valuable to cleaning up the Earth’s atmosphere, all these measures still neglect one of the largest carbon producers in the transport industry — the production of roads. And recent road-building plans are currently threatening the UK’s net zero targets for carbon emissions by 2050.
The UK’s Committee on Climate Change published its progress report on Wednesday 28th, which recommends that new plans for road construction be halted. This comes at a time of high construction for the Department of Transport, which has debated the results on the basis that electric cars can help offset the pollution problem. However, concrete accounts for 4-8% of the world’s total carbon emissions, which must be added to the production of electric cars, an activity in itself that causes further pollution.
This finding also follows a slash in budgets improving the conditions for cyclists and pedestrians, aiming to boost the economy rather than improve on environmental factors. The consensus seems to be that environmental controls can be managed by performing better in certain areas to offset others. But as the HS2 rail line will cause an expected 1.49 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, the worry is that asking British households to offset their own emissions won’t in any way cover for the emissions created by big business.
Dark money and oil
If the idea of further carbon emissions by British road works wasn’t enough to enrage you, the recent events following the US Senate should. The hearing comes at the conclusion of an inquiry launched by the House of Democrats in 2021, which shows a focused effort by oil and gas companies to mislead the general public about climate change.
‘Dark money’ is a term used to describe funding used to influence elections, where the source of the funding is not disclosed to voters. Interestingly, the report, which dates back to the 1950s, throws shade on both the Republican and Democratic parties, blaming them for the slow maturation of the American public to the facts of climate change.
The proposed Disclose Act aims to expose the funds accepted by both Democrats and Republicans alike in an attempt to end dark money on either side. However, what emerged, from our own opinion, in these proceedings is rather disheartening. The hearing saw much debate, between speakers, as to the existence and threat level of climate change, with most of the proceeding limited to a finger-pointing game between the two parties. Thankfully, the proceedings were helmed by climate supporter Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who was quoted as saying, “these are risks that have the potential to cascade across our entire economy and trigger widespread financial hardship and calamity.”
Whatever the final result of the hearing, it's clear that misinformation is still a widespread problem in an economy where climate denial is an accepted opinion, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.
Montana kids taking on climate change.
Ending on some climate-positive news, a record-breaking climate trial shines a new precedent on who can be held accountable for climate change.
The Held v. State of Montana case is a first of its kind, as sixteen plaintiffs have argued their rights to a clean and healthy environment, suggesting that current legislative laws are unconstitutional and misguided. The case was originally filed in March 2020 and specifically targets a provision in the Montana Environmental Policy Act preventing the State of Montana from considering how its energy economy may affect climate change. This comes after an amended law in 2011 prevents reviews around regional, national or global environmental impacts. And in May of 2023, another amendment was added to ban the state from considering greenhouse gas emissions in its environmental reviews.
The trial has come under some attack as a ‘pandering’ effort that won’t implement any definite climate action and fails to define what a ‘clean and healthy’ environment legally constitutes. But the ruling is going some way to helping decide what exactly should be covered in the environmental legislation, using the metric of parts per million of carbon dioxide as the benchmark. The right to a ‘clean and healthy’ environment is, therefore, a measure of this benchmark and the States commitment to uphold these rights.
The trouble with the ruling is that carbon emissions are a global issue and not defined by state law. Montana itself can’t be held accountable for all emitted fossil fuels because, by and large, carbon emissions aren’t a problem that can be regulated at the state or even national line. However, there may be reason for suggesting that the problem is more uniquely youth-related, as younger people, especially children, breathe at a faster rate, exposing themselves to more pollutants. They also have a harder time cooling in extreme heat and have more permeable skin, exposing them to various toxins. This, in turn, could lead to a rise in ‘adverse childhood experiences’ bought on by climate change.
While the exact outcome of this trial is doubtful, it’s hoped that it may at least turn the tide on the ‘environmental blindsiding’ practised by the State of Montana. It seems this case has already prompted others to like it around the United States and abroad.
As Sunrise Movement* director Varshini Prakash suggests;
“The fossil fuel industry should be terrified because fights like this are going to pop up across the country as Gen Z and a growing Gen Alpha fight to protect their futures from climate disaster.”
Our Eartha hats off to you, young Montana environmental fighters.
*The Sunrise Movement is a youth-based organisation dedicated to climate change and the New Green Deal, a congressional resolution to provide clean energy and living-wage jobs to American citizens. You can find out more about the movement or donate to it here.
- Clark, Lesley. “5 Takeaways from the Montana Climate Trial as We Await a Historic Ruling” on Scientific American. Date Published: 23rd June, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3XsakmH.
- “Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth” on The Guardian. Date Published: 25th February, 2019. Site Link: https://bit.ly/42RSH0M.
- Harrabin, Roger. “Halt new roads and developments adding to emissions, advisers to tell UK government” on The Guardian. Date Published: 23rd June, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/43XthAj.
- Kluger, Jeffrey. “Kids Just Brought Montana To Court Over Climate Change. The Case Could Make Waves Beyond The State” on Time. Date Published: 23rd June. Site Link: https://bit.ly/42VB6Fo.
- Noor, Dharna. “Groundbreaking youth-led climate trial comes to an end in Montana” on The Guardian. Date Published: 23rd June, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3r43UhK.
- Noor, Dharna. “Senate examines role of ‘dark money’ in delaying climate action” on The Guardian. Date Published: 23rd June, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3NwcXzA.
- “US honeybees suffer second deadliest season on record” on The Guardian. Date Published: 23rd June, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3r1vXyl.
About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch
James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.