Investors could lose $8.4 trillion to the climate crisis over 15 years as ocean health declines, WWF warns

hurricane ida damage
Rising sea levels and increasingly bad weather are big risks to the economy.

  • Investors could lose trillions of dollars as the climate crisis hits oceans, the WWF has said.
  • An estimated $8.4 trillion of assets and revenues are at risk from rising temperatures.
  • The financial community is embracing green investing ahead of the COP26 summit.

Investors face a hit of $8.4 trillion to assets and revenues over the next 15 years as the climate crisis damages ocean health, unless action is taken to hold down global temperatures, the World Wildlife Fund has found.

Under a “business as usual” scenario in which little is done to address rising temperatures, investors in 66% of listed companies are at risk of big losses, according to WWF research carried out with research group Metabolic.

The study underlines the threat that climate change poses to the global financial system, with investors facing the possibility that companies, infrastructure and whole sectors are ravaged by the phenomenon.

“This report shows the scale of what we all have to lose,” said Karen Sack, executive director of Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance, a global investment pressure group.

“Today’s ocean and coastal assets at risk are tomorrow’s stranded assets, where hard-fought-for value is going to be eroded if we don’t take immediate action.”

Of the $8.4 trillion of assets and revenues that are at risk, the biggest chunk would be from damage to coastal real estate and infrastructure, while coastal fisheries would suffer another big hit.

The WWF report found that even keeping global temperature increases to below 2°C (3.6°F) would put $3.3 billion of assets and revenues at risk. The Paris Agreement signed by governments in 2015 aims to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

It said that the ocean and the activities it supports – such as fishing, renewable energy and trading – are expected to contribute $3 trillion to the global economy a year by 2030.

But pollution from shipping, rising sea levels, overfishing, and the loss of biodiversity threaten to hit the “blue economy” hard, the WWF said.

Read more: Gabriela Herculano’s novel approach to climate-conscious investing is to buy companies that prevent damaging emissions from ever being made. She told us 6 stocks she sees as long-term winners, and explained how her process works.

The report said that many investors are more reliant on the ocean than they realize, with airlines, restaurants and retailers deriving revenues from activities centered around the sea.

“Stranded assets” – assets which suddenly become worth much less or even turn into liabilities – are a big risk for investors, the report said. For example, a port may be a big money spinner but is far less valuable when it’s at the centre of freak hurricanes each year.

The financial community is increasingly focused on green issues ahead of COP26, the UN climate-change conference scheduled for early November.

“The COP26 climate summit is a critical moment to take action, and the finance sector must step up and align itself to the Paris Agreement targets by shifting their investments to those that support a sustainable, low-carbon future,” the WWF’s report said.

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Al Gore’s investment fund revealed a $128 million stake in Toast after the restaurant-technology company’s IPO

Al Gore
Al Gore.

  • Al Gore’s fund revealed a 0.5% stake in Toast following the restaurant-software provider’s IPO.
  • Generation Investment Management’s Toast stock is worth around $128 million.
  • Gore and his team co-led Toast’s $101 million Series C funding round in 2017.

Al Gore is best known for warning the planet is toast unless we address the climate crisis. The former US vice-president will be celebrating a different hot prospect following restaurant-software provider Toast‘s stock-market debut in September.

Gore is the cofounder and chairman of Generation Investment Management, a sustainable-investment fund with a $24 billion US stock portfolio. Generation recently disclosed that it owns 2.5 million Class A shares of Toast, representing 0.5% of the startup’s outstanding shares. The stake is worth about $128 million, based on Toast’s closing stock price on Tuesday.

Toast didn’t list Generation among its major shareholders in its IPO filing, as Gore’s fund owns less than 5% of the company. However, Generation co-led Toast’s $101 million Series C financing round in 2017. Given Toast now commands a $26 billion market capitalization, Generation has likely racked up a massive unrealized gain on its early bet on the company.

Generation and Toast didn’t respond to requests for comment from Insider.

Toast sells mobile, cloud-based, point-of-service (POS) systems to restaurants. The units help eateries to process orders faster, increase efficiency, reduce waste, and make more money. Toast’s biggest investors include Bessemer Venture Partners, Tiger Global Management, and T. Rowe Price.

The startup’s revenues jumped 24% to $823 million in 2020, but a sharp increase in costs meant its net loss widened by 19% to $248 million. Toast’s revenues roughly doubled year-on-year to $704 million in the first six months of 2021, but the company lost another $235 million in the period.

Gore starred in the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for raising awareness of the climate crisis.

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California is banning gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and weed trimmers – and offering rebates for switching to zero-emission tools

A man uses a leaf blower on fallen leaves.
Gas-powered leaf blowers would be banned under the new law.

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law Saturday for a future ban on gas-powered lawn equipment.
  • The state will offer rebates to people who switch to zero-emission electronic lawn tools.
  • It has set aside $30 million to help professional gardeners and landscapers make the switch.

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law Saturday that could ban gas-powered lawn equipment, such as lawn mowers and leaf blowers, as soon as 2024.

The bill adds a section to the air pollution part of California’s health and safety code, and will also offer some rebates for switching to zero-emission electronic lawn tools. The bill’s author told The Los Angeles Times the state was setting aside $30 million to help professional gardeners and landscapers switch to electric equipment.

According to the bill, small off-road engines, which it describes as being used “primarily in lawn and garden equipment,” emit lots of air pollution.

The Los Angeles Times reported that gas-powered chain saws, weed trimmers, and golf carts are all affected by the new law.

“This is a pretty modest approach to trying to limit the massive amounts of pollution that this equipment emits, not to mention the health impact on the workers who are using it constantly,” the author of the bill, Assemblyman Marc Berman, told The Los Angeles Times.

The Associated Press reported there are more than 16.7 million small engines in California at the moment – 3 million more than the number of passenger cars on the road in the state.

The bill also stipulates portable generators must be zero-emission by 2028.

The bill is set to come into force on January 1, 2024, or as soon as is “feasible,” whichever comes later.

In 2019 the American Lung Association (ALA) ranked California as the worst US state for air pollution. In September 2020, following a string of wildfires, the US West Coast temporarily had the worst air quality on Earth.

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Kyrsten Sinema’s office denies report that the senator wants to cut $100 billion in proposed climate programs from Dem spending

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

  • Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s office denied reports that she wants billions cut in proposed climate programs.
  • The New York Times reported she wants $100 billion in climate provisions slashed from the spending package.
  • Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin are holding out for a less expensive price tag on the economic agenda.

The office of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who got her start in politics as a progressive activist in the Green Party, denied reports that she wants at least $100 billion in climate programs cut from the Democrats’ massive spending legislation currently stalled on Capitol Hill.

On Friday, The New York Times reported that Sinema is demanding significant cuts to proposed climate provisions in order to lower the price tag on President Joe Biden’s spending agenda, which includes a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion budget bill.

The Arizona lawmaker is one of two moderate holdouts sparring with fellow Democrats over the package’s final price, with Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia both repeatedly rejecting Biden’s proposed price tag on the Build Back Better legislation.

Manchin has vowed not to support a bill that costs more than $1.5 trillion, and both centrists are crucial voices in the fight, as all 50 Democratic senators must support the legislation in order for it to pass.

In a statement to Insider, a spokesman for Sinema’s office said reports that she wants climate provisions cut are not true.

“Neither Senator Sinema nor our office have requested or demanded such cuts, nor have we ever heard of any such demands,” John LaBombard tweeted in response to the Times article. “Once again, the NY Times relies on anonymous sources and gets it flat wrong. Do better.”

Party leaders have previously promised to safeguard two significant climate change programs costing $450 billion in total: the Clean Electricity Program, which incentivizes electric utilities to use wind, solar, and nuclear power, and a general climate package of tax incentives meant to encourage the use of clean energy.

But there are several other climate-focused programs that could theoretically be cut in order to shrink the bill, including multiple provisions aimed at helping poor people adapt to the effects of climate change, as well as a $30 billion “Green Bank,” that would fund construction of community solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations.

Also on the table is $30 billion to create a “Civilian Climate Corps,” encouraging young adults of color to pursue climate work, as well as a $10 billion program to incentivize rural electric cooperatives to switch from coal to wind and solar.

Climate scientists told The Times that such cuts could have a particularly harmful impact on Sinema’s own constituents.

“Annual average temperatures in Arizona have already increased a couple of degrees due to climate change, which may not sound like much, but it has increased heat waves and droughts, it has lowered the snowpack which is essential to our water supply, and which flows in streams that are important to the health of wildlife, which is important to our ranchers and farmers,” Gregg Garfin, a University of Arizona climatologist told the outlet.

“We need the work force,” he added. “We need the funding. Many communities in Arizona lack the budget or expertise to do this. It requires real money. And it’s super important for Arizona.”

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Google and YouTube say they will cut off climate-change deniers from being able to monetize their content and display ads

Sundar Pichai wears a grey jacket over a white t-shirt and smiles on stage.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

  • Google plans to intervene in content that promotes lies about climate change.
  • YouTube previously banned all anti-vaccine content, despite historically avoiding content moderation.
  • The policy will affect advertisers, publishers, and YouTube creators.

Google is pulling the plug on climate deniers on its platform, banning content that contradicts well-established research from the scientific community, the company announced on Thursday.

The tech giant is taking a two-pronged approach, applying to advertisers and publishing partners in Google-served ads that try to promote climate change misinformation on pages and videos, as well YouTube Partner Program creators who try to monetize their climate change misinformation videos, according to a company blog post.

The new rule specifically targets claims that climate change is a “hoax or a scam”, claims that deny long-term environmental trends, and claims ignoring significant factors to climate change, like greenhouse gas emissions or humanity’s contributions to climate change. Google will continue to allow ads and monetization on climate-related topics, such as informed debates on climate change and verifiable research.

“We’ll look carefully at the context in which claims are made, differentiating between content that states a false claim as fact, versus content that reports on or discusses that claim,” the company said in the statement.

This follows a similar major move last week from the Google-owned YouTube, which announced it would ban all anti-vaccination content on its site beyond that which dealt with COVID-19. YouTube previously banned misinformation about COVID vaccines last October. Social media companies have generally tried to take a hands-off approach when it comes to content moderation, but have since taken steps to rein in misinformation across platforms.

Google, which is the largest digital-ad seller, has been criticized by Congress and climate change activists for allowing companies and climate-denying interest groups to buy search ads. Inaccurate, monetized climate change videos on YouTube received over 21 million views according to research from nonprofit organization Avaaz in 2020, Bloomberg first reported.

Google consulted with experts from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the new monetization policy. The IPCC published its sixth assessment on the state of climate change earlier in August, warning of “irreversible” climate-related changes.

The company will begin enforcing the new changes in November.

The new policy change also comes amid several features Google released this week around sustainability, including Google Maps’ eco routes, aimed at reaching a “billion sustainable actions,” Google’s Chief Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt said.

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The city of Glasgow, Scotland prepares to host COP26 in November, while setting ambitious sustainability goals of its own

A picture taken on October 4, 2021 shows the SSE Hydro venue in Glasgow that will be hosting the COP26 UN Climate Summit in November.
The SSE Hydro venue in Glasgow, Scotland will be hosting the COP26 UN Climate Summit in November.

  • Starting November 1, 2021, Scotland’s capital city of Glasgow will host COP26.
  • COP26 is the United Nations Climate Change Conference that will see world leaders convene on decisions set to shape the future of humanity.
  • Glasgow itself is committed to becoming net-zero carbon by 2030, one of the most ambitious targets set by a European city.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

This November, Glasgow, Scotland, will host COP26, which is the United Nations Climate Change Conference that will see world leaders convene on decisions set to shape the future of humanity. But what is the city itself doing to tackle climate change?

With the world watching, Glasgow is aiming high. The city’s climate commitments aim to surpass those of the rest of Scotland, who want to reach net-zero by 2045, as well as the United Kingdom’s overall target of net-zero by 2050.

“Our aim is to become net-zero carbon by 2030, and our target is one of the most ambitious in Europe,” explains a Glasgow City Council spokesperson, who adds “we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions by 41% since 2006, surpassing our 30% target.”

Sustainability plans in action

Advocating for a “whole systems approach,” Glasgow’s council says current sustainability projects include decarbonizing the city’s energy systems and formulating plans to supercharge education and behavior change of Glasgow’s citizens, businesses, and wider stakeholders.

Following a recently commissioned Integrated Net Zero Scoping Study, the city plans to combine local energy, land use, and transport industries into the plans for change.

The city recently launched the Sustainable Glasgow Charter, which “enables businesses to make a public commitment towards achieving more sustainable outcomes, thus ensuring that the city is working together collaboratively.”

In fact, much of the city’s work thus far has been about getting local businesses on board.

Alison McRae, senior director of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, an independent organization promoting commerce across the city and wider region, explains how her organization works with partners Zero Waste Scotland and the council, to deliver their ‘Circular Glasgow’ initiative.

Five years in, the program helps businesses become future-proof and able to pivot in line with future sustainability policies through events and networking activities.

According to McRae, COP26 has sped up education schemes and business engagement programs that will “mold the minds of the future workforce by showing them how they can engage with businesses tackling climate change.”

The city is also launching a carbon-neutral city district, starting with the implementation of a so-called ‘Smart Street’. The street, located in an area with residential, academic, community, retail, and industrial buildings in central Glasgow, will integrate planned regeneration with smart city capabilities.

Put simply, this “includes the installation of a roof-mounted solar PV canopy, ducted wind turbines, energy arbitrage, power storage, EV charging, and smart grid controls,” explains a city spokesperson.

Describing the street as a demonstration of what smart, sustainable energy systems might look like in Glasgow – and the rest of the world – in the future, the council says the street will tackle issues surrounding fuel poverty, aging infrastructure, and air pollution.

“We are also currently looking to retrofit the city’s traditional sandstone tenements, which are notoriously difficult to heat,” says the spokesperson. “There will be substantial investment needed to bring these buildings up to modern energy efficiency standards.”

Still some way to go

The retrofitting plans mark one of the city’s key stumbling blocks – getting enough money to support long-term goals. Both governmental and private funding will be crucial to reaching net-zero by 2030.

McRae says that making it easier for businesses to engage in the agenda will be essential to this. “We want to work with the government to achieve net-zero ambitions, but we want to do this whilst also ensuring our economy grows.”

On the path to post-pandemic recovery, the commerce is “mindful of the need to minimize disruption of our city center,” during COP26. They want to make sure that businesses can maximize the benefits of the summit both during the event and afterward.

While some projects are coming to fruition in Glasgow, many of the city’s goals are still in the planning stage. “As a city, we will come up against many challenges as our 2030 target gets closer,” explains the Glasgow City Council spokesperson.

“We need to ensure that the historic societal problems Glasgow has faced, such as high levels of fuel poverty, are tackled in line with the levels of investment. We need to ensure that we don’t disproportionately impact the most vulnerable in our communities as we tackle the climate emergency.”

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The Earth is less bright than it used to be because there are fewer clouds in the air, a study found

A view of the earth and the sun from the International space station. The picture shows hurricane Florence.
Earth as seen from space, This view shows Hurricane Florence over the east coast of the US in 2018.

  • A study found that the Earth has lost some of its shine over time, a study found.
  • They think it is because there are fewer clouds to bounce back the light.
  • The phenomenon may have implications for the climate, though that requires more study.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Earth is bouncing back less light into space because its cloud coverage isn’t what it used to be, a study found.

This is due to the cloud coverage being reduced due to a fluctuation in ocean temperatures, the researchers said.

Philip Goode, a researcher at New Jersey Institute of Technology, and a lead author on the study, described his findings to CNN.

“Off the west coast of the Americas, the low-lying clouds were burned away and more sunlight came in, so the way we saw it was, the reflectance of the Earth had dropped, he said.

The study looked at a phenomenon called “earthshine.”

The same way that the moon bounces back the sunlight, which gives it that silver-gray look in the night sky, the Earth reflects about 30% of the sunlight, it receives which is why it looks like a blue marble from space.

Scientists are able to measure the reflection of the Earth on the dark side of the moon, which is called earthshine.

earthshine
Earthshine on the moon gives it a blueish hue.

The Earth’s shine on the moon has been more or less constant over the past 17 years. “We were sort of reluctant to do the last three years of data because it looked the same,” Goode told CNN.

But when Goode and his colleagues did look, “the reflectance had…gone down noticeably,” he told CNN.

So much so that the scientists at the Big Bear Solar Observatory in California, which has been monitoring the earthshine since the mid-90s, thought they had made a mistake.

“We redid it several times and it turns out it was correct,” Goode said.

The scientists found that the Earth’s capacity to reflect sunlight – a measurable trait called its “albedo” – has gone down by 0.5 watts per square meter.

That means the Earth is getting 0.5% more sunlight compared to levels in the first decade of the 2000s, per CNN, which is “climatologically significant,” the scientists said in the study.

A graph shows wavy lines aiming down and a grey trend cloud representing earthshine from the mid 90s to now.
Earthshine annual mean albedo 1998-2017 expressed as watts per square meter (W/m2). The CERES annual albedo 2001-2019, also expressed in W/m2, are shown in blue. A best fit line to the CERES data (2001-2019) is shown with a blue dashed line. Average error bars for CERES measurements are of the order of 0.2 W/m2.

The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters on August 29.

The scientists attribute the loss of albedo to there being fewer clouds in the atmosphere to bounce back the light into space.

Specifically, they attribute the change to Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a long-term fluctuation of the Pacific Ocean during which the ocean either warms or cools, influencing the jet stream and weather patterns along the way, per NASA.

A 2016 study found that climate change is also changing cloud coverage, shifting it towards the poles which are affecting the Earth’s albedo, Insider previously reported.

However, the scientists didn’t mention climate change in the 2021 study.

Speaking to CNN, Goode wouldn’t venture the guess on how the loss of albedo could affect the planet.

But Edward Schwieterman, a planetary scientist at the University of California at Riverside who was not involved in the study, said in a statement that it was “actually quite concerning,”

Scientists had hoped that the Earth warming would lead to more clouds in the atmosphere, potentially counteracting some of the warming by reflecting additional sunlight.

“But this shows the opposite is true,” he said.

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SIGN UP: Top CEOs and government leaders discuss what companies needs to do to address the climate crisis

California Wildfires (2019)
Catastrophic weather events like wildfires are on the rise.

  • The recent IPCC report put the world on red alert. The world is losing the battle against the climate crisis.
  • Leaders in the climate space will share what needs to happen to unlock dramatic improvements in policy and progress.
  • On October 28, 2021, Insider is hosting “Insider AT COP26: Accelerating Action to Combat Climate Change,” a free virtual event at noon ET, presented by Deloitte.
  • Click here to register for this free virtual event.

Even as corporations adopt green standards and goals, scientists have declared the world faces an uphill battle against the climate crisis. We’re losing crucial time. Conversations on what needs to be done are more important than ever.

In association with the annual COP26 conference, Insider’s virtual event “Insider AT COP26: Accelerating Action to Combat Climate Change,” presented by Deloitte, takes place Thursday, October 28, 2021, at noon ET.

In a virtual panel event, a group of global stakeholders from government and the corporate world will help our audience understand what needs to happen in order to create national action.

COP26, scheduled between October 31 and November 12, will bring together government, business, and finance leaders to provoke action ahead of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Register now:

We hope to see you there!

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How do we solve climate change? Abolish fossil fuels

giant green head blowing out smoke stacks against a red sky
Fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal contribute tremendously to the climate crisis.

  • Our climate change goals are way too small for the severity of the crisis.
  • Calling for the complete end of fossil fuel extraction is the only way forward.
  • Other movements have proven that bold calls for abolition can radically change politics.
  • P.E. Moskowitz is an author, runs Mental Hellth, a newsletter about capitalism and psychology, and is a contributing opinion writer for Insider.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As Joe Biden campaigned for president in 2020, he outlined an environmental agenda that included achieving 100% clean energy in the US by 2050. The goal was ambitious, but details were scant on how to get it done. How, for example, would Biden meet the target while simultaneously promising to not ban fracking, an extractive process that contributes tremendously to the climate crisis?

More recently, Biden pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030. But again, details on how to actually achieve this goal were sparse. Hobbling the administration’s chances even further is the fact that Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a pro-oil politician who directly profits from the industry, will craft a large part of the party’s climate change policy.

And while the president tours global-warming ravaged communities, his administration has nonetheless opened up 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil leasing, leading to lawsuits from environmental groups.

Even the ambitious climate goals laid out by politicians in campaign promises fall far short of what’s needed to stop the climate crisis.

Though Biden and the Democrats can be blamed for their conflicting and inconsistent priorities, the base of the issue lies not with politicians, but with those of us who care about combating global warming. If Biden represents the most ambitious mainstream climate plan to date, that means we have not been ambitious enough in what we demand of our politics. We can no longer ask for abstract goals, or rely on the slow machine of electoralism. We must demand radical action – the complete abolition of the oil and gas industry.

We need a big, concrete goal

We already know that the time for action on climate is past-due. Even if we stopped all oil and gas production today, it’d be too late to arrest many of the effects of climate change. The desire to do something about climate change is there – public concern about climate change has grown steadily over the last few years, and the majority of people in most developed countries say they’d be willing to take action to prevent climate change.

Yet the demands we make of our politicians are milquetoast. Climate was not a central feature of the 2020 presidential debates, and the broadcast media barely covers climate at all, meaning our politicians are rarely pressured to take the drastic measures necessary to tackle the crisis.

And that’s because Americans don’t have a concrete goal for how to tackle climate change – we get lost in the morass of individual action (reduce, reuse, recycle), or in the technocratic, long-term goals of politicians. Only when the mainstream public has a real target to strive for will we be able to make actual progress on climate change. We need to call for the complete abolition of extractive industries.

There is no moderate solution to a global crisis. Fossil fuel combustion accounts for the vast majority of US carbon dioxide emissions. Eliminating these emissions by replacing our power grid with 100% clean energy is feasible and would work to get us to net zero, but right now it’s not politically palatable, largely because politicians are bankrolled by the corporations threatened by green energy. We often talk about global warming as if it’s an abstract concept that’s too complex to solve, when in reality its cause is relatively simple: Oil and gas companies are largely to blame, and stopping them will largely stop the problem.

But as long as there’s a profit incentive to keep extracting oil and gas, there will be no reason for oil and gas companies to stop. So we must eliminate the ability of oil and gas companies to profit from extraction, whether through laws that make the process illegal, or through massive protests that make the daily functions of oil and gas companies untenable.

This might seem like a lofty goal considering the bleak political moment we live in, but by drawing this line in the sand, we can then effectively evaluate whether politicians are moving toward that goal or not, and can develop a clearer sense of what actions need to be taken to meet that goal.

As Naomi Klein writes in “This Changes Everything,” politicians almost never declare an issue a crisis worth taking drastic action on until people force them to.

“Slavery wasn’t a crisis for British and American elites until abolitionism turned it into one,” Klein writes. “Racial discrimination wasn’t a crisis until the civil rights movement turned it into one … if enough of us stop looking away and decide that climate change is a crisis worthy of Marshall Plan levels of response, then it will become one, and the political class will have to respond.”

Shifting the Overton window

Having a concrete goal (stopping the worst effects of climate change) with a concrete target (stopping oil and gas extraction) is the only way to move a pro-environment agenda forward.

As of now, there is no mainstream coherent objective when it comes to climate beyond “do something about it.” Contrast that with other successful political movements: Occupy Wall Street fought not for incremental change, but against the actions of specific banks and for the end of economic inequality. During the uprisings over police killings of people of color in the past year, activists fought not for an abstract idea of reform, but the complete abolition (or at least defunding) of the police. Socialist activists who supported Bernie Sanders in 2020 fought not to “do something” about healthcare, but for an actual policy proposal – Medicare for All.

Though all of these movements met setbacks and were repressed by the state, they undoubtedly shifted the Overton window of our politics so that once seemingly impossible ideas are now part of everyday political dialogue. Dramatic restructuring of police departments, vast economic change and free healthcare – ideas that just a few decades ago were barely even part of mainstream discourse – are now discussed as realistic goals. This push creates a positive cycle of change: The discourse shifts, lofty goals then seem feasible, and that allows people to push for more change – more people show up at pipeline protests, more people support movements against police brutality, more people pressure politicians into action – which then further shifts the discourse.

We can now see the same thing happening with the climate crisis: Even major publications are platforming what once seemed like radical solutions to stopping oil and gas production and consumption.

There are already many groups who have gotten the memo to push for massive, systemic change on climate. Students have forced over 100 colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel corporations. Indigenous rights movements blocked 1.6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from being released through protest campaigns, pipeline blockades and other actions, equivalent to 25% of the emissions of the US and Canada each year.

But these movements, as powerful as they are, still remain on the fringe of the fight against climate change. As Klein points out, mainstream environmental organizations push for incremental change, while people thirst for something more radical.

We cannot end climate change without ending the extraction of fossil fuels. But if we keep considering that an unrealistic proposition, we’re doomed to use up massive amounts of people’s energy to push for small reforms, a cycle that creates cynicism and defeatism.

It’s a tall order to abolish all fossil fuel extraction, but the first step is simply naming it as a goal.

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People are flocking to Colorado for the great outdoors, but air pollution is leading to more days when residents are stuck inside

hiker wearing a gas mask against a polluted orange Colorado mountain range, with the text "Greetings from COLORADO" superimposed as on a postcard

With mild winters, plenty of open space, and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, it’s easy to see why Colorado is one of the fastest-growing states in the US.

“We were tired of having to spend nine winter months indoors without the sun,” Ashley O’Connor, who moved to Colorado from Chicago in 2015, told Insider. “We like to joke that we traded skyscrapers for mountains.”

O’Connor and her husband are hardly alone. According to census data, Colorado was one of the fastest-growing states from 2010 to 2020, increasing its population by nearly 15%. Colorado real estate has also been booming for years and experienced an even greater boost during the pandemic as urbanites ditched cities for less crowded spaces.

But one of the state’s biggest draws – abundant access to the outdoors – is under threat.

The air in Colorado is getting dirtier, resulting in more days where haze obscures the mountains and when public health officials say it’s unsafe to be outside, let alone do something active.

“For the last three months, three out of four days were air quality alerts,” Frank Flocke, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, told Insider in mid-September. “We just had a clear day for the first time for weeks, where you could actually see the mountains.”

A hazy view of the downtown Denver skyline from Sloan Lake in Denver, Colorado on Tuesday, August 3, 2021.
A hazy view of the downtown Denver skyline from Sloan Lake in Denver, Colorado on Tuesday, August 3, 2021.

Ozone pollution and wildfire smoke are largely responsible for obscuring the view of the Rocky Mountains, an increasingly common sight in Colorado, according to Flocke.

This summer, Colorado public health officials issued an ozone alert every day from July 5 to August 14, marking a 41-day stretch of air quality warnings. The state issued 65 ozone action day alerts from June through August, more than any year since 2016, when the current ozone standard was set.

‘Hazy, smoky mountain ranges have become a bit of a regular sight’

For longtime residents, the change in air quality, and the impact it’s had on their outdoor life, is evident.

“Honestly, it’s heartbreaking,” Susanna Joy, who has lived in Colorado most of her life, told Insider. “Those of us that are from here have noticed a really big shift in our ability to enjoy life how we grew up.”

Joy said she grew up outdoors and remains an avid hiker who loves camping and being outside as much as possible. She said air quality and wildfires weren’t even on her radar growing up, a stark difference from recent years.

“I never thought about air quality when I was planning outdoor adventures and now it’s something that we look at consistently,” Joy said.

A post shared by Susanna Joy (@susannagans)

Now, she gets an email every morning from a local newspaper that tells her the air quality for that day, so she can decide if she even wants to think about doing something outside.

“There’s been multiple times where we’re planning a 40-mile bike ride and we just don’t do it because the air quality is too bad or it’s too hot,” she said.

Checking in on air quality has become a daily part of many Coloradoans’ lives. The air quality index, or AQI – a tool used by government agencies to convey to the public how safe the air is on any given day – has become as common a discussion point as which 14er, or mountain peak higher than 14,000 feet, is hardest to hike to.

Even for recent transplants, the change is palpable, according to O’Connor, who lives in the Rockies in Summit County, home to some of the state’s most popular ski resorts, like Breckenridge and Keystone.

Being outside “isn’t just about hobbies, it is a way of life,” O’Connor said. She loves to ski, bike, take her sailboat out on the Dillon Reservoir, and hike the many trails located minutes from her home.

But the “hazy, smoky mountain ranges have become a bit of a regular sight since moving here,” she said. “Not only has it affected the amount of time we are willing to spend outdoors, but how we spend it.”

O’Connor said she and her husband even wake up sometimes with “red, burning, itchy eyes” and congestion due to the poor air quality.

The sky is illuminated as the sun sets behind the Rocky Mountain Thursday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Denver.
Sun sets behind the Rocky Mountains on Sept. 10, 2021, in Colorado, where smoke from western wildfires has funneled into the region to create colorful sunsets and sunrises and trigger air quality alerts.

The culprits: ‘A product of our own doing’

Ozone is the primary pollutant taking a toll on Colorado’s air, according to Flocke.

Colorado has some of the worst ozone pollution of anywhere in the US. In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency reclassified the Denver area as a “serious” violator of federal air quality standards. The agency gave the state until July of this year to get the ozone pollution under control, but that deadline came and went.

Ozone is a naturally occurring and man-made gas found in Earth’s atmosphere. High-altitude ozone, like that found in the ozone layer, protects the planet by absorbing UV rays from the sun. Ground-level ozone, on the other hand, is emitted by things like cars, chemical plants, and oil and gas refineries, and enters the air we breathe.

Flocke said ozone pollution is “mainly a product of our own doing,” calling transportation of people and goods and the oil and gas industry the “elephants in the room” when it comes to cutting ozone emissions.

A 2019 study co-authored by Flocke found the fossil fuel and transportation sectors were the major contributors to ozone on Colorado’s front range.

Bumper to bumper traffic on Interstate 70 in Colorado, a familiar scene on the main highway connecting Denver to the mountains.
In this Jan. 7, 2018, photo, traffic backs up on Interstate 70 in Colorado, a familiar scene on the main highway connecting Denver to the mountains.

The millions of recent Colorado transplants aren’t helping the problem, as the increase in population and traffic only causes those emissions to rise.

Breathing ozone can lead to serious health effects, according to the EPA, including coughing, throat irritation, chest pain, and shortness of breath, as well as longer-lasting issues like declining lung function. There is also strong evidence linking higher ozone levels with asthma attacks, increased hospitalizations, and increased mortality.

Sensitive groups, including older people, children, and people with respiratory issues are especially at risk, but high ozone levels can trigger symptoms even for people who aren’t at higher risk.

‘The fires make everything worse’

Those impacts are only magnified by the other pollutant permeating Colorado’s air: fine particulate matter from wildfires. Particulate matter, or PM pollution, refers to tiny particles found in the air that are so small they can be inhaled when breathing.

“The fires make everything worse because they add the particles to the ozone,” Flocke said.

The particles emitted from wildfires can get deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream, according to the EPA. Studies have linked PM to premature deaths in people with heart or lung disease, heart attacks, decreased lung function, and respiratory problems.

Even in years when Colorado has a relatively mild wildfire season, like this year, the state still deals with dangerous levels of PM blown in from other parts of the West. This year, fires in California and Oregon brought hazy, smoky days all the way to Colorado.

Smoke from the Grizzly Creek Fire blankets Glenwood Canyon and Interstate 70 on August 26, 2020 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Smoke from the Grizzly Creek Fire blankets Glenwood Canyon and Interstate 70 on August 26, 2020 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

“They made a lot of the days multiple pollutant warning days, where you had ozone exceed the standard and particulates exceed the standard at the same time,” Flocke said. “For people that are sensitive to pollution, that really makes it hard to be outside and enjoy life.”

Flocke said the issue is worsened by the fact that the meteorological conditions that prevent the local ozone from being flushed out by cold fronts are the same conditions that bring in the wildfire smoke from the coast.

‘If we tackle the climate problem, we will slowly also tackle our air quality problem’

The impact of wildfires on Colorado’s air quality is unlikely to let up so long as the climate continues to warm, according to Russ Schumacher, director of the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University.

“Many studies, going back 10 to 15 years, have projected that the amount of acreage burned of wildfires in the West was going to increase as the climate warms,” he told Insider. “We’re starting to see that now.”

Schumacher said the wildfires aren’t solely due to climate change, but that climate change and the related droughts and heatwaves have set the stage for these big fires.

Climate change and air quality are “intimately connected,” according to Flocke: “Our lifestyle causes emissions of CO2, which exacerbate climate change, which exacerbate the fires, which exacerbate our air quality problems.”

Denver Skyline as seen from the Cherry Creek Dam road in Denver, Colorado on April 30, 2015.
Denver Skyline as seen from the Cherry Creek Dam road in Denver, Colorado on a relatively clear day in 2015.

But, he said, both crises could be addressed in Colorado with many of the same actions. Enacting tighter regulations on oil and gas emissions, improving public transportation, and disincentivizing driving would all help cut greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.

“If we tackle the climate problem, we will slowly also tackle our air quality problem,” Flocke said, adding that the solutions are “clear” but that there needs to be political will to actually implement them.

He said the increase in awareness about air quality, partly driven by the wildfires and climate change, could result in a greater push for change. The many transplants moving to the state could have a positive impact on that as well.

“People move to Colorado because they have this idea that we have clean mountain air,” he said. “Maybe they will be more susceptible to accept stricter regulations.”

Joy echoed those sentiments, saying she’s “hopeful that this isn’t just how summer is now, because I enjoyed summer so much as a kid.”

While she personally tries to minimize her impact on emissions, she said she’s also trying to come to terms with the fact that “until we make some big changes that help us reduce the impact that we’re having overall, it’s not going to change. It’s going to continue to amplify.”

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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