Forge the Future #53 - Intersectionality, racial injustice, and the fight for a better world
Welcome to Forge the Future, your weekly guide to all things climate.
It’s been a heck of a week. Everyone’s eyes right now are on the US, as long-running racial tensions spill over after the killing of yet another innocent black man by police has sparked riots and protests across the country, and indeed, the world. The resulting brutal police response has shocked me as I’m sure it has many of you, and it’s hard to know what to do or how to help, especially in another country, under a pandemic-induced lockdown. It is, however, another reminder that the climate movement has never and will never be just about saving the environment. It’s about fighting inequality and injustice - the story of climate destruction is just as much one of racial injustice and oppression as it is about the actual environmental damage.
State of the Climate
CO2 levels this week: 416.93 ppm
This time last year: 414.52 ppm
The current heatwave in Siberia has already led to a spike in wildfires, and scientists think that some could be ‘zombie’ fires, that have smouldered through the winter under snow cover, to restart as temperatures have risen. Siberia is in the middle of a months-long hotspot and areas have hit 26°C on the Arctic Circle, whilst Russia as a whole was 6°C warmer between January and April than the long term average.
The UK has experienced the driest May in 214 years, leading to concerns that there may be a severe drought later in the year. Much of Western Europe is also on track for exceptionally warm temperatures through the summer, and Eastern Europe is also already suffering from a severe drought that is impacting crop yields.
A new study shows that the extinction rates of land-based vertebrates are accelerating much faster than previously thought. It is thought that the number of species that will go extinct in the next two decades is equal to the number made extinct throughout the entire twentieth century. Another study on the oceans has found that climate change in the deep ocean could be seven times faster than currently by 2050, even if emissions are cut rapidly, as species dependent on each other are forced to move apart at different rates as different levels of the ocean warm.
As I mentioned in the intro, these are strange and uncomfortable times for many of us. There’s so much going on in the world and it’s easy to feel powerless. Ranjan Roy of the excellent newsletter The Margins talked about ‘doom-scrolling endlessly’ on Twitter, which definitely describes my current behaviour. The disconnect between my own comfortable (albeit isolated) life and the struggles I see daily on social media and the news is one that’s hard to come to terms with (there is a separate conversation about healthy social media usage and social media’s role in such crises, but that maybe is for another day).
I started Forge the Future because I wanted to help try and make the world a better place, as grandiose as that sounds. That’s been an evolving journey, and having just made the difficult decision to step back from trying to found a climate-focused startup, I’ve found myself reevaluating what I can do, especially in light of current crises. I’ve tended not to dive into my own journey much in this newsletter, partly as it’s not its core focus, but also - I’m a privileged white guy who is largely insulated from the problems we see every day - my own issues largely don’t feel relevant here.
However, the disconnect between the change I want in the world and the outcomes of my actions is one I think many will identify with. Ultimately, we all need to figure out what we can do and how we can have most impact on the problems we collectively face, and that requires experimenting. Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t. I’m going to continue to experiment with how I can have the most climate impact, and I wanted to say thank you for reading and supporting me along the way.
US vs the Climate
The University of California has fully divested from fossil fuels, after selling all of its $1bn of fossil fuel assets - the largest US university to have done so. Cornell also announced this week that it will not make any new private fossil fuel investments, although it won’t (yet) divest from its current holdings.
A major lawsuit by California cities against Big Oil, thought dead, has been resurrected. The case was moved to the federal court and dismissed in 2018, but it has been ruled that the case should never have ended up there in the first place. This will give cities another chance to make their case, but the oil companies are unlikely to give an easy fight.
Chevron’s investors defied the board and voted for the company to disclose how lobbying efforts by the company align with the Paris accords.
A new study on horses suggests that a rare birth defect was made much more common by exposure to fracking byproducts, adding to the evidence against the technology.
Commonwealth Fusion Systems, one of the leading private fusion efforts, has raised another $84m to continue the development of their prototype reactor.
Rio Tinto has destroyed a 46,000 year old Aboriginal site to expand an iron ore mine in Australia. The site was the only inland site to show signs of continual human occupation through the last ice age.
Kenya is planning a series of large dam projects to try and mitigate the effects of changing weather, which have left it in a continual alternating cycle of floods and drought. Over 200 were killed and 10,000 displaced by floods just this year.
COP26 is likely to be delayed a full year due to the current pandemic, meaning further Paris accord-linked global climate action could also be delayed.
Chinese solar component manufacturers are cutting prices by as much as 20% as demand plummets. The lower prices could lead to a boost in solar when the economy recovers, as China dominates the solar supply chain.
There has been frustration at the discovery that Uber’s Jump e-bike subsidiary will be scrapping tens of thousands of e-bikes now that it has been taken over by Lime. Many cycling advocates have called for the bikes to be rebranded and sold or donated.
Germany’s latest (and likely last) coal plant is to open this week to massive protest, despite the country’s plan to quit coal by 2038.
A new report suggests that a UK recovery plan fast-tracking decarbonisation could create as many as 850,000 new jobs in green energy in the next decade. However, the report warns that at least £30bn extra a year is needed for the UK to hit its 2050 net zero carbon goal.
A nine seat all-electric Cessna Grand Caravan took its maiden flight on 28th May - the largest electric aircraft to do so to date.
Swiss direct-air capture startup Climeworks has raised $76m in a new funding round to fuel further expansion.
An Australian research team claims to have made a working perovskite solar cell. The technology enables flexible, thinner and cheaper cells, but has struggled with fragility, which the researchers claim to have solved. Full commercialisation is still likely a decade or more away, however.
The Washington Post explores how the Empire State building has shrunk its emission footprint by 40%, and the struggles other buildings are having to make similar cuts as New York cracks down on building emissions.
A deep-dive into the complex water problems facing the Murray-Darling Basin - Australia’s agricultural heartland - as a double-whammy of climate change and over-use means there is no longer enough to go around.
An exploration of the complex role clouds play in climate modelling - new simulations suggest that cloud loss could cause a feedback loop that could add as much as 8 degrees to global warming.
The End Times
That’s all I have for you this week. As always, thanks for reading, and if you’ve any feedback or suggestions for me, I’d love to hear them (you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org). If you feel like sharing this, I’d massively appreciate it!
Stay safe, and see you next week,