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Our planet
Climate and geopolitics

1 july 2022

Scotus v EPA
The US Supreme Court’s vote to uphold a challenge to the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set emissions standards for power stations is a huge blow to efforts to clean up one of the world’s biggest polluters, and a signal that this court could go on to cut the powers of other federal agencies it deems guilty of mission creep. The EPA had asserted the authority under the Clean Air Act to enforce emissions caps that would eventually force the power sector to dump coal for renewables. The court held by 6 votes to 3 that the act gives no such authority. Justice Elena Kagan, in a dissent for the three liberals, said the court had appointed itself a decision-maker on climate policy, and she couldn’t think of many things more frightening. The fossil fuel sector is delighted. 

30 june 2022

Rare earths fake news
A pro-Chinese spamming organisation called Dragonbridge has been posting fake environmental content about a US government-funded rare earths refinery in Texas. Posts on Facebook and Twitter say the plant would expose the surrounding area “to irreversible environmental damage” and radioactive contamination, the FT reports. This isn’t true, the Australian firm building the plant insists. What is true is that any non-Chinese rare earths processing capacity would undermine China’s stranglehold on the global EV battery supply chain. Rare earths aren’t rare but they are essential in trace quantities for lithium-based batteries, and they’re dirty to process. China has sunk billions into a processing infrastructure that’s unbeatable on price thanks partly to lax environmental standards. The US is playing catch-up.

29 june 2022

America dries out
This is not a good time to be growing almonds, olives, grapes, citrus fruit or lettuce in the western US. Temperatures are up, crop yields are down and the cost of water is going through the roof. Forbes has had a look at rates of water withdrawal from aquifers and reservoirs for irrigation – compiled from Nasa and other US government sources by RV Guha, a Google fellow – and found a correlation between withdrawal rates and negative effects of climate change. There’s one possible consolation: hints of a self-correction mechanism in Texas, where the cost of water for livestock and to grow their feed is now so high some farmers are considering quitting the meat business.

28 june 2022

Stolen grain
Russian forces in occupied areas of Ukraine have been “systematically stealing grain and other produce from local farmers,” according to a BBC investigation. Farmers told journalists that Russian forces not only stole their grain, but destroyed their premises and equipment, including grain trucks. Some of those trucks had GPS trackers. Using the tracker data, journalists found these trucks drove south into Crimea and then onwards into Russia across the recently-completed Kerch Strait bridge, which Ukraine has said is a key target for its air force.

27 june 2022

The trouble with JBS
The world’s biggest meat company has broken a promise made at Cop26 to stop buying meat from ranches using illegally deforested land, Global Witness reports. It says JBS, of Brazil, signed a no-deforestation pledge at Cop but has continued to buy beef from 144 ranches that don’t comply with agreements JBS has made with Brazilian prosecutors. JBS denies the claim but GW goes further: it says the company continues to do business with another 470 ranches that use illegally cleared land in the Amazon equivalent to 40,000 football pitches. Global Witness lists users of JBS products, including Sainsbury’s, Iceland, Morrisons, Asda and – for leather upholstery in cars – Toyota and VW. 

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The natural world