Monster Typhoon Rai ‘Hits Like a Freight Train’, Forces Mass Evacuations in Philippines

Almost 100,000 residents were forced to leave their homes as Typhoon Rai landed in the Philippines Thursday, posing significant danger to coastal communities as it battered the shore as a Category 5 cyclone with winds up to 195 kilometres per hour.

“This monster storm is frightening and threatens to hit coastal communities like a freight train,” said Alberto Bocanegra, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Philippines. “We are very concerned that climate change is making typhoons more ferocious and unpredictable.”

Typhoon Rai is referred to locally as Odette. It is the second super typhoon to threaten the country since September, and the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year. The weather bureau warned that “‘very destructive’ winds could cause ‘heavy to very heavy damage to structures and vegetation,’ along with widespread flooding and rain-induced landslides,” says Agence France-Presse.

Airlines are cancelling flights, and the storm has pushed more than 98,000 people to seek emergency shelter, including domestic tourists visiting the country’s coastal areas. Weather forecasters warn that the winds could damage houses and topple electric posts and trees.

Disaster response officials say 10,000 villages are in the typhoon’s projected path, which has a 248 mile-wide “rain band,” says NBC News.

The Philippines is one of the most typhoon-prone countries in the world, experiencing an average of 20 each year. The continuing impact has produced US$10 billion in losses over the past decade, reports Bloomberg News.

“Scientists have long warned that typhoons are becoming more powerful, and strengthening more rapidly, as the world becomes warmer because of human-driven climate change,” AFP adds.

McDonald’s Failing to Follow Through on Climate Promises, Critics Say

McDonald’s has made several commitments to address its supply chain emissions over the past decade, but critics say the company is not delivering results.

“Companies like McDonald’s get a lot of positive press for making these commitments,” said Jennifer Jacquet, an associate professor of environmental studies at New York University. “But then there’s very little follow-up and follow through.”

McDonald’s sells between one and two percent of the world’s total beef consumption through its 39,000 restaurants in 119 countries, reports Bloomberg Green. Emissions linked to deforestation, feed production, and belched methane from cows make the company a significant contributor to climate change. At more than 53 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, McDonald’s produces more emissions than Norway, Bloomberg says. And with that number still rising, climate advocates are calling for the mega-chain to reduce its footprint.

The company claims to have taken several steps towards climate action, including launching the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, promising to purchase some beef from sustainable sources, and pledging to cut down the climate intensity of its food production. This past October, McDonald’s committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. 

“But an in-depth examination of the company’s headway—including a review of its beef sustainability pilot projects as well as dozens of interviews with current and former McDonald’s executives, cattle ranchers, industry experts, and scientists—shows that the world’s biggest hamburger chain so far hasn’t reduced the climate impact of its beef,” writes Bloomberg.

Critical assessments of the company’s climate action cast doubt on its commitment. For instance, although McDonald’s has pledged to purchase some of its beef for its 10 largest markets from sustainable producers, many of the sustainability programs that produce this beef don’t actually require ranchers to adopt climate-friendly practices. Instead, ranchers only need to show that they are “aware of management practices that support carbon sequestration and minimize emissions.”  

And the funding for climate initiatives is marginal compared to the company’s profits. The annual tab for McDonald’s’ contributions to two of its most publicized projects “likely amounts to just over one hour’s worth of its net profits,” says Bloomberg.

“There does not seem to be any proactive involvement or serious investment by McDonald’s to support its suppliers or make significant changes in its beef supply chain,” said Nic Lees, a senior lecturer in agribusiness management at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The company’s executives nevertheless maintain that their climate action is significant, claiming that their efforts are still in a transition phase. They say it would be counterproductive, for example, to force ranchers to adopt new management practices, and that a better approach is to build relationships and focus on education.

As well, fast food chains only purchase lean trim, so two-thirds of each cow is sold to buyers looking for more expensive cuts like ribeye steaks. McDonald’s executives say the thin margins of selling low-cost commodity burgers leaves little room for environmental investments.

“We see it as a sector-wide and society-wide responsibility to help support these transitions, because we can’t do it alone,” said Chief Sustainability Officer Jenny McColloch.

In Amsterdam, a community of floating homes shows the world how to live alongside nature

Ring of Fire Development Plans Threaten Soil Carbon Storage in Northern Ontario

As Ontario plans to open carbon-dense peatland regions for mining despite opposition from several Indigenous communities, a new study makes a case for conserving the carbon stocks in Canada’s soils.

The province’s actions include proposed legislative changes that would “clear hurdles” to developing part of the region for mining activity, CBC reports.

“Canada has a tremendous responsibility globally in terms of stewarding and protecting that ecosystem carbon,” said James Snider, head of the science, knowledge and innovation team at World Wildlife Fund Canada, which carried out the study in partnership with McMaster University.

The researchers found that Canada’s terrestrial ecosystems store 384 billions tonnes of soil carbon, or a quarter of the world’s total. Decaying plant and organic matter and microorganisms have been depositing carbon into the soil, and peatland areas in particular—like the boggy wetlands of northern Ontario and parts of Manitoba—are a valuable resource for keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.

Ecosystem carbon storage “can be a critical pathway to getting to a 1.5°C future, making sure that carbon is not emitted into the atmosphere and, in turn, trying to grow the amount of carbon we’re storing in these terrestrial ecosystems,” Snider said.

The researchers note that these ecosystems are at severe risk because Canada is warming at twice the average global rate. They call for continued research and conservation to protect this critical carbon-sink. An interactive map from the team allows readers to identify the carbon-rich areas in Canada that are most in need of protection.

But Canada’s soils face several threats that could release this carbon. Accelerated global warming, for instance, could release carbon stores in the Arctic by melting permafrost. Carbon stores could also be compromised by human activities like mechanized farming, oil and gas exploration, and mining, says CBC.

Several First Nation communities are located in and around the James Bay region of northern Ontario, where some of the most carbon-rich soils are found. The region also contains the “Ring of Fire” area 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, which contains valuable deposits of chromite, a component of steel, along with minerals used in electric vehicle batteries like cobalt, lithium, and nickel, CBC writes.

The Ontario government is eyeing this area for mining as part of its strategy to make the province a hub for EV manufacturing, CBC notes. While Ford says First Nations are being consulted about Ring of Fire development, and maintains the uptick in mining activity will benefit people in the region, several Indigenous communities are opposed to the work.

“I don’t think First Nations, whose land this has always been and still is solely, appreciate anybody else telling them what’s good for them,” said Kate Kempton, a partner with the law firm Olthius Kleer Townshend LLP who represents the Attawapiskat First Nation as part of a court challenge to the province’s exploration agreement with the mining firm Juno Corporation. Kempton told CBC the company’s “so-called consultation” with the Attawapiskat was an email to the community’s land and resources coordinator in January 2020.

Meanwhile, the Ford government is proposing legislative changes to the 2010 Far North Act that would “clear hurdles to developing the Ring of Fire,” says CBC.

The original legislation requires protections for areas of cultural value and ecological systems in the northern part of the province by giving 225,000 square kilometres protected area status; the new language would only require protecting those areas “by various means.” 

Another provision alters Indigenous participation in land use planning , making it more difficult for First Nations to form a joint body for engaging in land use planning. In the 2010 Act, a joint body can be created at the request of “any First Nation having one or more reserves in the Far North”; the proposed changes would instead require “seven or more First Nations” to indicate interest in establishing a joint body.

Climate Change an ‘Emerging Threat’ to U.S. Financial Stability, Regulators Say

Big Oil Buckles In Louisiana, Spotlighting the Need for Just Transition

In the very crosshairs of the climate crisis, and still in the grip of a self-interested fossil sector, Louisiana is in desperate need of a just transition, with roughly 20 oil refineries shut down since a 1980s production peak and 25,000 oil workers losing their jobs since 2014.

The most recent blow causing a “slow death” of Louisiana’s oil industry, writes Grist, is the closure of the Phillips 66 oil refinery in Belle Chasse, after US$1.3 billion in damages brought on by Hurricane Ida.

At least 900 people worked at the refinery, and it generated roughly 15% of the tax revenues for the parish in which it is located.

The lost income is being felt. Plaquemines Parish President Kirk Lepine told a local FOX news station there would be “a trickle-down effect” into everything from government services to grocery stores, with the resulting budget cuts already affecting ambulance service.

David Dismukes, executive director of the Center for Energy Studies at Louisiana State University, told Grist the energy transition is here, and Big Oil knows it and will act accordingly, in its own self-interest. “People and industries are making, not just hundreds of millions, but billion-dollar decisions based on the belief that this transition is here,” he said.

“The transition has become very problematic and challenging for Louisiana,” added Dismukes, a 30-year student of the fossil industry and its challenges. “We’ve seen these corporations pencil these closures out 15 ways to Sunday to figure out a way to make it economical just for themselves.”

And Louisiana officials have allowed the pencilling, and the erasures, to happen. In addition to job and revenue losses, their hands-off approach means abandoned fossil infrastructure will be more likely to sit “idle and unremediated,” neglect that will come back to haunt local communities when the next big hurricane hurtles ashore.

but far from recognizing the urgent need for a just transition, and taking steps to ensure one, state officials are continuing to actively court the fossil dollar, Grist says.

“If you look at our state’s plans for industry and jobs in the coming years, it’s still all about petrochemicals, carbon capture, and fossil fuels,” said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. Case in point: Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards’ recent announcement of a US$10 billion partnership with Venture Global LNG to open a new plant in the state, with the promise of a job generator that will produce at least 200 positions with wages in excess of US$120,000 per year.

“With access to Louisiana’s Quality Jobs incentive program, the firm will qualify for taxpayer-funded cash rebates for well-paying jobs,” local media reports. After that, the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption program “will provide an 80% property tax abatement for the facility for five years, after which Venture Global can receive an 80% property tax abatement for another five years if the state determines the project is meeting its proposed job metrics.”

While the promise of jobs must be alluring, fossil jobs have no future, said Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation at Earthjustice. “The scientists are not just saying clearly—but waving their arms frantically—that the time to begin to move seriously to winding down fossil fuel development is now,” he told Grist.

Shorten Commutes, Shift to Rail Freight to Cut Emissions

Focussing narrowly on greenhouse gas reductions in urban transport is “missing the point”, and governments should really focus on solutions that shorten commutes, said Juan Carlos Muñoz, director of the Centre for Sustainable Urban Development in Chile.

“This is also a great opportunity to make cities that are more equitable, cohesive, and healthy, less congested, and with a better quality of life,” Muñoz told a panel session during the COP 26 climate summit last month.

“We don’t need infrastructure that makes the car a more convenient choice,” he said.

Instead of vehicle electrification, the primary goal should be shortening the average trip length, Muñoz urged. This reduces travel time, pollution, and congestion—including overtaxed public transit and roads.

Almost all of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals would benefit as a result.

But to make it happen, communities need to set targets for progressive trip-length reduction, Muñoz said, citing the vision of a 15-minute city embraced by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

“Let’s not try to fix the city we see,” he said. “Let’s make the sustainable city that needs to flourish.”

Muñoz said investment in rapid regional commuter rail systems actually promotes farther-flung settlements and longer trips. Instead, governments should set incentives to relocate daily destinations closer to where people live, thereby reducing trip length.

If mishandled, autonomous vehicles would lead to more cars on the road—the “perfect nightmare” for cities, he added.

“Don’t focus on transport,” he said. “Focus on how the city is organized.”

Geert Pauwels, representing the Rail Freight Forward Coalition, urged a reversal in the trend toward increased road freight transport and a shift to rail freight.

Pauwels, CEO of Lineas, said roads are increasingly jammed with trucks while rail infrastructure—in Europe at least—is underused.

The Rail Freight Forward Coalition wants to see an increase in market share for European rail freight from 18% at present to 30% by 2030. This modal shift would result in a “€100 billion economic gain due to less externalities, 290 million tonnes of CO2 saved, 40,000 fewer premature deaths due to avoided pollution, and 5,000 less fatalities due to saved truck accidents,” he said.

“One train replaces 50 trucks,” Pauwels added, in a presentation that called on governments to create “a level playing field between different transport modes which takes into account external costs.” The European Union’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) should be extended to freight transport, he said.

Pauwels acknowledged that the current rail freight system is dated. But he said work is under way, using digital technology, to bring the system into the 21st century, including capacity management, coupling, train operations, and rail traffic management.

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Judge Throws Out Purdue Pharma’s Deal to Shield Sacklers From Opioid Lawsuits

The decision raises questions about the future of the company and its owners, who have been accused of fueling the nation’s opioid crisis.

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PBS Report on Thwaites Glacier: “Absolutely Massive”

PBS above. Below, WION, a news service based in New Delhi.

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