A Week Of Climate Protests, Meetings, Pledges, And Action
Climate Week NYC is wrapping up, where hundreds of events took place across the city (including one from Science Friday), all with the goal of encouraging conversation and action around our climate crisis.
The weeklong event takes place alongside the UN General Assembly meeting, where world leaders discussed climate change, alongside other topics, including the war in Ukraine and universal health coverage.
While President Biden emphasized the importance of reducing the use of fossil fuels to combat climate change, there was a notable absence of leaders from the world’s biggest polluters, including Biden and president Xi Jinping of China, from the meeting’s Climate Ambition Summit. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that in order to participate, governments need to come with “credible, serious and new climate action.”
Large demonstrations also took place across the city, pressuring leaders and companies to take bigger action to end gas, oil, and coal use.
Swapna Krishna, a journalist based in Philadelphia, talks with Ira about these stories and more, including a new climate jobs program from the White House, a lawsuit from California against the five big oil companies, new battery recycling rules from the EU, and data from the Parker Solar Probe’s recent flight through a sun explosion.
Swapna Krishna is a journalist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I’m IRA Flatow. It’s climate week in New York City. The UN is holding the Climate Ambition Summit. Experts are speaking on stages and in panels. Climate activists are marching in the streets, demanding action.
So this week, we’re dedicating the entire show to stories about the climate crisis. Later in the hour, we’ll have a conversation with climate scientist Michael Mann about what we can learn from climate history and how history gives him hope for the future. We’ll also talk about the science of climate comedy, yes, what makes a good joke and why the climate movement could and should be funnier.
But at first, as I mentioned, climate week in New York City is coming to a close. There were hundreds of events, including one from Science Friday this past Monday, encouraging conversation and action around our climate crisis. The week-long event took place alongside the UN General Assembly meeting and with it came protests demanding world leaders and large companies take bigger action to end fossil fuel use.
– The New York City Police Department.
– Clean air!
– Not another billionaire.
– We need clean air.
– Arrest the real criminals. Arrest the climate criminals.
– The planet is all we have. It’s our only hope, the only hope that sustains and that we rely on. Please keep on the fire. Never get tired. When you get tired, recharge.
IRA FLATOW: To catch up on this week’s climate news is my guest, Swapna Krishna, a journalist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Great to have you back.
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Thank you so much.
IRA FLATOW: Nice to have you. Let’s get right to the questions here. Tell us about the climate protests this week. What was it like?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: So with the summit has come some of the biggest climate protests in years. And these protests have been happening globally. But these in New York have had a more narrow focus than usual, which is interesting. It’s not just protesting a lack of action on climate change. These protests are aimed squarely at President Biden. And protesters are asking for him to declare a climate emergency and stop all permits authorizing new use of fossil fuels, so no new oil and gas drilling. It’s important to note this would not affect existing use of fossil fuels.
IRA FLATOW: And how did the president talk about climate change at the UN.
SWAPNA KRISHNA: He referred specifically to the terrible flooding in Libya, as an example, of what awaits us all if we don’t take action on climate change. He specifically cited reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, which is what these protesters are asking for, and called climate change an existential threat, and called on member countries to climate proof the world. And that’s certainly interesting.
IRA FLATOW: Climate proof the world.
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Yeah. It’s a really nice phrase. But will action back it up is the question.
IRA FLATOW: But the White House did announce a new program related to jobs to help fight climate change, right?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Yeah, so this is a really interesting story. The White House unveiled a new jobs training program focusing on climate called the American Climate Corps. It’s going to focus on projects like bolstering communities against the natural disasters that are becoming so much more frequent with climate change and implementing clean energy projects. It could employ 20,000 people in its first year.
IRA FLATOW: And what would they be doing, these people?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: So the interesting thing is it echoes New Deal Era legislation. They’ll go into communities and bolster houses against hurricanes, things like that, to prevent damage from these natural disasters that are more frequent thanks to climate change. People will be paid. Participants don’t have to have previous experience in climate work. And the Biden administration is working on making it easier for these climate corps members to enter the Federal Government workforce after their service in the program.
IRA FLATOW: And this encourages disadvantaged communities to take part, right?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Yeah, so that’s one of the big differences from the New Deal Era legislation. This is specifically focusing on disadvantaged communities and trying to recruit members from these communities, which is really interesting because these are also often the communities that are most impacted by climate change.
IRA FLATOW: And the Inflation Reduction Act, which helps fund climate resilience projects, it’s also helping to conserve endangered whales, right?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Right. So North Atlantic right whales have, unfortunately, been declining in population for years. Because our oceans are warming up, it’s changing the migration pattern of these whales. And there was a significant and unexpected reduction in the population in 2017. Now experts estimate there’s only about 340 left.
But NOAA, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, received an $82 million grant, which is part of the Inflation Reduction Act, to help protect and track these right whales.
IRA FLATOW: Because they’re– are they endangered?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Yes. So they’re very endangered. But also one of the challenges here in tracking and protecting these animals is that climate change has affected their migration patterns. So you can’t track them if you don’t know where they are. And one interesting tidbit I found was that they’ll use $36 million of this $82 million grant to help develop program to monitor these whales, including an AI satellite tracking program.
IRA FLATOW: Wow. OK, speaking of the sea, tell us about this story of researchers trying to store carbon dioxide at the bottom of the Black Sea. This sounds really interesting.
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Yeah. This is a weird one, and I like it. One way we’re trying to combat climate change is by capturing carbon dioxide and storing it somewhere to avoid it being rereleased into our atmosphere. It doesn’t really feel like a forever solution, but the less CO2 in the atmosphere, the better, so we can call that a win for now. Usually this process involves removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, compressing it, and then storing it underground.
But now a company called Rewind is trying to use a more natural approach. They’re taking plants that have absorbed vast amounts of CO2, shipping them out to the Black Sea, and then sticking them in the depths of the water.
IRA FLATOW: And what happens down there in the depths of the water?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: So usually what happens is, as plants die and decompose, they release the CO2 they’ve stored back into the air. And the idea is to prevent this release. And the Black Sea is specifically good for this because of its shape. Its geological features means that it doesn’t allow oxygen to mix between the top layers and the deeper layers of the water. And that means photosynthesis doesn’t occur.
The plants are actually preserved in the deep water. So it’s a natural solution to storing the CO2. And the company estimates that it can remove up to a billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually. And for context, according to the UN, we emitted 36.6 billion tons of CO2 globally in 2022.
IRA FLATOW: This makes sense because they’ve always talked about, if we want to take CO2 out of the air, we would suck it out mechanically. But this is what the plants do, right? They make a living–
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Right.
IRA FLATOW: –out of sucking CO2 out of the air and storing it in their wood or their fiber. So we just take that, and we sink that.
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Exactly. It’s a really innovative and natural solution that wouldn’t cause further harm to the environment because a lot of these solutions, it feels like you’re trading lower CO2 levels now, but we’re going to have to deal with it later. This is a more natural solution. My question is what happens when the Black Sea fills up?
IRA FLATOW: [LAUGHS] Yeah, how much can you actually put in there? And what plants are good for it? You’d have to figure out which plants store the most CO2, and I imagine they’re looking at that also.
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Exactly.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. Let’s move over to the EU. They just introduced new battery recycling rules. Why is that a good thing?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Well, so one of the things we talk about a lot in the move away from fossil fuels, which is, again, what the protesters we talked about at the beginning of this are asking for, is we want to switch to EVs from gas-powered cars. But something we don’t talk about as much is that mining the materials required to make these batteries damages the environment. It’s very harmful to the environment. And these discarded batteries, once they’re done, generate a lot of waste.
IRA FLATOW: Right.
SWAPNA KRISHNA: So the EU has adopted a rigorous set of battery recycling rules. They require manufacturers to accept used lithium ion batteries for recycling. But not only that– lithium ion batteries that are produced new have to contain a certain amount of recycled material.
IRA FLATOW: Oh, wow because there’s probably a lot of good stuff still to be recycled in the used batteries.
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Exactly. And the metals required for these batteries– we’re talking lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other ingredients– they’re hard to access and mine to get new. So recycling solves both an environmental problem in terms of ensuring these batteries don’t just get thrown out but also ensures there’ll be plenty of supply of these metals for future battery manufacturing.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. So you sort of create a closed loop, right?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Exactly. It’s making the entire switch to EVs, electric bikes, other battery-powered devices much more sustainable.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. Let’s move over to California, where there’s a new lawsuit this week against the five big oil companies. Tell us about that.
SWAPNA KRISHNA: So The State of California is suing the big five oil companies– Exxon, ConocoPhillips, BP, Shell, and Chevron– because of their role in perpetuating climate change. The complaint states that these companies knew about the correlation between fossil fuel production and climate change and perpetrated a decades-long campaign to mislead the public and hide information.
IRA FLATOW: And so what does the suit seek? G
SWAPNA KRISHNA: They want an abatement fund established, which would pay for recovery efforts from climate change generally, but also specifically to pay to repair damage from weather events and natural disasters related to worsening climate change.
IRA FLATOW: This sounds a lot like the tobacco lawsuits that came out, right?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: It does. It follows on the model for previous cases against opioid and tobacco companies. So it’s going to be interesting to see what happens here. But the oil companies have responded individually. But they point out that climate change is a huge issue that requires an international response unlike tobacco and opioids, and it can’t necessarily be solved through an individual lawsuit.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. Well, we’ve heard this kind of logic before, and we’ll see how that turns out.
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Yep.
IRA FLATOW: And finally, not climate change related but certainly sun related, the Parker Solar Probe flew through a coronal mass ejection last year. And now we have data from it. What is a coronal mass ejection? And what does the data show?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: So a CME, or a coronal mass ejection, occur as a result of the twisting and realignment of the sun’s magnetic field. And it’s this huge solar storm, also been called an explosion on the Sun. And that’s an accurate description.
So the Parker Solar Probe is the first spacecraft to ever fly through a CME, and it got some footage from it.
IRA FLATOW: Well, it’s good that it survived that, right?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Yes. So Parker Solar Probe has an innovative carbon heat shield that’s made of sandwiching carbon fiber between layers of carbon foam. So during this event, even though it was flying through this explosion on the Sun, the internal temperature of the probe never rose.
IRA FLATOW: Oh, that is cool, so to speak. What do they hope to learn from this?
SWAPNA KRISHNA: So this actually occurred a year ago on September 5, 2022. But there’s a new paper in the Astrophysical Journal about what we learned. This event may have confirmed a decades-old theory about CMEs, that these solar weather events push dust away from the Sun. And so scientists found that this particular CME threw the dust along a six-million-mile-long path away from the Sun, sort of like a cosmic vacuum cleaner.
IRA FLATOW: And we’re always worried about destructive solar outbursts because they can disrupt, what, power grids, satellites, communication.
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Yes, yes. Yeah, these– the biggest solar storm we have on record is the Carrington event, which occurred in 1859. And if that were to happen again, it would disrupt power grids. It would mess up our satellites. It would be a big deal. And so we are always keeping an eye on solar weather because of that.
IRA FLATOW: Wow. That’s great. Thank you for bringing us all this great news stuff.
SWAPNA KRISHNA: Of course.
IRA FLATOW: Swapna Krishna, a journalist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.