Bonus: Chariot of Chameleons
On this week’s bonus episode, we’re discussing the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, reflecting on last week’s Rethinking Climate Change episode as Frank’s home in Puerto Rico experiences a tropical storm, sharing some behind the scenes stories about the making of “The UNEP Song,” and more. With Sweaty Penguin Researcher Olivia Amitay and Producers Frank Hernandez and Caroline Koehl.
As you’ll hear Frank discuss in this episode, Puerto Rico is being hit with a tropical storm right now. This isn’t their first, and it sadly won’t be their last. And this isn’t the only extreme weather event happening in the world right now. Bangladesh is under water. Siberia is experiencing record heat. Some mountaintops in Brazil are experiencing record colds. This is climate change. Climate change isn’t causing these events, but it makes them worse and it makes them more frequent. The prospect of the world being two degrees hotter isn’t why I care. It’s the increased prevalence and severity of these extreme events, that cause economic destruction, environmental destruction, and the destruction of people’s homes, countries, and livelihoods, not to mention lives, that pushes me to discuss climate change every day.
In the wake of this sobering news, there’s some better news. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Keystone XL Pipeline have been stalled. These projects targeted and acquired land from Native American and Black communities, and if completed, would lead to disastrous health impacts and decimate the communities’ property values. A lot of credit goes to these communities who said “no,” and fought a long battle to preserve their health and economies.
On The Sweaty Penguin, we analyze issues from several prongs. We look at the environment, which in itself, contains several subsets. We look at health. We look at the economy. We look at safety and national security. We look at justice. Often, situations offer upsides and downsides, which make for lively debate, and honestly, I really enjoy talking about the issues that aren’t as clear cut. Pipelines are a little clearer, though. They damage land, create noise pollution which affects wildlife, and transport products and cause emissions contributing to climate change. They create adverse health effects in the communities they traverse. They reduce nearby property values because of these impacts, and they cost a lot more to build than alternative energy infrastructure such as solar and wind. They can leak and burst, which creates huge safety hazards. And they’re often deliberately placed in low income and minority communities, since these communities often don’t have the resources and political power to fight back, although as this recent news demonstrates, that’s changing. Since all of these prongs are in agreement, I can safely say The Sweaty Penguin team considers the recent news good news, as you’ll hear in this episode.
However, I would be wrong not to acknowledge the counterargument, which we did not have time to do in the episode. If we’re worried about climate change, we’re likely talking about carbon dioxide. There’s two ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which would then curb the impacts of climate change. The first is to mitigate it, or not release it in the first place. The second is to sequester it—release it and then recapture it. That can be done with trees, or with some developing technologies called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). In terms of climate policy, there’s debate as to how much carbon should be removed through mitigation and how much should be removed through sequestration. It’s important to remember here that we already have the technology to mitigate most of our carbon often at cheaper costs to consumers, but CCS technologies are new, limited, and expensive. Nonetheless, most climate plans include a bit of both.
With that in mind, some argue that pipelines, particularly gas pipelines such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, should continue and be offset through CCS technologies. I want to acknowledge that that argument exists, though I would ask someone who argues that to address the other concerns. The pipeline still would cause adverse health effects, disproportionately target low income and minority communities, create safety hazards, reduce nearby property values, and especially if offset through CCS, cost a LOT more than solar or wind infrastructure. Pipelines do create energy, but it’s expensive energy and it’s unsafe energy. I struggle to see the strength in this argument, which is probably why it didn’t come up in our conversation.
The last month brought some great progress and some sobering reality checks. I hope the good news and the bad news can provide ample topics for conversation, and I hope today’s episode provides some food for thought too.