Blog: Equilibrium/Sustainability — Margaret Atwood: The planet is not doomed – The Hill

Margaret Atwood may be known for her dystopian dives into environmental and political disasters, but the writer maintains that the world is not doomed.  

The prolific author touches on the subject of climate change in her 1985 book “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the inspiration for the Hulu series of the same name that premiered its fifth season on Wednesday.

“We have some environmental catastrophes; people are sent to ‘the colonies’ to clean them up,” Atwood told Time Magazine for a story Thursday, speaking of the post-apocalyptic narrative that spotlights both human oppression and resistance.  

While environmental fragility likewise makes a strong appearance in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy — set in a world overwhelmed by ecological and viral disaster — the author said she hasn’t given up hope on the effort to combat climate change.

“If you get too far into doomerism, the answer is going to be let’s just party — and nobody therefore does anything,” Atwood told Time.  

“The moment when you give up hope, that is the moment when you cease to take any actions that might be positive to get out of the doom,” she continued.  

Atwood is launching a new project that Time described as having a “more hopeful spin” — a workshop experience called Practical Utopias that encourages participants to envision a better future using currently available tools.

“There’s really no excuse for all-out doomerism,” she added. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll look at the grilling America’s top financial regulator received on Capitol Hill over his agency’s proposed climate rules and how adults around the world perceive climate change’s impact.

Adults worldwide fear severe climate impacts

More than half of adults surveyed worldwide said that climate change has already had a severe impact on their lives, the World Economic Forum revealed on Thursday.

A global consensus: In 34 countries across six continents, 56 percent of the more than 23,500 adults polled said they felt such effects.

  • More than a third said they expect to be forced from their homes by climate change within 25 years.
  • Seventy-one percent agreed that climate change would have somewhat or very severe impacts on their countries within the next decade.  

Fearing for the future: “We are in a climate crisis,” Gim Huay Neo, managing director and head of the World Economic Forum’s Center for Nature and Climate, said in a statement.  

“The survey results affirm that across the world, people already feel the effects today and fear for their futures tomorrow,” Gim Huay added.  

Regional variances: In North America, residents of regions that have suffered from extreme heat, drought and forest fires — such as the U.S. West and British Columbia — were the most likely to report severe climate impacts, according to the study.  

Responses reflected similar attitudes in afflicted European regions like southeastern France, southern Germany, northeastern Italy and eastern Hungary. 

BETTER, BAD AND BEST

Residents of different countries had widely varying perspectives on the impacts of climate change — regardless of whether they came from hot or cold climates.   

Expecting the worst: These countries had the most respondents who expected very or somewhat severe impacts of climate change in the next decade:  

  • Portugal (88 percent) 
  • Mexico and Hungary (86 percent) 
  • Turkey and Chile (85 percent) 
  • South Korea and Spain (83 percent)   

It’s already dismal: In nine countries — Mexico, Hungary, Turkey, Colombia, Spain, Italy, India, Chile and France — more than two-thirds of respondents said they had already been severely affected by climate change.  

High hopes: Places where respondents least expected severe climate impacts:

  • Malaysia (52 percent) 
  • China (56 percent) 
  • Sweden (56 percent) 
  • Thailand (57 percent) 
  • Saudi Arabia (60 percent)  

What about climate displacement? The countries where respondents saw such circumstances as most likely were by far India and Turkey, at 65 percent and 64 percent, respectively, per the poll. 

Click here to read more of the survey results

SEC chair defends proposed climate disclosure rules

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler fended off questions on Thursday over his agency’s approach to issues including climate disclosure and cryptocurrency regulation.

  • The SEC’s proposed climate disclosure rules — which it released in March — would require publicly traded companies to calculate and publish the risks that climate change poses to their operations and what they are doing to address it.
  • Republicans have criticized the rules as onerous, arguing they are an example of the SEC conducting policy beyond its mandate. 

Gensler joined two other Democratic commissioners in voting for the proposed rules in March, while the SEC’s lone Republican Commissioner Hester Peirce voted no. 

Difference of priorities: GOP lawmakers on the Senate Banking Committee, such as Sen. John Kennedy (La.), attempted on Thursday to paint SEC climate disclosure policy as a secretive and likely ineffectual attempt to reduce global temperatures. 

That is something Republicans argue is beyond the agency’s mission. 

Kennedy used a similar tack back in February in his questioning of prospective SEC commissioner Sarah Bloom Raskin, a climate hawk.

Accusation of overreach: In February, Kennedy argued Raskin was attempting to use her role at the financial regulator to covertly set climate policy — and he implied on Thursday that Gensler was doing the same.  

  • “What bothers me is why we’re spending trillions of dollars of scarce resources while China gets 60 percent of its energy from coal,” Kennedy said.
  • “We spend all this money and world temperatures are not reduced.” 

Gensler sidesteps: The SEC chair refused to accept the premise that the agency is attempting to influence global temperatures.

He stressed that neither he nor his deputies were “motivated” by the drive to reduce global temperatures. 

  • “It’s about actually helping investors get more consistent information, even if they want to invest in what might be ‘brown’ assets rather than ‘green’ assets,” he said, referring to fossil fuels and other carbon-intensive investments.
  • Such investors “will get more consistent information and will probably avoid some of the greenwashing that’s out there,” Gensler added, referring to misleading marketing of unsustainable investments. 

Read more here

US schools are minting money by going solar 

Schools across the U.S. are making the switch to solar power, generating significant cost-savings as they meet their hefty energy needs, a new report has found. 

By the numbers: Since 2015 alone, the amount of solar energy installed at the country’s K-12 schools has tripled, according to the report, published by the nonprofit organization Generation180.  

The number of schools that have solar panels has doubled in that timeframe.  

More than 6 million students now attend the 8,409 public and private schools that use solar power — equivalent to nearly 1 in 10 such institutions nationwide.  

Solar for all: The schools installing solar panels aren’t necessarily in the wealthiest communities, the report found.

  • Nearly half of the public schools with solar are eligible for Title 1 funding, which serves a large population of low-income students, according to the report.
  • About 87 percent of the solar power installed at U.S. schools is funded by means of third-party arrangements that minimize upfront costs and help schools achieve immediate savings. The remainder is purchased and owned directly by the schools. 

Maximizing gain: “The benefits of solar energy are now reaching a broad range of schools across the country,” lead author Tish Tablan, director of Generation180’s Solar For All Schools Program, said in a statement.  

That reach, Tablan explained, includes those “schools in under-resourced communities that stand to gain the most from the energy cost savings.”

A GROWING TREND

The report comes at what the authors described as “a time of unparalleled momentum,” as the recently approved Inflation Reduction Act is poised to funnel $369 billion into renewable energy.  

  • The top five states for solar capacity at schools are California, New Jersey, Arizona, Massachusetts and Illinois, according to the report.
  • With 1,647 megawatts of installed solar capacity, the nation’s schools generate enough solar energy to power about 300,000 homes each year.

Advancing STEM: Installing solar panels in schools also provides students with hands-on STEM learning opportunities, as well as training for potential careers in the industry, the authors noted.  

  • “We need the education sector to help advance our country’s transition to a clean energy economy,” Wendy Philleo, executive director of Generation180, said in a statement.
  • “K-12 schools are becoming incubators for our future clean energy workforce,” Philleo added.  

To read the full story, please click here.

Thursday Threats 

Biden brokers deal to avoid rail strike

  • A serious threat to supply chains from a looming railroad workers’ strike was averted on Thursday after President Biden brokered an agreement between two leading unions and major rail carriers over pay and sick time, The Hill reported. Biden attacked companies for their “excessive” profits and promised that the deal would give workers “better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs,” according to Reuters. 

Shanghai receives first direct hit from typhoon

  • Typhoon Muifa has plowed into Shanghai with 80-mile-per-hour winds, forcing nearly 1.6 million people to evacuate from the 25-million-resident city and along the densely populated coast, according to Agence France-Presse. It’s the 12th typhoon to hit China this year and the first direct hit on Shanghai since record-keeping began in 1949, AFP reported. 

Brightly colored songbirds at greater risk of extinction

  • Brightly colored songbirds face a higher threat of extinction and are more likely to be traded as pets, according to a new study in Current Biology. Nearly 500 bird species, most from the tropics, are at risk of future trade due to their desirable coloration, scientists from the U.K.’s Durham University found. 

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.

VIEW THE FULL EDITION HERE

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