Three Pipeline Reversals Suggest a Turning Point in the Climate Story

Environmental groups have a lot to celebrate.

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The July 4th weekend was not a happy time to be an oil company executive or investor. On the East Coast, utilities cancelled plans for a 600-mile pipeline to convey fracked natural gas through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. On Monday, a federal court ruled that the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, the focus of a years-long protest drive at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, must shut down pending an environmental review. “You ever have a dream, a dream that comes true? That is what it is,” one elder of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe told Democracy Now! Also on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Keystone XL pipeline, long a symbol of conflict between climate activists and the fossil fuel industry, also must halt construction pending a review of its environmental impact—albeit at the same time that the court ruled other pipeline projects could go ahead.

The triple victories for environmental groups (defeats for big oil), “come at a moment when weak demand for oil, swelling debt, and mounting concerns over climate change are forcing gas companies out of business and oil giants to dramatically downgrade the value of their assets,” HuffPost reported. Multiple experts told Bloomberg Green the developments signal that similar large projects might be all but impossible to build in the future. “I would expect this to be a turning point for new investment,” one said. “There is real investor fatigue around this parade of legal and regulatory headwinds to energy projects.”

As the Climate Beat has argued in the past, the apparent decline of big oil will be a major story for years to come. It will be full of twists and turns, and with each major development journalists should strive not only to cover the events in question but to place them in proper context of their implications for the energy industry and the future of our planet. Much of the weekend’s coverage did just that.

Now, here’s your weekly sampling of the latest in climate news, from across the Covering Climate Now collaboration.

  • Last week, House Democrats released a lengthy report that outlines a more ambitious and comprehensive climate plan than the party has ever endorsed. In a thorough review of the plan, Vox describes it as “the most detailed and well-thought-out plan for addressing climate change that has ever been a part of US politics.” Many proposals are in line with the Green New Deal, though they are not called that by name. The plan also does not squarely call for halting fracking and new fossil fuel development. The plan’s implementation will depend on Democrats’ ability to win power in the fall, but as Vox explains many Democrats view climate action as a winning campaign issue.
  • For more on the Democrats’ plan: Rolling Stone digs into a tucked-away recommendation of the plan to invest in a federal geoengineering research program. (Geoengineering—the “Frankenstein of climate crisis solutions,” as the magazine calls it—spans a variety of climate-manipulation tactics, including cloud creation and carbon-vacuuming machines, which are creative but sometimes bonkers and potentially dangerous.) And InsideClimate News digs into criticism of the new plan, from the left—that the plan is not aggressive enough with respect to fossil fuels—and the right—that Democrats failed to build bipartisan consensus around their plan.
  • “If we carry on with business as usual, we’re going to destroy ourselves.” CBS News spoke with renowned conservationist Jane Goodall about how humans’ destruction of the environment feeds crises, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate emergency. While we’ll get through this pandemic, she says, the climate crisis is more deeply existential, and we don’t have long to act. “We need to realize we’re part of the environment, that we need the natural world. … Harm nature, harm ourselves.” This piece is *available for republication by CCNow partners.
  • The Trump administration has been marked by wide-ranging rollbacks of environmental regulations and enforcement. No matter the outcome of November’s election, the damage could take years to rectify, writes The New Republic. A new administration would have to recommit to environmental initiatives and fight legal battles against industry and other opponents of change; it would also have to attract and train new talent for gutted federal agencies. “If Biden were to win,” the piece explains, “the agencies will have to reckon with not only how to rebuild but how to make up for lost time.”
  • It was amid the Civil War that Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Park Act and brought the first of America’s national parks into being. Whereas previously access to nature and the means to enjoy it were available primarily to the wealthy, now the government was claiming nature for all Americans, and doing so at one of the darkest times in American history. Today, America again seems a house divided. Support for public lands preservation, however, remains a rare point of bipartisan agreement. In an exceptional essay for Sierra Magazine Jason Mark asks, “Would it be too romantic to hope that this country’s vast public lands … might be a place where a splintered citizenry could recognize common bonds once again?” Note: Sierra Magazine is not a CCNow partner, but this essay is *available for republication.
  • CCNow partner RESET International, based in Germany, is interviewing Fridays for Future leaders from countries across the global South, for a series called “Voices for Climate Justice.” In their first interviews, Sadrach Nirere of Uganda describes how his country, which has the youngest population in the world, is prime for youth climate action; and Iqbal Badruddin of Pakistan discusses the challenges of putting climate on the agenda in a country hard hit by climate change but where awareness of the crisis remains low. “Our protests have made a fruitful impact overall but what is missing is climate action,” Badruddin says. “Rather than taking action in advance, we always wait for the crisis to hit us and then we take action.” These pieces are *available for republication by CCNow partners.

*When republishing any of the stories identified above as available, CCNow outlets must include the following tagline: “This story originally appeared in [insert name of original news outlet, with a link to the outlet’s homepage] and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.” Our complete Sharing Library, including further guidelines for content sharing, can be found here. Please note the special instructions for Guardian and HuffPost stories.