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UK court ruling: Heathrow airport expansion doesn’t fly under Paris Agreement

Terms like “flight shame” might be new to many of us, but environmental activists have been waving their arms about the aviation industry’s ginormous carbon footprint for decades. And on Thursday, they triumphed in a fight over an airport expansion at London’s Heathrow Airport that’s been brewing for years.

In a historic decision, the United Kingdom’s Court of Appeal ruled that a controversial plan to build a third runway at Heathrow is illegal because it fails to take into account the country’s commitment to cutting carbon emissions under the landmark Paris Agreement. The U.K. government has said it will not appeal the court’s decision.

Heathrow is already one of the busiest airports in the world, and the expansion would have brought in about 700 more planes per day, undoubtedly leading to a boom in emissions. Plaintiffs argued this runs counter to the law the U.K. passed last June to align its climate policy with the Paris Agreement. That law requires the U.K. to bring its contribution to global warming down to net-zero by 2050 by vastly reducing its emissions and offsetting any remaining greenhouse gases through other solutions like tree planting and carbon capture technology.

The court’s decision is a big deal, and not just for the U.K. This is the first time a court has cited the Paris Agreement to strike down a major infrastructure project — or any project — and could have implications all over the world. As more and more countries, states, and cities enact their own climate policies, courts will inevitably be asked to adjudicate projects that expand the use of fossil fuels, which could be anything from airport expansions to new gas pipelines to highways.

We’ve gotten a taste of cases like this in the U.S., where we don’t even have national emissions targets. Last year a U.S. district court temporarily blocked oil and gas drilling on public land in Wyoming because the Bureau of Land Management didn’t assess the emissions footprint of the projects. The decision was based on a requirement in the National Environmental Policy Act, a requirement which the Trump Administration is now trying to toss out. But in places like the European Union that remain members of the Paris Agreement, the Heathrow decision will only make challenges to emissions-increasing projects look stronger.

The ruling was also a major victory for Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, plaintiffs in the suit that have been fighting the project for more than a decade. In 2007, activists clashed with police after setting up camp near Heathrow for a week of protests against a proposed expansion. In 2008, members of the activist group Plane Stupid climbed to the roof of Parliament and unfurled a banner that read “no 3rd runway at Heathrow.”

In 2009, the actress Emma Thompson helped activists buy a piece of land where the runway would have been built to delay its development. Then there was the custard incident, in which activist Leila Deen threw green custard onto then-Business Secretary Peter Mandelson as he was on his way into a “low-carbon summit.” Deen called it a “lighthearted way of making a very serious point” about what she called the government’s hypocritical policy on climate change, since Mandelson was a supporter of the third runway at Heathrow.

So does the ruling put an end to the protests? In a blog post about the decision, Greenpeace cautioned against celebrating too soon. While the government doesn’t plan to appeal, the company that owns the airport does. The government also has the option of pushing the project forward by submitting an amended plan that shows how a third runway could comply with the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

But there doesn’t look to be much appetite for reviving the fight. When he was mayor of London, now-Prime Minister Boris Johnson railed against the proposed runway, saying he would lie down “in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction.”

It would also be a bad look given that the U.K. is hosting the next Conference of the Parties, the U.N.’s annual climate change conference, in November.

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UK court ruling: Heathrow airport expansion doesn’t fly under Paris Agreement

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‘OK, boomer’: The perfect response to a generation that failed on climate

On Monday, Chlöe Swarbrick, a 25-year old member of New Zealand’s Parliament, gave a speech to her fellow lawmakers about the urgent need to take action on climate change. When she raised the point that the issue was of special concern to younger generations that will actually be alive to see the damage wrought by prior generations, an indistinct heckle rose from the audience.

“OK, boomer,” Swarbrick fired back. And then she continued with her speech without missing a beat. Iconic.

As someone born on the cusp between millennials and generation Z, I love the “OK, boomer” discourse. I get a rush of pleasure every time I’m scrolling through Twitter and I encounter a quote-tweeted absurd opinion from an old white dude accompanied by a dismissive “OK, boomer.”

This joy undeniably stems from righteous indignation as much as simple amusement — the two words feel downright poetic after years of hearing my generation blamed for “killing” everything from restaurant chains to department stores to relationships, even as so many of the challenges people my age face — student loan debt, general economic instability, and, of course, a rapidly warming planet — are the result of short-sighted decisions made by earlier generations.

Has the “OK, boomer” discourse gone a little too far, to the point of absurdity and possibly meaninglessness? You’ll have to decide for yourself (but probably yes — that’s the way things go on the internet).

But let’s not entirely do away with “OK, boomer” just yet. Because as a slogan for pushing climate-friendly changes, the phrase is, quite simply, perfect — as Swarbrick so clearly demonstrated.

For one thing, climate change is a generational issue. Although Americans’ views on whether or not climate change is a) happening, b) caused by humans, and c) urgent are usually divided according to political party, a Pew Research Survey from last year found that millennial Republicans are twice as likely as older Republicans to believe in climate change. And another survey by the research group Ipsos showed that millennial Republicans hold similar positions as Democrats of the same age on environmental issues.

And what generation do you think the President and many of his cabinet members belong to? I’ll give you a hint: They’re in positions to take meaningful action on the climate crisis but instead choose to roll back environmental regulations and deny climate change is happening, endangering the health of everyone who has to live on the planet when they’re gone. (If you guessed “baby boomer,” congrats.)

OK, boomer.

The two words manage to convey everything I want to say in response to older adults who call climate activists unreasonable, unrealistic, or naive. “OK, boomer” is just a more efficient way to say, “Why should we listen to you when your position directly contradicts the scientific consensus that our planet faces an existential threat?” Packed into the short phrase is a longer message: “Your generation has known about the problem for decades and failed to do anything to stop it, and you’re not going to have to live with the consequences and we will, so why are you still telling us what to do?”

And as an added bonus,  the phrase works just as well — with one slight modification — to brush off another obstacle to climate progress: the people who think it’s too late to do anything.

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‘OK, boomer’: The perfect response to a generation that failed on climate

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‘Never give up’: Greta Thunberg takes climate strike to the White House

This story was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

WASHINGTON — Greta Thunberg, the famous 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist who kicked off a global movement of students leaving school to demand action on the climate crisis, joined other youth activists at a rally outside the White House on Friday.

A few hundred people, mostly teenagers and young children, gathered on the Ellipse south of the White House carrying signs that read “I want you to panic!” and “Why are we studying for a future we won’t have?” They chanted, “This is a crisis, act like it!” and “No more coal, no more oil, keep that carbon in the soil.” When someone mentioned President Donald Trump, the crowd booed and yelled “Shame!”

After marching a short distance toward the White House, numerous protesters lay down on the ground for an 11-minute “die-in” ― what one speaker called a “mass extinction.” The protest represented the 11 years that scientists say world governments have to rein in greenhouse gas emissions to stave off potentially cataclysmic climate change.

“We are striking today to save tomorrow!” Nadia Nazar, the 17-year-old co-founder of the Zero Hour movement.

Trump has a long history of denying the threat of climate change, often arguing that spells of cold weather somehow disprove the long-term warming trend. His administration has taken an ax to a slew of environmental regulations meant to curb greenhouse gas emissions — all part of its so-called “energy dominance” agenda. Thunberg told CBS in an interview last month that she wouldn’t “waste time” talking to Trump if given the opportunity.

Thunberg spent most of the rally surrounded by peers and a throng of reporters wielding cameras. She quietly joined a series of chants, and when finally given a chance to speak, simply expressed her gratitude for such a large turnout.

“This is very overwhelming,” she said. “Never give up. We will continue.”

Jeff Hunt, a 28-year-old resident of Washington, D.C., was among those participating in Friday’s rally. He carried a sign that read, “When I grow up I want to be Greta Thunberg,” and told HuffPost that like Thunberg, he thinks Trump is a lost cause.

Instead, Hunt hopes the event helps sends a message to the rest of the country and world that we are nearing a dangerous tipping point and it is time to make radical, economy-wide changes that will protect future generations.

“I have high hopes that the generation beneath me will be much more plugged in,” he said. “I feel like my generation has kind of dropped the ball, if you look at our voting habits and our dedication to actually change our lifestyle.”

Thunberg rose to fame last year when she went on strike from school following Sweden’s hottest summer on record. For weeks, she sat outside her country’s Parliament, holding a “School strike for climate” sign and demanding that local politicians enact policies in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate action.

School strikes quickly popped up in other countries. And in March, an estimated 1.4 million young people in more than 100 countries mobilized for a global strike, part of what has come to be known as the Fridays for Future movement. Tuesday’s gathering outside the White House comes ahead of a weeklong global strike slated for the week of September 20.

Thunberg traveled to the United States by sailboat to reduce her carbon footprint. While in the United States, she’s expected to testify before Congress, speak outside the U.S. Supreme Court alongside youth suing the government over climate change, and attend the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.

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‘Never give up’: Greta Thunberg takes climate strike to the White House

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Veggie discs? Seitan slabs? E.U.’s meat fans want to rebrand vegetarian food

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The E.U. is turning up the heat on fake meat. At a meeting in Brussels, the E.U. agriculture committee approved regulations that require the rebranding of meat alternatives to avoid confusion with the real thing. This decision, if passed by the rest of the E.U., could have major repercussions on vegetarian food.

Under the new food-labeling amendment, words like burger, hamburger, sausage, steak, and escalopes will be reserved for meat products. Veggie burgers might be called “veggie discs”; seitan steaks could be rebranded as “seitan slabs,” according to the Guardian. (If you’re wondering what an escalope is, it’s a thin slice of boneless meat or fish. Maybe forcing the renaming of “soya escalopes” isn’t the worst thing in the world after all.)

In 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled to protect words associated with dairy products — hence, “soya milk” became “soya drink” and anything marketed as “cheese” turned into “plant-based alternative to cheese.” Proponents for the new amendment cited this law as precedent.

Why the pushback on tofu burgers? Plant-based diets are on the rise in Europe as vegan and vegetarian options go mainstream. A 2018 study found that a third of people in the U.K. have reduced or altogether stopped their meat consumption. Searches for vegan or vegetarian barbecue recipes jumped up 350 percent, reflecting an overall increased interest in meat alternatives.

Some members of parliament suspect the vote might have been influenced by the meat industry. Molly Scott Cato, of the U.K. Green Party, told The Independent that she saw this as a move by meat companies to undermine the growing plant-based diet trend. “It is going to be a bit repulsive if you have to eat something called ‘vegetable protein tube,’” she said.

The E.U. food-labeling amendment would join six state laws in the U.S. that have pushed back against plant-based alternatives using meaty names. Missouri passed a law late last year that would jail producers of fake meats for not clearly representing their products. Watch our video on the strange fight over vegetarian food labels:

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Veggie discs? Seitan slabs? E.U.’s meat fans want to rebrand vegetarian food

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Sorry, Trump: Scottish wind farm is going ahead despite you

Blow it out your ass

Sorry, Trump: Scottish wind farm is going ahead despite you

By on Jul 22, 2016Share

Donald Trump may have gotten the Republican nomination for president, but he isn’t getting his way when it comes to his Scottish golf course.

Swedish company Vattenfall has announced a nearly $350 million investment in an offshore wind farm that Trump tried to prevent from being built, afraid it would mar the view from his luxury golf course. Now the wind farm is expected to go online in 2018.

Trump once compared the project to the 1988 plane bombing over Lockerbie, which killed 270 people. “Wind farms are a disaster for Scotland, like Pan Am 103,” Trump said. “They make people sick with the continuous noise. They’re an abomination and are only sustained with government subsidy. Scotland is in the middle of a revolution against wind farms. People don’t want them near their homes ruining property values.”

The Scottish people, however, have more love for wind farms than for Donald Trump. A 2013 newspaper poll found two-thirds of respondents disagreed with Trump about the wind project, and he hasn’t gained fans since.

“He’s not a popular person in Scotland,” Alex Salmond, a Scottish member of parliament, said last month, “but the way Trump talks you’d think he owned the country.” We know how he feels.

Election Guide ★ 2016Making America Green AgainOur experts weigh in on the real issues at stake in this electionGet Grist in your inbox

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Britain’s new leader just replaced the climate department with a business department

Come what May

Britain’s new leader just replaced the climate department with a business department

By on Jul 14, 2016Share

After the Brexit vote, climate hawks voiced concern that a new British government could be less aggressive in fighting climate change. Looks like they may have been right: New British Prime Minister Theresa May hasn’t even unpacked her bags at 10 Downing Street and she’s already got green groups very worried.

May announced Thursday that she would axe the Department for Energy and Climate Change and replace it with the newly formed Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Climate experts and politicians called the move “plain stupid,” “terrible,” and “beyond daft.”

“The decision to shut down DECC is a deeply worrying move from Theresa May,” said Green Party Member of Parliament Caroline Lucas. “Climate change is the biggest challenge we face, and it must not be an afterthought for the Government.”

Also troubling, May appointed Andrea Leadsom as the new environment secretary, a woman who has regularly opposed climate action. One of the first questions Leadsom asked officials when she became energy minister last year was, “Is climate change real?” Leadsom also supported selling off British forests in 2011, a thwarted proposal that proved to be deeply unpopular with British citizens.

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Watch House Republicans Block an Effort to Remove the Confederate Flag From the US Capitol

Mother Jones

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The floor of the US House of Representatives was as noisy and contentious as the British Parliament on Thursday afternoon, when House Republicans tried to stall a vote on a spending bill that surprisingly included a Republican amendment to keep the Confederate flag on display in federal cemeteries.

Earlier in the week, the House had approved amendments introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman, (D-California) that would block the display of Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries and prohibit the use of federal funds to display the flag on federal lands. The amendments passed as part of a Department of Interior spending bill, which was set for a vote on Thursday. But Wednesday night, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California) inserted an amendment that would make it possible for Confederate flags to stay in use in federal cemeteries. House Democrats immediately objected, and House Republicans—with their leaders apparently nervous about being portrayed as pro-Confederacy—pulled the entire bill from the floor. (Here’s a good breakdown on the sequence of events from The Atlantic).

On Thursday, the same day the state of South Carolina voted to remove the flag from its capitol grounds, as Congress was wrestling with the Interior spending bill and the Confederate flag provisions, House Democrats upped the ante. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi proposed a measure that would remove any flag with Confederate symbols from the US Capitol. House Republicans objected and essentially kicked the resolution off the floor, sending to a committee. Chaos ensued. As the House clerk read the motion to exile the measure to a GOP-controlled committee, Democrats started shouting in protest. When a voice vote was called, Republicans yelled “aye,” while Democrats loudly shouted “no.” Republicans won, and the Democrats responded by yelling, “vote! vote! vote!”—challenging the Rs to vote on the flag-removing measure and not duck the issue.

The video above captures the moment that the GOP ran away from the issue when Democrats tried to remove the Confederate flag from Capitol Hill. (For a more complete video, see here.)

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Watch House Republicans Block an Effort to Remove the Confederate Flag From the US Capitol

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Europe wimps out again on airlines’ carbon pollution

Europe wimps out again on airlines’ carbon pollution

Shutterstock / Lukas Rebec

European efforts to force international airlines to pay for their carbon pollution will stay parked on the runway for at least several more years.

Airlines are covered by the European Union’s Emissions Trading System. Airfares for flights within Europe have included a carbon fee under that system since the beginning of 2012. The plan has been to expand the program to include international flights that begin or end in Europe, but that proposal has been vigorously opposed by China, the U.S., and other countries. China had put a large order for aircraft from Europe-based Airbus on hold over the dispute.

On Thursday, amid promises that the climate-unfriendly airline industry will soon launch its own climate program, the U.S. and China prevailed, again, clinching a years-long delay. Members of the European Parliament voted 458 to 120 to exempt flights in and out of Europe from the emissions trading program until early 2017. A bid to delay the program until 2020 was rejected by the lawmakers.

“We have the next International Civil Aviation Organization assembly in 2016,” parliamentarian Peter Liese said. “If it fails to deliver a global [climate] agreement, then nobody could justify our maintaining such an exemption.” But so far the aviation industry’s efforts to develop its own climate plan have been feeble.

“The [European] Commission would of course have preferred and fought for a higher level of ambition,” E.U. Climate Commissioner
Connie Hedegaard said
. “It would’ve been better for Europe’s self-respect and reputation and even more important, for the climate. But we are where we are.”

EU drops plan to extend CO2 rules to international flights, Reuters
EU Lawmakers Limit Carbon Charge on Airlines, The Wall Street Journal
EU backs compromise on plane CO2 emissions, BBC

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

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Gay Marriage Is Now Legal in England & Wales

Mother Jones

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Same-sex couples can now legally marry in England and Wales. Parliament had passed the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act last July, but because of various implementation deadlines, it wasn’t until today that couples could actually wed. Prime minister David Cameron heralded the change by writing: “Put simply, in Britain it will no longer matter whether you are straight or gay—the State will recognize your relationship as equal.”

The Church of England, which was created in 1534 because King Henry VIII thought the Catholic Church was too conservative about traditional marriage, has also softened its stance. Though the church leadership had originally announced plans to forbid clergy from performing same-sex marriages, the Bishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said Friday night that it would no longer oppose gay marriage among Anglicans. “The law’s changed; we accept the situation,” he told the BBC.

A recent BBC poll found 68% of Britons accepting of gay marriage, so the Church’s shift may not be unexpected. However, the church has said that it won’t allow clergy themselves to enter into same sex partnerships because “getting married to someone of the same sex would clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England,” which seems a bit like they’re saying, “Ok, you can get gay married and be ok with your friends and family who get gay married because you like Jesus but you don’t like like Jesus. If you like like Jesus, you can’t get gay married because gay marriage is still against God’s plan.”

But anyway, the church issue aside, good for England. Good for Wales. Equality was long overdue in Albion as it is everywhere. (Scotland recently passed legislation to legalize gay marriage by the autumn as well.)

Mazel tov!

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Gay Marriage Is Now Legal in England & Wales

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Tunisia’s new constitution calls for climate protection

Tunisia’s new constitution calls for climate protection

Katherine Herriman

Tunisia, the country that kicked off the Arab Spring in 2010, has now finalized a new constitution. It ensures gender equality and rejects Sharia law. And it does another awesome thing that only two nations before it have done: It commits the country to contribute to the protection of the climate for future generations. Responding to Climate Change explains:

Before today only Ecuador and Dominican Republic had included climate change in their constitutions.

Speaking to RTCC from Tunis, [Member of Parliament] Dhamir Mannai, who proposed the inclusion of a climate amendment, said legislators were concerned about the potential impacts a warming world could have on Tunisia.

“This opens the door for legislation for both the environment and climate protection,” he said.

“As MPs we wanted to tackle the issue head on, and then tackle it through climate legislation, and hopefully put us in a position where we can demand that other countries do the same.”

This isn’t just a case of saying nice words about an environmental crisis. The constitution obliges the government to act against global warming – and experts say that obligation could spill over into international arenas. Here’s the Toronto Star with more on that:

“What Tunisia has done is something relatively new in terms of world constitutions … it is a big step,” said David Estrin, a senior environmental lawyer with Gowlings, a large Canadian law firm.

Tunisia, he said, has not only given its citizens the right to ask their government to deal with climate change — it has also “elevated the concept (of climate change) to one of an international law.”

Basically, it could open doors for one country to sue another on climate change, he said, and “eventually allow bodies like the International Court of Justice to act on complaints that one country is causing harm to another by not abating its emissions.”

This is an important step, said Estrin, who has practised environmental law since 1971. “Right now we are almost in a lawless rule when it comes to (climate change).”

Oh, and one more cool thing: Tunisia’s constitution also says the “state shall provide the necessary means to eliminate environmental pollution.”

Well played, post-revolutionary state. Well played.

Tunisia embeds climate change in constitution, Responding to Climate Change
Tunisia embeds protection of climate in new constitution, Toronto Star

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

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