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Climate Point: How green are the Olympics?

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 7/29/2021 Janet Wilson, USA TODAY
a group of people on a rocky hill: Cal Fire strike team from Santa Clara Unit gazes up at Dixie fire, July 17, 2021 © Capt. Eric Limones / CalFire Santa Clara Unit Cal Fire strike team from Santa Clara Unit gazes up at Dixie fire, July 17, 2021

Welcome to Climate Point, your weekly guide to climate, energy and the environment. I'm Janet Wilson from Palm Springs, California. Last week I was in sylvan New Hampshire, where weeks of rain ended with an orange pall. My eyes smarted as I canoed the clear lake along which my grandparents honeymooned last century. Smoke from the West's massive wildfires had blown across the continent to block the sun. It was a vivid reminder of how the Earth's atmosphere, which we continue to overstuff with greenhouse gases, blankets us all.

This week, a giant heat wave hit the northern US, while parts of the Southwest had cooler than normal temps and outsized monsoonal rains. Everything's out of whack. As someone who's covered climate change for years, it's hard not to feel dread. But I'm also experiencing guarded optimism, as family and friends who've politely sidestepped my gloomy prognostications take notice this summer.

I had breakfast with a longtime friend and former journalist who's now a business strategist. What made him sit up was The Economist linking extreme weather events from China to Europe to climate change. He's not rushing into clean energy or relevant technologies just yet — even though greenhouse emissions continue to surge globally, he sees renewables as an oversaturated sector. He also wisely notes that humans don't necessarily predict or adapt to change in a timely manner.

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But for this week at least, I'm holding out hope. For every grim story, and there are plenty, I've tried to include one that offers a solution, often, perhaps not surprisingly, found in local newspapers.

a man standing next to a body of water: A Seattle boy takes a dive at a local park during unprecedented heat wave on June 27, 2021. © John Froschauer / Associated Press A Seattle boy takes a dive at a local park during unprecedented heat wave on June 27, 2021.

Summer of discontent. From the muffled voice of a masked child calling in vain for other kids to play tag in record-breaking heat to experts saying our favorite leisure season could be over, The New York Times' Shawn Hubler nails it in a piece about the possible loss of summer to human-created disasters

"The season Americans thought we understood — of playtime and ease, of a sun we could trust, air we could breathe and a natural world that was, at worst, indifferent — has become something else, something ominous and immense. This is the summer we saw climate change merge from the abstract to the now, the summer we realized that every summer from now on will be more like this than any quaint memory of past summers."

Lights on. One Washington state utility has been planning for climate change since 2007 — and that helped them keep the power running even as demand soared during recent record-shattering heat waves. There's lots more to be done, but Julie Titone writes for the Daily Herald about how Snohomish County Public Utility District kept the lights, fans and for those who have them, air conditioners, humming. 

a bus that is parked on the side of a building: Electric shuttle buses at Tokyo Olympics in June 2021. Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters © Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters Electric shuttle buses at Tokyo Olympics in June 2021. Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters

POLITICAL CLIMATE

Green light. The White House and a bipartisan group of senators agreed Wednesday to advance a far-reaching $1 trillion infrastructure bill, clearing the way for one of President Joe Biden's top priorities. “We now have an agreement on the major issues, and we’re prepared to move forward,” said Sen. Rob Portman, (R-Ohio) a lead negotiator on the infrastructure measure. 

Green lite. The lack of tourists at the Tokyo Olympics are a huge disappointment for officials who'd hoped for revenue, prestige and other perks. But they do give it a shot at being the "greenest" Olympics after all, experts say, with less emissions from traffic, food production and other sources. An April study had found that despite window dressing measures like medals made from recycled electronics and beds of recycled cardboard, the mega-events were becoming less sustainable, not more. Kanupriya Kapoor reports for Reuters.

Tail lights. President Biden will propose a return to aggressive Obama-era vehicle mileage standards over five years, per industry and government officials. He’ll then aim for even tougher rules to forcefully reduce greenhouse gas emissions and nudge 40% of U.S. drivers into electric vehicles by decade’s end. But environmentalists said a lot has changed since Obama's 2012 actions, and the proposals do not go far enough. Tom Krisher and Hope Yen with the Associated Press have the story.

a man wearing a blue hat: Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and space tourism company Blue Origin, flew into space from Van Horn, Texas, on July 20. © Tony Gutierrez, AP Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and space tourism company Blue Origin, flew into space from Van Horn, Texas, on July 20.

HOT TAKES

Eighty-six forest fires burn across 12 states. Forest offsets go up in smoke.

How Oregon voted for 100% carbon free power. Activist turned politician zeroes in. 

Doubletalk. Bezos stresses climate change, but Amazon sells items claiming it's fake.

a house with trees in the background: Utah inventor Mike Taggett has designed a home to include a grey water system that would capture floe from sinks and washing machines for use on outdoor landscaping. It faces zoning hurdles. © Joan Meiners / The Specttrum Utah inventor Mike Taggett has designed a home to include a grey water system that would capture floe from sinks and washing machines for use on outdoor landscaping. It faces zoning hurdles.

WATER WATER EVERYWHERE

Dropping. Two of America’s largest reservoirs have reached historic lows amid lasting drought, with Lake Powell joining Lake Mead in recording unprecedented low levels. The reservoirs help provide water to more than 40 million people. The dams that hold back the lakes' water also produce hydropower for many Western states, but electric production from the Hoover Dam at Lake Mead has dropped by about 25 percent. John Schwartz with The New York Times fills us in.

On tap. Concerned about the decline of Lake Powell, southwest Utah inventor Mike Taggett has designed a home that could efficiently use grey water from sinks and washing machines to water outdoor landscaping. Zoning officials say he needs to clear public health and safety hurdles, but the inventor of the biodegradable Sunny Cup coffee cup and other products is not deterred. Joan Meiners with the St. George Spectrum and Daily News profiles the man and his designs.

a man that is standing in the grass: Bruce Bates at Project Roots, a community garden focused on making sure everyone in South Phoenix is fed, July 16, 2021. © Benjamin Chambers/The Republic Bruce Bates at Project Roots, a community garden focused on making sure everyone in South Phoenix is fed, July 16, 2021.

AND ANOTHER THING

Garden of tomorrow. South Phoenix, like many nonwhite areas, is home to food deserts: neighborhoods shunned by big grocery chains and with little access to affordable, healthy food or to nature. The Arizona Republic's Megan Taros chronicles Project Roots' efforts to change that, including a community garden, youth classes and other on-the-ground efforts. “No one can stop us from planting trees,” said one teacher. “But they can miseducate us to not grow trees.”

That's it for now. Keep hope alive. And for more climate, energy and environment news, follow me @janetwilson66. You can sign up to get Climate Point in your inbox for free here.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Climate Point: How green are the Olympics?

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