Category Archives: Climate

Ian Coming: Thursday afternoon Update

Waiting for Hurricane Ian to arrive:  How bad will it be?

Heading for North Carolina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

News Alert – Thursday afternoon, Sept. 29, 2022

 

 

 

 

A closeup of our home county

Red means facing a very rainy, windy weekend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In The Yard: Will There Be Anything Left?

How  many of these big trees will be standing in a few days?

 

 

Trial by Winter: The Ukraine War Is Coming to Western Europe

AP News: Lights out, ovens off: Europe preps for winter energy crisis

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — As Europe heads into winter in the throes of an energy crisis, offices are getting chillier. Statues and historic buildings are going dark. Bakers who cant afford to heat their ovens are talking about giving up, while fruit and vegetable growers face letting greenhouses stand idle.

In poorer eastern Europe, people are stocking up on firewood, while in wealthier Germany, the wait for an energysaving heat pump can take half a year. And businesses dont know how much more they can cut back.

“We can’t turn off the lights and make our guests sit in the dark,” said Richard Kovacs, business development manager for Hungarian burger chain Zing Burger. The restaurants already run the grills no more than necessary and use motion detectors to turn off lights in storage, with some stores facing a 750% increase in electricity bills since the beginning of the year.

With costs high and energy supplies tight, Europe is rolling out relief programs and plans to shake up electricity and natural gas markets as it prepares for rising energy use this winter. The question is whether it will be enough to avoid governmentimposed rationing and rolling blackouts after Russia cut back natural gas needed to heat homes, run factories and generate electricity to a tenth of what it was before invading Ukraine.

Europes dependence on Russian energy has turned the war into an energy and economic crisis, with prices rising to record highs in recent months and fluctuating wildly.

In response, governments have worked hard to find new supplies and conserve energy, with gas storage facilities now 86% full ahead of the winter heating season — beating the goal of 80% by November. They have committed to lower gas use by 15%, meaning the Eiffel Tower will plunge into darkness over an hour earlier than normal while shops and buildings shut off lights at night or lower thermostats.

A map of Russian gas pipelines into Europe

Europes ability to get through the winter may ultimately depend on how cold it is and what happens in China. Shutdowns aimed at halting the spread of COVID19 have idled large parts of Chinas economy and meant less competition for scarce energy supplies.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said this month that early preparations mean Europe’s biggest economy is “now in a position in which we can go bravely and courageously into this winter, in which our country will withstand this.”

“No one could have said that three, four, five months ago, or at the beginning of this year,” he added.

Even if there is gas this winter, high prices already are pushing people and businesses to use less and forcing some energyintensive factories like glassmakers to close.

Its a decision also facing fruit and vegetable growers in the Netherlands who are key to Europes winter food supply: shutter greenhouses or take a loss after costs skyrocketed for gas heating and electric light.

Bosch Growers, which grows green peppers and blackberries, has put up extra insulation, idled one greenhouse and experimented with lower temperatures. The cost? Smaller yields, blackberries taking longer to ripen, and potentially operating in the red to maintain customer relationships even at lower volumes.

We want to stay on the market, not to ruin the reputation that we have developed over the years, said Wouter van den Bosch, the sixth generation of his family to help run the business. “We are in survival mode.”

Kovacs, grower van den Bosch and bakers like Andreas Schmitt in Frankfurt, Germany, are facing the hard reality that conservation only goes so far.

Schmitt is heating fewer ovens at his 25 Cafe Ernst bakeries, running them longer to spare startup energy, narrowing his pastry selection to ensure ovens run full, and storing less dough to cut refrigeration costs. That might save 510% off an energy bill that is set to rise from 300,000 euros per year, to 1.1 million next year.

“Its not going to shift the world, he said. The bulk of his costs is “the energy required to get dough to bread, and that is a given quantity of energy.”

Schmitt, head of the local bakers guild, said some small bakeries are contemplating giving up. Government help will be key in the short term, he said, while a longerterm solution involves reforming energy markets themselves.

Europe is targeting both, though the spending required may be unsustainable. Nations have allocated 500 billion euros to ease high utility bills since September 2021, according to an analysis from the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, and they are bailing out utilities that can’t afford to buy gas to fulfill their contracts.

Governments have lined up additional gas supply from pipelines running to Norway and Azerbaijan and ramped up their purchase of expensive liquefied natural gas that comes by ship, largely from the U.S.

At the same time, the EU is weighing drastic interventions like taxing energy companies windfall profits and revamping electricity markets so natural gas costs play less of a role in determining power prices.

But as countries scramble to replace Russian fossil fuels and even reactivate polluting coalfired power plants, environmentalists and the EU itself say renewables are the way out long term.

Neighbors in Madrid looking to cut electricity costs and aid the energy transition installed solar panels this month to supply their housing development after years of work.

“I have suddenly reduced my gas consumption by 40%, with very little use of three radiators strategically placed in the house,” neighbor Manuel Ruiz said.

Governments have dismissed Russia as an energy supplier but President Vladimir Putin still has leverage, analysts say. Some Russian gas is still flowing and a hard winter could undermine public support for Ukraine in some countries. There have already been protests in places like Czechia and Belgium.

“The market is very tight and every molecule counts,” said Agata LoskotStrachota, senior fellow for energy policy at the Center for Eastern Studies in Warsaw. “This is the leverage that Putin still has — that Europe would have to face disappointed or impoverished societies.”

In Bulgaria, the poorest of the EU’s 27 members, surging energy costs are forcing families to cut extra spending ahead of winter to ensure there is enough money to buy food and medicine.

More than a quarter of Bulgarias 7 million people can’t afford to heat their home, according to EU statistics office Eurostat, the highest in the 27nation bloc due to poorly insulated buildings and low incomes. Nearly half of households use firewood in winter as the cheapest and most accessible fuel, but rising demand and galloping inflation have driven prices above last year’s levels.

In the capital, Sofia, where almost half a million households have heating provided by central plants, many sought other options after a 40% price increase was announced.

Grigor Iliev, a 68yearold retired bookkeeper, and his wife decided to cancel their central heating and buy a combined air conditionerheating unit for their tworoom apartment.

“Its a costly device, but in the long run, we will recoup our investment,” he said.

Meanwhile, businesses are trying to stay afloat without alienating customers. Klara Aurell, owner of two Prague restaurants, said she’s done all she can to conserve energy.

“We use LED bulbs, we turn the lights off during the day, the heating is only when it gets really cold and we use it only in a limited way,” she said. “We also take measures to save water and use energyefficient equipment. We can hardly do anything else. The only thing to remain is to increase prices. That’s how it is.”

The gourmet Babushka Artisanal Bakery in an affluent district of Budapest has had to raise prices by 10%. The bakery used less air conditioning despite Hungarys hottest summer on record and is ensuring the ovens dont run without bread inside.

While it has enough traffic to stay open for now, further jumps in energy costs could threaten its viability, owner Eszter Roboz said.

“A twofold increase in energy costs still fits into the operation of our business and into our calculations, she said. “But in the case of a three to fourfold increase, we will really need to think about whether we can continue this.”

___

Spike reported from Budapest, Hungary; Janicek from Prague; and Toshkov from Sofia, Bulgaria. Videojournalist Irene Yagüe contributed from Madrid.

 

One More Climate Tragedy: R. I. P. Leaf-Peeping

[NOTE — Different Strokes: If I were rich, I don’t think my lifestyle would change much during most of the year. But about now, in mid-September, I’d go wild. Or I would have, in the good old days.

First, a plane ticket to Montreal, or maybe Quebec City. Then a rental car (I’d need a driver now, but no worries, in this fantasy I can afford to hire one).

Then a leisurely meander, generally south, over several weeks, with one over-arching, and one secondary sybaritic goal:

First, find the best peak fall foliage, and follow that peak as it makes its brilliant, stately way south, over the border into  New England and maybe even down as far as the Shenandoah Valley. And

Two: Up until the sad morning when I have to pull out the passport and submit to re-entry into these Un-United States, I embarrass all my cultured Canadian friends with a relentless quest for the best local versions of one of that storied land’s most underappreciated gifts to the world, namely:

O Canada! Tres magnifique!

Yes! Poutine! Fries & cheese buds & gravy Oh my! — the food of the northern gods. I’m reliably advised that it now comes in at least 57 varieties, and I yearn to sample  them all.

Of course, others’ mileage may vary; yet Canada  is vast, it can contain multitudes (as it may soon need to when our impending civil war sends hordes of Blue state refugees fleeing for Niagara Falls). But politics aside, a still more depressing prospect looms this autumn: even if I had won the billion dollar Powerball jackpot, all that boodle would avail me little for indulging my orgiastic leaf-peeping proclivity — if there are no colorful leafs to peep.

And this is the underlying message of the Associated Press dispatch below. It advises that one of the latest self-inflicted costs of our climate change debacle, besides wildfires and dead lakes out west, is a color-killing drought in the far northeast. The technical foliage-ological term for this development, as you will see, is “spotty.” (I think that’s what they also say when a mixup at the Crayola factory fills the big 64-crayon box bought for a favored child’s birthday with 50 shades of grey and brown.) The local patois likewise includes “patchy,” and “muted” among its bad news euphemisms. If you see all three terms in a report, you might as well stay home.

I’ve seen something like this before.  Couple decades back, I had a free week, and impulsively drove to Canada, intent on savoring at least a long weekend of the seasonal beauty.

Except that when I arrived at the main Montreal tourist center, I had to elbow my way in, because the place was packed with and besieged by other USA-ans, most of us doing our spot-on impression of Indignant Yankee Jackass: after Paying Good Money for a long trip, all were now demanding to know, “Where are the goddam leaves??”

It wasn’t global warming then, or not quite. Much less apocalyptic seasonal hiccups could dull a season’s color palette. I spent that weekend in a vain search for the fabled fantastic fall kaleidoscope,  I did find  some decent poutine, though. C’est la vie. But the dream does not die.

Or now, maybe, it does.]

This summers drought is expected to cause a patchy array of fall color starting earlier in the leafpeeping haven of New England while the autumn colors are likely to be muted and not last as long in the drought and heatstricken areas of the south.

The good old days.

In New England, experts anticipate the season, which typically peaks in October, to be more spread out with some trees changing earlier or even browning and dropping leaves because of the drought. Other places, like Texas, could see colors emerging later in the fall due to warm temperatures.

“We will still have brilliant colors in New England because of the fact that we have so many different kinds of trees and they’re growing on kind of ridges, and kind of slopes and wetlands,” said Richard Primack, a professor of plant ecology at Boston University. “You know we will have good color but the color will probably be more spotty than usual.”

Leaf peeping is big business in places like New England, where millions of visitors from around the country and world bring in billions of dollars.

Everyone from inns to diners often count on this business to get them through the rest of the year. But predicting when those colors will peak is not an exact science; requiring experts to consider everything from temperature, the length of the day and stresses like pests and drought.

In Vermont, the 18room Mad River Barn, an inn in Fayston, typically sells out for about three weeks in a row starting in late September, said inn manager Jess Kotch. But those leafpeepers don’t make reservations far in advance.

“Typically we get so many inquiries for lastminute stays through that period that I don’t even really start thinking about it until this week and next week,” she said.

This year, drought is one of the big concerns in many parts of the country.

Severe and even extreme drought set in this summer in southern New England and remains in some areas, while up north parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are in a moderate drought or are abnormally dry. In those northern New England states, the color will depend on the health of the individual trees and is expected to be good to variable.

“Where you have those real dry sandy soils or you know, trees that have had health issues accumulating over time you may see some effect on fall foliage on those trees,” Wendy Scribner, a forestry field specialist with the University of New Hampshire extension service, said. “But I think we just have so many of them that we still will see some coloration.”

In Oklahoma, where much of the state is in severe or extreme drought, the trees are expected to change earlier than usual and it will be quicker. Some oak trees started browning and dropping leaves this summer, said Alex Schwartz, district silviculturist for the Oklahoma Ranger Districts of the Ouachita National Forest.

“When the trees experience moderate to severe drought stress like we’ve had, what they’re going to do is they’re going to probably stop that production — what little they’ve had over the summer — stop that production a lot quicker, and they’re not going to produce a lot of those other pigments like the carotenoids that bring out those other fall colors,” he said.

The same thing is happening on some ridgetops in Connecticut where oak trees in thin dry soils are browning and dropping leaves early, meaning theyre shutting down. And many southern New England beech trees, whose leaves typically turn yellow and orange in the fall, have been hit by beech leaf disease, causing them to drop their leaves, said Robert Marra, a forest pathologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

“Its going to have a very serious impact on fall colors in the sense that most of the beeches, many of them throughout southern New England, were hit so badly by beech leaf disease this year that they’re just dropping, they don’t have leaves on them to change color,” he said.

In Texas, the colors are likely to be muted and warm temperatures could push back the change, said Mac Martin, partnership coordinator for Texas A&M Forest Service.

“We’re going to probably get a shorter window of the fall colors that we get here in general as well as probably less kind of brilliant colors,” he said.

Visitors to the White Mountain Hotel and Resort in North Conway, New Hampshire, are not holding off in making reservations, said Carol Sullivan, director of sales and marketing.

“The last two years for us have been very strong, and that is the same prediction for us this year, that we will have an equally strong, if not even stronger, fall foliage season, regardless of what the weather does,” she said.

Loss of A Landmark: 200 Year-Old Arizona Cactus Collapses

[NOTE: I guess there are no coincidences. Thursday Sept. 1 I took part in a final Zoom call with some friends in Arizona, who are part of an experimental community east of Tucson called Saguaro-Juniper, or S-J for short.  S-J is named after the famous Saguaro cacti that grow around there.

Then this morning, Friday, I read that one of the most iconic, venerable and largest saguaro cacti, aged at least 200 years old, had suddenly collapsed in a state park not far away.

The S-J community was started by Jim and Pat Corbett, remarkable Arizona Quakers who were seeking a way to live more simply and harmoniously with nature in the desert. Thirty-plus years later, their experiment continues in the swirl of punishing climate change and continued social-cultural struggles.

Jim Corbett was truly one of a kind: a Harvard philosophy grad who was also a cowboy with Indian heritage, a Sanctuary activist, a desert wanderer, a cantankerous Quaker mystic, and a writer.

Jim published two books: Goatwalking (1990; 2021), which described his religious journey, desert wanderings, organizing to aid desperate Central American war refugees, and a prophetic understanding of how human eco-damage was careening toward a crisis. He followed it with Sanctuary ofor All Life, which explored many dimensions of  the new S-J experiment, and which he finished on his deathbed in 2001. Jim’s ashes were scattered in the hills of his beloved desert.

It was the books, especially Goatwalking,  which put me in touch with the Arizona group. I was part of a project to bring Goatwalking back into print after 30 years, which we did just over a year ago. Our two-year round of biweekly Zoom calls began amid the republication effort, then continued as some of us explored the two books, which we found appealing in seemingly endless ways.

There’s no end to this exploration, but with the second August, we were ready for a change. S-J itself faces major transition, as a founding generation ages out, the climate crunch Jim Corbett foresaw arrives, and new blood is needed.  So maybe it’s fitting, at least symbolically, that news of the bicentennial saguaro giant’s fall reaches us now. And as this Washington Post report points out, even the decay of the cactus feeds more desert life.]

Washington Post — August 31, 2022
A centuries-old cactus survived everything. Then summer rains came.

Derek Hawkins

A massive saguaro cactus stood for 200 years in Arizona’s Catalina State Park until it collapsed after fierce monsoons. (Arizona State Parks)

The saguaro cactus towered over the hilltop outside Tucson like a massive hand rising out of the earth.
Generations of hikers posed for pictures at the base of the hulking, treelike plant, whose longest arms stretched almost 30 feet into the air above Catalina State Park.

Artists painted it. Scores of animal species relied on it for food and shelter.

Older than Arizona itself by nearly a century, it weathered droughts and monsoons, searing heat and cold snaps, that worsened with climate change. It outlasted the ranchers who grazed cattle and built dwellings near its roots. It survived wildfires and invasive grasses.

But at some point this month, after fierce rains swept through the park, the cactus split at the trunk and toppled to ground, removing one of the area’s most cherished landmarks from the skyline.

The collapse of the iconic plant, estimated to be 200 years old, prompted an outpouring of tributes and remembrances from its many admirers following an announcement from Arizona State Parks and Trails this week.

“It’s sort of like if the Mona Lisa had been impaled somehow,” Neil Myers, a landscape artist who painted a 24-by-30-inch portrait of the cactus in 2007, told The Washington Post. “The way it loomed over you, like an emblem of old creation, was just beautiful.”

The cactus’s death also rekindled concerns about the environmental threats facing saguaros, which are highly valued among some Native American tribes and whose blossom is the Arizona state wildflower.

It’s difficult to blame human-caused climate change for the destruction of any individual plant, particularly one as old and top-heavy as this one. But scientists who study saguaros say extreme weather is a growing menace that could drive down their overall numbers.

Years of drought and inconsistent monsoon rains in the region can starve the cactuses of water, according to biologists from Saguaro National Park outside Tucson. This can threaten the survival of young plants, which because of their significantly smaller size and capacity can’t store water as efficiently as older plants. A 2018 report from the park found that prolonged drought may be increasing the mortality rate of young saguaros and reducing the growth of new ones.

“At the same time, increasingly intense storms can harm even the hardiest cacti,” said Cam Juarez, engagement coordinator at Saguaro National Park. “It’s a double-edged sword.”

In addition to climate-related perils, saguaros face competition from buffelgrass, an invasive species introduced by ranchers to feed cattle. The dense grass grows rapidly across the desert, hogging moisture from the soil that saguaros and other plants need to thrive. It’s also extraordinarily flammable, burning several times hotter than other vegetation, making wildfires more destructive.

The saguaro in Catalina State Park withstood those challenges for many decades.
It sprouted from the desert floor in the early 1800s, long before Arizona became the 48th state in 1912, on the site of an ancient Hohokam settlement. It emerged slowly in the beginning, growing no more than 1.5 inches in its first eight years. In that fragile period, it likely would have been sheltered by a “nurse tree ” — typically a paloverde, ironwood or mesquite — that protected it from animals and harsh weather.

In the mid-1800s, a ranching family, the Romeros, moved into the area and built a compound within feet of the cactus. At this point the plant still would have been small, armless, nondescript. The family grazed cattle in its midst for more than a decade before they moved elsewhere, likely driven out by repeated raids from the Apache tribe that were common in the region at the time. The remains of their settlement are still there, and the trail leading up to the site is now known as the Romero Ruin trail.

At around 50 to 70 years old, the cactus would have started sprouting arms. At 125 years old, it would finally reach what scientists consider saguaro “adulthood.”

Throughout its life span, it provided a habitat for all kinds of desert creatures.

“Many birds, including cactus wren, woodpeckers and owls use saguaros for nesting. Larger birds of prey will use a tall saguaro for a hunting platform,” said Michelle Thompson, a spokesperson for Arizona State Parks and Trails. “Bats may use the pollen and nectar from cactus blooms. Birds, bats, mammals, reptiles and insects can all use the fruits for moisture and nourishment.”

Though the rains are the most likely culprit, it’s not clear what exactly brought down this giant. “It could have been the extremely moist monsoon season,” Thompson said. She noted that the park has experienced higher-than-average rainfall during this season after a historically wet year in 2021 and the second-driest season on record in 2020. It also could have simply been the end of the cactus’s life cycle, she said.

Now splayed across the ground in several pieces, the 200-year-old saguaro at Catalina State Park near Tucson, Arizona, will soon begin rotting. (Arizona State Parks and Trails/AFP) (Handout/Arizona State Parks And Trails/A)

Now splayed across the ground in several pieces, the saguaro will soon begin rotting. Insects will flock to it. That, in turn, will attract birds and small mammals, as well as reptile predators such as snakes and lizards.

“It’s a consolation that this beloved cactus will remain there,” read a post from the Catalina State Park’s Instagram page, “providing habitat and food for many creatures as it decomposes.”

Myers, the landscape artist, said he was inspired to paint saguaros after he relocated to the Southwest and fell in love with the scenery. This one was special, he said, because of the way it rose over the hill where it lived, with the desert sky and Santa Catalina Mountains as a backdrop.

“This one stood atop in that place like a sentinel,” Myers said.
“They’re the most anthropomorphic plants that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I know it’s part of a larger natural process, but I hope that when people see that one laying on the ground that they take some concern for the ones still standing.”

 

Derek Hawkins is a reporter covering national and breaking news.

 

The Last Member of An “Uncontacted” Amazon Tribe Has Died

BBC News: ‘Man of the Hole’: Last of his tribe dies in Brazil

Vanessa Buschschlütter — August 29, 2022

The last remaining member of an uncontacted indigenous group in Brazil has died, officials say.

The man, whose name was not known, had lived in total isolation for the past 26 years.

He was known as Man of the Hole because he dug deep holes, some of which he used to trap animals while others appear to be hiding spaces.

His body was found on 23 August in a hammock outside his straw hut. There were no signs of violence. Continue reading The Last Member of An “Uncontacted” Amazon Tribe Has Died

Diet for a Warming Planet: Bye-Bye, Burgers!

The Guardian — 26 August 2022

How US government diet guidelines ignore the climate crisis

US government’s 2020-2025 guidance is meat- and dairy-heavy. Experts say that isn’t sustainable

To keep the climate habitable, most scientists agree that switching to renewable energy alone isn’t enough – Americans also need to change the way they eat. Environmental and public health advocates are pushing a new strategy to help get there: including climate breakdown in the official US dietary guidelines, which shape what goes into billions of meals eaten across the country every year.

Every five years, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services jointly publish a new version of the guidelines. They form the basis for the public-facing eating guide MyPlate, formerly MyPyramid, as well as many government-backed meal programs, such as National School Lunch. Historically, these guidelines have narrowly focused on human nutrition, but some are now saying they should be expanded to incorporate climate considerations as well.

The current, 150-page edition for 2020-2025 doesn’t mention food’s role in the climate crisis at all. Climate groups say this is an abdication of responsibility, with Americans feeling the effects of a warming planet more than ever. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate legislation in US history, does very little to address the food system.

“Climate change poses a multitude of threats to human health and nutrition security. We cannot extricate these things from each other,” said Jessi Silverman, a senior policy associate for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Her group and 39 others, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Academy of Pediatrics, in May wrote a letter urging the government to include sustainability in the 2025-2030 dietary guidelines, which are now in development.

A sustainability component would encourage Americans to eat less meat and dairy, which have a significantly higher climate impactthan nutritionally comparable plant-based foods. “It would be virtually impossible to even meet the two-degree [Celsius] limit in global temperature change without incorporating substantial reductions in beef intake,” said Mark Rifkin, senior food and agriculture policy specialist for the Center for Biological Diversity, another signatory to the letter.

The current guidelines advise Americans to eat far more animal products than is sustainable, said Walter Willett, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health. The primary dietary chart recommends 26 ounces of protein from meat, poultry and eggs a week, compared with just 5 ounces from plant-based foods, although there are alternative charts that show how vegetarians can get the same nutrients without meat.

They also “still basically say three servings of dairy a day, which is actually really radical because our current consumption is 1.6 servings a day”, he said. “To just recommend three servings of dairy and say nothing about the environmental consequences if people really did that is just completely irresponsible.”

Because most Americans are deficient in fiber and fruits and vegetables, not animal products, Rifkin, a dietitian, said climate-focused guidance would line up with what the public needs nutritionally. It would also help address other problems that stem from the meat-heavy US food system, he said, including risk of future pandemics, food security and pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations, which disproportionately affects communities of color.

A proposed list of questions released in April for the scientific panel that advises the guidelines didn’t include sustainability. That worries advocates, but they say it’s still early. Janet de Jesus, HHS’s staff lead on the guidelines, said sustainability could still be included. “We’re not saying that it’s not going to be in the dietary guidelines – we’re not saying that at all,” de Jesus said. “It’s a high priority for HHS leadership to address climate change.”

Countries including Germany, Brazil, Sweden and Qatar have addressed sustainability in their dietary guidelines, according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report. Canada’s Food Guide advises choosing plant-based foods more often for the environment. Germany has cut its per-capita meat consumption by 12% since 2011, Vox reported last month, and its minister of food and agriculture has recently prioritized a shift toward more plant-based eating.

Advocates say a change in the US dietary guidelines could have a similar influence. “The guidelines are much more impactful than I think a lot of people realize,” Silverman said. Federal food aid programs have to comply with the guidelines, shaping how millions of people eat.

The National School Lunch and National School Breakfast, for instance, served more than 7bn meals a year to tens of millions of children before the Covid-19 pandemic. The guidelines also influence cafeteria food served in government buildings, hospitals and other institutions, and are used in nutrition education programs.

National School Lunch’s reach makes it “uniquely positioned to affect the dietary patterns of American children and adolescents and could aid in addressing the environmental impacts of food systems”, according to a recent paper in Communications Earth & Environment. Meat contributes disproportionately to school meals’ impact on the climate, as well as land and water use.

Because government programs and other large institutions serve so many meals, sustainability advocates in recent years have focused on trying to influence their food buying decisions. California earlier this year allocated $100m to help schools serve more plant-based meals.

This isn’t the first time the environment has been at issue in the nation’s dietary guidelines. In 2015, the government-appointed panel of nutrition experts that advised the 2015-2020 guidelines addressed sustainability in its scientific report. “In general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact,” the panel wrote.

But after outcry from the meat industry and Republicanlawmakers, the recommendation to eat more plants was dropped from the final guidelines. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal at the time, the USDA secretary, Tom Vilsack, said sustainability was outside the purview of the dietary guidelines and compared the scientific committee to his granddaughter who “colors outside of the lines”.

“It’s really condescending stuff,” said Bob Martin, of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, about Vilsack’s comments. “The people involved in this were highly qualified.”

Agribusiness has a long history of influence over the dietary guidelines, and it will undoubtedly be a factor this time around, too. The meat and dairy industries spent $49.5m on political contributions in 2020, and another $15.9m lobbying the federal government.

Food industry groups also routinely report lobbying on federal nutrition policy. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association between 2014 and 2016 spent more than $303,000 lobbying to keep beef in the dietary guidelines, according to federal lobbying records. Several industry groups, including the North American Meat Institute, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Turkey Federation, have already weighed in on the process for the 2025-2030 guidance. “[W]hile an important topic, sustainability is outside the scope of the Dietary Guidelines,” the National Pork Producers Council wrote in a public comment in May.

Even though environmental advocates face an uphill battle, a lot has changed since the failed 2015 effort to incorporate sustainability, said Jessi Silverman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “I think the public pressure to have concrete policies to address climate change has grown a lot in the years since then.”

Hmmmm. Needs more kale?