At Vegas activist training, Al Gore highlights peril, promise of Nevada’s climate response
Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter.
Over the weekend, reporter Carmen Landinger attended a climate training hosted by the Climate Reality Project and attended by policymakers and activists across the state. In this week’s newsletter, she writes about what she observed and how despite the many climate challenges facing the region, speakers also highlighted several potential climate solutions.
Later in the newsletter, reporter Daniel Rothberg breaks down the news of the week, including the Biden administration’s decision to extend a radiation compensation fund for downwinders.
As always, we want to hear from readers. Let us know what you’re seeing on the ground and how policies are affecting you. Email me with any tips or suggestions at [email protected].
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As temperatures reached 111 degrees over the weekend in Las Vegas, an organization that educates policymakers and activists about climate change held a training session at the Aria Resort and Casino.
It came at an apt time and place.
Las Vegas and Reno are among the fastest-warming cities in the United States because of climate change and the heat-island effect, which refers to faster warming in urban areas because of the absorption of heat from roads and other infrastructure. Nevada has also witnessed first-hand the effects of prolonged drought, with record low water levels in Lake Mead.
The 49th training session of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps brought in panelists to speak about the climate issues happening worldwide — and to educate local leaders about how to address these issues across the Southwest. Ranging from Indigenous artist Fawn Douglas to “Property Brothers” star Jonathan Scott, the panelists each shared their own perspectives on climate change’s impact and how policymakers should approach solutions.
With more than 500 attendees – made up of activists, grassroot leaders and volunteers, business owners, and already certified Climate Reality Leaders – the training helped provide tools and resources to raise awareness about the climate crisis. The event also brought in 50 mentors, some local and some traveling from other states. Former Vice President Al Gore, who hosted the event as the founder of the Climate Reality Project, acknowledged that the situation is dire, saying that “on a scale of one to 10, it is an 11.”
But not all hope is lost just yet, he said. The transition to renewable energy powered by wind, air and water is one of the ways Gore said policymakers can address climate change. Nevada has an abundance of sunlight to power solar arrays. With the implementation of more electric vehicles, solar panels and other large-scale renewable energy projects, Nevada can help lead the way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Gore said.
“Nevada also has a fantastic set of opportunities to help solve this crisis,” he said during a media roundtable on Sunday. “And if I were to rate Nevada's renewable energy and electric vehicle and efficiency opportunities on a scale of one to 10, I'd say they'd rank at 12 because you've got so much sunlight and you could create 250 times all the energy Las Vegas and the rest of the state uses just from solar energy.”
In 2021, Nevada approved a clean energy bill that prioritized expanded electricity transmission and electric vehicle charging station infrastructure.
Another piece of legislation, SB358 from 2019, required NV Energy to meet a 50 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard by 2030. Gore believes that the target puts Nevada on the right track, but still said “it's theoretically possible to go faster than that.”
When it comes to water issues, the panelists at the event also recognized Nevada as a national leader for environmental solutions. In 2021, Nevada lawmakers passed a law that required the removal of ornamental turf in the Las Vegas Valley. Grass that is used purely for outdoor decoration requires a significant amount of water from the Colorado River, which is facing a drought amplified by climate change.
Panelists also stressed the need for solutions that avoid worsening existing injustices. Las Vegas and the Mojave desert areas that surround the urban core sit on the ancestral lands of Southern Paiute tribes. Energy companies often build on this land without consulting Indigenous communities, which do not always directly benefit from the energy sources (if the energy is exported) and are harmed by the resulting issues of air quality, pollution and other disturbances to the land.
“Wind power, solar power, those are all beautiful things, but not at the displacement of the native peoples,” said Douglas, an enrolled member of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. “Not at the displacement or the disrespect of this cultural landscape or other cultural landscapes.”
Panelists argued that transitioning to clean energy cannot be fully completed without working with Indigenous leaders. The climate training highlighted efforts to make the planning of renewable energy projects more equitable.
“So there's a lot of challenges,” said Tanksi Clairmont, managing director of the Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund, a group working to fund solar projects in Indigenous communities. “But I see a lot more opportunity because we're starting to recognize the wisdom of Indigenous cultures across the world which is what has preserved parts of our lands forever.”
Clairmont, an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe and a member of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate tribe, said she is also working within different communities to ensure that tribes have a greater voice when legislative and policy decisions are made.
Those who attended the conference said they plan to continue their work throughout the year. Nevada Indian Commissioner Tammi Tiger said she plans to continue discussing the impacts of climate change with tribal nations across Nevada. A Las Vegas chapter of the Climate Reality Project will also be hosting several events over the next six months. They include programming in East Las Vegas, Historic Westside and North Las Vegas.
Three additional takeaways:
1. Gore wasn’t shy about calling out the fossil fuel industry for its major role in global warming and its influence over policy.
- “The fossil fuel industry is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the history of the United States,” Gore said. “And when they snap their fingers, the majority in the Congress say, ‘Yes, sir, how high do you want me to jump? Yes, sir. Yes, sir. And it's pathetic.’”
2. Solar power is not the only piece of the puzzle. Gore said batteries are needed in the energy transition as well. Nevada is home to the Tesla Gigafactory, a lithium-ion battery and electric vehicle facility, and is a prime site for companies looking to bolster a supply chain for batteries.
- “There are new battery chemistries that are close to being developed in the marketplace that I think are going to help to greatly improve energy storage. And the technology analysts, that I believe are excellent, are predicting a trillion dollar industry in battery storage emerging over the next two to three decades,” Gore said. “And I am very optimistic about the progress that's being made in reducing the cost of energy storage.”
3. Jaina Moan of The Nature Conservancy, a national organization dedicated to placing renewable energy facilities on already developed land rather than healthy and untouched areas, argued that even well-meaning green development can exacerbate inequities.
- “Many of our communities were designed inequitably with redline policies that intentionally ignore or harm BIPOC communities,” Moan said “Then we subsequently built our energy infrastructures right on top of this inequitable design. We need to rethink this design, how it is built and how we operate within it.”
Here’s what else I’m watching this week:
Federal government extends radiation compensation fund: Last week, President Joe Biden signed a two-year extension of a compensation fund that supports those who were exposed to the radiation fallout of nuclear testing or uranium mining, activities that occurred throughout the Southwest during the last century. The measure, however, falls short of what many have long been pushing for: an expanded program that compensates all downwinders (those in the path of radiation) and those exposed to radiation mining after 1971, the current cutoff in the law. Noel Lyn Smith, with the Farmington Daily Times, wrote more on legislation extending the program.
- The American government detonated more than 1,000 nuclear weapons as part of its atmospheric and (later) underground testing program at the Nevada Test Site, now known as the Nevada National Security Site. Bombs detonated at the Nevada Test Site, which sits on the ancestral lands of Western Shoshone and Southern Paiute tribes, exposed many individuals across the Great Basin and the Southwest to radiation.
- While the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was passed in 1990 and subsequently expanded, the process for receiving compensation funds is a lengthy one. If you’re interested in reading more on that: In 2020, High Country News’ published an excellent piece on the delays that Indigenous communities face when applying for funds.
Should we name heat waves? Maybe, the Atlantic Council’s Kathy Baughman McLeod told NPR’s Morning Edition. “In all the focus groups that we've done, people land on human names and will respond to human names. And so where the categorization is a scientific process of meteorology, climatology and health data, the naming of heat waves is behavioral science.”
- The New York Times’ Raymond Zhong looks at the health effects of extreme heat.
A warning for the Colorado River: “What has been a slow-motion train wreck for 20 years is accelerating, and the moment of reckoning is near,” Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager John Entsminger told a congressional panel on Tuesday. The Colorado River, which runs through seven U.S. states, is likely going to face deeper cuts this year as forecasters look at arid conditions made worse by climate change, The Los Angeles Times’ Ian James reports.
- On Tuesday, the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that manages large storage reservoirs along the river said the seven states must plan for further reductions in the next 60 days. “Let’s get to the table, and let’s figure this out by August, said Camille Calimlim Touton, the agency’s commissioner. “That’s what we’re working towards.”
- What those cuts are going to look like is the subject of ongoing and increasingly heated discussions, The Desert Sun’s Janet Wilson reports. And a lot of it centers on how the cuts could affect Southern California’s agricultural districts, which hold large entitlements to use the Colorado River. “Senior Reclamation officials and representatives from the three states met last Friday in San Diego, and will likely talk again at a Boulder, Colorado conference later this week, and again over the weekend,” Wilson reported.
- Colorado River expert John Fleck with more analysis on the announcement.
- Where the water goes: A beautiful photo essay by The Los Angeles Times’ Luis Sinco.
An appellate hearing for the Dixie Valley toad: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case that challenges the federal government’s permitting of a geothermal project in Dixie Valley. Both the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and the Center for Biological Diversity had sued federal land managers to halt the project because of its impact on sacred springs for the tribe and the vulnerable Dixie Valley toad, an endemic species that was recently granted emergency protection under the Endangered Species Act. The plaintiffs have asked the court to temporarily halt the project as the district court weighs the merits of the case.
Work to protect and preserve the Truckee River through Reno’s urban core: The Renoites podcast’s Conor McQuivey talked this week with the executive director of One Truckee River, Iris Jehle-Peppard. One Truckee River, which represents a coalition of groups, is working on implementing a management plan that focuses on the river’s health through Reno-Sparks.
“A Nevada plant can begin turning tons of garbage into a synthetic oil that can be refined into fuel for airplanes after an Environmental Protection Agency rule change,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Gary Martin reported this week. “After five years, the EPA finalized the rule sought by Fulcrum BioEnergy’s Sierra BioFuels Plant in Storey County. A company official told the Review-Journal the cutting-edge facility would permanently employ roughly 120 people.”