joe biden state of the union

Peter Dykstra: SOTU, IPCC, AWOL, and an OMG

An avalanche of major news stories kick climate and environment to the curb. Again.

Joe Biden broke with tradition in his State of the Union address by offering more than a throwaway platitude or two on climate change.


Here are three past examples from consecutive decades:

  • In 1984, Ronald Reagan said “Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it's common sense.”
  • In Bill Clinton’s first State of the Union speech in 1993, the Democratic president was moved to speak ill of a blockbuster environmental law. "I'd like to use that Superfund to clean up pollution for a change and not just pay lawyers."
  • And in 2006, George W. Bush looked America in the eye and pronounced his nation “addicted to oil.”

Those are my favorites among many broken SOTU vows. Of course, Reagan’s call for eco-unity came when he had already appointed uber-divisive souls like James Watt at the Department of the Interior and Anne Gorsuch at the Environmental Protection Agency. Clinton’s Superfund vow is still largely unfulfilled by either party.

And Bush’s oil addiction? Puh-leeze.

Climate crickets

On Monday, the scientists on the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) served up their most stark, incontrovertible, poop-in-your-pants outlook on the certainties of the climate crisis.

The world filed it behind Ukraine, COVID, and other more recent hair-on-fire issues on the action list. And maybe that’s where it belongs—for a couple of weeks at most.

The next AWOL

We’re just now coming to terms with the plastic crisis, as nations signed on to the beginning of a treaty process that will stop kicking the PET bottle down the road in 2024.

In the meantime, one estimate says we each ingest a credit card’s worth of microplastics each week. Think of a stack of 104 credit cards in your innards until the treaty kicks in ...

And finally, a big OMG

I’ve had an occasional, surprisingly good-natured back-and-forth with Senator Jim Inhofe, unofficial Dean of the Congressional Climate Denial Caucus.

To be fair, Inhofe can be courtly and good-natured, even in dialogue with those who think his views on climate change are based more on hallucination than on science. And maybe it’s in that spirit that he accepted my request for an interview on what he calls the climate “hoax.” On Friday November 17, 2034, at 10:30am ET, assuming we’re both alive, I’ll interview the ex-Senator on the occasion of his 100th birthday as to how the hoax is going.

Perhaps understandably, Inhofe’s announcement last week that he’s leaving the Senate at year’s end was a full fledged OMG. He’ll turn 88 before heading home to the only American state with an oil derrick on the Capitol’s front lawn.

Maybe he’ll take the time to notice that Oklahoma is the only state, as the hit Broadway musical tells us, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo credit: Joe Biden/Youtube

algoma steel sault pollution
Algoma Steel, pictured in 2020. (Credit: Christopher Katsarov Luna/EHN)

Cleaner steelmaking can’t come fast enough for this Northern Ontario city

Algoma Steel continues to exceed Canada’s standard air pollution limits for cancer-causing compounds and struggles with spills as it pushes toward a “green” makeover.

SAULT SAINTE MARIE, Mich. — Peter McLarty technically stopped teaching science in 2000. But the retired high school teacher continues to educate — only now it’s about the dangers of a massive steel-making plant in his Northern Ontario community.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
Global Plastic Treaty
The third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution negotiations were held in Nairobi, Kenya last November. (Credit: UNEP/Ahmed Nayim Yussuf)

This will be a big year in shaping the future of chemical recycling

With a presidential election looming, a wave of state-level legislation circulating, an international plastics treaty taking form and fights brewing over proposed facilities, 2024 is set to shape the regulatory future of chemical recycling in the U.S.

Keep reading...Show less
plastic chemical recycling
Credit: Unsplash+

What is chemical recycling?

When you think about plastic recycling, you probably picture plastic being converted into shiny new bottles, boxes and bags.
Keep reading...Show less
groundwater conservation aquifer depletion
Credit: kaninw/BigStockPhotos ID: 430959740

Recent court rulings bolster state power to safeguard groundwater

In a significant shift, western states are gaining ground in the battle to conserve their precious groundwater resources.

Christopher Flavelle reports for The New York Times.

Keep reading...Show less
preserving language amid climate change
Credit: Larry Lamsa/Flickr

The struggle to preserve North Sami language amid climate change

In a warming Arctic, the North Sami language, rich in specialized terms for snow, reindeer and fishing, faces the loss of words and knowledge integral to the Sami people's heritage.

Erika Benke reports for the BBC.

Keep reading...Show less
EPA power plant pollution rules
Credit: The White House/Flickr

EPA revises its approach to regulating natural gas plant emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency delays implementing emissions regulations for existing natural gas plants, opting for a more comprehensive review to include more pollutants.

Matthew Daly reports for the Associated Press.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
petrochemical shell pennsylvania plastic

Tracking petrochemical accidents across the US

A new database monitors fires, flares, spills and other accidents at petrochemical plants.

petrochemical houston gulf coast

Lives “devastated’ by petrochemical industry pollution in Texas: Report

New analysis illustrates the climate, environmental, and human rights tolls linked to petrochemical production surrounding the Houston Ship Channel region.

LNG gulf coast

LNG production comes with a price, Gulf Coast communities warn

US takes the global lead on liquid natural gas production and export, as economic promises and environmental worries collide.

LNG gulf coast

La producción de gas natural licuado tiene un precio, advierten las comunidades la Costa del Golfo

Entre promesas económicas y preocupaciones ambientales, Estados Unidos lidera la producción y exportación de gas natural licuado.

Ante la expansión del GNL en la costa del Golfo, la comunidad espera erigirse como un muro de contención

Ante la expansión del GNL en la costa del Golfo, la comunidad espera erigirse como un muro de contención

“La gente no sabe qué haríamos sin el petróleo y el gas. Esto nos sale muy caro”.

extreme heat

Op-ed: We are undercounting heat-related deaths in the US

Knowing how many people die or get sick from heat-related causes is essential for the policy arguments to equitably adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.