Who’s going to save the world?

The 2024 election is the most important in the history of the climate

Morning world-savers, and welcome back to one5c. Tomorrow’s Election Day in the U.S., so this is our final reminder to VOTE. Remember: The climate is always on the ballot, and local government is individual action multiplied. Get in the habit, because next year it’s on—and I’m not talking about the White House. Every seat in the House of Representatives is up for grabs, 33 out of 100 senators are cycling through, 44 state legislatures will hold elections, and 11 states and two territories will pick governors. Plus, there are countless mayoral, judicial, and executive jobs going to the polls. 

These elections all contain stories that may be localized but that reveal patterns anyone can detect closer to home: greenwashing, exploitation by fossil fuel companies, and more. That’s why I’m excited to introduce our newest one5c contributor, Glorie Martinez, and our new series Who’s going to save the world? which will surface local tales that tip big change. First up, she’s introducing us to an Idaho congressman with a smashing plan for the Pacific Northwest’s dams.

If you like what we’re up to, forward this email to someone spoilin’ for a fight in 2024. —Corinne

White hydrogen, at times, feels about as tangible as this rendering. Audio und werbung/Shutterstock

Scientists found ‘white hydrogen.’ Here’s what that means

The hydrogen rainbow has gotten a lot of attention recently thanks to a $43 billion investment from the federal government. Our primer sorts through the most common kinds, from questionable gray to maybe-better blue to clean green. One hue we didn’t cover is the rare and potentially climate-saving white hydrogen, also sometimes called gold. Once thought to not exist, white hydrogen has been uncovered sparingly across the globe, including in the Lorraine region of France last week. When burned, it produces only water, which would make it an ideal substitute for fossil fuels in steelmaking, aviation, and other industries. This solution may sound like a panacea, but we don’t know if there’s enough out there to meet our needs, and companies have got to start digging for it to find out. 

MIT teaches mediation for renewable development drama

Not everyone wants to throw celebratory ribbon cuttings for new wind turbines or solar panels, especially the people who live near development projects. There’s a range of reasons for their objections—from concerns about environmental justice to misinformation. A first-of-its-kind course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is teaching students the crucial, and often forgotten, art of mediation, specifically in the context of renewable energy development. The new MIT Renewable Energy Clinic focuses on bringing communities and developers together to prevent long-term conflicts, even if that means slowing down timelines. Their thesis: Looking at the future of renewable energy from the viewpoints of all impacted parties is crucial for an equitable, empathetic, and sustainable future.

The zero-waste gadget you already own

If you’ve noticed way more people talkin’ and TikTokin’ about food waste of late, that’s because a new analysis from Project Drawdown ID’d getting a grip on our edible rubbish as the No. 1 way individuals can combat the climate crisis. This is great news, because most of us already have the gadget we need to make this happen, and it’s a freezer. Over the last two weeks, our hungry compatriots over at Cool Beans have been rolling out a series called Cookin’ with Ice.The suite of super-cool stories breaks down everything you need to know to get the most out of your cold storage: from the science of beating freezer burn, to ice’s tasty impact on tofu, to the unsung hero that is the ice cube tray.  

ExxonMobil’s ‘advanced’ recycling is probably pretty trashy

When you’re done with your plastic, what does it become? Typically, mechanical recycling breaks it down to eventually form another plastic thing. However, newer chemical-based methods can break down plastic into its basic chemical building blocks, which should mean it can be used just like any virgin plastic. That’s what ExxonMobil says is happening at its Texas recycling center; however, a new investigation from Inside Climate News has found a dirtier end: At least some of the plastics going into the facility come out as transportation fuels, which operate more or less like virgin fossil fuels—emitting nasty pollutants when burned. That fact, along with unanswered questions about where said plastic comes from and Exxon’s climate crisis-fueling history, has left experts and locals wary. 

Mic-drop climate stat

This Idaho congressman has a dam plan

The Lower Granite Dam is marked for demo in Rep. Simpson’s plan. davidrh/Shutterstock

The Candidate

Mike Simpson, the congressional incumbent in Idaho’s District 2, wants to save the Pacific Northwest’s struggling salmon and steelhead populations. His proposal, dubbed the Columbia Basin Initiative, would breach four dams along the Snake River, which flows through Idaho, Washington, and Oregon—while balancing the challenges demolition poses to renewable energy in the region.

The Issue

Once abundant, Snake River salmon and steelhead now face extinction, and the four dams on the lower Snake River are their biggest threat. The structures block access to some of the fish’s best spawning and nursery habitat in the lower 48 states. Since the dams went up in the 1970s, local salmon populations have dropped by more than 90%

Nearly 140 species rely on fish from the Columbia Basin region—as do fisherman and Indigenous communities. Five local tribes signed treaties in the mid-1800s that guaranteed them the right to harvest fish on their own lands, agreements threatened by dwindling amounts of swimmers. 

Over the last 30 years, the Northwest has spent more than $17 billion on recovery efforts—including habitat restoration and hatcheries—with little success. Now, NOAA and the American Fisheries Society agree that the Snake River dams must go for populations to survive. 

Even though Simpson’s plan aligns with a report from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray, breaching requires federal approval. Simpson was unsuccessful in getting the project into the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but the Biden administration has pledged $200 million to help restore salmon and steelhead. What they haven’t done, though, is explicitly endorse destroying the dams. 

Hydroelectric power is a major energy source in the Northwest. The Snake River dams alone generate about 900 megawatts during an average year, and can deliver up to 2,300 megawatts in moments of peak demand—like the extreme heat wave in 2021. To address the loss, Simpson’s plan taps other nearby dams as a safeguard, and includes $10 billion for other clean energy projects, like renewable battery storage, and wind and solar facilities.

The Bigger Picture

The initiative has become a rallying point among environmentalists and community members, and has echoes nationwide. Hydropower makes up an increasingly small portion of U.S. energy, and dams are coming down across the country: More than 2,000 have been felled since the early 1900s, 65 came down just last year, and groups are eyeing some 30,000 more. There’s no shortage of success stories following removals, from improved water quality to bolstered habitat. 

In addition to ecological benefits, downing dams may also reduce emissions. Recent research published in Nature Geoscience found that the structures, particularly those connected to reservoirs, may be big emitters. In fact, some of the bodies of water may actually spurt about double the carbon they bury in the sediment beneath them.