Turns out I’m not the only one itching for more movies and TV shows dealing with global warming.

Hillary Clinton feels the same way.

The former U.S. secretary of State — who received 2.8 million more votes than Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election but lost to Trump because of an electoral college system that was written into the U.S. Constitution in part to persuade slave states to approve the governing document — spoke last week at an Environmental Media Assn. event in West Hollywood.

Clinton talked about one of her family foundation’s latest initiatives, a guide for Hollywood screenwriters and producers looking to include climate themes in their films and shows. The guide is focused on stories about children, who are especially vulnerable to higher temperatures, bigger fires, stronger storms and other fossil fueled harms because their brains, lungs and other organs are still developing — and because disruptions to their mental and emotional development can have long-lasting effects.

“Extreme heat has very serious consequences on pregnant women, on infants, on babies, on toddlers,” Clinton said Wednesday. “We know that the pollution from wildfires, something that you’re all too familiar with here, has respiratory consequences — and most severely on children. [We know] what that means for the development of asthma and other respiratory conditions.”

There’s science backing up those assertions.

The day after Clinton’s remarks, my L.A. Times colleague Hayley Smith wrote about new research finding a significant increase in the odds of preterm birth — which can lead to health complications — during heat waves, and an increase in the odds of preterm birth as Earth heats up overall. More air pollution also resulted in more preterm births and more congenital anomalies.

Extreme heat and low air quality “were associated with a number of issues, including gestational diabetes and other hypertensive pregnancy disorders, miscarriage, stillbirth and increased risk of hospitalization for newborns and infants,” Hayley wrote.

May 2024, meanwhile, marked 12 straight months of record-breaking heat globally, as Hayley reports. And there’s another new study concluding that tiny particles in wildfire smoke contributed to at least 52,000 premature deaths in California over a decade — and that was before the summer the sky turned orange. And climate pollution keeps accumulating in the atmosphere.

It’s scary enough to read on your phone or computer screen. Do you really need to see it on Disney+ or Amazon’s Prime Video?

Depends on how the writers, actors and directors handle it, if you ask me.

Most of us watch films and shows about less-than-happy topics — war, heartbreak, loss, the tragicomic existence of life behind a desk in a faceless bureaucracy. We seek out these stories not because we enjoy suffering but because they make us feel seen.

What’s stopping Hollywood studios from doing the same with the climate crisis, and with climate solutions?

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the Environmental Media Assn. summit in West Hollywood on June 5, along with Gloria Calderón Kellett, right, and Anna Jane Joyner, second from right.

(Environmental Media Assn.)

One of the panelists who shared the stage with Clinton at the Environmental Media Assn. summit has already done it.

Writer and producer Gloria Calderón Kellett, who was a co-showrunner on the Netflix sitcom “One Day at a Time,” discussed the climate messaging she slipped into the show — usually by having characters model climate-friendly, cost-saving behaviors, such as using glass water bottles, having solar panels on their roofs and eating leftovers that would otherwise go to a landfill.

“Because I am the child of immigrants, we were green before it was cool to be green. It’s called being poor. Washing aluminum foil? We did,” Calderón Kellett said. “My daughter thinks it’s way cooler to go to Goodwill than to do fast fashion.”

That was key to the story, she added — it centered on an immigrant family, so those actions were organic to the characters. Climate didn’t feel shoehorned in. When teenage Elena, a social justice warrior, dressed up as climate activist Greta Thunberg for Halloween — with Elena’s significant other in costume as a melting iceberg — it felt natural, not like a lesson in morality.

“It is such a part of the immigrant experience,” Calderón Kellett said.

Clinton, through her foundation, wants to make it easier for other showrunners to tell similar stories.

“When you think about the effects of climate change, please think about children,” she said.

The people who make “Sesame Street” are thinking along similar lines. As I reported last month, Sesame Workshop — the New York nonprofit behind the beloved puppet show — is working with global charity Save the Children to raise $500,000 to develop programming that would help kids and their families learn to cope with climate disasters, and educate them about solutions.

But on the whole, the entertainment industry has been slow to enter the climate era.

An analysis from USC researchers and nonprofit consulting firm Good Energy found that less than 3% of scripted movies and TV episodes from 2016 through 2020 so much as mentioned global warming, or a long list related keywords. Another analysis from Colby College and Good Energy found that of 250 of the most popular films of the last decade, not even 10% passed the Climate Reality Check, which measures whether a story or its characters acknowledge that climate change is happening.

Anna Jane Joyner, Good Energy’s founder and chief executive, joined Clinton on stage at the summit. Joyner has heard from many screenwriters that “their own anxiety about their own carbon footprint was making them feel like they couldn’t authentically write about” climate. As in, because they drive a gasoline car or use plastic straws, it’s not fair for them to write about the crisis.

That’s an attitude she’s trying to help storytellers overcome.

“It is not our fault that we were born into this economic system,” Joyner said.

Words to live by. Words to tell stories about.

On that note, here’s what’s happening around the West:

THE ENERGY TRANSITION

A Joshua tree

Joshua trees are being removed for a solar farm in Boron, Calif. This 25-foot specimen is 150 to 200 years old.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

My column last week arguing that it’s not always crazy to tear down Joshua trees for a solar project certainly struck a nerve.

I was inundated by criticism on social media, some of it from far-right climate skeptics — including the press secretary for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — whom I suspect don’t actually care about Joshua trees, and some from liberal conservationists, who clearly care deeply about protecting treasured ecosystems but nonetheless don’t seem to have come to terms with the fact that climate change now poses a bigger threat to those ecosystems than the traditional enemy, industrial development.

I don’t mean to defend the particular solar farm that prompted my column, which I haven’t explored in depth. I also don’t mean to dismiss the value of using less energy. The more we can slow our ever-growing demand for electricity — by reusing rather than pretending to recycle, by taking public transit rather than driving electric cars, by refusing to cede more control over our lives to the artificial intelligence overlords — the fewer big solar farms we’ll need to complement the solar panels on our roofs.

But the trade-offs between renewable energy development and conservation aren’t magically going away. Not with 8 billion people on planet Earth, and a fossil fuel addiction to kick in the next few years. Not without risking total catastrophe.

Hence the need for uncomfortable conversations. Hence my provocative column.

So I’m sympathetic to the difficult choices faced by the Biden administration, which is poised to approved 241 wind turbines near a World War II-era Japanese American prison camp in Idaho — far fewer than the 400 turbines sought by the Lava Ridge project’s developer, but still a decision seen as a betrayal by conservationists and defenders of Minidoka National Historic Site, per Murphy Woodhouse at Boise State Public Radio. For background, see this story I wrote last year, after visiting the site in Idaho.

I’m also sympathetic to the Native American tribes and conservationists who keep trying to stop construction of portions of a $10-billion transmission line known as SunZia, which will help carry wind energy from New Mexico to California but could harm sacred landscapes. Opponents just suffered another courtroom defeat, as Susan Montoya Bryan reports for the Associated Press.

Nuclear power advocates note that reactors use a lot less land than solar and wind farms. They’re right, although the politics of nuclear are frustratingly complicated. Just see the latest Diablo Canyon-related dispute, as reported by the Sacramento Bee’s Ari Plachta. Gov. Gavin Newsom wants lawmakers to approve another $400 million for Pacific Gas & Electric to help keep the power plant open; legislative leaders are balking. Diablo Canyon, as a reminder, is California’s single largest electricity source.

Less controversial is the U.S. Department of Energy’s plan to put solar projects on former nuclear weapons sites, including several in the West. The department is close to approving two projects at Idaho National Laboratory, Electrek’s Michelle Lewis writes.

Also less controversial — “virtual power plants” that link up thousands of home solar and battery systems, limiting the need for larger infrastructure. Alas, one of Newsom’s solutions to California’s budget deficit is to slash virtual power plant funding.

As Canary Media’s Jeff St. John reports, the governor wants to cut hundreds of millions of dollars to finance small-scale batteries and pay utility customers to use less power. This comes after Newsom’s administration has already gutted subsidies for rooftop and other small-scale solar — while also paying hundreds of millions of dollars for new gas-fired power plants in the San Joaquin Valley, to make sure the state can avoid rolling blackouts in the evening, as the Modesto Bee’s John Holland reports.

Something’s not quite right in California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom stands with solar panels in the background

Gov. Gavin Newsom visits a solar energy and battery storage facility in Winters, Calif., in April.

(Office of Gov. Gavin Newsom)

Let’s discuss one more strategy that could limit — although not eliminate — the need for new infrastructure.

It would involve linking up the 38 separately operated power grids of the Western U.S. (and small pieces of Mexico and Canada), thus making it easier to move solar and wind energy around without building new electric wires. If the sun is shining late into the evening in California, for instance, we could send that power east, to states where it’s already dark. Or if it’s windy in New Mexico, California could import that cheap energy on a hot evening after sundown, averting the need to crank up gas plants here.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown tried to persuade the Legislature to approve bills that would have placed California in charge of making it happen. But some lawmakers pushed back, worried about giving too much power over the state’s energy mix to Republicans in Utah and Wyoming. There were similar concerns in Salt Lake City and Cheyenne about handing control to California.

Five-plus years after Brown left office, progress is finally being made toward a more unified Western electric grid, Canary Media’s Jeff St. John reports, thanks to a series of discussions led by state regulators. Still, nothing is a done deal. Obstacles remain.

“The sticking point? How to incorporate California … in a region where only some states share its clean energy goals — and where few utilities are eager to let the Golden State’s grid operator dictate how they do business,” St. John writes.

One key player in the Western grid talks? Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway owns several Western utility companies.

If you’re looking for reasons to be skeptical of California partnering with out-of-state utilities, Buffett might be Exhibit A.

On the whole, Berkshire’s utilities aren’t exactly climate champions. After pushing back the shutdown dates for several coal-fired power plants, Berkshire’s PacifiCorp utility is considering hiring a company formerly led by its CEO, Cindy Crane, to install carbon capture on one of those plants, as E&E News’ Jason Plautz and Carlos Anchondo report. It’s a move that critics call a giant conflict of interest, and also a flimsy excuse to keep burning the dirtiest fossil fuel instead of replacing it with renewable energy.

In other Berkshire news, the company announced last week that it’s partnering with oil drilling firm Occidental Petroleum, which has developed its own lithium mining technology, to try to extract the ultra-light metal — sometimes called “white gold” because it’s such a key ingredient in electric car batteries — from thousands of feet beneath Southern California’s Salton Sea. Berkshire is one of three companies that have been trying for years to strike gold at the Salton Sea, as I explained in a 2021 story.

Anyway — lots of progress, lots of pain, as per usual.

Two more energy stories that caught my attention:

  • The U.S. has built a lot more solar projects since President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022. But the pace of wind energy development has actually dropped. What’s going on? (Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich, New York Times)
  • Forty-four years ago, a federally funded research lab built the world’s largest solar project at Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument. It’s still there — a monument to the power of government investment. (Tim Fitzpatrick, Salt Lake Tribune)

POLITICAL CLIMATE

A statue of oil workers on Signal Hill

A statue of oil workers on Signal Hill overlooking Long Beach, where there’s a long history of oil drilling.

(Linda Edgar)

Let’s sort this week’s political news into three sections — the good, the bad and the “not sure yet.”

We’ll get the bad out of the way first:

  • The L.A. County city of Signal Hill, originally created in part as a tax haven for oil drillers, hired a consulting firm with close ties to the oil industry to study the health consequences of 20 years of additional drilling. (Liza Gross, Inside Climate News)
  • As storms get worse because of climate change, unhoused people living in flood control channels are uniquely vulnerable — and many local governments in Southern California aren’t doing much to help them stay safe. (Erin Rode, High Country News)
  • GOP House Speaker Mike Johnson has allowed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to expire without a vote, preventing many former uranium workers with cancer from getting federal healthcare funding. (Arlyssa D. Becenti, Arizona Republic)

Now, the good:

  • Following a vote by Southern California officials, oil refineries and other major polluters will no longer be able to avoid paying millions of dollars in fees for their lung-damaging emissions, as they have for many years. (Tony Briscoe, L.A. Times)
  • Southern California officials also voted to require homes and businesses to switch from gas-fired to electric pool and tankless water heaters over the next three decades — a significant win for climate and clean air. (Tony Briscoe, L.A. Times)
  • The election of Claudia Sheinbaum — a climate scientist who spent four years at California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab — as Mexico’s president could mean great things for cross-border collaboration on global warming. (Blanca Begert, Politico)
  • President Biden’s American Climate Corps is hiring, with many jobs based in the West. (Brooke Larsen, High Country News)

And now, the “not sure yet”:

  • Oil and gas companies are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out dozens of lawsuits from California to Massachusetts seeking to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for climate damages. In an initial response, the justices — three of whom were appointed by President Trump — have asked the U.S. Justice Department to weigh in. (David G. Savage, L.A. Times)
  • California climate advocates are pushing for a bond as big as $10 billion on the November ballot. Will voters choose to invest in a stable climate, even with the state facing a large budget deficit? (Melody Petersen and Ian James, L.A. Times)
  • A new global regulation that reduced sulfur dioxide in shipping fuel may have saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the last few years due to reduced air pollution. It’s possible the rule also worsened global warming. (Hayley Smith, L.A. Times)

Last but not least, my colleague Ian James reported that a judge threw out a legal challenge from environmental groups to a big new reservoir planned for a valley north of Sacramento, to the delight of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who supports Sites Reservoir.

Good news or bad news? Depends on whether you think Sites is a good idea.

AROUND THE WEST

A view of the San Gabriel Mountains, on the trail to Millard Canyon Falls.

A view of the San Gabriel Mountains, on the trail to Millard Canyon Falls.

(Sammy Roth / Los Angeles Times)

I spent some time in a newly expanded section of California’s San Gabriel Mountains National Monument this weekend, hiking to Millard Canyon Falls. The views were spectacular. The gently flowing creek was restorative. The birds and lizards were fun.

It’s more important than ever to protect America’s public lands and waters — even as we work through the trade-offs I described earlier, such as the pressing need to build solar projects, wind turbines and power lines. Scientists say these places are crucial for humans, animals and plants, helping supply us with clean air and water, and also keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.

So I very much enjoyed this beautiful story by Marissa Ortega-Welch for High Country News about New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, which at the urging of Aldo Leopold became America’s first designated wilderness area 100 years ago. The story delves into what “wilderness” means — whether that word ever made sense, and how the definition is changing in an era of climate crisis.

A few other pieces of outdoors news and wisdom:

  • Good advice for hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts on protecting yourself from mosquitoes, which are spreading across Southern California and other new locations as the planet heats up due to fossil fuels. (Jaclyn Cosgrove, L.A. Times)
  • The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking emergency protections for Nevada’s Amargosa toad under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, citing proposed gold mines and possible groundwater withdrawals. (Alan Halaly, Las Vegas Review-Journal)
  • The National Park Service has proposed growing Yellowstone’s bison herd. (Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press)
  • “We’re not Beverly Hills… We don’t have much else but this beautiful canopy.” Another Southern California city, another nasty battle over whether to remove shady trees whose roots are (maybe) messing up sidewalks. (Lila Seidman, L.A. Times)

As long as we’re talking about public lands, let’s not forget about keeping our neighborhoods safe and healthy:

  • Following L.A. Times reporting, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Board has rejected Berkeley’s plan to test for radioactivity and banned pesticides including DDT at a park, saying the city must do better. (Tony Briscoe, L.A. Times)
  • What happens when an e-commerce warehouse takes over your neighborhood? You get displacement and air pollution, as well as jobs and investment, as residents of Southern California’s Inland Empire have learned. (Rebecca Plevin, L.A. Times)
  • Sempra Energy subsidiary Southern California Gas Co. is looking to test hydrogen blending in its fossil natural gas pipelines in a small Latino town near Fresno. Some residents aren’t thrilled, citing safety concerns. (Aaron Cantú, Capital & Main)

ONE MORE THING

A dog with a football in its mouth

Researchers have found microplastics in human and canine testes.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Microplastics are basically everywhere — including in human testicles.

If that sounds bad, well, it’s bad. Here’s the story from my L.A. Times colleague Susanne Rust.

“If this is what it takes to get people’s attention, I’m a bit sad. Because we already had enough evidence that plastics were bad for testicular function,” said Leonardo Trasande, a pediatrician and public policy expert at New York University.

Don’t forget that plastics are typically made from oil and gas. Don’t forget that recycling doesn’t work super well.

Also don’t forget that we can make healthier choices — not just using less plastic, but also eating differently. Take solace in a new study finding a link between a healthier diet and more sustainable foods, with longer life spans tied to lower climate pollution and reduced water use, as my L.A. Times colleague Karen Kaplan reports. More vegetables, fruits and nuts seems to help.

I haven’t totally cut plastics out of my life, or red meat. But a little less is better. We all have to start somewhere.

This column is the latest edition of Boiling Point, an email newsletter about climate change and the environment in California and the American West. You can sign up for Boiling Point here. And for more climate and environment news, follow @Sammy_Roth on X.



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