Heroes Come And Go, Climate Change Marches On

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For all their tough-on-carbon rhetoric, Governor Jerry Brown, of California, and other leaders are ignoring a key component of the fight against global warming. Photograph by Lukas Schulze / Getty

The song Kermit used to sing was cute. Until it was no longer cute. Saying it is not easy is a vast understatement in an era when bombast reigns. Bill McKibben, who we probably highlight more in these pages than any other single author, reminds us of this every time we read what he has to say. If you can call it a luxury, McKibben is more free to speak truth to power than a normally standup politician, who sometimes will take a position that pure activists are correct to oppose. Case in point, here is an erstwhile leader who pure activists will not allow to have it both ways:

Why Governor Jerry Brown Was Booed at the Bonn Climate Summit

Spare a little pity for Jerry Brown. The California governor has been standing up admirably to Donald Trump on many issues, but especially on climate change—even threatening to launch scientific satellites to replace the ones that Washington wants to ground. This week, he’s in Bonn, Germany, at the global climate talks, spearheading the drive to show that America’s states and cities have not forsaken the promises made last year in Paris. On Saturday, barely a minute into his big prime-time talk, Brown was rewarded for his pains with booing. He was visibly startled when demonstrators interrupted his speech and began chanting, “Keep it in the ground!” Continue reading

Carbon Engineering, Bill Gates, And Long-Shot Answers To Climate Change

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Carbon-dioxide removal could be a trillion-dollar enterprise, because it not only slows the rise in CO2 but reverses it. Photo-Illustration by Thomas Albdorf for The New Yorker

If you read the caption to the photo above, and then the first sentence of the story it headlines, you could come away with the thrilling sense that there is an entrepreneurial opportunity associated with climate change. There is something reassuring about the fact that Bill Gates has made some bets in this realm. Pasted below is also the last paragraph of the story. We recommend reading the whole long-form reporting that goes in between:

Can Carbon-Dioxide Removal Save the World?

CO2 could soon reach levels that, it’s widely agreed, will lead to catastrophe.

Biogenics In The 21st Century

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A wood stove burns with pellet fuel. Photo © U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr through a CC BY 2.0 license

Thanks to Cool Green Science for this reminder about the use of wood and related biomass as fuel throughout human history, and its implications for today’s climate change challenges:

As long as the Clean Power Plan is still in place, electric utilities are looking for ways to clean up their carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere and prevent global changes in climate. Some utilities are switching to natural gas, which emits lower amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of energy generated. However, natural gas is not without its own problems.

Humans used firewood for thousands of years, during a period with little change in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. So some utilities are looking toward the burning of wood, also known as biomass or biogenic energy, to generate power. This is an interesting “throw back” to an earlier time when firewood was used widely for heat, light, and early industrial processes. But, there is a reason why we switched to coal, which has greater energy content per unit weight.

It is natural to think that burning firewood would have a minor effect on atmospheric CO2. Continue reading

Environmental Leadership Born Of Cold-Eyed Pragmatism

Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown, Texas, says the decision to source all the town’s energy from renewable resources was based in cold-eyed pragmatism. Photograph: Katie Hayes Luke for the Guardian

This is what America’s eco city of the future looks like

Georgetown mayor Dale Ross is ‘a good little Republican’ – but ever since his city weaned itself off fossil fuels, he has become a hero to environmentalists Continue reading

Britain’s Windfalls

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Thanks to the Guardian for this update on the current state of the art of wind power, and it is good to see Britain in the lead:

Wild is the wind: the resource that could power the world

Wind isn’t just mysterious, destructive and exhilarating – capturing just 2% of it would solve the planet’s energy needs at a stroke. And as the windiest country in Europe, Britain is at the forefront of this green revolution Continue reading

Climate Change Primer

Illustrations by JON HAN

Once again we thank NYTimes Science writer Justin Gillis for this primer on a complex and politically weighty issue.

Climate Change Is Complex. We’ve
Got Answers to Your Questions.

We know. Global warming is daunting. So here’s a place to start: 17 often-asked questions with some straightforward answers.

1.Climate change? Global warming? What do we call it?

Both are accurate, but they mean different things.

You can think of global warming as one type of climate change. The broader term covers changes beyond warmer temperatures, such as shifting rainfall patterns.

President Trump has claimed that scientists stopped referring to global warming and started calling it climate change because “the weather has been so cold” in winter. But the claim is false. Scientists have used both terms for decades.

2.How much is the Earth heating up?

Two degrees is more significant than it sounds.

As of early 2017, the Earth had warmed by roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit (more than 1 degree Celsius) since 1880, when records began at a global scale. The number may sound low, but as an average over the surface of an entire planet, it is actually high, which explains why much of the world’s land ice is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, scientists say, the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would undermine the planet’s capacity to support a large human population.

3.What is the greenhouse effect, and
how does it cause global warming?

We’ve known about it for more than a century. Really.

In the 19th century, scientists discovered that certain gases in the air trap and slow down heat that would otherwise escape to space. Carbon dioxide is a major player; without any of it in the air, the Earth would be a frozen wasteland. The first prediction that the planet would warm as humans released more of the gas was made in 1896. The gas has increased 43 percent above the pre-industrial level so far, and the Earth has warmed by roughly the amount that scientists predicted it would.

Continue reading

Chile Finds A Better Path To Renewable Energy

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The first geothermal energy plant in South America is in Cerro Pabellón, Chile, 14,760 feet above sea level, surrounded by volcanoes. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

Chile’s near catastrophe with hydroelectric energy, averted in part thanks to the efforts of friends in the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign, made us wonder whether Chile’s path to a greener future would be straight and narrow. Thanks to the New York Times and Ernesto Londoño we think we have strong evidence helping us with the answer:

Chile’s Energy Transformation Is Powered by Wind, Sun and Volcanoes

CERRO PABELLÓN, Chile — It looks and functions much like an oil drilling rig. As it happens, several of the men in thick blue overalls and white helmets who operate the hulking machine once made a living pumping crude.

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A worker inspecting solar panels in the Atacama Desert in Chile, one of the driest and sunniest places on Earth. The sun is so strong there that workers must wear protective suits and slather on thick layers of sunscreen. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

With the ability to power roughly 165,000 homes, the new plant is yet another step in Chile’s clean energy transformation. This nation’s rapidly expanding clean energy grid, which includes vast solar fields and wind farms, is one of the most ambitious in a region that is decisively moving beyond fossil fuels.

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Wind turbines in the Atacama Desert and other turbines along Chile’s 2,653-mile coast contribute to power to national grid. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

Latin America already has the world’s cleanest electricity, having long relied on dams to generate a large share of its energy needs, according to the World Bank.

But even beyond those big hydropower projects, investment in renewable energy in Latin America has increased 11-fold since 2004, nearly double the global rate, according to a 2016 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization. Chile, Mexico and Brazil are now among the top 10 renewable energy markets in the world.

Chile3So as Latin America embraces greener energy sources, government officials and industry executives in the region have expressed a sense of confusion, even bewilderment, with the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the climate changecommitments contained in the Paris Agreement, declare an end to the “war on coal” and take aim at American environmental regulations. Continue reading

California Leading On Climate

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Dairy cows in Fresno County, Calif. Some of the reductions in a state proposal to reduce emissions would come from curbing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from manure piles at dairy farms. Credit Scott Smith/Associated Press

We appreciate California’s heroic measures to take responsibility and show leadership where it can on climate change:

Over the past decade, California has passed a sweeping set of climate laws to test a contentious theory: that it’s possible to cut greenhouse gas emissions far beyond what any other state has done and still enjoy robust economic growth.

Now that theory faces its biggest test yet. Last August, the State Legislature set a goal of slashing emissions more than 40 percent below today’s levels by 2030, a far deeper cut than President Barack Obama proposed for the entire United States and deeper than most other countries have contemplated.

So how will California pull this off? Continue reading

Model Mad, Mayors

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Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh, left, and Mayor Ann Hidalgo, of Paris, are outspoken supporters of the Paris climate accord. Credit Justin Merriman for The New York Times (Peduto); Christophe Ena/Associated Press

She has been featured in these pages due to her creative approach to governance more than once. We are happy to see Ann Hidalgo again, this time providing another example of the “don’t just get angry–do something with creative ferocity” ethos implied in these constant observations of model mad. And we are especially grateful for the joint commentary with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who we hope to see more of:

…Though separated by an ocean and a language, we share a desire to do what is best for our citizens and our planet. That means putting aside parochial politics and embracing the global challenge of fighting climate change. In doing so, we can create a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous world for Parisians, Pittsburghers and everyone else on the planet. Continue reading

Climate, Agriculture & Disruption

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Journalist Chris Clayton writes for an audience filled with climate skeptics: farmers and leaders of agricultural businesses. He’s telling them that a changing climate will disrupt their lives. Courtesy of Chris Clayton

From the salt over at National Public Radio (USA), here is an interview in keeping with the spirit of yesterday’s post on peaches:

…Clayton is a Midwesterner and agricultural policy editor at DTN/The Progressive Farmer. He’s also the author of The Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Climate Change, which describes in detail how farmers and farm lobbyists have dealt — or, more often, refused to deal — with a changing climate.

It has sometimes put Clayton in an awkward spot, as he acknowledged when I reached him this week in his office in Omaha, Neb.

Does it make you nervous, as a reporter at a farm publication, talking about climate change?

All the time. I feel like the guy who has to tell people things they don’t want to hear. But if I simply ignore the topic or ignore the issues, am I doing anybody any favors? Continue reading

Model Mad, Mechanism

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In this era, when saying no in creative manner has been raised to an art form, we remain on the lookout for model mad; but it does not have to be creative or novel. If there is an established machinery to utilize, utilize it! Here is an example. We are not surprised that, when asked, people say they want their environment protected, nonetheless we are pleasantly surprised that the “system” such as it is continues to even ask:

Public To EPA On Cutting Regulations: ‘No!’

As part of President Trump’s executive order to review “job-killing regulations,” the Environmental Protection Agency last month asked for the public’s input on what to streamline or cut. It held a series of open-mic meetings and set up a website that has received more than 28,000 comments, many of which urge the agency not to roll back environmental protections. Continue reading

Environmentalism, It’s Just Good Business

Solar panels at the Googleplex, headquarters of Google in Mountain View, Calif. Its data centers worldwide will run entirely on renewable energy by the end of this year, the technology giant announced in December. Credit Smith Collection/Gado, via Getty Images

Although the current administration may be cloaking themselves in a fog of denial, we’re happy to read that much of corporate America is staying the course of their own emissions goals.

Nearly half of the Fortune 500 biggest companies in the United States have now set targets to shrink their carbon footprints, according to a report published Tuesday by environmental organizations that monitor corporate emissions pledges. Twenty-five more companies adopted climate targets over the last two years, the groups said.

Almost two dozen companies, including Google, Walmart and Bank of America, have pledged to power their operations with 100 percent renewable energy, with varying deadlines, compared with just a handful in 2015. Google’s data centers worldwide will run entirely on renewable energy by the end of this year, the technology giant announced in December.

“We believe that climate change is real, and it’s a severe crisis,” said Gary Demasi, who directs Google’s energy strategy. “We’re not deviating from our goals.” Continue reading

Model Mad, Down Under

John Church in Hobart in September 2010. He is known internationally for helping to bring statistical and analytical rigor to longstanding questions about sea level rise. Credit Peter Boyer

We continue to keep our eyes open for stories that offer inspiration even in the face of apparent adversity.

A Parable From Down Under for U.S. Climate Scientists

HOBART, TASMANIA — John A. Church, a climate scientist, did not look or sound like a man who had recently been shoved out of a job.

Speaking softly and downing coffee at an outdoor cafe in this old port city, he sounded more like a fellow fresh off a jousting match. “I think we had a win — a bigger win than I ever anticipated,” Dr. Church said in an interview last month.

Australian climate science went through an upheaval last year, one that engaged the press and the public in defending the importance of basic research. In the end, Dr. Church did indeed lose his job, but scores of his colleagues who had been marked for layoffs did not. Some of them view him as having sacrificed his career to save theirs.

What happened in Australia shows the power of an informed citizenry keeping watch on its government. And it may turn out to be a precursor to an attack on fundamental climate research in the United States.

Continue reading

Optimal Mangrove

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Photo: NASA

Thanks to Anthropocene’s Brandon Keim for the summary and insights from  Mangroves optimized: How to make coastal habitats sequester even more carbon:

Of all the carbon buried in the floors of Earth’s oceans, most of it is found in the narrow strip of tidal marshes, seagrass beds, and mangroves along their edge. Known as blue carbon ecosystems, these vegetated coastal habitats “occupy only 0.2% of the ocean surface, yet contribute 50% of the total amount of carbon buried in marine sediments,” write researchers, led by Deakin University ecologist Peter Macreadie, in the journal Frontiers in Ecology in the Environment. Meter for meter, they’re some of the most effective carbon storage systems we have. But could people make them even more effective? Continue reading

The Honeymoon Is Over

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‘But when it comes to the defining issue of our day, climate change, he’s a brother to the fat old guy in DC.’ Photograph: Sean Kilpatrick/AP

Bill McKibben, tireless fighter for causes we believe in, editorializes with no affection for the man who not long ago seemed to be the embodiment of all that was better about the North American neighbor of the country that elected a man who effectively campaigned against environmental protection. We thought this one was different; we were wrong. We avoid political news, but we do not hide from, nor hide, a clear argument calling out horrific policy:

Stop swooning over Justin Trudeau. The man is a disaster for the planet

Donald Trump is a creep and unpleasant to look at, but at least he’s not a stunning hypocrite when it comes to climate change Continue reading

Dismantling Protection, Effectively & Efficiently

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How is it that an Administration as disorganized as Donald Trump’s has been so methodical when it comes to attacking the environment? PHOTOGRAPH BY JOE RAEDLE / GETTY

I committed myself to not name the name, because it adds fuel to a flame that is already out of control. But if you have read any of the posts in our model mad series the name is clearly implied.  Plenty of others name so well that it is best just to link their work. One of the best namer of names when it comes to our environment, and failure to protect it, is Elizabeth Kolbert. She occasionally points out that we do not simply fail to protect, but willingly allow the named to dismantle critical protections. We are sadly impressed that Dame Doomsday doesn’t disappoint with her latest contribution:

Next week, millions of Americans will celebrate Earth Day, even though, three months into Donald Trump’s Presidency, there sure isn’t much to celebrate. A White House characterized by flaming incompetence has nevertheless managed to do one thing effectively: it has trashed years’ worth of work to protect the planet. As David Horsey put it recently, in the Los Angeles Times, “Donald Trump’s foreign policy and legislative agenda may be a confused mess,” but “his administration’s attack on the environment is operating with the focus and zeal of the Spanish Inquisition.” Continue reading

Footprint Improvements

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Believe it or not, there is some good news out there on the carbon footprint trail. Thanks to Mathis Wackernagel, whose work I have appreciated even without posting more since 2011, and to his whole team for sharing this:

Ecological Footprint Explorer Open Data Platform Launches April 5, 2017

The US per capita Ecological Footprint dropped nearly 20% during the last eight years of available data (2005 and 2013), a total reduction that matches the entire Footprint of Germany. Continue reading

No Forestry? No Way

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A caged songbird overlooks a logging yard in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Justine E. Hausheer)

Thanks to Justine E. Hausheer for Modeling Logging’s Impacts on Biodiversity & Carbon in a Hypothetical Forest over at Cool Green Science:

Tropical forests are widely celebrated for their biodiversity and increasingly recognized for their carbon sequestration potential. But what’s less often acknowledged is halting logging entirely will make climate change worse, as wood is one of the most sustainable building materials.

So how can conservationists help nations meet the demand for wood products and protect forests, while minimizing both biodiversity loss and carbon emissions? Continue reading

Carbon, Climate, Concern & Confusion

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Americans love clean energy and climate policies. Photograph: Alamy

 Odd, but noteworthy (thanks to the Guardian for this article its environment section):

There’s broad support for climate policies in every state and county, but Americans view global warming as a distant problem

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication published the findings of its 2016 survey on American public opinion about climate change. The results are interesting – in some ways confusing – and yet they reveal surprisingly broad support for action to address climate change. The Yale team created a tool with which the results can be broken down by state, congressional district, or county to drill down into the geographic differences in Americans’ climate beliefs. Continue reading