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Colorado works on an oil and gas well cleanup guarantee, but doubts loom

High Country News - Fri, 01/13/2023 - 01:00
The state’s financial assurance process called ‘the strongest in the nation.’
Categories: H. Green News

Exxon’s models predicting climate change were spot on — 40 years ago

Grist - Thu, 01/12/2023 - 11:18

In the early 1980s, America’s biggest company knew more about climate change than basically anyone else. Rising emissions posed a threat to Exxon’s business — selling fossil fuels — so the oil giant took the lead on understanding what was called the “CO2 problem.”

At the time, Exxon was pouring $900,000 a year into researching the effects of burning fossil fuels. It took an oil tanker, revamped it into a research vessel, then sent it on long journeys around the Atlantic Ocean to measure how the ocean was absorbing rising carbon dioxide emissions. In 1982, the company pivoted to a cheaper approach and directed its scientists to create mathematical models that calculated how rising carbon dioxide levels would change life on Earth in the coming decades. They turned out to be eerily accurate.

A study published in the journal Science on Thursday is the first to systematically measure how those models matched up against the real world. Researchers at Harvard University and the University of Potsdam in Germany found that Exxon’s estimates from 1977 to 2003 proved to be just as precise as those from independent academics and government scientists. Between 63 and 83 percent of Exxon’s projections, depending on how they’re measured, accurately predicted how the world would warm in the coming decades. The study could provide fresh support for lawsuits against ExxonMobil by quantifying just how well the company understood the threat of the climate crisis decades ago. 

“It kind of took my breath away when I actually plotted for the first time Exxon’s predictions, and you see them land so tightly around that red curve of reality,” said Geoffrey Supran, a co-author of the study who researched fossil fuel propaganda at Harvard and is now a professor of environmental science and policy at the University of Miami.

The chart below shows how global warming projections modeled by Exxon scientists compared to the actual temperature that ensued.

Grist / Jessie Blaeser

The study comes at a time when oil giants are under pressure to curb carbon pollution and prepare for a future powered by renewables like wind and solar. Activist shareholders have gained seats at oil companies including ExxonMobil, seeking to align their business strategies with the climate crisis. Harvard, Princeton, and other prominent universities are getting rid of investments in fossil fuels. With floods, fires, and smoke growing noticeably worse, a social reckoning is at hand: Young people are turning away from careers in the stigmatized oil and gas industry.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Exxon’s own scientists had warned that continuing to burn fossil fuels would lead to “catastrophic” and “irreversible” consequences. But starting in 1989, Exxon publicly dismissed its own findings. The company’s leadership cast doubt on the credibility of climate science, deriding models and emphasizing how “uncertainty” made them virtually useless. It’s part of a larger story about how many companies — including Shell, coal companies, and utilities — misled the public about climate change while their executives understood and downplayed the dangers of skyrocketing carbon emissions.

Evidence of this deception has become the basis for dozens of lawsuits against fossil fuel giants in recent years, with cities and states seeking to hold companies and governments responsible for damages from climate change. So far, most have failed, with some exceptions that force countries or companies to make deeper cuts to their carbon emissions

Supran suspects that the new quantitative evidence about what Exxon knew — and when — could prove to be compelling evidence in lawsuits. “I imagine that both in court, and then of course in public opinion, simple visuals proving Exxon knew and misled on climate may prove powerful,” Supran said.

The study finds other examples of how Exxon’s scientists foresaw the future. They accurately predicted that the scientific community would become confident that human-caused global warming was underway around the year 2000, the median estimate of nearly a dozen speculative reports Exxon conducted 15 to 20 years earlier. 

Exxon’s researchers also rejected the prospect of an impending ice age, a notion that was popular in news headlines in the 1970s, though not backed by many scientists. They also accurately forecasted how much carbon dioxide could be emitted while keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F).

But Exxon’s public stance remained hostile to any public discussion of that same research. The company’s leadership and marketing team worked to create a cloud of confusion around climate science. In 2001, an ExxonMobil press release argued that there was “no consensus about long-term climate trends and what causes them.” In a 2004 New York Times advertisement, the company stated that “scientific uncertainties continue to limit our ability to make objective, quantitative determinations regarding the human role in recent climate change.” The following year, Lee Raymond, then ExxonMobil’s CEO, blamed sunspots and the wobble of the Earth for global warming during a PBS interview, claiming that scientists didn’t know if humans played a role in changing the climate.

Activists rally outside of the New York State Attorney General’s office to support the state’s investigation into whether Exxon covered up its knowledge about climate change, February 22, 2017. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The latest study focused on Exxon because of its well-documented climate research program — which resulted in the largest public collection of global warming projections from a single company — and because of its long record of challenging climate science. Between 1998 and 2019, Exxon gave more than $37 million to organizations that sought to sow confusion about the scientific consensus around climate change and obstruct efforts by governments to take action.

In response to the study, ExxonMobil spokesperson Todd Spitler said that “those who talk about how ‘Exxon Knew’ are wrong in their conclusions.” He cited a ruling from a 2019 court case involving Exxon, in which a judge said that the New York State Attorney General had failed to provide enough evidence that Exxon broke the law by misleading shareholders about climate change. The judge who ruled in Exxon’s favor said at the time that the case was “a securities fraud case, not a climate change case.”

Casting doubt on the science was just one prong of Exxon’s approach. Previous research from Supran and Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes has shown that Exxon used subtle rhetoric to shift the blame for climate change from fossil fuel producers to the individuals who used them to power their cars and heat their houses. Another part of Exxon’s strategy was to highlight how climate policies could harm the economy while ignoring the enormous costs of failing to rein in emissions as well as the economic benefits of taking action.

The new study provides a fresh point of comparison in the history of deception from fossil fuel companies, Supran said. “It’s one thing to understand that they vaguely knew something about global warming decades ago, that they were broadly aware of the relationship between fossil fuels and warming, but to realize that they knew as much as anyone, as much as independent scientists did … it’s kind of shocking.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Exxon’s models predicting climate change were spot on — 40 years ago on Jan 12, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

U.S. regulators hinted at a possible ban on gas stoves. The debate boiled over.

Grist - Thu, 01/12/2023 - 03:45

Seemingly overnight, the gas stove in nearly one of three homes in the country became an appliance of controversy, bringing possible comparisons to cigarettes on one side and accusations of government overreach on the other. 

The fight started when a commissioner for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, said the agency could soon increase regulations and a potential ban on gas stoves, citing the appliance’s public health risks.

“This is a hidden hazard,” Richard Trumka Jr., commissioner for the CPSC, a federal agency responsible for recalling products like baby swings and bicycles to reduce harm to consumers, told Bloomberg in an interview. “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.” 

Since that interview, the debate has boiled over. Claims of a “federal gas stove ban” circulated while the Wall Street Journal editorial board and numerous conservative lawmakers hopped into the fray, blaming the Biden Administration for “forcing all buildings to use electricity for everything.”

Ronny Jackson, a Texas Republican Congressman representing The northern tip of the state near Oklahoma, said, “If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands.”

Around 40 million homes (or roughly 35 percent of all U.S. houses) use a gas stove to make food. According to 2021 data from the Energy Information Administration, the top five states that use natural gas are Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Florida, respectively.

“To be clear, I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so”

Alexander Hoehn-Saric, chair of the CPSC

The outcry over outlawing the appliance comes on the heels of a study linking use of gas stoves in homes to almost 13 percent of cases of childhood asthma in the country. The study found that these appliances emit pollutants that have been linked to respiratory problems, like asthma, such as benzene, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide. Released in late December, the study compares the use of a gas stove in the home to risks associated with second-hand smoke exposure. The American Gas Association, a natural gas trade organization, vehemently denounced the study, saying it isn’t sound science. 

“Attempts to generate consumer fears with baseless allegations to justify the banning of natural gas is a misguided agenda that will not improve the environment or the health of consumers and would saddle vulnerable populations with significant costs,” the industry group said in a statement.

However, there is no federal gas stove ban in the works. 

In a statement provided to Grist, Alexander Hoehn-Saric, chair of the CPSC, said the agency is looking for ways to reduce emissions and indoor air quality hazards. The agency is gathering information and will open a period of public comment this spring to inform future decisions, but Hoehn-Saric cleared the air about the ongoing gas stove shellacking.

“But to be clear, I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so,” he said in the statement. 

The gas stove debate continues a trend of concerns and outcry about the plausibility of implementing and achieving a carbon-free energy transition, from trying to get fossil fuels out of your home to struggles finding a place to charge an electric vehicle.

Gas stoves have been studied and shown that they leak methane, a main component in natural gas, which both traps more heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and has been responsible for 30 percent of the planet’s warming to date. Studies have also shown that these stoves leak toxic chemicals, contributing to health risks besides asthma, such as anemia, immunity issues, and cancers. 

Environmental justice advocates have pushed for the removal of gas stoves from public housing, citing disproportionate rates of women and children affected by the use of gas appliances for cooking in the home, coupled with studies that point to increased rates of asthma in Black and Latino children as compared to white children.

The heated response to news of a consumer safety update was not surprising to Matt Casale, director of environment campaigns for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on consumer protection, public health, and transportation, because of personal attachment to everyday items.

“There are kitchen table issues and this is literally a kitchen issue. Cooking and food are such an important part of our lives,” Casale told Grist. 

But, Casale said any regulatory update has been years in the making, with studies and research focusing on the health risks and lack of consumer information, such as warning labels on gas stoves, being a priority for consumer groups. 

He said PIRG, just like the federal agency, is not looking for an all-out ban on gas stoves but has suggestions to mitigate health risks from respiratory illnesses, such as mandatory ventilation hoods, emergency shut-offs when high levels of pollutants release, and warning labels on gas stoves.

“It’s like seatbelts in cars. These are core things that we can do to protect ourselves and that’s what the agency is trying to get at and that’s what we’re hoping to see,” Casale said. 

Some communities have already shifted away from natural gas use and gas stoves in homes and businesses. Berkeley, California — home of the “electricity everything” movement — banned natural gas in new buildings starting in 2019, becoming the first city in the country to do so. Since then, large cities like San Francisco and New York City have passed similar bans, with almost 80 other cities across the nation following suit. 

Read Next The fossil fuel origins of ‘gaslighting’

But, these bans and studies have also sparked outrage from industry groups and some conservative lawmakers, causing a wave of preemptive laws that prevent local governments from banning natural gas hookups. When Berkeley announced the natural gas ban, the California Restaurant Association sued the city over the ruling, citing chefs’ training inclining them to cook with gas over electricity. The group lost the suit but has since filed an appeal.

Cooking with an electric induction stove is not a momentous change, according to Michael Godlewski, a professional chef with 20 years of experience. It took him “a day of recalibrating mentally” the times needed for certain dishes in the pan and for the stove to get to the appropriate temperature.

Godlewski, chef/owner of Eat Your Veggies, a Pittsburgh restaurant that focused on vegetables as the main ingredient with meat and protein as an accompaniment, installed electric induction ovens throughout his new restaurant when constructing his recently opened space. 

Godlewski’s kitchen is fully electric, from the four induction burners to the griddle. He said that the concern over the environmental impact was present in his decision-making, but the main decision was employee comfort and health. 

“It gets hot in kitchens, it gets tight,” Godlekwsi told Grist, “and with induction and electric [stoves], we have a relatively cool, comfortable kitchen space where, even when we’re busy, you’re not feeling like you’re getting doused in sweat.”

He said he has been able to cut down on energy usage as induction stoves don’t need to be left on for long periods, like gas stoves, to reach the needed commercial cooking temperatures. 

While he welcomes the electric push, he did voice concern that if there is a ban or strict regulations, assistance to help businesses and families make that transition is needed to purchase electric stoves as well as proper cookware needed for the units.

“Cookware can get expensive too, especially if you’re looking for induction,” Godlewski said. “So that’s an impediment to having people fully embrace that transition. But I think once you work on an induction cooktop, or something like that, you never want to go back.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline U.S. regulators hinted at a possible ban on gas stoves. The debate boiled over. on Jan 12, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Switching to an electric car saves money. Unless you’re poor.

Grist - Thu, 01/12/2023 - 03:30

The appeal of electric cars is straightforward: Owners get to save money by skipping trips to the gas station and feel good about doing their part to cut carbon emissions. That’s part of the reason why U.S. sales are currently soaring, with electric vehicles expected to make up 10 percent of the cars and light-duty trucks on roads in 2030. This is good news for the climate, since transportation is the single largest source of emissions in the country.

The decision to switch to an electric-powered vehicle benefits 9 out of 10 U.S. drivers, but the lowest income Americans get left behind, according to the results of a new study from the University of Michigan. 

A group of researchers at the school’s Center for Sustainable Systems analyzed data on income level, gas and electricity costs, and vehicle-specific greenhouse gas emissions for every census tract in the United States. They found that over 90 percent of vehicle-owning households would see reductions in both carbon emissions and the amount they spend on powering their car by switching to an electric vehicle. These benefits are especially pronounced on the West Coast, where some households could cut their annual transportation bills by $600 or more, and slash their annual carbon emissions by more than 4.1 metric tons, the study found.

The pattern does not hold true, however, for those with the lowest incomes, more than half of whom would continue to be burdened by high transportation costs — defined as more than 4 percent of their income — after trading in their gas-guzzler for an electric car. The study found that households that would receive little benefit are concentrated in Midwestern states with coal and natural gas-reliant energy grids, as well as in Alaska and Hawaii, the two states with the highest cost of electricity.

The study’s authors called these disparities a problem of “distributive justice,” a term used to describe the equal distribution of a policy’s benefits and burdens. They say their research is the first to consider how switching to an electric vehicle would impact both emissions and energy costs across different regions of the country. 

“Our results confirm the potential for widespread benefits from EV [electric vehicle] adoption,” said study author Joshua Newell, an urban geographer at the University of Michigan, in a press release. “However, EV ownership in the U.S. has thus far been dominated by households with higher incomes and education levels, leaving the most vulnerable populations behind.”

The potential for an electric vehicle to decrease its owner’s overall carbon footprint and energy expenses depends on many factors, including the car battery’s power source, driving and charging patterns, and local electricity rates. Rural and suburban households tend to spend more of their income on energy because of a lack of public transportation and the need to drive longer distances. 

Take an electric car-owner living in a suburban area of Indiana, where more than half of electricity comes from coal-fired plants. Even though the owner is not releasing greenhouse gasses while driving to work, they are using more power to charge their vehicle, and it’s dirty. Moreover, the average electric bill in Indiana is high relative to the rest of the country — $162 last October compared with the nationwide monthly average of $139 — so charging at home can get expensive. This driver might save some money they would have spent on gas by purchasing an electric car, but the difference might not be enough to convince them to make the switch.

Compare that to somebody buying an electric car in an urban part of California. Since more than 30 percent of the state’s grid is powered by renewables, this owner will be charging their vehicle with cleaner electricity, resulting in a net-decrease in their carbon emissions after ditching their gas-powered car. Electricity bills are right around the national average, but foregoing the costs of filling up the tank in California — where gas runs $4.40 a gallon — more than makes up the difference.

Factoring in income further complicates the picture. While households that make more than 30 to 80 percent of the average median income for a given area would pay a low or moderate amount to power their electric vehicle, those earning less than 30 percent of the average median income would still be stuck with moderate or high costs.  

Newell, the co-author of the study, told Grist that these findings raise all sorts of questions about the best way to get Americans to buy more electric cars. He cited a need to develop programs like California’s Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program, which provides funds for low-income residents to scrap their high-polluting vehicle for a cleaner one. 

The study didn’t account for the cost of buying an electric vehicle, because prices are expected to swing in the coming years. Beyond the cost of the actual car, Newell noted that a lack of public charging stations in rural and low-income areas remains a problem. California, for instance, has one charging station for every 2,848 residents, according to Choose Energy, whereas Alabama has one for every 20,000. One way of addressing that, he said, is to expand and subsidize them. But it all depends on what’s best for that town.  

Given the many variables at play, Newell said efforts to get more Americans to buy electric vehicles need to be crafted at a “regional level.” 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Switching to an electric car saves money. Unless you’re poor. on Jan 12, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Amazon Under Fire: The Long Struggle Against Brazil’s Land Barons

Yale Environment 360 - Thu, 01/12/2023 - 02:00

Journalist Heriberto Araujo spent four years reporting on the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about his new book, which explores the complex web of issues underpinning the deforestation of the world’s largest rainforest.

Read more on E360 →

Categories: H. Green News

The EV Revolution Brings Environmental Uncertainty at Every Turn

The Revelator - Wed, 01/11/2023 - 05:00

Manufacturers, governments and consumers are lining up behind electric vehicles — with sales rising 60% in 2022, and at least 17 states considering a California-style ban on gas cars in the years ahead. Scientists say the trend is a key part of driving down the transportation sector’s carbon emissions, which could fall by as much as 80% by 2050 under aggressive policies. But while EVs are cleaner than gas cars in the long run, they still carry environmental and human-rights baggage, especially associated with mining.

“If you want a lot of EVs, you need to get minerals out of the ground,” says Ian Lange, director of the Energy and Economics Program at the Colorado School of Mines.

That’s because manufacturing EVs requires about six times more minerals than traditional cars. That requirement — coupled with growth in consumer electronics and renewable energy infrastructure — will double global mineral demand over the next two decades, according to the International Energy Agency.

And that’s only under current trends. The IEA says meeting the Paris Climate Accord goals for decarbonization will require even more — far more — minerals: as much as four to six times present amounts.

That will mean a lot of mining, with much of it for EV batteries. And at least some of it will happen in the United States, as the Biden administration and many Republicans want more EV materials sourced at home, both to act on climate change and to wrest some control of supply chains from China.

Lange, who served as an economic advisor in the Trump administration, says it will be a big change for the country, which “got out of the minerals game” in recent decades. And it will bring challenges — including obtaining permits for minerals development, developing the needed workforce, and building processing capacity. The Biden administration hopes that funding from the landmark Inflation Reduction Act and other sources will help overcome these obstacles.

But the rush for renewables will also bring another big hurdle: environmental impacts. Already, as the search for EV materials ramps up, Tribes, landowners and communities find themselves wrestling with the not-so-green side of green energy.

Environmental Considerations

For a sense of things, consider cobalt. About 30 pounds of it go into each EV battery to boost performance and energy storage, which are key to luring consumers from dirtier gas cars. But today 70% of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an estimated 40,000 children as young as 6 work in dangerous mines. The mines also bring deforestation, habitat fragmentation and high carbon emissions from mining and refinery processes that rely heavily on fossil fuels to produce electricity and drive heavy machinery. Some sources say cobalt mining’s CO2 emissions could double by 2030.

EV boosters are eager to put mileage between their products and human rights abuses, which fuel Republican and oil industry criticisms of battery power. Although efforts are underway to improve overseas practices, another way to tackle the issue would be to mine cobalt in the United States, which would also increase domestic sources of EV materials. But today the country has only one cobalt mine, and building others would likely raise environmental concerns.

Lange says that’s certainly the case in Alaska, where copper and cobalt rest beneath rolling tundra in the Ambler district south of the Brooks Range. Accessing it would require a 200-mile road through traditional Alaska Native lands, caribou habitat and Gates of the Arctic National Park, with gravel quarries dug every 10 miles. It’s something state leaders support but state and national environmental groups and several Indigenous communities oppose. Permitting for the road began during the Obama administration and was approved under Trump, but it’s now under reconsideration by Biden.

According to Lange, such regulatory sagas breed uncertainty within the minerals industry that slows investment in the minerals needed for EV batteries. He offers up the Twin Metals Mine near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Wilderness as another example. Here the target is nickel, another important EV metal mined in only one U.S. location. In a political tug-of-war, the mine’s long-held leases were denied renewal by Obama, reinstated under Trump, and then canceled under Biden.

In both cases, concerns over compliance with the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act led to lawsuits and claims of rushed environmental analysis. Lange says these bedrock environmental laws have improved air quality and human health conditions in the United States, but at the same time they may also contribute to the lag in sustainable production of EV materials.

“When we restrict access to natural resources, these international companies can choose to go elsewhere,” he says — often to countries with lax environmental and human rights laws.

The tension between environmental protection and renewables development is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Adam Bronstein of Western Watersheds Project sees it in northern Nevada, where his group has joined a lawsuit against a proposed open-pit lithium mine in Thacker Pass, an area of remote desert that’s home to sage grouse, antelope, Lahontan cutthroat trout and other sensitive species, including some only found locally. It also holds hundreds of Native American heritage sites that remain important to Tribes today.

Thacker Pass looking toward Kings River Valley. Photo: Ian Bigley (CC BY-NC 2.0).

“It’s a very remote and undeveloped landscape, where the stars are still bright and the air is quiet,” he says.

Bronstein says the West is quickly losing such landscapes to development, including large-scale solar projects and renewable energy mining. At Thacker Pass, for instance, the lithium mine would entail a 2-mile-long open pit with waste ore, acid dumps and massive water usage. Like opponents of Alaska’s Ambler Road, some also worry it would open access to additional claims, spreading impacts to further wildlands.

Mine proponents say Thacker Pass lithium could support more than a million EVs annually and would add jobs and tax revenue.

Bronstein questions the notion that ecologically valuable areas must be sacrificed for climate goals. Others agree, including a rising chorus who say solar and wind development in Nevada and California are eliminating vast areas of wildlife habitat, contributing to biodiversity loss worldwide.

As a judge considers the Thacker Pass lawsuit, nearly 2,000 miles away, residents of Coosa County, Alabama, express similar concerns over plans to mine graphite, an EV mineral not currently produced in the United States.

“It’s going to be a mess,” says Chris DiGiorgio, a lifelong resident of the area and a board member of Coosa Riverkeeper, which protects, promotes and restores the Coosa River.

DiGiorgio says graphite mining will level forest, disrupt hydrology, and leave chemical pollution that could last generations. Yet he also acknowledges the need for minerals to support renewable energy.

“We all want to stop climate change,” he says.

Still, DiGiorgio feels that state officials unjustifiably fast-tracked the mine’s permits, and he questions whether graphite demand will still be high by the time mining starts in 2028. But whereas Western Watersheds Project is fighting the Thacker Pass mine, Coosa Waterkeeper appears settled into guarded acceptance and a commitment to playing a watchdog role over the mine.

Navigating the Transition

Josh Johnson with the Idaho Conservation League has taken yet another approach. As Australia-based Jervois Mining prepared to open the United States’ only cobalt mine in Idaho’s Salmon River Mountains, he helped secure $150,000 in annual funding from the company for local conservation work — money that can also be leveraged to help secure matching funds from state and federal grants. Two years in, the funding has helped restore overgrazed streambanks and supported acquisition of vital fish habitat. Each year, the organization determines where the funding goes, with input from Tribes, agencies and others.

Johnson says that the cobalt mine connects to the league’s conservation goals, which include promoting renewable energy and adopting EVs. And while he recommends that environmental groups take a nuanced look at such mines, he stresses that his partnership doesn’t compromise Idaho Conservation League’s watchdog role as mining gets underway.

But it’s also important to consider what happens after Idaho’s cobalt meets daylight. With no processing plants in the United States, it will be shipped to Brazil, then to China for manufacturing, and eventually back to the United States tucked inside a new EV battery.

Generous incentives for EVs in the Inflation Reduction Act aim to tighten that supply chain — and ease reliance on strategic adversaries like China to reach U.S. climate goals. They join funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, the Defense Production Act and other sources in a strategy that aligns with IEA recommendations for diversifying global mineral sources. And while this all-in approach on industrialization raises biodiversity and other concerns, it could move the United States closer to reaching Paris Climate Accord goals and the Biden administration’s target to cut economy-wide carbon emission by  50% below 2005 levels by 2030.

BREAKING NEWS: USPS Intends To Deploy Over 66,000 Electric Vehicles by 2028, Making One of the Largest Electric Vehicle Fleets in the Nation. https://t.co/7N6GpTkFlt pic.twitter.com/6rPiBHSrh9

— U.S. Postal Service (@USPS) December 20, 2022

Lange agrees the funding will boost research, development and processing capacity, but he questions whether it moves the needle on EV mineral production in the United States.

Inevitably, technology should resolve some of the issues surrounding EVs. Scientists worldwide are tinkering with EV batteries to improve efficiency and replace problematic metals like cobalt, nickel and perhaps even lithium. Other research highlights better ways to mine, including by salvaging EV materials currently discarded as waste at existing mines. This is happening at a Rio Tinto mine in California’s Mojave Desert, which has long produced minerals for soaps and cosmetics but is now also pulling lithium out of its old tailings.

Lange says advances in recycling may also help. The IEA anticipates a surge in recyclable minerals as first-generation EVs reach the end of their lifespan, perhaps meeting 10% of demand by 2040. It could help ease shortages, stabilize prices, diversify sources, and chip away at harmful mining, including deep-sea mining in sensitive ocean ecosystems. Yet as with everything else related to EVs, Lange says the United States lags behind China and other countries in recycling research, development and capacity.

To Bronstein and others, placing solar at already developed areas like canals and parking lots and developing smarter cities that disincentivize driving will also remain important strategies for adopting clean energy in ways that minimize impacts on undisturbed wildlands.

Cities and the federal government can also shape strategic adoption of EVs by working to replace fleet and transit vehicles first.  This recently happened in Antelope Valley, California, where the local transit authority became the first in the country to replace its fleet of diesel buses. Since its 87 new electric buses, vans and coaches are cheaper to operate and maintain than dirtier diesel buses, the city is now using the savings to expand public transit and build a solar field to power the fleet. Similarly, in December the U.S. Postal Service committed to buying at least 45,000 electric delivery trucks and to explore how to electrify its entire fleet.

The approaches replace the vehicles that log the most miles first, rather than relying on individual drivers to adopt EVs.

Whatever path it takes, says Bronstein, “the renewable energy future is coming.”

Scientists, activists and other experts have spent decades advocating for this change, even as the dangers of burning fossil fuels have increased. The future has finally started to arrive. But as Bronstein reminds us, making the transition to cleaner fuels still requires careful planning and restraint to protect our already beleaguered biodiversity and other natural resources.

Previously in The Revelator:

Will the Race for Electric Vehicles Endanger the Earth’s Most Sensitive Ecosystem?

The post The EV Revolution Brings Environmental Uncertainty at Every Turn appeared first on The Revelator.

Categories: H. Green News

To get off fossil fuels, America is going to need a lot more electricians

Grist - Wed, 01/11/2023 - 03:45

This story was produced in partnership with Post Script Media and Canary Media. You can listen to the podcast version here.

Chanpory Rith, a 42-year-old product designer at the software company Airtable, bought a house in Berkeley, California, with his partner at the end of 2020. The couple wasn’t planning to buy, but when COVID-19 hit and they both began working from their one-bedroom San Francisco apartment, they developed a new hobby: browsing listings on Zillow and Redfin — “real estate porn,” as Rith put it.

Their pandemic fantasizing soon became a pandemic fairy tale: They fell for a five-bedroom, midcentury home in the Berkeley hills with views of San Francisco Bay and put down an offer. “And then came the joys and tribulations of homeownership,” Rith said.

One of those tribulations began with a plan to install solar panels. Rith didn’t consider himself a diehard environmentalist, but he was concerned about climate change and wanted to do his part to help. He didn’t have a car but planned on eventually getting an electric vehicle and also wanted to swap out the house’s natural gas appliances for electric versions. Getting solar panels would be a smart first step, he figured, because it might trim his utility bills. But Rith soon found out that the house’s aging electrical panel would need to be upgraded to support rooftop solar. And he had no idea how hard it would be to find someone to do it.

A woman walks past a home with solar panels installed on the roof in Oakland, California. Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Many of the electricians Rith reached out to didn’t respond. Those who did were booked out for weeks, if not months. He said they were so busy that the conversations felt like interviews — as if he were being evaluated, to suss out whether his house was worth their time. 

“It felt like trying to get your kid into a nice kindergarten, where you have to be interviewed and do a lot of things just to get on the radar of these electricians,” Rith told Grist.

His first-choice contracting company put him on a long waitlist before it would send anyone out to look at the house. Another gave him an exorbitant quote — more than $50,000 to upgrade the electrical panel, along with installing new, grounded outlets to replace the house’s outdated two-prong outlets. Rith wound up putting the project on hold to do some renovations first. 

Andrew Campbell, executive director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Energy Institute, had a similar experience. Campbell wanted to upgrade the electrical panel on a duplex he owns in Oakland so that he could install electric vehicle chargers for the building’s tenants. But even after finding a company to take the job, a shortage of technicians and the contractor’s overbooked schedule, among other delays, meant it took eight months from the time the first electrician came over until the project was done. 

Andrew Campbell stands near the electrical panel on a duplex he owns in Oakland, California. Emily Pontecorvo / Grist

“I was feeling like, why am I doing this?” Campbell said. “The electricians who should want the project don’t seem to want it. The utility, which is really going to benefit a lot from electrification, they’re making it hard. It just felt like barrier after barrier.” 

You could read Rith and Campbell’s troubles as minor inconveniences, or you could read them as warning signs.

To cut greenhouse gas emissions on pace with the best available science, the United States must prepare for a monumental increase in electricity use. Burning fossil fuels to heat homes and get around isn’t compatible with keeping the planet at a livable temperature. Appliances that can be powered by clean electricity already exist to meet all of these needs. 

The race to “electrify everything” is picking up. President Joe Biden’s signature climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, signed in August, contains billions of dollars to help Americans electrify their homes, buy electric vehicles, and install solar panels. Meanwhile, cities all over the country, including New York, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco are requiring that new buildings run only on electricity, after the city of Berkeley, California, pioneered the legislation in 2019. 

President Joe Biden talks with representatives from a Boston electrician apprentice program during a White House demonstration of an electric vehicle charging station on November 2, 2022. Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images

The problem is, most houses aren’t wired to handle the load from electric heating, cooking, and clothes dryers, along with solar panels and vehicle chargers. Rewiring America, a nonprofit that conducts research and advocacy on electrification, estimates that some 60 to 70 percent of single-family homes will need to upgrade to bigger or more modern electrical panels to accommodate a fully electrified house. 

“It’s going to be the electrification worker, the electricians that are going to see a real surge in demand,” said Panama Bartholomy, executive director of the Building Decarbonization Coalition, a national nonprofit working to get fossil fuels out of homes.

But in the Bay Area, arguably the birthplace of the movement to “electrify everything,” homeowners are struggling to find technicians to upgrade their electrical panels or install electric heat pumps, let alone for everyday repairs. Residential electrical contractors are swamped with calls and struggling to find experienced people to hire. The schools tasked with training the next generation of electricians are tight on funds and short on teachers. It’s a story that’s playing out across the country. And what might be inconvenient today could soon hamstring attempts to cut carbon emissions even as these efforts become more urgent. 

Grist / Jessie Blaeser

“It is hard to imagine tens of millions of households in the U.S. individually undertaking the sort of time consuming, expensive process that I experienced,” wrote Andrew Campbell in a blog post chronicling his experience. 

The contractor Campbell ended up working with was Boyes Electric, a small company based in Oakland owned by Borin Reyes. 

Reyes, who’s 28, moved to California from Guatemala when he was 16 and got introduced to electrical work in high school. His dad was a general contractor and would take him out in the field during summer break. On one job, there was an electrical subcontractor who needed an extra set of hands, and Borin started working for him from time to time. He liked the work — but more so he liked the money he was making. After graduating from high school, he saw electrical work as a path to moving out of his parents’ house, so he enrolled in a training program at a now-shuttered for-profit technical school in Oakland to get more experience.

Electrician Borin Reyes holds an electric vehicle charger. Brett Marsh / Grist

After graduating in 2013, Reyes spent several years working for a larger company before starting his own. Today, he loves the job. “You really have to be focused, because of safety,” he said. “You have to be hands-on most of the time and solving problems. That’s one of the things that I like best — solving problems.”

Reyes’ company has always focused on rewiring homes undergoing renovations rather than new construction. But at the beginning of 2022, he added a new specialty when his business partnered with a company called Qmerit, a middleman between electric vehicle dealerships and electricians. Dealerships send new car owners to Qmerit to get help finding qualified technicians to install EV chargers, and Qmerit connects them with local businesses like Boyes Electric.

Electric vehicles make up less than 1 percent of cars on the road, but that’s changing fast as sales soar. The number of electric vehicles registered in the U.S. jumped nearly 43 percent between 2020 and 2021, according to the Department of Energy. Government incentives are sure to give the market another boost: The Inflation Reduction Act offers as much as $7,500 in rebates for new EVs and $4,000 for used EVs. In California, Washington state, and New York, you won’t even be able to buy a new model with an internal combustion engine after 2035. The number of public charging stations is also growing, so EV owners don’t necessarily need to install their own charging equipment at home, though many do. It’s convenient, and can also turn a car into a backup power source when the lights go out. 

Read Next Think apartment-hunting is frustrating? Try doing it with an electric car.

Before Boyes Electric partnered with QMerit, Reyes was installing around one EV charger every week; now it’s up to about five each week. “That’s huge for a small business,” he said. Reyes wants the company to expand into solar installations, too — just not yet.

Boyes Electric employs 12 technicians, and these days Reyes spends most of his time in the office taking calls and coordinating jobs. His electricians are usually booked up about three weeks to a month out.

“Customers are literally looking for electricians every single day,” he said. “We’re not taking emergency calls anymore because we don’t have the manpower. All of our current technicians are out on the field, they’re busy trying to get jobs done.”

Reyes would like to hire more electricians, but he said there just aren’t any experienced people looking for work; they’re already hired. “It is a problem finding people right now,” he said. “Most of the electrical companies, you can ask around, all of them are busy.”

Grist / Jessie Blaeser

In 2021, the website Angi, which helps homeowners find services, surveyed 2,400 contractors across different trades. Half reported that they couldn’t fill open positions, and 68 percent said it was a struggle to hire skilled workers. In a recent survey of 661 building contractors by the Associated General Contractors of America, 72 percent reported having open, salaried positions. The number one reason for all the openings: “Available candidates are not qualified to work in the industry.” 

In the past, Reyes recruited workers out of high school and trained them up. But he’s reluctant to do it again. It costs his technicians time, it costs him money, and there’s no guarantee that the people he invests in will stick around because the job market is so competitive. 

The workforce is also aging. Reyes said he knows of a few electricians getting ready for retirement who would like to hand over the business to their kids, but they just aren’t interested.  The way he sees it, younger people are getting lured into the tech industry with the promise of big salaries and just aren’t as interested in getting dirty underneath houses. 

Clayton Ajpuac, a technician for Reyes Electric, works on a light fixture in a house in Oakland, California. Brett Marsh / Grist

Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that about 21 percent of electricians will have hit retirement age in the next 10 years. The agency estimates that demand for electricians will grow by 7 percent over the same span and that between retirements and new demand, there will be nearly 80,000 job openings in the field every year. That estimate doesn’t account for all the incentives — rebates for solar panels, electrical panels, heat pumps, stoves, cars, and clothes dryers — contained in the Inflation Reduction Act, nor does it account for the possibility that demand might soar if local governments keep pushing to electrify buildings.

Several contractors and labor experts, when asked why electricians are so hard to find, pointed to the widespread belief that the main path to adulthood runs through a four-year university, and the related decline of vocational education in high schools. According to Pew Research, 39 percent of millennials earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 29 percent of Gen Xers and 24 to 25 percent of boomers. 

Even for those drawn to a career in the trades, there’s another obstacle: The technical schools built to train them are short of money and people, too. 

In the Bay Area, one of the main ways that aspiring electricians can get into the field is by taking classes at Laney College, a community college in Oakland. The school’s electrical technology program is approved by the State of California’s Industrial Relations Board, meaning students at Laney can count their hours toward the requirements to take the state certification exam. More than 380 students have earned an associate degree or certificate in the program over the past five years.

But this past year, Laney’s program almost fell apart after one of its teachers, Forough Hashemi, announced she would be retiring at the end of the spring 2022 semester. Hashemi had been teaching six classes each semester, essentially holding the program together, and to some students, it felt like the fate of the entire program was in question. 

The suns shines on Laney College in Oakland, California, Brett Marsh / Grist

David Pitt, a student at Laney, was worried he wouldn’t be able to finish the required courses. Pitt got interested in becoming an electrician a few years ago while volunteering for a solar company. He enjoyed being outside, working with his hands, and getting away from his computer screen. The volunteering gig soon turned into a paid, part-time job, but all he was really allowed to do was grunt work, like mounting solar panels and running wires. In order to do the interesting stuff — design a system, interpret an electrical panel, actually connect the solar panels to it, and maybe work his way up to owning his own business — he needed to become a certified electrician. So he enrolled part-time in Laney’s electrical program.

Without Hashemi, however, it was unclear whether the school could keep offering the required classes. So Pitt and his classmates, assisted by an adjunct professor, Mark Prudowsky, arranged a meeting with the school’s deans to ask what would happen next. The deans assured them that they would try to replace Hashemi, though they admitted they were having trouble finding anyone interested.

“This is an issue for a lot of trade skills disciplines,” said Alejandria Tomas, the career and technical education dean at Laney, in an interview last summer. By that point, Tomas had already tried emailing every electrical business in the county and felt she had exhausted every resource she had in trying to recruit a new teacher. (Borin Reyes was one of those who turned her down.) 

“Employees usually earn more when they work in the field than teaching, so it’s hard to recruit,” Tomas said. 

Pitt only needed two more classes to finish his required coursework — one on motors and another on lightbulbs. But by the time the fall semester started, Laney had yet to make any full-time hires, and the lightbulbs class wasn’t offered. 

Laney College electrical student David Pitt on his boat in the Oakland marina. Emily Pontecorvo / Grist

Prudowsky blamed the school, the district, and the state for not investing enough in Laney’s electrician program. The lack of funds meant requiring one full-time faculty member to teach up to six classes per semester with up to 40 students in every class. (Hashemi did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.)

“If California is even going to come close to meeting its very ambitious goals, it’s going to have to train a whole cohort of electricians and technicians,” Prudowsky said. “And if they keep underfunding these programs and overloading these classrooms and not providing enough resources, it won’t happen.” 

Tomas, the dean, said the school understands the importance of the program and has shielded it from recent budget cuts. The problem, as she saw it, was that it was simply impossible to find more people to teach the courses.

In January, nearly a year after the search began, the school finally hired a new full-time faculty member. According to Prudowsky, however, the big problem — “a very poor understanding of the need to fund and indeed, expand funding for the program” — remained.

Community colleges like Laney are one of a handful of pathways into the profession. Another runs through the unions, which offer free classes and paid experience through their apprenticeship programs. There’s often a higher barrier to entry than simply signing up for classes: In the Bay Area, for instance, an aspiring electrician has to pass an exam and go through an interview process to get accepted. And there are limited openings.  

Labor advocates like Beli Acharya, the executive director of the Construction Trades Workforce Initiative, make the case that California should enact policies that favor union contractors, which would increase demand for apprentices and enable the unions to accept more applicants. Today, according to Acharya, most residential building work is handled by nonunion contractors, though that’s not because union contractors aren’t interested in working on houses. She said they are undercut by cheaper, nonunion companies. 

Acharya’s organization is a nonprofit partner to several building trades unions in the East Bay. It aims to help people who are currently underrepresented in the trades gain access to these careers. Nearly 90 percent of electricians are white, compared with 78 percent of the country’s workforce, and less than 2 percent are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

An apprentice electrician, left, bends an electrical pipe while a supervisor looks on. Women make up less than 2 percent of the country’s electrician workforce. David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

“Our goal is to ensure that as public dollars become available, quality jobs are being produced,” Acharya said. “If we’re really trying to lift up our communities and create quality jobs, there needs to be labor standards put in place so that our community members are actually benefiting from the work that’s going to be developed through all of this construction.” 

The Construction Trades Workforce Initiative is one of several organizations in the Bay Area trying to entice more people into jobs connected to clean energy, like electrical work. Another nonprofit headquartered in Oakland, GRID Alternatives, builds solar projects and trains people to install them. GRID partners with local organizations, like Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program, to introduce former inmates as well as other underrepresented people, to careers in solar. Those admitted to GRID’s training receive “wraparound supportive services” that address barriers they might have to participating, like helping them get driver’s licenses, open bank accounts, or, for those formerly incarcerated, find attorneys.

Trainees attend a GRID Alternatives workshop in the Greater Los Angeles area. Courtesy of GRID

GRID’s program isn’t specifically geared toward producing electricians. But Adewale OgunBadejo, its vice president of workforce development, said that it can act as a gateway into the skilled trades — similar to how David Pitt was inspired to become an electrician after volunteering for a solar company.* “It’s really an introduction into the industry,” he said. “We’re training people to become solar installers, but what you find is that as people progress through their careers, a lot of them do become contractors, a good number do end up starting their own businesses, while others go into the union.”

OgunBadejo said that GRID is also building a network of minority- and women-owned contractors who work on electric vehicle charging infrastructure, home energy storage, and heating systems. The goal is to support these small businesses and help them gain access to funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, so that in turn, they can hire graduates of GRID’s training program.

90% of electricians are white, compared with 78 percent of the country’s workforce

Several experts interviewed for this story stressed their belief that any workforce development program has to be tightly connected to the people already doing this work — the contractors.

“The successful programs are tied directly to employer needs,” said Laure-Jeanne Davignon, the vice president for workforce development at the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, a clean energy policy nonprofit. “They have a direct line of communication to employers from the design of the program up through job placement.”

The Inflation Reduction Act includes $200 million to states over the next decade to train contractors in energy efficiency upgrades and electrification. Bartholomy, from the Building Decarbonization Coalition, said some of that money could go toward paying a portion of a trainee’s wages, enabling contractors like Borin to take on more trainees. (Some states also offer tax credits to employers who bring on apprentices, but California isn’t one of them.) 

Read Next He wanted to get his home off fossil fuels. There was just one problem.

One challenge with involving contractors, though, is that many of them aren’t convinced of the benefits of switching to electric appliances. Take heat pumps. They transfer heat from the outside air indoors, even on very cold days, to provide space heating, and work in reverse to provide cooling in the summertime. They’re more expensive than a gas furnace up front but can pay off with savings in the long run. Even so, homeowners recount encounters with contractors who tried to persuade them out of buying electric heat pumps, raising doubts with customers about the higher price and whether they work as well as natural gas systems. 

California is trying to change contractors’ minds through a $120 million initiative called TECH Clean California. A big part of it involves training contractors how to install electric heat pumps and water heaters but it also lays out available rebates and other subsidies that would help sell them to customers. The program launched in the middle of 2021, and so far, more than 600 contractors have participated, according to Evan Kamei, a program manager at TECH. Kamei said the initiative is also working to increase cooperation between existing training providers, like community colleges, utilities, and manufacturers.   

Jeff Sturgeon of the National Comfort Institute presents to contractors at the Institute of Heating and Air Conditioning Industries trade show in November 2022. TECH Clean California

While education, training opportunities, funding, and stronger collaboration between the networks of companies, schools, and contractors could all help ensure that people interested in becoming electricians get a shot at making it into the field, they still don’t necessarily address one of the biggest obstacles to “electrifying everything” — getting people interested in the trade in the first place. So how can the United States inspire more people like David Pitts and Borin Reyes?

“I think one of the big questions is really, do millennials and Zoomers see a career for themselves in crawl spaces and attics doing this work?” said Bartholomy. “You know, it’s, ‘You should be going to four year college and learning C++ programming, not working in the trades.’“

Asked if he had any ideas for how to get more young people interested in the field, Reyes didn’t skip a beat. “Showing them how much money they can make. That is the key.”

A trainee for Reyes Electric studies a wire during a workshop. Courtesy of Borin Reyes

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for an electrician in the U.S. is about $63,000 compared with an average of $58,000 for all occupations. But there’s a big range. In the Bay Area, the top-paying metropolitan area for electricians in the country, the average is $93,900, with many contractors topping six figures.

Another step is to raise awareness. Davignon’s organization, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, recently won a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop an outreach campaign to advertise careers in renovating houses to be more energy efficient, known as “weatherization.” She said she hopes to raise more money to promote other jobs in clean energy, like electricians. One idea is a twist on the classic U.S. Army recruitment ad along the lines of: Your country needs you to be an energy hero.

“That’s the kind of thing we really need to start to remove the stigma from these trade jobs,” Davignon said. “You know, is the construction job sexy enough for someone or do they also want to be saving the world?”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline To get off fossil fuels, America is going to need a lot more electricians on Jan 11, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

A Massachusetts law protects the right to repair your own car. Automakers are suing.

Grist - Wed, 01/11/2023 - 03:30

In 2013, long before there was a national campaign pressuring Big Tech to make it easier for people to fix their smartphones, Massachusetts passed a law explicitly giving consumers the right to repair their cars. Now, that right is under threat. A pending federal lawsuit could decide its fate — and in so doing, transform the auto repair landscape at a time when cars increasingly resemble giant computers.

The lawsuit in question, Alliance for Automotive Innovation v. Maura Healey, concerns a ballot measure Bay State voters overwhelmingly approved in 2020. That so-called Data Access Law requires that automakers grant car owners and independent repair shops access to vehicle “telematics,” data that cars transmit wirelessly to the manufacturer. Proponents of the law say giving owners control over this data will help level the playing field for auto repair as the computerization and electrification of cars create new challenges for independent shops. Not doing so could give manufacturers a competitive advantage over repair, one that consumer advocates fear will lead to fewer options, higher prices, and ultimately, cars getting junked faster. 

That’s a problem not just for drivers’ pocketbooks, but for the climate. Manufacturing cars generates considerable emissions — and will generate even more as automakers continue to scale up electric vehicle manufacturing, which is particularly carbon intensive due the energy required to make the battery. In order to reap the full climate benefits of these vehicles, consumers need to drive them as long as possible. To do so, they need access to convenient, affordable repair options.

While the law was hailed a major victory for the right-to-repair movement when it passed at the ballot box, automakers — represented by an industry group called the Alliance for Automotive Innovation — immediately sued the state to block its implementation. The two sides have been duking it out in federal court ever since, with the judge overseeing the case delaying his ruling for more than a year. Nobody knows when a final determination will be made or which side will prevail. But for automakers and the auto repair business alike, the stakes are high.

“We’re at a juncture in the road,” Paul Roberts, founder of securepairs.org and editor of the Fight to Repair newsletter, told Grist. “We’re in the position of seeing independent auto repair go the way of TV and camera repair. Which is, they don’t exist anymore.”

Former Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who took over as governor of the state in January, has defended Massachusetts’ 2020 right-to-repair ballot measure in court. Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Today’s independent auto repair industry owes its existence in large part to the auto right-to-repair law that Massachusetts passed in 2013. That law granted independent mechanics access to the same diagnostic and repair information manufacturers provide to their franchised dealerships through a standard in-car port also used for vehicle emissions testing. But it explicitly excluded telematic data.

That’s becoming a problem as cars become more computerized. Today, many auto parts contain chips that monitor their state of health and communicate with the rest of the vehicle; without the ability to wirelessly send commands to those parts, independent auto shops are finding themselves unable to diagnose problems and perform repairs. At the same time, newer cars will often beam data on their state of health directly back to the manufacturer. That manufacturer can then send the vehicle owner updates when it’s time for routine maintenance — along with a suggestion that they go to their nearest franchised dealership to get the job done.

“If my battery’s low, if I need an oil change, if my headlights or taillights are out … this is all diagnostic information that’s being transmitted back to manufacturers,” said Tom Tucker, the senior director for state affairs at the Auto Care Association, which represents the nationwide independent auto repair industry. “They’re then transmitting that information to franchised dealerships, which are then contacting the consumer. That’s great for industry, but it puts independents at a competitive disadvantage.”

The 2020 Data Access Law sought to remove manufacturers’ advantage by requiring that automakers make any mechanical data emanating from a car directly accessible to the owner and independent repair shops through a standard, open-access platform. 

Tucker’s organization, which helped craft the ballot initiative, hoped that automakers and the repair industry would eventually come to a national agreement over telematic data sharing, which is what happened after Massachusetts passed its first auto right-to-repair law in 2013. 

Instead, automakers took the state’s attorney general to court to challenge the validity of the ballot initiative, claiming that making this data more accessible would degrade vehicle cybersecurity. By giving car owners and independent repair shops access to telematics, carmakers claim, the Data Access Law runs afoul of federal safety regulations and the federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Carmakers also claim the law conflicts with the Clean Air Act, because it could make it easier for a car owner to disable emissions control systems on an engine. 

Former Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (who took over as governor of the state in January) believes this is a load of malarkey. For the Data Access Law to conflict with federal laws, automakers must prove that there is no possible way both sets of laws can be met — which they haven’t done, Healey argues. In fact, an October 2021 investigation by her office found that one member of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, Subaru, was already using a stopgap measure to comply with the 2020 law — disabling all telematics systems in model year 2022 cars sold in Massachusetts, thereby ensuring that franchised dealerships and the manufacturer don’t have access to any information that independent shops lack. Subaru did so without violating any motor vehicle safety standards or the Clean Air Act. Further investigation revealed that carmaker Kia implemented a similar policy.

The Alliance’s argument that increasing access to telematic data makes hacking more likely rests on the notion that secrecy is the best way to keep systems secure. But many cybersecurity experts believe this premise — known as “security by obscurity” — is fundamentally flawed, says Kit Walsh, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy organization. When data systems data are kept secret from the public, Walsh says, “you don’t get the benefit of people smarter than you looking at them and finding vulnerabilities that you don’t find yourself.” Roberts of securepairs.org agrees, describing security by obscurity as a “false premise.”

“We’re seeing connected vehicle hacks left right and center,” Roberts said, citing a recently discovered bug in Sirius XM telematics systems that allowed hackers to remotely hijack cars from several major brands. “What does that say about [automakers’] process for vetting the security systems? It doesn’t say good things.”

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation and the state of Massachusetts presented their arguments at a trial in July 2021. While U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock was initially expected to issue a decision on the case shortly thereafter, he has repeatedly delayed his ruling for reasons ranging from new evidence to scheduling complications to potentially relevant Supreme Court rulings. Walsh suspects Woodlock is proceeding cautiously in order to “insulate himself for the inevitable appeal” from whichever side loses. Roberts agrees.

“I think he’s very mindful of the fact that this decision is not gonna be the end of the road,” Roberts said.

As the legal battle over car data rages on in Massachusetts, other states are weighing similar measures to safeguard independent auto repair. In Maine, a nearly identical vehicle telematics ballot measure is currently taking shape and tentatively slated to be put before voters later this year. And carmakers are already gearing up to fight it.

In response to a request for comment, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation shared a memo with Grist calling the Maine ballot initiative a “monetizable data grab from national aftermarket parts manufacturers” that creates a “clear cybersecurity risk.” The memo goes on to assert that neither the increased connectivity of cars nor the transition to electric vehicles will undermine the availability of repair data for independents.

Most Teslas lack the emissions testing port that repair professionals are supposed to be able to use to access diagnostic and repair data and instead rely solely on telematics. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

But some mechanics who work on EVs feel differently. That emissions testing port that repair professionals are supposed to be able to use to access diagnostic and repair data? Most Teslas lack it, says Rich Benoit, who co-founded the Tesla-focused repair business Electrified Garage. Even when Teslas do have the port, Benoit says, “there is no useful information whatsoever” an independent mechanic can retrieve from it. “Which is why 99 percent of Teslas go back to Tesla for repair,” Benoit said.

The result, Benoit says, is Tesla owners are often quoted steep prices to replace batteries that might be fixable for much cheaper. Replacing those batteries early significantly reduces the environmental benefits of EVs, since mining the metals inside them generates pollution and carbon emissions. Tesla dismantled its public relations department in 2019 and no longer responds to journalists’ requests for comment.

Benoit sees Tesla’s success in controlling vehicle data and its repair ecosystem as a bellwether of what’s coming for car owners more broadly if the Data Access Law is struck down in court.

“If that’s the case, at this point, all new cars are gonna have to go back to the dealership,” Benoit told Grist. “With dealerships there’s no competition, they set prices, and they can kind of do whatever they want.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A Massachusetts law protects the right to repair your own car. Automakers are suing. on Jan 11, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

At first, locals protested Alaska’s land sale. Now, they’re reclaiming it

High Country News - Wed, 01/11/2023 - 01:00
The buyers plan to transform 40 acres of fire-scarred land into a sustainable, Indigenous-led farm.
Categories: H. Green News

Seven in 10 U.S. Drivers Could Halve Their Fuel Costs by Going Electric, Study Finds

Yale Environment 360 - Tue, 01/10/2023 - 21:00

Around 90 percent of U.S. households would save on fuel costs by buying an electric car rather than a gas-powered car, according to new research.

Read more on E360 →

Categories: H. Green News

The past 8 years were the hottest in recorded history

Grist - Tue, 01/10/2023 - 13:55

Last year was the fifth-warmest ever recorded in planetary history, scientists announced on Tuesday. The data reflects a wider warming trend driven by emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with the past eight years being the warmest on record, and 2016 the hottest yet.

The record heat is hitting some parts of the globe harder than others. This past summer was the hottest ever recorded in Europe, where a series of punishing heat waves claimed more than 20,000 lives. Prolonged heat waves also swept through parts of Pakistan, northern India, and central and eastern China. 

“2022 was yet another year of climate extremes across Europe and globally,” said Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, which announced the findings. “These events highlight that we are already experiencing the devastating consequences of our warming world.”

The consequences range from extreme floods that submerged a third of Pakistan last August to the seemingly unending drought that has paralyzed swaths of east Africa, killing more than 7 million livestock and subjecting more than 8.5 million people to dire water shortages since the drought began in October 2020. A study from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute last year found that parts of the Arctic are warming up to seven times faster than the global average, causing sea ice to melt more rapidly than anticipated. Because this ice acts as an “air conditioning unit” for the planet, its depletion could accelerate current rates of warming. 

Meanwhile, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is on the rise, increasing by approximately 2.1 parts per million last year, a rate similar to those of recent years. Atmospheric methane concentrations increased by 12 parts per billion, which is higher than average. Current concentrations of the two gasses are estimated to be the highest on record for the past 2 million years and 800,000 years, respectively, according to the report.

The warmer temperatures highlight the need for efforts to cut carbon emissions. In the United States, the Biden administration passed the country’s first major climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, in August. And yet the country’s carbon pollution keeps climbing: A report by the Rhodium Group on Tuesday found that U.S. emissions increased by just over one percent last year.

The observed warming trends persisted in 2022 despite three consecutive years of La Niña, a climate pattern marked by cooler-than-normal sea surface temperatures near the equator in the Pacific Ocean, which tends to suppress warming across the world. La Niña is expected to stick around through the first part of this year, before giving way to El Niño, the weather pattern associated with warmer waters in the Pacific, which cause hotter and drier conditions globally.

While it is difficult to predict the outcome of an El Niño in a given year, the absence of a La Niña cooling effect suggests that this year could be even hotter than the last.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The past 8 years were the hottest in recorded history on Jan 10, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Where is the Government’s Due Diligence Plan for Billions in Mineral Processing Funding? Part 2

EarthBlog - Tue, 01/10/2023 - 10:20

The Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act has unleashed a flood of money building renewable energy capacity, but also fueling some risky mining and mineral processing projects. In October 2022, the Department of Energy selected 20 project awards for their American Battery Minerals Initiative.  

In our earlier installment, we discuss DOE’s risky award to Talon’s mineral processing facility in North Dakota, and the agency’s proposed rule which could lower that risk, if DOE requires awardees perform ongoing due diligence across their mineral supply chains. Here, we illustrate two more risky awards from this same initiative that would benefit from due diligence review.

Tennessee Lithium/Piedmont Lithium

DOE awarded $142 million to the Tennessee Lithium project, a cathode materials separation and processing facility proposed by Piedmont Lithium. Like Talon, Piedmont Lithium would source the minerals for their processing facility from their own proposed mine in Gaston County, North Carolina. Piedmont Lithium’s proposed mine has faced pushback from the Gaston County Commission. The County Commission so far has declined Piedmont Lithium’s zoning change, largely over concerns for land and water use. Sharing similar concerns, North Carolina’s Division of Energy, Minerals, Land, and Resources has twice sought additional information from Piedmont Lithium about data gaps in their mine plan, according to their financial filings. 

Perhaps Piedmont Lithium can fix their flawed mine plan. Or perhaps, the mine will never happen. Given this uncertainty, DOE should insist Piedmont Lithium receive all necessary mining authorizations from Gaston County and North Carolina before finalizing award terms for Tennessee Lithium’s mineral processing. Piedmont Lithium has, so far, largely bungled their due diligence and community outreach, needlessly generating local opposition.  Until Piedmont Lithium demonstrates their lithium mine complies with local, state, and community standards, DOE risks the mine may not provide a timely, reliable source for the DOE funded lithium processing. 

Syrah Resources

DOE announced $219,820,610 to a Louisiana graphite processor, Syrah Resources, that intends to source graphite ore from their own Balama graphite mine in Mozambique. The US State Department recently created a Minerals Security Partnership with many countries, including Mozambique. According to reports, Syrah’s Balama mine in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province is “where a violent Islamist insurgency that U.S. officials have linked to ISIS has created a humanitarian crisis.” 

The State Department’s view is Syrah’s graphite mine “employs hundreds of local workers, contributes millions of dollars in community development, and undermines the aims of those who would sow conflict.”  

Hopefully the State Department is right; the best way to demonstrate this is for DOE to require awardees to perform ongoing human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD). 

Due Diligence Plan for the US Government
The US government wants to reduce risks for conflict or corruption too often found in extractive industry supply chains. The International Financial Institutions that routinely fund extraction are supposed to follow recognized HREDD standards, including earning the free, prior, and informed consent of affected Indigenous communities. DOE’s mineral processing loans, and all US Government programs, should also reflect these values in order to live up to President Biden’s climate and justice commitments.  

The post Where is the Government’s Due Diligence Plan for Billions in Mineral Processing Funding? Part 2 appeared first on Earthworks.

Categories: H. Green News

What the House speaker’s deal with ultraconservatives means for climate

Grist - Tue, 01/10/2023 - 03:45

Kevin McCarthy, U.S. representative from California and the leader of the House Republican Conference, has been one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington for more than a decade. But McCarthy spent the first week of the 118th Congress in a severely diminished state.  

Early on Saturday morning, McCarthy was elected speaker of the House after a grueling, historic, and humiliating 15 rounds of voting. For five days, a group of Republican hard-liners blocked his bid for House speaker. The Californian made a series of extraordinary concessions to win support from his ultraconservative colleagues. Matt Gaetz, a hard-right Republican from Florida and one of McCarthy’s toughest holdouts, said he finally gave in because “I ran out of things I could even imagine to ask for.” 

On Monday night, House Republicans voted 220-213 to enshrine some of the concessions into the chamber’s rules. The measure, which dictates how the 118th Congress operates, includes an addendum that enumerates other concessions that McCarthy agreed to. And House lawmakers told the New York Times they were worried that the speaker had agreed to even more handshake agreements that weren’t reflected in the written package. 

The compromises McCarthy made in exchange for the speaker’s gavel could reshape the way the lower chamber operates. Among other concessions, McCarthy agreed to let any member call for a vote to unseat the speaker at any time; to give members of the Freedom Caucus, the most conservative bloc within the House, seats on powerful committees; and to allow lawmakers to propose more amendments on the chamber floor. Some of McCarthy’s compromises may have ramifications, as well, for climate policy. 

“Kevin McCarthy has ceded his speakership and control of the House Republican agenda to the most extreme fringe faction of his party,” Josh Freed, the senior vice president for climate and energy at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Third Way, told Grist. “There’s a real chance that Republicans are going to try to gut really important government investment on everything, including clean energy and climate.”   

Freed is referring to a plank of the deal McCarthy struck with his hard-right colleagues to put a cap on discretionary spending — money approved by Congress and the president every year through the annual appropriations process. Discretionary spending includes all federal expenditures that aren’t funded by their own law. About 30 percent of the government’s overall spending is discretionary, including funding for many climate and environmental programs. New limits on that funding could affect clean energy research overseen by the Department of Energy, limit the Interior Department’s conservation efforts, and restrict disaster recovery distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, among other projects.

Other elements of the deal, such as putting members of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus on the House Rules Committee, which plays a pivotal role in influencing how legislation moves through the House, could have an indirect impact on climate policy by affecting the legislation lawmakers even get to vote on. 

Prior to McCarthy’s capitulations to the most extreme wing of his party, there was a slight possibility that Democrats and Republicans could have found common ground on some key measures. McCarthy has his own climate agenda that he’s been honing for a handful of years — a response, in part, to the popularity of progressive Democrats’ Green New Deal. That plan, like other Republican climate policy proposals to date, fails to address the root causes of global warming or to slash emissions in line with scientists’ recommendations. Last summer, McCarthy unveiled a climate strategy that called for increasing domestic production of fossil fuels and exports of natural gas and speeding up the permitting process for big infrastructure projects. 

Streamlining permitting is something members of both parties have said they’ve wanted to accomplish for years. In the last Congress, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin tried to move a bipartisan permitting reform bill forward but wasn’t able to garner enough support. Such a bill would have helped realize the full potential of the Inflation Reduction Act, the landmark climate spending bill passed by Democrats last year, by making it easier to build transmission lines to carry renewable power to customers.

Permitting reform might have been something that was addressed again this Congress, but Freed said McCarthy’s compromises make that prospect even more remote by ceding middle ground to the hard right. “It puts the possibility of legislating on issues like permitting reform, where there otherwise could have been a bipartisan solution that was conceivable, at extreme risk,” he said. 

When it comes to passing climate policy, Representative Sean Casten, a Democrat from Illinois who has a background in clean energy development and just secured his third term in the House (and used to write for this publication), said it’s a foregone conclusion that a Republican House majority equals a lack of action on climate change. What McCarthy promised ultraconservatives doesn’t affect that equation much, in his view. Many Republican members of the House who are in powerful positions or sit on important committees represent fossil fuel producing regions and take hundreds of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel companies.

McCarthy himself hails from Bakersfield, California, a city so steeped in oil that its high-school football team, which McCarthy played on as a teenager, is called “the Drillers.” He received more money from oil and gas interests during the 2022 campaign than any other member of the House — more than $500,000. 

“They are, understandably, hostile to anything that would reduce demand for fossil fuels or reduce the price of fossil fuels,” Casten said. “Progress on climate isn’t going to happen with Republicans in the majority.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline <strong>What the House speaker’s deal with ultraconservatives means for climate</strong> on Jan 10, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Methane’s life, death, and secret second life

Grist - Tue, 01/10/2023 - 03:30

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Imagine you’re flying through our atmosphere in a spaceship the size of an atom. As you cruise through this tiny world, you pass more than 400,000 nitrogen molecules, 100,000 oxygen molecules, 219 carbon dioxide molecules, before you find what you’re looking for: a single molecule of methane. 

Methane is one of the most powerful yet misunderstood greenhouse gasses on Earth.

Despite only making up the tiniest sliver of atmosphere — just 0.0002 percent – this powerful greenhouse gas has been solely responsible for 30 percent of the planet’s warming to date.

To understand the story behind this potent greenhouse gas, we’re going to follow 100 methane molecules throughout their entire existence, from “birth” to “death.”

The math behind our 100 methane molecules

Our goal for this story was to give a simple, clear, and engaging overview of where methane comes from and how it impacts our planet. Rather than bog the explainer down in too many percentages, we decided to follow the path of 100 imaginary molecules of methane, using data from a variety of sources.

We used data from the 2017 Global Methane Budget, which compiles top-down (starting with known emissions and using models to determine likely sources) and bottom-up (starting with known sources and extrapolating their emissions contributions) methane estimates from a number of different sources and regions. We chose to focus on the U.S., but the report includes estimates for a number of different countries or geographical regions. 

We also used data and information from the National Academies of Sciences 2017 report on U.S. methane emissions. This report, written by top U.S. methane experts, includes more detailed data and commentary on the country’s methane sources from the EPA’s 2017 Greenhouse Gas Index.

In order to fit all the methane sources into one comprehensive story, we used a combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches. For our broad categories (natural sources, agriculture and waste, and fossil fuels), we used U.S. top-down estimates from the 2017 Global Methane Budget. The report presents a number of top-down estimates, so we chose the median value for the decade of 2008-2017. This report includes similar data for a number of countries and regions, so it should be easy to replicate for other countries. 

The 2017 National Academies report includes detailed bottom-up estimates for different U.S. sectors, like manure, natural gas, and landfills. In order to streamline these two data sources, we took these bottom-up estimates and scaled them proportionally to fit in the broader top-down sources. 

While this mixed approach allows us to include multiple types of methane information in one central visual, it does have some limitations. Bottom-up and top-down estimates don’t always perfectly fit together. Bottom-up estimates give us extremely detailed information on methane sources, but can be prone to undercounts, overcounts, or missing unknown sources.

This approach is based on reliable sources, and works as a basic primer for U.S. methane sources — but it’s by no means a definitive source for methane emissions. Methane emissions are always changing, and — hopefully — our ability to track those emissions will keep improving.

Just like CO2, methane’s been on the rise since the industrial revolution. While the rise of CO2 has been almost entirely driven by a single source — the burning of fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal — the story is a bit more complicated for methane. Each of our 100 molecules look alike, but they come from dozens of completely different sources, from Earth’s most ancient life forms, to our food, energy, and waste.

Like the rest of the world, methane emissions in the United States generally fall into three main categories: the natural world, agriculture and waste, and fossil fuels. 

The natural world

Across the world, wetlands, tideflats, and hot springs naturally release hundreds of millions of tons of methane into the atmosphere each year. Wetlands are full of plant life. But when those plants get submerged underwater, they are eaten by a type of methane-producing microorganism called archaea

Archaea — as the name implies — are some of the most ancient forms of life on earth. They’ve likely existed for roughly 3.5 billion years! Archaea evolved on a much harsher Earth, full of extreme temperatures and conditions — and very little oxygen in its atmosphere. Today, these ancient microorganisms still thrive all around the world, in similarly inhospitable environments that are boiling hot, acidic, or devoid of oxygen.

Archaea living throughout U.S. wetlands produce nearly all of the country’s naturally-occurring methane. Only a few come from other places like mud volcanoes and hot springs, which vent methane from deep underground. For most of earth’s history, naturally occurring methane was the only source of methane – but in the last few centuries, humans have found countless ways to add more of it to the atmosphere.

Agriculture and waste

The next source of our 100 methane molecules: agriculture and waste. Chickens, pigs, and sheep all produce some methane, but no one produces methane quite like cows. 

Cows love to eat grass, which is actually quite difficult to digest. To get around this challenge,  cows have four stomachs filled with millions of grass-digesting microbes — including archaea, which convert a lot of that grass into methane.

This methane escapes through farts and burps, and even dissolves into the animal’s bloodstream and escapes through its breath.

So, how do scientists measure this? One method is a technique called (I swear this isn’t a fart joke) bottom-up estimation. They start by sticking a cow in a sealed room, and measuring how much methane builds up over the course of a few days. They do this for lots of types of cows, multiply that by the number of cows in the country, and viola: They get a number! While this method is not as precise as actual samples taken from the atmosphere, it gives us detailed information that would otherwise be invisible, like how much methane comes from, say, goats or bison.

So, using bottom-up estimates, we know that around 18 of our 100 methane molecules come from livestock burps — nearly all  from cows.

After farm animals have digested their food and burped all their burps, another 7 methane molecules come from their poop. This is especially true in concentrated animal feeding operations, which have so many animals that farmers rely on giant tanks or pits just to store all the poop. Of course, these dark, sealed-off pits are perfect feasting grounds for methane-producing archaea. As more farms have turned to concentrated manure systems, these methane emissions have been on the rise in recent decades.

The next step of our journey brings us from animal waste to human waste. Most of our trash is stored in big underground landfills — another perfect feasting ground for, you guessed it, archaea. Landfills have also gotten bigger and more concentrated in recent decades. This isn’t great if you happen to live near one, but when it comes to curbing methane emissions, there may actually be a silver lining. That’s because these large, centralized landfills are often required to capture their methane emissions, decreasing the amount that escapes into the atmosphere by roughly a third.

The methane that does escape still accounts for 13 of our 100 molecules. The remaining three molecules come from sources like wastewater, biomass burning, and certain crops like rice.

Fossil Fuels

At last, we’ve reached our final category: fossil fuels, responsible for a quarter of our methane molecules. Fossil fuels come from ancient carbon, buried underground for millions of years. 

Oil and coal deposits are usually full of methane bubbles. And then there’s natural gas, which is just a marketing term for methane. When people extract any of these fossil fuels from the ground, some of it escapes into the atmosphere, sometimes in little leaks and sometimes in big bursts. And as natural gas — aka methane — moves across our country’s massive fossil fuel network, it leaks into the atmosphere at pretty much every step.

Leaks aren’t consistent from location to location, so this is one area where bottom-up estimates fall short.  Instead, scientists rely on another technique, called, well, top-down estimation. Scientists take real measurements of the atmosphere —  collecting air samples from planes or towers; or using sensors on satellites. And on powerful computers, they run weather simulations in reverse, to trace the emissions back to their sources

Top-down estimates are based on actual real-world measurements, but aren’t as detailed  as bottom-up estimates. Neither of them is perfect, but together they can help paint a picture of what our methane emissions actually look like.

What happens to methane in the atmosphere?

Now that they’ve been released into the atmosphere, our 100 methane molecules are busy warming the planet. In these first days in the atmosphere, a ton of methane traps 80 times more heat than a ton of CO2. 

The reason why methane is so much more powerful is kind of surprising. As different greenhouse gasses build up in the atmosphere, each new molecule gets a little less efficient than the last at trapping heat. For example, CO2 was once an even more powerful greenhouse gas, but now there’s so much of it that each new molecule is a little weaker than the last. Methane, on the other hand, is pretty rare! So every new molecule packs a huge warming punch. 

The high atmosphere is an inhospitable place, full of super reactive chemicals, called radicals. In less than a decade, the radicals break down the vast majority of methane, and turn it into carbon dioxide — the other really bad greenhouse gas! This second life as CO2 really matters for our molecules that came from fossil fuels, and makes these emitters especially bad.

Most of our hundred molecules were plants at some point in the recent past. And plants suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. This creates a natural cycle, where CO2 grows a plant, is broken into methane, and then is broken back into CO2, where the process can repeat itself. 

But that’s not the case for fossil fuels. Fossil fuels come from ancient carbon stored in the ground. When fossil fuel methane eventually breaks down, it’s adding new CO2 to our atmosphere, causing our planet to heat up even faster! Because of this, methane from fossil fuels can warm the planet as much as 38 percent more than methane from other sources!.

After methane has broken into CO2, the molecules are slowly absorbed into oceans, fields, and forests over centuries. 

Until at last, roughly a thousand years since the start of our journey, our hundredth molecule is consumed by a flower, bringing our story of the life and death — and second life — of methane to an end.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Methane’s life, death, and secret second life on Jan 10, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

US emissions rose in 2022. Here’s why that’s not as bad as it sounds.

Grist - Tue, 01/10/2023 - 03:15

A new report from the Rhodium Group, a research firm that models greenhouse gas emissions, brings good news and bad news. First, the bad: U.S. emissions increased by just over 1 percent last year, making 2022 the second consecutive year of carbon emissions growth since the American economy began recovering from the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news is that there are signs that the U.S. economy is already starting to kick its addiction to planet-warming emissions, even before the implementation of the landmark clean energy law passed by Congress last year. Although carbon emissions grew in 2022, the 1.3 percent year-over-year growth was far smaller than the 6.2 percent surge in 2021. More significantly, emissions didn’t rise as fast as overall economic output, indicating that the U.S. economy became less carbon-intensive even as it roared back to life after the 2020 lockdowns. 

The main reason for this increasing divergence between economic growth and emissions growth is the decline of coal power, which is by far the most carbon-intensive form of electricity generation. As coal plants across the U.S. have shuttered over the past decade, natural gas plants have largely opened up to replace them. While natural gas is a fossil fuel, burning it produces around half the emissions that burning coal does.

Even more notably, the past two years have seen a dramatic surge in renewable energy. Carbon-free power generation grew 12 percent in 2022, according to Rhodium, driven by the breakneck adoption of solar and wind. This growth came in spite of the fact that new solar deployments actually slowed down in 2022 as the industry grappled with snarls in the supply chain for polysilicon and other critical materials used to make solar panels. An ongoing squabble over tariffs on Chinese solar materials may further hamper the industry.

Even so, the continued rollout of solar and wind facilities helped renewables overtake coal power in 2022, marking a major milestone in the energy transition. Solar, wind, and hydropower combined now account for around 22 percent of U.S. power generation, more than coal at 20 percent or nuclear at 19 percent, according to Rhodium. That hasn’t been the case in more than 60 years, ever since coal first surpassed hydropower.

The new data from Rhodium suggests that, despite the shocks of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the U.S. is on a long-term path toward a cleaner grid. The drop in power-sector emissions last year doesn’t reflect the potential effect of the Inflation Reduction Act, the major climate law signed by President Biden last August, which provides extensive new tax credits for renewable energy as well as for electric vehicles and home energy efficiency. The first projects that benefit from the legislation aren’t expected to arrive until late 2023, but the subsidies will only further juice the current trend toward clean energy over the coming decade.

Last year, as the United States emerged from the first wave of the pandemic, emissions grew faster than the economy did, thanks to a temporary resurgence in cheap coal and a huge jump in the number of automobile trips taken nationwide. Carbon pollution from the transportation and building sectors continued to rise this year, according to Rhodium’s data, reflecting the continued dominance of internal-combustion vehicles and gas heat. It was only in the power sector that emissions fell year-over-year.

That’s in keeping with a long-term trend. U.S. emissions have fallen by 15.5 percent since their peak in 2005, largely thanks to the slow death of coal power. It was a market-driven shift toward gas and renewables, rather than any climate-focused public policy, that spurred this reduction, but now the Inflation Reduction Act should help extend these gains to other segments of the economy, pushing the U.S. closer to meeting the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accords, in which the world’s countries collectively pledged to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

The report from Rhodium notes that federal policy, “together with additional policies from leading states as well as action from private actors, can put the [Paris] target within reach—but all parties must act quickly.” The report also says that the U.S. may see emissions fall as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act as soon as this year — “if the government can fast-track implementation.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline US emissions rose in 2022. Here’s why that’s not as bad as it sounds. on Jan 10, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

After Comeback, Southern Iraq’s Marshes Are Now Drying Up

Yale Environment 360 - Tue, 01/10/2023 - 01:30

After recovering from Saddam Hussein’s campaign to drain them, Iraq’s Mesopotamian Marshes are disappearing as a regional drought enters its fourth year and upstream dams cut off water flows. Marsh Arabs, resident for millennia, are leaving, and biodiversity is collapsing.

Read more on E360 →

Categories: H. Green News

The non-committal committee

Ecologist - Mon, 01/09/2023 - 23:00
The non-committal committee Channel Comment brendan 10th January 2023 Teaser Media
Categories: H. Green News

Insect Loss Stunting Fruit and Vegetable Production, Leading to More Than 400,000 Early Deaths a Year

Yale Environment 360 - Mon, 01/09/2023 - 07:23

The global decline of bees and other pollinators is stunting yields of fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Scientists estimate that the loss of these nutritious foods is leading to 427,000 early deaths a year.

Read more on E360 →

Categories: H. Green News

Protect This Place: Oregon’s Twin Lake

The Revelator - Mon, 01/09/2023 - 05:00

The Place:

Atop a ridge in the Blue Mountains, just west of the small town of La Grande in northeast Oregon, hides a beautiful small lake and associated wetland. What we now call Twin Lake or Little Morgan Lake — its Indigenous name is unknown to me — offers the promise of secluded summer breeding habitat for aquatic species, as well as food and respite for many birds following ancient migration routes. Clean, perennial water supports a complex community of aquatic plants, invertebrates and amphibians.

Why it matters:

Twin Lake hides behind its larger sister, Morgan Lake, on Glass Hill. Construction of a small dam in the early1900s increased the size and depth of Morgan Lake, creating a reservoir for irrigation and, soon thereafter, electrical power. Water released from the dam tumbled down 1,000 feet, passing through turbines to generate electricity for the growing town below. Twin Lake, however, escaped development and remains a place of peaceful natural beauty.

By the 1960s local power no longer depended on the dam, and Morgan Lake reservoir appeared to be doomed to become an exclusive, gated development of waterfront homes. Against long odds, a dedicated group of local conservationists affiliated with the Isaak Walton League helped to forestall this plan. The lakes and remaining wetlands were deeded to the city of La Grande in 1967, providing some measure of protection for native vegetation, wildlife, and recreation.

Today the city of La Grande owns and manages the property as Morgan Lake Park. Stocked with fish each summer, Morgan Lake attracts boaters, fishers and picnickers. Twin Lake, though part of the park, has largely escaped public attention. Somewhat hidden to the west, it remains in near pristine condition, where it provides refuge for an extraordinary diversity of emergent aquatic plants, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, and countless seasonal nesting birds and annual migrants.

These ridgetop wetlands harbor secrets of some ancient geologic magic. No inlet stream enters either lake, yet both Twin and Morgan lakes remain wet year-round. Subterranean springs pump water upward from an active aquifer hidden somewhere below. Snowmelt also contributes moisture to the system.

Twin Lake comprises a broad, shallow pond filled with emergent plants that exhibit surprising botanical diversity. A lush growth of native great yellow pond-lilies (Nuphar polysepala) thrust their large flowers up through dense mats of floating leaves. Common bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris) catches and digests tiny insects and crustaceans in trapdoor bladders hidden among their leaves submerged beneath the water. An unusual plant known as bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), found nowhere else along Glass Hill, flourishes in Twin Lake.

The threat:

Idaho Power Company has applied for a permit to construct a 500-kilovolt power line that would run through the property directly adjacent to Twin and Morgan Lakes. Following official condemnation of the surrounding private lands, deep blasting will commence in order to set the footings prior to construction of immense towers. In addition to a higher wildfire threat from the high-voltage lines, construction and operation of the power line will introduce invasive plant species and possibly alter the area’s hydrology irreparably.

The underlying geology of Glass Hill is complicated and not well understood. No one knows exactly how the flow of subterranean water to Twin and Morgan Lakes might be altered by tower construction. Without life-sustaining spring water, Twin Lake may dry up quickly, leaving behind only a dry, fire- and weed-prone field of little ecological value.

My place in this place:

The origin story of Glass Hill includes explosive volcanic eruptions, lava flows from ancient fissures in the underlying rock, and faults thrusting layers of basalt upward in seismic events buried in long, geologic time. Next, layers of fine volcanic ash spewing from the great eruptions of Mt. Mazama 7,700 years ago added layers of fertile soil throughout the forests of northeast Oregon. Indigenous people walked this ridge for many thousands of years, creating their stories and life histories in harmony with the land. People from the Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla and Nez Perce Tribes arrived to harvest abundant camas bulbs and fish in the Grande Ronde Valley below.

Eventually wagon trains following the Oregon Trail westward from Missouri brought many new people to this place, including some of my own ancestors. Changes to the landscape were profound, as farming, mining and railroads replaced sustainable hunting and gathering. As a botanist, I grieve the many losses and acknowledge that what remains is precious.

Plants emerge from Twin Lake. Photo: Karen Antell

Innumerable stories could be told about the complex web of interactions of any native ecosystem. These stories inform the collective wisdom and experiences of the communities they embrace. Our lives, like those of Indigenous people before us, become impoverished when these connections disappear from living memory. I feel protective of this place and have sought to keep knowledge of the natural ecosystems alive through public education. The unique wetlands springing to life along this obscure ridge top might continue to fill us with wonder and inspiration for many more generations, if we can only keep it whole.

Who’s protecting it now:

Twin Lake has no official protection beyond its inclusion within Morgan Lake Park. A grassroots organization, the Stop B2H Coalition, has formed in opposition to the transmission line, which will run 305 miles and require 1,200 towers.

What this place needs:

Strong environmental protection ultimately requires time, money, political savvy, and sustained community involvement. The economic forces driving big energy projects like this one quickly overwhelm small communities. Twin Lake needs the legal protections that a strong conservation easement might provide. Legal documents require attorneys. Attorneys require fees. Fundraising requires dedicated volunteers, donors, and an engaged community.

Lessons from the fight:

We must practice constant vigilance. Concerned residents and the Isaak Walton League helped save this area once before from commercial development. We became complacent, assuming that this special, peaceful place would always be here for morning birdwatching, afternoon walks, and summer star-gazing. No one ever imagined that the day would come in which the very existence of this important wetland would be threatened by construction of high-voltage electrical power lines. Special places require special protections, and once the threat appears, it may be too late.

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Previously in The Revelator:

Protect This Place: Kenya’s Kinangop Grasslands

The post Protect This Place: Oregon’s Twin Lake appeared first on The Revelator.

Categories: H. Green News

30×30 is conservation’s flashy new goal. Now countries need to figure out what it actually means.

Grist - Mon, 01/09/2023 - 03:45

Last month, right before the holidays, nearly 200 countries announced a breakthrough deal to protect Earth’s plants and animals. Of the 22 targets established at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, or COP15, one stood out: an agreement to conserve 30 percent of land and seas by the year 2030. 

The goal, commonly known as 30×30, has been around for a few years, slowly gaining traction in environmental circles since it was first proposed in the journal Science Advances in 2019. It draws inspiration from research by famed biologist E.O. Wilson that at least half the planet needs to be conserved in some way to protect 80 percent of species. The formal adoption of 30×30 by nearly all of the world’s governments at COP15 turned it into the official guiding star for the global conservation movement, with some leaders comparing it to the Paris Agreement in terms of significance.

Now, with negotiators at home and a new year underway, countries face the monumental task of figuring out what one of the most ambitious goals in conservation history actually means, in practice.

One of the toughest questions yet to be answered is: What exactly counts towards the 30 percent? Can certain conservation-minded agricultural methods that protect soil and promote a diversity of crops be included, or do only strictly protected areas like national parks count? To what degree will Indigenous territories be considered conserved land? And how will areas that connect fragments and contain the rarest, most species-rich ecosystems be prioritized under the goal? The final language in last month’s global agreement was vague on many of these topics.

“Underneath that [30×30] number is a huge amount of complexity,” said Claire Kremen, a conservation biology professor at the University of British Columbia who researches how to reconcile biodiversity conservation with agriculture. “It all depends on where and how you do this protection and there hasn’t been a lot of clarity on these points.”

The United States, while not technically part of last month’s global pact (the Senate since 1993 has refused to join the biodiversity convention), has been wrestling with these same questions independently. President Biden committed to the 30×30 goal within U.S. borders via executive order during his first week in office. And many states have also committed to the target, including California, Maine, New York, Hawaii, and New Mexico. 

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is a national park in northern Alaska. Sean Tevebaugh, National Park Service

Just as negotiators at COP15 struggled to come to an agreement about what types of ecosystems and actions should count towards the global goal, the U.S. government has yet to define what “conserved” land and sea means under 30×30. 

Currently, the U.S. has a variety of different protected area designations that are regulated in different ways. Most federal land, which makes up 27 percent of the country, is managed under some form of conservation, be it national parks and wilderness areas or, more commonly, a “mixed-use” mandate that allows for what the government determines to be sustainable levels of extractive activities like forestry and grazing. Add state parks and private land under conservation easements to the mix, and we’ve easily already met the 30 percent target, says Forrest Fleischman, a professor of environmental policy and forest governance at the University of Minnesota.

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But most 30×30 advocates don’t think that all those lands should count towards the target, whose main goal is to protect biodiversity. While the U.S. Geological Survey’s Protected Area Database considers more than 31 percent of the country’s land under some form of protection, only 13 percent has strict mandates for biodiversity protection that don’t allow for any extractive activity. 

“There’s habitat value to be found in all sorts of lands,” said Helen O’Shea, an expert on land-use and conservation issues at the Natural Resources Defense Council, “but the 30×30 effort is about creating a system that’s protected and ecologically representative. A connected system that’s going to link up areas that are solely being looked at for conservation purposes.” 

For others, however, the answer isn’t as simple as just increasing the amount of land under strict protection. “If the goal is to move another 17 percent of the U.S. into something equivalent to a national forest or wilderness area, that seems unrealistic,” said Fleischman, who is part of group of experts working to understand the social implications of 30×30, funded by the Science for Nature and People Partnership

When the 30×30 goal was first announced in the U.S., it received significant pushback from ranching communities and private landowners, who were concerned about impacts to rural economies like grazing and logging. Many also argued that certain productive land uses, especially when planned with biodiversity in mind, are compatible with conservation of species and ecosystems. While the white spotted owl can’t live in logged forests of the Pacific Northwest, for example, open grazing helps to maintain prairie habitats. Some grassland birds also thrive in the early successional forests that grow after timber harvest. 

“It’s a very complicated, site-specific issue,” said Tom Cors, director of U.S. government relations for The Nature Conservancy. “Some places might have adequate ‘protection,’ but they need more management,” he added, referencing the need to conduct more prescribed burning to support ecosystem function in Western forests.

Mixed variety cover crops on a farm near St. John, Washington protect and enrich the soil. VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Globally, the most significant critique of the 30×30 initiative has come from Indigenous peoples, who warn that the protected area conservation model has allowed governments and nonprofit groups to seize control of natural resources and, in many cases, violently remove Indigenous peoples from their lands, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Nepal to Peru. Tribes in the U.S. that have historically been excluded from conservation planning, decision-making, and funding wanted to make sure the country’s 30×30 goal didn’t repeat these patterns.

In an effort to address those concerns, the Biden administration framed its 30×30 pledge as a “collaborative and inclusive approach to conservation,” with topline goals of honoring tribal sovereignty, supporting the priorities of tribal nations, respecting private property rights, and supporting the voluntary efforts of landowners, all with science as a guide. A May 2021 report from the Department of the Interior emphasized the concept of “conservation” rather than “protection,” “recognizing that many uses of our lands and waters, including of working lands, can be consistent with the long-term health and sustainability of natural systems.” 

An interagency working group is trying to account for different types of land uses while building the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas, a tool to represent the amount and types of lands and waters that are currently conserved or restored. Part of the group’s mandate is to figure out how contributions from farmers, ranchers, and forest owners, as well as the conservation strategies of Tribal Nations, will count toward the 30×30 goal. A December 2021 progress report did not include a number for how much land and water is currently managed for conservation; in an email to Grist, a Department of the Interior, or DOI, spokesperson had no updates on the Atlas timeline. 

Beyond “what actions count,” land managers are also thinking about “which lands and waters should be protected?” towards the 30-percent target. Biodiversity tends to be concentrated in certain areas and ecosystem types, so where land protection happens is important. In its comments on the Atlas, The Nature Conservancy recommended distributing conserved areas among 68 ecoregions of the U.S. — the Central Appalachians, Northern tallgrass prairie, and California central coast, for example — and protecting 30 percent of each.

In the U.S., it’s private lands that contain most of the country’s biodiversity; these also play a role in connecting protected areas, which conservation groups have emphasized as an important priority for the Atlas, as habitat connectivity has been shown to be critical for species’ survival. In addition, the Biden administration wants the tool to promote equity, increasing access to nature in historically marginalized communities, often in urban areas. Yet as the DOI itself notes, “there is no single metric — including a percentage target — that could fully measure progress toward the fulfillment of those interrelated goals [of doing better for people, for fish and wildlife, and for the planet].”

The 30×30 target established at the U.N. biodiversity conference is global, meaning that countries can sign onto it without necessarily committing to conserve 30-percent of land and waters within their borders. Still, many countries have issued their own 30×30 commitments, including Canada, Australia, Costa Rica, and France. The United Kingdom has been criticized for claiming to protect 28 percent of its land when the included national parks and “areas of outstanding natural beauty” fail to address poor farming practices, pollution, and invasive species. In July, Colombia announced that it had already met the target for land and sea.

The final agreement reached at COP15 nodded to the inclusion of working lands and the importance of protecting ecologically-representative and high-biodiversity habitats, without setting clear guidelines. It “recognized and respected” the rights of Indigenous peoples, who steward 80% of the world’s biodiversity on their lands, without establishing their territories as a specific category of conserved area, leaving them vulnerable to human rights violations. 

For Fleischman, having a “political slogan” without a clear meaning isn’t necessarily helpful for achieving biodiversity and environmental justice goals. “Advocates say, ‘Look beyond the numeric spatial target at the language which is about finding ways to pursue conservation at a whole landscape level while taking into account social equity issues such as [urban] parks,’” he said. “But if that’s the case, what is the point of saying ‘30 x 30’? ‘Healthy nature everywhere’ might be a better goal.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline 30×30 is conservation’s flashy new goal. Now countries need to figure out what it actually means. on Jan 9, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

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