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Want to join the American Climate Corps? Here’s what we know so far.

Wed, 09/20/2023 - 14:44

The United States is about to embark on an experiment inspired by one of the New Deal’s most popular programs. On Wednesday, the Biden administration authorized the creation of the American Climate Corps through an executive order. The program would hire 20,000 young people in its first year, putting them to work installing wind and solar projects, making homes more energy-efficient, and restoring ecosystems like coastal wetlands to protect towns from flooding.

The idea has been in the works for years. It was first announced in President Joe Biden’s early days in the White House in January 2021, tucked into a single paragraph in an executive order on tackling the climate crisis. At the time, it was called the Civilian Climate Corps — a reference to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, launched in 1933 to help the country survive the Great Depression, which was responsible for building hundreds of parks, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as many hiking trails and lodges you can find across the country today. Early versions of Biden’s trademark climate law that passed last year, the Inflation Reduction Act, included money for reviving the CCC. But that funding got cut during negotiations last summer with Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and the program was assumed dead. 

Now it’s back, with a name change. Biden’s executive order promises that the American Climate Corps “will ensure more young people have access to the skills-based training necessary for good-paying careers” in clean energy and climate resilience efforts. There are plans to link it with AmeriCorps, the national service program, and leverage several smaller climate corps initiatives that states have launched in California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, and Washington. However, the order didn’t provide details on what kind of funding the program is getting or how much workers will get paid. The White House also launched a new website where you can sign up to get updates about joining the program.

Reviving the Civilian Conservation Corps is widely popular, with 84 percent of Americans supporting the idea in polling conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication last year. Mark Paul, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University, said the new name that swapped “Civilian” for “American” leans into patriotism in an effort to broaden the program’s appeal even further. 

“I think that right now we are in a fight for the very soul of the nation,” Paul said. “President Biden and other Democrats are trying to brand climate [action] as not only good for the environment, but good for America. And I think that’s precisely what they are trying to convey with this name change, that climate jobs are good for the American people.”

The program could also be an attempt to appeal to young voters ahead of the 2024 presidential election. The administration drew criticism from climate activists when it approved the Willow oil project in northern Alaska in March after concluding that the courts wouldn’t allow them to block it. After that decision, polling from Data for Progress found that Biden’s approval ratings on climate change dropped 13 percent among voters between the ages of 18 to 29. The revival of the CCC has long been an item on progressives’ wish lists — back in 2020, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, reportedly sold Secretary of State John Kerry on making the program part of Biden’s platform during the 2020 presidential campaign. 

“I am thrilled to say that the White House has been responsive to our generation’s demand for a climate corps and that President Biden acknowledges that this is just the beginning of building the climate workforce of the future,” Varshini Prakash, the director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, told reporters ahead of Biden’s announcement.

A group of Civilian Conservation Corps members plant seedlings on a clear-cut hillside in Oregon. Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

To be sure, the American Climate Corps could run into problems. If it’s modeled off AmeriCorps, the jobs might not exactly qualify as “good jobs” — AmeriCorps members are more like volunteers who get a small stipend, often living close to the poverty line. The White House, for its part, is selling the program as a path to good careers. The administration “will specifically be focused on making sure that folks that are coming through this program have a pathway into good-paying union jobs,” said White House National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi on a call with reporters on Tuesday about the announcement. “We’re very keenly focused on that.” 

The initiative could help bolster the ranks of workers like electricians, according to Zaidi, addressing the country’s shortage of skilled workers who can install low-carbon technologies like electric vehicle chargers and heat pumps. “We’re hopeful that the launch of the American Climate Corps will help accelerate training for a new generation of installers, contractors, and other tradespeople who are, at the end of the day, the ones who make these great ideas a reality,” Paul Lambert, co-founder and CEO of Quilt, a heat pump company in California, said in a statement to Grist.

With the goal of hiring 20,000 a year, the new program is much smaller than many activists had hoped: The original CCC employed 300,000 men in just its first three months (women were excluded until Eleanor Roosevelt’s “She-She-She” camps opened in 1934). Some progressives, like Ocasio-Cortez, were hoping a climate corps could employ 1.5 million people over five years. Assuming all goes well, the program could expand. Paul speculates that the Biden administration is starting small as “proof of concept to the American people to show that this program can work and that it is worthy of investment.”

If interest in the American Climate Corps is high, those 20,000 slots could fill up quickly. Among the 1,200 likely voters polled by Data for Progress two years ago, half of those under 45 said they’d consider joining, given the chance.

“I teach youth day in and day out, and one of the biggest problems we face right now is youth feeling like they don’t know what to do,” Paul said. “And now we have a program that the U.S. government is facilitating to point to and say, ‘You know, if you want to help, here’s one way that you can contribute to decarbonizing our nation.’”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Want to join the American Climate Corps? Here’s what we know so far. on Sep 20, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Climate risks place 39 million U.S. homes at risk of losing their insurance

Wed, 09/20/2023 - 01:45

From California to Florida, homeowners have been facing a new climate reality: Insurance companies don’t want to cover their properties. According to a report released today, the problem will only get worse. 

The nonprofit climate research firm First Street Foundation found that, while about 6.8 million properties nationwide already rely on expensive public insurance programs, that’s only a fraction of 39 million across the country that face similar conditions.

“There’s this climate insurance bubble out there,” said Jeremy Porter, the head of climate implications at First Street and a contributor to the report. “And you can quantify it.”

Each state regulates its insurance market, and some limit how much companies can raise rates in a given year. In California, for example, anything more than a 7 percent hike requires a public hearing. According to First Street, such policies have meant premiums don’t always accurately reflect risk, especially as climate change exacerbates natural disasters. 

This has led companies such as Allstate, State Farm, Nationwide, and others to pull out of areas with a high threat of wildfire, floods, and storms. In the Southern California city of San Bernardino, for example, non-renewals jumped 774 percent between 2015 and 2021. When that happens, homeowners often must enroll in a government-run insurance-of-last-resort program where premiums can cost thousands of dollars more per year.

“The report shows that actuarially sound pricing is going to make it unaffordable to live in certain places as climate impacts emerge,” said David Russell, a professor of insurance and finance at California State University Northridge. He did not contribute to the report. “It’s startling and it’s very well documented.”

Russell says that what’s most likely to shock people is the economic toll on affected properties. When insurance costs soar, First Street shows, it severely undermines home values — and in some cases erodes them entirely. 

The report found that insurance for the average California home could nearly quadruple if future risk is factored in, with those extra costs causing a roughly 39 percent drop in value. The situation is even worse in Florida and Louisiana, where flood insurance in Plaquemines Parish near New Orleans could go from $824 annually to $11,296 and a property could effectively become worthless. 

“There’s no education to the public of what’s going on and where the risk is,” said Porter, explaining that most insurance models are proprietary. Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency doesn’t make its flood insurance pricing available to the public — homeowners must go through insurance brokers for a quote. 

First Street is posting its report online, and it also runs, where anyone can type in an address and receive user-friendly risk information for any property in the U.S. One metric the site provides is annualized damage for flood and wind risk. Porter said that if that number is higher than a homeowner’s current premiums, then a climate risk of some kind probably hasn’t yet been priced into the coverage. 

“This would indicate that at some point this risk will get priced into their insurance costs,” he said, “and their cost of home ownership would increase along with that.”

Wildfires are the fastest growing natural disaster risk, First Street reported. Over the next 30 years, it estimates the number of acres burned will balloon from about 4 million acres per year to 9 million, and the number of structures destroyed is on track to double to 34,000 annually. Wildfires are also the predominant threat for 4.4 million of the 39 million properties that First Street identified as at risk of insurance upheaval. 

“You don’t want someone to live in a place that always burns. They don’t belong there,” he said. “We’re subsidizing people to live in harm’s way.”

First Street hopes that highlighting the climate insurance bubble allows people to make better informed decisions. For homeowners, that may mean taking precautions against, say, wildfires, by replacing their roof or clearing flammable material from around their house. Policymakers, he said, could use the information to help at-risk communities adapt to or mitigate their risk. In either case, Porter said, reducing threats could help keep insurance rates from spiking. 

Ultimately, though, Russell says moving people out of disaster-prone areas will likely be necessary.

“Large numbers of people will need to be relocated away from areas that will be uninsurable.” he said. “There is a reckoning on the horizon and it’s not pretty.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Climate risks place 39 million U.S. homes at risk of losing their insurance on Sep 20, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

California installs 10,000 EV fast chargers, but needs quadruple that

Tue, 09/19/2023 - 15:08

More than a year ahead of a state deadline, California has installed 10,000 fast chargers for electric vehicles, the latest in a series of recent milestones in the state’s race to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles. 

Direct-current fast chargers, or DCFC, play an important role in the transition to electric vehicles, because they are a driver’s best option to quickly recharge a battery while on the road. Fast chargers typically offer power outputs between 50 kW to 350 kW, and some can charge an EV battery to 80 percent in as quickly as 20 minutes. In contrast, the next-fastest type of charger, a Level 2, takes between four to 10 hours to reach the same level of charge.

In 2018, former Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order that mandated the state install 250,000 EV chargers, including 10,000 fast chargers, by 2025. Since then, the state has nearly quadrupled the number of public and “shared private” (chargers installed at places of business or apartment buildings) fast chargers to hit its target, from around 2,600 to more than 10,000. 

“This is the future of transportation — and it’s happening right now all across California,” Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday at Climate Week NYC in New York, where he made the announcement.

But the state is further behind in its goal to reach 250,000 total chargers by 2025. It currently has less than half that: There are about 93,800 public and shared private chargers in total, but only 41,000 of those are fully public. Additionally, its goal of 250,000 chargers, set more than five years ago, no longer reflects the breakneck pace at which Californians are transitioning to electric vehicles. 

There are more than 1.6 million EVs in the state, and 25 percent of new cars sold in the first quarter of 2023 were electric vehicles. An August report from the California Energy Commission found that the state will need more than 1 million public and shared private chargers — including 39,000 fast chargers — to support 7 million electric vehicles by 2030, a steep increase from current targets. 

“With new EV sales increasing every month, the charging market needs to step up the pace,” John Gartner, senior director of transportation programs at the Center for Sustainable Energy, told Grist in an email. 

Still, Gartner said that installing 10,000 fast chargers was significant, considering the high equipment costs and long wait times for permitting and connection confronting the industry. Gartner said federal and state incentive programs would be crucial in reducing financial risk and attracting private investment in EV infrastructure.  

California has invested billions in incentives. Last week, it opened applications for $38 million in equity-focused incentives to fund public charging stations in low-income and disadvantaged communities in 28 counties. And a newly passed bill awaiting Newsom’s signature would provide close to $2 billion for zero-emission vehicle incentives and for supporting infrastructure through 2035.

The federal government is also making $5 billion available to states for EV infrastructure through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program, and has a goal of installing 500,000 chargers by 2030.  

The rest of the country has even farther to go on EV infrastructure. The three most populous states after California have only a fraction of the number of fast chargers. Florida has 2,038, Texas has 2,017 and New York has 1,283. Alaska has the fewest number of fast chargers, with 32. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline California installs 10,000 EV fast chargers, but needs quadruple that on Sep 19, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Why we need to sweat

Tue, 09/19/2023 - 06:00

Hello, welcome to Record High. I’m Kate Yoder, a staff writer at Grist, and today, we’re looking at how sweating can help us cope with climate change.

It is embarrassing to be a sweaty person. I remember making my way to the podium to give a speech at my sixth-grade graduation, my feet squelching audibly in flip-flops with every step; taking a test and noticing the warped paper beneath my moist hand; standing up from a plastic chair and hoping no one noticed the sweaty butt print I left behind. So it came as a relief to learn that sweating was actually good for something. 

Once I learned that the science journalist Sarah Everts wrote a book called The Joy of Sweat, I knew that I had to talk to her. Everts makes the case that perspiration is a human superpower, a gift for enduring sweltering temperatures. “I think it’s funny that humans have this enormous taboo about a biological function that’s ultimately going to help us survive climate change,” she told me.

Paula Winkler / Getty Images

The science of sweat goes as follows: At the first hint of getting hot, your heart starts pumping blood toward the outskirts of your body. In tandem, sweat glands pump water — drawn from that blood — onto your skin. When those tiny beads evaporate, they move heat off the body and into the air. It’s an incredibly efficient way to cool down. The geneticist Yana Kamberov, who studies the evolution of sweat, told me that the ability to shed buckets of water is an ability as unique to humans as our oversize brains.

So why do we burn through all that water, one of life’s precious resources? To avoid getting cooked from the inside out. “Dying from a heat wave is like a horror movie with 27 endings that you can choose from,” said Camilo Mora, a climate scientist at the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa, who has cataloged 27 different ways that heat can lead to organ failure and death. 

“Dying from a heat wave is like a horror movie with 27 endings that you can choose from.”

The thing is, sweating has its limits, as I reported for Grist this week. Very hot, humid conditions can render it ineffective. When the air is thick with water molecules, it’s harder for sweat to evaporate, and the body starts overheating. The theoretical point at which no amount of sweating can help you is thought to be six hours of exposure to a “wet-bulb temperature” of 35 degrees Celsius, or 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Wet-bulb temperature — invented by the U.S. military in the 1950s after recruits kept collapsing from heat illness — is a measurement that combines heat and humidity with sunlight and wind.

But heat gets dangerous long before that point. Last year, a study found that the upper limit of safety for healthy people was a wet-bulb temperature of 31 degrees C, or 88 degrees F. And factors like age, illness, and body size change the math. Older people are especially vulnerable — partly because of health conditions, and partly because sweat glands tend to deteriorate with age.

That humidity poses a problem for sweating is well-known, but I was surprised to learn that the opposite extreme — hot, dry air — could present its own set of problems. Sweat evaporates very quickly in arid conditions, but the human body can only produce a limited amount of sweat, said Ollie Jay, a health professor at the University of Sydney in Australia. That limit is about a liter per hour at rest, or about three liters an hour during exercise. If you managed to reach that point of maximum sweatiness in dry heat, then you wouldn’t be able to sweat enough to cool down. But most climate models ignore this, leading almost certainly to overestimates for what humans can handle, Jay said.

Given how crucial perspiration is for survival, you’d think researchers would have the science of sweat all figured out by now, but there are still open questions. Read the full story here. (Teaser: It includes a robot that sweats.)

By the numbers

Earlier this month, researchers analyzed the hot and humid conditions under which the human body starts to overheat unless specific actions to cool down are taken. They found that under our current climate, 8 percent of the land on Earth will meet this threshold at least once a decade. That would increase to a quarter if global temperatures warm 2 degrees C above the preindustrial average.

Data Visualization by Clayton Aldern

What we’re reading

It’s not only coral in trouble in Florida: Anemones, sponges, and jellyfish — usually resilient creatures — are struggling to survive in the Everglades amid record marine temperatures. “It’s a complete ecosystem problem,” Matt Bellinger, owner and operator of Bamboo Charters in the Keys, told Abigail Geiger and Gabriela Tejeda for their piece in Grist.

Read more

Take a siesta: A midday break with a meal and a nap doesn’t just sound pleasant, it also protects outdoor workers from exposure to the hottest time of day. Grist fellow Siri Chilukuri explains the benefits of reviving the Mediterranean tradition and the challenges of bringing it to the overworked United States.

Read more

The fight for worker safety heats up: After laboring in temperatures up to 118 degrees F, baggage handlers, runway signalers, and cabin cleaners at the Phoenix airport requested an investigation of working conditions they say leave them prone to heat illness and exhaustion. They are the first airport workers to file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Grist fellow Katie Myers reports.

Read more

Heat waves and pregnancy are a dangerous combo: Exposure to both short- and long-term heat raises the risk of life-threatening complications during labor and delivery, Jessica Kutz reports for The 19th. A recent study found that extreme heat was associated with a 27 percent increase in “severe maternal morbidity,” a category that includes cardiac arrest, eclampsia, heart failure, and sepsis.

Read more

An “extreme heat belt” is emerging in the Midwest: When hazardous heat came to Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska in August, emergency rooms saw a record number of people suffering from heat-related illnesses. Many homes in the region are designed in a way that’s ill-prepared for hotter temperatures, Holly Edgell writes for Kansas City’s KCUR.

Read more

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Why we need to sweat on Sep 19, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Will sweat help us survive climate change?

Tue, 09/19/2023 - 01:45

This story is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live. 

Under the relentless sun in Africa, the birthplace of humanity, every living thing had to find a way to beat the heat. Lions rested in the shade, termites built giant ventilation mounds, and elephants evolved giant ears that could flap like fans. Around 2 million years ago, our ancestors perfected the weirdest technique of them all: pushing water from inside our bodies to outside, a gift for enduring sweltering temperatures.

Other animals can sweat a bit, but not like us. Running around in the heat, a person can shed more than two gallons of water each day, draining one of life’s precious resources at a speedy pace. As the body tries to cool down, blood vessels widen, redirecting hot blood from the core of your body toward the surface. In tandem, sweat glands pump water, drawn from that blood, onto your skin. When those tiny beads evaporate, they carry heat off the body and into the air. 

“It is crucial to being human,” said Yana Kamberov, a geneticist studying the evolution of sweat at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s something that differentiates us from every other animal on the planet” — right up there with our oversized brains. The average person has between 2 and 4 million sweat glands in their skin, at 10 times the density of a chimpanzee’s, one of our closest living relatives. For humans, sweat proved even more useful than protective fur; our thick coat dwindled into peach fuzz to allow water to evaporate more efficiently.

Our biological sprinkler systems are now being put to the test. This summer was not just the hottest three consecutive months on record, but the hottest on Earth in 125,000 years. Phoenix spent 31 days in a row with a high of 110 degrees F or above. Across the Northern Hemisphere, from continent to continent, heat records fell at an alarming pace, with Morocco and China setting all-time highs above 120 degrees F. The swampy Gulf Coast heat soared as high as 115 degrees F, rewriting records for Houston and New Orleans. Even South America, in the throes of winter, saw unbelievable heat: A town in the Chilean Andes topped 100 degrees F — another all-time high.

It is getting to the point that life is dangerous without air-conditioning. If a widespread power outage hit Phoenix during a heat wave and lasted for days, it could kill thousands and send half the city to the emergency room, according to a recent study. And the soupy heat in the Gulf Coast comes with a challenge of its own: Super hot and humid air makes it hard for sweat to evaporate, because the environment is already thick with water molecules, which means more heat stays trapped inside the body, raising the risk of getting cooked from the inside out. 

“Dying from a heat wave is like a horror movie with 27 endings that you can choose from,” said Camilo Mora, a climate scientist at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, who has cataloged 27 different ways that heat can lead to organ failure and death. 

As blood gets shunted toward the skin, for instance, it strains the heart and deprives the brain and gut of oxygen, leading to heart attacks and other grisly outcomes from widespread inflammation and clotting. Prolonged sweating can also cause dehydration, sometimes inducing kidney failure. Heat has so many ways to kill you that it’s easily the deadliest of all weather disasters Americans face. In 2017, Mora and colleagues found that 30 percent of the world’s population was already exposed to potentially deadly heat for 20 days or more each year.

Given how crucial perspiration is for survival, you’d think that researchers would have the science of sweat all figured out by now, but there are still open questions. Exactly how hot is too hot for the human body? How important is humidity? And why aren’t we more grateful for sweat? Its nasty reputation for making you stink belies the fact that it’s essentially a built-in life jacket to help you ride out record-breaking heat waves. 

Feeling moist and sticky is much better than the alternative — death by heat stroke. “I think it’s funny that humans have this enormous taboo about a biological function that’s ultimately going to help us survive climate change,” said Sarah Everts, the author of The Joy of Sweat.

Deadly heat can hit basically anywhere, catching people off-guard. Take the record-breaking temperatures that swept over Europe last summer, sending the thermostat soaring above 100 degrees F across the continent, resulting in more than 61,000 deaths. Our bodies can acclimatize to heat over a period of weeks, giving us the ability to sweat more. But temperatures can skyrocket quickly — in February this year, thermostats in Washington, D.C., jumped almost 30 degrees in a day, from a high of 53 degrees F one day to 81 the next. These kinds of leaps are a lot for our bodies to handle, making heat waves in cooler climates especially deadly.

Even in countries like Pakistan, where people are well-adapted to heat, sweltering temperatures are taking casualties. “With climate change, things are just going beyond limits of adaptation,” said Fahad Saeed, a scientist with the global climate policy institute Climate Analytics, who is based in Islamabad. “When you’re witnessing that in this part of the world, it really kind of tells you something is going beyond normal, because the people are acclimatized to this kind of weather, and still they are dying.”

A measure called the “wet-bulb temperature,” which combines heat and humidity with sunlight and wind speed, is used to calculate the threshold at which a healthy human body can no longer survive. Invented by the U.S. military in the 1950s after recruits kept collapsing from heat illness at a camp in South Carolina, it’s determined by covering a thermometer in a damp cloth and swinging it through the air to speed up evaporation. The theoretical point at which no amount of sweating can help you is thought to be six hours of exposure to a wet-bulb temperature of 35 degrees Celsius, or 95 degrees Fahrenheit. That translates to 95 degrees in complete humidity, for example, or 115 degrees at 50 percent humidity.

In recent years, parts of Pakistan and the Arabian Peninsula have already briefly crossed this scary threshold. And more heat will come, bringing parts of Mexico’s coasts and more of South Asia into the danger zone. Worryingly, climate change is also driving up the moisture content of the air, especially in the tropics.

Newer research suggests that the limit might be even lower than 35 degrees C. In a study last year at Penn State University, young people volunteered to subject themselves to uncomfortably hot conditions in a lab. Participants swallowed telemetry pills that monitored their core body temperature and sat in a controlled chamber, moving just enough to mimic everyday activities like cooking and eating. When the body fails to stabilize its core temperature, things start to spiral out of control: In extreme conditions, heat stroke can set in within 10 to 15 minutes. The researchers found that the upper limit of safety, based on when the participants’ core temperatures started rising, was likely closer to a wet-bulb temperature of 31 degrees C, or 88 degrees F.  

And that’s for healthy people. Factors like age, illness, and body size change the math. People over the age of 60, who account for an estimated 80 percent of the 12,000 heat-related deaths in the United States each year, often have health conditions that make heat more dangerous. What’s more, as people get older, their sweat glands deteriorate, undermining their ability to cool down. Some antipsychotic medications have a side effect of suppressing sweating, possibly one of many reasons why those diagnosed with schizophrenia are particularly vulnerable to dying in the heat.

The reality is that most people don’t take all the necessary steps to stay cool during a heat wave, like seeking shade or drinking lots of cold water — another reason that a pragmatic “danger zone” for temperatures starts well below 35 degrees C. Earlier this month, researchers from the University of Oxford and the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts analyzed the hot and humid conditions under which the human body starts to overheat unless specific actions to cool down are taken. They found that under our current climate, 8 percent of the land on Earth will meet this threshold at least once a decade. That would increase to a quarter if global temperatures warm 2 degrees C above the preindustrial average, the amount we can expect if existing and planned fossil fuel projects are carried through.

An AmeriGas propane truck drives past the World’s Tallest Thermometer landmark, which displays a temperature above 107 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) in Baker, California, on August 30, 2022. Patrick T. FALLON / AFP via Getty Images

Still, there’s a debate around how much humidity matters in health outcomes, said Jane Baldwin, an Earth systems science professor at the University of California, Irvine. Humidity isn’t showing up as a key driver of deaths in real-world epidemiological data like you’d expect based on theories about wet-bulb temperature. Baldwin recently coauthored a study trying to explain this discrepancy. One explanation could be that epidemiological data tends to come from cooler parts of the world, like Europe and the United States, whereas data is limited from tropical countries like India, Ghana, and Brazil, where the link between humidity and death would likely be strongest. Nailing down an answer to this question would help scientists make more accurate predictions about how climate change will affect health, Baldwin said. 

The opposite extreme — dry air — could present its own set of problems. In arid conditions, sweat evaporates very quickly. That’s great for cooling off, but sweat production has a limit, said Ollie Jay, a health professor at the University of Sydney in Australia. At rest, it’s hard to sweat more than a liter per hour, he said, but when you’re exercising, closer to three liters can pour out of your body in an hour. If you managed to reach that point of maximum sweatiness in dry heat, then you wouldn’t be able to sweat enough to cool down. “Most climate models for assessing future heat-stress risk assume that the body has an unlimited capacity to produce sweat,” Jay said, almost certainly leading to overestimates for what humans can handle in hot, arid climates.

Another unknown is just how much early exposure to heat changes our ability to sweat. One theory is that being exposed to high temperatures in the first two years of life can activate more sweat glands; we’re born with roughly the same number of sweat glands, but not all of them turn on and start pumping water. As a result, people born in hot places might have more active sweat glands than those born in cold climates. 

It raises questions of whether those who spend their youth avoiding sweat-soaked clothes by hiding in artificially cooled buildings could be less prepared for life on an increasingly hot planet. “Imagine, if you raise your babies purely in air conditioning,” Kamberov said, “then in a warmer world, how capable of adapting will they be?”

Sweat is essentially saving our lives all summer long — though you probably don’t enjoy it. Everts, the author of The Joy of Sweat, speculates that it violates our desire to be in control. Sweat pours out of us involuntarily: We can’t hold it in or delay it with willpower, unlike burps or farts. “When your body gets the cooldown directive, those pores open, and the sweat pours out,” Everts said, “and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to control that, right?” 

It doesn’t help that a sweaty person is often a stinky one, the curse of locker rooms everywhere. Sweat itself is odorless — it’s mostly just water — but when it mixes with bacteria on your skin, it can raise a stench. There are two types of sweat glands: Eccrine glands, the most prominent, are responsible for keeping your temperature in check and found all over the body — particularly on your forehead, palms, and the bottoms of your feet. Apocrine glands in hairy areas like the armpits and groin become active during puberty, secreting a thicker, protein-rich sweat that bacteria convert into that embarrassing aroma. Plugging your armpit pores with antiperspirant, then, won’t affect your ability to cool down: There are plenty of other escape routes on your skin.

In the olden days, people applied perfume and talcum powder to try to cover up the smell of B.O. But they were so used to it that by the time antiperspirants and deodorants came onto the market around the turn of the 20th century — the former aimed at blocking sweat pores, the latter at fighting odor-producing bacteria —  hardly anyone wanted to buy them. That posed a problem for the manufacturers. So in 1919, a copywriter named James Young who was working for the antiperspirant company Odorono (odor, oh no!) “put the fear of sweat in Americans,” Everts said. One magazine ad with the headline “The most humiliating moment in my life” featured a young woman overhearing that no one would dance with her because she suffered “frightfully from perspiration.” The idea was not just to make people aware of their stink, but to make them afraid it would stop them from finding love or a decent job. “I just wish people were less mortified by sweat,” Everts said.

The marketing campaign was a lasting success, even a century later. Last year, the global deodorant market was valued at $24 billion, and it’s on track to grow to $37 billion by the end of the decade, in part because of global warming, according to the market research firm Fortune Business Insights.

A drugstore employee restocks deodorant and antiperspirant in Miami in March 2023. Jeffrey Greenberg / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Today, some cultures are more matter-of-fact about sweat than others. In Pakistan, it’s simply a fact of life, Saeed said. Still, excessive sweating is frowned upon basically everywhere. “What can save you is not culturally accepted,” said Mora, the University of Hawaiʻi scientist. “I cannot imagine anywhere in the world where you would like to be hugged by a sweaty person.”

How sweaty you are isn’t in your control — but what you wear is. Hot, humid climates call for more exposed skin, making it easier for your sweat to evaporate; perhaps counterintuitively, loose, long sleeves and pants help you reap the benefits of sweat in arid climates, keeping the water from evaporating too quickly and at the same time blocking sunlight. Konrad Rykaczewski, a professor of engineering at Arizona State University, is researching how to help design clothing that maximizes the effectiveness of sweating. He says that scientists still don’t understand a lot about sweat on the scale that really matters for clothing design.

“The question is, how much of the sweat we produce actually goes to cooling us?” Rykaczewski said. Sweating profusely isn’t helping anyone — sweat that drips off your forehead is essentially wasted water, since it didn’t evaporate off you. By the same token, trapping a bunch of sweat underneath a hazmat suit could leave you susceptible to heat illnesses. Counterintuitively, even fabrics that wick sweat can end up stealing it away from your skin and wasting it, Rykaczewski said. When that water evaporates, it’ll cool the fabric and the air between the fabric and your skin, instead of your body directly.

Rykaczewski’s research is focused on understanding how heat affects the human body in the real world, something that’s difficult to study. “No one’s measuring someone that’s going to get heatstroke, right?” Rykaczewski said. “That’s not ethical.” 

Arizona State University associate professor Konrad Rykaczewski points to the pores on ANDI, an Advanced Newton Dynamic Instrument that beads sweat like humans. Researchers are using ANDI to learn more about the effect of heat exposure on the human body. Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images

So, in place of live humans, he and his colleagues at Arizona State have developed a sweating robot, technically called a “thermal mannequin,” that simulates human responses to super-hot temperatures. The robot — named ANDI for “Advanced Newton Dynamic Instrument” — takes frequent trips into the sizzling Arizona heat, equipped with sensors, an internal cooling system, as well as pores for sweating. One unique thing about ANDI is that it can represent anyone. Rykaczewski can modify the program to simulate how a person might weather the heat, calculating how factors like age, body size, or drug use might affect the body’s response in different situations. And it all comes at the low cost of $650,000. “We basically are developing the most expensive way to measure heat impacts on humans,” Rykaczewski joked.

ANDI is essentially a crash test dummy for a hotter planet. Our bodies are up against heat that threatens to render our dampness useless. Humans have been sweating for hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s core to who we are. But to truly understand it? For that, we needed to build a robot.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Will sweat help us survive climate change? on Sep 19, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

New battery recycling rules could be a game-changer in the EU’s search for EV minerals

Tue, 09/19/2023 - 01:30

The clean energy transition will require lots of batteries — primarily to power electric vehicles and to store renewable energy that can be dispatched to the electric grid on demand. European Union policymakers are growing more concerned about where the bloc will get all the metals required to build those batteries. One potential source? Dead lithium-ion batteries from EVs, e-bikes, and consumer electronics, which contain lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other ingredients needed to make new ones.

Recycling the metals used in batteries has the potential to limit the need for environmentally damaging mining while also reducing electronic waste. But Europe’s lithium-ion battery recycling industry is in its infancy. While manufacturers sold nearly 700,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries into the European market last year, recyclers only had the capacity to process about 17,000 tons of battery waste, according to Circular Energy Storage, a data analysis firm for the battery industry.

New rules that entered force last month could help change that. After years of negotiations, the EU just adopted a comprehensive battery regulation that could spur battery recycling at a scale never seen before outside of China. Battery industry experts say the policy has the potential to supercharge lithium-ion battery recycling across the bloc. 

The EU’s new battery rules “will make a very big impact for the whole supply chain not only in Europe but also globally,” Xiao Lin, CEO of the Chinese battery metal recycling consultancy Botree Cycling, told Grist. 

Used batteries sit in a battery recycling plant in Montreal, Quebec on January 17, 2023. MATHIEW LEISER / AFP via Getty Images

The battery regulation replaces a 2006 policy that focused on minimizing the health risks caused by hazardous battery ingredients like lead and cadmium. The new rules reflect the larger role that batteries, particularly lithium-ion ones, play in society today, and the EU’s desire to ensure they are sustainable throughout their entire life cycle, from manufacturing to disposal. The regulation requires manufacturers to collect waste lithium-ion batteries for recycling and, in the case of EV, e-bike, and energy storage batteries, incorporate recycled materials into new ones. The battery regulation also includes ambitious metals recovery targets, pushing recyclers to use technologies that do a good job reclaiming critical resources like lithium.

The regulation comes at a pivotal moment. EV sales are booming in Europe and around the world, causing demand for the metals inside their batteries to skyrocket. Hundreds of new mines may be needed to supply those metals by the mid-2030s. But mining takes a significant toll on the environment, and often, local communities. Most EU nations have limited battery metal resources, forcing them to rely on imports from countries with poor environmental and human rights track records.

Waste batteries are pooled for recycling at a facility in Jieshou, China, in July 2021. Liu Junxi / Xinhua via Getty Images

Battery recycling is often touted as a more sustainable way to ease long-term supply pressure. Spent EV batteries, as well as the smaller batteries inside e-bikes, power tools, smartphones, and more, are rich in the metals needed to make new ones. Today, China leads the world in lithium-ion battery recycling, thanks in part to policies that have encouraged it in the EV sector, specifically. In 2018, China’s government stipulated that EV makers are responsible for collecting dead batteries, and it set ambitious metals recovery rates that recyclers must meet to be included on a government white list.

The EU is now following in China’s footsteps by directing manufacturers to ensure that batteries are collected for recycling at no charge to consumers. For consumer electronic and “light means of transport” batteries — those used in e-scooters, e-bikes, and the like — collection rates will gradually increase over the next decade. In the EV and energy storage sectors, meanwhile, manufacturers are required to take back all batteries for recycling. Bosch, which manufacturers batteries for the European e-bike industry, told Grist in an emailed statement that bicycle makers have “either already successfully introduced or are currently working on collection systems” to meet the new requirements, with e-bike battery take-back programs currently up and running in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.

Recyclers, meanwhile, are required to hit stringent metal recovery targets, including 80 percent of the lithium contained in a battery, and 95 percent of its cobalt, copper, nickel and lead, by the end of 2031. Alissa Kendall, a battery recycling expert at the University of California, Davis, says that these recovery rates will push recyclers away from pyrometallurgy, an older technique in which batteries are smelted in a furnace to produce a low-quality metal alloy. Instead, Kendall expects the new rules will accelerate the industry-wide shift toward hydrometallurgy. Hydrometallurgical recyclers typically shred batteries to produce a powder called “black mass,” then separate and purify individual metals using chemical solvents. While pyrometallurgical recycling often results in significant lithium losses, recyclers using hydrometallurgy claim they can recover lithium at high rates. There are also environmental benefits: While pyrometallurgy uses considerable energy and produces toxic gases that must be captured or remediated, hydrometallurgy requires less energy and generates lower emissions (although the strong acids involved require careful disposal).

A scientist poses with a beaker filled with aluminium foil, copper foil, casing particles, and a “black mass” made of used graphite, cobalt, nickel, and manganese from old lithium-ion batteries. JENS SCHLUETER / AFP via Getty Images

“Our industry-leading, sustainable lithium-ion battery recycling technology is geared towards meeting lithium, cobalt, and nickel recovery targets set forth in the Battery Regulation,” a spokesperson for Canada-based battery recycler Li-Cycle told Grist in an email, adding that Europe’s regulations are “very positive for the growth of the industry.” Li-Cycle is one of several hydrometallurgical recycling companies in the process of massively expanding its presence in Europe: Last month, it opened a black mass facility in Germany and announced plans for a future recycling hub in Italy. 

Recycling doesn’t have to take place in Europe as long as it meets EU standards. Lin says that many Asian recyclers are already meeting or exceeding the metal recovery rates in the European battery regulation. But Lin expects established recyclers will run into trouble with other EU standards, such as a requirement that 70 percent of the weight of batteries be recycled by the end of 2030. In China, about 65 percent of EV batteries sold today are lithium-iron-phosphate batteries, a chemistry that contains no nickel or cobalt. Aside from lithium, there’s very little in these batteries worth recycling. As a result, Lin says, recyclers are used to recovering about 3 percent of their materials by weight.

“It’s very different to reach 70 percent,” Lin said. Recyclers outside of Europe that want to cater to the EU market, Lin says, may have to set up new European facilities with more advanced technologies. 

In addition to mandating efficient recycling, the new battery regulation seeks to ensure that recycled materials get incorporated into new batteries. By 2031, the EU will require that new EV and storage batteries contain at least 6 percent recycled lithium and nickel, 16 percent recycled cobalt, and 85 percent recycled lead. These figures will rise to 12 percent recycled lithium, 15 percent recycled nickel, and 26 percent recycled cobalt by 2036 (at which point they will also apply to “light means of transport” batteries). But while the intent of the recycled content standards is to promote the reuse of critical resources, experts warn that they could have unintended consequences.

Andy Leach, an energy storage analyst at consultancy BloombergNEF, says that if the recycled content standards are higher than what the recycling market can deliver on its own, companies might be forced to recycle batteries prematurely in order to reach them. Overly ambitious targets could also encourage battery makers to be wasteful, since the standards can be met with either end-of-life batteries or battery production scrap, which consists of cuttings and leftovers from the battery manufacturing process, as well as battery components that didn’t meet quality control standards. If there aren’t enough end-of-life batteries to meet the requirements, battery makers may be encouraged to keep generating large volumes of scrap, rather than implement efficiency improvements that reduce manufacturing waste over time. 

“Recycling’s important, but we also shouldn’t rush into it if the materials aren’t there to be recycled,” Leach said. 

An employee of European Metal Recycling disassembles a car battery pack into recyclable parts in Hamburg, Germany. Markus Scholz / picture alliance via Getty Images

Bosch, the e-bike battery manufacturer, called the recycled content targets “very ambitious,” adding that “the availability of recycled raw materials is the biggest challenge” to meeting them. 

In particular, the achievability of the recycled content standards will depend on the return of heavy, mineral-rich EV batteries for recycling. But these batteries are long lived, and they are often repurposed for a second application like grid storage, meaning it could be years before large numbers of them are ready to be recycled. Li-Cycle told Grist that the company expects manufacturing scrap to represent “the bulk of our feedstock” over the next few years, with end-of-life EV batteries becoming more important in the 2030s. BASF, a German battery materials maker that is expanding its battery recycling operations, told Grist that it also “plans to recycle scrap” from battery production until more dead EV batteries are available.

While recycled content standards may encourage waste if they’re too aggressive, Kendall of UC Davis emphasized the importance of these standards for improving the economics of recycling. By placing a premium on recycled lithium and other metals, the standards could “increase the value globally for recycled materials,” she said. In a best-case scenario, that might help other emerging battery recycling markets become more economically viable over the long term. Those include the United States, where several companies are now building huge new plants to recycle EV batteries despite no federal mandates. (U.S. recyclers are, however, being supported by big federal loans.)

Despite uncertainties, many in the industry are hopeful that the new EU regulation will help battery recycling reach the scale needed to ease future mining pressure. Kurt Vandeputte, senior vice president of battery recycling solutions at the Belgian-based metals company Umicore, called the regulation “a smart way of saying that we have to be careful and we have to create a closed loop of critical materials.”

“It’s going to be the blueprint for many other industries,” Vandeputte said.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline New battery recycling rules could be a game-changer in the EU’s search for EV minerals on Sep 19, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

How the shift to electric vehicles is fueling the UAW strike

Mon, 09/18/2023 - 16:15

At the stroke of midnight on Friday, in three automotive factories across the Rust Belt, night shift workers left their posts and poured out onto the streets to join whistling, cheering crowds. TV news footage from the night showed picketers intermingled with cars honking in support as R&B blared from sound systems on the sidewalks in front of the factory gates. For the first time in history, the United Auto Workers union, or UAW, initiated a strike targeting all of the “Big Three” automakers: Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, which owns brands like Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge. 

The strike marks a breaking point after months of negotiations failed to result in a deal to renew the union’s contract with Big Three automakers, which expired on Friday. For now, the strike covers only 13,000 workers at a General Motors plant in Wentzville, Missouri; a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio; and a Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan. But the three closures could be just the beginning. UAW president Shawn Fain has warned that all 146,000 union workers are ready to strike at a moment’s notice. “If we need to go all out, we will,” said Fain Thursday night on Facebook Live. “Everything is on the table.” 

If the work stoppage goes on for more than 10 days, analysts estimate it could cost automakers over $1 billion and hurt plans to push new electric vehicles, or EVs, onto the market.

EVs, and what they mean for the future of union labor in the automotive sector, loom large over the picket line. Automakers say meeting the union’s demands would threaten their ability to compete with non-unionized EV producers like Tesla, adding burdensome labor costs just as they’re making expensive investments in EVs. Workers, meanwhile, worry that billions in EV investments aren’t translating into good-paying, union jobs.

Employees work at the assembly line of the Volkswagen ID 4 electric car in northern Germany on May 20, 2022. David Hecker/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s our job to organize,” Tony Totty, president of UAW Local 14 in Toledo, Ohio, told Grist. “These corporations don’t wanna share in our sweat equity with the profits we provide them.”   

Collectively, the Big Three have committed to investing well over $100 billion in EV manufacturing over the next few years. The companies have also proposed 10 EV battery plants owned jointly with companies including South Korea-based LG Energy Solution and Samsung. Most new EV and battery plants are located in a growing “Battery Belt,” with Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee leading the charge alongside the traditional automotive heartlands of Michigan and Ohio. Many of those states have “right to work” laws that curtail collective bargaining, leading to lower union density and lower pay grades overall. Indeed, the vast majority of the Big Three’s proposed battery plants are nonunion

To keep union membership strong, protect worker safety, and prevent the EV surge from undermining their bargaining power, the union has asked to include EV battery workers in their national contracts. “Now is really the moment, as the industry starts to take off, to ensure that those jobs can be union jobs,” J. Mijin Cha, an environmental studies professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz who studies labor issues and climate justice, told Grist. 

Ford and Volkswagen have estimated that 30 percent less labor is required to build an EV compared to an internal combustion engine car, since EVs don’t require the complex parts needed to build engines and transmissions. Meanwhile, non-union automakers like Tesla and Toyota are gaining an edge in the EV space, and offering substantially lower compensation than the Big Three. Ford has estimated the Big Three’s average hourly labor costs, including benefits, amount to around $65 per worker, compared to about $55 for foreign non-union automakers in the U.S. like Toyota and Nissan. Tesla’s labor costs are even lower — at around $45 to $50 per worker per hour, according to industry analysts. 

Auto workers are watching this change with some trepidation, according to Marick Masters, a professor of management at Wayne State University who studies the auto industry and labor. “The shift to electrification both threatens jobs and it also threatens to establish another lower tier of wages in the industry,” he said. The UAW has so far had a string of organizing failures in the South, mostly associated with the region’s large number of foreign automakers, like Volkswagen and Nissan. 

Totty, the Toledo-based UAW local president, has advocated heavily for union contracts at new battery plants. He personally welcomes the EV shift. His plant, Toledo Propulsion Systems, received $760 million in federal funding to transform the transmission plant into a plant that makes EV parts. Totty doesn’t believe it’ll take much extra training, or that anyone at the plant will lose their job. “We’re embracing it,” he said. What’s more concerning to him is the power and income imbalance between the people who do the backbreaking work at the plant, and the people who own it. 

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Among the UAW’s demands for its new contract is a 40 percent raise over the next four years, which it says is equal to the collective rise in CEO compensation at the Big Three over the past four years. The union has also asked for cost of living adjustments, the reinstatement of pensions, a 32-hour work week, and the elimination of a tiered wage system that pays newer employees less for the same work. So far, the three companies have countered with a 20 percent raise. As of Monday, the companies had not agreed to most of the union’s other demands

In an interview with the New York Times, Ford CEO Jim Farley claimed that meeting UAW demands would prevent the company from investing in EVs. “We want to actually have a conversation about a sustainable future,” he told the Times, “not one that forces us to choose between going out of business and rewarding our workers.”

According to the union, the companies continue to make record-breaking profits, netting over $21 billion in just the first six months of 2023 and $250 billion over the last 10 years. Though the vast majority of those profits come from internal combustion engine cars, with EVs still a relatively small market, the auto companies are already tapping into billions of dollars in federal investments to electrify their fleets. 

EVs are central to President Joe Biden’s climate agenda. Through the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden administration has authorized nearly $100 billion in funding dedicated or availables to support growth in the industry’s domestic supply chain. It’s part of Biden’s plan to, according to a recent Department of Energy EV funding announcement, “Create Not Just More Jobs But Good Jobs, Including Union Jobs.” More than $15 billion of that number is intended to support existing factories in the EV transition, in hopes of keeping manufacturing jobs in communities that rely on them. The administration has also made aggressive regulatory moves to push for EVs — under vehicle emissions standards released by the Environmental Protection Agency in April, EVs would need to make up two-thirds of all car sales in the U.S. by 2031.

Masters says that auto companies are responding to this pressure. “The companies,” he said, “are on board, and their train has left the station. They’re going out of the internal combustion engine business.”

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Some are calling the UAW strike the biggest labor crisis of the Biden presidency so far. The UAW has not yet endorsed Biden as a presidential candidate, citing inconsistencies between the administration’s push for EVs and its close ties with the labor movement. The union has previously criticized the president for lending billions to auto companies for EV manufacturing without requiring protections for union labor. UAW leaders have asked Biden to hold firm on his promises to deliver union jobs with clean energy investment, or else risk the energy transition exacerbating economic inequality.

The strike will continue, UAW has said, as long as parties fail to reach a consensus. Workers are organizing at Big Three factories across the country, preparing to shut them down if the moment calls for it. Experts say that a long-term strike could seriously hurt sales at the Big Three, possibly giving companies like Tesla a competitive edge.

“The UAW supports and is ready for the transition to a clean auto industry,” Fain said in a release. “But the EV transition must be a just transition that ensures auto workers have a place in the new economy.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline How the shift to electric vehicles is fueling the UAW strike on Sep 18, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Deprived of Colorado River water, an oil company’s plans to mine in Utah may have dried up

Mon, 09/18/2023 - 15:22

The Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah is one of the richest oil shale deposits in the country. It is estimated to hold more proven reserves than all of Saudi Arabia. Enefit, an Estonian company, was the latest in a long line of firms that hoped to tap it.

It’s also the latest to see such plans collapse — but perhaps not yet for good.

The company has lost access to the water it would need to unearth the petroleum and relinquished a federal lease that allowed research and exploration on the land. The two moves, made late last month, appear to signal the end of Enefit’s plans to mine shale oil in the Uinta Basin. 

“If they’re getting cut off from this water, it’s kind of the nail in the coffin for this whole project,” said Michael Toll, an attorney for the Grand Canyon Trust, a conservation nonprofit that opposed the project. “Just ensuring that this water won’t be used for oil shale is a major win for the Colorado River Basin.”

Still, the company may develop other assets in the Basin. In a written statement, Ryan Clerico, Enefit American Oil’s chief executive officer, said that the company holds “extensive private lands and mineral resources in the Uinta Basin” and that it “is currently evaluating a number of different business cases, including some that are unrelated to oil shale.” The company currently leases its private land for grazing, but it has considered solar, wind, and energy storage projects on it, he said. 

“There is no active development or construction on the property, but there are also no definitive or imminent plans to terminate our operations in the U.S.,” Clerico said.

Enefit had over at least the last 15 years secured that federal research and development lease, along with rights to billions of gallons of water and the right of way needed to build the infrastructure for such a massive project. The company hoped to produce 50,000 barrels of oil daily for the next 30 years — almost double the Uinta Basin’s current production. 

The environmental and public health consequences of that would have been staggering. The carbon emissions from burning all that oil is equivalent to the emissions of 63 coal plants, and the water required would serve nearly 60,000 homes for a year. As a result, Grand Canyon Trust has for years fought the project by challenging the water rights and suing the Interior Department for improperly granting the rights of way to build a pipeline and transmission corridor on federal land. 

Enefit’s plans hinged on the ability to access 10,000 acre-feet, or 3.2 billion gallons, of water from the White River, a tributary of the Green River that flows into the Colorado River. Because Utah is not allocating new water rights, Enefit purchased a water right from a public utility called Deseret Generation and Transmission Cooperative in 2011. 

However, Enefit quickly ran afoul of state water laws. Because that resource is scarce in the West, most states, including Utah, require rights holders to “use it or lose it.” Once rights are granted, the recipient must put the H2O to “beneficial use” within a certain time — 50 years, in Utah’s case. Any rights that aren’t exercised in that period revert to the state to prevent water hoarding. 

In Enefit’s case, its right was appropriated in 1965 and due to be returned to the state in 2015. The only exception to the 50-year rule is for public utilities. Since Deseret Generation could apply for a 10-year extension, Enefit transferred the right back to Deseret, which then applied for an extension. Once received, Deseret leased the water to Enefit again. 

The Grand Canyon Trust claimed the move was illegal and raised the issue with the state Division of Water Rights, which approved the transfer and extension. The Trust requested an administrative hearing, which eventually led to a settlement under which Deseret agreed not to use the water for anything other than generating electricity. The agreement, reached late last month, explicitly “prohibits Deseret Power and all other entities or persons from using the water right for fossil fuel mining, extraction, processing, or development.”

“Although the water right is not going to be forfeited, the most important thing for us is that there is a guarantee that this water will not be used for fossil fuel development,” Toll said. 

Enefit has also relinquished a 160-acre federal lease for research and development on the land. Last month, it sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees drilling on public lands, noting that it does not plan to convert the research lease into a commercial lease. The Trust’s lawsuits against the Bureau and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are pending in federal court. 

“The Basin already has some of the least healthy air in the country, and this project would have just made it much, much worse,” said Toll. “It’s a win for the environment. It’s a win for public health.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Deprived of Colorado River water, an oil company’s plans to mine in Utah may have dried up on Sep 18, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

It’s not just coral. Extreme heat is weakening entire marine ecosystems in Florida. 

Mon, 09/18/2023 - 01:45

This story is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live. 

Summer afternoons on Florida Bay are a wonder. The sky, bright blue and dotted with clouds, meets the glassy water in a blur of blue that melts away any sign of the horizon. Wading birds rustle in the verdant branches of mangroves. Beneath the surface, fish and other creatures dart among tangled mangrove roots adorned with colorful sponges and corals. Out in the shallow flats, redfish forage for crabs, snails, and shrimp hidden in fields of seagrass as manatees graze and bottlenose dolphins hunt.

But this vast estuary, which by some estimates stretches at least 800 square miles — roughly the size of Tokyo — and comprises about one-third of Everglades National Park has looked very different lately. In the mangroves, anemones and jellyfish, stressed by unprecedented water temperatures, appear ghostly white. Suffocated fish and soupy patches of dead seagrass litter the sandy flats. Sponges and coral languish beneath thick sheaths of algae.

This summer, as water temperatures across the Everglades reached triple digits, much of the nation’s attention focused on the Atlantic side of the Keys, where rapid bleaching devastated much of the Sunshine State’s beautiful coral reefs. But in Florida Bay, which sits on the west side of the Keys, many marine species have been fighting their own battle with bleaching and other effects of extreme heat, sending a strong, if silent, message about their own stress and the health of the essential habitat they inhabit. 

Normally resilient creatures are struggling to survive. The record heat has not only threatened individual species — an astonishing effect on clear display in the warm South Florida waters — but the expansive and interconnected habitats, stretching from the Florida Bay to the wider Everglades and beyond. 

It’s not a grass problem, it’s not a coral problem, it’s not a sponge problem,” said Matt Bellinger, owner and operator of Bamboo Charters in the Keys. “It’s a complete ecosystem problem.”

Jerry Lorenz, the state director of research for Audubon Florida who has decades of experience in Florida Bay, likens the risks facing the estuary to playing Jenga. 

“You can pull this piece, you can pull out that piece,” he said. “And you can pull out a lot more pieces. But eventually, you’re going to pull out one last piece that’s going to topple the whole thing. And that’s exactly the kind of thing we’re seeing here.”

Nestled between the southernmost end of Florida and the Keys that stretch 180 miles westward toward the Dry Tortugas, this shallow estuary features swaths of luscious seagrass. These marine prairies cover the vast majority of the bay floor and shelter lobster, shrimp, crab, and other creatures. Thousands of mangrove islands protect juvenile reef fish, invertebrates, and nesting birds like the endangered roseate spoonbill. All of them play a crucial supporting role in a much larger ecosystem. The Florida Bay is intrinsically linked to the Atlantic side of the Keys, and many fish and other species make their home in both.

A roseate spoonbill searches for food at a mangrove key on Florida Bay at Everglades National Park in 2019. Robert F. Bukaty / AP Photo

“A lot of these reef species go back into the Bay, treating it as a nursery,” said Kelly Cox, director of Everglades policy at Audubon Florida. “There’s a lot of interaction between the ecosystems. So a healthy Florida Bay means healthy fish populations on the reef and vice versa. And that goes for crustaceans, it goes for sponges, it goes for all different types of fish and wildlife.”

A vibrant and productive Florida Bay does more than allow wildlife to thrive — it boosts commerce, too. Beyond offering ample opportunities for sport and recreational activities, the estuary supplies a bounty of seafood.

“Everything in our economy is somehow intertwined with our environment,” Cox said. “We’re talking about expansive reliance on healthy marine ecosystems in the state of Florida.”

The health of the bay and surrounding areas declined significantly in early July during the four consecutive days that Earth experienced the hottest average global temperatures ever recorded. Weeks of intense heat, exacerbated by the lack of usual summer rain showers, saw shallower areas of the Florida Bay top 100 degrees Fahrenheit. During the scorching weather, neighboring Manatee Bay recorded a startling water temperature of 101.1 degrees, which might be a world record. While snorkeling recently on the western edge of Florida Bay, Lorenz recalled it being too hot to swim. 

“It was uncomfortable,” Lorenz said. “When I swam up under the mangroves, it was jam-packed with fish. I just had this impression go through my head that these guys are trying to stay in the shade.”

Boats are anchored at Manatee Bay off the Florida coast near Key Largo on July 28, 2023. Triple-digit ocean temperatures are stunning even in Florida, where residents are used to the heat. Daniel Kozin / AP Photo

The astonishing effects of the heat wave on the bay may be partly responsible for the extensive coral bleaching and mortality seen across the reef of the Atlantic side. This year’s intense heat evaporated a lot of the bayside’s water, leaving it extremely salty and, therefore, dense. In normal conditions, when natural currents pull the bay water into the Atlantic, the warmer water sits on the ocean surface. 

But this time, something unusual happened. The extremely hot and salty bay water sank — a phenomenon known as a reverse thermocline — below the cooler Atlantic Ocean water, and smothered coral reefs down to 30 feet below with its extreme temperatures, resulting in mass coral bleaching and, in some cases, instant death. 

Hotter, saltier water poses a grave threat to marine species that can only withstand so much stress before their metabolic processes begin to fail. Such strain can lead to bleaching, seagrass die-offs, algal blooms, and fish kills. If the salinity of Florida Bay rises to that of the Atlantic more than 10 or 15 days a year, “it knocks the whole system out of balance,” Lorenz said.

Dramatic increases in water temperature can throw a potentially catastrophic knock to the entire ecosystem where even the most robust and resilient species, including glass anemones, relatives to coral, are fighting to survive. These common and resilient spindly invertebrates, normally difficult to see due to their brown hues, are now easily spotted in ghostly white clusters — a sign that something is very wrong.

Bleaching occurs when corals, anemones, and jellyfish, pushed beyond their thermal limits, eject the algal cells in their tissues. Left without their colorful symbiotic counterparts, the animals are vulnerable to predation, starvation, and disease, said Anthony Bellantuono, a biological sciences postdoctoral researcher. 

In his laboratory at Florida International University, marine biologists have tested these creatures at temperatures between 89.6 and 93.2 degrees F. Yet in the most recent heat wave, the waters of the bayside and southern Everglades reached heights never tested in the lab. Bellantuono has been stunned to see the widespread bleaching, which likely extended across the length of Florida Bay and beyond, among such a robust species.

“Anemones are these super-resilient creatures that are highly tolerant to stress,” Bellantuono said. “It should be a bit of a concern that they’re bleached so thoroughly. They don’t bleach often and it is really, really bad when they do.”

And it’s more than animals at risk; the seagrass they nestle in and the mangroves that harbor them are threatened as well. That could reduce the amount of oxygen in the water, creating another threat for the wildlife of the bay.

Algonside mermaid’s wineglass and green feather algae, a curlique anemone shows signs of stress due to warming water temperatures in the Florida Bay. Gabriela Tejeda

Compounding the problem, Florida Bay battles an insufficient influx of fresh water. Natural outflow across the Everglades has been significantly disrupted, with much of its historic flow now diverted by canals, roads, agriculture, and development — and considerably less ending up in the estuary. Insufficient fresh water to balance the influx of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other pollutants from the Gulf of Mexico, coupled with extremely hot temperatures, could leave the water uninhabitable. 

Conservation organizations such as the Audubon Society have been working to educate and empower audiences to engage, through citizen science and efforts to push policymakers to act, with an environmental challenge that otherwise might seem insurmountable. 

“It’s really, really hard to sit on the sidelines,” Cox said. “We’re not going to be able to pull seagrasses out of the water, right? We’re not able to pick up wading birds and move them to other locations. These are things that Mother Nature is going to have to handle on her own, and we have to hope that the interventions that we’ve designed so far are enough to sustain a lifeline.”

Cox said that the northeastern portion of Florida Bay that her team covers has yet to see any seagrass die-offs this season, primarily due to long-term efforts — such as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the single largest restoration underway in the South Florida ecosystem — to facilitate the flow of fresh water, much of which comes from rain, through the Everglades and into the bay. 

“The mechanisms and interventions that we put in place are providing that little glimmer of hope that we might make it through this heat wave, and that the seagrass beds are going to be able to hold on in the national park,” she said. “That’s really encouraging for us.”

The chief science officer of the Everglades Foundation wades in the swamp during a 2023 seagrass tour of the Everglades. Mike Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel / Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Yet both Lorenz and Bellinger confirmed they had seen fish and seagrass die-offs in other parts of Florida Bay. And the heat is far from over: Above-average temperatures are expected over the next several months. For those in South Florida, the effects of persistent extreme heat and high water temperatures in the Florida Bay and the surrounding marine ecosystems are a sign of a potentially dire future.

“These are warnings,” says Bellantuono. “When the most tolerant creatures in our shallow waters are all bleaching, starkly white … it’s an alarm bell for these ecosystems. Will these ecosystems be as strong as they have been? It seems uncertain. When we see the ecosystem melting around us, I hope it makes people as scared as they should be about this.”

The videos in this story were created by Gabriela Tejeda.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline It’s not just coral. Extreme heat is weakening entire marine ecosystems in Florida.  on Sep 18, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Indigenous peoples are being excluded from a global pool of climate cash

Mon, 09/18/2023 - 01:30

Indigenous peoples are largely being excluded from trillions in global spending to mitigate climate change, with governments doing little to ensure that climate funding not only respects Indigenous rights but supports Indigenous-led green projects. 

That’s according to a new report focused on green financing by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, José Francisco Calí Tzay, which will be discussed at the U.N.’s Human Rights Council this month. The 54th regular session of the United Nations body kicked off last week in Geneva.

“The shift to green finance is necessary and urgent, and if done using a human rights-based approach it can be a source of opportunity for Indigenous Peoples to obtain funding to preserve their lands, knowledge and distinct ways of life, and to create economic opportunities that may help them to maintain and strengthen their indigenous identity,” wrote Calí Tzay, who is Kaqchikel, among the Mayan peoples of Guatemala.

The Special Rapporteur’s report comes eight years after the Paris Agreement, an international climate change treaty to limit global warming, called for $100 billion in annual funding to address the effects of climate change in developing countries. That goal is still aspirational, but overall sustainability investment continues to grow, with a 2020 analysis estimating it reached $35.3 trillion in 2020.

Green financing, a term that broadly refers to investments in climate action and sustainable development, is increasingly seen as a critical tool for addressing climate change. However, a 2019 working paper from the Asian Development Bank Institute concluded that financial institutions continue to support fossil fuel projects over green development because the former have higher rates of return. The study’s authors emphasized a need to boost green financing in order to reach sustainable development goals established by the United Nations the same year as the Paris Agreement.

Many green development projects take place on Indigenous lands. At Thacker Pass in the United States, Indigenous nations have sued the federal government over a lithium-mining operation that’s expected to support the Biden administration’s push toward electric vehicle batteries, but at the cost of producing hazardous waste and disturbing burial sites. In Norway, wind turbine development continues to violate the rights of Sámi communities. The Special Rapporteur’s report says more green projects are expected to take place on Indigenous lands and governments should ensure their rights are respected. 

Read Next Norway’s largest wind farm violates Indigenous rights. Why won’t authorities take action?

Calí Tzay points out that Indigenous peoples have largely been excluded from having a say in such green energy projects, with many communities being perceived simply as “vulnerable” rather than as rights holders. As well, an analysis by the Rights and Resources Initiative and the Rainforest Foundation Norway found that just 17 percent of $270 million in global climate and conservation funding that’s invested annually in Indigenous and local communities actually supports projects led by Indigenous people. Far less — only 5 percent — goes to projects led by Indigenous women.

Some international finance organizations have policies requiring free and informed consent designed to safeguard such rights, but Calí Tzay added that they aren’t consistently applied.

“In Africa and Europe, wind farms and geothermal projects have been undertaken without their free, prior and informed consent,” he wrote. “Too often, Governments and foreign investors assume that land used by nomadic herders and pastoralists is simply “empty”. Investors too often rely on formal registration of State or private ownership, or government assurances that land is available to use, when a diligent independent analysis prior to investment would have indicated that the land may be subject to the customary rights of Indigenous Peoples.” 

The Special Rapporteur emphasized the importance of making it easier for Indigenous peoples themselves to access funding, echoing concerns raised by the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-Coordinating Committee, or IPACC, an organization that represents more than 100 Indigenous communities in Africa. The group was among several that submitted comments to Calí Tzay ahead of the report’s publication in July. 

“Issues of lack of effective consultations are common in most green financing projects,” IPACC wrote, noting that in some cases Indigenous peoples live in vast landscapes with limited communication. Such consultation is extremely important when projects such as hydroelectric dams have the potential to displace Indigenous communities or use their land and resources “without their consent or compensation.”

The Special Rapporteur concluded state governments bear the largest responsibility for ensuring Indigenous people are active participants in green projects by establishing regulations and legal frameworks to ensure their involvement, but noted private funding, like philanthropy, may have more flexibility to directly support Indigenous groups. 

Not everyone who provided input on the report agreed with that conclusion. The Indigenous Environmental Network, a U.S.-based coalition of Indigenous activists, was skeptical about the push for private financing, writing that capitalistic pressures are likely to prevent private funders from respecting Native rights. 

“Placing climate finance in the hands of the private sector prioritizes the chase for perpetual growth over Mother Earth and threatens the lands, livelihoods, and cultures of Indigenous Peoples and impacted communities,” the coalition wrote. “In reality it is the endless search for profit that has driven us to the current state of climate catastrophe.”

Still, Calí Tzay stopped short of discouraging private funding for green projects, contending that better public and private policies that guarantee the rights of Indigenous peoples could make a difference.

“The purpose of the present report is not to condemn or deter the financing of green projects and green market strategies,” he wrote, “but to ensure that Governments and other financial actors take all precautions to ensure their support for the much-needed transition to a green economy and that climate change action does not perpetuate the violations and abuses currently plaguing extractive and other fossil fuel-related projects.”

An interactive dialogue about the report is expected to take place on Thursday, September 28. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Indigenous peoples are being excluded from a global pool of climate cash on Sep 18, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

New EPA watchdog report says refineries can’t police themselves

Mon, 09/18/2023 - 01:15

For decades, communities living in the shadows of the nation’s petroleum refineries were in the dark about the quality of the air that they breathed. Residents in places like Port Arthur, Texas, and Artesia, New Mexico, could sense their exposure to toxic pollution on days when the air was thick with the sweet smell of benzene, a carcinogen. But access to information on the actual levels of chemicals in the air — data that could help vulnerable individuals make critical decisions regarding their health — was largely unavailable. 

That changed in 2018, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, began requiring refinery operators to monitor concentrations of benzene around the fencelines of their facilities — and, crucially, to publish the results of those measurements online. Since then, benzene concentrations near the country’s 118 refineries have trended downward. However, a lack of enforcement and a dearth of monitoring data has still left some communities behind, according to a new report from the Office of the Inspector General, or OIG, the EPA’s internal watchdog.

The report authors analyzed data from 18 refineries that exceeded the federal benzene “action level” — the level above which operators are required to take corrective measures — between January 2018 and September 2021. They found that 13 of them continued to violate federal standards in 20 or more weeks after their initial violation. Many of these refineries, the report noted, are located in and around neighborhoods of color. The report raises doubts that merely asking companies to collect and report their own data as well as analyze the causes of their own violations, as the 2018 fenceline monitoring requirement did, will lead them to keep their toxic emissions below permissible levels.

Environmental advocates argue that such measures must be accompanied by robust enforcement action from the EPA.

“Even if it has helped a little bit, it’s not enough,” said Ana Parras, co-director of the Houston-based Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Group, of the agency’s fenceline monitoring requirements. “The lack of enforcement, it’s always been there.”

The report comes as the EPA has made efforts to incorporate similar fenceline monitoring requirements into other air pollution regulations. Most recently, the agency proposed to require monitoring in a rule that covers many of the nation’s most toxic chemical plants, a high percentage of which are concentrated in the industrial corridors of Texas and Louisiana. Like the regulations for petroleum refineries, these rules would require operators to analyze the cause of their violations and submit a “corrective action plan” to the agency if they continue to violate federal standards.

When the EPA issued updated regulations for petroleum refineries in 2015, it was the first time that operators of large industrial facilities were required to monitor and report their toxic emissions. The new rules were seen as a novel approach to pollution reduction: Until that point, refinery pollution was controlled through various technologies designed to capture and eliminate emissions; with the exception of occasional facility inspections, regulators effectively took operators at their word that they were operating correctly. When the new regulations went into effect in 2018, refinery personnel had to submit measurements to the EPA every two weeks, and conduct an analysis to identify underlying problems if their average benzene levels exceeded the federal action level of 9 micrograms per cubic meter of air over that period. 

The advent of these requirements surfaced information that was previously unavailable to the public and regulators alike. As the data slowly came online, it became clear that the emissions around certain refineries were severe, in some cases exceeding federal standards for many months on end.

Despite this, state and federal regulators failed to curb a number of these emissions. The OIG report pointed to several potential reasons for this, including operators’ failures to identify the cause of their emissions and limited enforcement action by the EPA. In some cases, enforcement was stymied by the fact that refinery operators did not submit monitoring results at all. In others, they estimated nearby industrial plants’ contributions to airbore benzene levels using computer models, instead of actual air monitors, as required by the law. 

A failure to reduce benzene levels could cause serious long-term health effects in communities near refineries, according to the report. Benzene is just one of a litany of chemicals released during the process of refining crude oil. Prolonged exposure over years has been linked to leukemia and other cancers of the blood, and breathing high concentrations of benzene in the short term can cause shortness of breath, headaches, and dizziness. 

Parras told Grist that residents of cities like Port Arthur and nearby Baytown, Texas, are no strangers to these symptoms. According to the OIG report, Texas is home to 9 out of the 25 refineries where benzene levels exceeded the action level at least once.

“There’s days that you go down there and the smell is so powerful, people don’t want to get off the bus,” Parras said. “This is life on the fence line.”

In its report, the OIG recommended that the EPA improve its approach to addressing unsafe levels of benzene near refineries by providing better guidance to state and local regulators on what constitutes a violation and how to identify gaps in the data that companies submit. The report also advised the agency to develop a strategy to address refineries that continually exceed federal standards. The OIG wrote that the EPA had agreed with its set of recommendations, and that it considered them to be “resolved with corrective actions pending.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline New EPA watchdog report says refineries can’t police themselves on Sep 18, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Hawaii needs to build hundreds more miles of firebreaks to protect against wildfire

Sun, 09/17/2023 - 06:00

This story was originally published by Honolulu Civil Beat and is republished with permission.

Hawaii maintains a network of firebreaks to keep wildfire from spreading, but that system includes hundreds of miles of gaps that need to be filled to protect communities around the state.

Public and private land managers dealing with the danger face bureaucratic barriers and a lack of money and collaboration.

Managing land to reduce fire danger took on increased urgency after the Aug. 8 wildfires on Maui, including the conflagration that leveled Lahaina and killed at least 115 people. 

Both firebreaks and fuelbreaks are used to slow or halt the spread of wildfire. Firebreaks are generally wide belts of bare soil, but roads and rivers can serve the same purpose. Fuelbreaks are actively managed strips of land with minimal vegetation, intended to weaken the intensity and spread of fire.

Hawaii has roughly 4,300 miles of breaks, but needs approximately 350 miles more — accounting for some 400,000 acres, according to 2019 data collected by the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization.

Courtesy of Honolulu Civil Beat

It’s doubtful that firebreaks around Lahaina on Aug. 8 would have stemmed the spread of the West Maui fire, given the high winds, HWMO co-executive director Elizabeth Pickett said. But the tracts play an integral role in helping firefighters access hard-to-reach areas to dissipate fires’ intensity.

As far back as 2018, fire officials and land managers identified a need for an additional 350 miles of breaks during meetings with representatives of 128 private and public groups and HWMO. 

But because those breaks cross federal, state, county, and private lands, there must be collective buy-in and coordination to make it work, as well as money to pay for it all, Pickett said.

“Fire doesn’t recognize fence lines and ownerships and jurisdiction. So we need our fuels management to make sense at the land level,” Pickett said.

The 2018 meetings resulted in an assessment of the state’s needs that has informed much of its work on vegetation management until now.

Building breaks

But the effort has not received enough attention or money, officials say.

Building a firebreak on public land is expensive. The Department of Land and Natural Resources says it can’t afford to do it short of an emergency.

DLNR, which manages 26 percent of the state’s land, maintains just over 320 miles of breaks statewide but only cuts them during active wildfires. The department says the regulatory costs of protecting environmental, cultural, and historic resources make it unfeasible except during emergencies.

Firebreaks and fuelbreaks require consistent maintenance through grazing, herbicides and mowing, among other things. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023

Those regulations are waived during active fires, when trained “dozer scouts” from DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife guide bulldozers to cut ribbons in the landscape to stop fire without destroying important resources.

The result is an “ad hoc network” of firebreaks and fuelbreaks, according to DOFAW forester Michael Walker. 

To link it all together across boundaries will take time, staff and funding beyond DOFAW’s current capabilities, Walker says.

A bill that was killed this year would have set aside $3 million over two years for DOFAW to connect Hawaii’s breaks. Even that would have fallen far short, Walker says.  

“And it’s not just us — forestry and wildlife — that need fuel reduction funds. It’s ranchers, farmers,” Walker said in a July interview before the Lahaina fire.

Farmers and ranchers are key players in preventing wildfire because they actively manage the landscape, either through grazing or crops. Land no longer used for these purposes has contributed to the spread of wildfire in recent decades.

Unused land has fostered the spread of invasive grasses, many thriving under drought conditions.

Much of this land now borders development.

The Honolulu Fire Department prepares to leave the scene of a brush fire in Makakilo after extinguishing it. Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023

“The bulk of the housing in Hawaii these days is built on top of old plantation land,” Walker said. “So they’ll develop a piece of it, but then the rest of it is still surrounded by fallow ag land.”

A week ago, a three-acre wildfire threatened three homes in Oahu’s Makakilo, a community that has consistently raised concerns over its single evacuation route. It came up again recently, in the aftermath of the Aug. 8 Maui fires.

On top of evacuation concerns, the Honolulu Fire Department said in a press release that there are too few firebreaks in the unmanaged land bordering the community.

Because wildfire does not respect property lines, it has been a focus for HWMO, which has been working on bolstering communication, funding, and coordination across the state.

That was the goal of HWMO’s 2018 meetings: to test and establish an “all hands, all lands” approach in Hawaii, according to co-executive director Pickett.

HWMO has tested community-based, cross-boundary fire mitigation projects on five of Hawaii’s major islands, allocating $22,000 to each project. They ranged from grazing sheep in Waianae to building a break in Kawaihae on Big Island.

But Pickett recognizes that her relatively small organization has only been able to focus on the community level.

Trees charred in previous fires in Waianae Valley stand dead in a firebreak area maintained by the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023

“We want to think about what makes sense across boundaries,” Pickett said.

Not every landowner has been willing to take part. HWMO has focused on working with the willing.

But more needs to be done, including improved fire codes, legislation, and enforcement.

“Where’s the gap? Accountability,” Pickett said.

Taming the vegetation

In light of the Aug. 8 fires, county and state lawmakers appear resolved to stem the risk of wildfire in Hawaii.

Last month, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi ordered a review of Oahu’s fire risk, including firefighting assets and capacity, unaddressed needs and system vulnerabilities.

Last week, the Hawaii House of Representatives established working groups to focus on several wildfire topics to inform bills in the next legislative session.

One of those groups will be focused on wildfire prevention.

One of its 16 members, Rep. David Tarnas, believes the state should coordinate the establishment of a robust network of breaks and creating incentives for vegetation management, because it all costs money.

The government entity mandated to do the work — DOFAW — has been underfunded for years, Tarnas said.

“We can’t just leave it to a nonprofit,” Tarnas said. “You know, we have to step up as a state and fully fund our natural resources and fire protection program.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

Civil Beat’s coverage of climate change is supported by the Environmental Funders Group of the Hawaii Community Foundation, Marisla Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Hawaii needs to build hundreds more miles of firebreaks to protect against wildfire on Sep 17, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Extreme heat is linked to higher risk of life-threatening delivery complications for pregnant people

Sat, 09/16/2023 - 06:00

This story was originally published by The 19th and is republished with permission.

Pregnant people exposed to extreme heat are at higher risk of developing life-threatening complications during labor and delivery, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week. The research adds to a growing body of evidence showing the impact extreme heat has on a pregnancy, while also making a distinction between long-term exposure and events like heat waves.

“I think this [distinction] is really important,” said Ashley Ward, director of the Heat Policy Innovation Hub at Duke University who was not involved in the study. “Most of the research around pregnant women has centered on acute events like a heat wave … but honestly, what we are all experiencing this summer is an excellent example of really what I would consider chronic heat exposure.” 

The researchers used data provided by Kaiser Permanente Southern California, a health care network, to identify over 400,000 pregnancies in the region that took place between 2007 and 2018. They then looked at temperature data from that same time period and used the daily maximum temperature to figure out how many days of heat — characterized as moderate, high or extreme — pregnant people were exposed to throughout their pregnancy, breaking it down by trimester. 

The study found significant associations between both short- and long-term exposure (usually defined as 30 days or more) of environmental heat during a pregnancy and severe maternal morbidity. Severe maternal morbidity is a term used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to define 21 unexpected outcomes during labor or delivery that are considered near misses for maternal mortality. This could include cardiac arrest, eclampsia, heart failure, sepsis, and ventilation. (The primary findings excluded whether a blood transfusion occurred during delivery, usually an indicator of severe maternal morbidity, because the data wasn’t detailed enough.)

Researchers found that a high exposure to extreme heat through the duration of the pregnancy or in the third trimester was associated with a 27 percent increase in these risks. Exposure to a heat wave during the last gestational week was also associated with an increased risk of life-threatening delivery complications. 

Read Next Parts of the world have already grown too hot for human survival

Globally, this summer was the hottest on record. Phoenix broke a record when the temperature topped 110 degrees 31 days in a row. Dozens of other cities including in Texas, Louisiana, and California have experienced their own record-breaking temperature streaks.

While the study did not find significant demographic differences when breaking down the data by race and ethnicity, it did find that people with lower education levels had higher heat-related risk of severe maternal morbidity, said Anqi Jiao, an author of the study. This finding points to possible mitigation strategies that doctors, nurses, and others in public health could take. 

“They may pay more attention to these mothers with lower education levels as a targeted intervention,” she said. “Those mothers with lower educational attainment may have very limited knowledge to understand extreme heat as an environmental hazard, and they may not understand why the extreme heat could affect their pregnancy outcome.” 

Importantly, the study also found associations between heat exposure and cardiovascular events during labor and pregnancy. Cardiovascular conditions are now a leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States, a crisis that has only gotten worse in recent years despite medical advances. 

Ward applauded the decision to focus on severe maternal morbidity in the study. Other studies have looked at the impact of heat on birth outcomes or maternal health issues like gestational diabetes.

“This is really important because severe maternal morbidity is basically very nearly maternal mortality,” Ward said. “It is the most extreme of health outcomes for pregnant women. And so it’s very serious.”

She points out that it would also be useful if a study like this looked at overnight temperatures, which could further pinpoint what other underlying factors may contribute to heat exposure, she said. “Overnight temperatures indicate maybe a lack of access to cooling at night, where your body doesn’t have the time to recover,” she said, as an example. 

Further research could also highlight what kind of exposure people face during the day, related to different socio-economic factors like the type of job a pregnant person has, Ward said.

“A lot of times when we think about occupational exposures we tend to think about men, but that’s just not true. Women work in high-exposure jobs too. They work in the food industry in kitchens that have high heat, a lot of them may be caregivers in an environment in which there is not adequate cooling. A lot of women work in manufacturing, where indoor heat exposure is a thing,” she said. “So it’s about thinking through the underlying factors that are contributing to this.”

Jiao said she and others from her research team plan to look at other temperature metrics in future studies, as well as different climate factors like wildfire smoke. 

Ward finds this study to be a significant contribution to our understanding of heat and says it has important implications for emergency planners who can use this research to better understand the dangers of exposure to chronic heat. 

“These kinds of studies help inform those kinds of planning and preparedness activities so that they are targeted and that they have the most impact,” she said. “Anytime we get research that helps us understand … the nuances of heat exposure, it helps us protect people better, and that information gets incorporated into the planning and preparedness infrastructure — at least that’s the hope, right?”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Extreme heat is linked to higher risk of life-threatening delivery complications for pregnant people on Sep 16, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

‘It’s gigantic’: Hurricane Lee heads for New England and Atlantic Canada

Fri, 09/15/2023 - 11:15

Hurricane Lee, a mammoth peak-season storm in the Atlantic, is making a beeline for New England and Canada. Once a Category 5 storm, Lee weakened to Category 1 by the time it made a northward pivot and began its march toward land on Thursday. But the storm is still expected to lash parts of Massachusetts, Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia with tropical-storm-force winds, rain, waves, and potentially catastrophic storm surge as it makes landfall over the weekend.  

Meteorologists are especially concerned about the Bay of Fundy, a body of water between eastern Maine and Nova Scotia that holds the record for the highest tides in the world — with a difference of up to 53 feet between low and high tides. With a little bit of bad timing, Lee’s powerful winds could force a tremendous amount of water into the bay on top of a high tide, and inundate New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with record flooding. 

Mark Wiatrowski steps over the mast onboard his boat, which was in the process of being hauled out of the water ahead of Hurricane Lee in Hyannis, Massachusetts on September 13. David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Even on an ordinary day, the Fundy tides are so dramatic that they can sweep over whole beaches in a matter of minutes. In some parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the incoming water at high tide pushes so far inland that it reverses the flow of rivers, a phenomenon known as a tidal bore.

“If the storm goes just west of the Bay of Fundy, and it’s aligned with the correct tide cycle — well, it’s an unfortunate science experiment,” said Jeff Berardelli, chief meteorologist for WFLA-TV in Tampa Bay, Florida. “We’ve never seen something like that exactly.” 

Lee’s winds will be blowing west, which makes Nova Scotia, on the east side of the Bay of Fundy, particularly vulnerable to rising waters. There, waves could reach 40 feet in height on top of three to six feet of storm surge. “The water impacts, just exactly what’s going to happen there, that’s the big question mark,” said Ryan Truchelut, a meteorologist and the founder of the weather Substack WeatherTiger. “That’s potentially the most serious aspect of the storm.” 

Storm surge could also be an issue on the north-pointing part of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The National Hurricane Center has issued a storm surge watch for that portion of the cape. 

Sixty-four-year-old Howard Zwicker owns the Harbour Grille & Gift House on Grand Manan Island, a small Canadian island between Maine and Nova Scotia at the wide mouth of the Bay of Fundy. On Thursday morning this week, he was unruffled by the forecast. “We’re cleaning up our yard, taking down our hanging plants and our patio furniture, and that’s pretty much it,” said Zwicker, who was born on Grand Manan Island and has run the Harbour Grille with his wife for the past decade. “Everybody is doing their due diligence, but nobody’s panicking.” 

Luis Javier and Wichie Torres pull lobster boxes to dry ground at the Stonington Lobster Co-op in preparation for the possible arrival of Hurricane Lee in Stonington, Maine, on September 15. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Storms of Lee’s intensity are not unusual in the northern Atlantic, though they rarely make landfall in New England and coastal Canada. Lee’s impacts will also be abnormal in a couple of respects. It’s a large weather system — the hurricane’s tropical force winds span roughly 600 miles in diameter — which means its effects will be felt in multiple states along the Eastern Seaboard. 

“It’s gigantic,” said Truchelut. “In terms of tropical storm wind radii, this is one of the very largest out there.” Much of coastal New England will experience huge, battering waves that are 15 feet or higher. On Thursday, the governor of Maine issued a state of emergency as the state was put under its first hurricane watch in 15 years. 

The other unusual thing about Lee is that the storm will bring flooding to a part of the U.S. that is already waterlogged from a summer so rainy it broke records in parts of New Hampshire and Vermont. This summer was Maine’s second wettest on record, behind the summer of 1917. Record-breaking rainfall is a telltale sign of climate change; research shows a hotter atmosphere holds more evaporated water

Flooding brought on by Lee on top of the already soaked soil in New England will make the storm’s impacts more dangerous. Heavy gusts of wind can cause trees rooted in saturated soil to tip over, and localized flooding is more likely. “Fifty- or 60-mile-per-hour winds, you get that every year,” Truchelut said. “The difference here is that the trees still have their leaves on, and the soil is wet from recent rainfall.” 

Climate change doesn’t create large hurricanes like Lee, but it does make them intensify faster and occur more frequently. The Atlantic Ocean is currently going through a period of extreme sea-surface warming — water temperatures in parts of the North Atlantic have hovered around 77 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a month, “almost beyond the most extreme predictions of climate models,” the Washington Post reported in July. That record warmth allowed Hurricane Lee to intensify from a tropical depression to a Category 5 storm in less than three days, a phenomenon that has only happened a couple of times before in Atlantic hurricane history. 

Two men board up a door in preparation for Hurricane Lee in Scituate, Massachusetts. David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

“Given the record-high sea-surface temperatures in the North Atlantic, it is interesting that in this year we see a hurricane barreling toward New England,” said Sean Birkel, the state climatologist for Maine. “Because it is rare for hurricanes to reach New England and certainly into Maine.” 

Lee is arriving at the meteorological midpoint of hurricane season, and there are multiple other storm systems on its tail. These include Margot, which is churning in the middle of the Atlantic, and a still-forming storm that could become Hurricane Nigel. Forecasts show Nigel taking the same path as Lee, west across the Atlantic Ocean and up past Bermuda. Even if the Northeast escapes major damage from Lee, it may not be out of the woods yet.

Jake Bittle contributed reporting to this article.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline ‘It’s gigantic’: Hurricane Lee heads for New England and Atlantic Canada on Sep 15, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

This tax tweak is supercharging Biden’s climate agenda

Fri, 09/15/2023 - 01:45

Tucked deep within President Biden’s landmark climate bill sits a seemingly small tweak to IRS rules that, for the first time, lets companies sell their clean energy tax credits. 

The change accounts for just a fraction of the 100,000 or so words in the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, which Congress passed in 2022. But experts say that by making clean energy tax credits more accessible, the move will help drive most of the government’s investment in the sector over the next decade and supercharge the industry. 

“It’s pretty unprecedented,” said Jorge Medina, an attorney who specializes in renewable energy and tax policy at the firm Shearman & Sterling. “There hasn’t been a program quite like this, and not on this scale.” 

After President Biden signed the IRA into law last summer, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that its tax credits would account for roughly three quarters of the legislation’s $369 billion in climate incentives. When the treasury department released its proposed transferability rules in June, Secretary Janet Yellen called the mechanism a “force multiplier.”

The IRA provides tax credits for a range of clean energy technologies, from the deployment of solar and wind to the development of clean hydrogen and carbon-capture projects. But these benefits can only be used to offset tax liabilities, which many startups or projects may not have until they begin earning profits.

Before the IRA, clean energy developers got around this by creating a legally complex “tax-equity” partnership, said Rachel Chang, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress. That, however, often sidelined smaller players because with only so much tax liability to go around, investors often focused on more lucrative projects. 

“The tax-equity market has been to some extent what’s holding renewables back,” said Medina. 

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The IRA made capitalizing on these incentives much easier. Now, a developer who doesn’t have a tax liability can sell their credits to a company that does and get cash to help fund its project. While credits can only be transferred once, Medina and others still anticipate that this streamlined process will make developing clean energy more appealing. 

Interest has already proven so great that in June, the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the credits will be worth $663 billion by 2033 — about 250 percent higher than the Congressional Budget Office’s earlier projection. On the anniversary of the IRA, in August, Bank of America made the first public announcement of a transfer deal when it agreed to buy $580 million in wind energy tax credits from renewable power developer Invenergy. 

The burgeoning market has also created an industry of connecting tax-credit buyers and sellers. “There’s a niche market of brokers that has grown since the IRA started,” said Medina. “There are probably dozens of them.”

Crux is among the companies that has stepped into this new sector. It has raised $8.85 million in capital for a software platform that helps buyers, sellers, and intermediaries navigate the often complex bidding process, paperwork, and regulatory requirements associated with the transfers. 

“These are simpler transactions than tax equity, but they aren’t simple,” said co-founder and CEO Alfred Johnson, who was previously deputy chief of staff to Yellen. 

One of the biggest potential chokepoints, Johnson said, will be ensuring there are enough buyers for the anticipated surge in the supply of credits. While demand has so far come from traditional players in the tax-equity space — like big banks — he “increasingly sees new buyers come to the market,” and Crux claims it is already helping facilitate more than $1 billion in deals.

The credits generally are sold at slightly less than face value. Medina says prices have varied depending on the credit in question and how risky a project is, but they typically go for about 85 to 95 cents on the dollar.

A related change in the tax code under the IRA allows tax exempt entities such as nonprofits or state and local governments to skip the transfer market entirely. Instead, the government pays them 100 percent of the credit directly. 

“It’s pretty revolutionary,” said Jillian Blanchard, the director of the climate program at Lawyers for Good Government. Her team is encouraging eligible organizations to take advantage of this windfall, and educating them on the process. “It’s finally becoming available to public entities and tax exempt entities in a way that can be game changing.”

Neither of the new tax changes, however, are perfect. One issue for tax exempt entities, Blanchard said, is that the treasury’s proposed rule doesn’t allow them to claim the credit when they work with one another, which could be beneficial. For example, if a town and a local renewable energy nonprofit collaborate on a solar project.

As far as the tax credits go, some in the tax and clean energy sectors have argued that individuals — and not just corporations — should be able to purchase them, which would further expand the pool of buyers. The final version of the rules, expected this fall, could incorporate some of these changes. 

One concern that the changes are unlikely to fix, however, is that the tax-credit transferability could subsidize companies outside the climate sector, including those that are driving greenhouse gas emissions. “Some of the tax breaks may go somewhere that policymakers never wanted,” said John Buhl, an analyst at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “There’s nothing to stop oil companies, or particular types of businesses, from buying these assets.” 

Overall, though, experts say the newfound ability for companies to transfer tax credits appears to be on track to meet its objective of rapidly getting more clean energy out into the world.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline This tax tweak is supercharging Biden’s climate agenda on Sep 15, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

How climate change contributed to the staggering flood death toll in Libya

Thu, 09/14/2023 - 17:34

Catastrophic flooding earlier this week in Libya killed at least 10,000 people, with more than 30,000 people displaced, after Storm Daniel pummeled the coast and two dams broke in quick succession.

Nearly a quarter of Derna, a coastal city in the eastern corner of Libya, was destroyed in the flooding, with entire blocks of buildings now missing and washed out to sea. 

Death counts range, reaching estimates as high as 20,000, a number that came from the mayor of Derna. The Libyan Red Crescent put the number slightly lower at more than 11,000, as reported by the Associated Press. 

Tropical storms or hurricanes in the Mediterranean are often referred to as “medicanes,” and while these weather events don’t reach speeds fast enough to qualify as official hurricanes, they can be quite destructive. Storms like Daniel are considered rare, and are expected to remain rare, but higher sea surface temperatures fueled by climate change can supercharge medicanes and make them more forceful, according to Kerry Emanuel, a professor emeritus of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

“We expect, actually, to see fewer medicanes in the future, but we expect to see more of the stronger variety of medicanes,” said Emanuel. 

Mario Miglietta, a meteorologist with the Italian National Research Council, also pointed out that a unique weather phenomenon called atmospheric blocking might have had a big influence on the path of the storm. A mass of warm air trapped the storm in place, as it gathered energy and intensified. 

Storm Daniel is not unprecedented, as Ianos, the storm that hit Greece three years ago also intensified quickly before making landfall. But Miglietta said it’s an area to examine as atmospheric conditions change amidst a warmer climate. 

“[Atmospheric blocking] was the reason why the cyclone persisted over the same region of the Mediterranean Sea for so long, which is unusual,” said Miglietta.

Another important factor: the crumbling infrastructure in Derna, which led to the failure of two dams known as the Al-Bilad and Abu Mansour Dams. The 50-year-old dams were in need of severe repairs, according to a 2022 study from a researcher at Omar Al-Mukhtar University in Bayda, Libya. The study cited the area as highly prone to flooding, and specifically referred to the need for continued dam maintenance.

But the current political situation in the country left little room for planning. Libya has only recently emerged from a civil war, which started in 2014 and ended in 2020, and is still governed by two official administrations. One is located in the west in Tripoli and has been recognized by the United Nations; the other is in the east in Tobruk, which governs over Derna. A number of militias also exercise power over areas of the country, complicating the question of recovery. 

This made shoring up infrastructure a difficult task, according to Daniel Aldrich, professor of political science and public policy at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. 

“In Libya, it wasn’t that they were just thinking about, Okay, what happens if there’s a major sort of rains after a long drought because of climate change,” he told Grist. “They’re also worried about other things, for example: Are there armed parties out there, we need to defend ourselves against? How do we handle the possibility of collapse when there’s no clear government going on? These are all major problems they’re facing.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline How climate change contributed to the staggering flood death toll in Libya on Sep 14, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

A simple way to make electric cars more accessible: Share them

Thu, 09/14/2023 - 01:30

Gloria Huerta remembers the day she spent hours hopping between Chevy Bolts, messing with SIM cards and software while following instructions sent by a German tech firm. She was trying to fix a glitch that kept members of Miocar, the car-share program she helps lead, from unlocking the cars before the service’s formal launch. Troubles like these would make it difficult for her organization to fulfill its mission of providing equitable access to electric vehicles in rural California. 

Much has changed since that frustrating day four years ago. Back then, it wasn’t unusual for Huerta, who is now the nonprofit’s chief operating officer, to spend hours driving across the state’s San Joaquin Valley servicing vehicles and solving members’ problems. Today, Miocar has a dedicated team to service its fleet of three Nissan Leafs and 34 Bolts spread across 10 locations (it plans to add more cars and locations by the end of the year) while offering guidance to anyone interested in establishing a community-based car share.

Zero-emissions vehicles are essential to achieving global climate goals. But climate policy experts warn that a one-to-one shift from gas to electric cars could exacerbate other forms of social injustice. Such a change could, for example, fuel environmental degradation and worker exploitation in the Global South, where most of the metals needed for batteries are mined. Here at home, people with low incomes struggle to afford EVs, even with ample incentives. Others are often unfamiliar with technology that’s typically targeted at the affluent. Those who can afford the cars often have precious few places to plug them in

 “I think it’s great that we’re moving towards zero-emissions vehicles,” Huerta said, “but the communities that are continuously left behind are still being left behind.”

To avoid such potholes, a growing number of programs like Miocar are forging an equitable path to zero-emissions transportation by making battery-powered cars accessible to everyone. (Huerta says Miocar is a play on “the Spanglish of the San Joaquin Valley” that tags the Spanish word for “mine” to the word “car.”) Such efforts have emerged in locations as diverse as Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and Los Angeles, bolstered in part by state and local assistance. Earlier this year, for example, the Washington state Department of Transportation awarded $2.8 million to spur EV car-share efforts in low-income communities statewide. 

Beyond enabling a just transition and reducing the number of vehicles — and resources — needed to electrify transportation, electric car sharing represents a shift away from an economy of ownership to one of access, allowing people to embrace environmentally conscious mobility without the burden of buying a car.

What sets community-based nonprofits like Miocar apart from international for-profits like ZipCar is its focus on offering zero emissions vehicles to income-qualified users at reduced rates — often just $4 to $10 an hour. Cars are reserved online, charged up, and can be used for as long as 24 or even 48 hours, depending on the program. For some folks, it’s an easy way of running an errand, taking a pet to the vet, or simply getting somewhere beyond the bus line. For others, it’s an opportunity to get comfortable with an EV before buying one of their own.

Los Angeles is among the cities that have brought electric vehicle car sharing to frontline communities. The service provides dozens of cars and a network of chargers throughout the city. Mark Ralston / AFP via Getty Images

With most of Miocar’s users having never so much as sat in an EV before signing up, some are uncertain, even intimidated, at first. Huerta says the most common concern is that the battery might die. But Miocar, like other EV car shares, ensures its cars are charged, and provides dedicated parking spaces with chargers. People are expected to plug in when they drop off. If they forget, there’s a warning, and repeated offenses result in small fines. To further alleviate the anxiety of exhausting the battery, Miocar employees, when orienting newcomers to the program, explain how to plan a trip and find chargers that accept the free charge cards provided with each vehicle.

Once they start driving, users tend to love the vehicles for their ease, quiet, and comfort. “I’ve had conversations with a few that are like, ‘Oh my God, I never knew how much I would enjoy driving this,’” Herta said. When that happens, Miocar connects users to organizations that can explain the tax credits and other incentives that defray the cost of buying an EV, which can go for an average of $61,488 new.

Of course, when people rely on car-share programs instead of purchasing a vehicle of their own, traffic and street congestion drops. In 2016, researchers at the University of California-Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center found that for every car-share vehicle deployed, 7 to 11 others were taken off the road or never put there in the first place. Such findings have been repeatedly supported as these programs have grown. 

That said, not everyone can ditch their car. A personal vehicle isn’t so much a luxury as a necessity in rural areas, Huerta said. That’s why Miocar’s mission is guided by the question, “How are we going to be able to do this in an equitable manner where everyone is able to get the same access to resources?”

These programs bridge an essential gap. Low-income communities are not only supermarket and pharmacy deserts; they’re charging deserts, too. Although there is a great need for equitable charging infrastructure, Susan Buchan, the executive director of Good2Go, Boston’s EV car share, said building chargers in frontline communities solves just half the problem. The communities need easy and affordable access to electric vehicles to make the chargers more than just harbingers of green gentrification.

“I’ve heard folks say that it’s kind of a slap in the face to watch somebody pull up in a Tesla, charge, and take off,” she said.

Still, bringing equity-focused car shares online can be a bumpy road. Beyond the technical hassles and occasional vehicle recalls, the economic challenges are formidable. “For public-backed car sharing, one of the biggest barriers is funding,” said Lauren McCarthy, a program director at the nonprofit Shared Use Mobility Center. “They’re not usually profitable operations.” Buchan concurred: “Achieving your mission makes you have a more negative balance sheet in this gig.”

Typically, public funding is available only during the pilot and lasts just a few years. That’s why McCarthy — who oversees a state-backed program in California that provides voucher funding to support shared-mobility initiatives — and the Shared Use Mobility Center offer a year of assistance after initial funding ends to help programs achieve financial sustainability.

Insuring the vehicles is a major hurdle on that path: “Our number one line item,” Buchan said. Despite requiring that drivers be over 21 and possess a clean driving record, Massachusetts places car shares like Good2Go in the highest risk category, driving up premiums. Other states, including California and Minnesota, have more relaxed policies, but McCarthy considers insurance requirements an obstacle to the expansion of shared mobility.

Outreach can be another challenge. In 2021, when Good2Go launched, it struggled with enrollment. The program revamped its efforts the following year, organizing catered events at affordable housing complexes to give residents an opportunity to drive their cars. Membership jumped 300 percent to 160 people, ensuring its fleet of six vehicles gets ample use. Buchan expects the growth to continue as long as the program can continue providing enough vehicles to meet demand.

As more programs like these appear, grow, and become self-sustaining, they have the potential to shift the default means of mobility. “The premise of private car ownership doesn’t need to define our society,” McCarthy said. “There should be multiple options available to you.” In a world of shared transportation, picking up a community-owned car would be one of these options, as would busing, walking, or grabbing a bike or scooter from the sidewalk. As long as our cities are designed to support these programs, an equitable future for clean mobility would look like one in which access takes priority over ownership, and in which we share to show how much we care.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A simple way to make electric cars more accessible: Share them on Sep 14, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Is it time for the world to take a siesta?

Thu, 09/14/2023 - 01:30

This story is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live.

Security guards and tourism guides at the Parthenon in Athens made headlines this summer when they went on strike during the scorching afternoons of a July heat wave that reached up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit in Greece.

“The extreme weather conditions continue to plague the country, despite this the Ministry of Culture did not take drastic measures — as it should have — to protect workers and visitors,” said the Panhellenic Union of Employees for the Guarding of Antiquities in a press release. The union stated that multiple people were seen fainting and suffering from heatstroke at the Acropolis, the complex of monuments that includes the Parthenon, prompting them to strike. 

In fact, when the guards and guides refused to work during the hottest hours of the day, they essentially revived an old tradition in warm Mediterranean countries: the siesta. 

A siesta consists of a midday break that usually includes a large meal and a nap and is most common in Southern European countries like Greece, Spain, and Italy. The siesta used to be sacred, but modern times have seen the decline of the practice.

​​“The siesta is as old as humanity, and in fact, it goes beyond humanity. And you can see a lot of other species just simply being sensible with hot weather,” said Dr. Simon Quilty, a physician and researcher at Australian National University in Canberra. Quilty is lead author on a paper that examines cultural responses to extreme heat

Quilty also pointed out that the siesta has faced pushback in recent years, notably in 2016, when the Spanish prime minister proposed banning the practice

A street vendor of art prints takes a nap outside the Museo Del Prado in Madrid on August 6 as the country braced for the third heat wave of the summer. Oscar Del Pozo / AFP

“There’s a strong push back on that cultural institution,” said Quilty. “That reflects our values and our values over the last 15 to 20 years, and certainly over the last 50 years, [which] has increasingly become about money and material gain. And that is the culture that is destroying the environment.”

The word “siesta” evolved from the Latin phrase sexta hora, which means the sixth hour after dawn, a time when the sun is high and it’s best to take a break from extreme heat with a hearty meal and a nap. 

Climate change was a key force behind a summer that made history as the hottest on record. A new analysis from the nonprofit organization Climate Central found that 98 percent of people on Earth experienced hotter temperatures that were more likely because of climate change. 

Even places that have not typically practiced the midday break are now looking to it after unflinching heat. In Germany, a famously efficient country, a public health group suggested that employers and workers get comfortable with the idea of preventing heat-related illnesses, including taking a siesta. 

It could also be an effective option to avoid extreme heat in the United States, according to José María Martín Olalla, a professor of physics at the University of Seville in Spain.

“Practicing siesta in the United States is meaningful in the sense that you will be avoiding exposure to the central [hottest] hours of the day,” said Olalla.

But there are numerous cultural differences between Spain and the U.S., especially when it comes to the workday. Olalla pointed out that the labor cycle differs immensely and so do mealtimes. Siestas function not only as a rest for what used to be mostly manual labor, but also exist as a designated time for a large family meal. 

“For instance, in Spain, lunch is usually the main meal of the day,” said Olalla. “In [the] United States, lunch is kind of a smaller meal.” 

The siesta is ubiquitous with the culture in Spain, even as urbanization has meant changes for how people take siestas. Siestas have recently declined in popularity: “Not every single Spaniard is practicing siesta,” said Olalla. Still, he said that extreme heat caused by climate change could spur a revival.

Temperatures globally are expected to keep rising, and so are heat deaths, according to a study from researchers at Texas A&M University. Researchers found that deaths could top 200,000 annually by the end of the century, a fivefold increase. A siesta could help curb some of those effects, particularly for outdoor workers, according to Mayra Reiter, program director of occupational safety and health at Farmworker Justice, an advocacy organization based in Washington D.C.

“Whether it’s a siesta or a cooldown break, workers need regular rest periods when they are working in the heat,” said Reiter. “Because otherwise, they face higher risk of accidents on the job, kidney damage from dehydration and overheating, and heatstroke, which can be deadly.”

People taking their riverbank siestas at Pirineos Sur International Festival of Cultures in Sallent de Gallego, Huesca, Spain. Nano Calvo / VWPics / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In the U.S., employers are already experimenting with different solutions to extreme heat. In the wake of the hottest summer on record, companies are deploying ice-filled vests, sweat stickers, and paid cooling breaks to offset the hotter temperatures that workers are exposed to. In the agriculture industry, which often requires hours of labor-intensive work to plant, grow, and harvest crops, farmworkers are harvesting plants at night to avoid high daytime temperatures. 

Dr. Brenda Jacklitsch, a health scientist and heat expert at the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health, an agency within the Centers for Disease Control, backs the idea of a siesta for outdoor workers, especially those who are more exposed to extreme heat.

Construction workers are also at risk for mortality due to heat, and one mother of a construction worker who died last summer in Texas is suing his employer for $1 million. The mother believes the company could have providfed more safeguards against the heat and prevented his death.

“Hotter times of the day very often are, you know, middle of the afternoon, when the sun is right overhead,” said Jacklitsch. “And so being able to schedule some of the maybe most intense or the hardest work tasks for maybe the early morning hours or possibly even later in the evening or after it starts to cool down might be appropriate.”

One of the main ways that siestas could benefit outdoor workers is by helping regulate the core body temperature of workers. Siestas can help by reducing both internal and external sources of heat, according to Nathan Morris, an environmental physiologist and professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. 

The idea of working with, and not against, extreme heat might run counter to the culture of the United States, but Quilty brings up that Indigenous traditions and cultures in tropical regions have always understood the danger of extreme heat.

“People just simply understand that it’s dangerous to be in the hot weather,” he said. 

One of Quilty’s co-authors is Norman Frank Jurrurla, a Warumungu elder, who wrote about how traditional Indigenous practices are responsive to the environment. Siesta is one example of these environmentally sensitive practices; another is to pay attention to emerging drought conditions and shift to where more consistent water sources are. 

One constraint of the study, though, is using historical data, which is limited in its reach, especially as climate change is pushing the world to temperatures too hot to survive

It could be good to revive the tradition in the U.S., says Olalla, where overwork and sleep loss are regular parts of American culture that degrade people’s overall health.

“It’s pretty clear from our standard knowledge that siesta is good,” said Olalla. 

So good that despite recent declines in Spaniards practicing siesta, Olalla still makes it a regular part of his schedule. 

“By the way, your email finds me practicing siesta,” said Olalla in a video interview, in a testament to siesta’s enduring power. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Is it time for the world to take a siesta? on Sep 14, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

FEMA rolls out climate adaptation loans for small and overlooked communities

Thu, 09/14/2023 - 01:15

Though the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is best known for disaster response, it has emerged as perhaps the federal government’s most robust resource for preparing the country for the effects of a warming world. The agency has pumped billions of dollars into climate adaptation projects over the past few years, helping states and cities relocate flood-prone homes and harden infrastructure against wildfires. But the agency’s infrastructure programs have drawn criticism for disproportionately funneling money toward larger, wealthier, and whiter communities, leaving smaller and poorer jurisdictions without the money they need to adapt to worsening climate-driven disasters.

There are two big reasons for this funding gap. The first is that FEMA doles out adaptation money through competitive grant programs, which means that a local government needs significant funding and staff to put together an application that stands a chance of attracting federal dollars. The second is that federal law requires the agency to fund only those adaptation projects that pass what it calls a “benefit-cost analysis.” In other words, a city must prove that its proposed project prevents more damage than it costs to build. Big infrastructure projects like sea walls and stormwater pipes are much more likely to pencil out in dense cities with high property values than in smaller, low-income towns.

“We know we have work to do in this area,” said David Maurstad, a senior FEMA official, when he acknowledged the funding gap during congressional testimony on the subject last year.

This week, FEMA finally moved toward narrowing that gap. The agency announced a new loan program that will give states a total of $500 million to dole out to local governments in the form of low-interest loans for small-scale adaptation projects. This way, not only can local officials representing small towns, minor cities, and tribes skip the extensive application process associated with federal grants, but they also don’t have to justify their projects in cost-benefit terms.

“There’s large infrastructure projects that communities need to fund in order to adapt to the changing climate, but there’s often many small projects that need to get done as well,” said Victoria Salinas, FEMA’s associate administrator for resilience, in a press conference announcing the program on Tuesday. “The burden of getting a smaller project done that actually has a major impact on reducing human suffering is very high.”

The agency is piloting the program by sending $50 million in “seed capital” to seven states — Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia — as well as Washington, D.C. The states will get about $6 million each, and they’ll be able to loan that money out to smaller governments at interest rates of less than 1 percent. (The benchmark interest rate for mortgage and credit card lending in the U.S. is currently around 5.5 percent.) The local governments can use that money to buy out homes that are in the path of fire or flood, elevate streets, or repair water infrastructure. States will decide how long local governments will have to pay the loans back.

In Washington, D.C., officials are planning to loan money to pay for storm drain upgrades in a public housing complex that has faced frequent flooding. The District of Columbia has already received money to upgrade a stormwater pump station through FEMA’s other climate adaptation initiative, the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, but the new loan will help officials pursue projects that wouldn’t qualify for that grant money.

Because states themselves will be running the loan programs, rather than the federal government, borrowers won’t have to worry about following the extensive federal spending guidelines that often hamper adaptation projects, or about passing a strict cost-benefit analysis. Experts have criticized federal benefit-cost regulations for placing too much emphasis on property values and neglecting to consider intangible assets like community cohesion and cultural heritage.

Furthermore, the program is a “revolving” loan fund, meaning states can reuse FEMA’s seed capital over and over again. If a state gives a city a loan of $1 million and the city pays the loan back after five years, the state will then have just over $1 million to lend out somewhere else. The program doesn’t have an expiration date, which Salinas said makes it “a more durable source of financing” than the agency’s other grant programs. The loan interest rates are far lower than cities tend to pay for standard municipal bonds, so the risk of default is low.

Anna Weber, an adaptation policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the program could help fill the gaps in FEMA’s still-nascent effort to finance climate adaptation.

“The underlying way that we distribute funding for hazard mitigation currently serves to drive resources to places that already have resources,” she said. “There’s a lot of potential for this program to slot into this patchwork of funding in a way that fills in some gaps.”

Editor’s note: The Natural Resources Defense Council is an advertiser with Grist. Advertisers have no role in Grist’s editorial decisions.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline FEMA rolls out climate adaptation loans for small and overlooked communities on Sep 14, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

In 2022, a land defender was killed every two days

Wed, 09/13/2023 - 13:43

Over the last decade, nearly 2,000 land and environment defenders have been killed around the world, and in 2022, a land defender was killed every other day, according to a report released Tuesday. 

The study from Global Witness, a nonprofit human rights environmental watchdog, shows that the killings of Indigenous peoples defending their territories and resources represented nearly 34 percent of all lethal attacks despite making up about 5 percent of the world’s population.

“Governments where these violations are happening are not acting properly to create a safe environment for defenders and a civic space proper for them to thrive,” said Gabriella Bianchini, senior advisor for the land and environmental defenders team at Global Witness. “They are not reporting or investigating and seeking accountability for reprisals against defenders. And most importantly, they are not promoting legal accountability in the proper manner.”

Latin America has consistently ranked as the deadliest region for land defenders overall and saw almost 9 in every 10 recorded killings in 2022. More than a third of those fatal attacks took place in Colombia. In 2021, Brazil was named the deadliest country for land defenders by Global Witness and now sits at second; In July, activist Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips were murdered in the Brazilian Amazon.

Growing tensions from agribusiness, mining, and logging have led to consistent lethal attacks in the region. Between 2011 and 2021, for instance, more than 10,000 conflicts related to land rights and territories were recorded in Latin America alone. 

“The worsening climate crisis and the ever-increasing demand for agricultural commodities, fuel, and minerals will only intensify the pressure on the environment — and those who risk their lives to defend it,” wrote the authors.

Earlier this year, Frontline Defenders, an international human rights organization, released a similar report to Global Witness’ with corresponding findings — including that Colombia was the most dangerous country for land defenders. While Frontline Defenders reported that there were 186 land defender deaths in Colombia and Global Witness reported 60, Bianchini said differences in statistics are the result of different methodologies, which vary by organization. However, both organizations’ reports were united in findings: Indigenous people make up a disproportionate amount of the deaths among land and environment defenders, Latin America sees the highest rates of violence, and the number of killings is likely underreported.

“I am incredibly grateful and impressed to see the fight of all of these communities who are there living in these areas and who have been acting for thousands of years to protect the array of life,” said Bianchini. “I cannot believe that humanity right now is living in a moment where we are killing those who are protecting their own lands and civil rights.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline In 2022, a land defender was killed every two days on Sep 13, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News


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