Tag Archives: single use plastic

Weekly News Check-In 1/14/22

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Welcome back.

Soon after Netflix released director Adam McKay’s doomsday thriller Don’t Look Up, the climate activist network started buzzing. For decades, those of us urging action have been frustrated by the vague, “sometime in the future” aspect of global warming’s effects, which has enabled a lot of can-kicking down the road. In this context, the film’s killer comet allegory is brilliant. If civilization’s end were total, certain, and precisely timed, it might finally focus the mind.

Divestment from fossil fuels has been increasingly impactful, to the point that Big Oil & Gas is having some trouble financing expansion projects. An even more direct action is to mount an actual takeover of a corporate polluter, and aggressively reorient it toward sustainability.

Pipeline developers often gain access to agricultural land by promising to bury the structure under fields and then “fully restore” the surface. The pitch to farmers: get some steady income for very little bother. Except that research now confirms that the combination of soil compaction by heavy construction equipment combined with the mixing of topsoil with deeper material, results in years of significantly reduced crop yield.

Of course, a great way to discourage those pipelines is to kick the gas habit. Massachusetts recently established the Commission on Clean Heat, with a mission to develop a pathway to greener buildings. Activists are keeping up the pressure for full electrification and gas hookup bans.

People all over the northern hemisphere who suffered the deadly combination of record temperatures, long brutal heat waves, epic floods, intense drought, and hellish wildfires, probably felt a little let down by recent climate reports that ranked 2021 only the 6th warmest year on record. We found an article that puts it all in perspective – and yes, your pain is real.

This week was full of encouraging news regarding innovations that will speed up a green transition. Battery recycling is developing quickly, roofing materials giant GAF announced a promising solar roof shingle, and Massachusetts startup AeroShield promises to revolutionize energy efficient windows using materials better known for heat-resistant tiles on space shuttles. We also take a closer look at long-duration energy storage using gravity, cranes, and heavy blocks.

On the clean energy downside, current-generation geothermal plants need to be located near relatively near-surface sources of very hot water. This often carries negative environmental and cultural impacts. But new deep-drilling methods may help solve that problem by allowing geothermal facilities to locate almost anywhere.

With huge SUVs increasingly clogging roadways, and with most legacy car manufacturers introducing their first round of EV models on crossover, SUV, and light truck platforms, we were wondering if there’s a future for the basic four-door sedan or hatchback. The answer is yes, and it looks pretty sleek.

We explore why so many states continue to approve new gas power plants, and also expose the plastics industry’s greenwashing efforts behind their big push for federal dollars to improve recycling.

And we close with coal, which is throwing a party that the planet just can’t afford.

button - BEAT News  For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletter from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT)!

— The NFGiM Team

POPULAR CULTURE

don't look up
Don’t Just Watch: Team Behind ‘Don’t Look Up’ Urges Climate Action
The satirical film, about a comet hurtling toward Earth, is a metaphor for climate change that has broken a Netflix record. Its director hopes it will mobilize the public.
By Cara Buckley, New York Times
January 11, 2022

“Don’t Look Up” is a Hollywood rarity on several fronts. It’s a major film about climate change. It racked up a record number of hours viewed in a single week, according to Netflix. It also unleashed a flood of hot takes, along with — in what may be a first — sniping between reviewers who didn’t like the film and scientists who did.

What remains to be seen is whether the film fulfills a primary aim of its director, Adam McKay, who wants it to be, in his words, “a kick in the pants” that prompts urgent action on climate change.

“I’m under no illusions that one film will be the cure to the climate crisis,” Mr. McKay, whose previous films include “The Big Short” and “Vice,” wrote in an email to the Times. “But if it inspires conversation, critical thinking, and makes people less tolerant of inaction from their leaders, then I’d say we accomplished our goal.”

In “Don’t Look Up,” a planet-killing comet hurtling toward Earth stands in as a metaphor for the climate crisis, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence playing distraught scientists scrambling to get politicians to act, and the public to believe them.

After the film premiered in December, climate scientists took to social media and penned opinion essays, saying they felt seen at last. Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that it seemed like a documentary. Several admirers likened the film to “A Modest Proposal,” the 18th-century satirical essay by Jonathan Swift.
» Read article  

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

fracker flipped
Leading UK fracking firm taken over by green energy group
Third Energy now has ‘absolutely no interest in fossil gas’ and is targeting renewable energy
By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
January 14, 2022

A high-profile UK fracking company has been taken over by a green energy group and now has an anti-fracking campaigner as a director.

Yorkshire-based Third Energy was at the forefront of efforts to produce fossil gas and intended to use high-pressure fluids to fracture shale rocks under the county. But it was hampered by permit delays and fierce local opposition.

Now the company has been taken over by Wolfland Group, a renewable energy company. It has halted all fossil fuel production from its conventional gas wells and has no plans for further exploration or development. Instead it will focus on green energy, including solar farms, and the use of existing wells for geothermal energy and the burial of captured carbon dioxide emissions.

Steve Mason was a leading figure in the anti-fracking campaign in Yorkshire and is now a director of Wolfland Group. “The current energy crisis has shown that we must be energy independent as a nation and that fossil fuels need to be urgently replaced by clean renewable energy supplies, which will lead to cheaper energy and help us tackle climate change,” he said.

“We believe we’re now a real-life example of walking the talk and turning stranded fossil fuel assets into green energy solutions.”
» Read article              

» More about protests and actions

PIPELINES

keeps on robbing
Pipelines keep robbing the land long after the bulldozers leave
A flurry of new research shows the long-term effects of pipelines on crop yields.
By Jena Brooker, Grist
January 7, 2022

Before it began digging into the earth to bury its two-and-half-foot-wide, 1,172-mile-long pipeline in the ground, Dakota Access, LLC promised to restore the land to its previous condition when construction was finished. The pipeline company signed that pledge in its contracts with landowners stretching from North Dakota to Illinois, and the project was approved by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission under that condition. But farmers in the path of the pipeline have a different story to tell – one of broken promises and sustained damage to their land.

Now, there’s data to back them up.

Researchers at Iowa State University found that in the two years following construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline corn yields in the 150-foot right-of-way declined by 15 percent.  Soybean yields dropped by 25 percent.

One of the selling points that energy companies often tout is that pipeline infrastructure is seemingly invisible, buried and forgotten over the long run. The new study, published in the journal Soil Use and Management, seems to contradict that claim.

The scientists said the major issue is that soil is compacted by heavy machinery during pipeline construction, and that topsoil and subsoil are mixed together. Taken together, the damage “can discourage root growth and reduce water infiltration in the right-of-way,” Robert Horton, an agronomist at Iowa State and the lead soil physicist on the project, said in a statement. He and his colleagues also found changes in available water and nutrients within the soil.

The findings are important for a number of planned pipelines across the Midwest. In one instance, the planned Midwest Carbon Express would be built on land already used for the Dakota Access pipeline, leaving farmers reeling from double impact on their crops.
» Read article             
» Read the study

» More about pipelines

DIVESTMENT

on the edge
Climate Justice Through Divestment
By Ray Levy Uyeda, Yes! Magazine
January 4, 2022

In recent years, a growing movement to achieve climate justice has connected the root cause of climate change not just with greenhouse gases but also with a more entrenched, insidious foe: capitalism. The United States supports a system that allows a few corporations and people to earn money off climate degradation, mainly through the extraction and proliferation of fossil fuels, such as coal or gas. And the very people who are tasked with regulating these industries, like federal elected officials, continue to choose not to. Time is running out to curb emissions and restore balance to global ecosystems, which is why front-line land defenders and climate activists are going straight to the source of climate chaos: financial firms.

The movement is called “divestment,” and it’s growing both inside and outside financial institutions’ walls. The idea is simple: Pull money, talent, and public approval away from banks and financial institutions that invest in fossil fuel extraction. Most often, this comes in the form of grassroots student-led campaigns at universities and colleges, as was the case with the Harvard students whose protests convinced the president and board of trustees to divest its $42 billion endowment from fossil fuel-related investments.

Divestment first emerged as a strategy in the 1980s in the fight against South African apartheid. Environmental activist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben was one of the first major U.S. figures to recycle the idea to apply to universities and financial firms, outlining the case for divestment in a 2013 Rolling Stone piece. “The logic went something like this: Most people don’t live near a coal mine [or] oil pipeline, but everyone is near some pot of money—their college endowment, their church pension fund, their local pension fund in their community,” McKibben says. “Those are all sites where you could take effective action about climate change.”
» Read article                      
» Read Bill McKibben’s 2013 Rolling Stone article

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

battery recycler
Inside Clean Energy: Here Come the Battery Recyclers

As battery use skyrockets for EVs and energy storage, a recycling industry is taking shape.
By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News
January 13, 2022

The battery economy is booming, and with it a recycling industry is bracing itself for a wave of battery waste.

Battery Resourcers of Worcester, Massachusetts, said last week that it is planning to build a plant in Georgia that will be capable of recycling 30,000 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries per year. It will be the largest battery recycling plant in North America when it opens later this year.

But its reign will be brief because Li-Cycle, based in the Toronto area, is building an even larger battery recycling plant near Rochester, New York, that is scheduled to open in 2023. The company said last month that it is modifying its plans in a way that increases the plant’s size, a response to forecasts of high demand for recycling.

To help understand what’s happening, I reached out to Jeff Spangenberger, a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and also director of the ReCell Center, a collaboration between the government and industry to improve battery recycling technologies.

“If the process is good enough, there’s no reason why you can’t make battery materials from the battery materials,” he said.

For him, the development of a battery recycling industry is one of the most important and exciting parts of the transition to clean energy.

It’s important because the growth of electric vehicles and battery storage systems will eventually lead to millions of tons of batteries that are unusable unless they are recycled. And it’s exciting because researchers and entrepreneurs are coming up with cost-effective ways to reuse most of that waste.
» Read article                       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

locally hotLast Year’s Overall Climate Was Shaped by Warming-Driven Heat Extremes Around the Globe
A quarter of the world’s population experienced a record-warm year in 2021, research shows.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
January 14, 2022

Earth’s annual average temperature checkup can mask a lot of the details of the climate record over the previous year, and 2021 showed that deadly heat-related climate extremes happen, even if it’s not a record-warm year.

Global average temperature isn’t always the most important measure, University of Michigan climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck said, after United States federal agencies released the Global State of the Climate report, ranking 2021 as the sixth-warmest year on record for the planet.

“As with politics, it is often what happens locally that matters most, and 2021 was one of the most deadly and destructive years on record because of the unusually warm atmosphere that is becoming the norm,” he said. “Extreme heat waves were exceptional in 2021, including the deadly Pacific Northwest U.S. and Canada heatwave that killed hundreds and also set the stage for fires that wiped out a whole town.”

Last year, the climate “was metaphorically shouting to us to stop the warming, because if we don’t, the warming-related climate and weather extremes will just get worse and worse, deadlier and deadlier,” he said. “Even tornadoes are now thought to strengthen as a result of the warming, and this effect probably also was the reason we had tornadoes in 2021 that reached northward into parts of Minnesota for the first time ever in December.”

The Pacific Northwest heat wave was the most extreme hotspot in a series of heat extremes that together seemed to stretch across the entire northern hemisphere for much of the summer, said Chloe Brimicome, a climate scientist and heat expert at the University of Reading.

“What really stood out for me was this period in summer, in July,” she said. “Everywhere you looked, consecutive records in many countries for temperature were being broken, day on day on day. I don’t think we’d ever really seen that before, or at least we hadn’t heard about it in the same way before.”
» Read article                       

» More about climate

CLEAN ENERGY

roof disrupted
New Nail-On Solar Shingle Could Transform Residential Solar Industry
By The Energy Mix
January 12, 2022

California-based GAF Energy has developed a mass-market shingle that could revolutionize rooftop solar generation.

“What we’ve built is a nailable solar shingle that goes on as fast or faster than a regular shingle, looks great, and generates electricity,” GAF President Martin DeBono told Canary Media.

GAF Energy is a division of Standard Industries and was co-launched with GAF, one of the largest roofing materials companies in the world. With Tesla and other tech companies pushing towards new approaches to rooftop solar, the roofing giant put its foot in the game to “disrupt the roofing industry” before someone else does.

According to DeBono, GAF Energy’s edge comes from approaching the shingles from the perspective of a roofing company, rather than a solar company. Their emphasis on the product’s utility as a roofing material can help rooftop solar move away from the (relatively) clunky panels we’ve come to know and love.

Customer acquisition is typically costly for solar businesses, but because GAF Energy is already embedded in the roofing industry, it’s in a good position to solarize the roofing market, a quarter of which GAF already commands, Canary Media says.

The 45-watt shingles take one to three days to install and measure 60 inches long, 16 inches tall, and less than a quarter-inch deep. The design strings together mono PERC (Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell) solar cells that contain a single crystal of silicon and are coated on the back to reflect back into the panel any light that passes through. At 23% efficiency when using standard industry technology, the product is at the high end of average range for the industry as a whole. The stringed cells are then laminated onto a backsheet made of a common commercial waterproofing membrane, then “encapsulated and topped with glass and a textured material that allows the shingle to be walked on,” writes Canary Media.
» Read article                       

headwinds for gas
Reality Check: US Renewable Energy Portfolios Can Outcompete New Gas Plants
By Laurie Stone, RMI | Blog
January 4, 2022

As coal plants shut down across the United States, there is a pervasive belief that gas is the necessary “bridge” to a low-carbon grid. As of late 2021, utilities and other investors are anticipating investing more than $50 billion in new gas power plants over the next decade. However, currently available renewable energy technologies are often cheaper than gas.

In fact, a recent RMI report found that clean energy portfolios—combinations of renewable energy, efficiency, demand response, and battery storage—are a cheaper option than more than 80 percent of gas plants proposed to enter service by 2030. At least 70 GW of proposed gas plants could be economically avoided with cleaner alternatives, saving $22 billion and 873 million metric tons of CO2 over project lifetimes. This is the equivalent of taking more than 9 million vehicles off the road each year.

Already, more than half of gas plants proposed to come online in the past two years have been canceled before construction began:

For example, in New Mexico, the Public Service Company (PNM) is planning to retire the coal-powered San Juan Generating Station in 2022. To replace capacity, PNM proposed a 280 MW gas plant, the Piñon Energy Center, along with solar and storage projects. However, stakeholders pushed back on the plan, and in July 2020, the commission approved an alternate 100 percent renewable and storage replacement for San Juan based on costs, economic development, and New Mexico energy law.

And in Maryland, the Mattawoman Generating Station—a 990 MW gas plant—was approved in 2015 in a majority-Black community of Prince George’s County. However, due to economics (clean energy portfolios became cheaper than the proposed gas plant in 2018), a federal civil rights complaint, and pipeline cancellations, the project was declared no longer feasible, and was canceled in January 2021.

Replacing all of the proposed power needs with clean, renewable power also has other benefits, based on RMI’s report. It creates 20 percent more job-years, mostly in construction and manufacturing, and would prevent $1.6 billion to $3.7 billion in health impacts each year​ compared with fossil alternatives. And many of these job and health impacts will be found in low-income communities and communities of color.
» Read article                      
» Read the report

» More about clean energy

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

clean heat now
Commission on Clean Heat eyes road map to cut building emissions
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, in The Berkshire Eagle
January 14, 2022

The new advisory commission created to help the state meet its carbon reduction requirements by shifting to cleaner buildings and addressing heating fuels that contribute to emissions was sworn in Wednesday and will begin gathering public input on the transition in March.

Gov. Charlie Baker created the Commission on Clean Heat, which his office says is a first-in-the-nation effort, through an executive order last year and gave the panel a Nov. 30 deadline to recommend policies that “seek to sustainably reduce the use of heating fuels and minimize emissions from the building sector while ensuring costs and opportunities arising from such reductions are distributed equitably.”

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides tapped Undersecretary of Energy and Climate Solutions Judy Chang to serve as her designee and chair of the commission. The commission’s roster also includes William Akley, the president of Eversource’s gas business; Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts President Emerson Clauss III; Passive House New England founder Mike Duclos; Dharik Mallapragada, a research scientist working on MIT’s Energy Initiative; Robert Rio, senior vice president of government affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts; NAIOP Massachusetts CEO Tamara Small; and Environmental Defense Fund Director of Energy Markets and Regulation Jolette Westbrook.

“Climate leadership over the next decade will require a fundamental transition in how we heat and cool our homes and buildings,” Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said.
» Read article                       

high temp HP
Vattenfall launches high-temperature heat pump solution to replace gas boilers
Developed in partnership with Dutch heating specialist Feenstra, the all-electric heat pump solution will initially be available in the Netherlands. The system’s buffer works as a heat battery that is used to provide heat to radiators and generate hot tap water.
By Emiliano Bellini, PV Magazine
January 7, 2022

Swedish utility Vattenfall and Dutch heating and hot water systems provider Feenstra have launched in the Netherlands a high-temperature heat pump solution for existing single-family homes that is claimed to be an easy replacement for traditional gas central heating boilers.

“The similarities between Dutch and British gas central heating mean these high-temperature heat pumps could be suitable for UK housing in suburban and rural areas,” the two companies said in a joint statement. “They could enable households to swap out their existing gas boilers without needing to go to the additional expense and disruption of changing the rest of their heating system or installing additional insulation at the same time.”

The heat pump is claimed to be able to provide a water temperature of between 60 and 80 degrees Celsius, which means its use doesn’t require the improvement of a house’s insulation, the setting up of underfloor heating or the adaptation of radiators, all of which is necessary when a conventional air heat pumps are utilized.

The system’s buffer works as a heat battery that is used to provide heat to radiators and generate hot tap water.
» Read article                       

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

AeroShield
Massachusetts startup sees path to more efficient windows with new material

AeroShield is working to commercialize a clear, lightweight material that, when sandwiched between two panes of glass, produces windows that are more insulating than bulkier, more expensive options.
By Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network
January 13, 2022

A new material developed in Massachusetts could someday help make super-efficient windows more affordable for home and business owners.

A Cambridge startup called AeroShield has developed a clear, lightweight material that, when sandwiched between two panes of glass, produces windows that are more insulating than even bulkier, more expensive options.

Early research by the company indicates that windows incorporating its material could cut residential heating and cooling costs by 20%. The first prototypes could be installed in demonstration projects by the end of 2022, and products could hit the wider market in 2023 or 2024.

“We’re really excited by a change we could start in the industry by enabling some better designs and some better products,” said co-founder Elise Strobach.

As the country grapples with the urgent need to lower greenhouse gas emissions, the energy consumption of buildings is a key problem to solve. Fossil fuel combustion in buildings accounted for about 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2018, according to a report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Virginia-based climate and clean energy nonprofit.

Lowering these emissions will require switching from fossil fuels to electricity wherever possible, generating cleaner electricity on the grid, and reducing overall power usage. And a key strategy for decreasing energy consumption is to create extremely tight building envelopes.

Windows, however, have always posed a challenge to achieving high levels of efficiency: Heat lost or gained through windows is responsible for up to 30% of the energy used to heat or cool a home, the federal Department of Energy estimates.

AeroShield began with research Strobach conducted for her doctorate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, searching for ways to better insulate solar panels so they would generate power more efficiently. She looked to silica aerogel which, despite what its name suggests, is not sticky or oozy. It is a very light, highly porous solid glass that is such a good insulator that NASA has used it to protect critical equipment.

First invented in 1931, aerogels are not a new technology. However, silica aerogel has always been a cloudy, pale blue color, too opaque to let sufficient sunlight pass through to solar panels. Strobach’s goal was to figure out how to make the material transparent.

“It’s one of the most insulating materials in the world,” Strobach said. “But it had never been clear.”

Her research succeeded even beyond her original goal. The material she created not only let adequate sunlight pass, but it was also clear enough to see through. Essentially, she explained, her team made nanoparticles of glass and the pores between them smaller than the wavelength of visible light, so, in the final material, the light doesn’t interact with the material.
» Read article                       

» More about building materials

LONG-DURATION ENERGY STORAGE

heavy blocks
Gravity Could Solve Clean Energy’s One Major Drawback
Finding green energy when the winds are calm and the skies are cloudy has been a challenge. Storing it in giant concrete blocks could be the answer.
By Matt Reynolds, Wired
January 4, 2022

Without a way to decarbonize the world’s electricity supply, we’ll never hit net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Electricity production and heat add up to a quarter of all global emissions and, since almost every activity you can imagine requires electricity, cleaning up power grids has huge knock-on effects. If our electricity gets greener, so do our homes, industries, and transport systems. This will become even more critical as more parts of our lives become electrified— particularly heating and transport, which will be difficult to decarbonize in any other way. All of this electrification is expected to double electricity production by 2050 according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. But without an easy way to store large amounts of energy and then release it when we need it, we may never undo our reliance on dirty, polluting, fossil-fuel-fired power stations.

This is where gravity energy storage comes in. Proponents of the technology argue that gravity provides a neat solution to the storage problem. Rather than relying on lithium-ion batteries, which degrade over time and require rare-earth metals that must be dug out of the ground, Piconi and his colleagues say that gravity systems could provide a cheap, plentiful, and long-lasting store of energy that we’re currently overlooking. But to prove it, they’ll need to build an entirely new way of storing electricity, and then convince an industry already going all-in on lithium-ion batteries that the future of storage involves extremely heavy weights falling from great heights.
» Read article                       

» More about long-duration energy storage

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

low Cd
In the shift to electric, the three-box sedan is obsolete: Here’s why

By Bengt Halvorson, Green Car Reports
January 12, 2022

Not everyone who wants an electric vehicle wants an SUV. There’s still life for longer and lower electric cars—especially as highway models that are optimized toward maximizing driving range.

But fewer of them than you might think will be traditional three-box sedans, with a hood, a cabin, and a trunk. And more of them will have swoopy “kammback” rooflines and hatchbacks.

Simply put, if you design a car around lower aerodynamic drag, it will be able to cover more highway miles per kilowatt-hour of stored battery energy—which means a lower cost and a lower environmental footprint for the car. The sedan shape is turbulence-prone behind the rear window, but a softer slope and tapered sides near the rear remedy the issue.

That’s especially critical for entry luxury models, where all the numbers have to stand out versus basic commuter devices and yet keep to a price point. It’s why, with the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX, which previews a generation of compact to midsize EVs on the upcoming MMA platform debuting in 2024, Mercedes went all out with aero.

The EQXX concept achieves an excellent 0.17 coefficient of drag—far below that of any current production four-door. And company officials pointed to its aerodynamics as one of the keys to its projected real-world range of 621 miles on a battery pack with less than 100 kwh, perhaps with air-cooling for the battery.
» Read article                       

» More about clean transportation

SITING IMPACTS OF RENEWABLE ENERGY

BLM in hot water
Clean energy goes up against tribal rights and biodiversity in Nevada
A geothermal power plant is the latest battlefield for Biden’s green vision.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
January 7, 2022

The Biden administration is facing critical questions about how to balance the urgency of transitioning to clean energy with other progressive priorities. On Monday, a U.S. district judge halted construction of two geothermal power plants on public land in Nevada. The decision was in response to a lawsuit filed in December by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental nonprofit, and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, against the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, for approving the project.

Geothermal power plants pump hot water from deep underground and use it to generate steam to produce clean electricity. The Nevada plants are set to be built on a verdant wetland in the desert called Dixie Meadows. The suit alleges that the project threatens to dry up the hot springs that support the wetland and are of religious and cultural significance to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone. The ecosystem is also home to the Dixie Valley toad, a species that is not known to exist anywhere else on Earth.

The plaintiffs have reason to be skeptical. The geothermal company behind the Dixie Meadows project, Ormat Technologies, opened a geothermal power plant in 2011 about 40 miles away on another hot springs called Jersey Valley. The springs dried up entirely a few years after the plant began operating.

To date, geothermal power plant development has been limited to areas with known geothermal resources close to the surface of the earth, which are often indicated by natural hot springs. But research underway at the Department of Energy and by private companies to tap into geothermal resources much deeper underground could open up new areas to geothermal development, potentially sparing treasured natural resources like Dixie Meadows.
» Read article                       

» More about siting impacts

ELECTRIC UTILITIES

unused and useless
Unused and useless: States must act to end flawed natural gas power plant buildouts
By Grant Smith, Utility Dive | Guest Opinion
January 11, 2022
Grant Smith is senior energy policy advisor at Environmental Working Group (EWG)

Nothing exemplifies the irrational utility business model more than the billions of dollars companies have wasted on the massive buildout of natural gas capacity over the last decade, ignoring obvious market trends favoring renewables and energy storage.

One great tool to end this financial mismanagement would be enforcing the once prominent “used and useful” standard through which states could mandate that new power plants be completed and providing service before a utility can recover costs from ratepayers. And those generation resources must remain economic, or useful, throughout their lifecycles.

But states have scrapped or severely weakened this requirement across the U.S.

And their approval of new, unnecessary natural gas infrastructure also rests in part on power companies’ misleading claims in their investment plans.
» Read article                       

» More about electric utilities

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

coal was dying
Coal was dying. Then 2021 happened.
The dirtiest fossil fuel is on the rise — and with it, U.S. carbon emissions.
By Shannon Osaka, Grist
January 10, 2022

Coal was supposed to be on its deathbed. For the past seven years, coal use in America has been trending down. Faced with falling natural gas prices and the growth in wind and solar energy, coal plants from Illinois to New Mexico closed their doors. In 2005, coal plants generated 2 trillion kilowatt-hours of American power; by 2020, that number had been cut by more than half. And as coal vanished, replaced by less carbon-intensive natural gas, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions edged down. In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic cratered carbon dioxide emissions overall, coal use fell by a whopping 19 percent.

Then 2021 happened.

According to a report released Monday by the energy research firm Rhodium Group, coal use rebounded for the first time since 2014, growing 17 percent in 2021. That coincided with a rebound in overall greenhouse gas emissions as the economy slowly recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, U.S. emissions fell by 10.3 percent, the largest drop since World War II; in 2021, they climbed 6.2 percent — not returning to 2019 emission levels, but perilously close.

That’s bad news for the climate. Over the past decade, most of the United States’ emissions cuts have come from cheap natural gas replacing coal. But last year, rising natural gas prices helped resuscitate the dirtiest fossil fuel. A cold winter and declining supply sent natural gas prices skyrocketing to more than double their 2020 average. In response, utilities leaned more on coal to generate electricity across the country — and emissions climbed.
» Read article                      
» Read the Rhodium Group report

» More about fossil fuels

PLASTICS RECYCLING

single use
Energy Department slammed for funding ‘false’ plastics solutions
Advocates say the agency’s efforts to develop chemical recycling are a “waste of tax dollars.”
By Joseph Winters, Grist
January 14, 2022

The U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, announced this week that it will invest $13.4 million in research funding to address the plastic industry’s contributions to pollution and climate change. But while the agency cast the investment as an opportunity to address urgent environmental problems while creating an “influx of clean manufacturing jobs for American workers,” environmental advocates said it was the wrong approach.

“It’s a waste of tax dollars,” said Judith Enck, a former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and founder of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics. Taking aim at the funding’s focus on “upcycling” and biodegradable plastics, she said the grants perpetuated “false solutions” that would keep the U.S. hooked on single-use plastics and do little to reduce the glut of plastic waste entering the oceans each year.

Enck’s take is a stark departure from the tone set by the DOE’s press release, which says it will contribute up to $2.5 million each to seven plastic-related research projects led by corporations and universities. It cites the need to “build a clean energy economy and ensure the U.S. reaches net-zero carbon emissions by 2050” and includes laudatory quotes from Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

But environmental advocates say most of the projects set to be funded by the DOE — “infinitely recyclable single-polymer chemistry,” “catalytic deconstruction of plasma treated single-use plastics to value-added chemicals” — are just industry-speak for a process known as “chemical recycling.” This process, which theoretically melts plastic into its constituent molecules so it can be repurposed into new plastic products, has been criticized as an industry pipe dream; due to technological and economic difficulties, most chemical recycling facilities end up just melting used plastic into oil and gas to be burned. One 2020 analysis from the nonprofit Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, or GAIA, found that of the 37 chemical recycling facilities proposed in the U.S. since 2000, only three are operational, and zero specialize in plastic-to-plastic conversion.

According to GAIA, the plastics industry has spent decades researching chemical recycling without much to show for it.
» Read article                      
» Read the GAIA analysis

» More about plastics recycling

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Weekly News Check-In 10/30/20

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Welcome back.

Time’s up. Before our next check-in, the polls will close in the U.S. election and we will formally withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Vote…. No excuses. Plus be good to yourselves and each other – we’re going to be OK.

News about the Weymouth compressor station centers on emergency response plans from the town and seemingly toothless rumblings from the Attorney General’s office. The thing is built, and will begin operations pending results of investigations into two unplanned gas releases that occurred in September.

The divestment movement notched a recent win, as the Church of England’s Pension Board dumped all its ExxonMobil shares.

With a greener future within reach, we’re following lots of reporting about the social, environmental, and equity issues being addressed as planners seek to avoid some of the failings that mark the current economy.

Our climate section is full of analysis of what this political moment means for the planet’s future – including calls to begin seriously studying solar geoengineering to cool the planet in the event that things get really bad. That story is way scarier than anything else we’ve heard this Halloween….

Fortunately, a team at Stanford University believes it’s possible to achieve a fully green grid as early as 2030 using a combination of solar, wind, and batteries. But even with clean electricity on the grid, older buildings still face barriers to improving energy efficiency to the extent necessary. Mold and asbestos remediation costs are stopping many building envelope improvement projects from moving forward – indicating a need to fund these measures in lower-income neighborhoods.

The stability and reliability of the grid can be enhanced through microgrids, and a new, plug-and-play version developed by Emera Technologies is about to be installed in a housing development in Tampa, Florida.

This week we’re using our clean transportation section to showcase reports that General Motors and Ford both knew their internal combustion engines were climate change drivers as early as the ’60s and ’70s. Instead of investing in emission-free technologies, they instead promoted climate denial while bulking up their trucks and SUVs. These firms may now be exposed to the same litigation as the oil majors are mired in.

The health risks of indoor gas use are worth thinking about as the weather turns cold and we spend more time in closed-up spaces. Climate issues of gas stoves aside, they’re a source of serious health concern when not properly vented to the outside.

The fossil fuel industry found a way to divert Covid-19 relief funds in North Dakota from cleaning up old wells to financing more fracking. While shady schemes and outright fraud are standard fare in this seciton, we also have news that the natural gas industry may be facing ‘peak gas’ much earlier than expected. And the liquefied natural gas industry is processing news that France’s government asked local power group Engie to delay the signing of a 20-year deal to buy LNG from a planned export project in Texas due to concerns over gas production emissions.

We finish with a couple reports on plastics. A petition circulating in Kenya seeks to hold that country’s tough line on plastics imports – a position the U.S. is seeking to undermine during current trade negotiations. And we have another explainer on plastics recycling, and the myth of that little triangle.

button - BEAT News button - BZWI  For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletters from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) and Berkshire Zero Waste Initiative (BZWI)!

— The NFGiM Team

 

WEYMOUTH COMPRESSOR STATION

emergency planTown’s public safety officials offer plan for compressor station emergency
By Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger, in Wicked Local Weymouth
October 27, 2020

The town’s heads of public safety say they feel largely prepared to deal with any emergencies that could happen at the newly-completed natural gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River.

Emergency Management Director John Mulveyhill, Fire Chief Keith Start and Police Chief Richard Fuller went before town council’s environmental committee this week to discuss the recently-completed contingency plan for the compressor station, which is close by the MWRA sewage pumping station, Fore River Bridge, numerous industrial facilities and hundreds of homes.

The more than 1,000-page plan details what role each agency would play during a medical emergency, gas leak or catastrophic event at the compressor station. It includes evacuation information from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, regional shelter and emergency operation center plans and a statewide fire and emergency medical services mobilization plan, among other things.

Several portions of the plan regarding the emergency response by Enbridge, the energy company that owns the compressor station, are under review to decide if officials can release anything for public viewing.
» Read article                

Healey wades in
Healey wades into debate over Weymouth gas compressor station
By Statehouse News Service, on Channel 7 News, Boston
October 26, 2020

Responding to a cadre of South Shore lawmakers who had asked her to intervene and address what they described as potential regulatory and civil rights violations impacting environmental justice communities, Attorney General Maura Healey said last week that her office will keep a close eye on a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth and is open to collaborating with lawmakers to change the permitting process for future projects.

Last month, South Shore lawmakers who have long opposed the Weymouth project wrote to Healey with complaints that project operators and state agencies failed to provide sufficient notice to residents, particularly those in designated environmental justice communities, ahead of several important hearings and public comment periods.

“In response to your concerns about public notices to environmental justice communities near the project, my team asked MassDEP to closely examine past public involvement practices with the facility and encouraged the agency to explore additional options for improvements going forward, including ensuring community responsive translation,” Healey wrote in her letter last week. “Public involvement by all communities, but especially environmental justice communities, is equally important. We understand that MassDEP intends to speak again with community leaders to solicit further feedback on what additional steps the agency could include in the current public involvement plan related to cleanup at the site to address any ongoing concerns.”

Healey has previously called for Massachusetts to steer away from expanding natural gas infrastructure but has not vocally and directly opposed the compressor station that Enbridge sought and now controls in Weymouth.

In her letter, however, Healey said she is “deeply concerned about the recent emergency natural gas releases at the facility,” and that her office has been in touch with federal regulators to discuss the issue.
» Read article                

» More about the Weymouth compressor station           

 

DIVESTMENT

Exxon Scope 3
Church Of England Dumps All ExxonMobil Stock
By Charles Kennedy, Oil Price
October 8, 2020

The Church of England Pensions Board divested this week all its shares in ExxonMobil since the U.S. supermajor has failed to set targets to cut Scope 3 emissions—those generated by the products it sells—a spokesperson for the board told Bloomberg on Thursday. 

The Church of England Pensions Board, which manages more than US$3.62 billion (2.8 billion British pounds) in assets, has been one of Exxon’s shareholders that has consistently called on the oil giant to report emissions and provide a pathway to reduce emissions from its operations and the products it sells to customers.  

“Exxon failed to meet the index criteria which embeds the latest assessment by the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), and as a result the board is disinvested from Exxon,” the spokesperson for the board told Bloomberg.

While European oil majors have started to report the so-called Scope 3 emissions and have committed to reduce them over the next decades, Exxon hasn’t done that, drawing criticism from its investors, including the Church Commissioners for England and BlackRock.
» Read article                

» More about divestment              

 

GREENING THE ECONOMY

taking actionWhat Is the Clean Energy Industry Doing to Confront Racism?
“We need to be very careful that as we grow and mature we’re not replicating the injustices that have proliferated to date throughout the energy system.”
By Emma Foehringer Merchant, GreenTech Media
October 29, 2020

In the wake of spring outpourings of grief and anger over the killings of Black Americans such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, numerous companies in the clean energy industry turned the lens inward. Companies that had never before spoken out about racism published statements condemning it, and some donated to the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  

Despite the unprecedented action, inequality is not a new or unrecognized problem in the renewables industry. It remains to be seen whether these newest expressions of upset and accompanying initiatives to combat racism within and outside company ranks will continue.

So far, the clean energy industry has largely embraced a “rising tide lifts all boats” approach: If renewables companies help clean up the grid, that will naturally reduce pollution for the communities of color who experience it most acutely. But assessing the industry’s metrics holistically — such as the number of opportunities for Black employees in the industry, wealth created in underserved communities, and the availability of solar to majority-nonwhite neighborhoods — shows that that approach has fallen flat in challenging the legacy of systemic racism within clean energy.

“At its core, the idea of moving forward clean energy, whether it’s solar or wind, has been good,” said Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program. But overall, Patterson said, the industry’s approach to anti-racism efforts has been lackluster, even after she’s advised companies on best practices.

“When I have those conversations and send information, there’s no action. […] In this moment, all of a sudden, there’s more of an interest,” Patterson told Greentech Media. “We’ll see whether that actually leads to things being done.”

To make a change, Patterson said, companies need to recognize the “social good” associated with anti-racism alongside the benefits to their business.

In recent weeks and months, several coalitions have put forth new plans. Now companies have to show they will actually put them into practice.
» Read article                

new thinkingGreen stimulus could create $280B in economic benefits: C40
By Chris Teale, Utility Dive
October 28, 2020

C40 Cities formed the COVID-19 task force in late April to prioritize public health, economic equality and climate amid recovery from the pandemic. At the time, the member mayors said they would identify how cities can best create new jobs while keeping emissions and climate change at the forefront of the discussion about recovery.

With C40 having previously voiced its support for a Global Green New Deal and backing a declaration to divest from fossil fuels, the task force warned that a new way of thinking is needed as cities look to stimulate their economies and invest in infrastructure.

“If governments use stimulus funding to try to return to ‘business as usual’ before COVID, emissions will rise and run-away climate breakdown will be locked in,” the mayors wrote in a joint statement. “It is only through a green and just recovery based on the principles of a Global Green New Deal… that emissions will start to fall.”
» Read article                

looking for the exitOil And Gas Workers Continue to be Excluded From ‘Just Transition’, Report Shows
By Chris Silver, DeSmog UK
October 22, 2020

The majority of offshore workers in the North Sea would consider leaving the sector, a new report has found.

Poor job security was cited as the most pressing reason to quit the industry, after the collapse in oil prices from Covid-19 saw 43% of oil and gas workers furloughed or made redundant since March.

The report, carried out by climate groups Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace, found 81.7% of workers surveyed were open to leaving the industry, but lacked the government support to switch sectors.

One worker surveyed commented: “The way the industry is treating their workers, especially those in a situation similar to mine, is an absolute disgrace and should not be allowed to happen.”

Another added: “I know guys who have had two or three pay cuts over six months, no negotiations, nothing. If one engineering company cuts rates, all the others do too. I’ve honestly long suspected there is a cartel around this.”

More than half of the 1,383 workers surveyed – representing 4.5% of the offshore workforce – said they would be interested in working in renewables and offshore wind. 

Another respondent, ‘Steve,’ 43, contrasted the experience of decline in oil and gas with the prospect of working towards Scotland’s 2045 net-zero target.  

“It’s always boom and bust to some degree but the last five years have not been a pleasant environment to work in – that’s five years of mental toil,” he said. “To be in an industry that’s growing, versus one that’s declining, that’s really what it’s all about to me.”  

Working towards net-zero “would be an achievement in my working life and mean a lot to me,” he added.
» Read article               
» Read the survey report        

» More about greening the economy            

 

CLIMATE

plan v no plan
There Is Only One Existential Threat. Let’s Talk About It.
Our political culture isn’t ready to deal with climate change.
By Farhad Manjoo, New York Times – Opinion
October 28, 2020

If you’re a supporter of that radical extremist group Keep America Habitable for Human Beings, you might have been encouraged by the 2020 presidential race.

In 2016, climate change — the scientific fact of the earth’s encroaching uninhabitability — was mostly ignored, including in the debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. This year, the changing climate and what to do about it got airtime in both presidential debates and the vice-presidential debate. Climate change was also one of the top issues during the Democratic primary race. Several candidates published detailed climate plans; Joe Biden’s proposal is the most ambitious response to climate change ever proposed by a major-party nominee for president.

And yet I keep getting discouraged by how far there is to go. Voters, the candidates and especially the political media have not given it enough attention this year, considering the stakes at hand. Worse, when politicians do address climate change, the discussion in mainstream media is often uninformed, following a script favorable to oil companies.

These problems were on stark display in the ridiculous dust-up over Biden’s statement during the debate last week that the United States needs to transition away from oil. When asked about climate change, Biden told a series of truths. He noted, correctly, that it’s an “existential threat to humanity,” that “we don’t have much time” to address it, that doing so could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and that it would involve eliminating our reliance on the cause of the problem, fossil fuels.

Trump’s answer was a series of absurdities. He said that he loves the environment, but that plans to address climate change would cost a lot of money and many jobs, would require buildings with very small windows and that wind power creates “fumes” and kills a lot of birds. (In fact, cats, buildings and cars are far bigger threats to birds.)

I’m not sure how anyone could come away from that debate thinking that Biden is the one who made a rhetorical flub. “The takeaway isn’t what Biden said, it’s what Trump said,” Kendra Pierre-Louis, a former reporter for The New York Times who is now a reporter on the podcast “How to Save a Planet,” told me. “Trump effectively said he doesn’t have a climate plan, and we are facing an existential crisis.”

Yet it was Biden, not Trump, who got in political hot water for his answer. After the debate, Trump’s campaign, with an assist from talking heads on cable news and the internet, began suggesting that Biden’s comments would hurt his chances in oil- and gas-producing states like Texas and Pennsylvania. Biden later walked back his comment, explaining that a transition away from oil would take very long time.

What a disaster. Why can’t we abide an honest discussion about climate change?
» Read article               

simply grotesque‘Grotesquely Fitting’ Say Climate Campaigners as Trump Mulls Pro-Fracking Executive Order Ahead of Election
Polling data doesn’t support the idea that the issue is politically popular overall, and critics say the order would be “just one more desperate attempt by this White House to make fracking into a winning campaign issue.”
By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams
October 28, 2020

Climate campaigners and journalists called out President Donald Trump after the Wall Street Journal revealed late Tuesday—just a week before Election Day—that he is considering a last-minute executive order to promote fracking as an apparent ploy to win over undecided voters in battleground states such as Pennsylvania.

Trump is weighing an order “mandating an economic analysis” of hydraulic fracturing, as the oil and gas extraction process is also called, according to the Journal. Unnamed officials told the newspaper that the work would be spearheaded by the U.S. Energy and Interior departments with input from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and Treasury Department.

The measure “would ask government agencies to perform an analysis of fracking’s impact on the economy and trade and the consequences if the oil-and-gas extraction technique was banned,” the Journal reported. “It also would order those agencies to evaluate what more they can do to expand its use, possibly through land management or support of developing technology.”

Food & Water Action policy director Mitch Jones responded in a statement Wednesday declaring that “this order is just one more desperate attempt by this White House to make fracking into a winning campaign issue. There is no doubt that fracking poisons our air and water, and that drilling is driving us towards climate crisis. There is something grotesquely fitting that an administration that has sacrificed climate action for the sake of the fossil fuel industry thinks fracking is a winner.”

“The truth is that the fracking industry is in collapse. Fracking has never been the economic engine that its backers have claimed it to be, and any attempts to resuscitate it are only delaying the inevitable,” Jones continued. “Debt-ridden drilling companies have laid off thousands of workers while CEOs make off with millions in profits.”
» Read article                

the last worst ideaAs Climate Disasters Pile Up, a Radical Proposal Gains Traction
The idea of modifying Earth’s atmosphere to cool the planet, once seen as too risky to seriously consider, is attracting new money and attention.
By Christopher Flavelle, New York Times
October 28, 2020

As the effects of climate change become more devastating, prominent research institutions and government agencies are focusing new money and attention on an idea once dismissed as science fiction: Artificially cooling the planet, in the hopes of buying humanity more time to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

That strategy, called solar climate intervention or solar geoengineering, entails reflecting more of the sun’s energy back into space — abruptly reducing global temperatures in a way that mimics the effects of ash clouds spewed by volcanic eruptions. The idea has been derided as a dangerous and illusory fix, one that would encourage people to keep burning fossil fuels while exposing the planet to unexpected and potentially menacing side effects.

But as global warming continues, producing more destructive hurricanes, wildfires, floods and other disasters, some researchers and policy experts say that concerns about geoengineering should be outweighed by the imperative to better understand it, in case the consequences of climate change become so dire that the world can’t wait for better solutions.

“We’re facing an existential threat, and we need to look at all the options,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at the Columbia Law School and editor of a book on the technology and its legal implications. “I liken geoengineering to chemotherapy for the planet: If all else is failing, you try it.”
» Read article                

Trumping NOAAAs Election Nears, Trump Makes a Final Push Against Climate Science
The administration is imposing new limits on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would undercut action against global warming.
By Christopher Flavelle and Lisa Friedman, New York Times
October 27, 2020

The Trump administration has recently removed the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the nation’s premier scientific agency, installed new political staff who have questioned accepted facts about climate change and imposed stricter controls on communications at the agency.

The moves threaten to stifle a major source of objective United States government information about climate change that underpins federal rules on greenhouse gas emissions and offer an indication of the direction the agency will take if President Trump wins re-election.

An early sign of the shift came last month, when Erik Noble, a former White House policy adviser who had just been appointed NOAA’s chief of staff, removed Craig McLean, the agency’s acting chief scientist.

Mr. McLean had sent some of the new political appointees a message that asked them to acknowledge the agency’s scientific integrity policy, which prohibits manipulating research or presenting ideologically driven findings.
» Read article                

protect what you love
New East Boston Murals Intertwine Beauty And Environmental Concerns
By Cristela Guerra, WBUR
October 27, 2020


In East Boston, a series of seven new large-scale murals emphasize the natural world and the need to preserve the environment at all costs.

Artist Silvia Lopez Chavez has created a visual guardian near the entrance of Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina. Her mural depicts a massive figure of a woman with ocean waters rising to her nose. Still, she looks composed, serene almost, a woman of mixed ancestry meant to represent the diverse community that lives in East Boston.

The figure’s head is crowned by a clipper ship, a type of vessel that used to be built in East Boston. The ships carried cargo, but also enslaved people, across the oceans. The vessel nods to this nation’s history of colonization, a solemn acknowledgment of how some people arrived on these shores.

“[The woman] represents the past, present, and future,” Lopez Chavez said. “I wanted her to be able to connect to the histories of this place, to connect to that native and indigenous heritage, the history of immigration and all the different peoples and groups that have come through here.”

Presented by Linda Cabot, and in a collaboration with HarborArts and the international nonprofit PangeaSeed Foundation, the initiative is known as Sea Walls Boston and combines activism with art. A seventh piece exploring warming oceans by Colombian-American artist Felipe Ortiz is underway.

“It’s not front of mind for a lot of us, but the Gulf of Maine is the fastest warming body of water in the United States, which is causing many of the cold water marine species in the US to migrate to colder waters,” project director Matthew Pollock said. “The same issues that are destroying coral reefs and causing biodiversity to disappear all over the world also affect us right here at home. This mural represents how our oceans are all connected.”
» Read article               

election crossroadsClimate at a crossroads as Trump and Biden point in different directions
The two US presidential contenders offer starkly different approaches as the world tries to avoid catastrophic global heating
By Oliver Milman, The Guardian
October 26, 2020

Among the myriad reasons world leaders will closely watch the outcome of a fraught US presidential election, the climate crisis looms perhaps largest of all.

The international effort to constrain dangerous global heating will hinge, in large part, on which of the dichotomous approaches of Donald Trump or Joe Biden prevails.

On 4 November, the day after the election, the US will exit the Paris climate agreement, a global pact that has wobbled but not collapsed from nearly four years of disparagement and disengagement under Trump.

Biden has vowed to immediately rejoin the Paris deal. The potential of a second Trump term, however, is foreboding for those whose anxiety has only escalated during the hottest summer ever recorded in the northern hemisphere, with huge wildfires scorching California and swaths of central South America, and extraordinary temperatures baking the Arctic.

“It’s a decision of great consequence, to both the US and the world,” said Laurence Tubiana, a French diplomat and key architect of the Paris accords. “The rest of the world is moving to a low-carbon future, but we need to collectively start moving even faster, and the US still has a significant global role to play in marshaling this effort.”
» Read article               

EU punts 2030 target
EU environment ministers strike deal on climate law, leave out 2030 target
By Kate Abnett, Reuters
October 23, 2020

European Union environment ministers struck a deal on Friday to make the bloc’s 2050 net zero emissions target legally binding, but left a decision on a 2030 emissions-cutting target for leaders to discuss in December.

The landmark climate change law will form the basis for Europe’s plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions, which will reshape all sectors, from transport to heavy industry, and require hundreds of billions of euros in annual investments.

It will fix in law the EU target to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and define the rules for reviewing progress towards climate targets.

Ministers struck a deal on these parts of the law at a meeting in Luxembourg on Friday. None of the 27 member countries rejected the bill, although Bulgaria abstained.

A decision on the most politically sensitive part of the bill – a new 2030 emissions-cutting target – was left for EU leaders to agree, unanimously, at a December meeting.

The law will give Brussels “the legal possibility to act when those who make promises don’t deliver on the promises,” said EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans at Friday’s meeting. It was held in person, despite much of the continent restricting gatherings to curb surging coronavirus infections.
» Read article                

 nap time is over          Worms Frozen for 42,000 Years in Siberian Permafrost Wriggle to Life
By Mindy Weisberger, LiveScience
July 27, 2018

Did you ever wake up from a long nap feeling a little disoriented, not quite knowing where you were? Now, imagine getting a wake-up call after being “asleep” for 42,000 years.

In Siberia, melting permafrost is releasing nematodes — microscopic worms that live in soil — that have been suspended in a deep freeze since the Pleistocene. Despite being frozen for tens of thousands of years, two species of these worms were successfully revived, scientists recently reported in a new study.

Their findings, published in the May 2018 issue of the journal Doklady Biological Sciences, represent the first evidence of multicellular organisms returning to life after a long-term slumber in Arctic permafrost, the researchers wrote. [Weird Wildlife: The Real Animals of Antarctica]

Though nematodes are tiny — typically measuring about 1 millimeter in length — they are known to possess impressive abilities. Some are found living 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers) below Earth’s surface, deeper than any other multicellular animal. Certain worms that live on an island in the Indian Ocean can develop one of five different mouths, depending on what type of food is available. Others are adapted to thrive inside slug intestines and travel on slimy highways of slug poop.
» Read article                

» More about climate                 

 

CLEAN ENERGY

super power SWB
Super power: Here’s how to get to 100pct wind, solar and storage by 2030
By Giles Parkinson, Renew Economy
October 28, 2020

A team led by renowned Stanford University futurist Tony Seba says most of the world can transition to 100 per cent wind, solar and storage electricity grids within the coming decade, in what they describe as the fastest, deepest and most profound disruptions ever seen in the energy industry.

The RethinkX team led by Seba, one of the few analysts to correctly forecast the plunging cost of solar over the last decade, predicts that the disruption caused by solar, wind and lithium-ion battery storage, or SWB, will be similar to the digital disruption of information technology.

“What happened in the world of bits is now poised to happen in the world of electrons,” they write.

“Just as computers and the Internet slashed the marginal cost of information and opened the door to hundreds of new business models that collectively have had a transformative impact upon the global economy, so too will SWB slash the marginal cost of electricity and create a plethora of opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship.”

The key to this disruption, they say, is the near-zero marginal cost of wind and solar, and the falling costs of those technologies and of storage. They say there will inevitably be more wind and solar produced than needed, but that’s OK because this excess production, which they dub “super power”, can be used for long-term storage, electrification of housing and industrial processes and, of course, transport.

“Our analysis shows that 100% clean electricity from the combination of solar, wind, and batteries (SWB) is both physically possible and economically affordable across the entire continental United States as well as the overwhelming majority of other populated regions of the world by 2030.

“Adoption of SWB is growing exponentially worldwide and disruption is now inevitable because by 2030 they will offer the cheapest electricity option for most regions. Coal, gas, and nuclear power assets will become stranded during the 2020s, and no new investment in these technologies is rational from this point forward.”
» Read article                

Koch at DOEThe Koch Operatives Behind the Trump Energy Department’s Renewables Research Censorship
By Ben Jervey, DeSmog Blog
October 28, 2020

Two Trump Energy Department appointees with deep ties to Koch Industries and the Koch donor network have been burying reams of agency research that looks favorably on renewable energy, according to an in-depth investigation by Grist and InvestigateWest. Published October 26, the investigation reveals how the appointed high-ranking officials mandated political review of research, watered down reports, and slow-walked or shelved scientific findings and studies when they favored renewable deployment over continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Documents obtained by InvestigateWest reveal clear political interference in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), much of it coordinated by Dan Simmons, the office’s Assistant Secretary, and Alex Fitzsimmons, the former Chief of Staff to Simmons. While the article notes the lobbying histories of DOE’s top brass, Simmons and Fitzsimmons also have recent ties to the Koch network.

“In all, the department has blocked reports for more than 40 clean energy studies,” Fairley reported. “The department has replaced them with mere presentations, buried them in scientific journals that are not accessible to the public, or left them paralyzed within the agency, according to emails and documents obtained by InvestigateWest, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees at the Department of Energy, or DOE, and its national labs.”

“There are dozens of reports languishing right now that can’t be published,” Stephen Capanna, a former director of strategic analysis for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, told Grist. “This is a systemic issue.”
» Read article                

almost no birds
Danish research shows “almost no birds” die in collisions with wind turbines
By Joshua S Hill, Renew Economy
October 23, 2020

The results of a multi-year scientific study in Denmark has concluded that birds are quite good at avoiding wind turbine blades, putting a serious dent in a common argument raised by anti-wind and -renewable activists.

The new study, carried out by three relevant consultancies for Swedish power company Vattenfall, investigated the area around 11 turbines every three days for three periods of just over a month in both the first and third years after the erection of the 67.2MW Klim Wind Farm in northern Jutland, Denmark (pictured above).

The research was carried out between August 2016 and May 2017 in the first year of operation, and August 2018 and May 2019 in the third year of operation. In an effort to determine an annual collision rate for the pink-footed geese and cranes, 11 selected turbines were inspected during autumn, winter, and spring.

The Klim Wind Farm is a valuable scientific opportunity, located in the immediate vicinity of the international Natura 2000 bird protection area Vejlerne, where each day, thousands of birds leave their roosting areas in Vejlerne to fly out to nearby fields to find food. Unsurprisingly, given its location, many of these birds fly past the Klim Wind Farm.

According to the study – the results of which will be published in DOF BirdLife Denmark’s scientific journal together with a ‘peer review’ for professional consolidation – in the first year of investigation, a total of 17 dead birds were found under the 11 selected wind turbines. In the third year, 22 dead birds or their remains were found.

Importantly, the discovered dead birds or remains were not always those of the pink-footed geese, and no dead cranes were found which had crashed into the turbines.

According to the final analysis, the researchers determined that the evasive response for both the pink-footed geese and the cranes over the two study years worked out to be 99.9% – based on a population of 20,000-30,000 geese and several hundred cranes.

Sponsored by Vattenfall, which naturally has a vested interest in the outcome of the report’s findings, the study was carried out partly to prove that the Klim Wind Farm complied with its environmental permit – which stipulates that collisions must not exceed 75% of the current sustainable mortality rates for populations of pink-footed geese and crane.

However, importantly, the findings stand for themselves, as do the credits of the three independent authors who carried out the investigation.
» Read article               

VPP video
The next generation of power plants will be virtual
Your next home or electric vehicle could be part of a virtual power plant
By Justine Calma, The Verge
October 20, 2020

Increasing numbers of homes outfitted with solar panels and batteries have the potential to help power entire regions with renewable energy. Working together, homes with solar setups are turning neighborhoods into virtual power plants that can feed power back to the grid and prevent blackouts.

These interconnected solar power systems are popping up across the globe — from apartment complexes in California and Utah, to public housing in South Australia. In the future, virtual power plants might even be made up of fleets of electric vehicles. It’s the next generation of solar power technology
» Watch video                

» More about clean energy           

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

barriers to efficiency
Mold, asbestos may put Connecticut weatherization goal out of reach
State leaders are looking for funding sources for remediation work that needs to happen before many energy efficiency upgrades can be completed.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Photo By National Institutes of Health
October 29, 2020

Lorenzo Wyatt owns a Connecticut energy-efficiency contracting business focused almost exclusively on low-income residents — about 80% of his customers are eligible for no-cost energy savings services through the state’s residential efficiency programs.

But nearly a third of those customers are not able to weatherize their houses or apartments, and lose out on energy savings. That’s because mold, asbestos, and other health hazards discovered in their homes must be cleaned up before contractors can safely seal the space, an undertaking that easily runs into the thousands of dollars.

Those costs are not covered by the state’s efficiency programs. And very few of Wyatt’s customers can afford to pay themselves. 

“Typically, 30% of the income-eligible customers will have these barriers,” said Wyatt, whose company, Home Comfort Practice, is based in Stratford. “Very few will go through with remediation. That’s been the issue.”

It’s a difficult problem that has hampered the state’s residential energy efficiency programs for years and prevents the most money-strapped households from obtaining services that could significantly reduce their energy bills. 

Eversource and United Illuminating, which administer the efficiency programs, say about 10-14% of their market-rate customers have a health and safety barrier in their homes; that percentage rises to 25-30% among low-income households. 

The barriers make it nearly impossible for the utilities to reach the weatherization target set by legislation: weatherize 80% of Connecticut residences by 2030.
» Read article               

» More about energy efficiency                  

 

MICROGRIDS

blockenergy
Emera Technologies Unveils Plug-and-Play Neighborhood Microgrid Geared for Utilities
By Ethan Howland, Microgrid Knowledge
October 26, 2020

Emera Technologies has developed a residential, plug-and-play microgrid system called BlockEnergy that is designed to be owned and operated by utilities – a sector in search of a way to offer microgrids that works within its business structure.

Set to be installed in a housing development in Tampa, Florida, the system aligns with major trends in the utility sector, according to Scott Balfour, president and CEO of Emera, a $32 billion utility company based in Halifax, Nova Scotia and parent of Emera Technologies.

“It provides local, decentralized energy that can interoperate with the grid with never before possible levels of reliability and system safety,” Balfour said. “It contributes to decarbonization, enabling more efficient adoption of much higher levels of rooftop solar generation.

The system, designed for new subdivisions, has four main components, including a Block box that sits outside a home, according to Rob Bennett, Emera Technologies CEO. 

A nanogrid connected to rooftop solar, the box contains control electronics, an energy storage battery and an inverter that converts the microgrid’s direct current power to alternating current for use inside the home, Bennett said.

The box connects to a cable network system — A DC bus — that loops through the neighborhood, connecting all the boxes on the system, Bennett explained. The resources are shared across the network. The loops can handle as many as 50 homes.

The network is connected to a central energy park that includes batteries, controls and a backup, natural gas-fired generator that can provide power during outages or when the solar panels aren’t generating enough power to serve the system, Bennett said.

The network also connects with the wider grid and can provide grid-wide benefits such as frequency support, power export and power import when a utility wants to store energy, according to Bennett.
» Read article                

» More about microgrids            

 

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

GM and Ford knew
Exclusive: GM, Ford knew about climate change 50 years ago
By Maxine Joselow, E&E News
October 26, 2020

Scientists at two of America’s biggest automakers knew as early as the 1960s that car emissions caused climate change, a monthslong investigation by E&E News has found.

The discoveries by General Motors and Ford Motor Co. preceded decades of political lobbying by the two car giants that undermined global attempts to reduce emissions while stalling U.S. efforts to make vehicles cleaner.

Researchers at both automakers found strong evidence in the 1960s and ’70s that human activity was warming the Earth. A primary culprit was the burning of fossil fuels, which released large quantities of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide that could trigger melting of polar ice sheets and other dire consequences.

A GM scientist presented her findings to at least three high-level executives at the company, including a former chairman and CEO. It’s unclear whether similar warnings reached the top brass at Ford.

But in the following decades, both manufacturers largely failed to act on the knowledge that their products were heating the planet. Instead of shifting their business models away from fossil fuels, the companies invested heavily in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. At the same time, the two carmakers privately donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming.

It wasn’t until 1996 that GM produced its first commercial electric vehicle, called the EV1. Ford released a compact electric pickup truck in 1998.

More than 50 years after the automakers learned about climate change, the transportation sector is the leading source of planet-warming pollution in the United States. Cars and trucks account for the bulk of those emissions.
» Read article                

hummer
Detroit Knew: GM and Ford Were Aware of Climate Risks Decades Ago Too, Investigation Reveals
By Dana Drugmand, DeSmog Blog
October 28, 2020

Groundbreaking reporting this week by E&E News revealed that, similar to major oil companies like Exxon, American automakers Ford and General Motors (GM) engaged in early cutting-edge climate science research and that the companies were aware as early as the 1960s of potential climate risks that stem from burning the fossil fuels that power their vehicles. The investigation, published Monday, October 26, also describes how the auto giants largely dismissed those risks and actively lobbied to block action and fund climate science denial campaigns.

“Just as with the oil industry, the auto industry was really focused on potential regulatory threats from pollution to its business long ago,” Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, a nonprofit law firm which helped uncover historical documents on Ford scientists’ climate research, told DeSmog. 

“That the auto industry would be aware of the emerging science that was relevant to how its products operate is not surprising,” Muffett added. Yet despite this early knowledge, he explained, the industry “embarked on a multi-decade course of action designed to sow uncertainty about climate science and to block climate action.”

What could be relevant in potential climate litigation, which the oil industry is already facing, is not only what the automakers knew and when, but what they did in response. Rather than publicly acknowledging the climate consequences of fossil fuel consumption from automobiles and shifting to alternatives like electric vehicles, Ford and General Motors continued business as usual, while stoking uncertainty about climate science through their private donations.    

“Instead of shifting their business models away from fossil fuels, the companies invested heavily in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. At the same time, the two carmakers privately donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming,” E&E reporter Maxine Joselow wrote in the investigation.
» Read article                

» More about clean transportation             

 

HEALTH RISKS – INDOOR GAS USE

scary stove
Gas Stoves Are the Scariest Thing in the Kitchen
By Dharna Noor, Gizmodo
October 29, 2020

As a Climate Person, I strongly believe we urgently need to electrify everything and ditch natural gas completely. The problem is, I love my gas stove. I find the heat from an electric stove’s coils basically impossible to control—last time I used one, I burned a beautiful pan sauce to a brown crisp.

Though gas stoves are comparatively easy to cook with, they’re actually incredibly dangerous. One recent report found that gas stoves spew out levels of air pollution inside that would be illegal under outdoor regulations.

“It’s really a cocktail of emissions that they put out,” Brady Seals, senior associate of building electrification at the Rocky Mountain Institute who co-authored the study, said. “There’s the emissions from the gas itself, the main ones of which are nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde. And then there’s the particulate matter, or the small pollution particles, that come from the stove flames and from the food that’s getting cooked.”

Each of these toxins can enter the human body when we inhale, causing respiratory issues, especially for those who have chronic breathing conditions like asthma. The teeniest bits of particulate matter are so small that they can also pass through the lungs into the bloodstream and even the brain where they have been linked to anxiety and problems with attention and memory.

All that pollution can be mitigated by ventilation hoods, but people don’t tend to use their hoods enough. That’s partially because some of the toxins stoves produce aren’t detectable to the naked eye or nose.

It’s clear that gas stoves simply can’t stick around, as great as they are for cooking compared to electric stoves. Luckily, though, those aren’t the only two options.

“The best alternative is induction stoves,” Aldana Cohen said. “Many of the world’s best chefs use them. They are way better for people’s health. They perform far better than conventional electric stoves.”

Unlike traditional electric stoves, which have coils that get heated by electricity, induction burners run on electromagnetism, making them more energy efficient. Since they only heat magnetic surfaces like iron pans, they’re also safer.
» Read article               

» More about indoor gas use risks          

 

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Covid relief funds fracked
The $16 Million Was Supposed to Clean Up Old Oil Wells; Instead, It’s Going to Frack New Ones
North Dakota, where Covid-19 rates are surging, is redirecting the federal relief money, turning it into grants that will go directly to oil companies.
By Nicholas Kusnetz, InsideClimate News
October 28, 2020

North Dakota’s top oil and gas regulator had a problem. With winter bearing down, his department had yet to spend $16 million in federal coronavirus relief funds earmarked for cleaning up abandoned oil and gas well sites across the state, and the arrival of cold weather would halt the work. 

If the money wasn’t spent by the end of the year, the state would lose it. So Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources, proposed a different use for the funds: paying oil companies to hydraulically fracture new wells.

The proposal landed in front of state lawmakers on Wednesday during a budget meeting that many members attended remotely, calling in from easy chairs and living rooms because of the state’s surging coronavirus caseload. Despite pleas from some lawmakers that the money would be better spent helping nursing homes safely allow family visits or amplifying contact tracing, the committee approved Helms’ request.
» Read article                

gas peaking early
Peak Gas Is Coming to the U.S. Sooner Than Anyone Expected
By Naureen Malik, Brian Eckhouse, Dave Merrill and Jeremy C.F. Lin, Bloomberg
October 22, 2020

One of the largest utilities in the U.S. put $8 billion into a bet that natural gas would dominate American electricity much like coal had before. “We really consider this to be a growth play,” Tom Fanning, chief executive officer of Southern Co., said in an interview just five years ago, as his company set on its landmark acquisition: natural-gas distributor AGL Resources Inc.

Gas looked to be on the verge of generational dominance at the time. The American fracking boom had made the fuel superabundant and cheap, hastening coal’s rapid decline, while energy from wind and solar had higher costs and lower reliability. A giant utility like Southern would naturally see gas pipelines and storage as the key to a durable and lucrative future, meeting demand that would continue to grow.

Now those expansive time horizons are in deep doubt. In fact, there are flashing signs that the U.S. power sector is approaching peak gas, with demand topping out decades ahead of schedule. “The era of robust growth in the U.S. natural gas market is likely coming to a close,” says Devin McDermott, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. “It doesn’t mean the market falls apart. It doesn’t mean gas demand falls off of a cliff. It means that we need less new supply going forward.”

Natural gas only fulfilled its destiny as the nation’s top power source in 2016, backed by hundreds of billions of dollars invested in the creation of a gas-based economy. Renewables could take over as the No. 1 power source on the grid as soon as 2028, according to projections by McDermott and Morgan Stanley analyst Stephen Byrd.

The American gas peak will mark a critical juncture—and it may have already been reached. McDermott expects overall U.S. gas demand growth in the U.S. slow to between 1% and 2% per year through 2030 as use by power generators shrinks by 2% to 3%. Overall demand could flatline or fall slightly if the Democrats win in November, a dramatic shift after years of record growth. “It’s a gradual trend, but it does add up over time,” he says.
» Read article                

» More about fossil fuel     

 

LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS

Engie hold upFrance Delays U.S. LNG Deal On Environmental Concerns
By Tsvetana Paraskova, Oil Price
October 23, 2020

France’s government has asked local power group Engie, in which it holds more than 20 percent, to delay the signing of a 20-year deal worth US$7-billion to buy liquefied natural gas (LNG) from a planned export project in Texas due to concerns over gas production emissions, Politico reported, quoting sources with knowledge of the issue.

Engie was preparing to sign the multi-billion offtake deal with NextDecade Corporation, which is developing the Rio Grande LNG project in Texas. Rio Grande LNG, whose final investment decision is expected in 2021, is supposed to use the abundant shale gas supply from the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale.

But the French government has asked Engie to hold off on signing the deal because France is concerned that the shale gas producers in Texas emit too much methane at a time when the European Union (EU) and its major economies, including France, are looking to develop and import clean energy.
» Read article                

» More about LNG           

 

PLASTICS IN THE ENVIRONMENT

plastics petitionCampaigners Tell Kenyan Government ‘Don’t Backslide on Plastics’ in US Trade Deal
By Maina Waruru, DeSmog UK
October 27, 2020

Campaigners are calling on the Kenyan government to protect the country from an influx of plastic pollution as a consequence of a new free trade agreement with the US.

An online petition, organised by Greenpeace, calls on officials to reject terms in any new agreement that would make it easier for the US to export its plastic to Kenya.  The “Do Not Backslide on Plastics” campaign already has over 21,000 signatures.

It was launched after revelations by Greenpeace’s investigative journalism unit Unearthed that showed the American Chemistry Council (ACC) lobby group was pushing the US Trade Representative to include terms that would contradict Kenya’s recent efforts to curb its plastic consumption.

In public letters to the US Trade Representative and US International Trade Commission, the Council writes: “Kenya could serve in the future as a hub for supplying US-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa through this trade agreement.”

The ACC is backed by fossil fuel companies including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total and BP and major agri-chemical companies including Bayer, BASF, FMC and Corteva.

Greenpeace is asking Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Trade, Industrialisation and Enterprise Development, Betty Maina, “to commit to Africa’s Plastic-free vision” as the country negotiates with the US.

Rwanda pioneered a ban on single use plastic bags in 2008, followed by Kenya in 2017 and Tanzania in 2019. This year Kenya marked World Environment Day by introducing a ban on single use plastic in all beaches, forests and conservation areas.

Fredrick Njehu, Senior Political Advisor for Greenpeace Africa, says most of those who signed the petition are Kenyans, many of them young and alarmed at the prospect of their country being turned into a gateway for the export of plastics to the rest of Africa.
» Read article                

» More about plastics in the environment              

 

PLASTICS RECYCLING

RIC mythThe Plastic Myth and the Misunderstood Triangle
By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie, EcoWatch
October 23, 2020

The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.

But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.

These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, were creating “unrealistic expectations” about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.

Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a resin identifier code or RIC) means something is recyclable.

But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles “are not recycle codes.” In fact, they weren’t created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.

In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – depending on the recycling facility.
» Read article                

» More about plastics recycling         

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