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An Exxon plant in the Port of Rotterdam. Photo credit: Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images

After pressure from its investors, ExxonMobil has promised to achieve net zero emissions for its operations by 2050. 

The pledge includes emissions from the company’s oil, gas and chemical production and the energy used to power these operations, Reuters reported. However, it does not include emissions from consumers who use its products, and environmental activists expressed skepticism about the company’s promise. 

“What are we going to see next, Darth Vader sending out a press release about a sustainable Death Star?” Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn told The Independent. “ExxonMobil remains a planet destroyer and the obfuscations and half-truths they’re using to claim a pathway to ‘net-zero’ won’t change that in the slightest. The gaps in this plan are big enough to fly an asteroid through.”

Exxon is one of 20 fossil fuel companies responsible for 35 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions since 1965. There is also evidence that the company was aware of the consequences of its actions but acted to cast public doubt on the science behind the climate crisis

However, Exxon underwent a change in leadership last year when shareholders forced out three directors and replaced them with candidates proposed by a hedge fund that wanted the oil giant to prepare for a low carbon future, Reuters reported. Since then, it has directed $15 billion toward emissions initiatives over the next six years and promised to achieve net zero for its operations in the Permian Basin by 2030. 

The new commitment extends this to global operations.

"We are developing comprehensive roadmaps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our operated assets around the world," Exxon Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods said in a statement reported by Reuters. 

The company said it had pinpointed 150 ways to change its production practices; for example, by powering operations with renewable energy and ending the flaring and venting of methane, The New York Times reported. 

“We’ve got a line of sight,” Woods told The New York Times. “By the end of this year, 90 percent of our assets will have road maps to reduce emissions and realize this net-zero future.”

The pledge only covers emissions from production and the energy used for that production, otherwise known as Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions respectively. It does not cover Scope 3 emissions, which are the emissions generated when people drive cars or power their homes using Exxon products. These emissions usually account for the majority of a company’s carbon footprint.

This puts Exxon behind competitors like Shell, Equinor, BP and Occidental Petroleum, which have included Scope 3 emissions in their net zero pledges. However, Occidental Petroleum is the only U.S. company that has included Scope 3 emissions. Chevron’s net-zero target is similar to Exxon’s in that it only covers operations.

"Exxon's lack of a scope 3 target reflects a strategy that may leave it behind the curve in growing clean energy sectors," Will Scargill, managing energy analyst at GlobalData, told Reuters.

While the new pledge does not include Scope 3 emissions, Woods told The New York Times that Exxon was working to address them by working on carbon capture, as well as developing low carbon alternative fuels for airplanes and heavy transportation.

But environmental advocates worry that carbon capture technology is just a stalling tactic to stave off a rapid and thorough transition to renewable energy

The Center for International Environmental Law, for example, argued that it was  “expensive, energy-intensive, and unproven at scale” and “entrenches reliance on fossil fuels,” as The Independent reported. 

Henn also noted that Exxon is still spending most of its money on fossil fuels. 

“The investments in climate solutions that Exxon is touting are still only around 10 per cent of their capital expenditures per year, meaning the other 90 per cent is going to oil, gas, plastics, and other polluting products,” he told The Independent.

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Small urban gardens can be important habitats for bees. Photo credit: negatina anna / Moment Mobile / Getty Images

Small urban gardens can still make a big difference for bees and other pollinators

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology this month found that the amount of nectar produced by gardens in a UK city was not contingent upon their size. 

“Most of the nectar produced in gardens is by a shrub in the corner or a border around the edge of the garden,” study co-author and University of Bristol Ph.D. student Nicholas Tew told The Guardian. “There are some very flower-rich small gardens and some very flower-poor big gardens.”

Tew and a team of researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Northumbria, along with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), measured the nectar produced by 59 residential gardens in the city of Bristol, as a press release explained. All told, the researchers completed 472 surveys between March and October, the study explained, calculating the amount of nectar that each garden produced. 

This allowed the researchers to determine what garden characteristics produced the most food for bees and other pollinators and when nectar production peaked during the year.

“We knew that gardens were important habitats for UK pollinators, providing 85% of nectar sugar in urban landscapes and a great diversity of flowering plants. However, we did not know how nectar production varied between individual gardens or through the months of the year,” Tew said in the press release. “It is particularly important to understand garden-to-garden variation to advise how best to collectively manage our gardens for pollinators.”

A garden in Montpelier (Bristol) in spring (left) and summer (right). Photo credit: Nick Tew

That variation can be extreme: the researchers found that the gardens they surveyed produced between 2 grams (approximately 0.07 ounces) to 1.7 kilograms (approximately 3.7 pounds) of nectar throughout the year. Size did not make a difference in nectar production, though gardens in wealthier neighborhoods tended to produce more, according to the study.

The types of plants that gardeners chose to grow did matter, however. The researchers found that shrubs provided 58 percent of nectar, since they condense many flowers into a smaller space. Daisies were also helpful plants for pollinators because they have an open shape that even insects with short tongues can access easily, Tew told The Guardian. 

While nectar supplies peaked in July, the researchers found that urban gardens provided food throughout the year.

“The diversity you get in urban areas is remarkably high, much higher than most natural habitats, even nature reserves,” Tew told The Guardian. “It’s unlikely for two gardens to have exactly the same species of plants, so together gardens create much richer nectar resources than they do individually.”

The study results can help guide urban gardeners who want to support pollinators, no matter the size of their garden, for example, by planting shrubs and open flowers. Planting open flowers is especially important in the late summer and fall, when 79 percent of nectar is produced by tubed flowers that only animals like bumblebees with long tongues can access, according to the press release.  

The research comes at an especially urgent time for bees and other insects, whose populations are declining around the world. One study found that a third of bee species in the East of England had declined between 1980 and 2013, according to WWF.

“This research highlights the collective power UK gardeners hold in safeguarding the future of our pollinating insects,” Dr. Stephanie Bird of the RHS said in the press release. 

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The Indian Point nuclear power plant seen from Tomkins Cove, New York on April 22, 2021, a week before it was shut down over environmental and safety concerns after 59 years of operation. Photo credit: Kena Betancur / VIEWpress

A new survey by The Associated Press has found that about two-thirds of the 50 states analyzed mention nuclear energy in their energy policies. The remaining third, and Washington, DC, do not plan to incorporate nuclear energy, but instead rely on renewable energy sources, such as solar power, as well as battery storage and reducing demand for power.

Some officials are concerned that renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, will not generate enough energy to power the country. They say that for a faster transition from fossil fuels, nuclear energy is needed.

To the Biden administration, nuclear is an essential component for moving away from fossil fuels. U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told The Associated Press that the Biden administration has a goal to reach zero-carbon electricity, and to reach that target, “that means nuclear, that means hydropower, that means geothermal, that means obviously wind on and offshore, that means solar.″

In its recent $1 trillion infrastructure package, the Biden administration has included $2.5 billion to invest in advanced reactor demonstration projects. Advanced reactors may use gas, liquid metal, or other materials aside from water to cool the core.

But nuclear power is controversial and risky. While nuclear power plants don’t produce carbon emissions, they do require the mining and refining of uranium ore, which requires a lot of energy and produces emissions. Used reactor fuel from nuclear power plants is also radioactive and remains hazardous for thousands of years.

Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, also noted that smaller reactors may be cheaper to build, but the electricity they produce will be more expensive for consumers. As the market expands, Lyman is also concerned that the industry will potentially take shortcuts on safety in order to save money.

“I’m not optimistic we’d see the kind of safety and security requirements in place that would make me feel comfortable with the adoption or deployment of these so-called small modular reactors around the country,” Lyman told The Associated Press.

And while the U.S. is planning for more reactors, it currently has no long-term solution for storing the radioactive waste. If the waste or reactors are mishandled or targeted in an attack, the results would be catastrophic.

Currently, the U.S. is the largest producer of nuclear energy in the world, responsible for more than 30% of all nuclear electricity generation, as reported by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In the country, one-fifth of all electricity comes from nuclear power, and more states plan to incorporate this energy source in the near future despite the risks.

“New nuclear plants are more expensive and take longer to build than renewable energy sources like wind or solar,” Greenpeace said on its website. “If we are to avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change, we need solutions that are fast and affordable. Nuclear power is neither.”

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