5 Ways Obama's Budget Fights Climate Change and Expedites Renewable Energy
In the last few years this administration has cut carbon pollution from cars and trucks, proposed the first-ever federal standards limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants (the Clean Power Plan), set a raft of new energy-efficiency standards, proposed replacing the biggest uses of the HFC "super pollutants," and set a schedule for first steps on methane pollution.
This budget proposal continues these efforts while expanding efforts in resilience, investing in clean energy and taking a leadership role in global climate initiatives.
The president's commitment stands out in his Message to Congress:
No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. Fourteen of our planet's 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century. The world's best scientists are telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. And as discussed in the Budget, the significant costs to inaction on climate change hit the Federal Government's bottom-line directly, as worsening climate impacts create Government liabilities. That's why this Budget takes action on climate by supporting the Climate Action Plan that I released in 2013 with investments to accelerate carbon pollution reductions, to build on-the-ground partnerships with local communities and help them put in place strategies for greater resilience to climate change impacts, and to support America's leadership abroad on this important moral and fiscal issue.
Here's a quick tour of key climate budgetary highlights. (For a comprehensive summary, look here).
The president's budget includes $25 million in state grants to help states develop their own implementation strategies to clean up power plants, the nation's number one source of the pollution driving dangerous climate change.
The budget also proposes a $4 billion fund to encourage and reward states that go beyond the Clean Power Plan's minimum goals, or meet those goals ahead of schedule. For example, this fund could support job-creating wind and solar energy and energy efficiency investments, transmission and other infrastructure that reduces carbon pollution, or help clean up pollution that disproportionately affects low-income communities.
The budget includes funding for American leadership in clean energy technology development. It invests $7.4 billion, primarily through the Energy, Defense, and Agriculture Departments, in research, development, and deployment of technologies ranging from wind, solar, and energy efficiency to carbon capture and storage. The president proposes extending the production tax credits for new wind and solar energy installations.
To underscore the president's climate diplomacy and promote a global climate agreement in Paris this December, the budget requests $1.29 billion towards the Global Climate Change Initiative. This includes a $500 million installment towards the President's $3 billion pledge to contribute to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), an outgrowth of the international climate fund launched by President Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in 2008.
The GCF is an important investment in maintaining the stability of the world's most vulnerable nations as they cope with disastrous storms, droughts, and other manifestations of a changing climate. It contributes to U.S. national security by preventing climate impacts from undermining the stability of vulnerable nations by aggravating civil conflicts or creating humanitarian and refugee crises.
The budget documents call attention to the enormous financial cost the federal government has incurred from climate change—more than $300 billion in direct costs over the last decade due to extreme weather and fire alone. To reduce future costs and danger across the United States, the budget proposes climate resilience investments across the departments to improve our understanding of projected climate change impacts while building resilience-enhancing infrastructure and activities.
The budget proposes $400 million in funding for National Flood Insurance risk mapping, which will help communities and businesses understand local flood risks. A new $50 million program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will help coastal regions plan and implement resilience plans. $20 million will go to the Climate Resilience Toolkit, a public resource that provides scientific tools and information to help Tribes, businesses, communities and citizens understand both the risks from climate change and the opportunities for action.
The president's climate budget proposals are a direct challenge to Congress's know-nothing/do-nothing leadership. Today, we heard only more of the same from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who announced that he's joining an appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency. As reported by The Hill, McConnell said: "You can guarantee that I will continue to fight back against this Administration's anti-coal jobs regulations on behalf of the Kentuckians I represent in the U.S. Senate."
Votes taken last month on the Keystone XL pipeline bill call into question whether McConnell has the votes to block EPA from carrying out its climate responsibilities under the Clean Air Act. Five members of the Republican caucus broke ranks to recognize that human activity "significantly" contributes to climate change. Ten other Republicans backed another affirmation of climate science. Two Republican Senators voted against efforts to condemn the president's climate agreement with China and interfere with his diplomacy with other nations.
McConnell is short of 60 votes, and far short of the 67 he'd need to override presidential vetoes.
Just this weekend, the New York Times released the latest poll demonstrating that the American people overwhelmingly favor action on climate change. That includes a near-majority—47 percent—of Republicans. The Senate and House leadership's climate denialism is increasingly out of step.
If McConnell cannot block the Clean Power Plan entirely, will he seek to cut the funds that the president has proposed to help Kentucky businesses and consumers? Where will that kind of intransigence lead his party?
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
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<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
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<div id="79024" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ac086eab58b9713f2ad777c40938252"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293578984148606977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">This actively puts peoples' lives at risk. https://t.co/GKF0Xgjyex</div> — CAP Action (@CAP Action)<a href="https://twitter.com/CAPAction/statuses/1293578984148606977">1597248238.0</a></blockquote></div>
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