Beyond Sandy—How Resiliency can Lead America Toward a Sustainable Energy Future
By Paul E McGinniss
I was blown away this morning after seeing how Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast
With kudos to colleagues from "the cloud," here is a post-Sandy round up of what is being said on the heels of yet another freak weather event. Common themes included resiliency, Sandy's impact on the election and, of course, the elephant in the china closet—climate change. At EcoWatch, we're even more energized to get the dialog going on how to move America off fossil fuels and on renewable energy.
These voices offer a glimpse of what needs to be done to achieve a sustainable energy future:
Ten Low-Tech Responses to Storms and Emergencies via Transition Voice
If you don't already know about the Transition movement, you need to get up to speed. They are at the forefront of the back to basics—old fashioned, pull yourself up by the bootstraps—approach to dealing with anything Mother Nature can throw our way.
The Weather Reminds Us that It's Time to Get Serious About Resilient Design via TreeHugger
Lloyd Alter is one of my favorite writers on the Internet. He's one of the leading voices on combining going green and being environmentally friendly with resiliency.
Election in Sandy's Shadow - via Politico
Like the tons of CO2 in the atmosphere, there's tons of news today about how freak Sandy will affect the election. What's amazing about this discussion is that we're even talking about how our national election will be impacted by the weather. Thus, the much needed conversation about the impact of climate change on the world is brought up despite fearful politicians maneuvering to avoid the subject. Seems like the real storms and the political storms are meeting whether they want to or not.
Must See: Climate of Doubt - via SustainableBusiness
This PBS Frontline special documents how a handful of organizations have successfully prevented action on climate change in the U.S. Editor of SustainableBusiness, Rona Fried, says in her blog today: "While it may be great news to some that the U.S. could soon be the world's dominant producer of oil and gas, I'd much rather see the headline, 'U.S. Turns the Page Toward Renewables, Leaves Oil, Gas In the Ground.'"
Climate-Change Denying Senator James Inhofe Wins 2012 Rubber Dodo Award via EcoWatch
Read about Senator James Inhofe who thinks global warming is some kind of liberal conspiracy. Inhofe and fellow climate change deniers backed by the fossil fuel industry should be apologizing to Mayor Bloomberg today as they continue to allow corporations to put short-term profits before human health and the environment. Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo stressed today, the need to prepare for climate change. Continuing to deny climate change and global warming while encouraging America's addiction to fossil fuels is the real threat to our country.
Let's keep motivated and insist that our politicians embrace renewable energy once and for all. You can get started right now by signing EcoWatch's petition telling Congress to expedite renewable energy.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
Paul E McGinniss is The New York Green Advocate. He is a green building consultant and real estate broker in New York. He is pretty much obsessed with all things environment and has lately become a resiliency addict.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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