President Trump's claim that the U.S. has the cleanest air and water in the world has been widely refuted by statistics showing harmful levels of pollution. Now, a new biannual ranking released by researchers at Yale and Columbia finds that the U.S. is nowhere near the top in environmental performance, according to The Guardian.
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By Lauri Myllyvirta and Sunil Dahiya
An economic slowdown, renewable energy growth and the impact of Covid-19 have led to the first year-on-year reduction in India's CO2 emissions in four decades. Emissions fell by around 1% in the fiscal year ending March 2020, as coal consumption fell and oil consumption flatlined.
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By Deidra Miniard, Joe Kantenbacher and Shahzeen Attari
Political divisions are a growing fixture in the United States today, whether the topic is marriage across party lines, responding to climate change or concern about coronavirus exposure. Especially in a presidential election year, the vast divide between conservatives and liberals often feels nearly impossible to bridge.
Assessing Perceptions<p>To explore people's views on energy sources, we conducted an online survey of 2,429 adults across the U.S. Our participants represented a range of political ideologies, with 51% self-identifying as liberals, 20% as moderate and 29% as conservative. To investigate patterns in the data, we analyzed responses based on participants' political ideologies.</p><p>Our survey asked people to estimate the shares that various energy sources contributed to all energy use in the United States, including activities like generating electricity, running factories, heating homes and powering vehicles. We asked participants to estimate what percentage of U.S. total energy used came from nine energy sources: coal, oil, natural gas, solar, wind, hydro, biomass, geothermal and nuclear power.</p><p>Next we had participants describe what they viewed as an optimal mix of these nine energy sources that they hoped the U.S. would use in the year 2050. We also asked what kinds of policies they would support to move the nation from its current status to the future that they envisioned. In a follow-on study, we are examining how factors such as cost and environmental impact influence people's preferences for one energy source versus others.</p>
Estimations of Today’s Energy Mix<p>We found that our respondents had some misperceptions about <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/us-energy-facts/" target="_blank">where energy in the U.S. comes from</a>. They tended to underestimate U.S. reliance on oil and natural gas and overestimate coal's contribution. We believe Americans may not realize how dramatically electric utilities have <a href="https://rhg.com/research/preliminary-us-emissions-2019/" target="_blank">switched from coal to gas for power generation</a> over the past decade, and may therefore have dated impressions of coal's prevalence.</p><p>Conversely, we found that participants overestimated the contribution of lesser-used energy sources – specifically, renewables like wind and solar power. This pattern may partially be explained by people's general tendency to inflate estimates of small values and probabilities, which has been seen in areas ranging from <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/107/37/16054" target="_blank">household energy use</a> and <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/111/14/5129.short" target="_blank">water use</a> to <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1980-20983-001" target="_blank">risk of death</a>.</p><p>In the case of the U.S. energy system, this bias means that people think our current energy system is greener than it really is, which could reduce the perceived urgency of shifting to lower-carbon sources.</p>
Shared Goals, Divergent Pathways<p>When we asked participants to indicate the amount of each energy source they hoped the U.S. would use in 2050, the broad consensus favored a future in which the nation primarily relied on renewable energy and used much less fossil fuel. Conservatives, moderates and liberals shared this outlook.</p><p>Particular preferences for a lower-carbon future varied somewhat by political ideology, but on average all groups supported an energy mix in which at least 77% of overall energy use came from low-carbon energy sources, including renewable fuels and nuclear power.</p><p>This bipartisan consensus wavered, though, when we asked participants whether they supported or opposed 12 energy policies – six that would lead to larger roles for low-carbon energy sources, and six that would increase use of fossil fuels.</p><p>Liberal participants showed strong support for policies consistent with increased use of low-carbon energy sources, such as providing government funding for renewable energy and subsidies for purchasing electric vehicles. They strongly opposed actions that would increase reliance on fossil fuels, such as relaxing oil drilling regulations or lowering fuel economy standards.</p><p>On average, conservative participants supported several policies that favored low-carbon energy use, though not as strongly as their liberal counterparts. Conservatives tended to be closer to neutral or only slightly opposed to policies that promote fossil fuel use.</p><p>The sharpest contrast between the two political groups was over building and completing pipelines to move oil from extraction points to refineries in the U.S. Several <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/03/31/824445928/builder-of-controversial-keystone-xl-pipeline-says-its-moving-forward" target="_blank">proposed pipelines</a> have generated <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/climate/dakota-access-pipeline-sioux.html" target="_blank">intense controversy</a> in the past years. Conservatives generally supported pipeline development, and liberals generally opposed it.</p>
Achieving a Low-Carbon Future<p>An important argument for transitioning to low-carbon energy sources is to limit climate change to manageable levels. Recent polls show that climate change remains a politically divisive issue, with <a href="https://news.gallup.com/poll/276932/several-issues-tie-important-2020-election.aspx" target="_blank">far more Democrats than Republicans</a> rating it as extremely important to their vote in the 2020 presidential race.</p><p>Recent research has shown that both Democrats and Republicans strongly support renewable energy development, but <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2020.111448" target="_blank">do so for different reasons</a>. Democrats prioritize curbing climate change, while Republicans are more motivated by reducing energy costs. We see these motivations playing out in the real world, where conservative oil-producing states like Texas are experiencing <a href="https://www.economist.com/united-states/2020/03/12/a-renewable-energy-boom-is-changing-the-politics-of-global-warming" target="_blank">huge booms in renewable energy generation</a>, driven primarily by the improving economics of renewable energy.</p><p>Realizing the shared vision of an energy system dominated by renewable energy will mean reconciling partisan differences over how to achieve that future. While there is no single rationale that will convince all Americans to support a transition to low-carbon energy sources, our results are encouraging because we find consensus on the U.S. energy future – everyone agrees that it should be green. </p>
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By Richard Orange
The harvesting machine takes just one second to fell the towering spruce, and another to strip the branches and scan its trunk for defects.
Demand for Wood<p>According to the latest figures from the <a href="http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1256261/icode/" target="_blank">UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)</a>, global forest production hit record levels in 2018. Up 11% on the year before.</p><p>"We see an increasing demand for almost all of our products," says Göran Örlander, strategist at Södra, Sweden's largest association of forest owners. "The most obvious demand is for biofuels at the moment. Everybody wants to have biofuels to replace fossil fuels."</p><p>The idea is that burning wood becomes close to carbon neutral if the forests from where it is taken are replenished at the same rate as they are felled for fuel.</p><p>But critics question whether this is the case in every country which claims to provide sustainable wood, and say some of what is supplying the current boom in biomass fuels comes from existing forests rather than sustainably managed plantations.</p><p>They also point to the carbon emitted from the soil of cleared forests, and to the emissions created in the felling and processing of wood products.</p>
Not Just for Heating<p>Södra has teamed up with Dutch airline KLM to explore the feasibility of producing jet fuel from forest biomass, and is also working with the Scandinavian airline SAS on plans for a pilot biofuel plant in the north of Sweden.</p><p>Bioplastic packaging — some of which relies on wood fibers — currently makes up just one percent of total plastics production. But that is expected to grow over the coming years. </p><p>Architecture firms are also racing to use cross-laminated timber to replace carbon-intensive concrete and steel, and wood-based fibers now represent about six percent of all textiles.</p><p>The attraction is clear. When wood is used in buildings, for example, carbon is taken out of the carbon cycle and stored for as long as the building stands.</p><p>But according to preliminary findings from a joint United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and UN Food and Agriculture Organization study into future supply and demand scenarios, even if every effort were made to maximize global forest cover, doubling the use of wood in buildings, furniture and other products would reduce rather than increase the amount of carbon sequestered globally.</p><p><span></span>"The projected increase in wood products carbon in this scenario was not enough to offset the loss in biomass carbon due to increased removals depleting forest stocks," the authors wrote.</p>
The Limits of Wood<p>There are also limits to the use of wood for heat and power.</p><p>Back in 2010, EUwood, a study led by the University of Hamburg warned that "even if all measures for increased wood mobilization" were implemented, by 2020 the European Union's domestic sources would struggle to satisfy wood demands and meet renewable energy targets.</p><p>By 2018 the EU was already supplementing its wood pellet consumption with imports to the tune of eight million tons. And some conservationists argue member states' use of biomass is driving deforestation and boosting carbon dioxide levels.</p><p>But at Växjö Energy, a Swedish heat and power plant, which became a 100 percent biomass facility in December, chief executive Erik Tellgren is not worried about supply. He says forest owners currently leave most of the branches and tops of trees they cut down to rot.</p><p>"There is still a potential of at least twice the amount of residue streams in the forest today that is simply left there," he says. </p>
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While the nation struggles to find ways to put money in peoples' pockets and to ramp up the economy so people can get back to work, over $43 billion in low-interest loans earmarked for clean energy projects sits undistributed by the Trump administration, according to The New York Times.
By Dana Nuccitelli
Environmentalists and renewable energy advocates have long been allies in the fight to keep unchecked industrial growth from irreversibly ruining Earth's climate and threatening the future of human civilization. In their new YouTube documentary "Planet of the Humans," director Jeff Gibbs and producer Michael Moore argue for splitting the two sides. Their misleading, outdated, and scientifically sophomoric dismissal of renewable energy is perhaps the most dangerous form of climate denial, eroding support for renewable energy as a critical climate solution.
A Badly Outdated Portrait of Solar and Wind<p>In an interview with Reuters, Michael Moore summarized the premise of the film: "I assumed solar panels would last forever. I didn't know what went into the making of them."</p><p>It's true. Solar panels and wind turbines don't last forever (though they do last several decades), and like every other industrial product, they require mining and manufacturing of raw materials. Sadly, that's about as deep as the film delves into quantifying the environmental impacts of renewable energy versus fossil fuels. In fact, the misinformation in the film is at times much worse than ignorance.</p><p>In one scene, author and film co-producer Ozzie Zehner falsely asserts, "You use more fossil fuels [manufacturing renewables infrastructure] than you're getting benefit from. You would have been better off burning the fossil fuels in the first place instead of playing pretend."</p><p><span></span>That's monumentally wrong. A <a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/solar-wind-nuclear-amazingly-low-carbon-footprints" target="_blank">2017 study in Nature Energy</a> found that when accounting for manufacturing and construction, the lifetime carbon footprints of solar, wind, and nuclear power are about 20 times smaller than those of coal and natural gas, even when the latter include expensive carbon capture and storage technology. The energy produced during the operation of a solar panel and wind turbine is 26 and 44 times greater than the energy needed to build and install them, respectively. There are many life-cycle assessment studies arriving at similar conclusions.</p>
A Shallow Dismissal of Electric Vehicles<p>In another science, Gibbs travels to a General Motors facility in Lansing, Michigan, circa 2010, as GM showcased its then-new Chevy Volt plug-in electric hybrid vehicle. Gibbs interviews a representative from the local municipal electric utility provider, who notes that they generate 95% of their supply by burning coal, and that the power to charge the GM facility's EVs will not come from renewables in the near future.</p><p>That is the full extent of the discussion of EVs in the film. Viewers are left to assume that because these cars are charged by burning coal, they're just <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwashing" target="_blank">greenwashing</a>. In reality, because of the high efficiency of electric motors, an electric car charged entirely by burning coal still produces less carbon pollution than an internal combustion engine car (though more than a hybrid). The U.S. Department of Energy has <a href="https://afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.html" target="_blank">a useful tool</a> for comparing carbon emissions between EVs, plug-in hybrids, conventional hybrids, and gasoline-powered cars for each state. In Michigan, on average, EVs are the cleanest option of all, as is the case for the national average power grid. In West Virginia, with over 90% electricity generated from coal, hybrids are the cleanest option, but EVs are still cleaner than gasoline cars.</p><p>In short, EVs are an improvement over gasoline-powered cars everywhere, and their carbon footprints will continue to shrink as renewables expand to supply more of the power grid.</p>
A Valid Critique of Wood Biomass<p>The film devotes a half hour to the practice of burning trees for energy. That's one form of biomass, which also includes burning wood waste, garbage, and biofuels. Last year, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3" target="_blank">1% of U.S. electricity</a> was generated by burning wood, but it accounted for 30% of the film run time.</p><p>In fairness, Europe is a different story, where wood biomass accounts for around 5% of electricity generation, and which imports a lot of wood chips from America. It's incentivized because the European Union considers burning wood to be carbon neutral, and it can thus be used to meet climate targets. That's because new trees can be planted to replace those removed, and the EU assumes the wood being burned would have decayed and released its stored carbon anyway.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/3/4/18216045/renewable-energy-wood-pellets-biomass" target="_blank">numerous problems</a> with those assumptions, one of which is unavoidable: time. Burning trees is close to carbon neutral once a replacement tree grows to sufficient maturity to recapture the lost carbon, but that takes many decades. In the meantime, the carbon released into the atmosphere accelerates the climate crisis at a time when slashing emissions is increasingly urgent. That's why <a href="https://www.dogwoodalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Scientist-Letter-to-Governor-Cooper_11-15_2017.pdf" target="_blank">climate scientists are increasingly calling on policymakers</a> to stop expanding this practice. So has 350.org founder Bill McKibben since 2016, <a href="https://350.org/response-planet-of-the-humans-documentary/" target="_blank">despite his depiction in the film</a> as a villainous proponent of clearcutting forests to burn for energy.</p><p>It's complicated, but the carbon footprint of biomass <a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/is-burning-wood-for-energy-worse-for-the-climate-than-coal" target="_blank">depends on where the wood comes from</a>. Burning waste (including waste wood) as biomass that would decay anyway is justifiable, but also generally only practical at a relatively small scale. A more detailed investigation of the wood biomass industry could make for a worthwhile documentary. It's still a small-time player, but it does need to stay that way.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Gibbs asks, "Is it possible for machines made by industrial civilization to save us from industrial civilization?"</p><p>Why not? Industrial civilization has a non-zero climate and environmental footprint, but the impact of green technologies like EVs, wind turbines, and solar panels is much smaller than the alternatives. They represent humanity's best chance to avoid a climate catastrophe.</p><p>The filmmakers call for an end to limitless economic growth and consumption. It's difficult to envision that goal being achieved anytime soon, but even if it is, human civilization will continue to exist and require energy. To avert a climate crisis, that energy must be supplied by the clean renewable technologies pilloried in the film. To expand on the earlier analogy, the filmmakers seem to believe we should improve nutrition not by eating healthier foods like strawberries, but rather by eating a bit less cheesecake.</p><p>Like Fox News and other propaganda vehicles, the film presents one biased perspective via carefully chosen voices, virtually all of whom are comfortable white men. It applies an environmental purity test that can seem convincing for viewers lacking expertise in the topic. Any imperfect technology – which is every technology – is deemed bad. It's a clear example of the perfect being the enemy of the good. In reality, this movie is the enemy of humanity's last best chance to save itself and countless other species from unchecked climate change through a transition to cleaner technologies.</p>
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You may think it would be pricey to rent an apartment in a sleek new complex with rooftop solar and ultra-efficient appliances. But Silver Star Apartments in L.A. houses formerly homeless and disabled veterans.
It's one of a small but growing number of affordable housing developments built to meet stringent green building standards.
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Renewable energy made up almost three quarters of all new energy capacity added in 2019, data released Monday by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows.
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Germany's target for renewable energy sources to deliver 65% of its consumed electricity by 2030 seemed on track Wednesday, with 52% of electricity coming from renewables in 2020's first quarter. Renewable energy advocates, however, warned the trend is imperiled by slowdowns in building new wind and solar plants.