By Eoin Higgins
Australia is on fire.
The country on Saturday saw delayed flights on the second day of a national state of emergency due to raging brushfires near every major city and choked-out smoke conditions.
Kangaroos Flee Devastating Fires in Australia<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="89992373721960aec2364bde90649a95"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8QcH4Msa7GY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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- Australia Likely Just Broke Its Record for Hottest Day - EcoWatch ›
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 Their misleading, outdated, and scientifically sophomoric dismissal of renewable energy is perhaps the most dangerous form of climate denial, eroding support for renewable energy as a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A Badly Outdated Portrait of Solar and Wind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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By Ilana Cohen, Evelyn Nieves, Judy Fahys, Marianne Lavelle, James Bruggers
When New York Communities for Change helped lead a demonstration of 500 on Monday in Brooklyn to protest George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis, the grassroots group's activism spoke to a long-standing link between police violence against African Americans and environmental justice.
'I Worry About My Kids and Their Kids'<p>Watching the events of recent days unfold have been very painful for Arnita Gadson, a veteran environmental justice advocate who has played a pivotal role helping to keep a large chemical industry in Louisville accountable through a local task force, and also serves as Kentucky's Environmental Climate Justice Chair for the NAACP.</p><p>She is contributing to a local climate adaptation plan, and that work has continued through the recent strife, Gadson said, adding, "but I've been scared.</p><p>"I am a black woman living in a white world," she said. "If I go out, I might get shot and I may get killed. I worry about my kids and their kids."</p><p>In Salt Lake City, Utah, Grace Olscamp has been reaching out on social media, calling on environmentalists to do more than pledge support for people of color on behalf of the environmental group HEAL Utah, which has focused for two decades on hazardous and nuclear waste, as well as air pollution and climate change.</p><p>"It shouldn't have taken us this long to really step up and take action," said Olscamp, HEAL's communications director, noting that she, the group's staff and many of its members are white and "definitely in a place of privilege."</p><p>It's a problem among environmental organizations, generally, that they have failed to include more people of color and to hold themselves accountable for working toward real change.</p>
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The U.S. Senate's bipartisan climate caucus started with just two members, a Republican from Indiana and a Democrat from Delaware. Now it's up to eight members after two Democrats, one Independent and three more Republicans joined the caucus last week, as The Hill reported.
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- The Best and Worst Midterm Results for the Environment - EcoWatch ›
By Andy Rowell
The press release from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says it all: "Another year, another record."
It is a record we do not want. It is a record of political failure. It is a record based on the politics of climate denial. We have crossed another climate threshold that, yet again, signals we are in deep trouble.
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Google employees fed up with the company's financial support for conservative groups that deny the climate crisis wrote an open letter that demands the tech giant address specific concerns about carbon emissions and political lobbying, as CNET reported.
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- Revealed: Google made large contributions to climate change deniers ›
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By Sabrina Kessler
Far-reaching allegations about how a climate-sinning American multinational could shamelessly lie to the public about its wrongdoing mobilized a small group of New York students on a cold November morning. They stood in front of New York's Supreme Court last week to follow the unprecedented lawsuit against ExxonMobil.
The student protest is one of several held outside the New York Supreme Court during the trial.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previously had a decade-long tenure as Exxon Mobil's chair and CEO.
Exxon Mobil has the 14th-largest oil and gas reserves and is the largest refiner in the world.
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While California wrestles with increased frequency and severity of wildfires due to the climate crisis, President Trump continues to take steps to stop the nation's most populous state from taking any climate-related action.
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- Trump's War on California and the Climate | The New Yorker ›
The European commission's effort to transition the 27-country economic bloc from a high-carbon to a low-carbon emitter in a few decades received input from the fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil in the weeks prior to its passage, according to a watchdog that monitors lobbying activity, as The Guardian reported.
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By Dana Drugmand
Fossil fuel interests appear intent on swaying public opinion about the electric vehicle tax credit, based on recent polling on the policy. A deeper look at these efforts reveals oil and gas funding behind the groups conducting the polls and blatant bias in the polling methodology, according to experts.
Mike McKenna of MWR Strategies / CleanSkiesNews / YouTube screenshot
Excerpt of misleading questions from the MWR poll about consumer attitudes toward the electric car tax credit.
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By Jessica Corbett
The Trump administration's attacks on science have reached a "crisis point," according to policy experts and ex-government officials who published a report on Thursday that "highlights how our government research and data are being increasingly manipulated for political gain."