The Trump campaign's efforts to attack President-elect Joe Biden and win Pennsylvania by claiming he would ban fracking failed, while Biden's climate message appears to have boosted turnout, according to reporting from multiple outlets.
Biden not only won Pennsylvania overall, but — while Trump still won in areas with significant fracking operations — Biden improved on Clinton's 2016 performance against Trump in eight of Pennsylvania's top-10 gas-producing counties.
"Climate change as a voting issue has soared in the past five years particularly among Democrats and among independents," Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale University Program on Climate Change Communication, told E&E.
"This absolutely was a crucial issue for constituencies he needed to carry him over the top: young people, Latino voters and suburban women, all of whom care more about climate change than other groups."
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"This is like a taxpayer bailout to the oil industry to get them to do something they would do anyway," leader of environmental group Dakota Resource Council Scott Skokos told InsideClimate News. "It's like corporate welfare at the highest level."
The $16 million was part of a much larger $221 million in federal relief funds that the legislature voted to reallocate according to the budget approved by the North Dakota Emergency Commission Friday, Inforum and The Associated Press reported. The money was awarded to North Dakota via the CARES Act in March, but the state had not been able to spend it for its intended purpose, Inforum explained. Because there is a year-end deadline for the use of CARES funds, the state had to reassign it or lose it.
However, the $16 million for fracking was the allocation that stirred controversy. That money had originally been intended to clean up abandoned oil and gas sites, InsideClimate News explained. But the approach of cold weather made the completion of the work by the end of the year impossible.
The idea to use that money for fracking grants came from North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms. Helms argued that the grants would create jobs and revitalize the oil industry, which was hit hard by the drop in prices at the beginning of the pandemic, according to The Associated Press. Officials also said the grants would boost state revenue, which relies on oil money.
But environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers criticized the decision. The Sierra Club called it "totally inappropriate," while lawmakers said the funds should go to more urgent needs.
"We are at a point now where we are peaking every day as we try to battle this crisis, and I think any of the funds that we use need to be addressed to help us reduce the spread of this virus to help the lives and livelihoods of thousands of North Dakotans," Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said, as Inforum reported.
Skokos pointed to the irony of using money intended to clean up oil and gas wells to frack new ones. And he said the logic behind the decision was backwards.
"They're giving taxpayer dollars to the oil industry to frack wells with the hope it will bring the state more taxpayer dollars," Skokos told InsideClimate News, "rather than taking the taxpayer dollars and actually using it to benefit taxpayers."
This is not the first time the oil and gas industry has been awarded coronavirus relief. Oil companies have received between $9 billion and $13.8 billion from the federal government in direct aid, according to Bailout Watch.
The news out of North Dakota comes as U.S. residents continue to suffer from extreme weather events made more likely by the climate crisis. Fires forced new evacuations in Southern California this week, and Hurricane Zeta became the fifth named storm of the year to batter Louisiana on Wednesday.
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Interested in making the switch to solar energy, but not sure how solar panels work? Understanding household renewable energy systems can make it easier to find the best solar panels for your home.
Many homeowners are going solar to help lessen dependence on traditional utility companies and slash monthly electric bills. In addition to these cost savings, switching to a home solar system means minimizing your environmental footprint. Between the financial advantages and the improved ecological stewardship, solar energy can seem like a no-brainer.
Let's dive into the science behind solar and how solar panels work to power homes.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
When you buy solar panels, your installer will position several panels on the roof of your home in what's called a solar array. The specific number of solar panels you require depends on several factors, including the size and position of your roof, the amount of sunlight your home receives, and the type of solar panels you select.
Solar panels use photovoltaic cells, or PV cells, to absorb light from the sun. (More on the photovoltaic effect in just a moment.) When sunlight hits the panels, they generate a direct current, or DC electricity. However, homes require alternating current, or AC electricity.
A device called a solar inverter is a key part of the solar energy system, as it converts the electric current from DC to AC. The AC power then circulates through your household electrical panel and is distributed as needed to your different systems, appliances and outlets.
Here's a quick, step-by-step summary of how solar panels work to power your home:
- Photovoltaic cells absorb sunlight, then turn it into DC energy.
- An inverter turns the DC energy into AC energy, which is what your household electrical system requires.
- Electricity is distributed throughout your home, powering outlets and appliances.
- Any excess or leftover electricity that is produced is fed into a battery bank or back to your local power grid.
The Science of Solar Panels
While there are a few types of solar panels to choose from, most household systems work in roughly the same way. There is usually a layer of silicon cells surrounded by a metal frame and a glass case. There are also wires throughout the panel, allowing the free flow of electricity.
You may (or may not) remember from your high school science classes that silicon is a non-metal with conductive properties. In other words, it is able to absorb light and then turn it into electricity. How it works is simple: when light hits the silicon cells, electrons are set into motion, producing an electrical current. This electricity generation process is known as the photovoltaic effect, and it is one of the core principles of solar technology.
More About the Photovoltaic Effect
Let's dig into the photovoltaic effect a little deeper. This principle was first discovered way back in 1839 and is generally associated with semiconductor materials. The photovoltaic effect simply describes the property by which these materials can generate electricity any time they are exposed to sunlight.
Here's a step-by-step summary that explains how solar panels work by employing the photovoltaic effect:
- Sunlight hits the solar panel, which has two layers of silicon, an n-type layer that sits on top of a p-type layer.
- The sun's energy knocks an electron from its bond in the upper n-type layer, creating both a freely roaming electron and a positively charged "hole" where the electron was previously bonded.
- The hole travels down to the p-type layer, and the free electron travels through conductive wires to an inverter.
- The inverter transforms the solar electricity from DC to AC so that it can be used in your home.
- The electricity flows throughout your home to power systems, appliances and outlets.
- The free electron eventually flows through the house and back to the p-type layer of the panel, where it fills a positively charged hole and closes the loop needed to maintain the flow of electricity.
How Solar Panels Work With Your Power Grid or Battery Bank
We mentioned earlier that any excess electricity generated by a solar panel is fed back into a power grid or can be stored in a solar battery. What are these, exactly, and how do solar panels work with each component?
If your home is connected to the electrical grid (and most homes are), then it comes with a utility meter. This meter allows your utility company to measure how much energy you are consuming. During solar panel installation, your solar system will typically be connected to the utility meter. Thus, the meter assesses and measures your home's solar energy production.
Many solar homes produce more energy than they consume. In this case, you can either send your excess energy back to the electrical grid (through a process called net metering), or you can purchase a battery to store your energy for future use.
- Power grid: When you feed energy back into your power grid, you can receive credits from your utility company to save even more money on your monthly bills and help offset the cost of solar panels.
- Battery bank: The best solar batteries have a high capacity so that you can store enough excess energy to power your home during power outages and on cloudy days.
Additional Components of Your Home Solar System
Now that you understand the most important components of your home solar system, there are a couple more items to consider that affect how solar panels work in terms of efficiency.
We mentioned above that most solar panels come with a glass casing. This helps protect the silicon solar cells and ensures the longevity and durability of your home solar system. Beneath that glass case, there may also be some insulating materials, which protect your equipment from humidity as well as from heat dissipation. This insulation is crucial because it allows the solar panel system to work optimally.
A lot of solar panels are coated in anti-reflective materials as well. This is so that they can absorb as much of the sun's light as possible. Again, this is an important way to keep your home solar system working smoothly and efficiently.
A final note for homeowners who are interested in solar energy: As you select your solar panels, you will generally have a choice between monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline panels are made using a single silicon crystal. They tend to be the most efficient solar panels, though they can also be pricier. Polycrystalline solar panels are made up of multiple crystal fragments and usually cost less.
Getting Started With Solar Energy
Now that you know how solar panels work, you may feel ready to get going with a home solar system. The first step is identifying the top solar companies in your area and calling an installer to find out if solar panels are worth it for your home. Your installer will conduct an assessment based on the size of your home, the surface area of your roof, the amount of sunlight you get and more. It will furnish some guidance as to how many solar panels you need and which type of panel is the best bet.
Getting a home solar system can be a great way to save money on your monthly utility costs while demonstrating a real commitment to environmental stewardship.
Learn More About How Solar Could Help You Save
If you're interested in solar, it only takes 30 seconds to get a free, no-obligation quote. You could save up to $2,500 per year on utility bills and get a tax rebate all while reducing your carbon footprint. Fill out the form below to get started.
By Brett Wilkins
Accusing California regulators of "reckless disregard" for public "health and safety," the environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday sued the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom for approving thousands of oil and gas drilling and fracking projects without the required environmental review.
The lawsuit claims that the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) failed to adequately analyze environmental and health risks before issuing fossil fuel extraction permits, as required by law. According to the suit, California regulators approved nearly 2,000 new oil and gas permits without proper environmental review.
"CalGEM routinely violates its duty to conduct an initial study and further environmental review for any new oil and gas well drilling, well stimulation, or injection permits and approvals," the suit alleges. "Instead, CalGEM repeatedly and consistently issues permits and approvals for oil and gas drilling, well stimulation, and injection projects without properly disclosing, analyzing, or mitigating the significant environmental impacts of these projects."
We took Gov. Newsom to court for granting new oil and gas permits w/o environmental review. "The governor is openl… https://t.co/AAShi3a1rm— Center for Bio Div (@Center for Bio Div)1614195010.0
The center noted that "despite Gov. Newsom's progressive rhetoric on climate change, he has failed to curb California's dirty and carbon-intensive oil and gas production."
"His regulators continue to issue thousands of permits without review, and the governor has refused to act on his stated desire to ban fracking," the group said in a statement. "Newsom's regulators also failed to meet the governor's deadline to publish a draft health-and-safety rule after vowing to do so before the end of 2020."
Last September, as deadly climate-driven wildfires ravaged large swaths of California and turned skies in the San Francisco Bay Area an apocalyptic shade of orange, Newsom called on the Democrat-controlled state legislature to stop issuing new fracking permits by 2024, drawing widespread rebuke from climate campaigners who argued that now is the time to act.
Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, said Wednesday that "it is completely unacceptable for Gov. Newsom to continue to ignore our flagship environmental law that's meant to protect people from oil industry pollution."
"Newsom can't protect our health and climate while giving thousands of illegal permits each year to this dirty and dangerous industry," Kretzmann added. "We need the courts to step in and stop this."
Deborah Sivas, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School and an attorney representing the Center for Biological Diversity in the lawsuit, said that "state laws are designed to protect communities and minimize pollution."
"The state can't continue to pretend these fundamental protections don't apply to one of the most polluting and dangerous industries on the planet," added Sivas.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Thomas H. Goebel
The way companies drill for oil and gas and dispose of wastewater can trigger earthquakes, at times in unexpected places.
California was thought to be an exception, a place where oil field operations and tectonic faults apparently coexisted without much problem. Now, new research shows that the state's natural earthquake activity may be hiding industry-induced quakes.
As a seismologist, I have been investigating induced earthquakes in the U.S., Europe and Australia. Our latest study, released on Nov. 10, shows how California oil field operations are putting stress on tectonic faults in an area just a few miles from the San Andreas Fault.
Industry-induced earthquakes have been an increasing concern in the central and eastern United States for more than a decade.
Most of these earthquakes are too small to be felt, but not all of them. In 2016, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake damaged buildings in Pawnee, Oklahoma, and led state and federal regulators to shut down 32 wastewater disposal wells near a newly discovered fault. Large earthquakes are rare far from tectonic plate boundaries, and Oklahoma experiencing three magnitude 5 or greater earthquakes in one year, as happened in 2016, was unheard of.
Chart: The Conversation / CC-BY-ND Source: Thomas Goebel / University of Memphis; Oklahoma Geological Survey Get the data
Oklahoma's earthquake frequency fell with lower oil prices and regulators' decision to require companies to decrease their well injection volume, but there are still more earthquakes there today than in 2010.
A familiar pattern has been emerging in West Texas in the past few years: Drastically increasing earthquake rates well beyond the natural rate. A magnitude 5 earthquake shook West Texas in March.
Chart: The Conversation / CC-BY-ND. Source: Thomas Goebel / University of Memphis; U.S. Geological Survey Get the data
How It Works
At the root of the induced earthquake problem are two different types of fluid injection operations: hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal.
Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at very high pressures to create flow pathways for hydrocarbons trapped in tight rock formations. Wastewater disposal involves injecting fluids into deep geological formations. Although wastewater is pumped at low pressures, this type of operation can disturb natural pressures and stresses over large areas, several miles from injection wells.
Tectonic faults underneath geothermal and oil reservoirs are often precariously balanced. Even a small perturbation to the natural tectonic system – due to deep fluid injection, for example – can cause faults to slip and trigger earthquakes. The consequences of fluid injections are easily seen in Oklahoma and Texas. But what are the implications for other places, such as California, where earthquake-prone faults and oil fields are located in close proximity?
California Oil Fields' Hidden Risk
California provides a particularly interesting opportunity to study fluid injection effects.
My colleague Manoo Shirzaei from Virginia Tech and I wondered if induced earthquakes could be masked by nearby natural earthquakes and were thus missed in previous studies. We conducted a detailed seismologic study of the Salinas basin in central California. The study area stands out because of its proximity to the San Andreas Fault and because waste fluids are injected at high rates close to seismically active faults.
Satellite data shows the ground rising as much as 1.5 centimeters per year in parts of the San Ardo oil field. The line-of-sight velocity (LOS-VEL), as viewed from the satellite, shows how rapidly the ground surface is rising. Thomas Goebel / University of Memphis
Using satellite radar images from 2016 to 2020, Shirzaei made a surprising observation: Some regions in the Salinas basin were lifting at about 1.5 centimeters per year, a little over half an inch. This uplift was a first indication that fluid pressures are out of balance in parts of the San Ardo oil field. Increasing fluid pressures in the rock pores stretch the surrounding rock matrix like a sponge that is pumped full of water. The resulting reservoir expansion elevates the forces that act on the surrounding tectonic faults.
Next, we examined the seismic data and found that fluid injection and earthquakes were highly correlated over more than 40 years. Surprisingly, this extended out 15 miles from the oil field. Such distances are similar to the large spatial footprint of injection wells in Oklahoma. We analyzed the spatial pattern of 1,735 seismic events within the study area and found clustering of events close to injection wells.
The stresses from injecting water can trigger earthquakes several miles from the well itself. The blue triangles scale with each well's injection rate. Thomas Goebel/University of Memphis / CC BY-ND
Other areas in California may have a similar history, and more detailed studies are needed to differentiate natural from induced events there.
How to Lower the Earthquake Risk
Most wastewater disposal and hydraulic fracturing wells do not lead to earthquakes that can be felt, but the wells that cause problems have three things in common:
- These are high-volume injection wells;
- They inject into highly permeable rock formations; and
- These formations are located directly above tectonic faults in the deeper geologic basement.
Although the first issue may be difficult to resolve because reducing the volume of waste fluids would require reducing the amount of oil produced, the locations of injection wells can be planned more carefully. The seismic safety of oil and gas operations may be increased by selecting geologic formations that are disconnected from deep faults.
Thomas H. Goebel is an assistant professor of seismology at the Center for Earthquake Research and Information, University of Memphis.
Disclosure: Thomas H. Goebel receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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Along the banks of the Mississippi River, right before it spills out past New Orleans into the sea lies Cancer Alley. An 85 mile strip of shoreline where residents are contracting cancer at astronomical rates. But this isn't a phenomenon based in genetics or some cruel twist of fate. Cancer Alley is the product of environmental pollution. And today we're going to figure out exactly where this pollution is coming from. This is the story of plastics, the harm they cause, the industries that create them, and how that 85 mile strip of Mississippi shoreline and other areas like it are suffering because of them.
If you walk into your kitchen, pretty much everything, in some way or another, has encountered plastic. The plastic bags you stuff into a drawer, your favorite cup and even the package keeping those blueberries fresh. But despite plastic's ubiquity, we often forget where it comes from. Indeed, when it comes to plastic our efforts seem to be much more focused on what happens after we use it than before we use it. So first, let's understand how plastic gets made. It all starts in an oil refinery or a fracking site. That's right, plastics are basically just fossil fuels in solid form. In fact, 99% of plastics are made from chemicals rooted in fossil fuels. The plastic creation process begins with crude oil, coal, or natural gas, which is then refined and distilled or "cracked" into usable chemical compounds such as Ethylene or Benzene. Of course there are certain plastics that are the product of recycled goods, but I'll get into that much more in the video above. The key thing here is that the plastic that we use so heavily is really the same as the petroleum we put in our cars or the natural gas we use to heat our homes. Which is one of the reasons why the fossil fuel industry loves plastics.
For more on fossil fuel's love affair with plastics check out the video above!
Our Changing Climate is an environmental YouTube channel that explores the intersections of social, political, climatic, and food-based issues. The channel dives into topics like zero waste and nuclear energy in order to understand how to effectively tackle climate change and environmental destruction.
To receive all the latest videos produced by Charlie subscribe to his YouTube channel here.
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Employment in renewable energy and battery-related sectors was far more resilient to the shock of the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to an annual DOE report released Monday.
Overall, one in 10 U.S. energy workers lost their jobs in 2020, with oil and gas workers hit hardest despite billions in bailouts and substantial payouts to executives. Wind energy employment grew by nearly 2%. Jobs in the electric and hybrid-electric vehicle sectors grew by 8% and 6% respectively, and battery storage jobs also increased.
"While we do have work to do to make our energy sector more robust, we also have a lot of work to do in making our energy sector look like America and to make sure that these new clean energy jobs are paying family-sustaining wages, with good benefits and union membership," DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm said during a virtual report release.
As reported by Reuters:
The U.S. energy workforce, from fossil fuels to solar power, shed 840,000 jobs in 2020 as the global health crisis sapped demand for transportation fuels and slowed new projects, according to the annual U.S. Energy Employment Report.
The largest declines were in petroleum and natural gas fuels with a combined loss of 186,000 jobs, or 21% of their workforce, according to the report. Employment in the wind energy industry was among the only sectors to grow, rising a modest 1.8%.
The Biden administration is pushing several initiatives to boost clean energy industries as part of a sweeping infrastructure package being hashed out by Congress, arguing that a transition away from fossil fuels can create millions of good-paying union jobs while countering climate change.
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By Brett Wilkins
While some mainstream environmental organizations welcomed Tuesday's introduction of the CLEAN Future Act in the House of Representatives, progressive green groups warned that the bill falls far short of what's needed to meaningfully tackle the climate crisis—an existential threat they say calls for bolder action like the Green New Deal.
The latest version of the CLEAN Future Act—which aims to achieve U.S. carbon neutrality by the year 2050 —was introduced by Democratic Reps. Frank Pallone (N.J.), Bobby Rush (Ill.), and Paul Tonko (N.Y.). The bill sets an interim target of reducing pollution by 50% from 2005 levels no later than 2030.
In a statement, Pallone, who is chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that "the climate crisis is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime, but it also presents one of the greatest opportunities to empower American workers with new, good paying jobs and return our economy to a position of strength after a long, dark year of historic job losses and pain."
"Today's introduction of the CLEAN Future Act promises that we will not stand idly by as the rest of the world transitions to clean economies and our workers get left behind," added Pallone, "and that we will not watch from the sidelines as the climate crisis wreaks havoc on Americans' health and homes."
But while numerous people hailed the bill—with Earthjustice offering "applause" and NRDC calling it "urgently needed"—more critical voices from groups like Friends of the Earth and Food & Water Watch said the legislation is fundamentally and dangerously lacking.
BREAKING: Rep @FrankPallone just released his CLEAN Future Act — which he claims to be an ambitious bill to combat… https://t.co/M7nR0es196— Friends of the Earth (Action) (@Friends of the Earth (Action))1614711974.0
Lukas Ross, program manager at Friends of the Earth, called the bill's introduction "a monumental failure of climate leadership."
"Chairman Pallone had over a year to remove fossil fuels from the CLEAN Future Act and didn't bother to reconsider," Ross said in a statement, referring to the bill's previous iteration. "A clean energy standard that qualifies fracked gas is a joke. We need real solutions like solar and storage, not a dirty lifeline for gas, nukes, and biomass."
Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Hill that while the new bill "improves on last year's abysmal proposal," the nation must "slash emissions 70% in 10 years, and we need firm cuts in greenhouse gases right now, not just gimmicky incentives, or future generations will suffer from our inaction today."
The CLEAN Future Act "fails to grasp the fundamental truth of fighting climate change: We must stop extracting and… https://t.co/yREn6Qx9tn— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch)1614720605.0
Mitch Jones, policy director at Food & Water Watch, said in a statement that "Democrats should be making a big, bold push on climate—and the CLEAN Future Act is simply not strong enough." Jones continued:
The bill's clean energy standard includes provisions that essentially greenwash dirty energy sources—including rebranding fracked gas as 'clean' by pairing it with unproven, non-existent carbon capture methods. It also relies on a dubious emissions trading scheme to achieve its goals, which serves fossil fuel industry interests while pretending to curb climate pollution. The bill also promotes factory farm biogas as a clean energy source.
"While this bill has been marginally improved, it fails to grasp the fundamental truth of fighting climate change: We must stop extracting and burning fossil fuels as soon as possible," stressed Jones. "We should not waste time creating credit schemes and offsets markets, or prop up fossil fuels with carbon capture fantasies."
"A bold climate plan must call for a ban on fracking and all new fossil fuel infrastructure," he added, "and a swift and just transition to 100% clean, renewable energy across all sectors of the economy. The CLEAN Future Act may have been revised since last year, but it's still a Green New Dud."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Tara Lohan
Our plastic pollution problem has reached new heights and new depths.
Scientists have found bits of plastic on the seafloor, thousands of feet below the ocean's surface. Plastic debris has also washed ashore on remote islands; traveled to the top of pristine mountains; and been found inside the bodies of whales, turtles, seabirds and people, too.
Tiny plastic particles are now ubiquitous and insidious. And the mounting pollution that swirls in ocean gyres and washes ashore on beaches poses a big threat to wildlife and ecosystems. So too, does the production of that plastic.
A number of recent studies — not to mention articles and essays published here in The Revelator — have helped pinpoint just how bad things have gotten and also what we can do about the problem. Here's what you should know about plastic:
1. There’s a lot of it.
In a September study published in Science about the growth of plastic waste, an international team of researchers estimated that 19 to 23 million metric tons — or 11% of plastic waste generated — ended up in aquatic ecosystems in 2016. And even with countries pledging to help cut waste or better manage it, the amount of plastic pollution is likely to double in the next 10 years.
A study about solutions to plastic waste, published in the same issue, attributed the plastic pollution epidemic to a rise in single-use plastic and "an expanding 'throw-away' culture." The researchers also found that waste-management systems simply can't deal with the onslaught of plastic, which is why so much of it ends up in the environment. We now know that only 9% of the plastic products we use actually get recycled.
2. The United States is a big culprit.
Plastic pollution is a global problem, but the United States plays an outsized role. In 2016 the United States was responsible for more plastic waste than any other country, a new study in Science Advances found. Some of that waste was dumped illegally within the country and some was shipped to other countries that lacked the necessary infrastructure to handle it.
"The amount of plastic waste generated in the United States estimated to enter the coastal environment in 2016 was up to five times larger than that estimated for 2010, rendering the United States' contribution among the highest in the world," the researchers concluded. Part of that is because the United States ranks second in exporting plastic scrap.
3. It threatens wildlife and ecosystems.
A giant otter plays with a plastic bottle. Paul Williams / CC BY-NC 2.0
Out of sight (for Americans) is not out of mind — and definitely not out of our waterways. An estimated 700 marine species and 50 freshwater species have either ingested plastic or been entangled in it.
"If we don't get the plastic pollution problem in the ocean under control, we threaten contaminating the entire marine food web, from phytoplankton to whales," George Leonard, the Ocean Conservancy's chief scientist and coauthor of the September Science study about plastic waste's increase, told National Geographic. "And by the time the science catches up to this, perhaps definitively concluding that this is problematic, it will be too late. We will not be able to go back. That massive amount of plastic will be embedded in the ocean's wildlife essentially forever."
Microplastics have also been found in terrestrial animals, soil, drinking water and, not surprisingly, in our own bodies, although it's not clear yet just how dangerous that is for people.
4. The fracking boom is producing a plastic boom.
Despite the known risks of plastic pollution and concern over its mounting presence in the environment, plastic production — driven by fossil fuels like fracked gas and its component chemicals — is on pace to increase by 40% in the next 10 years.
The American Chemistry Council boasted that shale gas drilling is driving a surge in plastic production, including the investment of more than $200 billion to fund new and expanded operations at 343 production plants in the United States.
On the ground this means more harmful pollution along the Gulf Coast's "Cancer Alley," where petrochemicals have been manufactured for decades in low-wealth communities of color. And it means the build-out of new facilities in Rust Belt states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Fracking also causes harmful greenhouse gas emissions, like methane, to be released into the atmosphere — amplifying the climate crisis. The refining process and the incineration of plastic waste also further drives greenhouse emissions and hazardous pollution.
A petrochemical plant in Houston's ship channel. Louis Vest / CC BY-NC 2.0
5. Solutions are multifaceted.
Beach cleanups tend to make headlines, but it's a losing battle as long as petrochemical companies keep producing so much plastic and we keep using plastic for products we're meant to toss after a single use.
The September study in Science on plastic solutions found that it's possible to cut plastic pollution — perhaps as much as 80% by 2040 — but it will take systemic change both in reducing the amount of plastic produced and in better managing the waste stream.
Regulatory efforts can help this process, including by regulating plastic as a pollution source under the Clean Water Act.
Efforts to ban single-use plastics, as the European Union aims to do by 2021, are another positive step. So too are "circular economy laws," which have been introduced, but not yet passed, in the United States.
These laws would halt the production of new petrochemical facilities and encourage businesses to take responsibility for the full lifecycle of the products they produce by requiring them to be reused, adequately recycled or composted.
Getting circular economy laws enacted, though, will mean enough public and political will to counter the petrochemical, fossil fuel and plastic industries.
At The Revelator, we'll keep covering the push for solutions to the plastic problem and new science to better understand the threats. And if you want to know more about how wildlife has already been affected, what laws could help, whether industry will be held accountable and more, check out these stories from our archives:
Laws and Regulations
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Erin Brock Carlson and Martina Angela Caretta
More than 2 million miles of natural gas pipelines run throughout the United States. In Appalachia, they spread like spaghetti across the region.
Many of these lines were built in just the past five years to carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where hydraulic fracturing has boomed. West Virginia alone has seen a fourfold increase in natural gas production in the past decade.
Such fast growth has also brought hundreds of safety and environmental violations, particularly under the Trump administration's reduced oversight and streamlined approvals for pipeline projects. While energy companies promise economic benefits for depressed regions, pipeline projects are upending the lives of people in their paths.
As a technical and professional communication scholar focused on how rural communities deal with complex problems and a geography scholar specializing in human-environment interactions, we teamed up to study the effects of pipeline development in rural Appalachia. In 2020, we surveyed and talked with dozens of people living close to pipelines in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
What we found illuminates the stress and uncertainty that communities experience when natural gas pipelines change their landscape. Residents live with the fear of disasters, the noise of construction and the anxiety of having no control over their own land.
'None of This Is Fair'
Appalachians are no strangers to environmental risk. The region has a long and complicated history with extractive industries, including coal and hydraulic fracturing. However, it's rare to hear firsthand accounts of the long-term effects of industrial infrastructure development in rural communities, especially when it comes to pipelines, since they are the result of more recent energy-sector growth.
For all of the people we talked to, the process of pipeline development was drawn out and often confusing.
Some reported never hearing about a planned pipeline until a "land man" – a gas company representative – knocked on their door offering to buy a slice of their property; others said that they found out through newspaper articles or posts on social media. Every person we spoke with agreed that the burden ultimately fell on them to find out what was happening in their communities.
A map shows U.S. pipelines carrying natural gas and hazardous liquids in 2018. More construction has been underway since then. GAO and U.S. Department of Transportation
One woman in West Virginia said that after finding out about plans for a pipeline feeding a petrochemical complex several miles from her home, she started doing her own research. "I thought to myself, how did this happen? We didn't know anything about it," she said. "It's not fair. None of this is fair. … We are stuck with a polluting company."
'Lawyers Ate Us Up'
If residents do not want pipelines on their land, they can pursue legal action against the energy company rather than taking a settlement. However, this can result in the use of eminent domain.
Eminent domain is a right given by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to companies to access privately held property if the project is considered important for public need. Compensation is decided by the courts, based on assessed land value, not taking into consideration the intangibles tied to the loss of the land surrounding one's home, such as loss of future income.
Through this process, residents can be forced to accept a sum that doesn't take into consideration all effects of pipeline construction on their land, such as the damage heavy equipment will do to surrounding land and access roads.
One man we spoke with has lived on his family's land for decades. In 2018, a company representative approached him for permission to install a new pipeline parallel to one that had been in place since 1962, far away from his house. However, crews ran into problems with the steep terrain and wanted to install it much closer to his home. Unhappy with the new placement, and seeing erosion from pipeline construction on the ridge behind his house causing washouts, he hired a lawyer. After several months of back and forth with the company, he said, "They gave me a choice: Either sign the contract or do the eminent domain. And my lawyer advised me that I didn't want to do eminent domain."
Pipeline construction cuts through a farmer's field. Erin Brock Carlson, CC BY-SA
There was a unanimous sense among the 31 people we interviewed that companies have seemingly endless financial and legal resources, making court battles virtually unwinnable. Nondisclosure agreements can effectively silence landowners. Furthermore, lawyers licensed to work in West Virginia who aren't already working for gas companies can be difficult to find, and legal fees can become too much for residents to pay.
One woman, the primary caretaker of land her family has farmed for 80 years, found herself facing significant legal fees after a dispute with a gas company. "We were the first and last ones to fight them, and then people saw what was going to happen to them, and they just didn't have – it cost us money to get lawyers. Lawyers ate us up," she said.
The pipeline now runs through what were once hayfields. "We haven't had any income off that hay since they took it out in 2016," she said. "It's nothing but a weed patch."
'I Mean, Who Do You Call?'
Twenty-six of the 45 survey respondents reported that they felt that their property value had decreased as a result of pipeline construction, citing the risks of water contamination, explosion and unusable land.
Many of the 31 people we interviewed were worried about the same sort of long-term concerns, as well as gas leaks and air pollution. Hydraulic fracturing and other natural gas processes can affect drinking water resources, especially if there are spills or improper storage procedures. Additionally, methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and volatile organic compounds, which can pose health risks, are byproducts of the natural gas supply chain.
Oil spills are a major concern among land owners. Erin Brock Carlson, CC BY-SA
"Forty years removed from this, are they going to be able to keep track and keep up with infrastructure? I mean, I can smell gas as I sit here now," one man told us. His family had watched the natural gas industry move into their part of West Virginia in the mid-2010s. In addition to a 36-inch pipe on his property, there are several smaller wells and lines. "This year the company servicing the smaller lines has had nine leaks... that's what really concerns me," he said.
The top concern mentioned by survey respondents was explosions.
According to data from 2010 to 2018, a pipeline explosion occurred, on average, every 11 days in the U.S. While major pipeline explosions are relatively rare, when they do occur, they can be devastating. In 2012, a 20-inch transmission line exploded in Sissonville, West Virginia, damaging five homes and leaving four lanes of Interstate 77 looking "like a tar pit."
Amplifying these fears is the lack of consistent communication from corporations to residents living along pipelines. Approximately half the people we interviewed reported that they did not have a company contact to call directly in case of a pipeline emergency, such as a spill, leak or explosion. "I mean, who do you call?" one woman asked.
'We Just Keep Doing the Same Thing'
Several people interviewed described a fatalistic attitude toward energy development in their communities.
Energy analysts expect gas production to increase this year after a slowdown in 2020. Pipeline companies expect to keep building. And while the Biden administration is likely to restore some regulations, the president has said he would not ban fracking.
"It's just kind of sad because they think, once again, this will be West Virginia's salvation," one landowner said. "Harvesting the timber was, then digging the coal was our salvation. … And then here's the third one. We just keep doing the same thing."
Erin Brock Carlson is an assistant professor of professional writing and editing at West Virginia University.
Martina Angela Caretta is a senior lecturer in human geography at Lund University.
Disclosure statements: Dr. Carlson has received funding this project from the West Virginia University Humanities Center.
Dr. Caretta has received funding for this project from the Heinz Foundation and the West Virginia University Humanities Center.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Jon Queally
Noted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben was among the first to celebrate word that the president of the European Investment Bank on Wednesday openly declared, "To put it mildly, gas is over" — an admission that squares with what climate experts and economists have been saying for years if not decades.
Dr. Werner Hoyer, president of the EIB — the investment bank publicly owned by the European Union's member states — made the comments while presenting a review of the institution's 2020 operations at a press conference in Luxembourg.
Calling a future break with fracked gas "a serious departure from the past," Hoer added that "without the end to the use of unabated fossil fuels, we will not be able to reach the climate targets" to which the EU states — and therefore the bank — have committed.
McKibben and others responded to the comments as the most recent promising signal that the financial world is catching up with the climate science that demands a rapid and profound shift away from fossil fuels.
Head of the European Investment Bank: "Gas is over." I'd say the message is starting to sink in. https://t.co/BYKCJO0EVS— Bill McKibben (@Bill McKibben)1611234773.0
"President of the EIB, Werner Hoyer, clearly knows what's up," tweeted Oil Change International. "We agree. Time to #StopFundingFossils."
Greenpeace EU also heralded the news and stated: "There's nothing clean about gas — it's not a 'transition fuel' or a 'bridge fuel,' it's a dirty fossil fuel just like coal and oil. It's time to stop bankrolling the #ClimateEmergency and stop public money back gas projects."
European Investment Bank says GAS IS OVER! 🥂👋 Now we need to make sure it doesn't fund gas before its 2022 deadlin… https://t.co/I5G8zvPOUE— Gastivists Network (@Gastivists Network)1611146259.0
According to EurActiv:
The EU aims to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and is expected to adopt a new carbon reduction target of -55% for 2030. However, gas has remained a grey area, with the European Commission saying it will still be needed to help coal-reliant EU member states transition away from fossil fuels.
Under their climate bank roadmap published in 2020, the EIB plans to use 50% of its activity to support climate and environmental sustainability, unlocking €1 trillion for green funding by 2030. It will also ensure that all activity is aligned with the Paris Agreement.
Others emphasized what a historic shift the comment represents from even just a few years ago:
June 2011, IEA: "Are We Entering A Golden Age of gas" Jan 2021, EIB: "Gas is over" https://t.co/DXdDBOhiLG— Michael Liebreich (@Michael Liebreich)1611216489.0
While many European climate groups and financial watchdogs have criticized the EU member states and the EIB itself for not moving forward fast enough with proposed reforms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Hoyer said Wednesday that the shift away from fossil fuels is paramount and that even the Covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the continent must not act as a roadblock.
"We have achieved unprecedented impact on climate, preparing the ground for much more," Hoyer said in his remarks. "But the risk of a recovery that neglects climate and the environment remains."
"The fight against climate change cannot wait until the pandemic is over," he added. "The [Covid-19] crisis is not a reason to stop tackling the climate and environmental challenges facing humanity."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Jeff Berardelli
At the first presidential debate on Tuesday night, former Vice President Joe Biden said point-blank that he does not support the Green New Deal — a progressive plan which not only aims to aggressively tackle climate change but also encompasses many other issues like social justice, jobs, housing and health care.
In response, President Trump pounced on what appeared to be an opportunity to underscore that point to Biden's base, saying, "That's a big statement… you just lost the radical left."
But this was not actually a new position for Biden. Instead, he explained, "I support the Biden plan that I put forward" — a $2 trillion proposal that is more narrow and less aggressive than the far-reaching Green New Deal.
Their exchange reveals the needle that Biden is threading in his campaign, between trying to win the confidence of climate crusaders on the left while not alienating more moderate voters in the middle.
Although it is true that Biden's climate plan does not fully match the Green New Deal, there are many similarities. That's because over the last few months the Biden campaign made a deliberate effort to consult with more progressive factions of the party through the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, a committee which included climate and environmental justice activists like the Sunrise Movement — a group instrumental in the design of the Green New Deal. Biden has committed to some, but not all, of the task force's recommendations.
"Joe Biden's climate plan isn't everything, but it isn't nothing at all," Varshini Prakash, the founder of Sunrise Movement, told CBS News in an interview for the recent CBSN special "Climate in Crisis." She said if he is able to make good on those promises, it would represent a "seismic shift in climate policy at the federal level."
As a result of the task force's work, Biden's climate plan was boosted from $1.7 trillion over 10 years to a much more substantial $2 trillion over four years, with a faster timeline to achieve a carbon-free electricity sector and a greater focus on environmental justice.
"I think that Biden has done a good job of responding to pressure from the climate movement," said Professor Leah Stokes, an energy and environmental politics expert at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who is very active in the climate policy arena and plugged into the progressive wing of the climate community. "The Unity Task Force was set up explicitly to accomplish this goal — and it was extremely successful."
The careful wording on Biden's campaign website is revealing. It says "Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face" — an acknowledgment but not an embrace.
Goals and Costs
First, it is worth mentioning that comparing Biden's plan to the Green New Deal is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, because the Green New Deal is a broad resolution, not a specific plan. The goals of the Green New Deal are many, but the details on how exactly to achieve those goals are few. Thus, putting a price tag on the Green New Deal has been elusive; some experts estimate it would likely be tens of trillions of dollars over 10 years.
In contrast, Biden's climate plan would lay out $2 trillion over 4 years towards clean energy and infrastructure, which he says will create "millions" of jobs and move the U.S. closer to a carbon-free future. (For comparison, the cost, while expensive, it is still short of the one-year, $2.2 trillion price tag for U.S. coronavirus stimulus measures to date.)
Biden's plan is also much more narrowly focused than the Green New Deal, which envisions broader reforms across the U.S. economy. For instance, the Green New Deal includes a goal of "providing all people of the United States with high-quality health care" — an issue that is not addressed in Biden's climate plan.
However, like the Green New Deal, Biden's plan is aggressive in addressing climate change while also attempting to tackle other related issues such as environmental justice, sustainable housing, supporting a "just transition" for workers whose jobs are affected, and the building of major infrastructure projects such as high speed rail, which is mentioned in both proposals.
Green Jobs and Infrastructure
At their core, both the Green New Deal and Biden's climate plan are about jobs as well as the environment. They both place an emphasis on supporting labor unions' right to organize and bargain for fair wages for their members. The Green New Deal sets a goal of providing a guaranteed job with a family-sustaining wage and benefits to every American — but Biden does not go that far.
Biden's jobs plan is big, but not as comprehensive as the Green New Deal's. He pledges to create millions of new jobs by retooling the auto industry for low-emission vehicles, building infrastructure for a green future, upgrading millions of buildings to be more energy efficient, constructing 1.5 million new sustainable housing units, and cleaning up pollution from oil and gas wells and coal mining sites.
"When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, he thinks 'hoax.' I think 'jobs'," Biden has said. He aims to provide additional jobs out of the pandemic by boosting this green energy economy.
Climate change is also expected to continually increase major stresses on America's already aging infrastructure. To address this, both plans call for major investments to, as the Green New Deal puts it, "meet the challenges of the 21st century." Biden's plan calls for making "smart infrastructure investments to rebuild the nation and to ensure that our buildings, water, transportation, and energy infrastructure can withstand the impacts of climate change."
However, on housing, Biden's proposal to build 1.5 million new sustainable housing units is far short of the lofty ambitions of the Green New Deal, which calls for "providing all people of the United States with affordable, safe, and adequate housing."
Carbon Emissions and Fracking
On emissions reductions, Biden's plan calls for a carbon pollution-free U.S. power sector by 2035, with net-zero emissions throughout the economy by 2050. The Green New Deal's timeline is more aggressive, calling for a 10-year national mobilization to generate "100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources."
Both the Green New Deal and Biden's plan call for overhauling the American transportation industry to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases by creating more public transit and pushing the country toward more hybrid and electric cars. Biden's plan puts forth proposals like giving Americans rebates to trade in gas-guzzling vehicles for more efficient American cars, incentivizing auto companies to offer more zero-emission vehicles, and investing in 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, among other ideas.
One area where Biden's position has differed more significantly from environmental activists — and many of his rivals in the Democratic presidential primaries — has been on fracking.
Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a drilling method for extracting natural gas from shale formations underground by injecting liquid at high pressure. Since 2005, the use of fracking in the U.S. has grown exponentially. Some energy experts forecast the U.S. will be the world's top exporter of natural gas within the next few years.
While the Green New Deal does not explicitly mention anything about fracking, its timeline to cut emissions from the power sector is so rapid that eliminating fracking is implied in the proposal. Banning fracking has certainly been a priority among climate activists.
However, fracking is a substantial source of jobs and revenue in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania, where some 32,000 workers are employed in the fracking and natural gas industry. Biden told voters there in July that fracking "is not on the chopping block," though his campaign says he supports no new fracking on federal land.
"It is not surprising that Biden said he doesn't support a Green New Deal. He has a climate plan that's in line with science — but he has never vocally supported a GND," says Emily Atkin, a popular climate journalist who writes and hosts HEATED, a newsletter and podcast followed closely by many progressive climate crusaders. "This is completely in line with who he said he was. Also, he's trying to win Pennsylvania." (According to the latest CBS News Battleground Tracker poll, Biden currently leads President Trump in the state by 5 points.)
Though he's faced some criticism over fracking from the left, it has been far more muted than one might expect, perhaps because green activists realize how much worse their chances will be if Mr. Trump is reelected. So far, according to a tally by Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, the Trump administration has taken steps to roll back 162 climate related regulations.
A hallmark of the Green New Deal is its emphasis on environmental justice, to help remedy inequities which leave minority, low-income and Indigenous communities disproportionately affected by pollution and the impacts of climate change.
Biden's plan directs 40% of its spending to historically disadvantaged communities, and calls for the establishment of an Environmental and Climate Justice Division at the Justice Department to prosecute anti-pollution cases.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that while many of the concepts in the Green New Deal are also addressed in Biden's climate plan, generally speaking the Biden plan is more narrowly focused and less expensive.
Professor Stokes says it seems to be a bargain most progressives can live with in this election.
"We have a choice right now between our current president, a climate denier, and our former vice president, someone committed to climate action at the scale of the crisis," she told CBS News. "Biden has the most aggressive climate change plan of any presidential candidate in U.S. history."
This story originally appeared in CBS News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Andrea Germanos
Fed up with "empty promises" from world leaders, a dozen youth activists on Wednesday demanded newly sworn-in President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris take swift and bold climate action — even more far-reaching than promised on the campaign trail — stating that their "present and future depend on the actions your government takes within the next four years."
"Are you going to do what science is asking you to do to fight the climate crisis?" the youth, including Disha A. Ravi of Fridays for Future India and Sofía Gutiérrez of Fridays for Future Colombia, asked in an open letter.
Dear @JoeBiden @KamalaHarris, The time for actions to speak louder than words is now. Are you going to listen t… https://t.co/icrDqUFjAg— Nakabuye Hilda F. (@Nakabuye Hilda F.)1611148101.0
The letter from the global activists was released on Biden's inauguration day as he won praise from climate organizations for a number of expected climate-related, "day one" executive actions including revoking the presidential permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline and rejoining the Paris agreement.
Referencing the accord's goal for a global temperature increase threshold, the youth wrote: "The next four years will decide whether we can limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. Your place in history makes you the last administration able to act in time."
Urgent action is especially important in light of the past four years, during which former President Donald Trump's deregulatory agenda and war on science fanned the flames of the climate and ecological crises. Merely going above that low bar is insufficient, according to the youth.
"Being better than Trump isn't enough," they wrote. "But also simply continuing where the Obama administration ended is far from sufficient."
According to the young activists, Biden's stated goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 is simply too late. "Be braver," they wrote.
The letter also singled out fracking for criticism, decrying the practice's impacts on Indigenous and ecosystems. "The world cannot afford for the United States to begin any more of these dangerous drilling and fracking projects."
Impacts of the climate crisis — which is "racist, sexist, and elitist" — are already being felt, the letter stressed. "Current levels of warming of 1.2°C are already hell for millions of people."
"People are burning, drowning, and dying. Enough," the youth wrote.
In order to live up to his promise of being a climate champion, the letter said Biden must lead an administration "unlike any of the previous administrations that have done nothing but spew out empty promises."
"Will you challenge the systems that started the climate crisis?" the youth asked.
"Our eyes are on you," they said. "The time for lies is over."
"If we don't act now, we won't even have the chance to deliver on those 2030, 2050 targets that world leaders keep on talking about," Mitzi Jonelle Tan of Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines and one of the new letter's signatories said in a statement earlier this month.
"What we need now are not empty promises," she said, "but annual binding carbon targets and immediate cuts in emissions in all sectors of our economy."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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