Maine State Senator Chloe Maxmin doesn't identify as a "traditional Democrat."
She has a good reason for this: "I don't really trust the government," she told EcoWatch. "I haven't trusted our government throughout how it's responded to COVID and I don't trust it in terms of how it's going to respond to the climate crisis."
Sen. Maxmin was elected to represent Maine's 13th Senate District this past November. Two years prior, she was elected to the Maine House of Representatives, serving as the 88th District's first-ever Democrat, where she won by canvassing the historically conservative district and talking to people regardless of their political affiliation.
Sen. Maxmin's love for home on her family's farm in Nobleboro, Maine, inspires her work in community organizing, climate advocacy and uplifting the rural voice in electoral politics — a perspective she believes the left abandoned, she wrote in The Nation during her first campaign.
But in a politically divided state that is warming faster than most parts of the U.S., Sen. Maxmin works to implement climate policy that both sides of the political spectrum can get behind. In early March, she introduced the Pine Tree Amendment, which would secure state citizens the right to a healthy environment in Maine's constitution.
The amendment's introduction follows a growing movement that's led by Maya K. van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and founder of the Green Amendments For The Generations, a nonprofit organization that inspires states to amend their constitutions to give every person inalienable rights to "pure water, clean air, a stable climate and healthy environments."
In 2019, two constituents brought the idea for a green amendment to Sen. Maxmin, who liked the idea of including the rights to clean air and water in the state's constitution because it was "much more foundational" than the volatile environmental laws being discussed in the state's capital.
So far, Montana and Pennsylvania are the only states to include green amendments in their state constitutions, but popularity around the movement is growing and similar amendments are being proposed in various states, including New York, New Mexico and Oregon. While the movement's goal is to build enough momentum to implement environmental rights at a federal level, van Rossum said the movement requires the foundation of multiple building blocks — first starting at the local level.
"If we can go state by state, not only are we going to be educating and organizing and building the foundation for the successful passage of a federal amendment at the right time, but in the interim, we will be harnessing the power of the bill of rights section of our state constitutions for the benefit of environmental protection and the people," van Rossum told EcoWatch.
The movement hasn't avoided critics, however, who will ask van Rossum, "What does it mean to have clean water?" since the terminology can be broad. Van Rossum explained that the green amendments put the rights to clean air, water and a healthy environment on par with the rights to free speech and religious freedom.
"Broad language is a characteristic of the bill of rights amendments," she told EcoWatch, adding that the language must provide both a level of guidance and enough flexibility for government officials and courts.
In 2013, van Rossum and her team used Pennsylvania's green amendment to win a legal battle against a pro-fracking law. The victory proved the amendment worked, "even in a pro-fracking state with a very conservative court in place, at the time," van Rossum told EcoWatch. And in Montana, the green amendment has been used to rescind a permit for industrial gold mining.
But the amendments do more than protect basic rights to clean air and water, van Rossum explained, adding that they can also empower communities to take ownership over their natural resources. When people's environmental rights are written into the constitution, rural communities that have a deep personal relationship with natural resources can raise their expectations of the government's ability to protect those rights. "This is really returning the power to the people, because we always have to remember that fundamentally the constitution is about the people telling government how they want them to behave," van Rossum said.
This is especially valuable for rural Mainers who are increasingly impacted by climate change but may be resistant to environmental legislation for "really good reasons," Sen. Maxmin added.
"The legacy of climate policy in rural communities has been kind of a heavy-handed government ideology that does not reflect the realities of our rural lives," Sen. Maxmin told EcoWatch, referencing current offshore wind development projects being proposed off of the Gulf of Maine. Fishing communities consider the projects to be controversial, claiming they would jeopardize lobster fishing zones.
Bills such as the Pine Tree Amendment are unique since they don't "impact one person more than the other," Sen. Maxmin said, adding that the amendment is a valuable stepping-off point for future climate policy.
In Maine, the amendment has received bipartisan support from the Legislature's Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. It now faces votes in both the Maine Senate and House of Representatives, where it requires a two-thirds majority approval and approval from the majority of Maine voters.
At the very least, van Rossum stressed how green amendments can encourage important conversations across states and local communities. "There is something intellectually and emotionally very deeply empowering and touching for people when you are talking about their water and their air," she told EcoWatch. "It's just so personal."
Senator Maxmin hopes that the Pine Tree Amendment can encourage further discussion on what a fair clean energy transition will look like, specifically for the frontline communities who would traditionally be displaced from an energy transition. "No matter what, the Pine Tree Amendment gives us all the equal rights, the equal foundation and the equal footing to have these conversations," she concluded.
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By Jeff Goodell
The Earth's climate has always been a work in progress. In the 4.5 billion years the planet has been spinning around the sun, ice ages have come and gone, interrupted by epochs of intense heat. The highest mountain range in Texas was once an underwater reef. Camels wandered in evergreen forests in the Arctic. Then a few million years later, 400 feet of ice formed over what is now New York City. But amid this geologic mayhem, humans have gotten lucky. For the past 10,000 years, virtually the entire stretch of human civilization, people have lived in what scientists call "a Goldilocks climate" — not too hot, not too cold, just right.
Now, our luck is running out. The industrialized nations of the world are dumping 34 billion tons or so of carbon into the atmosphere every year, which is roughly 10 times faster than Mother Nature ever did on her own, even during past mass extinction events. As a result, global temperatures have risen 1.2 C since we began burning coal, and the past seven years have been the warmest seven years on record. The Earth's temperature is rising faster today than at any time since the end of the last ice age, 11,300 years ago. We are pushing ourselves out of a Goldilocks climate and into something entirely different — quite literally, a different world than humans have ever lived in before.
How hot will the summers get in India and Pakistan, and how will tens of thousands of deaths from extreme heat impact the stability of the region (both nations have nuclear weapons)? How close is the West Antarctic ice sheet to collapse, and what does the risk of five or six feet of sea-level rise mean for people living in mobile homes on the Gulf Coast? The truth is, no one knows for sure. We are in uncharted terrain. "We're now in a world where the past is no longer a good guide to the future," said Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor of engineering at Princeton University. "We have to get much better at preparing for the unexpected."
By all indications, President Biden and his team understand all this. And it's hard not to feel that after 30 years of dithering and denial and hypocrisy, the fight to save the climate has finally begun in earnest. In the 2020 election, nearly 70 percent of Biden's voters said climate change was a top issue for them. Biden has staffed his administration with the climate A-team, from Gina McCarthy as domestic climate czar to John Kerry as international climate envoy. He has made racial and environmental justice a top priority. And perhaps most important of all, he sees the climate crisis as an opportunity to reinvent the U.S. economy and create millions of new jobs.
"I think in Obama's mind, it was always about tackling the climate challenge, not making the climate challenge the central element of your economic policy," says John Podesta, a Democratic power broker and special adviser to President Obama who played a key role in negotiating the Paris Agreement. "Biden's team is different. It is really the core of their economic strategy to make transformation of the energy systems the driver of innovation, growth, and job creation, justice and equity."
Of course, there have been hopeful moments before: the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, when the nations of the world first came together to limit CO2 emissions; the success of Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006; the election of Obama in 2008 ("This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal," Obama said in his speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination that year); the Paris Agreement in 2015, when China finally engaged in climate talks. But all of these moments, in the end, led to nothing. If you look at the only metric that really matters — a graph of the percentage of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere — it has been on a long, steady upward climb. More CO2 equals more heat. To put it bluntly, all our scientific knowledge, all the political speeches, all the activism and protest marches have done zero to stop the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.
But hope rises again. The economic winds are lifting Biden's sails: The cost of wind and solar power has plummeted by 90 percent or so over the past decade, and in many parts of the world it's the cheapest way to generate electricity. Meanwhile, fossil-fuel dinosaurs are tottering: Big Coal is collapsing in real time and may disappear from American life in the next decade or so. ExxonMobil lost $22 billion last year and in August was delisted from the S&P 500. GM, long the staunch fossil-fuel loyalist of the U.S. auto industry, has pledged to go all-electric by 2035.
Globally, the signs of change are equally inspiring. Eight of the 10 largest economies have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. China, by far the world's largest carbon polluter in terms of raw tonnage (on a per capita basis, the U.S. and several other countries pollute far more), has promised to become carbon neutral by 2060. Some 400 companies, including Microsoft, Unilever, Facebook, Ford, Nestlé, and Pepsi, have committed to reduce carbon pollution consistent with the United Nations' 1.5 C target, which scientists have determined is the threshold of dangerous climate change. Many of these same companies are now calling on the Biden administration to cut overall U.S. carbon pollution by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, a goal consistent with the 1.5 C target.
Big Money is also waking up to the risks and benefits of climate action. In his annual letter to investors, Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, which manages $7.8 trillion in assets, challenged companies "to disclose a plan for how their business model will be compatible with a net-zero economy." In her confirmation hearing, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called climate change "an existential threat" and promised to create a team to examine the risks and integrate them into financial policy-making.
Still, these are only baby steps in a very long journey. And the clock is ticking. "When it comes to the climate crisis," says futurist Alex Steffen, "speed is everything." Every molecule of carbon we dump into the atmosphere is another molecule of carbon that will warm the climate for centuries to come, and in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, reshape the world we live in. The changes we are making are not reversible. If we magically stopped all carbon pollution tomorrow, the Earth's temperature would level off, but warm seas would continue melting the ice sheets and seas would keep rising for decades, if not centuries (last time carbon levels were as high as they are today, sea levels were 70 feet higher). Ocean acidification, caused by high CO2 levels, is already dissolving coral reefs and is having a major impact on the ocean food chain. Even after emissions stop, it will take the ocean thousands of years to recover.
Cutting carbon fast would slow these changes and reduce the risk of other climate catastrophes. But despite the world's newfound ambition, political leaders are not moving anywhere near fast enough. Even the goal of holding future warming to 2 C, which is a centerpiece of the Paris Agreement and considered the outer limits of a Goldilocks climate for much of the planet, is nearly out of reach. As a recent paper in Nature pointed out: "On current trends, the probability of staying below 2 C of warming is only five percent." If all countries meet the commitment they made in the 2015 Paris Agreement and continue to reduce emissions at the same rate after 2030, the paper argued, the probability of remaining below 2 C of warming rises to 26 percent ("As if a 26 percent chance was good," Swedish climate wunderkind Greta Thunberg pointed out in a tweet).
The great danger is not climate denial. The great danger is climate delay. Instead of pushing for changes tomorrow, world leaders and CEOs like to make virtuous-sounding statements about what they will do in 2050. And then in 2050, they will make virtuous-sounding statements about what they will do in 2070. Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather calls this the "empty radicalism" of long-term goals.
What's needed is action now. As climate envoy John Kerry put it at the World Sustainable Development Summit in February: "We have to now phase out coal five times faster than we have been. We have to increase tree cover five times faster than we have been. We have to ramp up renewable energy six times faster than we are. We have to transition to [electric vehicles] 22 times faster."
As an example of the seriousness of Biden's near-term ambition, he has proposed transitioning to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, which means goodbye natural-gas plants, goodbye coal plants, and hello electric cars and battery storage. It's an astonishingly ambitious proposal, one that would require a remaking of the digital backbone of America at a breakneck speed. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, but if Biden is serious about getting it done, it will require retooling permitting laws and the environmental-review process that often stalls big infrastructure projects.
Demanding action now will also require shutting down the international financing schemes that support fossil fuels. China, Japan, and South Korea all claim to be doing their part in making carbon reductions at home, while at the same time they are financing 70,000 megawatts of coal power in places like Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia. In addition, state-run oil companies in places like China, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia are on course to spend more than $400 billion over the next decade to expand oil infrastructure and exploration.
The goal of net-zero emissions is also problematic. "Net zero" is not the same thing as zero. It means that carbon pollution is either eliminated or offset by other processes that remove carbon from the atmosphere, such as forests or machines that capture CO2. Some of these offsets and technologies are more legit than others, opening the door to scams that claim to eliminate more carbon than they do.
In a way, the economic chaos caused by the pandemic has created a historic opportunity for the Biden administration. As one White House adviser tells me, "If you are going to pump billions of dollars into the economy, why not use those dollars to help us transition away from fossil fuels?" This is one of the central ideas behind Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure bill, which is now being negotiated in Congress. The bill includes a wide variety of climate-related initiatives, shaped around the twin pillars of Biden-era policy: clean-energy jobs and climate justice.
Already the pushback is fierce, especially in states that have benefited from the fracking boom. "The climate fight going forward is really about natural gas," says Leah Stokes, author of Short Circuiting Policy, an analysis of how special interests have derailed clean-energy policy for 30 years. Shortly after Biden issued his first round of executive orders aimed at the climate crisis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference in the middle of the gas fields "to make clear that Texas is going to protect the oil-and-gas industry from any type of hostile attack launched from Washington, D.C." In Florida, two bills were introduced that would preempt local governments from implementing plans to lower carbon pollution. In California and New York, residents are fighting transmission lines for offshore wind farms. Republicans, along with stalwart fossil-fuel allies like the Heritage Foundation, recently convened a private retreat in Utah to plot ways to "reclaim the narrative" on climate, while Republican Senators like Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn continue to recycle tired old rants about how the Paris Agreement is destroying American jobs.
None of this is surprising. And the fight will only get bigger and more ruthless as the clean-energy transition accelerates. Fossil fuels are emblematic of a culture, a way of life, a political hierarchy, and an empire of wealth that will not go quietly into the night.
Even among climate activists and progressives, there is wide disagreement about the best path forward. In Pennsylvania, Rep. Conor Lamb, a Democrat who supports Biden's climate goals, sees natural gas as indispensable. "You can't turn off natural gas in our society, at least in the Northeast of the United States at this time," Lamb tells me. "You just can't do it." Lamb advocates investments in expensive and unproven technology like carbon capture that could extend the life of fossil fuels. Then there are the eternal battles over nuclear power as a source of clean energy, which Lamb also supports. Others, like UC Berkeley energy professor Daniel Kammen, remain skeptical: "If low-cost, reliable, entirely safe nuclear can prove itself out, this is wonderful. . . . But there's a lot of big ifs."
More important, the fight for a stable climate is increasingly inseparable from a fight for justice and equity. Catherine Coleman Flowers, who was on a task force that helped shape Biden's climate policy during his campaign, grew up and works in Lowndes County, Alabama. "I see a lot of poverty here," Flowers says. "And I see a lot of people who suffer from the impacts of climate change — whether it is heat, or disease, or poor sanitation and polluted drinking water. You can't separate one from the other. They put sewage lagoons next to the houses of poor people, not rich people. They put oil pipelines through poor neighborhoods, not rich ones."
Internationally, rich nations of the world pledged to "mobilize" $100 billion by 2020 through the U.N.'s Green Climate Fund to help developing nations adapt to climate change. But only about $10 billion materialized. The U.S. was among the worst actors: Of the $3 billion President Obama promised, he funded only $1 billion before Trump canceled further payments (Biden has promised to make good on the commitment, and then some).
Whatever happens with Biden's climate and energy initiatives, we're living in a new world now. The faster we cut carbon, the more manageable the changes will be. But change is coming. The biggest fights of the future are less likely to be about natural gas and nuclear power than about sea walls and migration policies. "Adaptation is not sexy," says Alice Hill, who was an adviser to the Obama administration. "But it is inevitable." As climate impacts escalate, dangerous techno-fixes, such as solar geoengineering, which involves spraying particles into the stratosphere to reflect away sunlight and cool the planet, will likely become more tempting and more divisive, perhaps further diluting the will to quickly cut carbon pollution.
For more than 30 years now, scientists and politicians have been aware that our hellbent consumption of fossil fuels could push us out of the Goldilocks zone and force humans to live in a world we have never inhabited before. As Biden's push for climate action gets real, we will learn a lot about how serious human beings are about living on this planet, and how far the powerful and privileged are willing to go to reduce the suffering of the poor and vulnerable. If political leaders don't take the climate crisis seriously now, with all they know, with all they have been through already, will they ever? "Climate advocates keep saying, 'This is it, this is it, this is it,'" warns Podesta. "But this really is it. If we don't amp up and accelerate the energy transformation in this decade, we're goners — really goners."
This story originally appeared in Rolling Stone and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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Medically reviewed by Anna H. Chacon, M.D.
From eating foods for healthy skin to switching up your morning and routines, taking care of the largest organ in the body can get overwhelming. Recently, vitamin C has grown in popularity in the skincare world — but do the best vitamin C serums live up to the hype?
Vitamin C is not only an essential supplement for your immune system and overall health, but it's also a great skincare ingredient that can help limit inflammation, brighten skin, dull fine lines and wrinkles, fight free radicals, and reduce discoloration and dark spots.
Adding vitamin C to your skincare routine seems like a no-brainer, but before you start shopping for a serum, it's important to be aware that vitamin C is an unstable ingredient. Dermatologists say it's important to find legit and properly formulated vitamin C serums to capitalize on the benefits of the antioxidant. In this article, we'll help you find the right dermatologist-approved vitamin C serum to add to your routine.
Our Picks for the Best Vitamin C Serums of 2021
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
- Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
- Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
- Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
- Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Skincare Benefits of Vitamin C
Also known as ascorbic acid or L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an antioxidant that is present in the formation of collagen and that protects against aging, according to Dr. Anna Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist with MyPsoriasisTeam. A vitamin C serum may be a solid addition to your skincare routine because it has a great safety profile, and it's safe for most skin types.
"Vitamin C serum restores and neutralizes environmental stressors that accelerate signs of aging and can be used morning and evening," Dr. Chacon says. However, she warns, "it does not come with sun protection, so additional use of sunscreen is recommended."
As an antioxidant, vitamin C protects skin cells from being damaged by free radicals from things like UV exposure, vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke. It also hampers melanin production, which can help to lighten hyperpigmentation and brown spots and even out your skin tone.
6 Best Vitamin C Serums
Based on dermatologist recommendations and our market research, the following products are the best vitamin C serums available today.
Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
Our overall recommendation for the best vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. The product contains 10% vitamin C, which has anti-aging properties and minimizes the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and sunspots by promoting collagen production. "I have this in my bathroom," Dr. Chacon says. "It is gentle and non-irritating, and it leaves your skin radiant afterward."
Customer Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars with under 100 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Along with L-ascorbic acid, this serum includes ingredients like Coenzyme Q10 for multi-layer antioxidant protection and plant-derived squalane for added hydration. ZO Skin Health's products are all cruelty-free.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
Made with plant- and vitamin-derived antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, peptides and CoQ10, Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum will help rejuvenate your skin. The formula fights dullness, enhances firmness and reduces the appearance of wrinkles.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with about 300 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This product is paraben-free, fragrance-free and cruelty-free, as it's not tested on animals. The container is 100% recyclable through TerraCycle, and it's formulated and manufactured in the U.S.
Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid offers high value at a reasonable price. It is a hydrating vitamin C serum that's fragrance-free, paraben-free, non-comedogenic and budget-friendly to boot. The formula uses 10% pure vitamin C to prevent free radical damage as well as soothing vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid to make the skin look smooth and create a moisture barrier for your skin.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 20,000 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Chacon calls CeraVe "a trusted, dermatologist-oriented brand" that comes at drugstore prices, so it's a great choice if you want to try out a budget-friendly vitamin C serum.
Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
Timeless Skin Care's vitamin C serum promotes healthy cell turnover to help minimize the effects of hyperpigmentation and even out your skin tone. According to Dr. Chacon, "vitamin C, E and ferulic acid are all key ingredients that help to brighten skin, building up collagen and evening out tone." This product's formula is non-greasy and lightweight, so it absorbs quickly and clearly into the skin.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 1,700 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The Timeless Skin Care formula is paraben-free, synthetic dye-free, fragrance-free and polyethylene glycol-free. The company doesn't test on animals, and the product is made in the U.S. from natural ingredients. It's also part of the TerraCycle recycling program.
Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
Using dermatologist-approved ingredients, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is lightweight and helps to firm, smooth, and brighten the skin for a more youthful look. The formula utilizes 15% pure vitamin C as well as vitamin E and ferulic acid to protect against environmental damage from things like sunlight, ozone pollution and diesel engine exhaust. Plus, it helps firm the skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Customer Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars with over 200 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is one of the best vitamin C serums for anti-aging purposes. It has an oil-like formulation that goes on smoothly and works effectively without clogging pores.
Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is a topical form of vitamin C that's rich in antioxidants to target aging and brighten the skin. It uses a high concentration of L-ascorbic acid as well as hyaluronic acid spheres for skin hydration. The brightening serum helps enhance skin smoothness and radiance without being too harsh. However, to test skin sensitivity, it is always recommended to perform a patch test before a full application.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 4,500 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This vitamin C brightening serum is cruelty-free and vegan and does not contain alcohol, phthalates, gluten, fragrance, nuts, oil, silicone, parabens or sulfates. The moisturizing serum is good for all skin types, including acne-prone skin and dry skin.
FAQ: Best Vitamin C Serums
What vitamin C serum is the most effective?
Our top recommended vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. It is a dermatologist-approved antioxidant powerhouse, yet it is gentle, non-irritating and leaves you with glowing skin.
Should you use vitamin C serum every day?
Dermatologists recommend using vitamin C serum either every day or every other day. After you cleanse and tone your face, use your vitamin c product before applying moisturizer and reef-safe sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
Does vitamin C serum really work?
According to dermatologists, the best vitamin C serums work to protect against skin aging. However, if you do not purchase a doctor-recommended product, you run the risk of wasting your money on a low-concentration serum that won't give you any benefits.
What are the drawbacks of vitamin C serums?
Many vitamin C serums on the market, especially cheaper products, have nearly immeasurable concentrations of antioxidants, which makes them ineffective. Additionally, as with any skincare product, some individuals may have reactions to vitamin C serums including itchiness and redness.
Anna H. Chacon, M.D. is a dermatologist and author originally from Miami, Florida. She has authored over a dozen peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and has been published in JAAD, Archives of Dermatology, British Journal of Dermatology, Cosmetic Dermatology and Cutis.
By Jim Palardy
As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners — including me — from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.
The panel, coordinated by the UK-based Cambridge Conservation Initiative, conducted a horizon scan — an effort to spot early signs of significant phenomena — of global biological conservation issues. For the resulting study, which was funded by the UK's Natural Environment Research Council and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the panel winnowed down an initial list of 97 topics, settling on the following 15 because of their novelty or their potential to move the conservation needle in either a positive or negative direction over the coming decade.
1. Seabirds Could Help Spot Illegal Fishing
Seabirds often follow fishing vessels to score easy meals. Now, scientists are hoping to exploit this behavior to help spot illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, which accounts for up to $23.5 billion worth of seafood every year, or 1 in 5 fish sold. Researchers have had some success attaching transmitters to seabirds to locate fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean, but more study is needed to validate the use of this tactic.
2. Marine Vessels and GPS Spoofing
Vessels plying the ocean navigate and transmit their locations and identities mainly through the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and automatic identification system (AIS). The panel points out that a recent rise in GNSS spoofing and AIS cloning incidents could facilitate the trade of illegal goods and hamper authorities' efforts to identify vessels engaged in illicit resource extraction activities such as fishing and dredging.
3. More Corals May Suffer From Lack of Oxygen
Several factors — including climate-driven marine heat waves and nutrient runoff from land — can lower oxygen levels in the ocean. Corals in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans have died from this hypoxia, and, although those events weren't widespread, some scientists fear that the threat may grow significantly as climate change further warms the ocean. Research is needed to better understand the extent and impact of low oxygen conditions on coral reefs.
4. Understanding the Impacts of Increased Dissolved Iron on Coastal Polar Ecosystems
Coastal zones in polar latitudes are among Earth's most productive — that is, they create and support large numbers of organisms ranging from tiny marine plants to animals such as polar bears and seals — a characteristic driven by the availability of dissolved iron from glaciers and ice. Increased melting in the polar regions will result in higher iron concentrations, which in turn will probably fuel more intense phytoplankton blooms and enable organisms on the seafloor to capture more carbon and other nutrients. Such changes could have wide-ranging effects — including impacts on the structure of the region's marine ecosystems and on carbon sequestration — and warrants investigation.
5. What to Do With a Growing Number of Decommissioned Offshore Energy Platforms
It is estimated that 3,000 offshore oil and gas platforms will be decommissioned in the coming decades and that the number of offshore wind farms will continue to grow. Currently, decommissioning practices vary by country and include full removal, conversion of platforms to artificial reefs, and abandonment. As new offshore energy infrastructure is built and old platforms are phased out, nations will need to evaluate the immediate and long-term impacts of their decommissioning strategies on the marine environment.
6. A Drug Problem in the Water
When some chemicals used in pharmaceuticals and in garden and farm products are introduced into waterways — usually through runoff or via sewage systems directly or in human waste — they can cause changes in fish and other organisms, including altering the number of female to males in a population, lower fertility, and deformities. There is emerging evidence that the effects of exposure can be multigenerational, affecting organisms that were never directly exposed.
7. Changes in Low Cloud Cover
Low clouds shade sizable portions of the planet in subtropical regions. It is predicted that these clouds will become increasingly unstable if atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to rise at current rates. The resulting changes could have negative effects on wildlife and human communities.
8. Tree Planting as a Simple Carbon Sequestration Solution
Pledges to plant large areas of trees to help tackle climate change are often perceived as a win for conservation. However, tree planting must be planned and implemented with a clear understanding of regional ecosystems to avoid negative effects on biological diversity.
9. Logging to Reduce Fire Risk
As nations around the world contend with more extreme wildfires, some policymakers suggest that tree removal may be part of the solution. However, the effectiveness of such policies is uncertain, and any short-term gains from removing trees are often offset by the growth of non-native grasses and flowering plants, which may themselves be highly flammable.
10. Large-Scale Adoption of Sustainable Farming Techniques Across India
Driven by government policies and local innovations, sustainable farming practices are becoming more prevalent in India. The state government of Sikkim has adopted organic farming as policy, and the state of Andhra Pradesh, with 6 million farmers, plans to adopt natural farming practices by 2025. Other states across the country plan to follow suit. Early evaluations indicate that these large-scale transitions boost crop yields and incomes, improve the health of farmers, and increase women's access to microfinance. With such results, there is the potential for similar large-scale shifts in other parts of the world.
11. Low Earth-Orbiting Satellites May Mislead Animals Responding to Celestial Cues
More than 2,600 artificial satellites currently orbit the earth, a number that is rapidly increasing. Many species of mammals, insects, and birds use celestial cues to migrate long distances and to orient themselves in local habitats and could be affected by the proliferation of satellites.
12. Bitcoin Mining With Stranded Energy
An emerging use for stranded energy sources, such as low-value methane byproducts vented from oil wells and excess energy produced by wind turbines and solar panels, is to power computers used for Bitcoin mining — the process of creating new Bitcoin by solving complex algorithms. Monetizing stranded energy in this way is a mixed bag that decision-makers will probably have to evaluate. The practice could increase carbon emissions from marginal fossil fuel sources but also could incentivize the deployment of renewable energy by guaranteeing a minimum selling price.
13. Open-Source Investigations of Environmental Threats
Scientists demonstrated some success with using online videos, social media posts, and other open-source data to document the effects of the locust swarms in East Africa in 2020. As faster internet connections and access to smartphones continue to grow globally, the use of open-source data may become an effective tool for researchers.
14. Self-Healing Building Materials
The potential to engineer building materials made of chemicals, polymers, and bacteria that can fix themselves when damaged could reduce the need for repairs and shrink the environmental footprints of construction projects. Recently, scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder used a type of cyanobacteria found in the ocean, along with other materials, to engineer a living building material that can regenerate when fractured.
15. A Waterway to Connect the Baltic and Black Seas
A planned 1,200-mile inland navigable waterway connecting the Baltic and Black seas would alter the flow of cargo and trade in the region. However, the waterway, which would pass through Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine, could alter habitat in 70 wildlife areas and numerous international conservation areas, introduce non-native species, and change the region's rivers and wetlands. Additionally, dredging in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone could disrupt radioactive sediment.
Jim Palardy is a project director with The Pew Charitable Trusts' conservation science program. He served on this year's horizon scan panel and is a co-author on the resulting study.
Reposted with permission from The Pew Charitable Trust.
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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is reviewing sweeping legislation to reduce the commonwealth's greenhouse gas pollution, spur clean energy jobs, electrify buildings, and protect communities disproportionately harmed by pollution.
The bill passed by 38-2 vote in the State Senate and in the House 145-9, but Baker has not committed to signing the bill and could use a pocket veto to let it die following the conclusion of the legislative session overnight. In addition to mandating net-zero greenhouse gas pollution by 2050, the legislation would also boost offshore wind energy and codify the definition of "environmental justice populations."
It would increase fines for pipeline safety violations, following a deadly series of explosions in late 2018. The bill's passage follows Gov. Baker's release of plans to eliminate greenhouse gas pollution by 2050, ban the sale of new internal combustion cars by 2035, and electrify heating in 1 million homes.
As reported by The Associated Press:
The focus on pipeline safety follows the series of explosions in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover in September 2018 that killed one person, injured almost two dozen and damaged more than 100 buildings. Federal investigators blamed the explosions on overpressurized gas lines.
The explosions led to a $56 million settlement between Massachusetts and Columbia Gas of Massachusetts and its parent, NiSource last year.
Newly elected Democratic House Speaker Ron Mariano said the bill sends the message Massachusetts "will empower our environmental justice communities, achieve net zero emissions by 2050, continue to lead on offshore wind, increase equitable access to our clean energy programs, and create pathways to clean energy jobs for underserved and low-income communities."
For a deeper dive:
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By Ken Kimmell
2020 is coming to a close, and it can't end fast enough. But as the year winds down, I am buoyed by two big climate victories on the same day, perched atop a clear change in direction mandated by the election.
First, Congress just enacted a massive COVID relief and government spending package. While the COVID relief provisions are not adequate and need to be bolstered, the package includes important provisions on climate. Most significantly, Congress authorized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFC's), a greenhouse gas that is approximately a thousand times more potent than carbon dioxide and is widely used in refrigerants and air conditioners.
A worldwide phase out of HFC's has the potential to reduce the overall warming from climate change by .5 degree centigrade. With this legislative authorization, the United States can not only do its part, but US businesses can play a leading role in supplying the world with alternatives to HFC's.
The congressional package also includes a much-needed extension of tax credits for clean energy. One of the biggest wins is for offshore wind energy, for which tax credits are extended for five years. In conjunction with timely and decisive permitting decisions from the federal government, this will propel a giant, job-creating investment in offshore wind along the Atlantic coast. Also included in the tax credit package are more modest extensions for solar and onshore wind, energy efficiency investments, and carbon capture and storage. On top of that, the bill steps up funding for the Department of Energy. Especially important is a $2.9 billion authorization for ARPA-E, a DOE program that funds cutting edge research and development for clean energy.
On the same day that Congress passed this bill, three northeastern states (MA, CT, and RI) and the District of Columbia launched a "cap and invest" program to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, about forty percent of these states' emissions. The program would place an overall cap on the emissions from transportation fuels sold in the region, require the distributors of the fuels to purchase "allowances" to sell the fuels, and use the proceeds to invest in equitable and clean transportation alternatives, such as public transport, electric buses, and electric cars and trucks. In a statement accompanying this MOU, these three states and DC joined eight other states in pledging to continue to work together on this initiative. There is every reason to expect that many if not all these eight additional states will eventually join the TCI program, making it one of the largest carbon-cutting measures implemented by a group of states.
These breakthroughs are heartening in and of themselves, but even more encouraging is that they are likely an early indicator of much more change to come in 2021. For the first election in history, climate change and respect for science were major issues on the ballot this year, and president-elect Biden won with a large majority by pledging to act swiftly on climate and pay close heed to the overwhelming scientific evidence on the issue. President-elect Biden has shown that he understands this obligation by nominating people of rich depth and experience to his climate team, including Gina McCarthy, John Kerry, Michael Regan, Jennifer Granholm, Deborah Haaland, Pete Buttigieg, and Brenda Mallory.
The climate provisions in this bill are a strong step forward—but just a step. The Biden administration, through executive orders, rulemaking, and leading by example, can and must go much farther than these steps, and Congress needs to enact many other measures, such as a national clean energy standard and support for electric cars, trucks and buses, to codify and make durable the nation's commitment to addressing climate change.
But in a year in which virtually every trendline was in the wrong direction, this change in direction was a welcomed gift.
Ken Kimmell is president of the Union of Concerned Scientists and has more than 30 years of experience in government, environmental policy, and advocacy.
By Tara Lohan
How much of U.S. energy demand could be met by renewable sources?
According to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the answer is an easy 100%.
The report looked at how much renewable energy potential each state had within its own borders and found that almost every state could deliver all its electricity needs from instate renewable sources.
And that's just a start: The report found that there's so much potential for renewable energy sourcing, some states could produce 10 times the electricity they need. Cost remains an issue, as does connecting all of this capacity to the grid, but prices have dropped significantly, and efficiency continues to improve. Clean energy is not only affordable but could be a big boost to the economy. Locally sourced renewables create jobs, reduce pollution, and make communities more climate resilient.
So where are the opportunities? Rooftop solar, the study found, could supply six states with at least half of their electricity needs. But wind had the greatest potential. For 35 states, onshore wind alone could supply 100% of their energy demand, and offshore wind could do the same in 21 states. (The numbers overlap a bit.)
The study follows a similar report conducted a decade ago and shows that the clean energy field has made substantial progress in that time.
The Revelator spoke with Maria McCoy, a research associate at the Institute and report co-author, about what's changed and how to turn all the potential into reality.
What's changed in the 10 years since you last looked at the potential for instate renewable energy?
There's definitely been technology improvements in all the energy sources, but especially solar. Obviously there's the same amount of sun, but the solar panels themselves have a higher percentage of solar photovoltaic efficiency. Most states, on average, had 16% more solar potential this time around than they did a decade ago.
And for the other technologies, it's a matter of either more space being available or the technologies themselves improving. Wind turbines now can generate a lot more energy with the same amount of wind.
Where do you see the most potential?
There's been a lot of development in offshore wind and I think it's on the cusp of really becoming a big player in the clean energy field. But regulations, including at the federal level, have blocked it from happening at scale in the United States. Whereas in Europe there's already some incredibly efficient offshore wind farms that are generating a lot of electricity. Those companies are just starting to move into the U.S. market.
But it's onshore wind that has the biggest potential. Our research found that some states could generate over 1,000% of their energy with onshore wind if they really took advantage of it.
Your report didn't consider the potential of large-scale solar. Why?
We looked at the potential of rooftop solar rather than large-scale solar because as an energy democracy organization, we're really focused on distributed and community-owned energy. But it's also because pretty much every state has enough capacity to completely be powered by large-scale solar. It just then becomes an issue of land-usage debates and other challenges.
Your research shows there's a ton of potential for renewables across the country. How do we realize that potential?
Graphic: ILSR, Energy Self-Reliant States 2020
Continued support for renewable energy is a big one. There are a lot of credits that are phasing out and without renewing those, it will make it a little bit tougher for the market.
We were looking at just the technical ability to produce the energy and not necessarily the cost effectiveness, but we did recognize in the report that the costs have come down. The cost of solar PV, for example, has dropped 70%. So this is not really a pie-in-the-sky goal. It's definitely gotten a lot more feasible and many cities are already doing it or planning to in the near future.
I think the will is there and people want renewable energy, it's just a matter of fighting the status quo. A lot of these utilities have been using the same business model for decades and they're not really keeping up with where things are going and where the community wants things to go.
They're holding on to their fossil fuel infrastructure and their business model that profits off building more fossil gas plants when solar plus storage is already a cheaper energy source for customers. And wind is very cheap. If utility regulators and state and national policy could hold these utilities accountable to serving the public, which is their job as regulated monopolies, we could finally get to see some of this potential becoming a reality.
Having the ability to generate energy locally and store it and use it locally will create jobs and provide a lot of resilience to the grid and communities. And with climate change, I think that's becoming more and more important.
Was there anything that surprised you about your findings?
We definitely expected things to be better but I don't know if we expected them to be this much better in 10 years. Seeing all this potential and these ridiculously high percentages — I mean, being able to generate greater than 1,000% of the electricity we need with renewables in some states is just a sign of how abundant clean energy is.
And it's kind of sad, I guess, that some states aren't even able to get to 25% or 50% clean energy goals in their renewable portfolio standards. I would hope that the train starts rolling a little faster.
And I hope our research can inspire others who think maybe their state doesn't have a lot of renewable energy capacity in their area to realize that they do, and it could provide for all that they need and more.
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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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed a sweeping climate bill on Thursday that would have put the commonwealth on a path to eliminating carbon emissions by 2050.
Baker's veto sets up a confrontation between the Republican governor and the Democratic supermajority-controlled legislature.
The bill would have also directed utilities to purchase more offshore wind power, set efficiency standards for appliances, and required that 40% of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2030.
The governor's veto came under pressure from developers, who claimed the bill's building efficiency rules would hamper housing development – despite studies showing the cost efficiencies of net-zero construction.
Baker, who in December released his own plan to make the state emissions-neutral by 2050, said he agreed with the bill's supporters on climate goals, but State Sen. Michael Barrett, a lead negotiator on the bill, accused Baker of using technicalities to avoid the ambitious commitments set out by the legislation, and predicted the bill's strong support would ultimately carry it over the finish line.
"Charlie Baker is not the first politician in the world to have responded to climate change by procrastinating," Barrett said.
Lawmakers passed the bill nearly unanimously at the end of the 2020 legislative session, and plan to refile it and quickly send it back to Baker with time left in the session to override a second veto.
For a deeper dive:
"In my view, we've already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis and we can't wait any longer," Biden said in a press briefing. "We see it with our own eyes, we feel it, we know it in our bones, and it's time to act."
The Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad endorsed numerous actions, including:
- Hosting a Leaders' Climate Summit to boost international climate ambition ahead of the next UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties.
- Determining new national emissions reduction goals per the terms of the Paris climate agreement.
- Developing a financial plan to help developing countries act on and adapt to the climate crisis.
- Creating a National Climate Task Force to shape the domestic response across agencies.
- Working to ensure a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035.
- Ensuring all federal vehicles are electric.
- Increasing renewable energy production on federal land and waters, with a goal of doubling offshore wind power by 2030.
- Pausing all oil and gas leases on public lands.
- Ending fossil fuel subsidies.
- Creating a Civilian Climate Corps.
- Crafting a plan to conserve 30 percent of U.S. land and water by 2030.
- Tasking fossil fuel workers with plugging methane gas leaks and handling other restoration work.
- Creating a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council to address the needs of communities that have been disproportionately harmed by pollution.
- Mandating that 40 percent of federal climate investments are directed to marginalized communities.
Also on Wednesday, Biden took executive actions to emphasize the importance of evidence-based decision making across the federal government. He created a President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a Task Force on Scientific Integrity. These actions follow attempts by the Trump administration to dismiss mainstream climate science and interfere with government researchers.
"It is the policy of my Administration to make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data," Biden wrote in the memorandum creating the scientific integrity task force.
Biden's actions were met with enthusiasm by environmental groups.
The youth-based Sunrise Movement, meanwhile, noted that the executive order included many items they had been fighting for, including the emphasis on green jobs and environmental justice.
"Seeing this type of action from the Biden administration is great but also just the beginning of what we need to fully address and stop the climate crisis," the group tweeted.
However, the Indigenous Environmental Network felt more cautious. The group applauded the pause on fossil fuel extraction, but said it would wait to celebrate until extraction finally ended.
"As for Biden's pledge to address climate and environmental justice, we are optimistic about the chance to work with his administration in those endeavors, but we stand by our principles that such justice on these stolen lands cannot be achieved through market-based solutions, unproven technologies and approaches that do not cut emissions at the source," the group wrote.
The fossil fuel industry was predictably less pleased. The Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas companies in the Western U.S., immediately filed a lawsuit against the pause on new fossil fuel leases, The New York Times reported.
"Penalizing the oil and gas industry kills good-paying American jobs, hurts our already struggling economy, makes our country more reliant on foreign energy sources, and impacts those who rely on affordable and reliable energy," Anne Bradbury, president of the American Exploration and Production Council, said in a statement reported by CNBC.
However, Biden and his top climate advisors pushed back against the oft-repeated assertion that climate action is bad for U.S. workers.
In remarks to the press, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry noted that fossil fuel jobs could take a toll on the workers who performed them.
"[Y]ou look at the consequences of black lung for a miner, for instance, and measure that against the fastest-growing job in the United States before COVID was solar power technician. The same people can do those jobs, but the choice of doing the solar power one now is a better choice," he said.
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By Tara Lohan
In 1999 a cheering crowd watched as a backhoe breached a hydroelectric dam on Maine's Kennebec River. The effort to help restore native fish populations and the river's health was hailed as a success and ignited a nationwide movement that spurred 1,200 dam removals in two decades.
The era of building large dams in the United States, which defined so much of the 20th century, is over. The prime spots for development were cemented decades ago, and the ensuing harm to fish and other wildlife has been well documented. Attention is now focused on removing obsolete dams and retrofitting existing hydroelectric dams to reduce ecological harm and increase energy efficiency.
Many other countries are in the same boat. Across Europe and North America "big dams stopped being built in developed nations because the best sites for dams were already developed, and environmental and social concerns made the costs unacceptable," found a 2018 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Canada appears to be the exception to that.
Large dams are still being built across Canada, from Muskrat Falls in Labrador to the generically titled "Site C" in British Columbia, despite cost overruns, outcry from some First Nations and even environmental concerns from the United Nations.
Hydroelectric power already supplies 60% of the country's energy. But the dam building isn't just to feed Canada's power needs. It's also become a hot export commodity.
As U.S. states look to meet new clean energy targets, imported low-carbon hydropower from across the northern border has become a larger part of the conversation — and the grid. New England already gets 17% of its energy from Canadian hydropower, Midwest states around 12% and New York 5%.
That number is likely to jump.
A new transmission project to bring 250 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the United States just came online in Minnesota. Two more are in the works for Massachusetts and New York.
Proponents say we need large-scale hydro to grease the wheels of the clean energy transition. Others caution that it comes with a larger environmental cost compared to wind and solar and could open the floodgates for more dam building.
There's one shared bit of common ground, though: We need to act quickly and wisely to tackle the climate crisis.
"This is the decade for getting 50% of the way there on renewables, but also proving out the pathway to get to net-zero by mid-century, if not before," says Peter Rothstein, president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council.
How hydro figures into that process is still a complicated issue.
Clean Energy Demand Surges
The Northeast is one place where the energy transition is off and running.
All six New England states have pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% over 1990 levels by 2050, and some are aiming higher.
Neighboring New York is also keeping pace. Last year the Empire State committed to achieving an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and 70% renewable electricity by 2030.
How will those goals be achieved?
For some, imported Canadian hydropower looks poised to play a big role, and two new projects appear close to breaking ground.
Transmission lines from the Churchill Falls generating station in Labrador. Douglas Spott / CC BY-NC 2.0
Champlain Hudson Power Express, a 330-mile-long transmission line, would deliver 1,000 megawatts of hydropower from Quebec to the New York metro area and could supply about a million homes — helping to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
The project — a joint venture of the province-run Hydro-Québec and Transmission Developers Inc., a subsidiary of the private equity firm Blackstone Group — has already received the necessary permits for construction, but no contracts for the power have been signed.
Construction, however, could still start next year, with the project scheduled to come online in 2025.
Massachusetts has an even bigger project in the works. New England Clean Energy Connect would bring 1,500 megawatts of capacity through a 145-mile-long transmission line running through Maine from Canada to Massachusetts. It too would come from Hydro-Québec, this time working in conjunction with Central Maine Power.
The project, which is projected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million tons a year in New England, has received its necessary permits from the state of Maine but still awaits federal permits from the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Opposition groups, including some environmental organizations, are also challenging various aspects of the project in court. And a coalition of First Nations communities that have seen dams built on their ancestral lands have voiced their opposition. (You can read more about that transmission line in Part I of this series.)
More could be on the way. Nalcor Energy — the province-run hydro company of Newfoundland and Labrador — is nearing completion on its 824-megawatt Muskrat Falls hydro project on the Churchill (or Grand) River. Costs have just surpassed $13 billion — twice what was first estimated.
Some of the energy is already slated to be sent to other parts of Canada and then — hopefully, according to Nalcor — to New England.
What's the net impact of these planned projects? That's hard to say. Tallying the environmental benefit or harm from large-scale hydro is complicated.
One of the biggest metrics of assessing environmental impact is greenhouse gas emissions.
The first phase of emissions comes just from building its infrastructure. Large-scale hydropower involves the construction of generating stations, and often accompanying dams and reservoirs. And then there are hundreds of miles of transmission lines that need to be constructed to move that power.
What comes next, once a project comes online, depends on multiple factors. Research has shown that hydropower emissions vary widely based on the location, climate and area of land flooded. Hydro emissions are also highest when a reservoir is first flooded and then decrease in the following years.
All told, over the life cycle of a project, most hydropower is cleaner than fossil fuels, although not always as clean as wind and solar. A study in Nature Energy on the projected life-cycle emissions of energy sources put solar at 6 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour and wind at 4. The researchers estimated typical hydro at 97, but there's great variation between sites.
A 2014 report prepared by the research group CIRAIG on behalf of Hydro-Québec found the average life-cycle emissions of the company's fleet of 62 generation stations was between 6 and 17 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour.
Alain Tremblay, Hydro-Québec's lead scientist on greenhouse gas emissions, says tracking from their most recent complex of dams on the Romaine River shows emissions between 5 and 10 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour.
There are other environmental considerations beyond greenhouse gas emissions.
The nonprofit Natural Resources Council of Maine opposes the New England Clean Energy Connect, in part out of concern about fragmented habitat and critical wildlife populations, including brook trout. The transmission line would require clearing a 53-mile stretch of forest through the North Maine Woods.
In New York the nonprofit Riverkeeper reversed its earlier support for the Champlain Hudson Power Express and has now come out against that project, which would send its electrical cable down the length of the Hudson River.
"This sets a precedent that the Hudson is a conduit for extension cords from Canada or from anywhere," says John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper's vice president of advocacy. "It should be off limits to that kind of thing."
The Hudson contains legacy pollution from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) dumped decades ago and other contaminants that could be turned up as the cable is dug in the riverbed. Over the years some of that pollution has been remediated, but not all. And plans to avoid putting cable in the areas of the worst-known contamination aren't sufficient to protect the ecosystem, he says.
Atlantic sturgeon were brought to the brink of extension in the 20th century and are now are listed as an endangered species. NOAA
There's also concern that imperiled fish species, like endangered shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon, could be harmed by the electrical cable. The river was designated as critical habitat for Atlantic sturgeon, but no Endangered Species Act review has been initiated to assess if the cable could threaten fish populations.
"Both of these fishes have nervous systems similar to that of sharks, which are incredibly sensitive to electric signals," says Roger Downs, conservation director of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. "It's a huge experiment to suddenly put an electrical signal down the backbone of this river."
Lipscomb shares this concern. After all the work that's been done in recent years to help restore the Hudson and its estuary, he says "it's heartbreaking that we still think of this river as a resource."
Hydropower may be renewable, he says, but from an environmental perspective it isn't sustainable. "Unless a river's value is zero," he says. "If a river has any value as an ecosystem, as a host for life, then hydropower isn't even a consideration."
Upstream Justice Concerns
In 1990 a group of Cree and Inuit protestors paddled the Hudson River to Manhattan to ask New Yorkers to oppose a power purchase agreement between the state and Quebec and the construction of a second dam in the James Bay hydroelectric project in northern Quebec.
They were successful. Now, 30 years later, a different group of First Nations is making a similar plea.
On October 7 the First Nations of Pessamit, Wemotaci, Pikogan, Lac Simon and Kitcisakik sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy stating their opposition to the Massachusetts transmission line. The groups wrote that one-third of Hydro-Québec's installed power is "produced in our respective ancestral territories from reservoirs, dams, power plants and various other installations, without prior consultation, without our consent and without compensation."
Over the decades of hydropower buildout in Canada many First Nations communities — but not all — have been consulted on projects and struck agreements with power companies.
Major hydroelectric projects have altered the flow of rivers and in some cases, the food and cultural resources used by Indigenous communities.
There are also health concerns.
A 2016 study by Harvard University researchers, published in Environmental Science and Technology, found that flooding reservoirs for hydroelectric projects in Canada would increase the risk of mercury poisoning in Indigenous communities at 90% of the dam sites.
When land is flooded for a reservoir, the microbes in the soil convert naturally occurring mercury into more dangerous methylmercury, which then works its way up the food chain. That puts anyone who relies on local wildlife such as fish, birds and seals at risk. In the northern reaches of Canada, that's largely Indigenous people.
The researchers looked at how three Inuit communities downstream of Nalcor's Muskrat Falls project would fare. And they found that, on average, risk of exposure for community members would double after the area was flooded. That could translate to higher risks for cardiovascular disease and neurodevelopmental delays for children.
The more people rely on local food sources, the more harm they're exposed to. And in this remote region where store-bought food is very expensive, that's a serious concern.
Near Happy Valley-Goose Bay on the Churchill (Grand) River downstream from Muskrat Falls. Douglas Sprott / CC BY-NC 2.0
"People have a very high prevalence of economic insecurity and that translates into insecure access to Western foods at the grocery store," says Ryan Calder, a co-author of the study and now an assistant professor of environmental health and policy at Virginia Tech. "Traditional food systems account for a smaller and smaller fraction of overall calories, but a wildly disproportionate fraction of nutrient intake."
Despite this, he doesn't think their research should be taken as a commentary on whether hydroelectric power itself is good or bad. "We really just criticized [the company's] risk assessment," he says.
Earlier studies by Nalcor claimed the effect on the Inuit would be negligible as the mercury would quickly dilute in downstream waters.
"They had no basis for saying there was going to be no impact," says Calder. "It was clear that they were trying to ignore their obligations — if not legal, then certainly moral — to Indigenous people."
The researchers also found that about half of the other sites they studied would have equal or greater concentrations of methylmercury than Muskrat Falls.
Roberta Frampton Benefiel of Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, who lives near the Muskrat Falls project, says she wasn't surprised by Nalcor's position. "Aboriginal people don't count to this government and so we have to make the Aboriginal people count," she says.
She has spoken to environmental organizations in the United States to help raise awareness about some of the local effects of dam development in Canada.
"I want people in the United States to understand that when they flip their light switch, if they accept these power lines from Canada, they're poisoning northern communities," she says.
New York and Massachusetts have been eager for hydropower from Canada as long as it doesn't mean the construction of new dams for the transmission projects.
Hydro-Québec says it has enough reserves for export to New York and Massachusetts without redirecting power from its existing United States or Canadian customers.
It's nearly finished with the last dam in the complex of four generating stations on the Romaine River, which along with other projects, has added 5,000 megawatts of capacity over the last decade. Although it does has the lowest reserve margin of utilities in the region, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's 2019 assessment.
In previous years Hydro-Québec did preliminary work to explore the possibility of new dams on the Little Mécatina River, but company spokesperson Lynn St-Laurent says they currently have no plans for new dams and that project is no longer in their strategic plan.
Gary Sutherland, director of strategic affairs for northeast markets at Hydro-Québec, says that additional energy demand for export could be met with increased energy efficiency in Quebec and more wind projects. Quebec Premier François Legault tweeted last week that the province's next addition of capacity, if needed, would be the 200-megawatt Apuiat wind farm.
Elsewhere in Canada, however, dam building continues.
Manitoba Hydro and four First Nations are in the process of building the Keeyask project, a 695-megawatt hydroelectric generating station on the Nelson River.
British Columbia also continues to muddle along on development at Site C, a 1,100-megawatt dam on the Peace River that has faced mounting problems and protests.
Construction of the Site C dam in British Columbia in 2017. Jason Woodhead / CC BY 2.0
This includes, according to a report in The Narwhal, legal challenges from "landowners and First Nations who oppose flooding 128 kilometers of the Peace River and its tributaries, putting Indigenous burial grounds, traditional hunting and fishing areas, habitat for more than 100 species vulnerable to extinction and some of Canada's richest farmland under up to 50 meters of water."
New research by energy analyst Robert McCullough, who runs a Portland, Oregon-based consulting firm, found that if the project continues its likely to have surplus energy that will need to be sold outside the province at a loss to ratepayers.
But a poor financial outlook doesn't always mean the end of dam projects in Canada.
In Labrador Nalcor also has another large project planned — the 2,250-megawatt Gull Island dam, farther upstream from Muskrat Falls, which could be built if there's a buyer for the power.
It's a prospect Benefiel finds shocking, considering the company's most recent project was so over budget that it prompted a provincial Commission of Inquiry, which found that Muskrat Falls put the financial health of the entire province at risk.
Is Hydro Needed?
Considering all the complexities of hydro projects and the related transmission infrastructure, is it necessary to move U.S. states off fossil fuels and toward clean energy goals?
That depends on who you talk to.
Despite investment in wind and solar, "hydro has a couple of things going for it," says Rothstein of the Northeast Clean Energy Council. The first is that it's able to compete on costs, and second is the "dispatchability."
Thanks to decades of dam building, Canadian hydropower is ready to go — pending transmission capacity. It's also seen as less variable than wind and solar, although hydropower does fluctuate by season and by year, depending on precipitation.
"I think hydro will play a role, but it's not going to be the only resource," says Rothstein. Offshore wind holds the biggest potential for large-scale projects in the region, he says.
New York has already awarded contracts to procure 1,700 megawatts of offshore wind and in July put out a call to solicit another 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind and 1,500 megawatts of land-based, large-scale renewables.
Massachusetts is making strides toward wind energy, too. In 2016 Gov. Charlie Baker signed an energy bill requiring the state's utilities to procure 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind and could soon double that.
The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island is the first U.S. offshore wind farm. Dennis Schroeder / NREL / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
All told around a half a dozen major projects now await a green light, pending permitting decisions by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
All down the East Coast, "there's a whole constellation of projects close to breaking water," says Rothstein.
In the past offshore wind has been stymied by NIMBYism, but he says both the public perception of wind has changed and so have costs. New projects being proposed are farther offshore and out of view. And more established, global wind developers are competing for projects, helping to bring down prices.
Sierra Club's Downs thinks northeast states could meet their goals without imported hydro. Instead he'd like to see more focus on large-scale solar installations in upstate New York on brownfields or fallow farmland, and more offshore wind.
"And then we need to be doing more and more programs for smaller, community-based wind and solar," he says.
Whatever mix of low-carbon power is secured, Downs hopes it doesn't turn rivers into transmission corridors and does account for the full environmental and social costs of power generation.
"We have an obligation to protect cultural rights, Indigenous rights and also the vast Canadian wilderness," says Downs. "We shouldn't be exporting our environmental problems."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
By Jeff Masters, PhD and Dana Nuccitelli
Calendar year 2020 was an extreme and abnormal year, in so many ways. The global coronavirus pandemic altered people's lives around the world, as did extreme weather and climate events. Let's review the year's top 10 such events.
1. Hottest Year on Record?
The official rankings will not be released until January 14, but according to NASA, Earth's average surface temperature in 2020 is likely to tie with 2016 for the hottest year on record, making the last seven years the seven hottest on record.
Remarkably, the record warmth of 2020 occurred during a minimum in the solar cycle and in a year in which a moderate La Niña event formed. Surface cooling of the tropical Pacific during La Niña events typically causes a slight global cool-down, as does the minimum of the solar cycle, making it difficult to set all-time heat records. The record heat of 2020 in these circumstances is a demonstration of how powerful human causes of global warming have become.
Figure 1. The eye of category 5 Hurricane Iota on November 16, the strongest hurricane of the 2020 season, as seen by the Sentinel-2 satellite. Image credit: Pierre Markuse
2. The Wild 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season produced an extraordinary 30 named storms (highest on record), 13 hurricanes (second-highest on record), and six major hurricanes (tied for second-highest on record): more than double the activity of an average season (12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes).
The 2020 season was notable not only for its record number of named storms (after breaking into the Greek alphabet by the ridiculously early date of September 18), but also for its record number of rapidly intensifying storms (10), record number of landfalling U.S. named storms (12), and record number of landfalling U.S. hurricanes (six). Every single mile of the mainland U.S. coast from Texas to Maine was under a watch or warning related to tropical cyclones at some point in 2020. U.S. hurricane damage exceeded $37 billion, according to insurance broker Aon, the eighth-highest annual total on record.
Two catastrophic category 4 hurricanes hit Central America in November: Hurricane Iota, the latest category 5 storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, and Hurricane Eta, the deadliest tropical cyclone worldwide in 2020, with at least 274 people listed as dead or missing. At least seven hurricanes from 2020 will be worthy of having their names retired: Iota, Eta, Zeta, Delta, Sally, Laura, and Isaias – although there is still no official mechanism for retiring storm names from the Greek alphabet. The record for most names retired in one Atlantic season was set in 2005, when five hurricanes had their names retired.
Figure 2. Global energy-related emissions (top) and annual change (bottom) in gigatons of carbon dioxide, with projected 2020 levels highlighted in red. Other major events are indicated to a give a sense of scale. Image credit: Carbon Brief, using data from the Global Energy Review
3. Record-High Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Despite Record Emissions Drop
As a result of restrictions taken to curb the coronavirus pandemic, carbon emissions to the atmosphere in 2020 declined by 9 to 10% in the U.S. and 6 to 7% globally, although some of those reductions were offset by carbon released by wildfires. Those are the largest annual carbon emissions declines since World War II and far more than the 1% global and 6% U.S. emissions drops brought about by the 2008 Great Recession.
Nevertheless, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose by 2.6 parts per million from 2019 to 414 ppm in 2020. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere will not decline until human emissions reach net zero. Moreover, as coronavirus restrictions were lifted during 2020, global carbon pollution nearly rebounded to pre-COVID levels.
Figure 3. A wildfire in the Sakha Republic, Arctic Circle, Siberia, Russia creates smoke and pyrocumulus clouds on July 9, 2020. A record heat wave in Siberia during June led to the Arctic's first-ever 38.0°C (100.4°F) temperature and helped drive the Arctic's worst wildfire season on record. Image credit: Copernicus Sentinel data via Pierre Markuse
4. An Apocalyptic Wildfire Season
The year 2020 brought record levels of fire activity to the U.S. and Arctic, but unusually low levels in Canada and tropical Africa, resulting in a below-average year for global fire activity, according to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. According to Insurance broker Aon, the global direct cost of wildfires in 2020 was $17 billion, ranking as the fifth-costliest wildfire year, behind 2017, 2018, 2015 (major Indonesian fires), and 2010 (major Russian fires).
The Australian bushfire season ending in early 2020 (due to seasons in the Southern hemisphere being the reverse of those in the Northern hemisphere) was also a record-breaker, having burned more than 46 million acres and destroyed more than 3,500 homes.
The National Interagency Fire Center reported that U.S. wildfires burned 10.25 million acres as of December 18, 2020, the highest yearly total since accurate records began in 1983. The previous record was 10.13 million acres in 2015. The hottest August through October period in Western U.S. history, combined with severe drought and a once-in-a-generation offshore wind event, conspired to bring about an apocalyptic western U.S. wildfire season. Total U.S. wildfire damages in 2020 were $16.5 billion, said Aon, ranking as its third-costliest year on record, behind 2017 ($24 billion) and 2018 ($22 billion). Wildfires caused at least 43 direct U.S. deaths. But the indirect death toll among people 65 and older in California alone during the period August 1-September 10 – due to wildfire smoke inhalation – was likely between 1,200 and 3,000, researchers at Stanford University reported in a September 11 study. The 4.2 million acres burned in California in 2020 was more than double the previous record set in 2018.
5. Super Typhoon Goni: Strongest Landfalling Tropical Cyclone on Record
Super Typhoon Goni made landfall near Bato, Catanduanes Island, Philippines, on November 1 with sustained winds of 195 mph and a central pressure of 884 mb, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, or JTWC. Goni was the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone in world recorded history, using one-minute average wind speeds from the National Hurricane Center for the Atlantic/Northeast Pacific and one-minute average winds from JTWC for the rest of the planet's ocean basins.
Goni killed 31 people, damaged or destroyed 250,000 homes, and caused over $1 billion in damage, tying it with Typhoon Bopha in 2012 and Typhoon Vamco in 2020 as the Philippines' second-most expensive typhoon on record, adjusted for inflation. Only Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 ($11.1 billion) was more damaging.
Ominously, seven of the 10 strongest landfalls in recorded history have occurred since 2006.
6. Hottest Reliably Measured Temperature: 130°F in Death Valley
Death Valley, California, hit an astonishing 129.9 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4°C) at 3:41 p.m. PDT, August 16, 2020, at the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center. This reading was rounded to 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the daily summary from NOAA. According to weather records experts Christopher Burt, who wrote the comprehensive weather records book "Extreme Weather," and Maximiliano Herrera, who tweets under the Twitter handle, Extreme Temperatures Around the World, the observation may be the hottest reliably recorded temperature in world history, breaking the 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit readings at Death Valley in 2013 and in Kuwait in 2016.
The World Meteorological Organization is conducting a review of the site's observing equipment. "If the observation passes an investigation (instrument calibration, etc.) then, yes, this is a new reliably measured global extreme heat record," Burt wrote by email. However, the official world record will remain a 134 degrees Fahrenheit measurement taken at Death Valley on July 10, 1913, a record widely viewed as bogus.
7. Most Expensive 2020 Disaster: Flooding in China Causes $32 billion in Damage
Seasonal monsoon flooding in China in June through September killed 278 people, damaged or destroyed 1.4 million homes and businesses, and did $32 billion in damage, according to insurance broker Aon. EM-DAT, the international disaster database, ranks that total as the third-most expensive non-U.S. weather disaster since accurate records began in 1990 (adjusted for inflation), behind 1998 flooding in China ($48 billion) and 2011 flooding in Thailand ($47 billion).
In a September 2020 study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, "Each 0.5°C of Warming Increases Annual Flood Losses in China by More than US$60 Billion," researchers found that annual average flood losses in China during the period 1984-2018 were $19.2 billion (2015 dollars), which was 0.5% of China's GDP. Annual flood losses increased to $25.3 billion annually during the period 2006-2018. The study authors predicted that each additional 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming will increase China flood losses by $60 billion per year.
Figure 5. Arctic sea ice age near the time of the annual minimum in 1985 (left) and in 2020 (right). There is very little old, thick ice left in the Arctic, increasing the chances of a late-summer ice-free Arctic by the 2030s. Image credit: Zack Labe
8. Near-Record Low Arctic Sea Ice
Arctic sea ice reached its annual minimum on September 15, 2020, bottoming out at its second-lowest extent and volume ever recorded, behind 2012. A new study suggests that the 2012 record hasn't been broken despite ever-rising temperatures because the rapidly-warming Arctic has altered the jet stream, leading to cloudy summer Arctic conditions that have acted to temporarily preserve some of the sea ice. However, long-term global warming will inevitably win out, and scientists expect the Arctic to be ice-free in the summer beginning sometime between 2030 and 2050. Overall, three-quarters of the volume of summer sea ice in the Arctic has melted over the past 40 years.
The Northern Sea Route along the northern coast of Russia finally froze shut on November 3, after being open a record 112 days, and 2020 was the busiest shipping season ever for natural gas tankers in the Arctic, according to Bloomberg.
9. U.S. Withdrawal From Paris Climate Accord and Election of Joe Biden
The U.S. officially withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement the day after the November 3, 2020 election. But Joe Biden, who won that presidential election, has announced his intent to immediately rejoin the Paris agreement on the day of his inauguration: January 20, 2021.
President-elect Biden considers tackling climate change a top priority and has proposed a plan to invest $2 trillion over four years in deploying climate solutions. He has assembled a team tasked with carrying out that plan, including several climate-focused cabinet member-nominees and the first national adviser on climate change.
It's a dramatic change from the previous administration's record of climate and environmental protection rollbacks.
10. A Near-Record Number of Global Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters
Through the end of November, 44 billion-dollar weather disasters had occurred globally in 2020, according to the November 2020 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon. The record in the Aon database is 47, set in 2010, and 2020 could challenge that record when the final tallies are announced on January 25, 2021.
The United States suffered 25 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2020, surpassing Aon's previous U.S. record of 20 in 2017. The record number of U.S. disasters led to the American Red Cross's providing record levels of disaster sheltering in 2020, according to a December 2 article by E&E News.
An October 13 report by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction found a "staggering" rise in climate-related disasters, including extreme weather events: those nearly doubled, from 3,656 in 1980-1999 to 6,681 in 2000-2019. The number of major floods more than doubled, from 1,389 to 3,254, and the incidence of destructive storms increased from 1,457 to 2,034.
The report blamed human-caused climate change as a significant factor in the increased disasters. It warned: "It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction, despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people." The U.N. report authors called attention to "industrial nations that are failing miserably on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to levels commensurate with the desired goal of keeping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius as set out in the Paris Agreement."
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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By Nik Martin
In April, the price of oil turned negative for the first time in history, just after the coronavirus pandemic hit. As lockdowns were ordered across the world, demand for black gold plummeted, prompting producers to literally pay buyers to take the commodity off their hands.
The price collapse was exacerbated by the Saudi-Russian price war which blew up around the same time, after Moscow refused to moderate oil production to keep prices at a reasonable level. Overproduction, particularly by US shale producers, amplified the effects of the worst oil crisis in decades.
In the first nine months of this year, Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Total made a total loss of $36.4 billion (€30.6 billion), compared with last year's $50 billion in profit. As investors took flight, the oil majors were forced to slash costs.
Investment Slashed, Jobs Cut
Exxon, once the world's largest publicly traded oil and gas company, said in the summer that capital expenditure would shrink by 20%, and just last week, announced it would cut 15% of its workforce — shedding some 50,000 jobs. Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and others have made similar moves, with most slashing investor dividends for the first time in years.
"The next few years are going to be very difficult," Helal Miah, investment research analyst at The Share Centre, told DW. "But the oil majors have done it before. During the financial crisis, these companies were very good at slashing costs."
Dozens of smaller firms, however, will struggle to survive. The New York Times reported that more than 50 North American oil and gas companies had already sought bankruptcy protection this year. Many of them took huge risks and even bigger loans to try to compete with the majors.
This fall, the second wave of the pandemic has forced renewed lockdowns across Europe and will likely prompt a more robust response from US President-elect Joe Biden, who has vowed to create a pandemic task force as soon as he takes office in January. Those measures could cause a further shakeout.
"The longer the pandemic goes on, the more we'll see the smaller and mid-cap sized oil companies go under, or be taken over by the larger ones," Miah added.
ConocoPhillips last month bought the independent exploration firm Concho Resources, days after Chevron completed the takeover of rival Noble Energy.
Peak Demand or Bottom of Cycle?
Some analysts believe global oil demand may have already peaked, while others believe that if oil prices haven't already, they are close to bottoming out. Seven months on from the unprecedented negative oil price shock, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude, one of the benchmarks for calculating oil prices, stood at $38.15 on Monday.
The price is still 67% lower than its 2014 peak of $114 a barrel, but closer to the $50 that most large oil companies need to break even. Exxon needs prices of around $75, according to analysts. All the same, the oil majors are not expected to reach their pre-COVID profitability levels until at least the end of 2022.
Already facing pressure to lead the energy transition and help the world ween itself off its fossil fuel addiction, oil giants have vowed to exploit the crisis to speed up investments in renewable energies.
"Prior to COVID this [energy transition] was a gradual trend," Peter Hitchens, oil analyst at the London-based Progressive Research, told DW. "The question is will COVID accelerate this trend?"
European firms like France's Total, the UK's BP and the Anglo-Dutch giant Shell have already begun to prioritize renewable energy, and plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. BP and Shell have announced major offshore wind projects this year.
US Oil Giants Shield by Trump
Their US counterparts, on the other hand, have enjoyed protection from outgoing US President Donald Trump's climate skepticism and continue to focus on their traditional oil and gas businesses. If the Biden administration reenters the Paris Climate Agreement, from which Trump withdrew six months after taking office, it will likely put pressure on American oil majors, although it is unlikely to curtail the drilling for hard-to- reach oil through fracking.
Biden has also hinted at building ties with OPEC members Iran and Venezuela, which are currently subject to harsh sanctions on their oil trade. The Democrats' plan for a huge infrastructure plan, dubbed the Green New Deal, to meet the climate change challenge will still require oil prices to be high enough to make clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels competitive.
Despite their moves to step up investment in renewables, the Share Centre's Miah sees oil firms still mostly profiting from fossil fuels in the medium term,
"If we look a decade ahead, I would say that they will still be majority oil and gas companies rather than renewables-focused," he told DW. He added that most investors still see oil as a sensible way of achieving "good, solid returns."
Investors Give Wide Berth
Some major London-based institutional investors have taken a different view, however. Asset managers Fidelity International and Sarasin & Partners have blacklisted the likes of Shell and BP over concerns that the green shift will cripple profits.
Last month, the Daily Mail reported that several asset managers have written to the oil majors requesting full transparency on the true value of their assets, including oil fields, which they claim could be rendered worthless if a slump in oil demand became more permanent.
Others, like Hitchens, see the fortunes of the oil industry tied in with the duration of the pandemic and how quickly oil demand recovers, once business and everyday life return to normal.
"The performance will very much reflect the movement in oil prices" and "very much depends on the economic recovery after COVID," he told DW.
Other analysts are more bullish and think big oil firms, with their deep pockets, have the strength to ride out their worst crisis. They say they'll likely acquire renewable energy firms and continue to thrive despite likely flat oil demand.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Gero Rueter
Solar energy has become extremely cheap. In the desert of Saudi Arabia electricity from solar modules is now generated for just $0.01 (€0.009) per kilowatt hour (kWh), and in Portugal for $0.014 cents per kWh.
An increasing number of large solar parks are being built across the globe to help solve the planet's energy needs.
Just how cheap is solar electricity?
Production costs for solar energy have dropped by 90% between 2009 and 2020, according to US investment bank Lazard.
In 2020, electricity from large-scale solar plants cost a global average of just $0.037/kWh. By comparison, the costs of generating electricity from new coal-powered plants was three times that at $0.112/kWh, while natural gas cost $0.059, nuclear $0.163, and wind $0.04/kWh.
"We're going to see solar power plants all over the world. It's the cheapest energy source in the world, with a few exceptions. In some places, wind power is still a bit cheaper," said Christian Breyer, a professor of solar economy at LUT University in Finland.
With large solar farms, Breyer says, production costs can be as low as $0.01 in locations with lots of sunlight, and up to $0.04 elsewhere. He and other experts expect that new and more efficient solar panels will lower costs even more, by 5 to 10% per year.
How big are large solar farms?
The world's largest solar parks have a capacity of 2,000 - 2,200 megawatts (MW), most are located in desert regions in China, India, and the Middle East, Egypt being a prime example. There are also big plants with over 500 MW in the US, Mexico, and southern Europe.
One of the largest solar parks, known as Al Dhafra PV2, is scheduled to begin supplying the United Arab Emirates' national energy provider beginning next year. Under construction to the tune of $1 billion, the 2,000 MW plant will be comprised of four million modules installed over an area of 20 square kilometers near the capital, Abu Dhabi.
Most other solar parks around the world are smaller than the giant facilities in the desert. Germany's largest solar park, for example, located in Weesow near Berlin, has an output of just 187 MW. Its 465,000 solar modules supply the electricity needs of about 50,000 households.
But even in densely populated countries like Germany, larger plants with a capacity of several thousand megawatts are conceivable. One place where they could be built are the quarries of abandoned open-cast lignite mines.
Where is solar power worthwhile for industry?
Globally, the industrial sector requires lots of energy. In Germany for instance it consumes about half of all electricity generated. To save costs, companies are turning to photovoltaics. International mining companies for instance have started replacing diesel power with solar power in remote locations. And more and more chemical companies, aluminum plants, car factories, cement manufacturers, and data centers are getting their power from solar farms.
One example is Facebook's data center in the state of Tennessee, located in the southeastern US, which will get about 110 MW of electricity from a solar park with a capacity of 150 MW. The park is being built and operated by the German power company RWE.
Another example: starting in 2022, several Bayer Group's chemical plants will run on 100% green electricity from a 590 MW-solar power plant in southern Spain.
The energy-intensive steel industry is also reorienting itself. Low-cost solar power is in demand there, as is "green" hydrogen generated by solar and wind power, which is needed for the blast furnace process. Low-cost energy supply is a decisive factor when planning the location of new steel mills.
Solar power is even proving to be worth the investment in regions with less exposure to the sun's rays. One example is Poland's largest solar park in Witnica, which has a capacity of 65 MW. It supplies the neighboring cement plant.
"This is the best proof that solar power, without any subsidies, can be competitive with power from conventional energy sources. Even in a European country as far north as Poland," says Benedikt Ortmann from power plant operator BayWa r.e.
Where should we build solar power plants?
Experts estimate that in the near future, photovoltaic plants with a total capacity of around 60 million MW will be needed to supply the entire world with cost-effective electricity. That's 70 times more than all the existing solar capacity so far.
The area required for solar panels would then be equivalent to 0.3% of the world's land area.
"On a global average, you don't have to worry about land availability," said Christian Breyer of LTU Finland. But if the energy is to be generated as close as possible to cities and large factories, he says, it's a bit more tricky, especially in densely populated regions.
One solution would be to use roofs and facades. According to Breyer, some 20% of the world's solar power demand could be generated there.
So-called agrivoltaics, with solar roofs installed above fields, are also becoming increasingly important.
Another option: building solar panels that float on water. According to a World Bank study, the global potential of floating PV is 400,000 MW even if only one percent of the area of reservoirs is used for this purpose.
So far, the largest solar plants on inland lakes have been built in China, India, South Korea, and Taiwan. There are also smaller plants on lakes and reservoirs in many other countries, including the Netherlands, Israel and Indonesia. India is currently planning a large-scale floating plant with 1000 MW.
Meanwhile, research is underway in the Netherlands to find solutions for installing floating solar farms in the rough North Sea to povide energy for the national grid. But salt water, strong currents and winds still pose huge challenges.
Smaller floating facilities in offshore waters already exist, such as in the Maldives, where they provide electricity to vacation islands.
This article was adapted from German.
Reposted with permission from Deutsch Welle.