Few structures are as synonymous with modern civilization as the skyscraper. The grandeur of these tall structures comes at a cost—buildings account for close to 40 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
While our tallest buildings take a heavy toll on the environment, they also offer opportunities for improvement. Today, green skyscrapers are transforming how cities worldwide address their ecological footprint. In many ways, they show our collective capability to adjust modern life for a more sustainable future. Here's a closer look at what makes a "green skyscraper" and why that matters in the world today.
What Makes a Skyscraper Green?
Skyscrapers are typically defined as buildings with multiple levels that reach at least 100-150 meters tall (usually with a minimum of 40-50 stories).
At first glance, "green" and "skyscraper" seem like an oxymoron. These gargantuan glass-sided buildings require immense amounts of resources for both construction and daily operation. The environmental cost of keeping them comfortable is significant alone, as air conditioning accounts for 14 percent of global energy use.
Green skyscrapers, in contrast, make environmental sustainability a defining priority. There's no set standard for what makes skyscrapers green, but rather dozens of steps architects and building managers can take to make the structure as resource-efficient as possible.
In this way, green skyscrapers utilize sustainable design, construction, and operation principles to produce a better indoor space for both people and the broader world.
Many generate their own renewable energy through solar panels or wind turbines, while others focus on reducing water usage with ultra-efficient fixtures. Some even transform the building's exterior into a verdant green space filled with plants that pull in CO2 from the air and convert it into oxygen.
Are Green Skyscrapers Better Than Green Buildings?
Considering how resource-intensive skyscrapers are to begin with, is attempting to make them more eco-friendly a waste of effort? After all, it will always take tremendous amounts of energy to get hot water up 80 stories to a penthouse apartment. Some may argue society's time would be better spent investing in smaller-scale structures instead.
However, comparing a green skyscraper to other forms of green buildings is flawed logic. Living in an environmentally efficient single-family home may be a sustainable choice, but only at the scale of the individual. When it comes to housing millions of people, a city of skyscrapers wins out over smaller dwellings.
That's because skyscrapers offer some of the most energy-efficient spaces in cities by concentrating people and resources in one place. Not only does this reduce transportation distances and encourage people to walk or take public transit instead of drive, but it slows down suburban sprawl and keeps untouched land out of development.
What are the Benefits of Green Skyscrapers?
Far beyond generating positive press for their architects, green skyscrapers offer real benefits for humans and the natural world. Here's what they offer.
May Increase Greenspace
Skyscrapers typically exist in places with minimal greenspace. An emerging trend is to bring the natural world back to the city by creating vertical forests on the sides of buildings. Today, some structures are home to hundreds of plant species that grow along the exterior, supporting biodiversity by providing homes for birds and insects.
Reduces CO2 Emissions
Buildings generate a disproportionate amount of the world's greenhouse gasses, and sustainable construction and operation can reduce emissions considerably. The UNEP Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative predicts that the building sector has the potential to more than halve these emissions in skyscrapers by 2050 through greater energy efficiency and the switch to renewable energy.
For example, Australian buildings that achieve Green Star certification produce 62 percent fewer emissions and require 51 percent less potable water than comparable structures. Similarly certified buildings in India, South Africa, and the United States also achieve emissions reductions approaching 25-50 percent by investing in green technologies for skyscrapers.
Lowers Energy Expenditure for Tenants
Living or working in a green skyscraper can reduce your personal energy expenditure. One Chicago-based study found that those living in suburban areas close to commuter rail lines and the subway system used 27 percent more energy per person than those who lived in green architecture high-rise buildings in a walkable downtown environment.
Reduces Need for Heating and Cooling
The EPA states that heating and cooling accounts for over 43 percent of all energy use in America, which makes maintaining comfortable temperatures in indoor spaces a serious cause of climate change.
By utilizing more energy-efficient windows, optimizing cooling systems, and even planting shade plants along the exterior and around windows, green skyscrapers can bring their heating and air conditioning use down to a minimum.
Provides Physical and Mental Health Benefits for Tenants
Living and working in green buildings can have real impacts on your health, thanks to better air quality. Research shows that green buildings reduce asthma, respiratory allergies, stress, and even depression among employees and lead to improvements in productivity.
Further data indicates that better indoor air quality can lead to performance improvements up to eight percent and that workers in well-ventilated apartments received better scores on cognitive tests.
Lower Maintenance Costs
Building a green skyscraper might cost more upfront, but the sustainability measures usually pay for themselves.
LEED-certified buildings tend to achieve 20 percent lower maintenance costs than comparable buildings. These green retrofits usually decrease operating costs by ten percent each year and pay for themselves within seven.
That's even better news for landlords, as rents in LEED-certified buildings often average 30 percent higher.
Less Use of Natural Resources
Green buildings are efficient by design. This means they use less water, energy, and other resources than comparable buildings.
These savings add up fast, as buildings account for 12 percent of the total water consumed in the United States. Research shows that LEED-certified facilities use 25 percent less energy on average and divert more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills every year.
Are Green Skyscrapers Too Good To Be True?
Despite these benefits, green skyscrapers aren't a panacea for our planet's environmental crisis. Even the best-designed structures today still have drawbacks.
To start, clusters of tall towers produce enormous shadows that shade out the streets below and trap heat and pollution at ground level. Not only does this reduce the quality of life for those living below the top suites, but it can increase the amount of air conditioning and electric lighting used at lower levels.
Likewise, some reports indicate that green building certifications aren't as stellar as they seem. For example, many argue that LEED criteria over-emphasizes construction choices and fails to fully account for how a building is used in the long run. This can reward flashier projects without putting the spotlight on the structures that make more of a difference for the planet on a day-to-day basis.
Even so, the benefits of learning how to make skyscrapers green seem to far outweigh the drawbacks, and they remain a smart solution for building more sustainable cities.
Green Skyscrapers Worldwide
Globally, green skyscrapers are taking off. Here's a closer look at some of the standout sustainable structures around the world today.
Green Skyscrapers in China
In past decades, China wouldn't come to mind as an emblem of sustainability. The country burns close to half the world's coal supply and is home to some of the most polluted air on the planet. By some estimates, it kills up to 4,000 citizens a day.
Today, the country is transforming this legacy and constructing some of the world's greenest skyscrapers.
The International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong is one worthy of attention. Constructed in 2010, the 108-story tall structure has LEED gold certification, earning it a place in the top 3 percent of green buildings worldwide.
The building boasts a network of sensors that wirelessly monitor the building's lighting, elevators, air conditioning units, and more to provide massive amounts of data for optimizing its energy use in real-time. This makes it possible to shut down unused facilities at a moment's notice to prevent any unnecessary energy expenditures.
From a construction standpoint, the ICC is oriented to maximize natural light retention while minimizing solar heat gain and lowering noise levels for occupants. By some estimates, the green building tower has conserved 15 million kWh of energy since 2012, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 4,500 three-member households in China.
The Jin Mao Tower of Shanghai is another green skyscraper that's achieved LEED Gold certification. It has committed to reusing or recycling at least 70 percent of all the waste generated over its 88 stories. Likewise, the Kingkey 100 Tower of Shenzhen reclaims its resource use by halving the amount of wastewater it generates and by using 100 percent of its used potable water for landscaping.
Not to be forgotten is the Shanghai Tower, which boasts being both the tallest building in China (the second tallest worldwide) and of achieving LEED Platinum status, the highest green building certification level possible.
Bosco Verticale of Milan
Perhaps no building better emulates the ideal of a green skyscraper than the Bosco Verticale of Milan. Translating to "vertical forest" in Italian, these twin buildings' exteriors are home to more than 800 trees and 14,000 plants growing along their balconies to create a vertical forest.
Not only are these plants beautiful to look at, but they consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen in its place while acting as a natural temperature regulator and noise buffer for those within the building. In total, the skyscrapers provide ten times the plant habitat space that would be possible at ground level.
Today, the Bosco Verticale is fast becoming the poster child for green buildings and has inspired numerous imitations worldwide.
Vertical Farming and Green Skyscrapers
Beyond better resource use, some of the most significant potential for sustainable skyscrapers is through food production.
As things stand now, the world's farmers have over seven billion mouths to feed. The UN estimates that the planet's population will approach ten billion by 2050, close to 80 percent of whom will live in urban areas. To keep up with these caloric needs, global food production must increase by an estimated 70 percent.
One way to meet this deficit is by growing food where the people are—in the middle of cities. Vertical farming is the practice of growing food indoors in vertically stacked layers, rather than in fields. Most utilize a hydroponic system where plants grow soil-less and within a continuously circulating nutrient-rich water.
These indoor growing systems make it possible to control every variable for plant growth, including temperature, light exposure, moisture level, and more. By optimizing growing conditions, producers can generate large yields with less water, minimal amounts of amendments, and in far less space than traditional growing systems.
The goal is to grow as much food as possible within a small space, ideally keeping it close to the people who will consume it. This eliminates the risk that erratic weather poses for traditional farmers, makes it possible to grow out of season, and can reduce fuel use for transportation.
However, vertical farms are costly to develop and don't account for some agriculture factors like pollination. Likewise, the food they produce requires 24/7 access to technology—an unexpected power outage can spell disaster.
Despite these drawbacks, the vertical farming industry is starting to take off in the United States. Many skyscrapers incorporate these farms into their overall green scheme, as food production pairs well with renewable energy generation and water conservation measures.
In 2009, the world reached a critical milestone. For the first time in history, more people made a city their home than a rural space. This trend towards urbanization shows no sign of slowing down, so it's never been more critical to increase the sustainability of our cities. Green skyscrapers are poised to address an important component of this equation.
When set up correctly, they offer one of the lowest per-capita carbon footprints possible for a large population. Looking ahead, there's more reason than ever to invest in sustainable housing and office space within dense urban environments.
By finding ways to make the places we live and work lighter on the environment, we are more likely to maintain a planet worth passing down to future generations.
Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness, food and farming, and environmental topics. When not working against a writing deadline, you can find Lydia outdoors where she attempts to bring order to her 33-acre hobby farm filled with fruit trees, heritage breed pigs, too many chickens to count, and an organic garden that somehow gets bigger every year.
In 2017 the Trump administration altered the interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) arguing that it only prohibited the direct hunting or killing of birds, not unintended deaths from wind turbines or oil spills, for example, EcoWatch reported at the time.
The change "overturned decades of bipartisan and international consensus and allowed industry to kill birds with impunity," Interior Spokesperson Tyler Cherry told The Associated Press.
Obama U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe warned that the change could lead to billions of bird deaths in subsequent decades, The Associated Press reported at the time.
Before Monday's reversal of this interpretation by Biden's Department of the Interior, the Trump ruling had already encountered legal challenges. In August, a New York federal judge deemed the new interpretation to be invalid.
"It is not only a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is also a crime," U.S. District Judge Valorie Caproni wrote in her decision. "That has been the letter of the law for the past century. But if the Department of the Interior has its way, many mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence."
The Trump administration moved forward despite the decision, and finalized the rollback during its last weeks in power.
However, Biden's administration delayed the new rule from taking effect and reopened it for public comments, HuffPost reported. Now that it has been jettisoned, Cherry said a replacement rule would be forthcoming.
"The department will also reconsider its interpretation of the MBTA to develop common-sense standards that can protect migratory birds and provide certainty to industry," Cherry told Courthouse News Service.
The 1918 MBTA resulted from overhunting and poaching of migratory birds, The Associated Press reported. The policy makes it illegal to pursue, hunt, kill, capture or possess migratory birds or their parts without a permit, HuffPost explained. Since the 1970s, the act has also been used to penalize companies when their actions accidentally harm birds.
For example, the act helped win a $100 million settlement from BP after the company's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed about 100,000 birds, The Associated Press reported.
It's estimated that around 460 million to 1.4 billion birds die every year from human-made causes, including oil pits and glass buildings. Between 2010 and 2018, civil and criminal enforcement cases against companies led to $5.8 million in fines, excluding the BP settlement. However, most of those cases did not lead to criminal prosecutions since many companies were willing to implement bird protections.
While industry groups backed the Trump rollback, they also did not oppose the Biden reversal.
"We are committed to working with the Biden administration throughout their rulemaking process in support of policies that support environmental protection while providing regulatory certainty," Amy Emmert, American Petroleum Institute senior policy advisor, told Courthouse News Service.
Conservation groups said this general atmosphere of cooperation made the Trump rollback unwarranted.
"There really had been a lot of collaboration and a fair amount of consensus about what best management practices looked like for most major industries," Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president with the Audubon Society, told The Associated Press. "There was a lot of common ground, which is why the moves from the last administration were so unnecessary."
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Basak Gurbuz Derman / Moment / Getty Images
Your body's immune system is the natural, front line defense to protect you against harmful pathogens and infections. You can boost the effectiveness of your immune system through diet and exercise, but did you know that certain vitamin subscriptions and supplements can aid your immune system and promote general wellness? You can even take certain probiotics to help boost your immune system. Here are our recommendations of the top supplements to help boost your immune system.
What is the Immune System?
There are two main aspects to the immune system: the innate and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system is one you are born with, and it is the body's rapid response system. It works to attack antigens or invaders in the body. The adaptive or acquired immune system builds antibodies to protect your body from certain microbes, or germs, it encounters in the environment.
Did you know that your immune system keeps track of each germ it has ever defeated? This way, if your body encounters a germ it has fought in its immune system before, it can recognize and protect your body from it more effectively.
Your immune system's memory of the germs it encounters is stored in white blood cells. The white blood cells move through the blood and tissue in your body and attack harmful invaders such as viruses and bacteria.
Fortunately, you can support and improve the effectiveness of your immune system by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol in moderation, and getting a proper amount of sleep. Taking melatonin can help you get better sleep, which will in turn support immune health.
Your skin also plays a role in your immune system, and you can take certain vitamins and supplements for dry skin to help it stay hydrated and healthy. Additionally, the microbiome found in your digestive system is important to proper immune function. Probiotics and digestive enzymes can both help improve your digestion and boost your immune system.
Our Top 5 Supplements to Boost Immune Health
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 - Nested Naturals Elderberry Gummies
- Best Vitamin Bites for Immune Health - GEM Immunity Support
- Best Probiotic for Immune Health - Care/of Pocket Protector
- Best Gummies for Immune Health - Bulletproof Immune Gummies
- Best Immune Spray - Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray
- Best for Vitamin C - NutraOne Immune One
- Best Zinc Supplement - Global Healing Liquid Zinc
- Best Herbal Option- Vital Plan Daily Herbal Supplement
Vitamins and Minerals that Support the Immune System
It's no secret that certain vitamins and supplements can aid your immune system to fight off potentially harmful infections. Here are some that stand out.
- Elderberry: There are around 30 different types of elder plants and trees globally. Sambucus nigra is the type that helps with healing and immune health. Elderberry consists of many vitamins and antioxidants.
- Vitamin C: Your body doesn't naturally produce Vitamin C. However, it has proven to have immense health benefits. Vitamin C helps the immune system's white blood cell production.
- Zinc: This supplement helps produce new immune system cells in your body.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps to regulate the body's immune system.
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant is fat-soluble and helps protect cells from harmful 'free radicals' which are unstable atoms that can cause damage to cells; this response can lead to illness.
- Reishi mushrooms: There are three molecules in reishi mushrooms that are responsible for their health effects: triterpenoids, polysaccharides, and peptidoglycans. Studies have found that reishi mushrooms may be able to change the inflammation pathways in white blood cells.
Best Overall: Nested Naturals Elderberry Gummies
These Nested Naturals Elderberry gummies include a vegan blend of vitamin C and Zinc to ensure thriving immune health. The blend of elderberry extract, vitamin C, and zinc can also provide wellness during travel and during the change of seasons.Why buy: We like these Elderberry gummies because they contain around 100 mg of elderberry extract per gummy, and are vegan, gluten-free, and go through a four-part lab testing process. They also taste great and contain less than a gram of sugar each.
Best Vitamin Bites for Immune Health: GEM Immunity Support
GEM Immunity Essentials daily vitamin bites are an easy and delicious way to help boost your immune system. Each vitamin bite is made with real food ingredients including turmeric, pumpkin seeds, black pepper, chicory root, ginger root, stone fruit, oranges, and lemons.
Why buy: We love that these GEM vitamin chews provide a complete immune-boosting vitamin profile from natural, plant-based ingredients. GEM also offers a sustainable subscription model that sends you a reusable tin with your first order and refills in compostable pouches.
Best Probiotic for Immune Health: Care/of Pocket Protector
Care/of Pocket Protector is a travel-ready probiotic powder that allows you to boost your immune system anywhere, anytime. It contains 3 billion CFUs of good bacteria strains for your gut to help support proper immune system functioning.
Why buy: We like that this probiotic powder is designed for on-the-go immune support, and that it comes in a red berry flavor. This immune-boosting probiotic powder is also non-GMO, gluten-free, and vegetarian.
Best Gummies for Immune Health: Bulletproof Immune Gummies
If you don't like swallowing pills or powders, try these Bulletproof Immune Gummies instead. They contain key nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, elderberry extract, and echinacea extract to support your immune system in a sugar-free Raspberry and Elderberry flavor.
Why buy: We like that these vitamin gummies for immune support contain high concentrations of vitamin C and zinc. They are also vegan and sugar-free, with only 5 calories per gummy, but taste great from natural flavors and stevia-leaf extract.
Best Immune Spray: Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray
A unique way to boost your immune system, Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray harnesses the power of bee propolis extract. This is a substance bees make out of tree and plant resins to help protect their hive from germs and infections, and it contains over 300 different nutrients, antioxidants, and minerals.
Why buy: We like that this spray offers a fast and natural way to help enhance your immune system. You can also use it to soothe a sore throat. It's made from all-natural ingredients and is certified keto and paleo-friendly.
Best for Vitamin C: NutraOne ImmuneOne
5 Star Nutrition has an array of quality vitamins, minerals, and supplements. For immune health, we recommend the ImmuneOne supplement. It's formulated with vitamin C, elderberry, and echinacea to help improve overall wellness, with the added benefit of supporting lung health.Why buy: ImmuneOne includes 1000 mg of vitamin C, as well as elderberry, Zinc, and vitamin A. We like that this supplement is made with natural ingredients like cinnamon, echinacea, and ginseng, without any artificial additives.
Best Zinc Supplement: Global Healing Liquid Zinc
Every cell in your body uses Zinc, and it's an effective mineral to boost your immune system. It also helps the digestive system, and even encourages cell growth. Zinc is also great for skin complexion, sexual health, and supporting normal blood sugar.
Why buy: Global Healing Plant-Based Zinc is vegan, certified USDA organic, gluten-free, and is not tested on animals. We like that this Zinc is plant based and all natural. The Zinc is extracted from organic guava leaves, and comes with a one-year money-back guarantee.
Best Herbal Option: Vital Plan Daily Herbal
The Daily Herbal blend by Vital Plan is a unique herbal supplement created by Dr. Bill Rawls. His formula "works at the cellular level to address the modern-day stress factors associated with accelerated aging." The blend includes medicinal mushrooms, as well as Rhodiola and Turmeric extract.Why buy: Daily Herbal includes five adaptogenic ingredients designed to support cell resilience, immune response, and microbiome balance. It can also boost energy and endurance because of the Rhodiola extract. The product is gluten and dairy free, and is also tested at a third-party lab for ingredient purity verification.
How to Choose an Immune Supplement or Multivitamin
There are a few key aspects to look out for when shopping for immune supplements. Below is a list of what to look for when shopping for a supplement to help boost your immune system.
What to Look For
When comparing different brands of immune supplements, look for these things before you buy.
Clinical Research: Many immune supplements will inform you if they're clinically researched formulas, or formulated by doctors.
Transparency: Some supplement brands list all of the vitamins and minerals they use in the formula of their supplement. It's important to know exactly what you're ingesting, and where it came from.
Lab Testing: To guarantee what you're consuming is pure, and safe, look too see if a brand had their product tested at a third-party lab.
Non-Artificial Ingredients: Immune supplements with natural, non-artificial ingredients that are plant-derived or organic are always a good choice. If the brand uses animal products, check to see that they are sourced ethically and sustainably.
How to Read Labels
When reading the label of your supplement, be sure to notice the serving size. Oftentimes, the recommended serving size for a supplement is larger than simply taking one capsule or multivitamin. Some labels will specify the best time of day to take the supplement as well. Also take note of the ingredient list, and how much of the recommended daily intake it fulfills for certain vitamins and nutrients
It's also important to double check that the supplement was tested in a third-party lab for safety and quality. Note if the supplement is non-GMO, vegan, or gluten free. Many supplements will also tell you if it is free from certain allergens like soy and dairy.
Safety & Side Effects
Ingesting the right oral immune boosting supplements may be beneficial to your overall health. However, there are a few minor side effects to be aware of. Some common side effects of immune boosting supplements may include:
- Intense abdominal pain
Other, infrequent side effects may include:
- Pain in arms or legs
- Chest pain
- Abdominal bloating
Sometimes, when certain vitamins are ingested without food can cause stomach pain. Be sure to read the label to see if you should take an immune supplement with food and to be sure that you do not take more than the recommended amount. Most side effects from vitamin supplements are a result of taking too much at one time.
Certain vitamin and mineral supplements can interact with prescription medications. If you take prescription medicines, or are undergoing prescribed treatment for a condition, consult with your doctor before taking any additional supplements.
There are number of ways to help boost wellness and support a healthy immune system, and adding an extra immune-boosting supplement may help. Use our guide to find the best multivitamin or supplement to boost your immune system, and learn whether or not you should consider a supplement for immune health.
Audrey Nakagawa is a writer at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.
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Carbon offset programs provide a real opportunity to be part of the climate change solution. In 2021, there are a number of impactful carbon offset programs to choose from. The question is, which one allows you to make the biggest difference? Our review will provide an overview of carbon offset programs and recommend the best ones to help reduce and counterbalance your greenhouse gas emissions.
Our Picks for the Best Carbon Offset Programs
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 for E-Commerce - Shopify
- Best Online Calculator - NativeEnergy
- Best for Travel and Tourism - Sustainable Travel International
- Most Transparent - myclimate
- Easiest to Use - TerraPass
- Best for Certified Projects - Clear
- Best for Air Travel - atmosfair
- Best for Businesses - 3Degrees
What is a Carbon Offset Program?
What is a carbon offset program?
Every day, you engage in activities that leave behind an environmental footprint. You add to the world's carbon dioxide pollution every time you drive your car, purchase goods from a major manufacturer, and so forth.
When you purchase a membership in a carbon offset program, also offered as carbon credits, you invest in clean energy and carbon reduction efforts elsewhere in the world. The goal is basically for this environmental activity to offset your own carbon footprint. The ultimate objective is to become as close to carbon neutral as possible.
Both individuals and corporations can invest in carbon offset programs. While there are a number of options to choose from, many of them involve investment in eco-friendly initiatives in developing countries. Others help to offset the travel, shipping, or production that are part of other industries. The idea is to create an infrastructure that will allow these companies to work towards sustainability and emissions reductions well into the future, while effectively canceling out their carbon emissions in the meantime.
Historically, carbon offset programs have been fairly simple. For example, in some programs, your investment essentially goes to planting trees in reforestation efforts. More advanced carbon offset programs, however, allow you to help fund the development of important sustainability technologies, like efficient cookstoves in developing countries or methane capture at landfills.
How We Chose the Best Climate Offset Programs
Mischa Keijser / Getty Images
There are concerns among some activists that carbon offset programs allow certain countries or industries to pay to appear eco-friendly while avoiding actual efforts to reduce the amount of of carbon they produce. When used properly, however, carbon offsets can be a legitimate tool to help encourage sustainable development and reduce the use of fossil fuels.
We vetted a number of climate offset programs to find options making the biggest impact in our world. A number of factors have gone into our choices.
First, we looked for carbon offset programs that came with the endorsement of prestigious environmental stewardship groups. These organizations thoroughly vet all carbon offset projects for transparency, impact, and additionality. The carbon offset programs on our list are endorsed by prominent third-party organizations, including:
- The Gold Standard
- Climate Action Reserve
- American Carbon Registry
- Verified Carbon Standard
- Plan Vivo
- Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance
- Clean Development Mechanism
Additionally, we have been intentional about choosing programs that represent many different types of projects. And, we have considered factors such as the presence of easy-to-use online calculators; the convenience of making a transaction; and the total number of options that each carbon offset program presents.
The 8 Best Carbon Offset Programs
While Shopify is not a carbon offset program, they do provide a platform to help more merchants and buyers offset the carbon emissions of their e-commerce deliveries. For merchants and businesses, they developed an app called Offset that allows them to opt in and offset all of their deliveries. For customers, there is the Shop app, and for every order purchased using Shop Pay, Shopify will offset all of the emissions from the delivery. All Shopify carbon offsets are purchased from Pachama, a company that seeks to use technology and A.I. to help drive carbon capture and protect global forests. Shopify notes that "offsets are not a perfect solution—but they're a necessary tool." We appreciate that they are making it easier for more and more people to use this necessary tool to reduce carbon emissions with every purchase.
You can visit the Shopify site to learn more about their carbon offsets strategy.
NativeEnergy does a lot of pioneering work to reduce carbon emissions, promote biodiversity in ecosystems, and invest in regenerative agriculture across the world. We like them because they make it easy to get involved, either as an individual or as a corporation, via an intuitive online carbon calculator and a range of investment options. We'll also note that they have been around for more than 20 years, and in that time have taken on some high-level corporate partners, including Ben & Jerry's.
Learn more about NativeEnergy by checking out their website.
This organization made our list because their underlying premise makes so much sense: One of the best ways to support sustainability developments in ecologically vulnerable areas is to invest in their travel and tourism industries in local communities. Sustainable Travel International works with premier destinations, helping them develop their tourist trades while also enacting important environmental protections.
At their website, you can find a ton of information about the work Sustainable Travel International has done to minimize pollution and reduce carbon emissions. And of course, you can purchase carbon offsets to help subsidize their work.
There's a lot to appreciate about myclimate, but above all, we love this organization because of how easy they make it to purchase carbon offsets. When you go to their website, you will immediately see their carbon offset calculator, which will allow you to input information about recent travel (including flights and cruises), household activities, and more. Using this data, myclimate will provide you with an estimate of your total carbon footprint and show you some ways to invest in meaningful offsets.
If you truly want to offset your day-to-day carbon footprint in a calculated and precise way, head to myclimate and get going.
TerraPass is one of the leading names in carbon offsets, and it's not hard to see why. When you visit their website, you will find ways to get involved as an individual, as a small or mid-sized business, and even as a large enterprise. Not only do they provide a great carbon calculator, but they also have a lot of valuable information about embracing sustainability, both within your household and your business. Your investment with TerraPass can help fund energy efficiency through wind power, sustainable farming, and a range of other environmental projects.
You can explore some of the options by checking out the TerraPass website.
Clear is extremely well-regarded. Since 2005, this organization has developed a reputation for only supporting the highest quality projects, including sustainability measures that attain such standards as Certified Emission Reduction (CER) certification and Gold Standard VERs. This is actually the only organization where you can be sure that all carbon offsets are certified by the Quality Assurance Standard for Carbon Offsetting. Additional reasons to choose Clear include ultra-precise carbon offset calculators, fair and affordable pricing, and a range of opportunities for both individuals and businesses.
You can visit the Clear website to learn more about purchasing carbon offsets from them.
atmosfair is a non-profit organization based in Germany. The organization's stated goals are to offset carbon emissions, promote sustainable travel, and ultimately play a role in long-term energy transitions across the planet. They currently have projects in more than a dozen countries, and they rely entirely on carbon offsets purchased by individuals and by companies.
Their big emphasis is on offsetting the environmental impact of air travel, so if that's something that you're passionate about, we'd recommend taking a look at the atmosfair website.
Finally, we're really enthusiastic about all the good work being done by 3Degrees. This organization works with corporations across the world, helping them implement renewable energy sources, decarbonize their transportation, and more. Of course, they also have some options for you to support their work by purchasing carbon offsets. You can find out a lot more about what they do by visiting their website; they have a lot of detailed information about their different projects, including case studies.
Visit the 3Degrees site to find out more.
How to Find a Carbon Offset Program
Nick Brundle Photography / Getty Images
Clearly, there are plenty of ways to support green initiatives, and to counterbalance some of your own carbon emissions. As you seek to find the best carbon offset program for you, the primary factor to keep in mind is transparency. You want to make sure that the dollars you're donating actually go to high-quality projects that make a real-world difference in the amount of carbon produced each year.
That's one of the main reasons why we emphasize the importance of third-party verification. We mentioned a number of independent organizations above that do a lot of important work auditing and accrediting carbon offset programs. Their validation can give you confidence in selecting a carbon offset project to support.
The Benefits and Limits of Carbon Offset Programs
Before investing, it's worth pausing to consider just how much good a carbon offset program can do, and where these projects sometimes come up short.
To start with, here are some benefits to carbon offsetting:
- Carbon offset projects allow you to neutralize any negative impact you make on the environment, specifically in terms of the metric tons of carbon emissions, or CO2e, that contribute to global warming.
- Investments in developing nations can also help provide wages and other benefits to those who need them, while also preventing deforestation and supporting critical forestry projects.
- By backing carbon offset projects, you can incentivize companies to spend more money on sustainability and clean energy measures.
- Carbon offsets also help expedite the development of eco-friendly technology.
As for the potential limitations of carbon offset projects, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The effectiveness of carbon offsetting can fluctuate from one industry to the next.
- Sometimes, carbon offsetting can make it easy to excuse large or irresponsible carbon emissions.
- Without due diligence, it's all too easy to inadvertently back an unscrupulous or non-transparent carbon offset project.
Choose the Right Carbon Offset Program for You
The bottom line is that carbon offsetting, while imperfect, can nevertheless make a positive impact, especially if you choose your carbon offset program wisely. Purchasing carbon offsets shouldn't take the place of reducing your own carbon footprint, but they can make an impact.
Start your research with some of the options here and remember to augment your carbon offsets with other lifestyle changes at work or at home.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
As the death toll mounts, secondary effects of the Texas grid failure, driven primarily by the failure of gas, coal, and nuclear plants to handle the cold, are becoming apparent.
At least 16 people are dead and 2.6 million Texas customers were without power as of Wednesday evening.
Gov. Greg Abbott said he did not know when power would be restored and state regulators said as much generation was falling off the grid as was being added on. Food is also becoming scarce as the storm disrupted food distribution systems.
Meanwhile nearly 12 million Texans, approximately 40% of the state's population and more than the entire population of Michigan, live in one of the state's 590 public water systems that have reported service disruptions.
That includes St. David's South Austin Medical Center, which as of Thursday morning still lacked heat because of low water pressure, an issue affecting "a number of other hospitals in the area," according to its CEO.
Houston residents were expected to be required to boil their water even after pressure is restored — hopefully late Thursday, though more bad weather is expected — and burst pipes caused flooding in Dallas.
For a deeper dive:
Death toll and outages: Washington Post; Thermal plant failures: Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, NPR; Unknown restoration timeline: Texas Tribune, Houston Chronicle, AP; Food shortages: Texas Tribune; Statewide water disruptions: Texas Tribune; Hospitals: Austin American-Statesman; Houston: Houston Chronicle; Dallas: Dallas Morning News
By Jacob Carter
Since 1918 the federal government has implemented its authority under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to hold industries accountable for the death of birds due to their operations. Such operations include the spraying of insecticides that poison birds, maintaining oil pits that can lead to drowning, or contact with infrastructure such as wind turbines that can cause death on impact.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimated in 2002 that up to two million birds were killed in oil pits every year. This number dropped in 2012 with a best estimate of 500,000 to 1 million birds killed in oil pits every year. The FWS attributes the decrease in bird deaths to oil operators taking prevention measures that reduce migratory bird mortality because of the industry's operations. The MBTA provides an incentive for oil operators and other industries to take such prevention measures.
But on January 7, the outgoing administration changed the legal interpretation of the MBTA such that the FWS will no longer be able to hold industries accountable for the "incidental" killing of migratory bird species. This means that if an oil operator, for example, did not place mesh lining over an oil pit to prevent migratory birds from dying in that oil pit – the oil operator would not be at fault nor held accountable for the deaths of migratory birds.
The Logic is Ludicrous
I think that the logic used in the revised MBTA is ridiculous for one very important reason: we know that migratory bird species die because of bad industry practice and that such deaths are preventable.
There is a clear need to hold industries accountable for migratory bird death, especially since we know it happens and that it is preventable. And if we know a bad thing is preventable, we should create mechanisms (like the MBTA) to encourage folks to take prevention measures to help ensure that a bad thing does not happen.
Imagine that you have a toddler that continues to explore that "dangerous chemicals cabinet" (you know the one) in your household. What do you do? Well, you probably "toddler-proof" that cabinet to prevent said toddler from ingesting harmful chemicals — or you potentially face punitive measures for child neglect.
My point is that it makes absolutely no sense to discourage the use of measures to prevent a bad thing we know will happen — in this case it is the death of migratory bird species.
Bird Death Affects Us All
The number of birds in the U.S. is falling. The number of birds in North America has fallen by 29 percent since 1970 according to one study in Science. There are 2.9 billion fewer birds than there were 50 years ago.
These losses do not only mean that we have fewer gorgeous birds for birders to enjoy. Bird species are incredibly vital to ecosystem health that your health, my health, my grandmother's health, are all dependent on. Bird species control unwanted pests, they pollinate plant species, they are seed dispersers, and they bring in loads of cash to our economies every year. The FWS estimates that bird watchers alone bring in nearly $15 billion to local economies and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
If we lose our native bird species then our ecosystems will be not be the same, our local economies will not be the same, our health will not be the same. This is the future-to-come if the Biden administration allows the new interpretation of the MBTA to go into effect on February 8 of this year. We should be working to strengthen protections for bird species, not fighting to kill them.
President Biden's nominee to lead the Department of the Interior (DOI), Deb Haaland, should prioritize and work quickly to interpret the MBTA to its original intent to protect declining bird populations. In fact, we have provided a number of recommendations for President Biden and Representative Haaland to restore science back to the DOI. President Biden has stated that he plans to bring science back to decision-making — and we will be holding him accountable to his word.
Jacob Carter is a research scientist for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Reposted with permission from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
By Sharon Kelly
The Dow Chemical Company ranks second, the report finds, with the Chinese state-owned company Sinopec coming in third. Indorama Ventures — a Thai company that entered the plastics market in 1995 — and Saudi Aramco, owned by the Saudi Arabian government, round out the top five.
Funding for single-use plastic production comes from major banks and from institutional asset managers. The UK-based Barclays and HSBC, and Bank of America are the top three lenders to single-use plastic projects, the new report finds. All three of the most heavily invested asset managers named by the report — Vanguard Group, BlackRock, and Capital Group — are U.S.-based.
"This is the first-time the financial and material flows of single-use plastic production have been mapped globally and traced back to their source," said Toby Gardner, a Stockholm Environment Institute senior research fellow, who contributed to the report, titled The Plastic Waste Makers Index.
The report is also the first to rank companies by their contributions to the single-use plastic crisis, listing the corporations and other financiers it says are most responsible for plastic pollution — with major implications for climate change.
"The trajectories of the climate crisis and the plastic waste crisis are strikingly similar and increasingly intertwined," Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president, wrote in the report's foreword. "Tracing the root causes of the plastic waste crisis empowers us to help solve it."
The world of plastic production is concentrated in fewer hands than the world of plastic packaging, the report's authors found. The top twenty brands in the plastic packaging world — think Coca Cola or Pepsi, for example — handle about 10 percent of global plastic waste, report author Dominic Charles told DeSmog. In contrast, the top 20 producers of plastic polymers — the building blocks of plastics — handle over half of the waste generated.
"Which I think was really quite staggering," Charles, director of Finance & Transparency at Minderoo Foundation's Sea The Future program, told DeSmog. "It means that just a handful of companies really do have the fate of the world's single-use plastic waste in their hands."
Meanwhile, the report suggests that public policy responses to the threats posed by plastic pollution have focused further along the supply chain, where things become more fragmented.
"Government policies, where they exist, tend to focus on the vast number of companies that sell finished plastic products," the report finds. "Relatively little attention has been paid to the smaller number of businesses at the base of the supply chain that make 'polymers' — the building blocks of all plastics — almost exclusively from fossil fuels."
While there are about 300 polymer producers currently operating worldwide, just three companies — ExxonMobil, Dow, and Sinopec — combined are responsible for roughly one out of every six pounds of single-use plastic waste, the report concludes.
In 2019, for example, more than 130 million metric tons of plastic was used just once and then discarded. ExxonMobil, the report concludes, was responsible for creating 5.9 million tons of that single-use plastic waste in 2019, with Dow right behind it, generating 5.6 million tons that year.
Neither ExxonMobil nor Dow responded immediately to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, 20 of the world's largest banks lent nearly $30 billion that was used for the production of new single-use plastics, the report finds. That funding represents about 60 percent of the commercial finance that funds single-use plastics. An additional $10 billion in investment in new single-use plastics has come from 20 institutional asset managers, like Vanguard and BlackRock.
"Through our Investment Stewardship program, Vanguard regularly engages with companies on issues that are financially material to their long-term value and sustainability, including climate issues and environmental matters," Vanguard spokesperson Alyssa Thornton said in an email to DeSmog. "We expect company boards to oversee climate and environmental risks and provide investors with clear disclosures of their risk oversight and decision-making processes. Importantly, we do not dictate company strategy, or operational or financial decisions; rather, we hold company board's responsible for being aware of such risks and opportunities as part of a foundation for making the most sustainable long-term decisions."
Barclays did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Virtually all single-use plastic comes from fossil-fuel based feedstocks, the report adds.
"One of the key findings of the report is that single-use plastics today is 98 percent fossil fuel-based," Charles told DeSmog. "And that in itself is really, we say, the source of the plastic waste crisis. And that's because if you're only making new plastics from new fossil fuels, you're taking away the commercial incentive, you're undermining the commercial incentive to collect this plastic and to turn it into recycled plastic products."
The report grades plastic manufacturers based on their preparation to transition away from fossil fuels and towards recycling — and found that most of the largest producers not only have made very little progress in that direction to date, they haven't even set targets that would push them towards a "circular" model involving recycling.
"Over 50 of these companies received an 'E' grade — the lowest possible — when assessed for circularity, indicating a complete lack of policies, commitments, or targets," the report found. "A further 26 companies, including ExxonMobil and Taiwan's Formosa Plastics Corporation, received a 'D-' due to their lack of clear targets/timelines."
In fact, fossil fuel producers appear to be counting on that failure to move towards recycling. "Two of the biggest markets for fossil fuel companies — electricity generation and transportation — are undergoing rapid decarbonization, and it is no coincidence that fossil fuel companies are now scrambling to massively expand their third market — petrochemicals — three-quarters of which is the production of plastic," Gore wrote. "They see it as a potential life raft to help them stay afloat, and they're telling investors that there's lots of money to be made in ramping up the amount of plastic in the world."
In a statement on the report, the American Chemistry Council pointed to the use of plastics in products like solar panels and wind turbines to highlight the role that plastics — though not single-use plastics — play in renewable energy. "The world needs plastic to live more sustainably, and America's plastic makers are leading the development of solutions to end plastic waste," the Council said. "We're innovating and investing in efforts to create a more circular economy, where used plastics are systematically remanufactured to make new plastics and other products. In the last three years, the private sector has announced $5.5 billion in U.S. investments to dramatically modernize plastics recycling."
Meanwhile, the plastics industry remains on track to continue rapidly increasing the amount of new plastic it produces each year, meaning more fossil fuel use — even while other industries are seeking to trim or eliminate their reliance on fossil fuels.
"Our numbers suggest a 30 percent increase in capacity compared to 2019," Charles told DeSmog. "Now that is not out of line with the historical rate of growth, it's about 5 percent per year. But if we are to see 5 percent growth in fossil fuel-based, that is a real threat towards the growth of circular plastics and recycling. So I think that's a real cause for concern."
Marine debris collected on Midway Atoll. Holly Richards, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
As of 2019, plastic producers had created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic — and 91 percent of it was never recycled, according to one peer-reviewed study. Even from the start, a NPR and PBS Frontline investigation found, industry insiders were skeptical that recycled plastic could compete against new production, with one industry insider warning in a speech — in 1974 — that "There is serious doubt that [recycling plastic] can ever be made viable on an economic basis."
So where does the money for all this come from?
The financing of single-use plastics is complex, involving not only lending and investment by Wall Street fund managers and big banks, but also privately held companies. The report's list of the top 10 equity owners of polymer producers includes not only state actors and massive asset managers like BlackRock but also private individuals like James Arthur Ratcliffe — co-founder and majority owner of INEOS, a UK-based petrochemical company.
"Transitioning away from the take-make-waste model of single-use plastics will take more than corporate leadership and 'enlightened' capital markets: it will require immense political will," the report says. "This is underscored by the high degree of state ownership in these polymer producers — an estimated 30 percent of the sector, by value, is state-owned, with Saudi Arabia, China, and the United Arab Emirates the top three."
The report calls not only for more disclosures from companies and financiers about their ties to plastic production, it also calls for global action to respond to the plastic pollution crisis — starting with a focus on the companies most responsible.
"A Montreal Protocol or Paris Agreement-style treaty may be the only way to bring an end to plastic pollution worldwide," the report says. "The treaty must address the problem at its source, with targets for the phasing out of fossil-fuel-based polymers and encouraging the development of a circular plastics economy."
That's in part because the plastic waste crisis and the climate crisis share one other thing in common — their impacts are global in scope.
"The plastification of our oceans and the warming of our planet are amongst the greatest threats humanity and nature have ever confronted," Dr. Andrew Forrest, chairman and founder of the Minderoo Foundation, said in a statement accompanying the report. "And we must act now."
Reposted with permission from DeSmog.
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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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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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By Brett Wilkins
Despite acknowledging that the move would lead to an increase in the 500 million to one billion birds that die each year in the United States due to human activity, the Trump administration on Friday published a proposed industry-friendly relaxation of a century-old treaty that protects more than 1,000 avian species.
As part of the administration's race to rush through as many regulatory rollbacks as possible before President-elect Joe Biden enters office on January 20, the U.S. Department of the Interior released an analysis that sets the stage for modification of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's interpretation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).
One of the nation's oldest wildlife protection laws, the MBTA saves the lives of millions of birds each year and, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, "is credited with rescuing the snowy egret, wood duck, and sandhill crane from extinction."
The proposed rule shift would let energy, construction, and land development companies off the hook for "incidentally" killing birds, even though the Interior Department's analysis concludes that "increased bird mortality" will "likely result" from the change.
Breaking news! 🚨 “This is another step by the #USFWS to jam through a rule to cement an interpretation of the… https://t.co/NDzj3q6vmb— Defenders of Wildlife (@Defenders of Wildlife)1606496560.0
Under the MBTA, ExxonMobil was compelled to pay $125 million in criminal penalties after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska and BP was fined $100 million following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill that leaked over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killing an estimated 100,000 sea birds.
It is precisely such penalties that corporate bird-killers are seeking to dodge in the future through the proposed rule change, which Trump administration officials including Daniel Jorjani, a former Koch brothers adviser who is now the head lawyer at the Interior Department, have pushed for years.
During his 2019 Senate confirmation hearing, Jorjani lied to Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) about whether he had been in recent contact with the Koch brothers or any of their business interests. Before joining the government, Jorjani was formerly a highly paid operative at several organizations linked to the brothers and their fossil fuel empire.
Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said last year that Jorjani "opened the floodgates to bird killing by the oil and gas industry and other campaign contributors of the Trump administration," and accused him of being "part of a pattern in which Interior is basically run by the Koch Foundation for the benefit of the Koch Foundation."
Earlier this year, a federal court rejected a 2017 Interior Department opinion authored by Jorjani seeking to loosen MBTA protections. Judge Valerie Caproni of the Southern District of New York wrote that Jorjani's interpretation of the law "runs counter to the purpose of the MBTA to protect migratory bird populations" and "is simply an unpersuasive interpretation of the MBTA's unambiguous prohibition on killing protected birds."
Environmentalists condemned the Trump administration's latest attempt to protect polluters and wildlife-killers from prosecution at the expense of avian lives.
"This is another step by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to jam through a rule to cement an interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that a federal court has already declared illegal," Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark said in a statement. "At a time when North America has already lost three billion birds, the rule will further undercut our nation's ability to conserve birds so many people care about deeply."
Rappaport Clark was referring to a 2019 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science that found since 1970 the continent has lost over 2.9 billion birds, or nearly 30% of its avian population.
According to a 2005 study published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
From 500 million to possibly over 1 billion birds are killed annually in the United States due to anthropogenic sources including collisions with human-made structures such as vehicles, buildings and windows, power lines, communication towers, and wind turbines; electrocutions; oil spills and other contaminants; pesticides; cat predation; and commercial fishing by-catch.
"Many of the deaths from these sources would be considered unlawful under federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act," the study stated.
A recent surge in bird deaths in the U.S. Southwest has been attributed to a combination of human-caused climate factors including heatwaves and wildfires.
If there is a silver lining for bird lovers, it is that the incoming Biden administration will be able to reverse any Trump-era rule changes, although doing so could take years.
Eric Glitzenstein, litigation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Washington Post that the new rule "will inevitably meet the same fate as the illegal opinion on which it is based."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Jo Harper
Only 10% of global energy utility companies are expanding their renewable energy capacity at a faster rate than their gas or coal-fired capacity. That is the main finding of a study by Galina Alova from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford.
The study, published in research journal Nature Energy, found that of the 3,000 utilities studied most remain predominantly invested in fossil fuels. And of those prioritizing renewable energy growth, 60% had not halted expansion of their fossil fuel portfolios.
The companies with the slowest transition tended to be larger and from outside Europe, Alova told DW. "The renewables-prioritizing cohort of utilities that I identified comprises companies that are overall larger and own a larger market share in the countries where they operate, compared to the other companies," she said. "The key issue is that the majority of these companies continue in parallel to expand their fossil fuel-based capacity, although they do so at a slower rate."
Her research highlights a gap between what is needed to tackle the climate crisis and "the actions being taken by the utility sector," she added. These companies face the risk of carbon lock-in, given that a third of their fossil fuel capacity has been added in the last 10 years, so is here to stay for decades. "Unless it is retired early, it will render significant shares of their portfolios stranded," Alova said.
"Although there have been a few high-profile examples of individual electric utilities investing in renewables, this study shows that overall, the sector is making the transition to clean energy slowly or not at all," she said.
Alova believes inertia in the electricity industry is one key reason for the slow transition.
The Matter of Gas
The report found that 10% of utilities favored growth in gas-fired power plants, dominated by the US utilities exploiting the country's shale gas reserves, followed by Russia and Germany.
"Renewables and natural gas often go hand in hand," Alova said, adding that companies often choose both in parallel. "So, it might be just in media reports we are getting this image of investing in renewables, but less coverage on continued investment in gas."
It might also be the case that gas is viewed as a transition fuel, relatively less carbon emitting and providing load-balancing services to intermittent renewables generation, Alova said.
Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst for independent climate think tank Ember, agrees with Alova that utilities have hindered the transition by "misunderstanding the future of gas." Utilities have a mindset to build big centralized power plants, replacing a coal power plant with a gas power plant, he said. "Fortunately, most of the gas hype across the world is now dying down, as wind and solar now provide cheaper options for generating electricity," Jones said.
Green Movement Taking Place
Over a fifth of Europe's energy was generated by solar panels and wind turbines in the first half of 2020, according to a report by Ember. Denmark came out on top, generating 64% of its energy from these renewable sources, followed by Ireland (49%) and Germany (42%).
In Ember's half-year review released in July, renewables exceeded fossil fuel generation for the first time ever, producing 40% of the EU's power, with fossil fuels contributing 34%. However, globally only a tenth of all energy was generated by these sources during the first half of 2020.
Last year saw the use of coal to generate electricity around the world fall by a record 3%. In part due to COVID-19, coal generation in the first half of 2020 again broke records with a drop of 8.3%. In the EU, the drop was higher, as coal energy generation fell by nearly a third.
With many projects delayed by the pandemic, the global capacity to produce electricity from renewable sources is predicted to drop by up to 13% overall this year according to the International Energy Agency.
Slowly Getting There?
Utilities have been slow to understand how quickly wind and solar would drop in price, and also how quickly governments would want to move away from coal. "Many utilities have been caught off guard by the speed of the transition, and have suffered financially ever since," said Jones.
The world this year has generated one-tenth of its electricity from wind and solar, double from the 5% in 2015, and that increase has led to a fall in market share of coal generation, Jones added.
Valentina Kretzschmar from consultancy Wood Mackenzie says BP's recently announced strategy has created a new industry benchmark. BP plans to increase investment in its low-emission businesses, including renewable energy, by tenfold in the next decade to $5 billion (€4.5 billion) a year, while cutting back oil and gas production by 40%.
In July, Royal Dutch Shell won a deal to build a wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands, while France's Total has agreed to make several large investments in solar power in Spain and a wind farm off Scotland. Total also bought an electric and natural gas utility in Spain. Shell has said it will delay offshore oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico and in the North Sea.
US giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, however, have been slower than their European counterparts to commit to climate goals.
"I have seen a substantial shift between companies in the fossil fuel clusters toward renewables," Alova said. "This signals that the companies that have been growing fossil fuel portfolios in the earlier time periods might be switching to renewables more recently."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Ajit Niranjan
It's a question that preys on our readers' minds: Can we invent our way out of climate breakdown?
But experts say there is no silver bullet to protect the climate — and that keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the surest known way to prevent further warming.
Average temperatures have risen by 1 degree Celsius since countries first industrialized and are projected to rise about 3 degrees Celsius above that baseline by the end of the century without sharp, severe cuts to CO2 emissions.
A report from the Global Carbon Project found in December that while coal-burning has largely plateaued, the rise of oil and natural gas is pushing the planet further away from its climate goals.
How can technology help governments get there? Here are four innovations that energy experts told us hold promise for slowing the march of climate change.
Solar Panels and Wind Turbines
What may be the biggest innovation to combat climate change has been around for decades.
Solar panels and wind turbines turn sun and wind into electricity without releasing greenhouse gases. As the technologies have scaled up and converted energy more efficiently, they have come down in price to become cheaper than fossil fuels globally.
"Solar and wind being cheap and reliable and performing well opens up a lot of possibilities," said Gregory Nemet, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has written a book on how solar energy became cheap. "Even as we've had 30 years of politicians dithering and not as much progress as most people would have hoped, in the background, technology has been progressing."
But generating clean energy is one thing — storing and distributing it is another. This is particularly important for renewables that cannot generate electricity without the sun shining or wind blowing.
Three things suggest innovation is overcoming these hurdles, said Nemet. "That's renewables getting better, batteries allowing you to store electricity and then information in the system allowing you to manage it better."
Batteries for Electric Vehicles
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded three scientists a Nobel prize in October for their work in developing lithium-ion batteries, which they say have "revolutionized our lives since they first entered the market in 1991" — and continue to advance.
Lighter and smaller than earlier rechargeable batteries, lithium batteries can also be charged faster and more often. As their weight and price continue to fall, they are playing an increasingly pivotal role in decarbonizing the transport sector by making electric vehicles cheaper.
"Battery storage will be critical," said Joao Gouveia, a senior fellow at Project Drawdown, a research organization that analyzes climate solutions. "It will allow the integration of more and more renewable tech. We cannot have 70 percent [of renewable energy by 2050] coming from wind and solar if we don't apply battery storage systems."
Holding batteries back are aging electricity grids and costs that, despite falling each year, remain high.
But electric vehicles could act as a storage system, said Gouveia, with owners buying electricity at night to charge their cars and selling it to the grid when demand is high and cars are parked, idle, during the day. "We are finding new lithium reserves because this is a tech for both markets, so we're innovating more and more."
While the global electric vehicle fleet has grown rapidly — passing 5 million cars in 2018, data from the International Energy Agency shows — this progress has been dwarfed by a rise in larger and less efficient SUVs that run on fossil fuels. Four in 10 new cars sold globally in 2018 were SUVs.
Another way to store renewable energy is using electrolyzers to extract hydrogen from water. The process, also known as power-to-X, is a way of storing energy in different forms. Engineers run an electric current through water and collect the hydrogen molecules that break off. These can be burned for heat, stored in fuel cells or turned into chemicals such as methane for processes that require fossil fuels.
"It's a great way to decarbonize the heating, mobility and chemical sector," said David Wortmann, a board member of Energy Watch Group, a German NGO. "It's scaleable — the tech is all there. The industry is young, you have manufacturers out there to produce an electrolyzer. But the demand is not there yet, the regulations are not in place."
Hydrogen could also help decarbonize a high-polluting sector that has mostly been overlooked: heavy industry.
The high heat needed to process industrial materials — such as concrete, iron, steel, and petrochemicals — is responsible for about 10 percent of global CO2 emissions, according to a report from the Center on Global Energy Policy in October. The cement industry alone is responsible for about 8 percent of CO2 emissions, mostly in production. This is more than three times the CO2 emissions of the aviation industry.
Burning hydrogen from renewable energy sources could meet industrial heating needs cleanly, said Jeff Rissmann, head of modeling at Energy Innovation, a research firm. "Moving to hydrogen can have a huge impact across many sectors, and would be one of the biggest ways to decarbonize the global economy."
Carbon Capture and Storage
Even under optimistic scenarios for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, scientists say we will not meet targets to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius without removing some of the CO2 we have already emitted. The IPCC projects between 100 billion and 1 trillion tons of CO2 would need to be removed this century.
Trees and plants that extract CO2 from the atmosphere and turn it into oxygen through photosynthesis are one way of doing this. But they take up large tracts of land — which is needed for other purposes such as growing food — and are not a secure way of storing carbon, because they may be felled for firewood or burned in forest fires.
Some companies are experimenting with capturing CO2 from power plants and storing it deep underground. By doing this with biomass plants — where recently-grown plant matter is burned and not ancient fossils — then power can be produced while reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
But with just 19 facilities running such systems, its deployment is not happening quickly enough to meet emissions reductions targets, according to a report from the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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The new turbines, built by GE Renewable Energy, are 220 meters (approximately 722 feet) high, nearly 300 feet taller than the London Eye. They have blades more than 100 meters (approximately 328 feet) long and will have the ability to power 16,000 homes each. The turbines will be installed in the Dogger Bank Wind Farms project, to be built off the UK's Yorkshire Coast next year by SSE Renewables and Norway's Equinor.
"Dogger Bank will now be home to the largest offshore wind turbines in the world and to this pioneering low carbon technology, which will play a central role in helping the UK become carbon neutral by 2050," director of capital projects at SSE Renewables Paul Cooley told Offshore Wind.
The UK became the first G7 country to commit to carbon neutrality by mid-century this June.
Dogger Bank is a shallow sandbank in the North Sea that some speculate may be the inspiration for Atlantis, GE Renewable Energy said in a press release. It may have once connected the UK to continental Europe before being flooded by glacier melt 7,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age.
Equinor and SSE won a tender to build three wind farms in the area two weeks ago. Then, on Tuesday, they announced they would use GE Renewable Energy's massive Haliade-X model for the project.
.@SSE and @Equinor_UK select @GErenewables #HaliadeX, the world's most powerful wind turbine, to power the world's largest #offshorewind farm #doggerbank. Read more - https://t.co/F6NMfDl765 pic.twitter.com/SBiCe1sJZ4— GE Renewable Energy (@GErenewables) October 1, 2019
"We are excited to work with GE Renewable Energy to introduce the next-generation offshore wind turbine to the U.K. and be the first European wind farm to install and operate these innovative turbines," Dogger Bank Wind Farms project director Bjørn Ivar Bergemo said in the GE Renewable Energy press release.
The turbine is about a third more powerful than the most common models currently in use, The Guardian reported. Each turbine has the potential to save 42 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of taking 9,000 cars off the road for a year, according to GE.
"Our Haliade-X technology is helping our customers to make offshore wind a more competitive source of clean and renewable energy," John Lavelle, president and CEO of GE Renewable Energy's offshore wind division, told The Independent.
Dogger Bank Wind Farms, which is set to start generating electricity in 2023, will be able to power 4.5 million homes each year, The Independent reported. That's five percent of the UK's current electricity generation. But the turbines will also be connected by cables to Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Belgium.