By Jessica Corbett
"The boardrooms of the world's largest banks are polluted to the core... How are we ever meant to stop the climate crisis if the world's most powerful decision-makers are in bed with the companies behind the wheel!?"
That's how Bank on Our Future — a UK-based network pressuring financial players to align their business practices with tackling the climate crisis — responded Wednesday to a new DeSmog analysis revealing that a majority of directors at major banks worldwide are connected to polluting companies and organizations.
"This is a ginormous and superb piece of work by the talented sleuths" at DeSmog, said Beau O'Sullivan, a campaigner at the Sunrise Project in Australia. He added that the report "contains findings that readers may find offensive and deeply disturbing."
Even a global #ClimateEmergency hasn't triggered rapid defunding of the industries responsible for driving climate… https://t.co/ogg5ZHjvRP— Greenpeace Canada (@Greenpeace Canada)1617819304.0
DeSmog examined the boards of 39 banks, including seven based in the United States, and found that 65% of directors have a total of 940 past or current ties to "climate-conflicted" industries. Across all banks studied, 16% of board members had ties to companies involved in extracting coal, gas, and oil.
In addition to fossil fuels, "there were also significant ties to banks and investment vehicles supporting polluting industries, as well as to thinktanks and lobbying groups with a history of campaigning against climate action," reported DeSmog's Phoebe Cooke, Rachel Sherrington, and Mat Hope.
Breaking: New research by @DeSmogUK reveals that 65% of directors in powerful bank boardrooms have polluting ties t… https://t.co/7pJgsPcE9u— Richard Brooks ☀️ (@Richard Brooks ☀️)1617791825.0
"The fossil fuel industry has a well-established track record of ingratiating itself with society's opinion leaders and decision-makers," Geoffrey Supran, research associate in Harvard University's Department of the History of Science, told DeSmog about "the revolving doors between the corporate leaderships of incumbent industries."
"Having its fingers in all the pies allows the fossil fuel industry to quietly put its thumb on the scales of institutional decision-making, helping delay action, and protect the status quo," added Supran, who called the results of the analysis "predictable, yet shocking."
Alec Connon, coalition coordinator at Stop the Money Pipeline, responded similarly to the revelations in an email to Common Dreams.
"It should surprise no one that Wall Street boards are brimming with executives with close ties to climate-damaging companies," he said. "Since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015, Chase, Wells Fargo, and their Wall Street ilk have loaned more than $1 trillion to the fossil fuel industry. In the climate crisis, Wall Street is a primary villain."
"Perhaps if they had fewer fossil fuel executives on their boards," Connon added, "that would begin to change."
Remember the military-industrial complex? Meet it's equally nasty twin, the fossil fuel-finance complex https://t.co/dAUlDtmrcK— Bill McKibben (@Bill McKibben)1617799338.0
A coalition of green groups including the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) released a report last month detailing how the world's 60 biggest banks have poured over $3.8 trillion into the fossil fuel industry in the wake of the landmark climate agreement, which aims to keep global temperature rise by 2100 to "well below" 2°C, with a more ambitious target of 1.5°C.
The groups' Banking on Climate report generated fresh criticism of big banks' recent pledges to work toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In light of DeSmog's reporting, Connon also addressed such commitments, saying that "2050 promises without 2021 action are essentially meaningless."
"We need action today, not vague promises of action in the next three decades," he continued. "Perhaps the fact that Wall Street boards are so full of fossil fuel executives is one reason why they're continuing to prioritize empty promises over immediate, meaningful policy change."
Since January 2020, the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition has pressured banks, insurers, and asset managers to cut ties with companies financing climate destruction. While its initial top targets were JPMorgan Chase, BlackRock, and Liberty Mutual, the coalition has expanded its efforts — including with a recently launched campaign directed at funders of Enbrige's Line 3 tar sands pipeline.
That controversial project — intensely opposed by Indigenous water protectors and climate campaigners — was the focus of a report by Emily Holden of Floodlight and Emily Atkin of HEATED, published Wednesday in The Guardian.
Citing DeSmog's finding that 77% of board members at seven major U.S. banks have ties to climate-conflicted companies or groups, the pair provided "an on-the-ground look at where all this dirty money is going," as Supran put it.
According to Holden and Atkin:
From the U.S., Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo have made the project possible with billions of dollars in loans, although it's impossible to tally precisely how much they have financed for the pipeline specifically. Another five large Canadian banks are also financing Enbridge, according to RAN.
Out of these nine North American banks backing Enbridge, six have recently published net-zero climate goals, pledging to align their investments with the international Paris climate agreement.
"The banks are gorging on doughnuts and then eating an apple afterwards," said Richard Brooks, the Toronto-based climate finance director for Stand.earth. "We certainly can't rely on banks or the private sector to lead us into climate safety and lead us toward emissions reductions. We need policy, we need regulation. We need government to act."
Last week, 145 groups sent a letter to John Kerry, President Joe Biden's climate envoy, encouraging the former secretary of state to use his current position to help end "the flow of private finance from Wall Street to the industries driving climate change around the world — fossil fuels and forest-risk commodities."
In another pair of letters last week, federal lawmakers and environmental groups pressed Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell to pursue bolder efforts to protect U.S. financial institutions and the economy from risks posed by the climate crisis.
Campaigners are also calling for changes at the institutions.
"We need people who are willing to lead on climate on the boards of the country's largest financial institutions," said Connon. "That's why Stop the Money Pipeline is joining the growing calls on major investors, such as BlackRock and Vanguard, demanding that they vote against any corporate directors that have proven themselves unable or unwilling to take real action on climate. That starts this shareholder season."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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The threat of a catastrophic failure unleashing a 20-foot wall of industrial wastewater over nearby homes and businesses in Piney Point, Florida, illustrates the danger of widespread reliance on industrial waste ponds across the U.S., The New York Times reports.
Many of these ponds, filled with toxic and sometimes radioactive, byproducts of climate-change causing activity like coal ash from power plants or manure from industrialized farms, are also at risk because of climate change. Open lagoons make up the extent of waste processing infrastructure for industrial hog farming operations and coal-fired power plants and both were overwhelmed by Hurricane Florence in 2018, when more than 100 hog lagoons were swamped throughout the Carolinas and coal ash poured out of containment ponds at Duke's Sutton Plant in Wilmington, N.C.
"They're just an irresponsible way to store very dangerous waste," Daniel Estrin, general counsel at the Waterkeeper Alliance, a clean water nonprofit group, told the Times. "And with climate change, we're going to see more frequent and stronger storms that are going to impact these sites."
For a deeper dive:
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Tara Lohan
Mined lands reclaimed for biking trails, office parks — even a winery. Efforts like these are already underway in Appalachia to reclaim the region's toxic history, restore blighted lands, and create economic opportunities in areas where decades-old mines haven't been properly cleaned up.
The projects are sorely needed. And so are many more. But the money to fund and enable them remains elusive.
Mining production is falling, which is good news for tackling climate change and air pollution, but Appalachia and other coal states are also feeling the economic pain that comes with it. And that loss is more acute on top of pandemic-related revenue shortfalls and the mounting bills from the industry's environmental degradation.
Local leaders and organizations working in coal communities see a way to flip the script, though. The Revelator spoke with Rebecca Shelton, the director of policy and organizing for Appalachian Citizens' Law Center in Kentucky, about efforts focusing on one particular area that's plagued coal communities for more than 50 years: cleaning up abandoned mine lands.
Shelton explains the history behind these lands, the big legislative opportunities developing in Washington, and what coal communities need to prepare for a low-carbon future.
What are abandoned mine lands?
Technically an abandoned mine land is land where no reclamation was done after mining. Prior to the passage of Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977, coal-mining companies weren't required to reclaim — or clean up — the land they mined.
What SMCRA did, in addition to creating requirements for companies to do reclamation into the future, was create an abandoned mine land fund to distribute money to states and tribes with historic mining so that they could clean up those old sites. The revenue for that fund comes from a small tax on current coal production.
The program has accomplished a lot. It has closed 46,000 open mine portals, reclaimed more than 1,000 miles of high walls, stabilized slopes, and restored a lot of water supplies.
It's been a successful program, but the work is far from done. A conservative estimate is that there's still more than $11 billion needed to clean up existing identified liability across the U.S. [for sites mined before 1977].
What are the risks if we don't do this?
There are safety, health and environmental issues.
Just this spring we've already gotten calls from folks living adjacent to abandoned mine lands that are experiencing slides [from wet weather causing slopes destabilized by mining to give way]. People's homes can be completely destabilized, and if they don't get out in time, it can be really dangerous.
There's also a lot of existing acid mine drainage across coal-mining communities, which is water that's leaking iron oxides and other heavy metals from these abandoned mine lands. This is bad for the ecology of the streams, but heavy metals are also not safe for humans to be exposed to.
Acid mine drainage in a stream. Rachel Brennan / CC BY-NC 2.0
There's legislation in Congress now that could help deal with this issue. What are those bills?
One bill is the reauthorization of the abandoned mine land fund. That bill is absolutely critical because the fee on coal production, which is the only source of revenue for the fund, will expire at the end of September if Congress doesn't take action.
If Congress fails to extend that, we may not see any more funding for the $11 billion needed to clean up abandoned mine lands. If passed, the bill would reauthorize the fee at its current level for 15 more years.
The challenge is that even if the fee is reauthorized, it'll likely generate only around $1.6 billion — based on current coal-production projections — and that's vastly inadequate to cover all of the liabilities that exist.
Also, when the abandoned mine land fund was first started, there were some funds that were not redistributed to states and tribes and have just remained in the fund — [about] $2.5 billion that's not being dispersed on an annual basis.
So another bill, the RECLAIM Act, would authorize [an initial] $1 billion to be dispersed out of that fund that would go to approximately 20 states and tribes over the next five years. This money would be distributed differently than the regular funds in that any kind of project would have to have a plan in place for community and economic development.
So though the funds can only be used for reclamation, they need to be reclamation with a plan. There are so many high-priority and dangerous abandoned mine land sites that exist, and the RECLAIM Act funds would prioritize supporting community and economic development for communities adjacent to these lands.
How much support are you seeing for these bills?
We see momentum in this Congress, and there's a lot of conversation around investing in our nation's infrastructure. We see abandoned mine lands and their remediation as natural infrastructure that we need to invest in to keep our communities safe and prepare them for the future.
But we also see these bills as important pieces of an economic recovery package. COVID-19 has really exacerbated so many of the existing health and economic crises already in coal communities.
When we talk about economic stimulus and job creation, we also see reauthorizing the abandoned mine land fund as contributing to that because it takes a lot of work and creates a lot of jobs to do land reclamation.
Abandoned mines can pose serious health and safety hazards, such as landslides, erosion and surface instability. USGS
We've talked about the legacy issues from lands mined before 1977, but what concerns are there from current or recent mining? Is that reclamation being done adequately?
That's an area that also needs a closer look.
As the industry declines, we've seen coal companies file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy or reorganization. And when they do this, oftentimes they're granted permission to get rid of liabilities that would affect their solvency. Sometimes those liabilities are reclamation obligations, pension funds or black lung disability funds.
And then what you see is smaller companies taking on these permits that the reorganizing company no longer wants. But many are under-capitalized and they sometimes don't have the ability to even produce coal, or if they do they can't keep up with the reclamation. And it's dangerous for communities if there's environmental violations that aren't getting addressed.
I'll give you a recent example. Blackjewel [the sixth-largest U.S. coal producer] went bankrupt in the summer of 2019. Since then there's been very little done to address any kind of environmental violations existing on their permits.
Because of SMCRA, companies are required to have bonds in order to obtain their mining permits, but these bonds are not always adequate. The Kentucky Energy and Environment cabinet made a statement in the Blackjewel bankruptcy proceedings that it estimated that reclamation obligations on these permits were going to fall short $20 to $50 million.
What else is needed to help coal communities transition to a low-carbon economy?
That's a big question. We have to address these legacy issues in order to help transition these communities into the future. And we have to address the problems right now of folks who are losing their jobs and need to be supported through training programs or through education credits.
But we also need to be thinking about the future more broadly. What will be in place 20 years from now for the younger generation?
There's going to be a lot of gaps in local tax revenues because so much of the tax base has been reliant on the coal industry, which makes it really difficult for communities to continue to provide public services and keep up infrastructure as that industry declines. It's going to be critical to think about that and invest in that.
I think the best approach is to find solutions that work for [specific] places. And to do that we need to listen to community leaders and folks in these communities that have already been working to build something new for many years. There are solutions that I think can apply to all places, but there also needs to be a targeted intention to create opportunities where communities can develop their own paths forward.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Art Zilleruelo's poetry is often inspired by nature. Growing up, he wandered the hills of rural Pennsylvania.
"It's still possible to do things like get lost in the woods here if you want to," he says. "It's still possible to find places where the night sky is completely unpolluted by artificial light."
But the region Zilleruelo is from is known more for coal than trees and stars. And in his recent book of poems, called "Toothsome," he grapples with this legacy.
He says the economic benefits of coal mining came with a big cost for many miners like his grandfather and great-grandfather.
"Both ended up succumbing to complications from what gets called black lung disease… which is the accumulation of coal sediment in the lungs," Zilleruelo says.
Strip mining has also scarred the earth. And in the town of Centralia, a coal mine fire has burned underground for more than 50 years.
In his poetry, such as this example from his new book, Zilleruelo wrestles with these losses and people's role in harming the climate and land.
"Who now can doubt that the earth hides fires
That the land can speak through many mouths
That some dark mountain husbandry
Has converted this forest to a larder
And these fields to an oven."
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
On Friday, China set out an economic blueprint for the next five years, which was expected to substantiate the goal set out last fall by President Xi Jinping for the country to reach net-zero emissions before 2060 and hit peak emissions by 2030.
While the plan calls for a "major push" on clean energy development, a few aspects have left climate experts with questions about how exactly the world's largest emitter will hit its stated climate goals. For example, the plan did not include a ban on new coal projects, nor did it set a "carbon cap" to define what peak emissions will be, instead setting a carbon intensity target that is the same as in the previous five-ear plan.
However, some are hopeful that the government will announce more detailed regulations on carbon-intensive construction and manufacturing industries later this year, and that more details will be laid out in an upcoming separate five-year plan for the energy sector. Fan Dai, director of the California-China Climate Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, told Quartz that the plan is "simply aggregating existing targets from last year."
Dai added that "[t]here's a lot of room for further development and ambition, especially around those targets that were missing that we hoped would be included."
As reported by The Guardian:
China will reduce its "emissions intensity" – the amount of CO2 produced per unit of GDP – by 18% over the period 2021 to 2025, but this target is in line with previous trends, and could lead to emissions continuing to increase by 1% a year or more. Non-fossil fuel energy is targeted to make up 20% of China's energy mix, leaving plenty of room for further expansion of the country's coal industry.
Swithin Lui, of the Climate Action Tracker and NewClimate Institute, said: "[This is] underwhelming and shows little sign of a concerted switch away from a future coal lock-in. There is little sign of the change needed [to meet net zero]."
Zhang Shuwei, chief economist at Draworld Environment Research Centre, said: "As the first five-year plan after China committed to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, the 14th five-year plan was expected to demonstrate strong climate ambition. However, the draft plan presented does not seem to meet the expectations. The international community expected China's climate policy to 'jump,' but in reality it is still crawling."
For a deeper dive:
As bitcoin's fortunes and prominence rise, so do concerns about its environmental impact.
The process of mining the cryptocurrency is enormously energy intensive, so much so that it consumes more electricity in a year than Argentina or the Ukraine, according to the latest data from the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index. Its energy hunger even led to a warning from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week, as CNBC reported.
"It's an extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions," Yellen said, "and the amount of energy that's consumed in processing those transactions is staggering."
Bitcoin's value rose past $50,000 two weeks ago, CNN Business reported at the time. It was in part buoyed by the success of Elon Musk, whose electric car company Tesla made more than $900 million after buying $1.5 billion of the currency, BBC News reported. Its value has subsided somewhat since then, The Guardian reported. But Musk's endorsement raised a concern: How did his support of the currency meld with Tesla's goal of moving the world towards a "zero-emission future?"
The question is larger than Musk, of course. Bitcoin mining is energy intensive by design. There are only 21 million bitcoins that can be mined, a process that involves solving complex math problems on a computer to release new coins. When bitcoin first started in 2009, it was possible to mine for bitcoin on a normal computer. However, the currency is designed so that the fewer bitcoins left to be released, the more complicated the problems become. Now that 18.5 million bitcoins have been mined, an average computer cannot handle the calculations.
As the price rises, more people are motivated to get in on the action.
"They want to get that revenue," University of Chicago economics professor Gina Pieters told BBC News, "and that's what's going to encourage them to introduce more and more powerful machines in order to guess this random number, and therefore you will see an increase in energy consumption."
Pieters is part of the University of Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF), which runs the bitcoin electricity use index. CCAF calculates that bitcoin now uses 129.22 terawatt hours of electricity a year, according to its most recent update.
This doesn't necessarily mean that mining bitcoin is increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Bitcoin proponents say that the mining can be powered using renewable energy sources, according to The Guardian. However, the mining process does motivate miners to seek out cheap energy sources.
"The more machines a miner operates, the more likely he is to find the solution to the puzzle," the CCAF explained. "However, more machines also means that more electricity is needed to run and cool the equipment, which in turn results in higher costs for the miner in question. Miners are thus always searching for abundant electricity sources at the lowest possible price."
Seeking the cheapest electricity source may mean coal in many places, The Guardian pointed out. More bitcoin is mined in China than in any other country, and about two-thirds of its electricity still comes from coal.
The CCAF said it does not yet have the data to determine the cryptocurrency's carbon footprint, since this would require accurate assessments of the energy mix behind mining. However, it pointed out that even if all bitcoin mining was powered by coal, an unlikely scenario, it would still only account for 0.17 percent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions. That doesn't mean bitcoin's growth isn't a concern for the attempts to combat the climate crisis, however.
"There are valid concerns that Bitcoin's growing electricity consumption may pose a threat to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in the future," the index wrote.
That threat increases the more bitcoin gains in popularity. Bitcoin expert and Digiconomist founder Alex de Vries told BBC News what would happen if bitcoin were adapted as a global reserve currency.
"[T]he Bitcoin price will probably be in the millions, and those miners will have more money than the entire [US] Federal budget to spend on electricity. We'd have to double our global energy production," he said. "For Bitcoin."
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By David Drake and Jeffrey York
The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.
The Big Idea
People often point to plunging natural gas prices as the reason U.S. coal-fired power plants have been shutting down at a faster pace in recent years. However, new research shows two other forces had a much larger effect: federal regulation and a well-funded activist campaign that launched in 2011 with the goal of ending coal power.
We studied the retirement of U.S. coal-fired units from January 2008 to September 2016 and compared the effects of various market factors, regulations and activism on their early closure. In all, 348 coal-fired units either retired or switched to natural gas during that time.
Among the many pressures on coal power that we reviewed, a federal regulation implemented in 2015 had the biggest overall effect. The Cross State Air Pollution Rule requires states to reduce soot and smog pollution that blows across state lines, including from power plants. We estimate that it was responsible for reducing the expected production life of the coal power units that it affected by a total of 1,170 years.
Looking at coal units individually, however, we found that the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, backed by over $174 million to date from Bloomberg Philanthropies, had the most impact per targeted plant.
The campaign works by generating public pressure on utilities and state and local politicians to close down coal-fired units, often through targeted lawsuits. When the Beyond Coal campaign targeted a coal-fired unit, we found that the unit's life expectancy, normally 50-60 years, was reduced by an average of just over two years.
The Cross State Air Pollution Rule was the second-biggest factor per individual plant, though it affected more plants. It reduced the expected life span of each coal-fired generating unit that it affected by an estimated average of about 21 months.
We were surprised to find that neither low natural gas prices nor the adoption of renewable energy significantly reduced the life of coal units. Both have been widely touted by politicians and business leaders as the market-based drivers of coal plant retirement.
However, while adoption of renewable energy alone did not reduce coal units' life spans, the average use of each source of renewable energy in an area did have a significant impact. Coal units operating in regions with high average renewable energy use retired an average of 15 months earlier.
It is important to note that a large number of coal plants were already nearing the end of their lifecycles during this period. But through statistical modeling, we were able to isolate the impact of each of these interventions on accelerating the retirement of a given unit.
Why It Matters
A rapid transition away from carbon-intensive energy sources such as coal is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. Burning coal releases nearly twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced as natural gas does, and the natural gas contribution to global warming is significant.
From 2011 through 2018, coal-fired generating capacity in the U.S. contracted by 23%. We estimate that the emissions impact of the accelerated retirements we studied was equivalent to taking 38 million typical passenger cars off the road.
The common narrative has been that market forces and economics have driven the demise of coal. However, our research suggests that a continued focus on federal policy is a more effective route for reducing emissions.
The Biden administration has already halted new leases for coal, oil and gas extraction on federal lands. And its climate task force – which includes the Cabinet-level department and agency heads – met in February to start coordinating government-wide climate change solutions. Those likely will include new regulations and could include a price on carbon.
Our current work sheds light on where responsibility lies for the acceleration of coal-fired power unit retirements through late 2016.
Next, we are interested in expanding on our findings about differences between renewable energy use and initial adoption. Understanding how to increase use of renewable sources, while creating new businesses and jobs, is a critical research agenda for addressing climate change.
David Drake is an assistant professor of strategy, entrepreneurship and operations management at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Jeffrey York is an associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Disclosure statement: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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Nearly 5 million electricity customers across the United States lost power over the weekend as extreme weather, including frigid temperatures and ice storms, drove up demand and shut down electricity generation.
The widespread outages underscore the vulnerability of the power grid to extreme weather events made more frequent, powerful, and unpredictable by climate change. "I cannot recall an extreme weather event that impacted such a large swath of the nation in this manner — the situation is critical," Neil Chatterjee, a member of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told Bloomberg.
The outages are most dire in Texas, where nearly 4 million customers were still without power Tuesday morning. The state's grid operator said 34 gigawatts, as much as 40% of its generation capacity, was forced offline, sending electricity prices skyrocketing to the legal limit of $9,000 per megawatt-hour and forcing the implementation of rolling blackouts.
The lost generation capacity was driven in large part by the 27 gigawatts of coal-, gas-, and nuclear-generated electricity forced offline by the cold and ice. Wind generation exceeded the Texas grid operator's daily forecast through the weekend. The storms wreaked havoc on U.S. methane gas markets, as physical delivery gas prices in Oklahoma smashed previous records. More than 3 million barrels of daily oil-processing capacity also shut down Monday as the largest refineries in North America were forced to halt operations because of the cold.
For a deeper dive:
Bloomberg, Bloomberg, The New York Times, AP; Generating sources' performance during storm: Bloomberg, TechCruch; Oklahoma gas prices: Financial Post; Refineries: Bloomberg; Climate change links: The Washington Post, The Washington Post, The Weather Channel, Texas Climate News; Climate Signals background: Winter storm risk increase
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- Texas Grid Operator Overcharged Power Companies $16 Billion During Winter Storm - EcoWatch ›
By Mark McCord
- An academic paper suggests key tipping points can significantly reduce carbon emissions, which would help to slow global warming.
- Government policies are making coal uneconomical.
- Electric vehicle pricing structures have helped reduce the number of petrol and diesel cars on the world's roads.
There may be light at the end of the tunnel in the battle to reduce carbon emissions.
Governments and institutions could help halt carbon emissions with just a few carefully selected policy measures, according to a new paper, which looked at the experience of the energy industry and changing trends in road vehicle purchases.
If chosen properly and applied internationally, such "tipping points" could set off a series of other changes that snowball into a movement with enough critical mass to slow global warming and reduce natural disasters.
The paper, published in the journal Climate Policy, argues that actions taken within each industry created a cascade of further developments that helped reduce their carbon footprints.
"In complex systems – including human societies – tipping points can occur, in which a small perturbation transforms a system," wrote the paper's authors, Professor Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute (GSI) at the University of Exeter and Simon Sharpe, a deputy director in the UK Cabinet Office 26th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 26) unit.
"Crucially, activating one tipping point can increase the likelihood of triggering another at a larger scale, and so on."
Towards the Paris Agreement Targets
Such tipping points are hoped to help the world meet the targets of the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which 196 heads of state agreed to reduce global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with a preferred target of 1.5 degrees. Were they achieved, experts say the positive impacts would be felt within two decades.
The accord strives for a climate-neutral world by the middle of this century. It's expected to be built upon at the United Nations Climate Change conference, or COP26, which is due to take place in November. The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative strives also to offer globally linked solutions.
The report in Climate Policy explains how a combination of factors led to the tipping point that prompted the UK to decarbonize its power industry. They included the creation of a carbon tax, an EU scheme that made gas cheaper than coal and an investment strategy for renewable energy that made coal less economical.
"The power sector needs to decarbonize four times faster than its current rate, and the pace of the transition to zero-emission vehicles needs to double," Lenton said.
"Many people are questioning whether this is achievable. But hope lies in the way that tipping points can spark rapid change through complex systems."
Wind and solar accounted for a third of the UK's energy generation in 2020. Statista
Positive Tipping Points
Besides the UK, the authors of the paper cited Norway as an example of the nations that have acted to reduce greenhouse gases pumped out by motor vehicles.
Through government incentives, new electric vehicles (EV) in Norway are priced similarly to petrol and diesel cars. This has boosted sales of EVs to more than 50% of new car purchases, compared with 2%-3% worldwide.
China, the European Union (EU) and California are responsible for half of global car sales. Professor Lenton suggests that if they formed an international effort to redirect investment from conventional cars to EVs they could reduce costs, boost production and create a broader tipping point that would accelerate the reduction of fossil fuel use.
Lenton argues that if government action can lower the cost of financing renewables to below that of excavating coal, industries linked to transport, heating and power could all rapidly decarbonize.
That's good news because a new, more urgent, approach is needed to reduce the rate at which the global climate is warming, according to scientists.
2020 and 2016 Hottest Years on Record
Earlier this month, the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service said 2020 had equaled 2016 as the hottest year on record.
A study published in Climate Dynamics said the planet could breach the threshold for global warming between 2027 and 2042, a decade earlier than previously thought.
"If either of these efforts – in power or road transport – succeed, the most important effect could be to tip perceptions of the potential for international cooperation to tackle climate change," Lenton said.
Reposted with permission from the World Economic Forum.
By Kenny Stancil
While President Joe Biden's top climate envoy John Kerry told world leaders at a virtual climate summit that the U.S. will fulfill its commitment to provide financial support to developing countries as they grapple with the deadly consequences of a warming planet, campaigners are urging the U.S. to follow the lead of European Union officials who on Monday pledged to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and instead invest in a just transition toward clean energy.
"Ending government support for fossil fuels is a no-brainer," Laurie van der Burg of Oil Change International said Monday in a statement responding to the EU's newly stated commitment to phasing out dirty energy subsidies and helping to fund a global push toward renewable energy. "Globally, governments are still propping up fossil fuels with huge sums of public money, behavior that is incompatible with keeping global warming below 1.5ºC."
Oil Change International's Collin Rees said that "today's commitment by the EU to end overseas investment in oil, gas, and coal projects is yet another indication that the fossil fuel era is over. As a new administration takes power in Washington, this is a powerful signal that clean energy is ascendant and that the EU stands willing to work with President Biden and others to end all finance for dirty energy."
Noting that Biden "has committed to end fossil fuel subsidies and dirty energy finance," van der Burg pointed out that the UK in December "announced an end to their overseas public finance for fossil fuel."
According to van der Burg, "This creates a powerful opportunity for the EU, UK, and U.S. to collaborate to finally end government-backed finance for oil, gas, and coal ahead of the UK-hosted UN climate summit in November."
Rees argued that "Biden should act boldly on his campaign commitments to end finance for dirty energy projects."
"By building on past commitments to end coal finance and extending this to oil and gas," Rees added, "Biden can join the EU and UK in transforming international finance to address the challenges of the next century, not prop up the remnants of the last century's infrastructure."
Speaking at the Netherlands-hosted Climate Adaptation Summit just days after Biden issued an executive order re-entering the 2015 Paris agreement — the emissions reduction treaty the country had abandoned under former President Donald Trump — Kerry said the U.S. "was 'proud to be back' in the global climate discussion," Reuters reported Monday.
"We intend to make good on our climate finance pledge," Kerry said. According to Reuters, the U.S. "has delivered only $1 billion of the $3 billion it pledged under former President Barack Obama to the UN Green Climate Fund, set up to help vulnerable countries transition to clean energy and adapt to a warmer future."
Three billion dollars is a tiny fraction of what impoverished countries will need to shield their populations from the risks of heatwaves, droughts, fires, floods, and other disasters that have intensified as a result of global warming.
According to a UN report published earlier this month, developing countries alone will need to spend roughly $70 billion per year to combat the climate crisis, and those annual costs could surge to $140 billion to $300 billion by 2030 and $280 billion to $500 billion by 2050.
Kerry said the Biden administration "also intends to make significant investments in climate action" in the U.S. and abroad, Reuters reported. "He did not give details about those investments, but promised Washington would soon announce a new target for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that 'meets the urgency of the challenge.'"
Given that the world's most vulnerable people who have done the least to contribute to the climate emergency are likely to bear the brunt of the damage unless drastic steps are taken to transform society, as well as the disproportionate role played by rich nations — and especially the wealthy classes within them — in causing the crisis, climate justice advocates have called on affluent countries that are capable of doing more to step up.
Van der Burg emphasized the importance of wealthy nations taking action domestically — not just in the international arena of climate finance — to drastically reduce emissions and address the root causes of climate disruption.
Although referring specifically to the EU, her message applies as well to the UK and the U.S.: "For effective diplomacy on this issue, the EU must take action at home, and close loopholes for continued EU support for fossil fuels, including for gas," she said. "For the EU to lead this agenda at the international level, it must set the right example and phase out all government support for fossil fuels."
In a letter to Kerry and other world leaders ahead of Monday's climate summit, a group of 3,000 scientists warned that if governments fail to adequately invest in climate change mitigation and adaptation now, "the results will be increasing poverty, water shortages, agricultural losses, and soaring levels of migration with an enormous toll on human life."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Former coal lobbyist and current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Andrew Wheeler is expected to announce on Tuesday a rule tobacco consultants devised as an "explicit procedural hurdle" to protecting public health.
The rule — sometimes called the 'Secret Science' rule — will require EPA to give less credence to scientific studies that take into account individuals' medical histories and other data that cannot be made public. Such studies have served as the foundation for a half-century of clean air and clean water protections.
"It's as absurd as it sounds," Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said in a statement. Had the rule been in place, the EPA would have been unable to require mercury pollution cuts from coal-fired power plants because it would have been unable to show how mercury impairs brain development. It could also effectively bar EPA from relying on foundational research — including findings that lead paint dust harms children and that air pollution causes premature deaths — when existing public health protections come up for renewal.
"The people pushing it are claiming it's in the interest of science, but the entire independent science world says it's not," Chris Zarba, a former director of the EPA's Science Advisory Board, told The Washington Post.
As reported by The New York Times:
"Right now we're in the grips of a serious public health crisis due to a deadly respiratory virus, and there's evidence showing that air pollution exposure increases the risk of worse outcomes," said Dr. Mary Rice, a pulmonary and critical care physician who is chairwoman of the environmental health policy committee at the American Thoracic Society.
"We would want E.P.A. going forward to make decisions about air quality using all available evidence, not just putting arbitrary limits on what it will consider," she said.
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By John C. Cannon
Books have provided a welcome refuge in 2020. The global pandemic has, in many cases, turned even routine travel into a risk not worth taking, and it has left many longing for the day when we will once again set off for a new destination. At the same time, this year has also been a time to reflect on the sense of place and what home means to each of us.
This year's conservation book list draws on those two themes. Satisfying the urge to light out into the unknown, several authors share tales and observations from the field. Others delve deeply into a single spot, examining its importance to a people and the way we as a species fit into it, however uncomfortably. In the end, each reinforces a lesson that the pandemic has laid bare: Pull a thread on the web of life and even distant strands will reverberate as a result.
By Carl Safina
Biologist Carl Safina has made a career of working on the front lines of conservation and then imparting what he has learned in a way that makes us, his readers, take notice. Broken down into three parts, Becoming Wild explores the lives and cultures of three species: sperm whales, scarlet macaws, and chimpanzees.
By turns fascinating, heartwarming and tragic, traveling with Safina as a guide is engrossing. And, as you might suspect, there's an agenda here. Biodiversity, all the weird and wondrous speciation that evolution has molded from the building blocks of life on this planet, is under threat, now more so than at any other time since humans emerged from that same swirling mix of forces. But beyond the staggering loss of species and individual lifeforms currently underway, Safina demonstrates that the sum total of what we lose will be far more than just a statistic if we don't work to protect the life that remains.
2. Oak Flat
By Lauren Redniss
Cutting across social justice, economic and environmental lines, Oak Flat chronicles the real-life struggle of a family to protect sacred land from destruction after the discovery of a copper deposit in the desert in the U.S. Southwest. The family lives on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona and must contend with the substantial resources of a massive mining corporation, not to mention a set of laws that seem designed to put profits before people.
Told in the style of a graphic novel, author and illustrator Lauren Redniss draws on her earnest reporting and skill as an artist to shine a light on the issue, made all the more urgent because today the Apache of San Carlos are still fighting to protect their land.
By Jonathan Slaght
The Blakiston's fish owl doesn't make conservation efforts on its behalf easy. Inhabiting the unforgiving mountains and forests of Russia's Far East, its dwindling numbers are threatened by logging and fishing in Primorye province.
Enter WCS scientist Jonathan Slaght and an intimate look at meeting the owl on its own turf. Just as fascinating as the quirky bird he's pursuing are the characters who people Slaght's book, the hardy folk who at once represent both a threat to the Blakiston's fish owl and invaluable accomplices in his mission to save the species.
By Enric Sala
Ecologist and National Geographic explorer-in-residence Enric Sala says he didn't want his career as a scientist to be spent just writing obituaries, cataloging the final days of so many of the species he studies. The Nature of Nature is both an homage to the diversity of life on Earth and a warning of the steps we must take to ensure it persists. Vividly told stories from decades of observing and probing the natural world serve as a testimony to the interconnectivity that binds all life — including humans — together.
As Sala told Mongabay in an interview in August, "You tamper with nature in one part of the planet, and everyone suffers. That's why we need to protect the wild."
By Michael E. Marchand, Kristiina A. Vogt, Rodney Cawston, John D. Tovey, John McCoy, Nancy Maryboy, Calvin T. Mukumoto, Daniel J. Vogt and Melody Starya Mobley
In the most academic-leaning book to make this year's list, a group of predominantly Indigenous authors draw on the history, art and culture of Native societies from around the world with an eye toward how we might better coexist with nature. Their aim is to provide a guide for the ways in which Indigenous thinking and science, too often viewed as working at cross purposes, can come together to solve environmental problems.
By Roy Dennis
Like many of the other authors on this list, ornithologist and conservationist Roy Dennis thankfully doesn't disguise his fascination with the intricacies of nature in Cottongrass Summer. The stories he tells have been gleaned from countless years of fieldwork and, at times, battles with the prevailing conservation establishment of the day. Still, the iconoclastic 80-year-old carries on, offering a measure of hope in a book for a wilder and healthier planet.
Orangutan biologist Erik Meijaard, who reviewed Dennis's book for Mongabay in August, said, "[C]ynics among you turn away, this book is not for you. To me this book is about belief and love. Belief in a better world where wild animals and plants can once again thrive alongside people. And a deep love for the natural world around us."
By Eric Jay Dolin
In A Furious Sky, author Eric Jay Dolin digs deep into the annals of humans' history with the awe-inspiring and destructive hurricane. Along the way, he unearths a trove of engaging characters and entrancing struggles to find a way to coexist with Earth's most powerful storms. In the end, we find that, as the planet's climate changes, hurricanes will likely only grow stronger.
By Douglas W. Tallamy
Many of the world's environmental crises can feel beyond the reach of human problem solving. University of Delaware professor Douglas Tallamy takes a different tack, instead suggesting that the ideal place to begin a necessary revolution is right where we live. Instead of depending on the seep of political compromise that's so often inadequate and short-sighted in addressing issues like biodiversity loss, deforestation and climate change, Tallamy's belief is that by starting small — creating hospitable habitats for native plants and insects in our backyards, for example — we can realize the dreams of the pantheon of conservation's great thinkers, Aldo Leopold, E.O. Wilson and Rachel Carson among them.
By Rebecca Giggs
Over centuries, technological innovations, capitalist incentives and sheer grit led to many species of whales being hunted to near extinction. But the moratorium on hunting whales that coalesced in the 1980s around the awe these animals inspire and the outrage so many felt at witnessing their slaughter helped bring them back from the brink. All but a few of the world's most fervent whale-hunting nations signed on, and the rebound in whale numbers seems like a great success. But in what kind of world have we ensured their survival?
That's one of the questions that author Rebecca Giggs ponders in Fathoms, as she puts the survival of whales in the context of an increasing plastic-filled and polluted ocean, where warming waters and a paradoxically destructive ecotourism industry wait to confront them at every turn.
By Chris Hamby
2020 has proven, if there were any doubt, that human and environmental health are inextricably linked. Investigative journalist Chris Hamby probed a paragon of this connection in Soul Full of Coal Dust. As the worldwide debate over the continued use of coal for steady but dirty energy production has taken center stage, the people who haul it from the ground have been fighting for their lives just behind the curtain.
Hamby takes his readers to the mountains of Appalachia, the epicenter of U.S. coal production, where fortunes rise and fall with the industry itself. He details the David-and-Goliath struggle to take on "Big Coal" and bring much-needed help to the miners afflicted with black lung disease.
By Jeremy Hance
A 2020 Mongabay book list wouldn't be complete without a nod to the site's longtime editor and senior correspondent, Jeremy Hance (as well as the site's first staff writer), who published his own memoir this year. Hance has traveled the world in pursuit of the engaging environmental stories he's written for Mongabay, the Guardian, and Ensia, among other publications. He's also lived with hypochondria and obsessive-compulsive disorder for decades, conditions that can make the dream of travel an anxiety-producing nightmare. Fortunately for his readers, they haven't deterred him, and in Baggage, Hance recounts his voyages in a book that's as witty and self-effacing as it is poignant and instructive.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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