By Dana Nuccitelli
Environmentalists and renewable energy advocates have long been allies in the fight to keep unchecked industrial growth from irreversibly ruining Earth's climate and threatening the future of human civilization. In their new YouTube documentary "Planet of the Humans," director Jeff Gibbs and producer Michael Moore argue for splitting the two sides. Their misleading, outdated, and scientifically sophomoric dismissal of renewable energy is perhaps the most dangerous form of climate denial, eroding support for renewable energy as a critical climate solution.
A Badly Outdated Portrait of Solar and Wind<p>In an interview with Reuters, Michael Moore summarized the premise of the film: "I assumed solar panels would last forever. I didn't know what went into the making of them."</p><p>It's true. Solar panels and wind turbines don't last forever (though they do last several decades), and like every other industrial product, they require mining and manufacturing of raw materials. Sadly, that's about as deep as the film delves into quantifying the environmental impacts of renewable energy versus fossil fuels. In fact, the misinformation in the film is at times much worse than ignorance.</p><p>In one scene, author and film co-producer Ozzie Zehner falsely asserts, "You use more fossil fuels [manufacturing renewables infrastructure] than you're getting benefit from. You would have been better off burning the fossil fuels in the first place instead of playing pretend."</p><p><span></span>That's monumentally wrong. A <a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/solar-wind-nuclear-amazingly-low-carbon-footprints" target="_blank">2017 study in Nature Energy</a> found that when accounting for manufacturing and construction, the lifetime carbon footprints of solar, wind, and nuclear power are about 20 times smaller than those of coal and natural gas, even when the latter include expensive carbon capture and storage technology. The energy produced during the operation of a solar panel and wind turbine is 26 and 44 times greater than the energy needed to build and install them, respectively. There are many life-cycle assessment studies arriving at similar conclusions.</p>
A Shallow Dismissal of Electric Vehicles<p>In another science, Gibbs travels to a General Motors facility in Lansing, Michigan, circa 2010, as GM showcased its then-new Chevy Volt plug-in electric hybrid vehicle. Gibbs interviews a representative from the local municipal electric utility provider, who notes that they generate 95% of their supply by burning coal, and that the power to charge the GM facility's EVs will not come from renewables in the near future.</p><p>That is the full extent of the discussion of EVs in the film. Viewers are left to assume that because these cars are charged by burning coal, they're just <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwashing" target="_blank">greenwashing</a>. In reality, because of the high efficiency of electric motors, an electric car charged entirely by burning coal still produces less carbon pollution than an internal combustion engine car (though more than a hybrid). The U.S. Department of Energy has <a href="https://afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.html" target="_blank">a useful tool</a> for comparing carbon emissions between EVs, plug-in hybrids, conventional hybrids, and gasoline-powered cars for each state. In Michigan, on average, EVs are the cleanest option of all, as is the case for the national average power grid. In West Virginia, with over 90% electricity generated from coal, hybrids are the cleanest option, but EVs are still cleaner than gasoline cars.</p><p>In short, EVs are an improvement over gasoline-powered cars everywhere, and their carbon footprints will continue to shrink as renewables expand to supply more of the power grid.</p>
A Valid Critique of Wood Biomass<p>The film devotes a half hour to the practice of burning trees for energy. That's one form of biomass, which also includes burning wood waste, garbage, and biofuels. Last year, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3" target="_blank">1% of U.S. electricity</a> was generated by burning wood, but it accounted for 30% of the film run time.</p><p>In fairness, Europe is a different story, where wood biomass accounts for around 5% of electricity generation, and which imports a lot of wood chips from America. It's incentivized because the European Union considers burning wood to be carbon neutral, and it can thus be used to meet climate targets. That's because new trees can be planted to replace those removed, and the EU assumes the wood being burned would have decayed and released its stored carbon anyway.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/3/4/18216045/renewable-energy-wood-pellets-biomass" target="_blank">numerous problems</a> with those assumptions, one of which is unavoidable: time. Burning trees is close to carbon neutral once a replacement tree grows to sufficient maturity to recapture the lost carbon, but that takes many decades. In the meantime, the carbon released into the atmosphere accelerates the climate crisis at a time when slashing emissions is increasingly urgent. That's why <a href="https://www.dogwoodalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Scientist-Letter-to-Governor-Cooper_11-15_2017.pdf" target="_blank">climate scientists are increasingly calling on policymakers</a> to stop expanding this practice. So has 350.org founder Bill McKibben since 2016, <a href="https://350.org/response-planet-of-the-humans-documentary/" target="_blank">despite his depiction in the film</a> as a villainous proponent of clearcutting forests to burn for energy.</p><p>It's complicated, but the carbon footprint of biomass <a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/is-burning-wood-for-energy-worse-for-the-climate-than-coal" target="_blank">depends on where the wood comes from</a>. Burning waste (including waste wood) as biomass that would decay anyway is justifiable, but also generally only practical at a relatively small scale. A more detailed investigation of the wood biomass industry could make for a worthwhile documentary. It's still a small-time player, but it does need to stay that way.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Gibbs asks, "Is it possible for machines made by industrial civilization to save us from industrial civilization?"</p><p>Why not? Industrial civilization has a non-zero climate and environmental footprint, but the impact of green technologies like EVs, wind turbines, and solar panels is much smaller than the alternatives. They represent humanity's best chance to avoid a climate catastrophe.</p><p>The filmmakers call for an end to limitless economic growth and consumption. It's difficult to envision that goal being achieved anytime soon, but even if it is, human civilization will continue to exist and require energy. To avert a climate crisis, that energy must be supplied by the clean renewable technologies pilloried in the film. To expand on the earlier analogy, the filmmakers seem to believe we should improve nutrition not by eating healthier foods like strawberries, but rather by eating a bit less cheesecake.</p><p>Like Fox News and other propaganda vehicles, the film presents one biased perspective via carefully chosen voices, virtually all of whom are comfortable white men. It applies an environmental purity test that can seem convincing for viewers lacking expertise in the topic. Any imperfect technology – which is every technology – is deemed bad. It's a clear example of the perfect being the enemy of the good. In reality, this movie is the enemy of humanity's last best chance to save itself and countless other species from unchecked climate change through a transition to cleaner technologies.</p>
By Maddy Savage
Americans love their cars — their gas-guzzling, air-polluting, smog-producing cars. Although the vast majority agree that if we all drove electric vehicles we could reduce oil consumption and pollution, only a third would consider buying one anytime soon. Far fewer are actually making the switch.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Raphael Gindrat
Advocates of autonomous mobility are looking forward to the day when zero-emission, shared autonomous vehicles deliver services that dramatically reduce urban congestion and pollution. But as the mass deployment of autonomous vehicles seems farther and farther off, it is important to point out that we don't have to wait for autonomy to realize many of the efficiencies that shared mobility can provide.
The European commission's effort to transition the 27-country economic bloc from a high-carbon to a low-carbon emitter in a few decades received input from the fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil in the weeks prior to its passage, according to a watchdog that monitors lobbying activity, as The Guardian reported.
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Ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber are creating more climate pollution and road congestion per trip than the transportation options they displace, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
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- Can Uber and Lyft Be a Climate Solution? - EcoWatch ›
By Kieran Cooke
Driving an electric-powered vehicle (EV) rather than one reliant on fossil fuels is a key way to tackle climate change and improve air quality — but it does leave the old batteries behind as a nasty residue.
Powering Local Shops<p>Banks of old EV batteries could store power: they could be used to store energy to feed into the electricity grid or directly into buildings. In Japan the Toyota car company has pioneered <a href="https://global.toyota/en/newsroom/corporate/22833613.html?padid=ag478_from_kv" target="_blank">a scheme which hooks up old EV batteries with solar panels</a> to power convenience stores.</p><p>In 2017 more than a million EVs were sold worldwide. The study estimates that when those cars reach the end of the road they will produce 250,000 tonnes of discarded battery packs. It's vital, say the study's authors, that this problem be addressed now.</p><p>It's estimated that <a href="https://cleantechnica.com/2020/01/18/fossil-vehicle-sales-in-global-freefall-down-4-7-in-2019-electric-vehicle-sales-continue-to-grow/" target="_blank">EV global sales combined with sales of plug-in hybrid cars amounted to more than 2.2 million last year</a>. At the same time, sales of fossil fuel cars have been falling.</p><p>All the big vehicle manufacturers are <a href="https://autovistagroup.com/news-and-insights/more-evs-way-co2-targets-cause-rush-development" target="_blank">making heavy commitments to EV manufacturing</a>. Deloitte, the market research group, <a href="https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/manufacturing/deloitte-uk-battery-electric-vehicles.pdf" target="_blank">forecasts global EV sales rising to 12 million in 2025</a> and to more than 20 million by 2030. It predicts that as economies of scale are achieved and costs of manufacturing batteries decline, the price of EVs will fall.<em></em></p>
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- We can all take steps to reduce the environmental impact of our work-related travels.
- Individual actions — like the six described here — can cumulatively help prompt more collective changes, but it helps to prioritize by impact.
- As the saying goes: be the change you want to see in the world.
1. Travel With Trust<p>When looking for a place to stay, look for accommodations that utilize various sustainability standards. This may include facilities that use renewable energies or are a part of coalitions such as <a href="https://www.wemeanbusinesscoalition.org/" target="_blank">We Mean Business</a> that are striving to reduce waste in all aspects of their operations. Use the Global Sustainable Tourism Council's <a href="https://www.gstcouncil.org/gstc-criteria/gstc-recognized-standards-for-hotels/" target="_blank">list</a> of trusted standards used in different countries as a guide.</p>
2. Travel Light<p>Just like at home, traveling is an opportunity to think carefully about what you consume and how. Minimize your use of the mini toiletries at your hotel (most of which are being <a href="https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/9/19/20863270/tiny-plastic-toiletries-ban" target="_blank">phased out</a> since they are single-use, non-recyclable plastics). Reduce your overall water footprint by opting for "green choice" programs to reuse your towels and sheets during your stay. Better yet, leave a note saying you would like to see more package-free, sustainable purchasing in all of the hotel's operations! Take a step further by reducing or eliminating your own waste by bringing your own items, like a reusable coffee cup, water bottle and other utensils. (Foldable cups, bottles and utensils are ideal for most business baggage and are a great way to impress clients and colleagues.) More impactfully, change your dietary choices by opting for red meat-free or plant based meals.</p>
3. Travel Small<p>Whether flying, on the ground, or in your room, small is generally better. If you must fly, get better carbon savings by staying in economy. If you can't take a train or bus and need to take a car (taxi, ride-hailing, or otherwise) opt to pool, and look for a small hybrid, or ideally an electric vehicle (EV).</p>
4. Travel Slowly<p>Avoiding air travel all together is an impactful way to reduce your carbon emissions. Compared to most of our European counterparts, those of us in North America have a hard time getting a good train or bus; but Amtrak, VIA Rail, regional transit and bus services are improving and, throughout the world, many of these options are readily available. "<a href="https://www.impacttravelalliance.org/" target="_blank">Slow travel</a>" is gaining traction around the world and offers opportunities to travel not only with lower emissions, but more comfortably, too.</p>
5. Travel Regeneratively<p>Concepts like <a href="https://offset.climateneutralnow.org/" target="_blank">carbon offsetting</a> can be complex, but the principle behind them is simple: if we cannot avoid certain negative impacts in what we do, we must always search for ways to mitigate those impacts. To be fair, there are many valid and varied critiques of carbon offsets and other mechanisms like them. However, so long as air travel and other environmentally significant travel are options that cannot be avoided, negotiate with your employer to purchase carbon offsets as a meaningful way to help repair some of the damage we inflict while doing sometimes unavoidable work.</p>
6. Travel Carefully<p>The most important decision that someone who travels for work can make is whether or not they need to travel at all. Telecommuting isn't always ideal, but the energy associated with travel — particularly for high-income or high-ranking professionals — is immense and one has to really be able to make a clear rationale for why a particular trip matters. Use carbon calculators and have a clear sense of the metrics you're measured on, as to how this trip can contribute (or not) to your work.</p>
From Behavioral Change to Systems Change<p>As Millennials and Generation Z move into positions of greater authority in the workplace, it is incumbent on us to leave a better path for those who come next.</p><p>Many Global Shapers are starting to explore ways to embed sustainable travel in both our individual and organizational practices and we invite you — the reader — to <a href="mailto:%email@example.com?subject=6%20ways%20travelling%20professionals%20can%20cut%20their%20carbon%20footprint%20-%20Feedback" target="_blank">reach out to us</a> with any ideas and suggestions on our list. This could look like building a contractor or employment agreement for your job that explicitly mandates or supports sustainable travel. Better yet, use your conscientious travel as an opportunity to spark an organization-wide conversation about developing a sustainable travel policy.</p><p>In the end, the climate crisis and environmental challenges around the world require both individual and collective action. Global Shapers, and members of the World Economic Forum, are privileged, connected and prominent leaders. We cannot wait for policies or procedures to be in place before we start mobilizing for change, but rather we can and must leverage our positions in society to create the baseline of expectations for living in balance with the planet. As the old saying goes, we must be the change we wish to see in the world.</p>
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By Paul Brown
If it is to achieve its target of net zero climate emissions by 2050, all UK airports must close by mid-century and the country will have to make other drastic and fundamental lifestyle changes, says a report from a research group backed by the government in London.
In 2018, there were about 5 million electric cars on the road globally. It sounds like a large number, but with well over a billion cars worldwide, electric vehicles are still only a small percentage.
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Microsoft announced ambitious new plans to become carbon negative by 2030 and then go one step further and remove by 2050 all the carbon it has emitted since the company was founded in 1975, according to a company press release.