By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Sam Edwards
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico is one of the windiest places on earth. Hemmed in by two mountain ranges, the flat strip of land between the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico is a natural wind tunnel. A single gust can flip over cars. It's the perfect place for turbines.
Clean Energy at a Price<p>The Gunaa Sicaru wind park is planned to be built next to Union Hidalgo. Run by French energy giant EDF, it would provide 252 megawatts of power. But first it needs approval from locals through an ongoing public consultation. And as for many multinational-backed wind parks in Oaxaca, that's proving a challenge.</p><p>In a country historically reliant on oil revenue, wind power and other renewables could bring a transition to cleaner energy. But Alejandra Ancheita, director of NGO ProDESC, warns green power must not replicate the environmental harm and mishandling of local communities typical of the global fossil fuel sector.</p><p>"Renewable energy projects can't be justified solely on the basis they are creating clean energy," Ancheita told DW. "It's not 'clean energy' if it isn't developed with a strict respect for the local communities where the project will be built."</p><p><span></span>ProDESC's legal team represents a group of Union Hidalgo residents in an injunction against EDF and local authorities, alleging violations of the consultation process. The NGO claims the local authorities and EDF failed to provide accurate information on the project's impacts and distributed misleading translations from Spanish to Zapotec.</p>
Community Conflict<p>Ramirez and other local activists say oil runoff from the turbines that already dominate the landscape pollutes waterways, while the sound of the wind farms — many of which are close to towns — disturbs residents and local birdlife.</p><p>But while Ramirez and others fight to prevent further damage to their land, some in Union Hidalgo support the development, particularly those who can earn a steady income from leasing their land.</p><p>"It's creating a lot of division in our community," Ramirez said.</p><p>According to a report by the Berlin-based <a href="https://www.ecchr.eu/fileadmin/Publikationen/ECCHR_PP_WINDPARK.pdf" target="_blank">European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights</a> (ECCHR), conflict in the community escalated in 2018, after critics of the project were condemned as "enemies of development" in the EDF consultation meetings.</p><p>ProDESC and ECCHR said in a formal letter last year, that the company needed to do more to prevent conflict in the community.</p><p>EDF told DW it had met its obligations in the consultation process for Gunaa Sicaru but it was the Mexican authorities who ultimately bore the responsibility for ensuring residents were informed and free to make a decision. EDF has received no reports of threats against critics of the Gunaa Sicaru project, the company added.</p><p>The Oaxaca state government did not respond to DW's request for comment.</p>
Future of Clean Energy<p>Mexico, one of the world's top 15 carbon emitters, has committed to producing 35% of its electricity from clean energy by 2024. Renewables have drawn significant interest from investors since a reform opened the sector to private investment in 2013. Both the solar and wind sectors reported record growth last year.</p><p>But observers fear the future of renewables is uncertain under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrado. Lisa Viscidi, from think tank The Inter-American Dialogue, told DW that regulatory changes under the current administration are undermining incentives to invest in the sector. Winning consent from communities in Oaxaca has been another significant challenge. A 2019 report authored by Viscidi on Mexico's first clean energy auction found several projects had been delayed due to a failure to get the community on board.</p>
Alternative Development<p>The challenges of wind energy in Oaxaca are not unique.</p><p>The transition to renewables will be an "epochal shift" in most countries, says Cymene Howe, an anthropologist with Rice University in Texas and author of a book about wind energy in Oaxaca. That's because energy infrastructure will move into parts of the planet untouched by fossil fuel industries.</p><p>"[It will be] a fundamental shift in how we imagine landscapes, what land is to be used for, who lives there and who has responsibility," she said. "This is a new frontier."</p><p>In Union Hidalgo, Ramirez says the conflicts over wind parks have already forced some people to move elsewhere searching for work or new land to farm. She fears that if Gunaa Sicaru goes ahead, the town will soon be bordered on most sides by wind turbines and unable to grow.</p><p>"No one is coming here to force us off our land. [But] one day we'll have to leave ourselves because we won't be able to handle being surrounded," Ramirez said.</p><p>For her, it is not about stifling wind power development, but empowering locals to shape it — for example through community-owned wind parks that would funnel profits back into the local community.</p><p><span></span>"Development can take many forms," Ramirez said.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Kimberly White
The City of Houston has committed to 100 percent renewable energy. Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the city has teamed up with NRG Energy to power all municipal operations with renewable energy beginning in July.
<div id="aea44" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="45b3862780fc400f29290a319fcc2f63"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="902176734078017537" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Here are the #ClimateFacts about #HurricaneHarvey. https://t.co/lECmNlmbCh</div> — The YEARS Project (@The YEARS Project)<a href="https://twitter.com/YEARSofLIVING/statuses/902176734078017537">1503930669.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Fino Menezes
April 2020 was the first month ever that renewables generated more electricity than thermal coal in the United States every single day, while across the Atlantic, the United Kingdom's rapid decarbonization of its electricity grid has achieved another significant milestone – completing a whole month (30 days) without coal power for the first time in 138 years.
Renewables Surpass Coal in U.S. Power Generation Every Day in April<p>April 2020 was the first month in U.S. history that renewables generated more electricity than coal on every day of the month. That's based on new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and compiled by the nonprofit <a href="https://ieefa.org/ieefa-update-renewables-surpass-coal-in-u-s-power-generation-throughout-the-month-of-april-2020/" target="_blank">Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA)</a>.</p><p>The daily consecutive run of renewables over coal began on March 25 and continued for 40 straight days through May 3. That breaks the previous record of just nine continuous days.</p><p>The strong output from utility-scale solar, wind, and hydropower is based on several factors, including low gas prices, warmer weather, new renewable capacity connecting to the grid late last year, and lower power demand because of the coronavirus.</p><p>IEEFA <a href="https://ieefa.org/ieefa-update-renewables-surpass-coal-in-u-s-power-generation-throughout-the-month-of-april-2020/" target="_blank">reported</a>: "Coal's high cost has made it increasingly one of the last fuel choices for many utilities, a trend reflected by its declining market share for electric generation: just 15.3% in April, according to preliminary EIA figures.</p><p>"In January, coal's market share fell below 20% for the first time in many decades — and possibly for the first time in the entire history of the U.S. power industry — ending at 19.9%.</p><p>"EIA figures also show its share continued to erode, falling to 18.3% in February and 17.3% in March. As recently as 2008, coal's market share was above 50% in the months of January, February and March."</p><p>IEEFA had previously <a href="https://ieefa.org/ieefa-update-renewable-generation-is-set-to-surpass-coal-in-2021/" target="_blank"></a><a href="https://ieefa.org/ieefa-update-renewable-generation-is-set-to-surpass-coal-in-2021/" target="_blank">forecasted that power generation from renewables</a> would likely surpass coal-fired generation in 2021, an important milestone in the energy transition that is well underway. But in the first quarter of 2020, renewable generation unexpectedly exceeded coal, and with this strong performance continuing in the second quarter, there is an increasing chance that the milestone could occur this year.</p>
U.K. Goes a Month Without Coal Power for First Time for 138 Years<p>The United Kingdom's rapid decarbonization of its electricity grid has achieved another significant milestone – completing a whole month (30 days) without coal power for the first time in 138 years, <a href="https://ieefa.org/u-k-electricity-goes-coal-free-for-a-month-a-first-in-138-years/" target="_blank">reported</a> The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) this week.</p><p>The milestone was reached on Sunday 10 May (U.K.) time and celebrated by National Grid ESO, the organization that runs the grid and is responsible for keeping the lights on nationwide. It was the first time this occurred since coal power was first used on the U.K. power system in January, 1882, at Holborn Viaduct.<br></p><p>Within a few years, there will be no coal generation at all – with the remaining plants shuttered, and one or two converted to gas by 2025. National Grid aims to be able to operate a fully zero emission grid when weather conditions allow from 2025, and is accelerating its adoption of new technologies and management systems that will allow it to side line gas power plants when possible.<br></p><p>Just a few days before the new month-long coal-free milestone, National Grid released its latest end of year planning report outlining the main achievements it has made in the long path to a fully decarbonized grid before 2050.</p><p>"We're really proud of our zero carbon targets," National Grid wrote in a blog a few days earlier. "In May 2019 there was a 2-week period where there was coal free operation of Great Britain's electricity system. This has quickly been beaten after the record breaking sunlight in April."</p><p>It noted that the carbon intensity of the electricity system has halved over the last five years, and is down 60 per cent when compared to 2013. "The recent <a href="https://www.nationalgrideso.com/news/day-life-energy-forecasting-manager" target="_blank">low demand for energy</a> due to COVID-19 has dramatically reduced the use of fossil fuel based generation, and this has been supported by our optimized renewable generation," it says.</p><p>"And as supply changes, so to does demand, as renewables capacity and smart grid functionality increases further to enable the side-lining of gas power plants when possible."</p>
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By Stuart Braun
1.3 billion plastic bottles are sold daily around the world. And that's just the tip of the fossil-based plastic iceberg. Plastic preserves our food. It's in the nylon and polyester we wear, and it protects medical staff from the coronavirus.
1. Olive Pits<p>Countries that produce a lot of olive oil have a byproduct that can be used for plastic: olive pits. A Turkish startup called Biolive began creating a range of began creating a range of bioplastic granules created from olive seeds that result in bio-based, partially biodegradable products that can decompose in a year.<br></p><p>The active ingredient oleuropein found in olive seeds is an antioxidant that extends the life of the bioplastic while also hastening composting of the material into fertilizer within a year. </p><p>And since Biolive's granules act like fossil fuel-based plastics, plastic producers can simply substitute the conventional granules without disrupting the production cycle for industrial products and food packaging. </p><p>Biolive claims that by utilizing olive oil waste, production costs are reduced by up to 90% in relation to some existing bioplastics. This is important says founder Duygu Yilmaz, since starch-based bioplastics made from corn are often more expensive than petroleum-based plastics are therefore not a viable alternative. </p><p>In 2019, award-winning Biolive was chosen to represent Turkey at the United Nations Development Programme.</p>
2. Sunflower Hulls<p>Like olive seeds, the husks of sunflower seeds used for oil production is a waste product also being used to created bioplastics. And luckily, they're in near endless supply.</p><p>The German start-up Golden Compound has created a unique Sustainable Sunflower Plastic Compound bioplastic – referred to as S²PC. It's reinforced with sunflower hulls, which they claim are 100% recyclable.</p><p>The S²PC bioplastic is being moulded into everything from office furniture to recyclable transport and storage boxes and crates.</p><p>Golden Compound also produces a "green" bioplastic that is 100% biodegradable, GMO-free and can be fully composted at home. Products include award-winning, <a href="https://www.plasticsinsight.com/golden-compound-and-alpla-bring-a-world-first-biodegradable-coffee-capsule-compostable-at-home" target="_blank">world-first biodegradable coffee capsules</a>, plant pots and coffee mugs. </p><p>The German start-up attributes the success of its bioplastics to performance. "In the end, the only reason people will be willing to switch, is if it works," Marcel Dartée, General Manager at Golden Compound, told the <em>Plastic Today </em>trade publication.</p>
3. Fish Waste and Algae<p>The growing attempt to transform organic waste into plastic now includes fish processing refuse.</p><p>A UK initiative called MarinaTex is using fish skin and scales – 500,000 tons of which are generated annually in the UK alone – bound with red algae to make a compostable plastic alternative that can replace single-use plastics such as bakery bags and sandwich packs.</p><p>MarinaTex claims the biopolymer creates stronger packaging than a conventional plastic bag — flying in the face of perceptions that bioplastics lack strength and durability.</p><p>Lucy Hughes, who created the product in her final year at the University of Sussex, says MarinaTex's flexibility, strength and pliability was inspired by actual fish skin and scales.</p><p>"It kind of struck me that nature can make so much from so little, so why do we need to have hundreds of man-made polymers when nature has so many already available," she told the World Economic Forum in November. </p><p>MarinaTex, which won the 2019 James Dyson Award worth €35,000, describes its product as home compostable and says it can break down within four to six weeks.</p>
4. Plant Sugars<p>While PET is one of the most recyclable fossil-based plastics it takes hundreds of years to decompose. In response, Amsterdam-based Avantium has created a revolutionary "YXY" plants-to-plastics technology that converts plant-based sugars into a new biodegradable packaging material, polyethylene furanoate or PEF.</p><p>A trial of PEF biodegradability in the natural environment is showing promising signs.</p><p>"PEF degrades much faster than PET under industrial composting conditions," Caroline van Reedt Dortland, Director Communications at Avantium, told DW. Degrading in 250-400 days as opposed to 300-500 years is significant.</p><p>It is used as a textile, film, and has the potential to become a major player in the packaging of soft drinks, water, alcoholic beverages and fruit juices, having already collaborated with the likes of Carlsberg to create <a href="https://www.avantium.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/20191011-Press-release-Avantium-joins-Paper-Bottle-Project-final.pdf" target="_blank">a "100% bio-based" beer bottle</a>.</p><p>According to Hasso Pogrell of European Bioplastics, it's even possible to " recycle PEF together with PET, and it makes the PET recyclate perform even better than the original PET."</p>
5. Mushrooms<p>Gadget blog<em> Gizmodo</em> wrote back in 2015 about resilient and biodegradable fungal mycelia-based materials which, unlike oil-based plastic, "create no toxic byproducts."</p><p>One emerging brand utilizing fungi is Reishi, a sustainable, fine mycelium leather substitute created from a woven cellular microstructure derived from mushrooms. By emulating the collagen structure of animal leathers, Reishi fine mycelium is both sustainable and versatile.</p><p>Reishi creator MycoWorks has taken the water-resistant biomaterial to the next level, promising the performance, quality and aesthetics of leather or synthetic plastic materials, but with a negative carbon footprint.</p><p>Already utilized by a selection of European luxury and footwear brands, in late 2019 $17 million (€18 million) financing was raised to help deliver commercially viable non-plastic, non-animal Reishi materials to the market.</p><p>In terms of limiting fossil-based plastic consumption, the biomaterial aims to outperform existing "vegan leathers" that are created with unsustainable plastics. <br></p>
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The growing demand for renewable energy led to record setting growth in wind power capacity as technology has made harnessing wind power increasingly efficient and more wind farms have been completed and have joined the electrical grid, according to The Telegraph.
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Virginia, which now has a Democrat as governor and Democrats in control of the statehouse, has followed the lead of several other blue states and committed itself to transition away from fossil fuels to a clean, renewable, carbon-free energy, as Vox reported. It makes Virginia the first state in the South to commit to 100 percent clean energy.
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Whether reporting on sea level rise, crop failures, or natural disasters, journalists are often the bearers of bleak news about global warming.
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A new report shows that investments in coal plants may be a waste of money as renewables are cheaper than new coal plants, according to new research from the financial think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative.
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A California county has given the green light to what officials say will be part of the largest renewable energy storage facility in the world.
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By Carla Ruas
A brand new year is upon us and the future is full of possibilities. We have the chance to do better — especially when it comes to tackling the climate crisis.
If we continue down this road we’re in big trouble.<p>As we enter 2020, the planet has already warmed 1.8°F since the pre-industrial era. We're also off-track to meet the Paris Agreement goals of keeping global temperature below 3.6°F in the next decade. </p><p>If nothing changes, the future with climate change will be harsh — especially for communities of color, lower-income communities and immigrant groups that are more vulnerable to impacts from extreme weather events such as heatwaves, flooding and hurricanes. </p><p>The United Nations recently warned that we need to be more aggressive in implementing climate solutions. That mostly means reducing climate emissions and boosting clean energy. In order to do that, we need to look beyond the usual tactics; we need to prioritize the needs of local communities over oil companies and rethink how we use our shared lands and waters.</p><h3>Here are five ways we can tackle the climate crisis in 2020 and beyond.</h3>
1. Cut fossil fuel extraction on America’s public lands.<p>This may come as a surprise, but American public lands are a huge source of climate emissions. More than 20 percent of the country's total emissions come from oil, natural gas and coal extracted on those sites. The federal government can easily turn this around by tightening leasing rules and charging fossil fuel companies a fair price for these lands. Right now, the Trump administration often gives acres away for the price of a cup of coffee.</p>
2. Use damaged land to boost clean energy.<p>We need to generate a lot more <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/renewable-energy/" rel="noopener noreferrer">renewable energy</a> to replace old, dirty energy and slow down the climate crisis. And we know the perfect places for new projects. A lot of public lands across the country have been abandoned after being used for mining, landfills and coal plants. These lots are perfect for clean energy sites, since they've already been disturbed in some way and <a href="https://www.wilderness.org/articles/blog/your-questions-answered-where-should-we-develop-renewable-energy" target="_blank">won't impact new wildlife habitats</a>.</p>
3. Protect and expand natural carbon sinks<p>Have you ever heard of carbon sinks? They are natural landscapes that have the power to absorb the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide. The Tongass Natural Forest in Alaska is the most prolific carbon sink in the country. From its trees to the underlying soil, it stores more carbon dioxide than any other forest in the country. We should take steps to preserve and expand the Tongass and other forests in the new year instead of opening them up to roads, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/logging/" rel="noopener noreferrer">loggin</a>g and <a href="https://www.wilderness.org/articles/blog/why-its-important-keep-wildest-forests-free-roads-and-logging" target="_blank">other development</a>.</p>
4. Bring local communities to the table.<p>The climate crisis impacts some communities more than others, mostly lower-income and communities of color. Hispanic immigrants, for instance, have <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-temperature-immigrants-casualties/immigrant-workers-in-u-s-have-tripled-risk-for-heat-related-death-idUSKBN1DE2G3" target="_blank">more than three times the risk of dying from heat-related illnesses</a> likely due to outdoor working conditions and limited access to medical care.</p><p>Communities of color are also <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/03/11/air-pollution-inequality-minorities-breathe-air-polluted-whites/3130783002/" target="_blank">disproportionally impacted by the air pollution</a> that stems from fossil fuel sites. African Americans are exposed to about 56 percent more pollution than then they generate, while Hispanics bear the brunt with 63 percent. Dirty air has been associated with lung disease, heart disease and premature death. </p><p>If we're going to be successful in tackling climate change, these communities need to be a part of the conversation from the start. Their first-hand experiences and input are essential to make sure that we're not leaving anyone behind as we implement solutions.</p>
5. Support new climate legislations.<p>We can't move forward with any of the tactics above without having legislation in place that establish the right framework.</p><p>We're thrilled <a href="https://www.wilderness.org/articles/blog/new-climate-change-legislation-game-changer" target="_blank">a bill that was introduced in the House of Representatives</a> by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.). This historic bill would reduce and offset emissions from fossil fuel developments on public lands and waters. We're grateful to Chairman Grijalva for working to harness the power of our public lands to address the climate crisis and hope the Senate will do the same.</p><p>Laws to ensure that our climate lands are part of the climate solution are exactly what we need in 2020 to face the massive challenge that is climate change.</p>
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