By Jeff Berardelli
At the first presidential debate on Tuesday night, former Vice President Joe Biden said point-blank that he does not support the Green New Deal — a progressive plan which not only aims to aggressively tackle climate change but also encompasses many other issues like social justice, jobs, housing and health care.
In response, President Trump pounced on what appeared to be an opportunity to underscore that point to Biden's base, saying, "That's a big statement… you just lost the radical left."
But this was not actually a new position for Biden. Instead, he explained, "I support the Biden plan that I put forward" — a $2 trillion proposal that is more narrow and less aggressive than the far-reaching Green New Deal.
Their exchange reveals the needle that Biden is threading in his campaign, between trying to win the confidence of climate crusaders on the left while not alienating more moderate voters in the middle.
Although it is true that Biden's climate plan does not fully match the Green New Deal, there are many similarities. That's because over the last few months the Biden campaign made a deliberate effort to consult with more progressive factions of the party through the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, a committee which included climate and environmental justice activists like the Sunrise Movement — a group instrumental in the design of the Green New Deal. Biden has committed to some, but not all, of the task force's recommendations.
"Joe Biden's climate plan isn't everything, but it isn't nothing at all," Varshini Prakash, the founder of Sunrise Movement, told CBS News in an interview for the recent CBSN special "Climate in Crisis." She said if he is able to make good on those promises, it would represent a "seismic shift in climate policy at the federal level."
As a result of the task force's work, Biden's climate plan was boosted from $1.7 trillion over 10 years to a much more substantial $2 trillion over four years, with a faster timeline to achieve a carbon-free electricity sector and a greater focus on environmental justice.
"I think that Biden has done a good job of responding to pressure from the climate movement," said Professor Leah Stokes, an energy and environmental politics expert at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who is very active in the climate policy arena and plugged into the progressive wing of the climate community. "The Unity Task Force was set up explicitly to accomplish this goal — and it was extremely successful."
The careful wording on Biden's campaign website is revealing. It says "Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face" — an acknowledgment but not an embrace.
Goals and Costs
First, it is worth mentioning that comparing Biden's plan to the Green New Deal is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, because the Green New Deal is a broad resolution, not a specific plan. The goals of the Green New Deal are many, but the details on how exactly to achieve those goals are few. Thus, putting a price tag on the Green New Deal has been elusive; some experts estimate it would likely be tens of trillions of dollars over 10 years.
In contrast, Biden's climate plan would lay out $2 trillion over 4 years towards clean energy and infrastructure, which he says will create "millions" of jobs and move the U.S. closer to a carbon-free future. (For comparison, the cost, while expensive, it is still short of the one-year, $2.2 trillion price tag for U.S. coronavirus stimulus measures to date.)
Biden's plan is also much more narrowly focused than the Green New Deal, which envisions broader reforms across the U.S. economy. For instance, the Green New Deal includes a goal of "providing all people of the United States with high-quality health care" — an issue that is not addressed in Biden's climate plan.
However, like the Green New Deal, Biden's plan is aggressive in addressing climate change while also attempting to tackle other related issues such as environmental justice, sustainable housing, supporting a "just transition" for workers whose jobs are affected, and the building of major infrastructure projects such as high speed rail, which is mentioned in both proposals.
Green Jobs and Infrastructure
At their core, both the Green New Deal and Biden's climate plan are about jobs as well as the environment. They both place an emphasis on supporting labor unions' right to organize and bargain for fair wages for their members. The Green New Deal sets a goal of providing a guaranteed job with a family-sustaining wage and benefits to every American — but Biden does not go that far.
Biden's jobs plan is big, but not as comprehensive as the Green New Deal's. He pledges to create millions of new jobs by retooling the auto industry for low-emission vehicles, building infrastructure for a green future, upgrading millions of buildings to be more energy efficient, constructing 1.5 million new sustainable housing units, and cleaning up pollution from oil and gas wells and coal mining sites.
"When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, he thinks 'hoax.' I think 'jobs'," Biden has said. He aims to provide additional jobs out of the pandemic by boosting this green energy economy.
Climate change is also expected to continually increase major stresses on America's already aging infrastructure. To address this, both plans call for major investments to, as the Green New Deal puts it, "meet the challenges of the 21st century." Biden's plan calls for making "smart infrastructure investments to rebuild the nation and to ensure that our buildings, water, transportation, and energy infrastructure can withstand the impacts of climate change."
However, on housing, Biden's proposal to build 1.5 million new sustainable housing units is far short of the lofty ambitions of the Green New Deal, which calls for "providing all people of the United States with affordable, safe, and adequate housing."
Carbon Emissions and Fracking
On emissions reductions, Biden's plan calls for a carbon pollution-free U.S. power sector by 2035, with net-zero emissions throughout the economy by 2050. The Green New Deal's timeline is more aggressive, calling for a 10-year national mobilization to generate "100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources."
Both the Green New Deal and Biden's plan call for overhauling the American transportation industry to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases by creating more public transit and pushing the country toward more hybrid and electric cars. Biden's plan puts forth proposals like giving Americans rebates to trade in gas-guzzling vehicles for more efficient American cars, incentivizing auto companies to offer more zero-emission vehicles, and investing in 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, among other ideas.
One area where Biden's position has differed more significantly from environmental activists — and many of his rivals in the Democratic presidential primaries — has been on fracking.
Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a drilling method for extracting natural gas from shale formations underground by injecting liquid at high pressure. Since 2005, the use of fracking in the U.S. has grown exponentially. Some energy experts forecast the U.S. will be the world's top exporter of natural gas within the next few years.
While the Green New Deal does not explicitly mention anything about fracking, its timeline to cut emissions from the power sector is so rapid that eliminating fracking is implied in the proposal. Banning fracking has certainly been a priority among climate activists.
However, fracking is a substantial source of jobs and revenue in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania, where some 32,000 workers are employed in the fracking and natural gas industry. Biden told voters there in July that fracking "is not on the chopping block," though his campaign says he supports no new fracking on federal land.
"It is not surprising that Biden said he doesn't support a Green New Deal. He has a climate plan that's in line with science — but he has never vocally supported a GND," says Emily Atkin, a popular climate journalist who writes and hosts HEATED, a newsletter and podcast followed closely by many progressive climate crusaders. "This is completely in line with who he said he was. Also, he's trying to win Pennsylvania." (According to the latest CBS News Battleground Tracker poll, Biden currently leads President Trump in the state by 5 points.)
Though he's faced some criticism over fracking from the left, it has been far more muted than one might expect, perhaps because green activists realize how much worse their chances will be if Mr. Trump is reelected. So far, according to a tally by Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, the Trump administration has taken steps to roll back 162 climate related regulations.
A hallmark of the Green New Deal is its emphasis on environmental justice, to help remedy inequities which leave minority, low-income and Indigenous communities disproportionately affected by pollution and the impacts of climate change.
Biden's plan directs 40% of its spending to historically disadvantaged communities, and calls for the establishment of an Environmental and Climate Justice Division at the Justice Department to prosecute anti-pollution cases.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that while many of the concepts in the Green New Deal are also addressed in Biden's climate plan, generally speaking the Biden plan is more narrowly focused and less expensive.
Professor Stokes says it seems to be a bargain most progressives can live with in this election.
"We have a choice right now between our current president, a climate denier, and our former vice president, someone committed to climate action at the scale of the crisis," she told CBS News. "Biden has the most aggressive climate change plan of any presidential candidate in U.S. history."
This story originally appeared in CBS News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Jeff Berardelli
This story was originally published on CBS News on September 9, 2020. All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication.
Right on the heels of arguably the West Coast's most intense heat wave in modern history comes the most ferocious flare-up of catastrophic wildfires in recent memory. Meanwhile, just a few hundred miles east, a 60-degree temperature drop over just 18 hours in Wyoming and Colorado was accompanied by an extremely rare late-summer dumping of up to 2 feet of snow.
It's not coincidence, it's climate change.
These kinds of dystopian weather events, happening often at the same time, are exactly what scientists have been warning about for decades. While extreme weather is a part of the natural cycle, the recent uptick in the ferocity and frequency of these extremes, scientists say, is evidence of an acceleration of climate impacts, some of which were underestimated by climate computer models.
"This is yet another example of where uncertainty is not our friend," says Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State. "As we learn more, we are finding that many climate change impacts, including these sorts of extreme weather events, are playing out faster and with greater magnitude than our models predicted."
On Wednesday NOAA released its latest State of the Climate Report, which finds that just during the month of August the U.S. was hit by four different billion-dollar disasters: two hurricanes, huge wildfires and an extraordinary Midwest derecho.
Just one such extreme event can strain emergency resources — a situation West Coast firefighters find themselves in now. However, in two dramatic cases this summer, the nation was hit simultaneously with concurrent catastrophes, some of which had no precedent in modern history. It's a concept scientists call compound events, and it is necessary to factor these confluences into future projections to properly estimate risk, response and resources.
In mid-August the West suffered through an extended heat wave which saw Death Valley surge to 130 degrees, the hottest temperature ever reliably measured on Earth. The tinderbox conditions caused by the heat, along with a rare lightning outbreak, sparked the first round of major wildfires in California this season, escalating into three of the four largest fires in state history. At about the same time a powerful derecho caused billions of dollars in damage in Iowa and Illinois, and Hurricane Laura plowed into the Gulf Coast of Louisiana as a Category 4 with 150 mph winds and 16 feet of storm surge.
Just three weeks later, and here we are again. This past weekend California experienced an even more intense heat wave, with the southern part of the state hitting 121 degrees west of the mountains for the first time in record-keeping history. Predictably, fires flared back up due to the severe heating and drying, and then went into overdrive as a wicked early-season cold front — which is also bringing heavy snow to the Rockies — brought a wind event through the mountains and valleys of the intermountain west.
In Washington state, an estimated 330,000 acres burned across the state on Monday, more than the total in each of the last 12 fire seasons. California has seen a record 2.3 million acres burn so far this year — more than 3 times the normal for an entire season (typically July through November), and 7 times the normal year to date.
If it were just this fire season, one could chalk the extremity up to mere coincidence. But scientists say this is part of an ongoing upward trend, made clear by the data and well understood by science.
"There is little doubt that we're witnessing an acceleration of fire activity in the West - be it in terms of burned area, number of large fires, fire growth, and of course direct and indirect impacts to people," explains Dr. John Abatzoglou, climate professor at the University of California Merced.
The acceleration has been dramatic. Fire season is now two to three months longer than it was just a few decades ago across much of the West. Since the 1970s, California has experienced a five-fold increase in annual burned area and an eight-fold increase in summer forest fire extent. At least 17 of California's top 20 largest wildfires have burned since 2000.
Increase in California areas burned by wildfires, 1975 to 2015. WILLIAMS, ABATZOGLOU ET AL., EARTH'S FUTURE
Abatzoglou makes clear that there are many factors — not just climate change — that contribute to the escalation of fire activity. These include the increased settlement of people in fire-prone lands and a legacy of fire suppression in many lower-elevation forests, which led to years of heavy growth of trees and brush.
"We can focus on the bad fortune of the lightning siege around the San Francisco Bay Area, or the multitude of stupid human tricks that materialized in large wildfires, but the confluence of long-term and short-term environmental factors set the table for the 2020 fire season," he said.
In other words, though climate change does not cause the heat waves or fires, it sets the stage so that when conditions are ripe, like the summer and fall of 2020, heat waves are more intense and fires burn more fiercely.
This summer has been extremely hot and dry in the West. According to NOAA, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah each had their warmest August on record. Research has found that heat waves are now larger, getting more intense and lasting longer than decades ago. Specifically in California, extreme heat waves — like the ones of recent weeks — are now 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer due to climate change. By 2080, that same study finds such heat waves will intensify by another 3 to 5 degrees.
This week's NOAA report also finds that the same general area in the West also experienced one of its driest Augusts on record. This short-term dry and hot pattern is mainly due to natural cycles in weather, and from season to season has the biggest impact on the amount of area burned because it determines how dry the forests and brush are.
"Across the Western U.S. forests, we find that climatic measures of fuel dryness explain about ¾ of the year-to-year variability in the burned area — highlighting that climate very strongly enables big fire seasons in warm-dry summers and inhibits widespread fire activity in cool-wet summers," explains Abatzoglou.
But over the long term, human-caused climate change has been gradually drying out the atmosphere and the fuel. "The observed changes in fuel dryness [plus the] number of days of high fire danger have been particularly stark in the American West over the past half-century," says Abatzoglou.
Since the 1970s the warm season in the West has heated up by 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. This extra heat has increased the evaporation of moisture from the surface. While atmospheric moisture has also increased some, it has not increased nearly as fast as the temperature. That has caused a long-term "moisture deficit" and has accelerated the rate of foliage drying. This is part of the reason why, according to research, the West has entered into one of the worst megadroughts in the past 1,200 years.
A recent study, co-authored by Abatzoglou, found a direct link with nearly all of the increase in summer forest-fire area during the period from 1972–2018 driven by the increased moisture deficit. To illustrate just how impactful the moisture deficit is, right now, as unprecedented wildfires burn out of control, the deficit is at record low levels in the majority of the Western U.S.
Absurd atmospheric aridity (+ other factors) is enabling the ongoing fire outbreak – synchronized downslope winds… https://t.co/ohibdi2X5x— John Abatzoglou (@John Abatzoglou)1599605014.0
Another recent study from this spring found that the frequency of autumn days with extreme fire weather conditions has more than doubled since the 1980s, fueled by a combination of less rainfall and warmer temperatures.
But many scientists believe that there is more at play contributing to this extreme weather than simply the direct effects of warming and drying. One of those mechanisms is the indirect impacts of global warming on the most influential weather-maker on day-to-day conditions: the jet stream.
The speed and orientation of the jet stream — a river of fast-moving air currents in the atmosphere — determines the track, intensity and forward speed of most storm systems and also how cold or hot the weather is. The attributes of the jet stream at any given moment are determined largely by the placement of hot and cold air masses and the strength of the gradient between them. Because the Arctic has been warming at three times the rate of the rest of the globe, climate scientists know human-caused climate change is throwing the jet stream off-kilter. But how and to what extent is not totally understood.
A number of climate scientists believe that a warmer Arctic is slowing down the jet stream during certain times of year, resulting in a more wavy jet stream. As shown below, a wavy jet stream can catapult warm air northward into the Arctic and drive cold air far southward. This is exactly what happened during the catastrophic Midwest floods in 2019 and is also the kind of pattern we have right now, which is causing record low temperatures and extremely early season snow in the Rockies and Plains. A wavy jet stream is a normal part of nature, but climate change may be making it more amplified, resulting in more extremes.
"I think it's a triple whammy — heat and drought, which are favored by climate change, and the extra added ingredient is the slower, wavier jet stream," explains Mann. But he says the wavier jet stream isn't well resolved by current models, thus they underestimate the extremity of weather events enhanced by climate change.
As a result, when scientists dig into the causes of an extreme event, Mann says the studies underestimate the influence of human-caused climate change. "So if anything, climate attribution studies are likely to under-attribute the role that climate change is playing with these persistent extreme weather events," he said.
As for future fire seasons, Abatzoglou says we should expect extreme fires seasons like 2020's to become the rule rather than the exception.
"While the extent of the ongoing fire siege is beyond what most have seen in the West, the alignment of ingredients for such fire seasons is becoming more favorable as a result of climate change and land-use practices," he said. "We should expect, adapt, and prepare for similar years moving forward."
This story originally appeared in CBS News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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What are the best solar installers in the Garden State?
New Jersey may not jump off the page as a top state for solar energy, but its attractive solar-related financial incentives have prompted over $10 billion in solar investments statewide. If you're a homeowner looking to take advantage of the many benefits of solar in the Garden State, read on to see our top 10 picks for the best solar companies in New Jersey.
Our Top Picks for New Jersey Solar Installers
- Green Power Energy
- New Jersey Solar Power
- Solar Energy World
- Impact Solar, LLC
- Green Sun Energy Services
- Trinity Solar
- Cape Fear Solar Systems
- Solar Me
For many residents of New Jersey, the cost of solar is the biggest factor in choosing an installer. We recommend shopping around to get multiple quotes and comparing them to find the best installer for your home. To get started with free, no-pressure quotes from pre-screened solar panel companies in your area, fill out the form below.
10 Best Solar Companies in New Jersey
In a state with such effective solar incentives, it's important to choose a solar provider that knows the ins and outs of local energy policies. This way, you can make sure you get the most value out of your investment in solar. With this in mind, here are our choices for the best solar companies in New Jersey:
An industry leader for more than 30 years, SunPower's reputation for excellent customer care and all-in-one solar solutions earns it a top spot on our list. SunPower reviews praise the company's online design studio and virtual consultations, which provide customers with accurate designs and cost estimates.
Although it's a national provider, SunPower has Master Dealers in 17 states including New Jersey. The invitation-only Master Dealers program highlights installers that are rigorously selected by SunPower as its top brand representatives, so you can be confident you're getting a high-quality installation experience.
Green Power Energy
Green Power Energy
Green Power Energy operates in four states across the Northeast installing solar, storage, roofs and electric vehicle chargers. Built on core values of integrity, quality and reliability, Green Power Energy installed over 5,400 kW of solar throughout New Jersey in 2020. The company offers a variety of solar financing options, has a user-friendly installation process and maintains an excellent reputation within the industry and among its customers.
New Jersey Solar Power
New Jersey Solar Power
Predictably, New Jersey Solar Power provides solar energy solutions statewide. The team specializes in its expertise of New Jersey policies and incentives, making the process as smooth and profitable for New Jersey customers as possible. With $0-down financing options and some of the best solar panels available from LG and Panasonic, New Jersey Solar Power is sure to provide a transparent and reliable process from start to finish.
Solar Energy World
Solar Energy World
Maryland-based Solar Energy World continually ranks as one of the best solar energy installers in New Jersey and the greater Northeast region. Solar Energy World's mission is to provide people an affordable way to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, and it's lived up to its goals as reflected by many happy customers and commendable efforts in corporate responsibility. If you focus your purchases on ethics and quality, Solar Energy World makes a fantastic option.
Impact Solar, LLC
If you're looking for a brand highly trusted by local residents, Impact Solar may be the choice for you. Impact Solar's team and service area are a touch smaller than most other companies on this list, but it has over 35 years of experience working in several counties across New Jersey.
This means you can depend on the company's expert knowledge in both regional solar incentives and preventative maintenance methods like squirrel guards and snow or debris removal. Through its decades of installing systems in New Jersey, Impact Solar has maintained a stellar reputation among its peers and customers.
Green Sun Energy Services
Green Sun Energy Services
Supporting clients throughout Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex, Somerset, Mercer and Union Counties, this local New Jersey solar installer specializes in creating long-term value for its customers. Approaching solar as the financial investment that it is, Green Sun Energy focuses on solar financing as the cornerstone of a customer's eligibility and solar success. We also love its " Solar Hall of Shame," a hilarious page dedicated to ugly or poorly installed solar arrays from around the state.
Family-owned Trinity Solar is the largest privately held residential solar installation company in the nation, and it led the Garden State in total kW of residential solar installed in 2020. With over 65,000 solar projects under its belt, Trinity Solar is a safe bet for a positive solar experience. If your focus is to find an experienced company with a trusted track record of success, Trinity is one of the best solar companies in New Jersey.
Priding itself on quality workmanship, PlugPV solar is a small but high-impact team of experienced solar professionals in the Northeast. PlugPV boasts an impressive product portfolio including solar PV, backup solar batteries and EV chargers. Top brands like Tesla and Generac trust PlugPV to handle local installations, so you can trust it is a high-quality solar provider.
Cape Fear Solar Systems
Cape Fear Solar Systems
If you're looking for personalized service from a solar provider, Cape Fear Solar Systems is known for building lasting relationships with its customers. It has no plans of expanding beyond New Jersey's borders, and its highly localized approach has proven to be very successful — it installed nearly 5,000 kW of solar in the state in 2020 while maintaining a sparkling reputation.
Our final pick for best solar companies in New Jersey is Solar Me. This installer has brought the benefits of solar energy to thousands of happy customers across New Jersey. Offering QCell, Panasonic, LG, Hanwha, Enphase and SolarEdge technology and with technicians certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), Solar Me is an accredited and trusted installer more than capable of providing you with a solar solution to meet your energy needs.
Choosing the Best Solar Installer for Your Home
Now that you have an idea of some of the best solar New Jersey solar installers, you may be wondering how to narrow down which one is right for you. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind when picking a solar energy company:
Of course, all solar companies can install solar panels on your roof. However, beyond this, there are a number of services you may be interested in. For example, do you want home energy monitoring, backup battery services, included routine maintenance or an EV charger installed with your panels? Some companies offer these services, and others do not.
Ask about the solar installation process during your initial consultation with a company. Be sure to get details about things like customization, whether a company uses subcontractors or in-house technicians and whether the company will be filing permits on your behalf. The answers you receive can help you gauge how knowledgeable and helpful your installer will be throughout the process.
With its effective incentive programs, New Jersey has become one of the best states for solar energy. As a result, many small local companies are breaking into the industry. One easy way to find the best solar installer near you is to use a zip code-specific quote tool, which will only show you results from your area.
Solar Costs and Financing
Cost, for many homeowners, is a deciding factor in the decision to hire one solar installer over another. We recommend comparing free quotes from a few companies and looking out for any available discounts. By getting multiple quotes, you may be able to save thousands of dollars on your installation — especially if the company you really want to work with has a price-match guarantee.
Solar Industry Affiliations
When choosing the best solar installer near you, look for certifications that show trustworthiness and a reputable status within the industry. For example, employing NABCEP-certified technicians or holding membership in the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) are good signs of a reliable company.
Types of Panels
In your search for the best solar company, it helps to familiarize yourself with the different types of panels and products you want. If you have a smaller roof, finding a company with high-efficiency panels may be a good idea. If you have a specific solar panel or energy storage system in mind, you'll also want to ensure you pick a company that's certified to install that brand.
Solar Incentives and Rebates
Make sure to ask your solar provider about any and all solar rebates, tax credits and incentives available in your area. Any of the best solar providers will offer assistance in applying for the federal solar tax credit and net metering, but some may have more expertise in how to take full advantage of solar rebates, tax credits or other incentives available in your area.
Solar panels have an average lifespan of about 25, and it's important that your installer ensures your system will continue to work efficiently through the years. Many solar providers offer a 25-year technology and workmanship warranty, but some warranties can be shorter. Ask about this on the front end so you're not stuck with defective panels down the road.
Cost of Solar in New Jersey
Based on market research and data from top solar panel brands, we found the average current cost of solar in New Jersey to be around $2.77 per watt. Using this average, we can calculate that after applying the federal solar tax credit, a 5-kW solar panel system would cost around $10,249 and a 10-kW system would cost around $20,498.
Any of the best solar companies in New Jersey will be able to advise you on incentives and solar tax exemptions to reduce your overall project costs. However, it's a good idea to be familiar with these on your own, too. Here's a rundown of New Jersey solar incentives:
|New Jersey Solar Incentive||New Jersey Solar Incentive Overview|
|Net Metering||New Jersey offers a robust net metering program that gives solar panel owners credits for the unused electricity generated by their panels. These credits can be used to pay for energy you pull from the grid at night.|
|New Jersey residents do not have to pay the state's 6.625% sales tax on solar panels or other eligible solar equipment.|
|Installing solar panels boosts your property value in New Jersey, but the state doesn't require you to pay any additional taxes that would typically come with home add-ons.|
|Transition Renewable Energy Certificates (TRECs)||TRECs allow homeowners to receive cash payments or utility bill credits for all renewable energy their panels generate.|
If you're a New Jersey homeowner interested in solar, you're in luck. New Jersey has served as a model for most other states in its use of effective incentives to foster the growth of clean energy. But with solar's popularity in the state, it can be tough to sift through growing lists of providers looking to capitalize on the solar industry's growth.
This is why we recommend you get quotes from several competing New Jersey solar companies. Not only can you see what costs and benefits each will offer in its proposals, but you can ensure you receive the maximum value for your purchase. Solar is a significant investment, but one of the best you can make.
To start getting free quotes from the best solar companies in New Jersey, fill out the 30-second form below.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
By Jeff Berardelli
From the historic heat wave and wildfires in the West, to the massive derecho that tore through the middle of the nation, to the record-breaking pace of this year's hurricane season, the unprecedented and concurrent extreme conditions resemble the chaotic climate future scientists have been warning us about for decades — only it's happening right now.
While climate catastrophes are typically spaced out in time and geographic location, right now the U.S. is dealing with multiple disasters. The Midwest is cleaning up from a devastating derecho that caused nearly $4 billion in damage to homes and crops, as nearly a quarter-million people in the West are under evacuation orders or warnings from fires that have burned over 1 million acres, and at the same time residents along the Gulf Coast are bracing for back-to-back landfalls of a tropical storm and hurricane.
"This current stretch of natural catastrophe events in the United States are essentially a snapshot of what scientists and emergency managers have long feared," says meteorologist Steven Bowen, the head of Catastrophe Insight at AON, an international risk mitigation firm.
Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University, happened to be in Australia on sabbatical last year and witnessed the devastating wildfires there — a similar scene to what is playing out in California right now. For years Mann has sounded the alarms about the acceleration of human-caused climate change, but even he is somewhat surprised at the pace.
"In many respects, the impacts are playing out faster and with greater severity than we predicted," he said.
Multiple extremes resemble the chaotic climate future scientists have been warning us about for decades — only it's… https://t.co/CjhLfao5rc— CBS News (@CBS News)1598299214.0
To be sure, these events are not all related to each other, but the one thing they do have in common is that climate change makes each one more likely. The simple explanation is that there's more energy in the system and that energy is expended in the form of more extreme heat, fire, wind and rain.
It may be tempting to look at these extremes as a "new normal," but Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says while it may be new, it won't be normal.
"For some time we have talked about a 'new normal' but the issue is that it keeps changing. It does not stop at a new state. That change is what is so disruptive," he said.
The fires unfolding in California right now have no parallel in modern times. With more than 1 million acres burned in just one week, the season is already historic with more acres burned in this past week than is typical of an entire year. Two of the state's top three largest fires on record are burning at the same time — the LNU and SCU complex fires — with the likelihood that one of these will take over the top spot soon.
As of Monday morning, CalFire reports over 7,000 fires have burned more than 1.4 million acres this season, overwhelming resources to the point where many of the smaller fires are being allowed to burn. CalFire stated that to fight these fires to the maximum of their ability, the agency would need nearly 10 times more firefighting resources than are available.
As is the case in any natural disaster, the cause can be traced to multiple coinciding events. In this case, the spark for most of these fires was a siege of lightning strikes as a result of moisture drawn into California from two decaying tropical systems in the eastern Pacific, which ignited dry brush.
Daniel Swain is a well-known climate scientist who specializes in studying the link between climate change and weather in the West at the University of California, Los Angeles. In a blog post he described how even someone like him, well-versed in climate disaster, is shocked by the current situation: "I'm essentially at a loss for words to describe the scope of the lightning-sparked fire outbreak that has rapidly evolved in northern California – even in the context of the extraordinary fires of recent years. It's truly astonishing."
While it's not rare for tropical moisture to invade California, it is infrequent, and extremely unfortunate that it happened during one of the worst western U.S. heat waves in recent history, not to mention an ongoing short- and long-term drought. Researchers believe that in the year 2000 the western U.S. entered a megadrought, one of the worst in the past 1,200 years.
This is why climate scientists often say that climate change "loads the dice" for extreme weather. The cause of the fires is not climate change, but many of the factors which set the stage and made conditions ripe for fire ignition and spread are a direct result of a warming climate.
On August 16, Death Valley reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest temperature ever reliably measured on Earth. It was just a small part of a monster heat wave which broke hundreds of heat records over a two-week span. The link between heat waves and climate change is straightforward, and multiple studies have shown that a warmer climate is making heat waves more likely and more intense.
"Basically there is more heat available: Earth's energy balance is out of whack," says Trenberth. That extra heat energy, trapped in the atmosphere by excess greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels, must be used up in some way.
Trenberth explains, if the land was wet the heat would be used first to evaporate water, keeping air temperatures moderate. But when the air and ground are bone dry, as is typical of the dry season in California — especially in summers like this — the excess heat energy is expended by drying out the brush and warming and drying the air.
This long-term drying out of the air has created a "vapor pressure deficit" — or in simpler terms, a moisture deficit. According to a 2019 study, this is a leading reason for the intensified summer fire seasons in California, presently at record levels.
"Vapor pressure deficit" (gap between how much moisture *could* be in the air vs. how much is *actually* there) is… https://t.co/LXKN0hUQLi— Daniel Swain (@Daniel Swain)1597973351.0
According to the paper, "Nearly all of the increase in summer forest-fire area during 1972–2018 was driven by increased vapor pressure deficit."
A derecho is a particularly fierce and long-lasting line of thunderstorms, often causing winds over 75 mph. While these weather events are common during summer, the event that took place August 10 in Iowa and Illinois seemed otherworldly.
The squall line plowed a path 800 miles long and 40 miles wide through communities and corn fields, damaging 43% of Iowa's corn and soybean crop and causing nearly $4 billion in damage. Winds are estimated to have reached up to 140 mph, with hurricane-force winds lasting 40 to 50 minutes.
At first glance it would seem that this is just a freak natural event, with no real connection to climate change, but that may not be the case. While there is not much research on the connection between climate change and derechos, one recent paper found some alarming results.
The research team used a climate model to simulate mesoscale convective systems (MCSs), a technical term for masses of thunderstorms, in a warming world. These MCSs are the parent structures which sometimes spawn derechos. Using a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario, the paper concluded: "At the end of the century, the number of intense MCSs are projected to more than triple in North America during summer due to more favorable environmental conditions."
The research also found that MCSs' maximum hourly precipitation rates will increase by 15% to 40% in the future, due to a warmer atmosphere loaded with more moisture. "The moisture source for MCSs in the central U.S. is predominantly the Gulf of Mexico and climate change will increase the low-level jet stream moisture transport from the Gulf northward," explains lead author Dr. Andreas Prein, from the National Center For Atmospheric Research.
"How this all relates to changes in derecho frequency and intensity is poorly understood," Prein admits, but now that climate models are capable of modeling this, he plans to make it a priority in future studies.
While Mann did not comment specifically on derechos, he does feel extreme events are not properly captured in current climate models. "I have argued that the climate models are likely underpredicting the impact on the frequency and severity of various types of extreme summer weather events due to deficiencies in their ability to capture some of the relevant jet stream dynamics."
Having two tropical systems like Marco and Laura in late August, the beginning of the peak of hurricane season, is not abnormal, even if the storms are very close to one another. But what is abnormal is the record-setting pace of the current hurricane season. So far the Atlantic season has tallied 14 named storms, 10 days ahead of record pace. That's two more than the average number for an entire season, which runs through the end of November. Seasonal forecasters are predicting up to 25 named systems this year, which would place second behind 2005.
While there are many factors that contribute to how active a hurricane season will be, the most obvious is the warm water which fuels storm development. This year, nearly the entire tropical Atlantic Basin is above normal. This is part of a long-term trend of warming in which Atlantic sea surface temperatures have increased by around 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, and the measure of Ocean Heat Content hits record highs each and every year.
Warmer ocean temperatures do not guarantee more storms, but they do tip the balance, giving storms that extra boost to develop. After years of research, climate science is still not sure how a warming climate will impact the number of systems in the future, but there is consensus that, in general, hurricanes will get stronger and the strongest, most destructive hurricanes will get more frequent. Since major hurricanes — Category 3 and greater — are responsible for 85% of the damage, a warmer climate is likely to have devastating economic and human consequences.
Within research circles and among emergency planners, the concept of compound threats has become a very popular subject. For years now scientists have warned that increasing population, exposure and vulnerability combined with extreme events spiked by climate change, would overwhelm resources and compromise emergency response. Experts argue we are now seeing that unfold in real time.
"These equally profound events occurring in different parts of the country at the same time — what we call compounded or connected extremes — run the risk of putting significant strain on resources, budgets, and the supply chain," said Bowen.
This is a topic often missed in general discussions of climate change. It may seem easy to dismiss a few degree rise in global temperatures as inconsequential. However, when a cascade of extreme events, each made worse by human-caused climate change, pile on top of one another, it exposes the fragility of interconnected human systems.
"Add in the continued complications posed by COVID-19, and you're faced with even greater challenges in trying to get communities back on their feet," Bowen said.
Bowen recently authored a paper with other prominent scientists attempting to tackle this complicated issue. He says because of socioeconomic factors, population spreading into more high-risk regions, and an acceleration of climate change, more intense events "will only exacerbate the impacts of these compound scenarios in the future."
Experts warn that what we are witnessing in the present moment is a window into everyday life in the not-too-distant future if humans do not reverse course and curb emissions. This is how climate change becomes a truly destabilizing force. That's why Bowen and colleagues argue that much more urgency is needed to identify these unexpected combinations and the risks they pose to society.
This story originally appeared in CBS News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
Although heat waves rarely get the attention that hurricanes do, they kill far more people per year in the U.S. — about three times as many, according to NOAA. In 1995 a scorching heat wave in Chicago left 739 people dead.
Heat waves are even more impactful overseas, partly because people there are less likely to have air conditioning. The European heat wave of 2003 is estimated to have caused an astounding 70,000 deaths. In 2010, 56,000 people died in a heat wave in Russia.
Perhaps if heat waves received as much public attention as hurricanes, lives could be saved? That's the idea behind a new initiative launched Wednesday that aims to tackle the notoriety issue by naming and ranking heat waves. The hope is that by raising awareness of the dangers, people will be more adequately prepared when heat waves strike.
The initiative is being led by the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. They, along with 30 global partners — including the cities of Miami, Mexico City, and Athens, Greece — announced the formation of the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance.
"This extreme heat crisis can no longer be the 'silent killer' it is," said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. "This growing risk — and related solutions — must be blasted from a megaphone to decision makers and to people everywhere."
A study released by Oxford University in July backs up the need to raise awareness about heat waves. The research shows that despite the fact that extreme heat events in sub-Saharan Africa are rapidly worsening because of climate change, there's been a lack of official record-keeping to document the impact in a region that is a "literal hotspot" for heat wave activity.
The analysis concludes that this failure is "putting the population at further risk," since "action plans and early warning systems are invaluable in mitigating the impacts of extreme temperatures."
While the United States has an elaborate system of warnings, from the National Weather Service to national and local media, including TV meteorologists, much of the developing world does not have that luxury. Research suggests that naming may help.
"The naming and ranking heat waves all over the world by the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance will, for the first time, convey the true nature of the threat heat poses, essential to protecting vulnerable people who are increasingly more susceptible to its harmful effects," said Rockefeller Foundation president Dr. Rajiv Shah in a press release.
The practice of naming major storms began years ago in order to help with quick identification, because names are presumed to be far easier to remember than numbers or technical terms. The World Meteorological Organization explains, "Appending names to storms makes it easier for the media to report on tropical cyclones, heightens interest in warnings and increases community preparedness."
One memorable recent heat wave — with an extremely memorable nickname — roasted Europe in 2017. That heat wave became widely known as Lucifer, and scientists say such extreme events have been made 10 times more likely due to climate change.
Dr. Ed Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, agrees that naming heat waves would help with preparedness.
"A heat wave is an abstraction. Abstract ideas are hard to understand and remember, while concrete ideas are easier to understand and remember. Naming something is a good way to make it more concrete," he said.
"Concrete ideas are also more actionable in that people can more easily figure what to do, or what not to do. Concrete ideas are also more likely to be shared from person to person, which is helpful from a communication and public safety perspective," adds Maibach.
This push to name and rank heat waves comes at a time when climate change is dramatically increasing the chances for extreme heat. A study published in July in Nature Communications shows that since 1950, heat waves globally are getting significantly more frequent, lasting longer and producing more cumulative heat — making populations more vulnerable to heat stress.
In 2016, famed climate scientist James Hansen from Columbia University published research showing that hotter summers could make parts of the Middle East and tropics "practically uninhabitable" by the end of the century. This May, a follow up study from Columbia concluded that potentially fatal combinations of humidity and heat are already beginning to emerge across the globe.
As the intensity of extreme heat accelerates, the number of deaths will rise dramatically. That's the conclusion of a major report just released by Climate Impact Lab on Monday. Their research shows that by the year 2100, the global annual mortality rate due to excess heat is expected to climb to 73 per 100,000 people — a mortality rate similar to what New York state suffered from COVID-19. With an expected global population of around 11 billion, that translates into 8 million heat-related deaths per year.
The report also concludes the poor will be disproportionately impacted by extreme heat and die at much higher rates, bolstering the argument for naming heat waves especially in developing nations.
But here in the U.S., many meteorologists are skeptical about naming heat waves. That's because defining heat waves is not easy — it entails factoring in many variables like intensity, longevity and the size of the area covered. Therefore, people may interpret the meaning differently. And as importantly, "heat wave" means different things to different people, depending on where they live.
In many parts of the U.S. the definition of a heat wave is three days or more in a row of 90+-degree heat. However, 100 degrees in Phoenix — which is an everyday summer occurrence — does not have nearly as big a physical impact as 100 degrees in Chicago, where people are not used to extreme heat. In addition, humidity, wind and sun exposure all play a big role in the impact, but those are not factored into the current definition of a heat wave.
The Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance plans to tackle this issue of differing definitions by ranking the severity of heat waves. But the concern among some meteorologists is that naming may lead to broad-brush assumptions when in reality there is so much local nuance. They feel there needs an updated, agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a heat wave.
Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob— Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)1596623660.0
In its press release, the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance said it is in active conversations with NOAA, the World Meteorological Organization and other institutions to build "the international cooperation needed to make naming and ranking of heat waves standard practice."
Though the debate continues, not all weather professionals are skeptical about the initiative. Lonnie Quinn, the chief weathercaster at WCBS-TV in New York City, thinks it's a good idea. "I 100% believe that naming heat waves will give them more credibility. The public will jump on board and it will result in them being taken more seriously," he said.
One thing virtually everyone in the climate and weather community agrees on: climate change is making extreme heat a more serious threat to human health. Therefore, anything that can raise awareness is much needed.
"Heat waves are dangerous," said Maibach. "Making them more concrete is a useful way to help people understand the dangers, act on the dangers, and share information with other people about the dangers."
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Jane Goodall on Conservation, Climate Change and COVID-19: 'If We Carry on With Business as Usual, We're Going to Destroy Ourselves'
By Jeff Berardelli
While COVID-19 and protests for racial justice command the world's collective attention, ecological destruction, species extinction and climate change continue unabated. While the world's been focused on other crises, an alarming study was released warning that species extinction is now progressing so fast that the consequences of "biological annihilation" may soon be "unimaginable."
Dr. Jane Goodall, the world-renowned conservationist, desperately wants the world to pay attention to what she sees as the greatest threat to humanity's existence.
CBS News recently spoke to Goodall over a video conference call and asked her questions about the state of our planet. Her soft-spoken grace somehow helped cushion what was otherwise extremely sobering news: "I just know that if we carry on with business as usual, we're going to destroy ourselves. It would be the end of us, as well as life on Earth as we know it," warned Goodall.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
Jeff Berardelli: Destruction of nature is causing some really big concerns around the world. One that comes to the forefront right now is emergent diseases like COVID-19. Can you describe how destruction of the environment contributes to this?
Dr. Jane Goodall: Well, the thing is, we brought this on ourselves because the scientists that have been studying these so-called zoonotic diseases that jump from an animal to a human have been predicting something like this for so long. As we chop down at stake tropical rainforest, with its rich biodiversity, we are eating away the habitats of millions of animals, and many of them are being pushed into greater contact with humans. We're driving deeper and deeper, making roads throughout the habitat, which again brings people and animals in contact with each other. People are hunting the animals and selling the meat, or trafficking the infants, and all of this is creating environments which are perfect for a virus or a bacteria to cross that species barrier and sometimes, like COVID-19, it becomes very contagious and we're suffering from it.
But we know if we don't stop destroying the environment and disrespecting animals — we're hunting them, killing them, eating them; killing and eating chimpanzees in Central Africa led to HIV/AIDS — there will be another one. It's inevitable.
Do you fear that the next [pandemic] will be a lot worse than this one?
Well, we've been lucky with this one because, although it's incredibly infectious, the percentage of people who die is relatively low. Mostly they recover and hopefully then build up some immunity. But supposing the next one is just as contagious and has a percentage of deaths like Ebola, for example, this would have an even more devastating effect on humanity than this one.
I think people have a hard time connecting these, what may look like chance events, with our interactions and relationship with nature. Can you describe to people why the way that we treat the natural world is so important?
Well, first of all, it's not just leading to zoonotic diseases, and there are many of them. The destruction of the environment is also contributing to the climate crisis, which tends to be put in second place because of our panic about the pandemic. We will get through the pandemic like we got through World War II, World War I, and the horrors following the World Trade towers being destroyed. But climate change is a very real existential threat to humankind and we don't have that long to slow it down.
Intensive farming, where we're destroying the land slowly with the chemical poisons, and the monocultures — which can be wiped out by a disease because there is no variation of crops being grown — is leading to habitat destruction. It's leading to the creation of more CO2 through fossil fuels, methane gas and other greenhouse gas [released] by digestion from the billions of domestic animals.
It's pretty grim. We need to realize we're part of the environment, that we need the natural world. We depend on it. We can't go on destroying. We've got to somehow understand that we're not separated from it, we are all intertwined. Harm nature, harm ourselves.
If we continue on with business as usual, what do you fear the outcome will be?
Well, if we continue with business as usual, we're going to come to the point of no return. At a certain point the ecosystems of the world will just give up and collapse and that's the end of us eventually too.
What about our children? We're still bringing children into the world — what a grim future is theirs to look forward to. It's pretty shocking but my hope is, during this pandemic, with people trapped inside, factories closed down temporarily, and people not driving, it has cleared up the atmosphere amazingly. The people in the big cities can look up at the night sky and sea stars are bright, not looking through a layer of pollution. So when people emerge [from the pandemic] they're not going to want to go back to the old polluted days.
Now, in some countries there's not much they can do about it. But if enough of them, a groundswell becomes bigger and bigger and bigger [and] people say: "No I don't want to go down this road. We want to find a different, green economy. We don't want to always put economic development ahead of protecting the environment. We care about the future. We care about the health of the planet. We need nature," maybe in the end the big guys will have to listen.
I often think our economic future, which is always put at the forefront, is actually dependent upon our ecological future. Without an ecological future, there is not going to be any economic growth. Would you agree?
Absolutely. I mean, it's all been said again and again, but fossil fuels are not infinite, they will come to an end, leading to a lot more destruction of the environment for sure. Forests and natural resources are not infinite and yet we're treating them as though they are, and in some places using them up more quickly than nature can replenish them.We have to have a different kind of economy, we need a different way of thinking about what is success. Is it just about having more and more money, more and more stuff, being able to show off to your friends, and the wasteful society we live in? We waste clothes, we waste food, we waste laptops and cellphones. That pollutes the environment. So we've got to think differently, haven't we?
So what do we do? Right now our worldview is based on GDP. You suggest that we think of it in a different way. So do you have a suggestion of how we rate our success other than GDP?
I'm not an economist. I just know that if we carry on with business as usual, we're going to destroy ourselves. It would be the end of us, as well as life on Earth as we know it.
So one thing we can do, those of us in affluent societies can almost all do with a bit less. We have a very unsustainable lifestyle. You can't really blame people, they grew up into it. But if you went through World War II like I did, when you took nothing for granted, one square of chocolate for a week is what we had and everything was rationed. So, you appreciate it. We never wasted even an ounce of food; not like today.
Then, we also have to alleviate poverty. Because if you're really poor you destroy the environment, you cut down the last trees to make land to grow more food for your family, or fish the last fish. Or if you're in an urban area you buy the cheapest junk food. You don't have the luxury of asking: how is this made, did it harm the environment, did it lead to the suffering of animals like in the factory farms, is it cheap because of child slave labor? You just have to buy the cheapest in order to survive.
Then the third thing, which nobody wants to talk about, but nevertheless ... there are approximately 7.8 billion of us on the planet today and already in some places we're using up natural resources faster than nature can replenish them. In 2050 it's estimated that there will be 9.7 billion of us. What will happen? We can't just go on burying it under the carpet.
Population issues are politically sensitive so I talk about voluntary population optimization. So that's OK, it's voluntary, it is your choice. You optimize it for your financial situation. People are desperate to educate their children and they can't educate eight anymore. So they love family planning, and women can space out their children so that they can have a child and look after it.
Let's switch gears. I don't eat animals. I have a dog. I love my dog. Let's talk about the idea that animals have feelings and that pigs are as intelligent as dogs...
You know, animals are so much more intelligent than people used to think, and they have feelings and emotions and personalities, like your dog, any animal you share your life with. You know, birds now are making tools and octopus are incredibly intelligent. And when we think of all this trafficking of animals, selling them in meat markets or factory farms, when you think that each one one is an individual, can feel fear and pain, can suffer mentally as well as physically, isn't it shocking? I'm glad you don't eat them. I don't either, of course.
The shock and horror because in China and South Korea they eat dogs — well, the thought of eating a dog makes me feel particularly sick, but not more sick than eating a pig. They eat dogs and we don't like it, but we eat pigs, and they are as intelligent as dogs.
Isn't the point, if you must eat an animal shouldn't you treat it really well, like the Native Americans, respect the animal and give thanks that it's sacrificed itself for you?
This is a bit more of a thought-provoking question: What has led us to this over-consumption in society? There is an idea that perhaps there is a Biblical basis, that we have dominion, that we're in charge, and because we're in charge we're able to do what we want. Can you give me an idea of why we are where we are, as a world right now, and what led us here?
[Laughing] You think I'm going to be able to answer all these questions?
I know it's a lot, but I know that you must have some thoughts on this.
Well, first of all, I do think that religion has played a role. I was told by a Hebrew scholar the original translation of that word that you just mentioned, "dominion," is wrong. It's actually something more like "stewardship." That's very different. If God gave us stewardship that's different from saying we have dominion. So I think religion started this thinking that we're so different from all the other animals and I was taught there was a difference in kind, not degree. Thank goodness the chimpanzees are so like us biologically, as well as behaviorally, that science had to start thinking differently.
So how did we get there? It's sort of been like this all throughout human history. There were so many fewer of us back then that we could have these unsustainable lifestyles and it didn't really matter; they were sustainable. Think of how people have always exploited the natural world just because we can. And so there's been a lag between developing new technologies [which enable us to] destroy whole forests. Whereas the indigenous people might take a week to cut down the big tree, we can do it in an hour. And the moral evolution and the sense of a spiritual awareness and connection to the natural world on which we depend, that's lagged behind as well.
So how do we repair that? How do we rediscover our connection to the rest of the natural world?
As I think you know, I began a program for young people back in 1991 called Roots and Shoots because young people had lost hope in the future. I've met them all over the world. They were mostly apathetic and didn't seem to care. Or they were angry or deeply depressed and they told me they felt like that because we compromised their future and there was nothing they could do about it. And we have compromised their future. We've been stealing it for years and years. And yes, we still are still stealing it today. But when they said there was nothing they could do I thought, no, that's not right. We got this window of time. If we all get together, take action, we can start healing some of the harm, we can start slowing down climate change and we can work on educating people.
Kids are really good at educating their parents and grandparents, some of whom may be in positions to make a huge difference, like CEOs of big companies or people in government. That program is now kindergarten to university and everything in between. It's in 68 countries and growing. Every group has the message: Each one of us — and that means you as well as me — we make some impact every single day and we have the luxury of choosing the impact that we make.
This story originally appeared in CBS News, and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Jeff Berardelli
In recent weeks, our nation has been forced to come to grips with the variety of ways in which inequality harms minority communities, from the death of George Floyd at the hands of police to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19. A recent Harvard study concluded that air pollution — which is typically worse in areas with larger minority populations — is linked to higher coronavirus death rates, along with a slew of other health problems.
This is just one form of environmental injustice, which Peggy Shepard has dedicated the better part of her life to combating. Shepard is the co-founder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a New York City nonprofit organization that's been working to improve the environment of local communities since 1988. The mission of WE ACT is to "build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices."
Environmental justice has become a mainstream topic recently as awareness grows of the worsening impacts of climate change and the proposal for a Green New Deal. So this week CBS News asked Peggy Shepard to discuss how environmental issues disproportionately impact minority communities and what needs to be done to fix that. Here is a portion of that conversation.
Jeff Berardelli: Social justice is front and center in the news, but you've been fighting what your website calls "environmental racism" for decades. Can you explain the term environmental racism?
Peggy Shepard: Environmental racism is the intentional targeting of pollution in communities of color and low-income communities because they are less informed and they vote less. They have less political clout and often land is cheaper in those communities as well. As a result, industrial pollution tends to get located inside in those communities because there is more industry, government-run facilities like sewage treatment plants and bus depots.
How do environmental issues fuel racial inequality?
One thing we know is that environmental enforcement does not happen the way it needs to happen in communities of color and low-income communities. I work with groups in Florida that are small Southern communities surrounded by 19 waste sites. All throughout the country and in the South there aren't zoning laws, so you can have a chemical facility right next to a small community. Out in California there's no zoning so you can have a cement factory or an oil refinery right down the street from a school. When you look at the issues around the country they play out very differently. But the one commonality is that pollution is in communities of color and low-income. Environmental enforcement is very lax and those people who are most affected by that pollution are not a part of the environmental decision-making in that city, state or the nation.
Would it be correct to say that the pollution, the flooding, and all the climate and environmental issues that are more common in these communities exacerbate the racial inequalities?
Absolutely. If you're living in a community filled with transfer stations where trucks are coming daily to dump garbage; if you're living in a community with buses up and down the street idling outside of schools; if you're living in a community where the oil refinery is emitting air pollutants that are making people sick and have horrible odors; then you're probably living in a community with low property values, with trash, where people don't feel respected. They're living in a community that's environmentally degraded. You also add to that the stress of racism and unequal schools and you have an environmental system that is making people sick and stressing people out.
You will find that some of those communities are the same ones that don't have access to open space and parks. There may be a waterfront but you'll find that half the kids don't even know because they've never had access to that. One of our projects was creating access to the incredible Hudson River in our community so the families could go there and have recreation and have aesthetics.
This is a little deeper, but can you trace the roots of environmental inequality in the United States back to their beginnings?
There are books written on this. ... Urban planning is a good example, which has planned for some of these situations that poor communities find themselves in… and we understand that that has been systemic. For instance, one of the issues that got us started was the siting of the North River sewage treatment plant, which was mandated by the Clean Water Act because it used to be if you flushed a toilet on the west side of Manhattan, it went directly into the Hudson River. So the federal government said, you've got to clean up the river, you've got to have a sewage treatment plant. Well, the best place that the engineers felt was in the [affluent] West 70s on the west side of Manhattan. But developers, seeing that that land was much more profitable and wanting to develop that land, managed to get the City Planning Commission to move it uptown to Harlem. So as a result, we have one of the largest sewage treatment plants in the city that's literally right across the street from Riverside Drive, right across from people. The emissions and the odors were making people sick. So we had to begin to hold the city accountable and that was our first real campaign.
What are some examples of how communities of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental issues like pollution, disease and climate change?
Extreme heat events right now are killing more African Americans than any other people. Air pollution creates something like 200,000 premature deaths around the country every year. I think a lot of people have been stunned to understand that air pollution has increased the risk of more severe impacts from COVID-19 for people living in polluted communities. And so the link of environmental exposure to health outcomes is a very strong link, and I think the Harvard study that came out last month or so certainly bears that out.
A number of studies show that the primary predictor of where toxic waste sites will be sited is a community of color, and secondarily, a low-income community. You can also see that the refineries — the chemical companies — are all in communities that are low income and of color. We can look at cancer alley [in Louisiana] as a prime example of that.
We can also look at many of the communities in the South, along the Gulf Coast, that are impacted by hurricanes and extreme weather events. We know those communities are going to be hit by extreme weather, yet the investment by those municipalities and states are not going into the communities that are most vulnerable. For example, New Orleans' Ninth Ward was the most impacted [by Hurricane Katrina] yet communities that are most impacted by sea level rise and hurricanes have not been invested in.
There are many of the Gulf Coast states and communities that have still not been restored from the last hurricanes. You've got black communities in Alabama and Mississippi that are still waiting for their roads to be repaved. That investment that came from the federal government did not go to the most impacted communities.
We're also seeing the issue of climate migrants. People had to leave New Orleans because their homes were gone, so they moved to other states. When many of them tried to return they found that all the public housing had been torn down and they could no longer afford the new housing that was there. This is called climate gentrification in which communities are being cleared out because of climate impacts and then more affluent people buy up the property and rebuild the city. So you really have total civic disruption and you do not have the civil society that you once had.
I think we'll see that in Puerto Rico, as well, with so many people having to leave the island [because of Hurricane Maria] with no electricity, no services. Yet affluent people can go back, buy up those properties, and put the infrastructure investments in place that are needed to have a healthy society.
Another example is wildlife exploration in Alaska. What's the equity issue with that? Well, if you're allowing exploration in the Arctic… that's going to hurt the animals that the indigenous people depend on for food. It's going to pollute the ocean and that means it pollutes the fish that they depend on.
That brings us to climate change. It is fast becoming the most pressing of all environmental issues worldwide. As a result, "climate justice" is a term that I hear often. What are your main concerns for the future as climate change continues to get worse?
Well, the term climate justice, I think, is being used by a lot of people as a cool term. Climate justice has a very specific meaning: it is about the studies, it's about the initiatives, it's about the interventions that are needed in communities of color and low-income communities that will be the first and worst hit by climate extreme events. Even though it seems to be a newer consciousness, the environmental justice community has been working on climate issues integrated with environmental justice for many many years. It goes hand in hand. You cannot have climate justice without environmental justice.
We understand that the investment has got to go to those communities that we know are in the flood zones that will be the worst hit and don't have the resilience to come back without strong support by the government.
We need changes and reform of FEMA. We need advisory committees made up of people of color and the most affected people informing the committees about the kind of initiatives and interventions needed to become whole again when there is an extreme event. All of us need to be part of the climate solutions. We cannot just have mainstream green groups working on climate, national climate legislation, because they are not generally living in the communities that are the first and worst hit.
So when we talk about environmental racism and environmental injustice, we're also talking about being engaged in environmental decision-making. If people of color and low-income people who are most affected by the issues are never in the rooms where the decisions are being made and the solutions are being recommended, we are going to continue to have two different worlds, two different realities, like we're seeing right now today. Two different realities do not make a unified country.
Let's talk about the Green New Deal. I think a lot of people don't understand why the Green New Deal addresses sustainable energy and at the same time addresses social programs. Can you explain how these two are interconnected and why they both need to be addressed?
Climate is more than simply reducing greenhouse gases. The communication to the public has got to be for them to understand how it impacts every facet of their lives, whether it's energy security or whether it's a "just transition" from fossil fuels to a green economy. If we are not all part of those solutions, we are going to continue the divisions that we currently have.
I have heard some people say climate change is about greenhouse gas reduction, what does equity have to do with it? Well, the solutions are going to affect our economy and our energy security. Right now 30 million households in this country are energy insecure. They cannot pay their energy bill and put food on the table, yet many of our climate initiatives may increase our energy costs. So how do we begin to distribute those costs fairly, especially when we're talking about communities of color and low income who consume less and produce less carbon emissions than more affluent communities? So, how do we begin to equalize the benefits in a new green economy? You really have to come together.
Also, there's no requirement for community involvement in what kinds of jobs will be created or what kind of businesses will receive tax incentives. That's economic development. What does economic development have to do with climate or environmental quality? Well, of course, it has everything to do with environmental quality. It can create more density, bringing in more pedestrians and more commuters, which has an environmental impact and contributes to health disparities.
How can both the impacted communities and also society as a whole create positive change and get us off this track of environmental Injustice?
I think we have to understand that all of our communities need to be respected. The benefits that society has given so many of the residents in our country have not gone equally to all of the residents here. We've got to understand our shared values. I think we're seeing today... we have a shared value that the police should treat everyone equally, that our community should be invested in equally, that without transformative economic development that the workers who are now in the fossil fuel industry will not have family-sustaining jobs in the new green economy.
I believe there's now a consensus that we have got to unify. The environmental community and the mainstream green groups have been coming together over the past year and a half to up climate solutions together. So you might know about the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform that about six green groups and 12 environmental justice organizations have worked on for the past couple of years. We are now working to develop policies to implement.
We cannot continue to perpetuate the divisions that have gotten us to where we are today, which is in a crisis. We're in a COVID-19 pandemic and we're in a climate crisis and without coming together with unity, consensus and common ground, we are not going to get ourselves out of these crises.
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By Irina Ivanova
The millions of Americans who are skipping their morning commute and working from home because of the coronavirus have drastically reduced smog over America's largest cities and otherwise benefited the environment. Yet the growing ranks of workers now plying their trade online using tools like Zoom and Slack are taking their own toll.
Environmentalists note that the technological infrastructure that supports our online video watching, searching and music playing leaves a large carbon footprint of its own. By some estimates, data centers and the networks that connect them produce as much carbon pollution as the aviation industry— or about 2% of the world's total.
On one hand, the massive drop in car traffic from staying-in-place orders across the country is "a slam-dunk" environmentally, said Eric Masanet, a professor of sustainability sciences at the University of California at Santa Barbara. But the relatively lower impact of Netflix binging and many other digital activities doesn't mean we're in the clear.
How Dirty Is the Cloud?
Indeed, the digital domain is hardly emissions-free. Manufacturing a smartphone, tablet or computer as well as the network that supports them consumes considerable resources — everything from mining rare minerals to laying undersea cables for high-speed internet. And of course it takes oodles of electricity to power the whole system. Electricity in the U.S. still comes overwhelmingly from generators powered by fossil fuels, not wind or solar.
"When we're using our cars, we see that we're using gas … But when you use a computer or a smartphone, it is not so obvious that it's also responsible for greenhouse gas emissions," Hugues Ferreboeuf, project director at the Shift Project, a Paris-based think tank, recently told CBS News.
The Shift Project issued an alarming report last year that found digital technologies' energy demand was growing at an unsustainable rate. "The only chance to keep the [global] temperature increase to 2 degrees is to divide by two the greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years," Ferreboeuf said. "If we want to change things, there is no alternative to us reviewing the way we use digital."
Big Data Gets Bigger
The silver lining is that, at least for now, the energy impact of cloud computing remains relatively modest. Over the past decade, data centers — often called the "brains" of the digital world — have massively increased the amount of information they process while increasing energy use only a little. Since 2010, such data crunching has jumped more than fivefold, while energy use rose only about 6%, according to a paper published this year in Science.
"We're consuming much more data than we used to for not that much more energy," said Masanet, the paper's lead author.
Here's why: Data center operators have become much better at heating and cooling their massive buildings, essentially limiting or even eliminating a function that hogged more energy than running the servers themselves. The trend toward larger centers and better servers over the last decade, led by cloud-computing giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, has also helped lower the energy-to-data ratio.
Still, that increase in energy efficiency is unlikely to continue forever.
"The old data centers were kind of like old refrigerators when you didn't put the door on," said Arman Shehabi, a coauthor of the paper and research scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "Now they put the doors on and it's more efficient. But once they all have doors, you're going to need something new" to keep energy use under control, he said.
Shehabi and Masanet each estimated that we can go another five years without increasing data centers' energy demands. But to keep their energy use from exploding thereafter, governments need to make policy changes — today.
"The industry, policymakers, data center operators, they all have to confront the wave of demand that's coming," Masanet said.
In particular, technologies including artificial intelligence, 5G, virtual reality and augmented reality are all energy-intensive, and usage is expected to surge in the years to come.
Mitigating that energy consumption goes beyond making sure that data centers use the least amount of power possible — it also requires better and wider use of renewable energy.
In Europe, where governments are aggressively trying to reduce their carbon emissions, much more electricity is carbon-free than in the U.S., noted Jacqueline Wernimont, distinguished chair in digital humanities and social engagement at Dartmouth College.
Wernimont also pointed out that data centers' environmental impact goes beyond carbon emissions. Most emit a constant low hum, creating noise pollution that affects humans and animals. When they are sited near population centers, they tend to be placed in poor neighborhoods (like power plants, landfills and other undesirable infrastructure), to the detriment of the people who live there.
Who Pays for Digital?
So has the coronavirus lockdown in the U.S. decreased carbon emissions overall? Scientists are currently exploring that question, and it will likely be months before they can come up with a definitive answer. Yet Masanet has a strong hunch the answer is "yes" — even taking into account the rise in binge streaming.
"Of course there's more electricity use from being online more, but the savings we get from avoiding our commutes dwarf any increase in electricity," he said. "My instinct is that, yes, electricity use is going up, but the savings we get nationally from avoided travel is much greater."
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By Margaret Brennan and Kelsey Micklas
Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and since well before the COVID-19 outbreak, the World Health Organization has been tracing and analyzing the impact of how climate change is impacting public health.
But as the global community continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, top climate officials say our attention needs to shift to climate-related issues that directly impact our health.
In an interview with "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan, Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Head of the Climate Change and Health Program at the World Health Organization, says presently, air pollution "is one of the severest problems that we face around the world."
Air pollution increases the risk of other illnesses like heart disease and respiratory issues, something that has had a direct impact on those suffering during the coronavirus outbreak. About one in eight deaths around the world are caused by air pollution.
Additionally, extreme weather events and increased temperature can all have negative effects on public health.
"The extreme weather events are getting more severe. So we're seeing more severe heat waves. We're seeing more severe wildfires," Dr. Campbell-Lendrum said. "So it's absolutely clear to us that climate change is making these extreme weather events worse, and it brings a whole range of severe impacts to human health."
Dr. Campbell-Lendrum noted that while climate change did not cause coronavirus, "if we want to reduce the chances of the next pandemic, then we have to start taking more care of the natural environment."
Here Are Five Other Things to Know About How Climate Change Is Expected to Impact Public Health Worldwide:
1. Air pollution kills 7 million people a year throughout the world
About 9 in 10 people around the world are inhaling polluted air. Air pollution is a contributing risk factor for many other illnesses such as heart disease and respiratory illness. According to the World Health Organization, a third of the deaths from strokes, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution, and there is some evidence emerging out of the COVID-19 outbreak that suggests people living in areas with higher air pollution are more likely to be infected with the virus.
"We're getting the first indications that places with high levels of air pollution may also have high rates of death and disease from COVID-19," said Dr. Campbell-Lendrum. "It's not conclusive at the moment, but it's what we would expect and that's what we think we're starting to see."
2. But air quality has largely improved due to the coronavirus outbreak
NASA Earth Observatory images, based on data from the European Space Agency's Copernicus satellite, show nitrogen dioxide emissions dramatically reduced over central China as the coronavirus outbreak brought cities to a standstill. NASA EARTH OBSERVATORY
While the coronavirus has had devastating impacts around the globe, it has also led to a decrease in air pollution. In the northeastern United States, air pollution dropped by 30 percent in March, and countries like China and Italy have experienced similar decreases.
NASA Earth Observatory images, based on data from the European Space Agency's Copernicus satellite, show nitrogen dioxide emissions dramatically reduced over central China as the coronavirus outbreak brought cities to a standstill. NASA EARTH OBSERVATORY
"We would never want to say this is okay, because the human cost of COVID-19 is so great," said Dr. Campabell-Lendrum. "What we do want to make clear is that we should try and hang on to some of these gains as we come out of the COVID-19 crisis."
3. 70 percent of the world's infectious diseases have come from the natural environment, with many from animal-to-human contact
Most infectious diseases the world has had to deal with over the last few decades have come from the natural environment. "So it's very clear that the damage that we're doing to the natural world does make it more likely that these diseases will emerge," said Dr. Campbell-Lendrum.
Evidence shows that COVID-19 was a zoonotic event that jumped from animal to humans. Many of the infectious diseases like SARS and even HIV were transmitted by animal to human contact, coming out of the natural environment.
"So when we damage the natural environment, when we overexploit it, and then when we don't monitor what's happening to infections in wildlife and infections in domestic animals and infections in humans, we're basically leaving ourselves open to these-these risks," said Dr. Campbell-Lendrum.
4. Climate change didn't cause coronavirus -- but it can help spread future pandemics and disease
Dr. Campbell-Lendrum explained that while climate change isn't directly correlated to the cause of coronavirus, "it's very clear that the damage that we're doing to the natural world does make it more likely that these diseases will emerge."
Warming climates and increasing variability in weather patterns across the globe make it inherently easier to transmit diseases of any origin.
In order to reduce our chances for the next pandemic, Campbell-Lendrum says we need to start taking more care of our planet.
"Overall environmental damage seems to be increasing the risks either of past epidemics of this pandemic and potentially of future pandemics as well," he said.
Campbell-Lendrum rightly noted that the COVID-19 crisis exposed our lack of preparedness for pandemics in general across the world. "In many cases we've gone in with weak health systems. In many cases we've gone in with a really high burden of environmental pollution, such as air pollution," he said.
He added, "One of the things we're saying is that we shouldn't come out of this crisis in the same direction that we went in...We should be thinking, can we get-can we hang on to some of the environmental gains that we're seeing in the COVID crisis, such as cleaner air."
5. Adjusting our diet can be better for both you and the environment
Last year, the United Nations released a report saying that plant based diets are better for the environment. One of the reasons is that cows produce large amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when they eat. Additionally, eating large amounts of meat regularly, particularly processed meats, is not that healthy for humans.
"We're not telling people they-they have to or they should become vegetarians," said Dr. Campbell-Lendrum. "If you want to think about whether a more sustainable diet is going to be good for your health and good for the environment, now is a really good time to do it."
This story originally appeared in CBS News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story
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By Jeff Berardelli
Herds of horses, bison and reindeer could play a significant part in saving the world from an acceleration in global heating. That is the conclusion of a recent study showing how grazing herbivores can slow down the pace of thawing permafrost in the Arctic.
The study — a computerized simulation based on real-life, on-the ground data — finds that with enough animals, 80% of all permafrost soils around the globe could be preserved through 2100.
The research was inspired by an experiment in the town of Chersky, Siberia featured on CBS News' "60 Minutes." The episode introduces viewers to an eccentric scientist named Sergey Zimov who resettled grazing animals to a piece of the Arctic tundra more than 20 years ago.
Zimov is unconventional, to say the least, even urging geneticists to work on resurrecting a version of the now-extinct woolly mammoth to aid in his quest. But through the years he and his son Nikita have observed positive impacts from adding grazing animals to the permafrost area he named Pleistocene Park, in a nod to the last Ice Age.
Permafrost is a thick layer of soil that remains frozen year-round. Because of the rapidly warming climate in Arctic regions, much of the permafrost is not permanently frozen anymore. Thawing permafrost releases heat-trapping greenhouse gases that have been buried in the frozen soil for tens of thousands of years, back into the atmosphere.
Scientists are concerned that this mechanism will act as a feedback loop, further warming the atmosphere, thawing more soil, releasing more greenhouse gases and warming the atmosphere even more, perpetuating a dangerous cycle.
Last year their fears were confirmed when a study led by scientists at Woods Hole Research Center revealed that the Arctic was no longer storing as much carbon as it was emitting back into the atmosphere.
In winter the permafrost in Chersky, Siberia stays at about 14 degrees Fahrenheit. But the air can be much colder, dropping down to 40 below zero Fahrenheit. Typically there is a thick blanket of snowfall in winter which insulates the soil, shielding it from the frigid air above and keeping it milder.
The idea behind Zimov's on-the-ground Pleistocene Park experiment was to bring grazing animals with their stamping hooves back to the land to disperse the snow, compress the ground and chill the soil.
Turns out, it worked. The 100 resettled animals, across a one-square-kilometer area, cut the average snow cover height in half, dramatically reducing the insulating effect, exposing the soil to the overlying colder air and intensifying the freezing of permafrost.
In an effort to see what impact this method could have on a much larger scale, beyond the confines of Pleistocene Park, Professor Christian Beer of the University of Hamburg conducted a simulation experiment. His team used a special climate model to replicate the impact on the land surface throughout all of the Arctic permafrost soils in the Northern Hemisphere over the course of an entire year.
The results, published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, show that if emissions continue to rise unchecked we can expect to see a 7-degree Fahrenheit increase in permafrost temperatures, which would cause half of all permafrost to thaw by 2100.
In contrast, with animal herds repopulating the tundra, the ground would only warm by 4 degrees Fahrenheit. That would be enough to preserve 80% of the current permafrost though the end of the century.
"This type of natural manipulation in ecosystems that are especially relevant for the climate system has barely been researched to date, but holds tremendous potential," Beer said.
CBS News asked Beer how realistic it is to expect that the Arctic could be repopulated with enough animals to make a difference. "I am not sure," he replied, adding that more research is needed but the results are promising. "Today we have an average of 5 reindeers per square kilometer across the Arctic. With 15 [reindeer] per square kilometer we could already save 70% permafrost according to our calculations."
"It may be utopian to imaging resettling wild animal herds in all the permafrost regions of the Northern Hemisphere," Beer concedes. "But the results indicate that using fewer animals would still produce a cooling effect."
Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the International Arctic Research Center in Alaska, agrees that snow disturbed and trampled by animal herds is a much less efficient insulator, but he has his doubts about implementing this idea. "Unless the plan is to cover millions of square kilometers with horses, bison and reindeer, how could this possibly have any significant impact? I certainly would not call it 'utopian' to destroy permafrost lands as we know them by having these animals in the distribution and numbers required."
Beer and his team did consider some potential side effects of this approach. For example, in summer the animals would destroy the cooling moss layer on the ground, which would contribute to warming the soil. This was taken into account in the simulations, but the cooling impact of the compressed snow effect in winter is several times greater, they found.
"If theoretically we were able to maintain a high animal density like in Zimov's Pleistocene Park, would that be good enough to save permafrost under the strongest warming scenario? Yes, it could work for 80% of the region" said Beer.
As a next step, Beer plans to collaborate with biologists in order to investigate how the animals would actually spread across the landscape.
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