By Stephanie Hanes
Earlier this month, health care experts from across the United States gathered to address hundreds of journalists and policymakers by webinar. But their focus was not testing, nor vaccines, nor "herd immunity." It was not even COVID-19, really. Instead, their focus was climate change.
Renewing a Focus<p>For many climate advocates, this is a reason to push green initiatives now. Environmentalists worry that unless policymakers focus on climate as part of their economic packages, the pandemic could lead to policy shifts that would undermine years of hard-won climate victories. Indeed, the Trump administration in late March announced that it would weaken Obama-era fuel standards that mandate increased fuel efficiencies for automobiles. It also announced last month that the Environmental Protection Agency will not enforce environmental regulations during the pandemic.</p><p>"What we have to worry about is whether ... policy changes are going to be long term or short term," says Christopher Jones, director of the CoolClimate Network at the University of California, Berkeley. "If we roll back standards and they remain in place when the economy comes back, we are going to have a real problem." </p><p>Researchers say that a green economic stimulus package could both help the U.S. ensure long-term sustainability and rebound from the crushing economic impact of the pandemic. (More than 26 million Americans have filed for <a href="https://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2020/0401/Faces-of-the-new-jobs-crisis-from-restaurants-to-real-estate" target="_blank">unemployment</a> benefits since March 15, according to the U.S. Labor Department.) Many environmentalists look at the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama in 2009, as an example of how government initiatives can spur climate-friendly industry. That bill, which earmarked some $90 billion to promote green energy, is widely credited with launching the widespread renewable energy sector in the U.S. </p>
Inequality, Exacerbated<p>But a move toward environmental sustainability, says Dr. Bernstein, is going to be crucial not only for combatting a climate crisis, but for helping some of the people most impacted by the coronavirus. As he points out, both the pandemic and the impacts from climate change disproportionately affect people of color and other marginalized groups.</p><p>There is, he and others say, a hopeful lesson to be taken from the massive lifestyle and economic shifts seen across the globe in response to COVID-19. For years, popular wisdom has said that people simply would not engage in the sort of behavior changes necessary to fight climate change; that they wouldn't stop traveling, wouldn't stop consuming, wouldn't sacrifice material comforts and help save others who are most immediately at risk from climate change. Now, the response to the pandemic suggests otherwise. </p><p>"We are able to mobilize the entire global economy and population for an imminent threat," says Dr. Jones. "Both climate change and this pandemic both affect the most vulnerable. But everybody is willing to make personal sacrifices to protect the most vulnerable. I think that's quite new."</p>
- 5 Things About Climate Change and Coronavirus From WHO ... ›
- A 'Green Stimulus' Could Battle Three Crises: Coronavirus ... ›
- Coronavirus Response Proves the World Can Act on Climate Change ›
- Coronavirus Lockdowns Led to Record 17% Emissions Drop - EcoWatch ›
- Beijing on Lockdown Again After New Coronavirus Outbreak - EcoWatch ›
By Lynn Freehill-Maye
When Jackie Augustine opens a chicken coop door one brisk spring morning in upstate New York, the hens bolt out like windup toys. Still, as their faint barnyard scent testifies, they aren't battery-powered but very much alive.
These are "solar chickens." At this local community egg cooperative, Geneva Peeps, the birds live with solar power all around them. Their hen house is built under photovoltaic panels, and even outside, they'll spend time underneath them, protected from sun, rain, and hawks.
Finding the Right Pairing<p>Agrivoltaics doesn't just include chickens. Other livestock also can roam around solar panels, and some researchers are experimenting with planting crops, too. </p><p>Animals that graze around solar fields offer several benefits, proponents of agrivoltaics say. Not only does their manure enrich the soil, their munching keeps plants from growing too tall and shading the panels. Another win: They lower vegetation maintenance costs, reducing the need for lawn mowers or landscapers.</p><p>Pilot agrivoltaic programs have tried many grazers – with varying success. The chickens at Geneva Peeps, for example, aren't grazing powerhouses. Founder Jeff Henderson admits that he still has to fire up the lawn mower sometimes.</p><p>When solar panels are elevated for them to roam beneath, cows do better, as shown in a <a href="https://ag.umass.edu/clean-energy/current-initiatives/solar-pv-agriculture" target="_blank">University of Massachusetts pilot</a>. But the higher materials cost of raising panels has kept "solar cattle" from taking hold yet. Goats have been tried, too, but they sometimes jump on panels and chew wires.</p><p>The winner among livestock so far has been calm, eat-anything-and-everything sheep. In fact, most of the members of the American Solar Grazing Association, founded in 2017, are shepherds. (Honeybees can be part of the mix with sheep, too.)</p>
Seeking Common Ground<p>Still, tensions remain between solar and agriculture. Farmers who lease the land they grow crops on often worry about their landlords renting it out to someone else, including solar farms. And rural residents may want to see their area hold onto its farming heritage. A California developer, Cypress Creek Renewables, riled up rural New York in 2016 when it mass-mailed farmers seeking leases on 20-plus acre fields.</p><p>Lewis Fox, co-founder of the American Solar Grazing Association, has found that involving animals helps solar skeptics lower their defenses. He'll bring lambs to a project open house and find locals open up a bit more. Often, he says, they find it reassuring that local land can stay in agriculture, even if solar is added.</p><p>"Solar in general is unfamiliar to people, and if you hear there's a large development coming to your town, people naturally get defensive, a little suspicious," Mr. Fox says. "There's support, but also a lot of concern. Once people come out to a site and see it being grazed, it kind of clicks. A well-managed grazing program on a site is very productive. It's not just throwing a few sheep out and letting them go wherever for a season. We can raise a lot of meat on an acre of raised panels. It's a serious form of agriculture."</p>
First Came the Chickens<p>Mr. Henderson didn't know about agrivoltaics when he founded Geneva Peeps in 2015. His goal was simply to help local families raise chickens. Backyard coops aren't allowed in the Finger Lakes town of Geneva, New York, but he found industrial-zoned land where they'd be permitted. </p><p>Forty families now share weekly chicken-care shifts of 10 to 15 minutes. Ms. Augustine pedals over for her shift, and with her bike helmet still on, checks the hens' food and water. In return, she and fellow members get a dozen or more eggs at a time. </p><p>The year after launching, Mr. Henderson installed 44 kilowatts' worth of solar panels, both powering the operation and producing excess for the grid through net metering. There wasn't enough room on the chicken coops to install rooftop panels, but he did have more than an acre of land – more than 180 egg-layers really needed. Mr. Henderson wasn't aware of any similar farms combining solar and chickens, but he figured the project could be a local sustainability model. </p><p>"We knew they could all coexist together because there's no reason you can't have solar panels and chickens," Mr. Henderson says. "One of the hopes is this will give people an idea of a way you could do it."</p>
- Puerto Rican Farm Powers On After Hurricane Thanks to Solar Energy ›
- World's First Farm to Use Solar Power and Seawater Opens in ... ›
- World's Largest Solar Farm Will Generate Enough Electricity to ... ›
- Federal Energy Regulators Reject Attack on Rooftop Solar Policies ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Amanda Paulson
Just off Highway 880 at the edge of Hayward, the cityscape changes abruptly. Businesses and parking lots give way to large swaths of pickle grass and pools of water stretching out to the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay.
On a recent sunny, windy March day – just before COVID-19 sent the Bay Area into lockdown – Dave Halsing stood on the trails at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve and pointed out what used to be old industrial salt ponds. He noted how they're gradually being restored into a rich mosaic of tidal wetlands and other ecosystems in the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.
Could Planting One Trillion Trees Actually Work?<p>Those promoting natural climate solutions emphasize that it's just one piece of a puzzle that also requires a major shift away from fossil fuels and carbon-based energy. But many experts are seeing these natural solutions as low-hanging fruit that have yet to be tapped at a large scale. </p><p>In January, the World Economic Forum launched the ambitious <a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank">One Trillion Trees</a> initiative, with the goal of planting and conserving 1 trillion trees around the globe in the coming decade. Even President Donald Trump signed on. </p><p>The initiative has received some criticism, even among climate activists, who worry it's overly simplistic, takes emphasis off of the energy shift that needs to happen, and will encourage poorly conceived projects that might perpetuate other environmental issues.</p><p>And some climate experts have argued that the claims made by natural-solutions proponents in general are lofty and overly optimistic – that they couldn't come close to reducing carbon dioxide at the magnitude some studies have found. </p><p>But those debates, ultimately, are unproductive, says James Mulligan, a senior associate in the World Resources Institute's food, forests, and water program. Climate solutions, he notes, aren't a zero-sum game. Nature-based solutions won't ever be enough on their own, says Mr. Mulligan, but they have some big upsides, particularly that most are relatively low cost, some have more bipartisan appeal, and many are "win-win," with none of the "losers" that can be a byproduct of other strategies. </p><p>"The question for me is: would this help? And the answer is yes," says Mr. Mulligan. "Do I think we can restore a trillion trees to the planet? Probably not. ... In the U.S., our analysis shows we could restore 60 billion trees to the American landscape." That, he says, would be a "tall order," but would remove about a half a gigaton of CO2 per year.</p><p>"That's a meaningful wedge," he says. "And that's just one nature-based solution." </p>
Protection Before Planting?<p>All trees – and all nature-based solutions – aren't created equal. And many advocates stress that it makes sense to focus on the ecosystems with the most to offer, or the methods that yield the biggest dividends.</p><p>"We need to protect first, to hold the line," says Mr. Ellis of The Nature Conservancy, explaining that he views good management of existing ecosystems as being even more important than restoration. </p><p>Certain ecosystems, like mangroves and peatlands, are of vital importance to conserve, says Will Turner, senior vice president of global strategies for Conservation International. In those ecosystems, the soil stores so much carbon that losing much more of it in coming years would be devastating, he says.</p><p>But to Dr. Turner, conservation and restoration are two sides of a coin, both necessary. Protecting critical ecosystems like tropical forests and mangroves that are being destroyed at a steady rate is crucial in terms of reducing current emissions, he says. But removing carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere is also necessary, if there is any hope of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius. </p><p>"We have a long way to go before we have any technology that is capable of removing CO2 from the atmosphere at scale except trees," says Dr. Turner. "We'd be foolish not to invest incredibly heavily in regrowing forests."</p><p>Despite all the potential of natural climate solutions, most of the examples being tried so far are at a relatively small scale. </p>
Discovering an Ecosystem in Every Backyard<p>Meanwhile, part of the beauty of nature-based solutions, Dr. Turner says, is that – while some may certainly have more payoff than others in terms of climate mitigation – "there is something that can happen anywhere. Every community has an option to protect a forest or grow a forest or protect a grassland, or to better manage grazing lands so you can get greater carbon stored in the soil."</p><p>And many of those solutions – like the marsh restoration taking place in the San Francisco Bay – offer significant local benefits that go far beyond potential emissions reduction: habitat for endangered species, cleaner air and water, recreation opportunities for residents, flood risk mitigation at a time of rising seas. </p><p>In the Bay Area, emissions mitigation isn't a real driver of the restoration work, and the carbon market for wetlands isn't as robust as that for forests. But that doesn't mean those benefits don't exist, says Letitia Grenier, co-director of the Resilient Landscapes Program for the San Francisco Estuary Institute. </p><p>In her role at the institute, Dr. Grenier looks for creative ways to harness the natural benefits of ecosystems in ways that work for both people and nature – and they are plentiful, she says.</p><p>"One of the things climate change has shown us is that we live in ecosystems," says Dr. Grenier. "Not only do we impact ecosystems, but our ecosystem impacts us." In many instances, she says, when she looks at, say, a large watershed, the system is essentially broken. Too many discordant elements have been introduced. </p><p>"Suddenly, our system is not working for us," says Dr. Grenier. "Climate change is creating the realization of that, and the opportunity to fix it."</p>
- 'Our War Against Nature Must Stop': UN Secretary General ... ›
- 'Defend the Living Planet': Bold Campaign Says Healing the Earth ... ›
- The Best Tool to Combat Climate Change Is Nature - EcoWatch ›
By Amanda Paulson
When Denis Hayes decided to join an environmental teach-in, he had no idea he was about to help launch a movement that would endure for half a century.
The year was 1969 and "there were things that were ripping America apart," Mr. Hayes recalls. He was a student at Harvard University and headed to Washington to offer help to Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who was planning the first Earth Day, scheduled for April 22, 1970.
What Did the First Earth Day Change?<p>If you had gone around the United States in 1969 asking people what they thought about the environment, people mostly wouldn't have known what you were talking about. By the middle of 1970, something like 75% of all Americans called themselves environmentalists. There was a set of values – that had sort of been there and implicit, but not wrapped up together in any kind of definable boundary – that came to reshape the culture.</p><p>I grew up in a community that was dominated by a paper mill. It cranked out uncontrolled sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide that became acid rain. And that was thought of as the smell of prosperity. We changed that. </p><p>There are now people who have chosen to live in a particular kind of location for environmental reasons. Who chose their automobile or bus commute for environmental reasons. There are people like me who chose to have one child for environmental reasons. Politicians got elected and defeated for environmental reasons. All of that happened in a relatively clear chain in the aftermath of Earth Day. </p>
What Parallels Do You See With Today’s Environmental Activism?<p>In 1970, if you looked at a smokestack, you saw really ugly clouds of smoke coming out. With climate, of course, with CO2 – you can't see it, you can't smell it, you can't taste it. But what you can see are the effects of it. All of that makes it tangible and visible to people in a way that allows you to have a fair amount of momentum. And then, of course, you have the kids.</p><p>Social movements are almost always driven by youth. Historically, young has meant 20 or 22 or 25. Today, it's often 15 or 16. They have this intuitive sense that the world is getting bad at an accelerating pace and they want to do what they can to stop it. Part of what we're doing with Earth Day is answering the question Greta [Thunberg] always asks: Where are the adults?</p><p>We're going to be throwing some adults into the mix, who have filed some lawsuits, who know how to prepare legislation, who have worked with the technologies and know what you can do and what would be defying scientific principles. It has to be a broad societal effort, but to get the whole thing launched, as it has been, by the very young has really been a godsend.</p>
What Role Can Environmental Activists of the 1970s Play Today?<p>I don't want to overstate this, but there was an idealism that was pretty widespread in the '60s and '70s. And those of us who were there then have now moved into positions of some power, some influence. Some have retired and now have some leisure. I'm seeing a fair amount of evidence that that idealism is starting to resurface.</p><p>That idealism came from the young and is beginning to spread to the old, to the seniors who have this fair amount of remaining authority over the economy. It's been less effective with the politicians. But where in 1970 it was environmentalists working hand in glove with politicians to try to put some constraints on the irresponsible behavior of the corporations, there's a trace now of environmentalists working with the most enlightened corporate leaders to put some constraints around the politicians.</p>
How Do You Find Optimism?<p>My biggest worry about the kids is that most of what they're facing are these gloom-and-doom stories, which are all very real. But they have to also recognize that there are well-founded reasons for hope. </p><p>You will never be able to generate a movement if you don't have hope. You can't have a civil rights movement unless you think you can prevail. You won't have an anti-war movement unless you think you can end the war.</p><p>And you won't have a climate movement unless you can build a safe, healthy, resilient, beautiful society that isn't dependent on fossil fuels.</p><p><span></span>A number of things have changed faster than anybody thought was possible: the rapidly declining costs of solar technologies, of offshore wind technologies, of battery technologies, of electric vehicles.</p><p>Hope is often an act of will. I have a daughter, and my daughter has a daughter, so now I have a granddaughter. I can't dodder off into my twilight years hopeless. There has to be an ability to have society make the necessary choices. </p>
- 5 of the Most Important Earth Days in Its 50-Year History - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Environmental Victories to Inspire You This Earth Day - EcoWatch ›
- 3 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day All Through April (on Lockdown, of ... ›
When United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres decided to hold a high-level climate summit in conjunction with this year's General Assembly kicking off next week, he was well aware of the paradox of his initiative.