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Why There Is No Better Time For Wind and Solar Energy Than Now
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest report, which explores ways to cut carbon emissions, put the world on notice. Despite efforts in the United States, Europe and developing countries such as China to ramp up energy efficiency and renewable energy, global carbon emissions have been increasing at a much faster clip than they were just a few decades ago. To avoid the worst of the worst, IPCC scientists say emissions will have to be reduced 40 percent to 70 percent by 2050 and warn that we only have a 15-year window to reverse course.
"We cannot afford to lose another decade," said Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist who co-chaired the committee that wrote the report. "If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization."
As Edenhofer points out, the cost of doing nothing likely would dwarf whatever we might spend today to address climate change. That said, it makes the most sense to replace fossil fuels with the most cost-effective, safest, carbon-free and low-carbon options that can be deployed as quickly as possible.
For the biggest source of U.S. carbon pollution—electric utilities—the best solution is wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies, which, according to the new IPCC report, "have achieved a level of technical and economic maturity to enable deployment at a significant scale." In other words, renewables are now a lot cheaper and better than they were when the last IPCC report came out seven years ago.
Nuclear Not Economic
What about nuclear power? Although it now provides the most carbon-free electricity in the country, without a national carbon tax or cap-and-trade program, it's not economic, even with more than 50 years of generous federal subsidies.
Over the last decade, the estimated price tag for a new reactor has skyrocketed, jumping from $2 billion in 2002 to as high as $12 billion today. Wall Street won't finance a project unless Uncle Sam co-signs the loan, which leaves taxpayers on the hook if a project fails. So while Southern Company and its partners, with the help of an $8.3 billion federally guaranteed loan, are building two new reactors at the Vogtle nuclear plant site in Georgia, it's unlikely the industry will be able to muster more than two or three more in the next decade. As recently as five years ago, utilities applied for licenses to build more than 25 new reactors.
At the same time the nuclear industry's hoped-for renaissance has fizzled, older reactors are shutting down. Four reactors closed last year because of prohibitively expensive safety upgrades or competition from cheaper energy sources, namely natural gas and wind. Economics will close a fifth reactor, Vermont Yankee, this fall, and the nation's largest nuclear plant operator, Exelon, said in February that unless market conditions improve, it will announce plant closings by the end of this year.
Wind, Solar More Affordable
Unlike new reactors, the cost of solar and wind has dropped dramatically. Solar panel prices have plummeted more than 75 percent since 2008, and the cost of generating electricity from wind turbines declined more than 40 percent over the past three years, sparking a construction boom. Last year, solar installations in the United States amounted to a record 5.1 gigawatts, boosting the national total to nearly 13 gigawatts—enough to power nearly 2.2 million typical American homes. And by the end of December, there were enough wind turbines across the country to power 15.5 million homes and cut annual electric power sector carbon emissions by 4.4 percent.
Given solar and wind's exponential growth, experts see tremendous potential. The Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), for example, projects that wind and solar could produce 15 percent of U.S. electricity by 2020, 27 percent by 2030, and 50 percent by 2050.
Still, naysayers harp on the fact that wind and solar power are intermittent. The sun doesn't always shine, they say, and the wind doesn't always blow. That may be true, but it's not a deal-breaker. Studies by NREL and electricity grid operators in the United States and Europe conclude that larger contributions from solar and wind would not create significant technological problems or impose higher costs.
"Meeting demand in the face of variability and uncertainty is old hat for grid operators," said Mike Jacobs, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) who used to work at NREL. "They're already doing it with wind and solar here in the United States and in Europe.
"Besides, spreading wind and solar installations over a large enough area would help address the intermittency issue," he added. "The wind is always blowing somewhere, and if we increased the percentage of wind and solar to 30 percent—which we should be able to do within the next 15 years—the system's flexibility to manage supply and demand, along with a updated grid, should be able to integrate that power."
Renewables Provide More Resilience
Ramping up renewables not only would cut carbon emissions, it also would diversify the national electricity system and make it more resilient, according to a new UCS report. That system—which includes power plants, transmission lines and fuel delivery networks—was not designed to withstand all of today's extreme weather events, many of which have been linked to climate change.
Sea level rise, for example, threatens nearly 100 coastal electricity facilities, including power plants and substations, the UCS report found. Water temperature and availability also pose major problems. Older coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants rely on a "once-through" cooling process that draws hundreds of millions, if not billions, of gallons of water daily from the closest water body. When that river, lake or ocean gets too hot, which is happening with greater frequency, the plants have to cut back production or shut down temporarily. Likewise, droughts can substantially reduce water availability, while flooding from extreme rainfall can overwhelm a plant, as it did in June 2011 when a record-breaking Missouri River flood forced the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant near Omaha to remain shut down after a scheduled refueling outage two months earlier.
Renewables don't suffer from the same limitations. Rooftop solar panels and wind turbines, for instance, rely on smaller, more distributed units, which make it less likely that extreme weather events would have the same dramatic impact. Moreover, renewables are less vulnerable to drought and heat because they don't require water.
Let's Stop Subsidizing Fossil Fuels
To get where we need to go, the federal government has to turn its outdated energy subsidy policy on its head. The oil and gas industry has been enjoying average annual subsidies and tax breaks of $4.86 billion in today's dollars since 1918, according to a 2011 analysis by DBL Investors, a venture capital firm. The nuclear industry, DBL found, benefited from an average of $3.5 billion a year in subsidies from 1947 to 1999. And coal, which has been getting federal and state subsidies since the early 1800s, currently receives at least $3.2 billion a year, according to a 2011 Harvard study.
Renewables, on the other hand, averaged only $370 million a year in subsidies between 1994 and 2009, according to DBL. The 2009 stimulus package did provide $21 billion for renewables, but that support barely began to balance the scales that still tilt toward fossil fuels. Just last December, for example, Congress allowed a key wind industry tax break to expire, but it continues to support massive subsidies for coal, oil and gas.
Americans represent less than 5 percent of the world's population, but we're responsible for 19 percent of the world's carbon emissions. Despite the fact that China surpassed us as the world's top carbon emitter in 2006, we're still the worst offenders per capita. So after subsidizing coal for more than 200 years and oil and gas for nearly 100—which inadvertently got us into this mess—it's long past time to take fossil fuels off the dole and go all out to promote renewables. Fifteen years is just around the corner.
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By Joni Sweet
Should you skip your annual checkup? The answer would have been a resounding "no" if you asked most doctors before the pandemic.
But with the risk of COVID-19, the answer isn't so clear anymore.
Are States Allowing Preventive Care Visits?<p>First things first: If you're experiencing a medical emergency, don't delay treatment.</p><p>While there's the potential that you could be <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/hai/data/portal/index.html" target="_blank">exposed to infections at the emergency room</a>, the health risks of avoiding urgent medical care could be far more severe.</p><p>Hospitals have also implemented precautionary measures, like distributing masks to patients, that help cut down the risk of viral exposure.</p><p>Now that that's out of the way, is it possible to start catching up on routine healthcare appointments, like physicals and dental cleanings?</p><p>"Different places are in different stages of opening up," said <a href="https://www.methodisthealth.org/doctors/arvind-ankireddypalli/" target="_blank">Dr. Arvind Ankireddypalli</a>, primary care physician and geriatrician at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. "Preventative services might not even be available in some communities, [and in others] medical appointments may be on a case-by-case basis."</p>
Is it Safe to Go to the Doctor?<p>If your state is open (or will end its lockdown soon), you may be able to start booking preventive care appointments, like Pap smears, cancer screenings, checkups, and dental cleanings.</p><p>But is it worth the risk of possible exposure to the new coronavirus?</p><p>Opinions vary among healthcare providers and the conditions of their patients, as well as the infection rate in their communities and availability of personal protective equipment.</p><p><a href="https://www.lenhorovitz.com/" target="_blank">Dr. Len Horovitz</a>, internist, pulmonary specialist, and director of Carnegie Medical, recommends that patients avoid delaying their annual physical or other types of preventive care.</p><p>"You will encounter problems that are best seen earlier rather than later," he said. "It is possible to provide a safe environment for a patient in the doctor's office. There's no reason for people to put off an annual exam; these are important appointments that help keep problems from getting out of control."</p><p>In an effort to curb the spread of infection, Horovitz has been following a strict set of procedures at his office, including allowing just one patient in at a time, requiring patients to wear masks and gloves, and disinfecting the examination room between every patient.</p><p>Other physicians, like Ankireddypalli, conduct a risk-benefit analysis for every patient before agreeing to see them in person.</p><p>"It is probably not appropriate to keep delaying visits for high-risk patients, like older adults or people with chronic conditions," he explained.</p>
Role of Telehealth Visits<p>Telemedicine visits, where doctors connect with patients via phone or video chat, can be an option if in-person appointments are risky or prohibited.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/benefits/downloads/medicaid-chip-telehealth-toolkit.pdf" target="_blank">Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services</a> and some private insurance companies have expanded coverage for telehealth services during the pandemic. As a result, some practices have seen the <a href="https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/during-pandemic-telehealth-visits-soar-10-week-300-group-practice" target="_blank">use of telemedicine services soar</a> over the last few months.</p><p>"Telemedicine is a way that patients can be seen, evaluated, counseled, and informed about their healthcare without being exposed to the dangers of going into lobbies and offices," said <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/biographies/ommen-steve-r-m-d/bio-20053861" target="_blank">Dr. Steve Ommen</a>, cardiologist and associate dean of the Mayo Clinic Center for Connected Care, which offers telemedicine services.</p><p>"It is particularly relevant for patients who already have a relationship with a provider, the appointment is for an ongoing care episode, and the patient doesn't need to be touched," he said.</p><p>A virtual doctor's visit can't be a substitute for all routine care, though. Cancer screenings, blood draws, evaluations of lumps, Pap smears, and other services still need to be done in person.</p><p>But even if you do have to go to the doctor's office, telehealth services can help cut down on the amount of time you spend there, thus potentially reducing your exposure to the new coronavirus and other germs.</p>
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By Jeannette Cwienk
When it comes to recycling and recyclability, very little, it seems is straightforward — even something as seemingly simple as orange juice can present a conundrum. In Germany, many smaller shops sell drinks in cartons or plastic bottles, both of which will end up in the yellow recycling bin. But how do their recycling credentials stack up?
More and More Multilayer Packaging<p>How easy is it to recognize multilayer packaging? With drink cartons, it's usually obvious that they're made from a combination of different materials, but with other products, such as candy wrappers, it's a different story.</p><p>Such packaging can be made from a complex mix of up to 10 different films of plastic, which as Joachim Christiani, managing director of German recycling institute cyclos-HTP, explains, is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/germany-produces-record-amount-of-packaging-waste/a-51293541" target="_blank">invisible to consumers</a>.</p><p>"In recent years there's been a trend toward so-called multilayer packaging, which is extremely light and thin. It saves material as well as CO2 emissions during transport, but can't be recycled," Christiani says.</p><p>Because it is not possible to melt the different plastics together, or — at least for now — to separate the individual films from one another at recycling plants.</p>
Lack of Recycled Plastic<p>A 2017 cyclos-HTP study into the recyclability of conventional packaging waste concluded that a third of it was not recyclable, and only 40% of the remaining two-thirds was made into plastic recyclate. The rest was used as fuel <em>—</em> in other words it was incinerated.</p><p>"There was no economic or political pressure to recycle more than this amount," Christiani says. "The prescribed recycling quotas were met, and there were not nearly enough recycling plants."</p>
Room for Greenwashing<p>According to a 2018 survey by Germany's vzbv consumer protection association, most consumers would like to see more plastic recycling, especially when it comes to packaging.</p><p>Although some products come in packaging that is advertised as being "made from recycled material," Elke Salzmann, a resource protection officer with vzbv, says that can be misleading.</p><p>"It says nothing about how much recycled material the packaging actually contains," according to Salzmann. "And it also doesn't mean that the recycled plastic comes from collected plastic waste. It could just as well come from plastic leftovers created during the production of primary plastic."</p><p>The term "ocean plastic," which some textile and shoe manufacturers use to advertise the recycled plastic in their product lines, can also be misleading, Salzmann says.</p><p><span></span>"Plastic waste from the ocean is in much too bad a state to be recycled. Instead, they use plastic waste from beaches or riverbanks."</p>
Laws Against Plastic<p>Images of garbage choking our waters and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/eurythenes-plasticus-a-deep-sea-crustacean-full-of-plastic/a-52663559" target="_blank">killing marine wildlife</a> have played a key role in giving plastic a negative reputation among the public, and politicians have started to act.</p><p>Many countries worldwide have introduced bans on single-use items, and in Germany, a 2019 packaging law stipulates a plastics recycling quota of 90% from 2022, up from 36%. That said, the quota only refers to how much material has to be fed into the recycling system, not how much ultimately needs to be recycled.</p>
Rethinking the Whole System<p>Although plastic is a very useful material, at the end of its life it causes many problems, EASAC environmental program director Michael Norton tells DW, adding that we have to rethink the whole system and completely change the way we use plastic.</p><p>Joachim Christiani says the packaging industry is starting to catch on. Around 70% of recycled mass can currently be generated from packaging, but that figure is expected to rise in the future.</p><p>"95% is quite feasible," says the engineer, adding that sorting facilities are currently undergoing improvements, while packaging design is also changing.</p>
Clear Plastics Are Easiest to Recycle<p>As things stand, PET bottles are easiest to recycle because they're not mixed with other materials. New bottles can therefore easily be made from the old ones and the recycling rate is high. But the color of the bottle can pose a problem.</p><p>Because plastic is sorted by type rather than color, if different colors of plastic are mixed, the resulting recyclate cannot be used for light-colored packaging, which many manufacturers want. The upshot is the introduction of new plastic instead.</p><p>Consumer and environmental associations have long called for recyclability, greater sorting purity and better sorting facilities, but their most important demand remains waste avoidance through reusable systems.</p><p>"Why melt down disposable bottles to make new disposable bottles when you can refill them up to 20 times?" Buschmann asks.</p>
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When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the future of the Cannard Family Farm—whose organic vegetables supplied a single Berkeley restaurant—was looking stark.
Building Food Communities<p>Family farms in California and across the country have been hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus on their markets. But in the health-conscious Bay Area, where celery was already one of the first groceries to disappear from the produce rack, demand for fresh local produce has shot up. The challenge is in redirecting food from farms to new customers.</p><p>Sonoma County has historically been an agricultural region. When the organic food movement sprang up in the 1970s, this area was one of its early proponents. The first farmers markets and CSAs appeared in the 1980s and flourished, but the burgeoning network was later eclipsed by an inflated wine industry, much of it owned by distant corporations.</p><p>According to a 2018 crop report, 60,000 acres have gone to grapes, with only 500 acres in food crops. Land prices have skyrocketed, the cost of labor has gone up, and increased regulations have all made it harder to run a viable business here. Many farmers had turned to "boutique" specialty crops for restaurants.</p><p>"Farmers are always in an uphill battle, especially ecological farmers," says Wiig of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. "I often hear them say, 'I'm working my butt off and hoping for the best.'" That's even more true now, as the pandemic strangles economies the world over.</p>
Scaling Up Support<p>F.E.E.D. Sonoma, a food hub that aggregates produce from dozens of local farms, was another quick responder. When the pandemic hit, it went from serving Bay Area restaurants to building a cooperative of farmers, filling food boxes for distribution at F.E.E.D.'s Petaluma warehouse and other drop spots in the county.</p><p>"Our local food system is extremely diverse," says co-founder Tim Page, who has the energy of a visionary combined with the skills of a businessman. "We have a ton of small farms but we don't have the infrastructure to support them. That is what F.E.E.D. is trying to establish." Since converting the restaurant supply business to a CSA, it has gone from 90 boxes to 450. Ultimately, the goal is 1,800 or more.</p><p>"I grew up in L.A.," Page says. "Every single farm is gone. The same thing will happen here if the general public does not understand the importance of it.</p><p>"That understanding was on display at the Sonoma Farmers Market, which now operates with strict restrictions and safety precautions because of the virus. "We think F.E.E.D. is going to save us," said Candy Wirtz, co-director of Paul's Produce, a well-established farm in Sonoma, as she weighed out my purchases. The CSA model could be transformative for Paul's and other farms across the country.</p><p>Subscribing to a CSA is a lifestyle change for consumers, to be sure. It means eating what's in season and learning to cook unfamiliar vegetables. But it's a change that many people are making now because of the stay-at-home orders. "People just have to learn to cook again instead of eating out," says Judith Redmond, part-owner of Full Belly Farm near Sacramento.</p><p>In light of this newfound commitment to CSAs, Perrotti, of Coyote Family Farm, says: "My hope is that this solidifies instead of going back to the way things were. I hope the importance of local farming stays at the forefront."</p>
Farms With Futures<p>To help small farmers stay in business during the crisis, Community Alliance is also advocating for stimulus dollars. "Most often subsidies go to a small number of the largest farms, or to buy food that goes to food banks from far away, while local farmers can't sell their food," Wiig says. "We want food banks to buy from local farms."</p><p>This seems like a win-win. Millions of tons of food is being plowed under as 60 million people are now going hungry, 17 million of them since the pandemic began, according to Feeding America, the national network of food banks.</p><p>But it's complicated. David Goodman of the Redwood Empire Food Bank puts it plainly: Local food is too expensive. "We distribute nine and a half million pounds of produce annually," he says. "It costs about 9 cents a pound, 3 cents to transport. With 82,000 people to feed, it would be a luxury to think of tending to local needs by buying locally."</p><p>That reticence is partly because the food bank system is tangled in bureaucracy. The USDA decides what to purchase and from where. Because of the distances between sites, the federal agency has tended to favor foods with long shelf lives, such as canned and processed foods, and long-lasting produce like apples and potatoes. "If local food is what we need, there has to be a plan," Goodman says.</p><p>Such a plan might be where short-term disaster relief meets long-term resilience. Michael Dimock is president of Roots of Change, a nonprofit organization that advocates for transforming California's food system. To get serious about preparing the food system for future disasters, Dimock says, the government needs to be involved. Roots of Change is now advocating for a tax on sugary beverages to help foot the bill.</p><p>Dimock says the state needs a paradigm shift for farms to remain viable in the face of multiplying disasters to come—not only pandemics, but fires, floods, and other symptoms of climate change. "How bold will people get in the months ahead to demand real change? My hope is they will get more radical."</p><p>Food is fundamental. While farmers have yet to face the full economic impact of this pandemic, their collaborative efforts, along with local grassroots networks, could mark the beginning of a new economy laboring to be born.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Nearly 200 Canadian organizations on Monday rolled out their demands for a "just recovery," saying that continuing business-as-usual after the pandemic would prevent the kind of far-reaching transformation needed to put "the health and well-being of ALL peoples and ecosystems first."
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Alberta Energy Minister Calls Pandemic ‘a Great Time’ to Build Pipelines Due to Protest Restrictions
Anti-pipeline protests work.
That's the implication behind comments made by Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage Friday on how coronavirus social distancing requirements could ease the construction of Canada's controversial Trans Mountain Expansion project.