Biomass & Social Justice

The Enviva plant in Northampton county, North Carolina. Photograph: SELC

Questions about biomass are not new, but increasingly urgent as a social justice issue as well as an ecological one:

Biomass is promoted as a carbon neutral fuel. But is burning wood a step in the wrong direction?

Many scientists and environmental campaigners question the industry’s claims to offer a clean, renewable energy source that the planet desperately needs

Thick dust has been filling the air and settling on homes in Debra David’s neighborhood of Hamlet, North Carolina, ever since a wood pellet plant started operating nearby in 2019. Continue reading

Smart People Do Smart Things, Sometimes Very Late

BREAKING: After a decade of constant pressure by students, faculty, and alums,
@HARVARD
IS FINALLY DIVESTING FROM FOSSIL FUELS.

While Rupert Murdoch is not even worthy of the “too little too late” moniker, Harvard University is worthy of “better late than never:”

Triumph! Harvard Finally Divests From Fossil Fuel

The richest university in the world capitulates after a decade of activism

The end came, as ends often do, quietly: at midafternoon today Harvard president Larry Bacow released a letter to Harvard students, faculty, and alumni. He didn’t use the word ‘divestment’–that would have been too humiliating–but he did say that the richest university on earth no longer had any direct investments in fossil fuel companies, and that its indirect investments through private equity funds would be allowed to lapse. “HMC has not made any new commitments to these limited partnerships since 2019 and has no intention to do so going forward. These legacy investments are in runoff mode and will end as these partnerships are liquidated.” Continue reading

The New Race In Wind Energy, Between Fixed And Floating Turbines

The world’s first floating wind farm 15 miles offshore of Aberdeenshire, in Scotland. The 30 megawatt installation can power approximately 20,000 households Photograph: Xinhua/Alamy

Wind, of all the alternative energy sources we pay attention to, requires vast areas for generation. So water has become the go-to place to place the turbines. It looks like the new race is whether to have the turbines fixed or floating:

Floating wind turbines could open up vast ocean tracts for renewable power

Technology could help power a clean energy transition if it can overcome hurdles of cost, design and opposition from fishing

In the stormy waters of the North Sea, 15 miles off the coast of Aberdeenshire, in Scotland, five floating offshore wind turbines stretch 574 feet (175 metres) above the water. The world’s first floating windfarm, a 30 megawatt facility run by the Norwegian company Equinor, has only been in operation since 2017 but has already broken UK records for energy output. Continue reading

Sri Lanka Energy Progress

A solar installation in Sri Lanka. DOMINIC SANSONI / WORLD BANK VIA FLICKR

Thanks to Yale e360 for this news from our old neighborhood:

Sri Lanka Pledges No New Coal, Makes Push Into Rooftop Solar

In its latest climate plan, Sri Lanka is ruling out new coal power and aiming to reach 70 percent clean electricity by 2030, an important milestone on its way to reaching its goal of a carbon-neutral electricity generation system by 2050, Climate Home News reported. Continue reading

While Considering The Switch To EV

Researchers with DeepGreen Metals deploy a box core tool to capture a sample of the seafloor. THE METALS COMPANY

As more and more households and businesses and governments plan their switch to electric vehicles, considering the ripple effects is as important now as it was in the age of fossil-fueled vehicles:

The Race for EV Parts Leads to Risky Deep-Ocean Mining

The electric vehicle boom is driving a surge in demand for prized metals needed for batteries and other components. Some companies say the solution lies in mining the deep oceans, but scientists say that could irreversibly damage a vast, largely pristine ecosystem.

A polymetallic nodule containing manganese, nickel, cobalt and copper gathered from the seafloor. THE METALS COMPANY

Nauru, lying about halfway across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Hawaii, is the world’s smallest island nation. But in the emerging industry of deep-sea mining, it punches far above its weight.

This June, Nauru gave notice to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the UN agency charged with regulating mining in international waters, that it was triggering the so-called two-year rule: The agency will have to consider any application for a deep-sea mining license two years from now, under whatever regulations are on the books at the time. This effectively forces the ISA’s hand to finalize a regulatory mining code before that deadline. With this latest development, a once-fanciful idea may soon become a global industry. Continue reading

The Alberta Tar Sands Prize

In a world that will need less oil, the attraction of going to a landlocked continental interior, such as Alberta, Canada, and trying to separate petroleum from sand is waning. Photograph by Ben Nelms / Bloomberg / Getty

Oil from the tar sands of Alberta will sink us faster than we are already sinking. How important is it to keep it where it is? Akin to some sort of holy grail. Thanks to Bill McKibben, as always, for weekly reminders to keep our eyes on the prize:

We Love You, Alberta—Just Not Your Tar Sands

If the province’s oil is dug up and burned, it will be calculably harder to limit the damage from climate change.

Some weeks ago, the government of Alberta wrote to me—and apparently to a number of other environmentalists and environmental groups. We are all subjects of an “anti-Alberta energy inquiry,” and have the right to respond to charges that are being levelled by a government commission. Alberta, it turns out, has spent three and a half million dollars in an effort to find out whether foreigners are unfairly targeting its oil-and-gas industry. I’m mentioned dozens of times in the draft report, due to be finished this week, and it contains links to lots of articles of mine explaining why the province’s vast tar-sands project should be curtailed. Continue reading

Making Dams Deliver More

The O’Shaughnessy Dam in Ohio is being repaired and will be providing power to the city of Columbus by mid-2023. CAMERA MEETS BEARD / SHUTTERSTOCK

Thanks to Yale e360 for this story by James Dinneen:

Can Retrofitting Dams for Hydro Provide a Green Energy Boost?

With the era of building big dams over in the U.S., a growing number of existing dams are being modified to produce hydropower. These projects, advocates say, avoid the damaging impacts of new dams and could generate enough renewable electricity for several million homes. Continue reading

Volts, A Panic-Mitigation Option

Volts: a newsletter about clean energy and politics

What with climate change accelerating and US politics falling apart, it’s pretty grim out there. Yet alongside these doom loops, somewhat anomalously, something good is happening: the transition away from fossil fuels to clean, carbon-free energy is underway, and it is accelerating every day

Our reading and listening options are constantly expanding and contracting, and especially with climate change and energy topics in particular it can be challenging to find options that do not simply induce panic. We have our regular go-to sources, like Yale e360, that has been creatively informative without just heaping on the bleak (any more than necessary, which it sometimes is). A recent discovery of an analytical source worth sharing is this newsletter/podcast combo by David Roberts. Below is the most recent podcast:

Volts podcast: rampant environmental rule-breaking and how to fix it, with Cynthia Giles

Designing rules (including climate rules) that are harder to break

The US has hundreds of environmental rules and regulations on the books, meant to achieve various environmental goals — clean up coal plants, reduce toxins in consumer products, limit agricultural waste, and so on.

Once these rules and regulations are put in place, most people don’t give them a lot of thought. To the extent they do, they tend to believe two things: one, that environmental rules are generally followed (maybe, what, 3-5 percent break the rules?), and two, that the answer to noncompliance is increased enforcement.

According to Cynthia Giles, both those assumptions are dead wrong.

 

Greenland Ends Drilling For Oil

Icebergs near Ilulissat, Greenland. Climate change is having a profound effect in Greenland with glaciers and the Greenland ice cap retreating. Ulrik Pedersen / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Thanks to Ecowatch for publishing this story by Andrea Germanos:

‘Future Belongs to Renewable Energy’: Greenland Ditches All Oil Drilling

Greenland announced Thursday a halt on new oil and gas exploration, citing climate and other environmental impacts.

“Great news!” responded the Center for International Environmental Law.

The government of Greenland, an autonomous Danish dependent territory, framed the move as necessary to transition away from fossil fuels. Continue reading

Peak Oil & Consequences

Donald Pols, director of the environmental group Milieudefensie, celebrates on May 26 after a court in the Netherlands ordered Shell to slash its emissions. REMKO DE WAAL / ANP / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The hug says all you need to know. Our kids, our grandchildren, and generations to follow will all be wondering why we we fiddled so long while carbon burned. The consequences of choices we make now related to the future of fossil fuel use are epic:

Amid Troubles for Fossil Fuels, Has the Era of ‘Peak Oil’ Arrived?

For years, analysts have predicted that rising world oil consumption would peak and start declining in the coming decades. But with a recent string of setbacks for big oil companies and the rapid advance of electric vehicles, some now say that “peak oil” is already here.

An oil platform facility operated by French oil giant Total in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Angola in 2018. RODGER BOSCH / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

May was arguably the worst month ever for big oil — and the best for its opponents — as courts and corporate shareholders sided with environmental activists to humble the biggest of the fossil-fuel giants, culminating in “Black Wednesday.”

Electric taxis line up at a train station in Shenzhen, China in October, 2019. NIKADA VIA GETTY IMAGES

On that day, May 26, three events occurred that would have seemed nearly impossible not long ago: activists angry at ExxonMobil’s climate policies won three seats on its board of directors; Chevron shareholders voted to force the company to start cutting emissions; and a judge in the Netherlands ruled that Shell must slash its emissions by 45 percent by 2030.

So what’s next for big oil? Is the game up? Have we reached peak oil? Continue reading

When Renewables Are Less Expensive Than Coal…

A solar power plant in Gujarat, India. Renewable energy in the country would be cheaper than between 87% and 91% of new coal plants, the report says. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Looks like we are almost there:

Most new wind and solar projects will be cheaper than coal, report finds

Almost two-thirds of renewable energy schemes built globally last year expected to undercut coal costs

Almost two-thirds of wind and solar projects built globally last year will be able to generate cheaper electricity than even the world’s cheapest new coal plants, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). Continue reading

Planting Trees & Second Thoughts

Way back when, the idea of planting a million trees was set in motion. I missed this Economist film and article at that time, but while pursuing planting I have seen other related concerns, each of which is worthy of consideration (as we continue planting):

The Story Behind
Climate change: the trouble with trees

Why tree planting is not the panacea some had hoped

Here you will find some of the resources used in the production of The Economist’s film “Climate change: the trouble with trees” along with exclusive additional material. It is part of the “The Story Behind”, a film series that reveals the processes that shape our video journalism. Continue reading

Exxon’s Emerging Reckoning

The pressure has been mounting for some time, but it is finally causing needed changes. There were plenty of headlines late last week, but only today do we feel this news means something potentially lasting:

ExxonMobil loses a proxy fight with green investors

An activist hedge fund succeeds in nominating at least two climate-friendly directors to the energy giant’s board

“The stone age did not end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of petroleum.” That battle cry animates critics of Big Oil, who dream of phasing out hydrocarbons in favour of cleaner fuels and technologies. Continue reading

More Charging Stations, Please

If we’re going to deal with the climate crisis, electric cars are a crucial part of the task. Photograph by Rebekah Zemansky / Shutterstock

In his weekly newsletter Bill McKibben shares an illuminating anecdote, titled Your Electric Vehicle Can’t Get There from Here—At Least, Not Without a Charge, about driving his electric car in New England that explains

Why we need to build a national network of charging stations fast.

I pulled into a Whole Foods parking lot in Bedford, New Hampshire, hoping against hope—but no, someone was already there, their Chevy Bolt plugged into the fast charger. Continue reading

Really, Wyoming?

A train loaded with newly mined coal near Gillette, Wyoming. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

It’s been too long since we last asked this question that had been a mainstay in these pages, but today we have to ask it of Wyoming, based on this story:

Wyoming stands up for coal with threat to sue states that refuse to buy it

Republican governor says measure sends message that Wyoming is ‘prepared to bring litigation to protect her interests’

Wyoming is faced by a transition to renewable energy that’s gathering pace across America, but it has now come up with a novel and controversial plan to protect its mining industry – sue other states that refuse to take its coal. Continue reading

Choices For Mining Lithium

The Salton Sea is one of numerous new mining proposals in a global gold rush to find new sources of metals and minerals needed for electric cars and renewable energy.

Thanks to the New York Times for this coverage of the choices surrounding how and where to mine a key ingredient of more efficient batteries–a consequential environmental question:

The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles

A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.

“This is the most sustainable lithium in the world, made in America,” Rod Colwell, the chief executive of Controlled Thermal Resources, said. “Who would have thought it? We’ve got this massive opportunity.”

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste. Continue reading

The Sinking Cost Of Renewable Energy

Because its costs continue to slide with every quarter, solar energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels almost everywhere on the planet by the decade’s end. Photograph by Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / Getty

Thanks to Bill McKibben, as always, for at least one bit of good news in his weekly newsletter:

Renewable Energy Is Suddenly Startlingly Cheap

Now the biggest barrier to change is the will of our politicians to take serious climate action.

Earth Week has come and gone, leaving behind an ankle-deep and green-tinted drift of reports, press releases, and earnest promises from C.E.O.s and premiers alike that they are planning to become part of the solution. There were contingent signs of real possibility—if some of the heads of state whom John Kerry called on to make Zoom speeches appeared a little strained, at least they appeared. (Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, the most carbon-emitting developed nation per capita, struggled to make his technology work.) But, if you want real hope, the best place to look may be a little noted report from the London-based think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative. Continue reading

The Climate Crisis, Earth Day Edition

Climate activists at a rally in Athens, Greece, in late 2018, hold up banners warning that time is running out on efforts to contain the earth’s warming to a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Photograph by Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP / Getty

Thanks to Bill McKibben for this Earth Day edition of his newsletter, The Climate Crisis, which we sample from regularly:

How 1.5 Degrees Became the Key to Climate Progress

The number has dramatically reorganized global thinking around the climate.

It’s Earth Day +51, as we near the end of President Biden’s first hundred days, and forty world leaders are scheduled to join him for a virtual summit on climate change. “For those of you who are excited about climate, we will have a lot more to say next week,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said last Thursday, which is a sweet way to think about it—better than “for those of you who are existentially depressed about climate.” Continue reading

Urban Power Shifts

Center City Philadelphia, viewed from the Schuylkill River. ZOONAR GMBH / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Thanks to Jonathan Mingle  and Yale e360 for this analysis:

Cities Confront Climate Challenge: How to Move from Gas to Electricity?

Ending the use of fossil fuels to heat homes and buildings is a key challenge for cities hoping to achieve net-zero emissions. Nowhere is that more evident than in Philadelphia, where technical and financial hurdles and a reluctant gas company stand in the way of decarbonization.

In 1836, Philadelphians mostly used whale oil and candles to light their homes and businesses. That year, the newly formed Philadelphia Gas Works caused a stir when it lit 46 downtown street lamps with gas made from coal in its plant on the Schuylkill River. Continue reading

Fossil Fuel Divestment Debate Settled

Protesters have argued that you shouldn’t try to profit off the end of the world. New analysis shows that, in any event, you won’t. Photograph by David Grossman / Alamy

This is a short read with a big implication; as always we are grateful to Bill McKibben for his weekly newsletter:

The Powerful New Financial Argument for Fossil-Fuel Divestment

A report by BlackRock, the world’s largest investment house, shows that those who have divested have profited not only morally but also financially.

In a few months, a small British financial think tank will mark the tenth anniversary of the publication of a landmark research report that helped launch the global fossil-fuel-divestment movement. As that celebration takes place, another seminal report—this one obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the world’s largest investment house—closes the loop on one of the key arguments of that decade-long fight. Continue reading