Extraction, Adaptation & Opportunity

The former coal miner Gary Webb, right, with his cousins Darrell Davis and Ernie Dials, in Lovely, Ky. Mr. Webb supports the planned solar farm. “It’s good for climate change,” he said. “Anything that helps is good.” Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

The photograph above speaks to the humanity of coal mining culture in a time when the world is trying to wind down its use of coal. It is not fair, in so many ways, that miners seem to have so few options; but a way forward will be found. The billboard in the photo below may suggest otherwise, but opportunities for those miners are not likely to include coal.  Thanks to Cara Buckley for this vivid portrait of a place historically focused on extraction, its people who are in need of a better future, and the tensions that come with making that better future happen:

Coming Soon to This Coal County: Solar, in a Big Way

In Martin County, Ky., where coal production has flatlined, entrepreneurs are promising that a new solar farm atop a shuttered mine will bring green energy jobs.

A billboard advertising mining jobs in Inez, Ky. By last count, the county had just 26 miners left. Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

MARTIN COUNTY, Ky. — For a mountain that’s had its top blown off, the old Martiki coal mine is looking especially winsome these days. With its vast stretches of emerald grass dotted with hay bales and ringed with blue-tinged peaks, and the wild horses and cattle that roam there, it looks less like a shuttered strip mine and more like an ad for organic milk.

The mountain is poised for another transformation. Hundreds of acres are set to be blanketed with solar panels in the coming year, installed by locals, many of them former miners. Continue reading

Spain Harnesses The Power In The Air

View of a wind farm in the province of Burgos.

While we were paying attention to many other things over the last decade, Spain transformed into a wind power house. How did we miss it with all the attention we paid to renewable energy? Thanks to El Pais for this news:

Wind power becomes Spain’s leading energy source for 2021

Renewable sources already cover almost half of the country’s consumption needs – so far this year, they have contributed almost 47% of the total compared to less than 30% a decade ago

Even if the wind stops blowing in the next three weeks, wind power will end the year as the leading source of electricity in Spain. Continue reading

More Solar Canopy Initiatives

A solar-covered parking lot at the plant of Anhui Quanchai Engine Co., Ltd. in Chuzhou, China. IMAGINECHINA VIA AP IMAGES

Using solar panels to create shade for coffee trees requires thought about the tradeoffs between the non-shade benefits trees otherwise provide: (nitrogen-fixing in the case of poro trees, plus bird habitat and other biodiversity benefits) and the non-shade benefits that solar panels provide (renewable energy). Solar panels on parking lots and other roofs, on the other hand, seems the definition of a no-brainer. Our thanks to Richard Conniff and Yale e360, as always:

Why Putting Solar Canopies on Parking Lots Is a Smart Green Move

Solar farms are proliferating on undeveloped land, often harming ecosystems. But placing solar canopies on large parking lots offers a host of advantages — making use of land that is already cleared, producing electricity close to those who need it, and even shading cars.

A solar parking facility at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, with an output of 8 megawatts of electricity.

Fly into Orlando, Florida, and you may notice a 22-acre solar power array in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head in a field just west of Disney World. Nearby, Disney also has a 270-acre solar farm of conventional design on former orchard and forest land. Park your car in any of Disney’s 32,000 parking spaces, on the other hand, and you won’t see a canopy overhead generating solar power (or providing shade) — not even if you snag one of the preferred spaces for which visitors pay up to $50 a day. Continue reading

A New Canopy Concept

This year, the garden produced more than 8,000 pounds of produce, while the panels above generate enough power for 300 local homes. Kirk Siegler/NPR

When the poro and other trees we planted in the last two years mature, they will provide shade for a thousand or so coffee saplings. High elevation arabica coffee likes shade, and birds like the habitat. Those trees are growing fast, but it will be decades until their full shade potential is reached. As I read “This Colorado ‘solar garden’ is literally a farm under solar panels” I can picture an interesting complement to the shade poro provides:

When Byron Kominek returned home after the Peace Corps and later working as a diplomat in Africa, his family’s 24-acre farm near Boulder, Colo., was struggling to turn a profit.

“Our farm has mainly been hay producing for fifty years,” Kominek said, on a recent chilly morning, the sun illuminating a dusting of snow on the foothills to his West. “This is a big change on one of our three pastures.”

That big change is certainly an eye opener: 3,200 solar panels mounted on posts eight feet high above what used to be an alfalfa field on this patch of rolling farmland at the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains. Continue reading

Big Hydro’s Climate Change

Lake Oroville, the reservoir behind the Oroville Dam in California, at a near-record low level on September 1. Because of drought, the dam has not operated since August 5. GEORGE ROSE / GETTY IMAGES

Jacques Leslie, a Yale e360 regular and Los Angeles Times op-ed contributor, is a leading authority on dams, so his opinion here is worth noting:

As Warming and Drought Increase, A New Case for Ending Big Dams

The argument against major hydropower projects — ravaged ecosystems and large-scale displacement of people — is well known. But dam critics now say that climate change, bringing dried-up reservoirs and increased methane releases, should spell the end of big hydropower.

As the hydroelectric dam industry tries to reposition itself as a climate change solution, more and more evidence shows that climate change actually undermines the case for hydro dams. Continue reading

Global North, Global South & Responsibilities

Photo: Hannah Whitaker; Prop Styling: Marina Bevilacqua.

David Wallace-Wells has done it again. Devastated me with considerations I should have had on my own, but had not. And he makes it so vivid that once you see his point you cannot stop seeing it. Having lived in the Global South for a majority of my adult years, but having been born into and lived in the Global North for the first half of my life, this story resonates with me in ways I cannot quite describe. But the quote from Proverbs in yesterday’s post seems even more intensely relevant:

Climate Reparations

A trillion tons of carbon hangs in the air, put there by the world’s rich, an existential threat to its poor. Can we remove it?

I. What Is Owed

Brazil, 2019. Photo: Cristina de Middel/Magnum Photos

The math is as simple as the moral claim. We know how much carbon has been emitted and by which countries, which means we know who is most responsible and who will suffer most and that they are not the same. We know that the burden imposed on the world’s poorest by its richest is gruesome, that it is growing, and that it represents a climate apartheid demanding reparation — or should know it. We know we can remove some of that carbon from the atmosphere and undo at least some of the damage. We know the cost of doing so using tools we have today. And we know that unless we use them, the problem will never go away. Continue reading

Greek Islands & Cleaner Energy

The island of Naxos is now linked to the Greek mainland via an underwater electrical cable. Eirini Vourloumis

Writing from Costa Rica, which currently generates nearly all of its electricity from renewable sources, but thinking of Greece, which is moving in that direction, my thanks to Liz Alderman and Eirini Vourloumis for the excellent reporting and photography about that journey:

Greece Is Getting Rewired for the Future

As climate change bears down, Greece is upending its sources of energy and trying to reshape its economic destiny.

Two wind turbines on a hill outside the main town of Naxos. Eirini Vourloumis

NAXOS, Greece — On the windswept western tip of one of Greece’s largest islands, an unassuming stone building above the Aegean Sea has become an unlikely outpost in this country’s fight against climate change. Continue reading

Electrify Now

SAMAN SARHENG/YALE E360

For those of us who can make the switch sooner rather than later, it is looking more and more like common sense:

From Homes to Cars, It’s Now Time to Electrify Everything

The key to shifting away from fossil fuels is for consumers to begin replacing their home appliances, heating systems, and cars with electric versions powered by clean electricity. The challenges are daunting, but the politics will change when the economic benefits are widely felt.

An all-electric house. REWIRING AMERICA

For too long, the climate solutions conversation has been dominated by the supply-side view of the energy system: What will replace coal plants? Will natural gas be a bridge fuel? Can hydrogen power industry? These are all important questions, but, crucially, they miss half the equation. We must bring the demand side of our energy system to the heart of our climate debate. Continue reading

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