Renewable-energy projects are now finding capital faster than fossil fuels. Photograph by Ken Cedeno / Getty
Since our platform name change, each daily post has been either about coffee or about birds. We have not neglected or forgotten our commitment to all the other important environmental, conservation, culture and related themes this platform has showcased, under whichever name. Today, Bill McKibben, one of our favorite sources of both depressing and heartening environmental news, is our go-to for some good news:
Mangrove restoration in Madagascar. Photograph: Alamy
Our previous posts about the multiple positives of planting trees in response to climate change and toward the goal of economic recovery didn’t take coastal ecosystems into account. These regions tend to be extra vulnerable to the increased pressures of extreme weather, not to mention being the home of many vulnerable populations.
This type of investment seems like a win/win.
This post was going to link out to one of our favorite sources, celebrating fossil fuel tough times. But at the very end of his post, almost as a throw away, there was this reference to the ad above. It led somewhere more fun–and got us thinking Really?–and a chance to instead shout out again about ebikes and VanMoof:
E-bikes are the future. That’s what the bike industry thinks, that’s what a bunch of new cyclists think, and that’s what sustainable transportation advocates think.
But not everyone thinks that way, as a spat between e-bike brand VanMoof and the French advertising regulatory body has proven.
At the centre of this stoush is a slick TV commercial by VanMoof, a Dutch urban bicycle brand best known for creating that bike with the top tube that looks like that. In the ad, a glossy black sports car has images of pollution, traffic jams and emergency vehicles projected onto it, before melting into a pile of black goo from which a VanMoof e-bike emerges to the slogan ‘time to ride the future’.
It’s pretty visually striking. It also does a succinct job of boiling down many of the concerns people have about over-reliance on automobiles in light of the, you know, climate emergency that we may or may not* be going through globally (*definitely are).
So it’s a little surprising to learn that the ad has been banned from French television because it “creates a climate of fear” around cars.
So what’s really going on here? Let’s break this down.
VanMoof: The quirky Dutch brand launched in 2009 with an analogue town bike with integrated lights and lock, and has since had an electric renaissance. Continue reading
Thanks as always to Bill McKibben, in particular this time for disguising a podcast recommendation (click the image above to go to the website of the podcast) as a recommendation for regulating Facebook:
Why is it so hard to get Facebook to do anything about the hate and deception that fill its pages, even when it’s clear that they are helping to destroy democracy? And why, of all things, did the company recently decide to exempt a climate-denial post from its fact-checking process? The answer is clear: Facebook’s core business is to get as many people as possible to spend as many hours as possible on its site, so that it can sell those people’s attention to advertisers. (A Facebook spokesperson said the company’s policy stipulates that “clear opinion content is not subject to fact-checking on Facebook.”) This notion of core business explains a lot—including why it’s so hard to make rapid gains in the fight against climate change. Continue reading
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) speaks at a news conference on the boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., in 2018 before signing a bill banning offshore oil and gas drilling. (Wayne Parry/AP)
Alternative energy sources are the requirement for the future. We can only hope that positive leadership actions such as this aren’t vetoed by an administration that would like to keep progressive plans as a thing of the past.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said his state will build the country’s first port dedicated to assembling the turbines that will go up not just in New Jersey but across the Eastern Seaboard.
New Jersey wants to be known for more than just its shores and casinos.
It aims to be the hub of the nation’s nascent offshore wind energy industry.
On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is set to announce the construction of what he calls the country’s first port dedicated to constructing the colossal turbines that may one day dot the East Coast horizon as Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states rush to build more renewable energy.
For New Jersey, it is about more than just tackling climate change. Just as Texas is the de facto capital of the U.S. oil and gas industry, New Jersey wants to be an economic engine for offshore wind.
“We have a huge opportunity,” said Tim Sullivan, chief executive of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. “Somebody’s going to get to be the Houston of American offshore wind.”
To make sure New Jersey plays that role, the state government is planning to turn 30 acres along the Eastern Shore of the Delaware River 20 miles south of Wilmington, Del., into a staging area for assembling the massive turbines. Taller than 800 feet, the turbines will tower higher than the Washington Monument.
State leaders are also hoping to coax factories to the rural area, too, and have set aside 25 acres for potential turbine part manufacturers. They aim to start construction next year and launch operations by 2024. Another 160 acres will be available for future development.
“We’ll be able to be the focal point for the industry in this part of the country,” Murphy said in an interview.
The port is part of the state’s broader plan to get all of its electricity from clean energy by the middle of the century. New Jersey, already one of the nation’s fastest-warming places, wants to generate 7,500 megawatts from offshore wind by 2035 — enough to power half of New Jersey’s homes.
When we started this platform, from a base in south India, we were surrounded by charismatic mega-fauna. Even the squirrels were unusually beautiful and large. The purpose of the platform being to highlight stories of creative, entrepreneurial approaches to conservation as much as to raise awareness of environmental issues more broadly, there is a new form of mega charisma worth noting today. It may make a difference to the issues we have been pointing to since the first post nine years ago:
A bicyclist on an embankment in front of wind turbines in Norderney, Germany. LINO MIRGELER/GETTY IMAGES
Thanks to David G. Victor for this opinion:
With the global economy reeling from the pandemic, most nations are focusing stimulus programs on reviving employment. But Europe is moving forward with a Green Deal initiative that provides a framework for decarbonizing its economy and spurring the rest of the world to follow. Continue reading
Dead trees in a California forest in August 2016. U.S. FOREST SERVICE
It sounds like the inverse of rewilding’s restorative approach, when there is a large patch of expired trees; decisions must be made. Thanks to Jane Braxton Little for laying out the questions:
As forests in California and the Western U.S. are hit by rising numbers of fires and disease outbreaks related to climate change, some experts argue that using dead and diseased trees to produce biomass energy will help to restore forests and reduce CO2 emissions.
Jonathan Kusel owns three pickups and a 45-foot truck for hauling woodchip bins. He operates a woodchip yard and a 35-kilowatt biomass plant that burns dead trees, and he runs a crew marking trees for loggers working in national forests. Those are a lot of blue-collar credentials for a University of California, Berkeley PhD sociologist known for his documentation of how the decline of the timber industry affects rural communities. Continue reading
A large-scale wind farm in California. The US and China make up almost two-thirds of global growth in wind power. Photograph: Warming Images/Rex/Shutterstock
Every bit of positive news is welcome:
A Mini Electric car next to the production line at the BMW plant in Cowley, near Oxford. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images
When the smoke clears, we will need to get back to key environmental issues. Thanks to the Guardian for this news, in that regard:
Finding will come as boost to governments seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions
Electric vehicles produce less carbon dioxide than petrol cars across the vast majority of the globe – contrary to the claims of some detractors, who have alleged that the CO2 emitted in the production of electricity and their manufacture outweighs the benefits.
The finding is a boost to governments, including the UK, seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions, which will require a massive expansion of the electric car fleet. A similar benefit was found for electric heat pumps. Continue reading
A coal-fired power plant in Neurath, Germany. The country has pledged to phase out coal by 2038. INA FASSBENDER/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Thanks to Fred Pearce, as always for his environmental reporting, and to Yale e360 for this unexpected news that coal is not headed for a renaissance (as some politicians would have us believe):
Coal is declining sharply, as financiers and insurance companies abandon the industry in the face of shrinking demand, pressure from climate campaigners, and competition from cleaner fuels. After years of its predicted demise, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel may finally be on the way out.
Demolition of the coal-fired Nelson Dewey Generating Station in Cassville, Wisconsin in December 2017. The power plant closed in 2015. NICKI KOHL/TELEGRAPH HERALD VIA AP
Any day now, New York State will be coal-free. Its last coal-fired power station, at Somerset on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, will shut for good as the winter ends. Remember when Donald Trump promised to bring back coal? Well, three years on, coal’s decline is accelerating — in the United States and worldwide. Continue reading
Some times those bright spots on the horizon are more welcome than they might merit, and today we will take what we can get:
Report raises fresh doubt about viability of Australia’s thermal coal export industry
Building new wind and solar plants will soon be cheaper in every major market across the globe than running existing coal-fired power stations, according to a new report that raises fresh doubt about the medium-term viability of Australia’s $26bn thermal coal export industry. Continue reading
1. Collected heat can also be transferred into gas and shot down ducts into manufacturing plants. 2. The 3.5-square-foot receiver takes in 400 kW of light, 1,200 times denser than direct sunlight. 3. Each heliostat gets realigned every few seconds so maximum light hits the receiver all day. PHOTOGRAPH: CINEATRA MEDIA
After nearly nine years of monitoring the mainstream and more scientific news for evidence that harnessing the sun is one of our highest potential solutions to climate change, and considering all the noise that comes from climate change skeptics and deniers, it is easy to lose track of whether solar has what it takes. Laura Mallonee shares this brief in Wired:
In response to mounting public pressure, Larry Fink, the C.E.O. of BlackRock, announced, in a letter to investors, that the firm will make some modest policy changes related to climate change.
Photograph by Damon Winter / NYT / Redux
One of the authors, also a prolific activist, who we cite most frequently has shared his view on the news we linked to earlier this last week:
By Bill McKibben
If you felt the earth tremble a little bit in Manhattan on Tuesday morning, it was likely caused by the sheer heft of vast amounts of money starting to shift. “Seismic” is the only word to describe the recent decision of the asset-management firm BlackRock to acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis and begin (emphasis on begin) to start redirecting its investments.
By one estimate, there’s about eighty trillion dollars of money on the planet. If that’s correct, then BlackRock’s holding of seven trillion dollars means that nearly a dime of every dollar rests in its digital files, mostly in the form of stocks it invests in for pension funds and the like. So when BlackRock’s C.E.O., Larry Fink, devoted his annual letter to investors to explaining that climate change has now put us “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” it marked a watershed moment in climate history. Continue reading
Shell said last year that divestment had become a material risk to its business.’ Shell’s Brent Bravo oil rig arrives on Teesside for decommissioning, June 2019. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images
Bill McKibben explains the movement and its best chance of success:
On 15 October, the European Investment Bank meets to decide its policy on fossil fuels. The hand of history is on its shoulder
Millions of people marched against climate crisis over the past two weeks, in some of the largest demonstrations of the millennium. Most people cheered the students who led the rallies – call them the Greta Generation. But now we’ll start to find out if all their earnest protest actually matters.
Two weeks ago we were visiting the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula, one of our long-time favorite places in Costa Rica. This weekend we made a journey to one of the few spots in Costa Rica where we had never been before, the center of the southern tier, bordering this part of Panama. Seth’s visit to Boquete was one made by many visitors to Costa Rica who either for coffee or birding reasons see this cross-border excursion as a must. We made that excursion from San Jose to Boquete 15 years ago as a family, and my recollection of the coffee sampling, including of the geisha varietal before I knew how important that would become, is a highlight.
Las Mellizas is a village created decades ago by the owners of Hacienda La Amistad, which is where Organikos sources its single estate organic coffee. The farm uses bananas and other fruits, plenty of including avocado, to shade the coffee and add value to the farm’s cash crop activity.
I will have more to say when we are back on grid, but for now I share the image at the top, with the widest view I could find on the farm yesterday, sent using a cell phone connection and electricity from the hydro-electric plant that this farm runs on, shown here.
The Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington. GREG VAUGHN / ALAMY
Jacques Leslie, a veteran writer whose specialty in one of the most-used sources of alternative energy makes him a natural for our platform, somehow has never appeared in our pages before. Dams and the rivers they change are a special case of our interest in conservation, and stories about dam removal are worth the read every time. Here is a clear explanation of one river’s history and future related to dams, and the prospects for dam removal–if you have not read one of these stories yet to understand the historic case for dams and their present illogical realities, this may be the one you want to read:
As renewable energy becomes cheaper than hydropower and the presence of dams worsens the plight of salmon, pressure is mounting in the Pacific Northwest to take down four key dams on the lower Snake River that critics say have outlived their usefulness.
North America’s largest Pacific watershed, the Columbia River Basin, is in the midst of an environmental and energy crisis so severe that the most obvious, yet hotly contested, antidote — removal of four dams on the Columbia’s longest tributary, the Snake River — is gaining traction.
The hydropower dams have been controversial since before their completion, between 1962 and 1975, because of their disastrous impact on salmon and the other 137 species that are part of the salmon food chain. Most of the Columbia Basin’s 250-plus dams have played roles in the salmon’s decline, but the four lower Snake River dams are prime targets for removal because their economic value has diminished and their absence would inordinately benefit salmon. Continue reading
An electric bus in service on the streets of Medellín, Colombia. METRO DE MEDELLÍN
Happy to see our neighbors to the south taking the lead in greening public transportation:
From Colombia to Argentina, major cities in Latin America are starting to adopt electric bus fleets. In a region with the highest use of buses per person globally, officials believe the transition will help meet climate targets, cut fuel costs, and improve air quality.
Medellín will have 65 electric buses in service by the end of the year, making it the second-largest electric bus fleet in Latin America. MARIA GALLUCCI/YALE E360
In Medellín, Colombia, passengers cram aboard a battery-powered bus during the morning commute. Inside, the vehicle is a respite from the crush of cars, taxis, and motorcycles winding through traffic outside. The driver, Robinson López Rivera, steers the bus up a steep ramp, revealing views of hillsides covered with rooftops of tile and tin. The bus dashboard indicates that the batteries are mostly charged, with enough power to last through the evening rush hour.
“It’s a little smoother and more comfortable to drive. And there’s hardly any noise,” López Rivera says from behind the wheel. He gently brakes as a street vendor pushes a fruit cart across the dedicated bus lane. At night, the bus will return to a parking lot by the airport, recharging its 360-kilowatt battery pack while the city sleeps.
An electric bus charging terminal in Santiago, Chile, which draws power primarily from solar panels. ENEL X
The other 77 buses in the city’s bus rapid transit system, called Metroplús, run on natural gas and move about 251,000 passengers daily. Thousands more privately owned coaches and minibuses burn diesel as they traverse the sprawling metropolitan area of 3.7 million people, with older models leaving a trail of sour-smelling smoke. Faced with chronic air pollution and concerns about climate change, Medellín is now trying to move quickly to electrify its entire mass transit network. Continue reading
A Rough Terrain Container Handler, or RTCH, moves a shipping container full of about 40,000 pounds of wood chips to a nearby railcar. Ryan Heinsius/KNAU
National Public Radio (USA) shares a story that links forest management techniques in Arizona to fossil fuel use-reduction in Korea:
A huge mechanical claw scoops up several ponderosa pine logs and feeds them into an industrial chipper. Thousands of wood chunks are then blasted into a large shipping container.
“It goes anywhere from one to four to three up to seven small ones can just kind of throw in that little jaws there,” explains Jeff Halbrook, a research associate with Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute. Today he’s overseeing what’s fondly known as the chip-and-ship pilot project about 20 minutes west of Flagstaff.
These trees being fed into the chipper were recently cut from the nearby Coconino National Forest. A crew of six has been working for days to pack the shipping containers as tightly as possible, stuffing each one with about 40,000 pounds of chipped wood. Then another machine hoists the container onto a nearby railcar. In about two weeks, nearly 60 containers will arrive at a port in South Korea. Continue reading
Crops grow under solar panels at the Biosphere 2 Agrivoltaics Learning Lab operated by the University of Arizona, north of Tucson. Patrick Murphy/University of Arizona
When we think of farming, we know sunlight is important, but too much sun is not normally a good thing. For solar, no such thing as too much sunlight–the more the better. But counterintuitive though it may be, here is a story about overlapping advantages of sunlight for farming and solar energy production:
And the same land can produce loads of food and electricity simultaneously.
Even after a boom in recent years, solar energy delivers less than 2 percent of power generation to the US electrical grid. But if we’re going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the sun’s contribution is going to have to ramp up dramatically. Where to put all the solar panels? You might envision vast solar farms stretching across the sun-scorched barren lands of the Southwest. But according to two recent papers—one from Oregon and Utah researchers, another from a team centered at the University of Arizona—a much different kind of landscape makes the most sense for harvesting solar power: the land currently occupied by food farms.
That’s because the technology that drives solar power—photovoltaic (PV) panels made of silicon that convert light photons directly into electricity—works most efficiently under a specific set of conditions. Most important for this power, of course, is abundant sunlight, which is why deserts make tempting sites for solar energy production. But air temperature is important, too. Above the threshold of 78°F, the hotter it gets outside, the less efficient PV panels are at converting sunlight to electricity. And that’s why blazing-hot deserts pose some problems for solar panels. Continue reading