The Remarkable Efficiency Of Heat Pumps, Explained

Heat pumps use electricity to compress a refrigerant, raising its temperature. IEA

Heat pumps have only been a passing reference occasionally in these pages, but today they are the focus, thanks to Paul Hockenos in Yale e360:

In Europe’s Clean Energy Transition, Industry Turns to Heat Pumps

With soaring gas prices due to the Ukraine war and the EU’s push to cut emissions, European industries are increasingly switching to high-temperature, high-efficiency heat pumps. Combined with the boom in residential use, the EU is now hoping for a heat pump revolution.

An industrial heat pump at the Mars Confectionery in Veghel, the Netherlands. GEA

The Wienerberger brickworks in Uttendorf, Austria, in the Tyrolean Alps, has always required a steady stream of 90 degree C (194 degree F) heat to dry its construction blocks. This process would have been an expensive proposition for the company after Russia cut gas exports to Europe, as it was for most of Europe’s energy-intensive construction industry. But four years ago, Wienerberger — the largest brick producer in the world — made an investment in the future that is now paying off: it replaced Uttendorf’s gas-fired boiler with an industrial-scale heat pump, which whittles the factory’s energy bill by around 425,00 euros a year. Continue reading

EV Boom

Ibrahim Rayintakath

At this point we should not be surprised but the momentum is still stunning:

Electric Vehicles Keep Defying Almost Everyone’s Predictions

It is striking that in the same year that Tesla’s stock price dropped by about two-thirds, destroying more than $700 billion in market value, the global market for electric vehicles — which for so long the company seemed almost to embody — actually boomed. Continue reading

Ozone Progress

A refrigerator factory in 2018 in Xingfu, China, an area that defied restrictions on ozone-depleting CFC-11 until a government crackdown. Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

Any time we see even the slightest sign of meaningful change, it is worth pausing, noting it, and getting back to work:

Rogue emissions from China of ozone-depleting chemicals had threatened to delay recovery by a decade. But the emissions were stopped, according to a U.N.-backed report.

The protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere could be restored within several decades, scientists said Monday, as recent rogue emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals from China have been largely eliminated. Continue reading

Lungs Of The Earth, The Amazon Calls Our Attention Again

Illustration by Max Guther

The Amazon is one of those big topics that we come back to again and again for a reason.  We all depend on these lungs of the earth, so it would be strange to not be obsessed with the subject:

Some Brazilian scientists fear that the Amazon may become a grassy savanna — with profound effects on the climate worldwide.

Illustration by Max Guther

One of the first times Luciana Vanni Gatti tried to collect Amazonian air she got so woozy that she couldn’t even operate the controls. An atmospheric chemist, she wanted to measure the concentration of carbon high above the rainforest. To obtain her samples she had to train bush pilots at obscure air-taxi businesses. The discomfort began as she waited on the tarmac, holding one door open against the wind to keep the tiny cockpit from turning into an oven in the equatorial sun. When at last they took off, they rose precipitously, and every time they plunged into a cloud, the plane seemed to be, in Gatti’s words, sambando — dancing the samba. Then the air temperature dipped below freezing, and her sweat turned cold. Continue reading

Time To Care About Climate Change

A pile of debris from Hurricane Ian rises behind a line of people waiting to vote in Fort Myers, Fla., in November 2022. Research suggests support for some climate policies increases immediately after climate-driven disasters such as Ian.
Rebecca Blackwell/AP

If you are not (yet) concerned about climate change there is no time like the present:

How our perception of time shapes our approach to climate change

Most people are focused on the present: today, tomorrow, maybe next year. Fixing your flat tire is more pressing than figuring out if you should use an electric car. Living by the beach is a lot more fun than figuring out when your house will be underwater because of sea level rise. Continue reading

Carbon Cowboys

Levi Sucre Romero at the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal last week.

Levi Sucre Romero at the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal last week. ANDREJ IVANOV / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Carbon credit brokers are busier than ever, and that is welcome news, but Levi Sucre Romero’s concerns give pause:

Forest Equity: What Indigenous People Want from Carbon Credits

To Indigenous leader Levi Sucre Romero, carbon credit markets have failed to respect Indigenous people and their key role in protecting their lands. In an e360 interview, he talks about how carbon brokers have taken advantage of local communities and why that must change.

Indigenous protesters at the opening ceremony of the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal this month.

Indigenous protesters at the opening ceremony of the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal this month. ANDREJ IVANOV / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

In a world where carbon credit markets are taking advantage of Indigenous people and their forests, the United Nation is losing its leadership on combating climate change, says Indigenous leader Levi Sucre Romero.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Romero, who is from Costa Rica and is coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, calls out the “carbon cowboys” — the brokers who he says are wrecking efforts to allow Indigenous communities to have ownership of the carbon credits generated on their land, and who, by acting unscrupulously and secretively, are undermining global hopes of using nature to mitigate climate change. Continue reading

Great EV Expectations

A Rivian R1T electric pickup truck at the company’s factory in Normal, Illinois. JAMIE KELTER DAVIS / BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES

I had no reason to bet against Tesla until now, but I did wonder whether it was good for anyone (other than its shareholders) for that one company to dominate its market over the longer term. Now, happily, it looks like the market will do what we need it to do, which is get robust:

For U.S. Companies, the Race for the New EV Battery Is On

Spurred by federal mandates and incentives, U.S. manufacturers are pushing forward with developing new battery technologies for electric vehicles. The holy grail is a battery that is safer, costs less, provides longer driving range, and doesn’t use imported “conflict” minerals.

Sixteen years have passed since engineer Martin Eberhard unveiled his futuristic custom-designed sports car before a crowd of investors, journalists, and potential buyers in a Santa Monica Airport hangar. Continue reading

Virtue Signaling Versus Virtue Versus Wrong

Laurence D. Fink, who runs BlackRock, has urged companies to adopt socially conscious practices. Winnie Au for The New York Times

We have no access to Mr. Fink’s motives or those of the firm he runs, or to how he and his colleagues make decisions–only to some of the actions they have taken. Our view on him and his firm may be simplistic, in that we respect their initial leadership on ESG but fault them now for not doing more. Even if they have only been virtue-signaling, and even if they fall short on true virtue, what they have done is obviously much better than those who are wrong on climate change:

BlackRock’s Pitch for Socially Conscious Investing Antagonizes All Sides

Right-wing officials are attacking BlackRock for overstepping. Those on the left say the world’s biggest asset manager is not doing enough.

Environmental, social and governance — or E.S.G. — investing, “to some degree, is a smoke screen,” said Tariq Fancy, a former BlackRock executive. Chloe Ellingson for The New York Times

It was a clarion call to chief executives everywhere.

In 2018, Laurence D. Fink, the longtime chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, urged corporate leaders to assess the societal impact of their businesses, embrace diversity and consider how climate change could affect long-term growth.

“Companies,” Mr. Fink wrote in his annual letter to chief executives, “must ask themselves: What role do we play in the community? How are we managing our impact on the environment? Are we working to create a diverse work force? Are we adapting to technological change?” Continue reading

Land Use By Food Type, Data For Thought

The Conversation

Chart of land use per 100g of protein for different foodsThe Conversation is “a news organization dedicated to facts and evidence” and with the tag line “Academic rigor, journalistic flair”. Our kind of reading. The graph to the left illustrates this article’s point; the photo below to the right is too composed for rigor:

Brazil’s enormous soy farms mostly produce food for animals, not humans. lourencolf / shutterstock

New food technologies could release 80% of the world’s farmland back to nature

Here’s the basic problem for conservation at a global level: food production, biodiversity and carbon storage in ecosystems are competing for the same land. Continue reading

Embracing Anthropocene

Image credits: Alamy; David Guttenfelder for The New York Times; Getty Images; Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times; Michael Probst/Associated Press; Getty Images; NASA

We have been using this terminology already for more than a decade, thinking it was apt enough to be official:

For Planet Earth, This Might Be the Start of a New Age

A panel of experts has spent more than a decade deliberating on how, and whether, to mark a momentous new epoch in geologic time: our own.

The official timeline of Earth’s history — from the oldest rocks to the‌ dinosaurs to the rise of primates, from the Paleozoic to the Jurassic and all points before and since — could soon include the age of nuclear weapons, human-caused climate change and the proliferation of plastics, garbage and concrete across the planet. Continue reading

Climate Science Is Getting Old

Scientist Roger Revelle, an adviser who warned Lyndon Johnson about climate change in 1965, greets the president in the Oval Office. Roger Revelle papers/Special Collections Archives/UC San Diego

In keeping with a theme–that the science of climate risk has been around for a couple generations now–we have linked to each time there are new revelations:

What Big Oil Knew About Its Products’ Climate Risks—and When

A long-forgotten report sheds light on a high-stakes liability question.

Carroll Muffett began wondering in 2008 when the world’s biggest oil companies had first understood the science of climate change and their product’s role in causing it. Continue reading

The Little Countries That Could

The atoll nation of Vanuatu is threatened by rising seas. “We had to learn how to manage our unimportance,” its president said. Mario Tama/Getty Images

This story has a familiar ring to it, if you are familiar with the history of Costa Rica going back to colonial times. Never a particularly “important” part of the empire, it thereby avoided many pitfalls typical of other countries in Latin America, and evolved into a stable democracy with progressive ideas and goals and achievements. We wish this little country in the Pacific comparable success by thinking outside the box, as its president says:

Emergency supplies being distributed after Cyclone Harold in 2020. International Federation of Red Cross, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It wants a top international court to weigh in on whether nations are legally bound to protect against climate risks.

Nikenike Vurobaravu presides over a tiny country with a large hand in climate diplomacy.

Rising sea levels threaten the very existence of his Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu and its population of just over 300,000 people. Its best defense, he says, it to raise its voice creatively in international diplomatic talks. Continue reading

Is Cruise Travel Evolving In A Way That Is Good For The Planet?

Cruise ship tourism is unfortunately not disappearing as we might have hoped. Are the ships evolving to be more environmentally and socially responsible? Our thanks to Maria Cramer for asking and attempting to answer the question:

How Green is Your Cruise?

As cruise companies head into their busiest season, they say they have ambitious plans to curb greenhouse emissions and find cleaner sources of fuel. But critics say the progress is too slow.

In the Caribbean, many cruise companies have bought islands and turned them into private resorts for the exclusive use of cruise passengers who cavort in enormous wave pools, rush down 135-foot water slides with names like Daredevil’s Peak, and zip-line across wide beaches. Continue reading

Thwaites & Us

Probes beneath the ice could shed light on the fate of the world’s coastlines. Illustration by Owen D. Pomery

Most of us do not spend much time thinking about what is happening there, but Antarctica’s future is now very much entwined with the future of the rest of the planet.  All of us. So, thanks to David W. Brown for this travelogue:

Journey to the Doomsday Glacier

Thwaites could reshape the world’s coastlines. But how do you study one of the world’s most inaccessible places?

I first saw our icebreaker, the RV Araon, when we were due to leave for Antarctica. The largest icebreakers are more than five hundred feet long, but the Araon was only the length of a football field; I wondered how it would handle the waves of the Southern Ocean, and how it would fare against the thick sea ice that guards the last wilderness on Earth. Continue reading

Startling Capacities Of Regional Forests

Harvard Forest (pictured) was included in a study that looks at how New England forests can be better utilized in the fight against climate change.
Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

We had no clue how much forest area that region has, nor how much capacity to absorb carbon that would translate to:

New England forests, new strategies can offset most regional emissions over 30 years, report says

Study, led by Harvard ecologist, lays out five policies to boost levels of absorption as six states lower emissions

A major new report suggests that with a handful of strategies New England’s 32 million acres of forests, which cover about three-quarters of the region, could eventually come close to absorbing 100 percent of all the carbon produced by the six states. Continue reading

Turning Around Brazil

Brazil's president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, at a rally in July.

Brazil’s president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, at a rally in July. ANDRESSA ANHOLETE / GETTY IMAGES

We can only hope the answer is yes:

With Lula Back, Can Brazil Turn the Tide on Amazon Destruction?

With his return as Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is promising to reverse the alarming rate of deforestation in the Amazon. But as he heads to key UN climate talks, his ambitious plans to achieve “zero deforestation” will need to find international support.

A forest fire burns near the author's home in Altimira, Brazil last month.

A forest fire burns near the author’s home in Altimira, Brazil last month. JON WATTS

The month before Brazil’s October 30 presidential election was the most brutal of Jair Bolsonaro’s term as president. Landowners rushed to illegally clear forest while they could rely on the impunity that had been a characteristic of the Bolsonaro era. From my home in Altamira, I could see flames on the other side of the Xingu River from a blaze large enough to generate its own lightning. Most other days in September and October, my asthmatic lungs tightened and the horizon was shrouded in haze as a consequence of the rushed burn-off. Continue reading

Nepal’s Community Forests

Note: Green areas show land that is mostly covered by trees, based on an analysis of satellite imagery. Source: Jefferson Fox, Jamon Van Den Hoek, Kaspar Hurni, Alexander Smith and Sumeet Saksena.By Pablo Robles

We have shared plenty of stories about Nepal, but until now no story about Nepal involving trees or forests. We welcome this one:

The community forests in Khairahani, Nepal, stretching over several tree-capped hills in March. Karan Deep Singh/The New York Times

An effort decades in the making is showing results in Nepal, a rare success story in a world of cascading climate disasters and despair

KANKALI COMMUNITY FOREST, Nepal — The old man moved gingerly, hill after hill, cutting dry shrubs until he was surrounded by trees that had grown from seedlings he had planted two decades ago. He pointed to a row of low peaks above the Kathmandu valley that were covered with dense foliage. Continue reading

Blue Carbon Collaboration

Scientists fixed bio-logger tags equipped with cameras on tiger sharks in the Bahamas to map the ocean’s seagrass meadows. Photograph: Diego Camejo/Beneath the Waves

We thank Laura Paddison for this underwater news, published in the Guardian, that has implication for climate change mitigation:

Scientists discover ‘world’s largest’ seagrass forest – by strapping cameras to sharks

New study, carried out using tiger sharks in the Bahamas, extends total known global seagrass coverage by more than 40%

Tiger sharks are notoriously fierce. The huge animals, which can grow to more than 16ft, are ruthless predators and scared of absolutely nothing – recent research found that while other shark species fled coastal waters during strong storms, tiger sharks “didn’t even flinch”.

But recently they have a new role that could help burnish their reputations: marine scientists. Continue reading

Choose Your Hope Vector Carefully

We all need an occasional dose of hope, especially when it comes to climate change. Choosing the right kind makes a huge difference, so give McKibben’s newsletter a thorough reading this week:

Magical Hope vs Actual Hope

Left or right, physics doesn’t much care about your wishful thinking

I spent the weekend in Reno, Nevada with, among other people, my old friend Rebecca Solnit. We were there to rally voters and knock on doors in one of the nastiest elections in the country—and at such times Solnit’s powerful reflections on hope are a balm and a spur. Continue reading