Coral Reef Bright Spots

A diver examines bleached coral in French Polynesia in 2019.

A diver examines bleached coral in French Polynesia in 2019. ALEXIS ROSENFELD / GETTY IMAGES

When someone offers to point out bright spots on anything in the natural world, we are all ears. When the author is Nicola Jones, all the more:

Finding Bright Spots in the Global Coral Reef Catastrophe

The first-ever report on the world’s coral reefs presents a grim picture, as losses mount due to global warming. But there are signs of hope — some regions are having coral growth, and researchers found that corals can recover if given a decade of reprieve from hot water.

When ecological genomicist Christian Voolstra started work on corals in Saudi Arabia in 2009, one of the biggest bonuses to his job was scuba diving on the gorgeous reefs. Things have changed. “I was just back in September and I was shocked,” says Voolstra, now at the University of Konstanz in Germany. “There’s a lot of rubble. The fish are missing. The colors are missing.” 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

50 Years Of Climate Science

(Zeb Andrews / Getty)

Robinson Meyer’s newsletter this week offers The Key Insight That Defined 50 Years of Climate Science:

Look out the nearest window and imagine, if you can, an invisible column of air. It sits directly on the tufts of grass, penetrates clear through any clouds or birds above, and ends only at the black pitch of space. Now envision a puff of heat rising through this column, passing through all the layers of the atmosphere on its journey. What happens as it rises? Where does it go? The answer to that simple question is surprisingly, even ominously important for the climate. But for nearly a century, the world’s best scientists struggled to resolve it. Continue reading

Telling Off The Fossil Fuel CEO

Click to the right to see the CEO of an oil company take a strong verbal assault from a fellow panelist.  It is uncomfortable to watch. And that is exactly the purpose. Read more about the context in the description below, titled Shell CEO Roasted at TED Climate Conference He Was Foolishly Invited to Speak At. We can expect to see more disruptions like this one in the future:

As Shell’s CEO Ben van Beurden spoke at a TED conference, he was interrupted by organizers, one of whom called him “one of the most evil people in the world.”

On Thursday, a strange scene unfolded at the International Conference Centrein Edinburgh. Shell CEO Ben van Beurden took the stage with a prominent climate scientist and Christiana Figueres, the woman who negotiated the Paris Agreement, at a TED Countdown conference. Continue reading

Understanding What Is At Stake At The Glasgow Climate Conference

Glasgow, Scotland, site of the 2021 UN climate conference in November. TREASUREGALORE / SHUTTERSTOCK

Fred Pearce has a unique ability to make big, complex important matters more understandable:

At Climate Talks, Can the World Move from Aspiration to Action?

Negotiators at the Glasgow climate conference will face a critical choice: Set firm emissions targets for 2030, or settle for goals of achieving “net zero” by 2050? The course they set could determine if we have a shot at avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

CLIMATE ACTION TRACKER

Glasgow, once the second city of the British Empire and the biggest shipbuilder on the planet, next month hosts the 26th conference of nations aiming to halt dangerous climate change. The negotiators face the challenge of turning the aspiration of the 2015 Paris Agreement to achieve “net zero” emissions by mid-century into the detailed near-term action plans necessary to turn those hopes into reality in time to halt warming at or near 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Continue reading

Legal Consequences For Deforestation

Ron Haviv / VII / Redux

This article by Robinson Meyer, a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of the newsletter The Weekly Planet, is worth reading if Brazil’s role in climate change has been on your mind:

Deforestation Is a Crime

A new bipartisan bill would treat it that way.

The world doesn’t agree on many things, but one of them is that global deforestation is a problem. If deforestation were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest source of climate-warming pollution, after the United States and China. (It would also be a terrible place to live—bulldozers everywhere and no shade to speak of.) Parts of the Amazon now emit more carbon pollution than they capture because of deforestation, a recent study found.

Knowing about a problem is, of course, different from knowing what to do about it. 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

Green Steel On The Horizon

The steel industry produces around two billion tons of it each year, while emitting more than three billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. Photograph by Christine Olsson / Alamy

The ratio of carbon dioxide produced, relative to steel produced, is surprising. The bigger surprise is how to improve that ratio:

The Promise of Carbon-Neutral Steel

A new manufacturing technique could drastically reduce the footprint of one of our dirtiest materials.

Steel production accounts for around seven per cent of humanity’s greenhouse-gas emissions. There are two reasons for this startling fact. First, steel is made using metallurgic methods that our Iron Age forebears would find familiar; second, it is part of seemingly everything, including buildings, bridges, fridges, planes, trains, and automobiles. According to some estimates, global demand for steel will nearly double by 2050. Green steel, therefore, is urgently needed if we’re to confront climate change. Continue reading

Keep Peat In Place

Peat bogs on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. ALAN NOVELLI / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Peat made two appearances in our pages in 2014, both underscoring the importance of this type of landscape for storing carbon. More such stories in 2017 and again last year made it clear how the case has been building over the years:

Why Saving World’s Peatlands Can Help Stabilize the Climate

Peatlands make up 3 percent of the earth’s landscape, yet absorb large amounts of carbon and harbor surprising biodiversity. Although peat bogs and fens are under increasing environmental threat, efforts to protect and restore these ecosystems are gathering momentum.

Peatlands in northern Canada’s Mackenzie Valley, seen here in autumn. ED STRUZIK

The Aweme borer is a yellowish-brown moth with an inch-and-a half wingspan. In the often-colorful world of lepidopterology — the study of moths and butterflies — it’s not particularly flashy, but it is exceedingly rare. For decades, entomologists thought the moth lived in the sand dunes and oak savannahs in southern Manitoba and the Great Lakes region. 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

Orca On

The video above is the shortest, clearest primer we could find to explain how this machine technology works. With Orca now on we will get the chance to see how much promise this process holds for carbon capture’s machine approach versus the tree approach, which we now know needs some reconsideration:

World’s biggest machine capturing carbon from air turned on in Iceland

Operators say the Orca plant can suck 4,000 tonnes of CO2 out of the air every year and inject it deep into the ground to be mineralised

A worker on a CarbFix carbon injection well in Iceland in 2017. The company is involved in the new Orca plant designed to draw carbon dioxide out of the air and store it as rock. Photograph: Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

The world’s largest plant designed to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into rock has started running, the companies behind the project said on Wednesday.

The plant, named Orca after the Icelandic word “orka” meaning “energy”, consists of four units, each made up of two metal boxes that look like shipping containers.

Constructed by Switzerland’s Climeworks and Iceland’s Carbfix, when operating at capacity the plant will draw 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the air every year, according to the companies. Continue reading

Really, Rupert?

Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of News Corp, at a meeting of the World Economic Forum, January 30, 2009. MONIKA FLUECKIGER / WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

If we had a category called too little, too late, this man and his phenomenally profitable media empire would not even feature in it. He has done so much damage through his empire’s constant denialism of climate change that even one little act like this one would not be worthy. Australia is too fossil fuel friendly, for sure, but is small potatoes in the scope of Murdoch’s holdings and their relevance to the world. And it is not at all clear this move is genuine. It seems obvious that as more of the world believes its own eyes rather than what he has been selling, he needs to pivot. We should not reward such a pivot:

In Australia, Murdoch-Owned News Outlets Vow to Back Away From Climate Denial

Though long hostile toward climate science, News Corp Australia is planning an editorial campaign calling for a zero-carbon economy,The Sydney Morning Herald reported. Continue reading

Restor & Correcting The Trillion Tree Mess

Crowther says Restor is his ‘life’s vision’, mapping the latest data and thousands of conservation projects. Photograph: Courtesy of Restor

I have been on a tree-planting spree in the last couple years. So I am constantly on the lookout for resources that help me see this work in a larger context. Here is a great one I have just learned about. Restor’s macro-level organizing of conservation through geographic information systems requires skills and ambitions that few have in such capacity as the scientist featured in the following story. Maps like the one shown above are less inspirational, but more powerful in other ways, than scenes of effective restoration like the one below.

The former A3 London to Portsmouth road at Hindhead, after being restored back to heathland. Photograph: Tony Watson/Alamy

T. W. Crowther has featured in our pages for years, starting with our link to his work on how many trees are on our planet and what this implies with regard to climate. We lunged forward to share the idea that planting a trillion trees was the key implication, and also lurched back a bit when it seemed worthy of more consideration. This article does much to clear up “the mess” that Mr. Crowther acknowledges resulted from the trillion tree findings, and which I was captivated by:

‘I’ve never said we should plant a trillion trees’: what ecopreneur Thomas Crowther did next

Thomas Crowther understands more than most the danger of simple, optimistic messages about combating the climate crisis. Continue reading

Bitcoin’s Carbon Footprint Explained

Cryptocurrency’s immense carbon footprint has been well known since early on. What to do about it is the question. Getting a good answer to that question depends in part on understanding the nature of the problem. Read below for the clarity of the explanation on this topic, and let the illustrations make it that much clearer:

Bitcoin Uses More Electricity Than Many Countries. How Is That Possible?

Cryptocurrencies have emerged as one of the most captivating, yet head-scratching, investments in the world. They soar in value. They crash. They’ll change the world, their fans claim, by displacing traditional currencies like the dollar, rupee or ruble. They’re named after dog memes. Continue reading

Grounding The Carbon On Farmlands

Basalt is spread on the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation’s research cornfields in Illinois. JORDAN GOEBIG

Thanks to Yale e360:

How Adding Rock Dust to Soil Can Help Get Carbon into the Ground

Researchers are finding that when pulverized rock is applied to agricultural fields, the soil pulls far more carbon from the air and crop yields increase. More studies are underway, but some scientists say this method shows significant benefits for farmers and the climate.

Researcher Zack Kozma (left) gathers a water sample from a field where rock dust has been added to the soil at Cornell’s AgriTech Agricultural Experiment Station. GARRETT BOUDINOT; SOPHIE NASRALLAH

On a hot and humid August day near Geneva, New York, Garrett Boudinot stands in a field of hemp, the green stalks towering a foot or more over his 6-foot, 4-inch frame. Today, the mustached Cornell University research assistant will harvest six acres of the crop, weigh it in red plastic garbage bins, and continue to analyze the hundreds of water samples taken with measuring devices called lysimeters that have been buried in the field over the last three months.

A clump of soil containing rock dust. GARRETT BOUDINOT; SOPHIE NASRALLAH

Boudinot, part of a research team at Cornell University, will sweat through the next two days of field work to see whether an unusual component added to the soil earlier in the year helped increase yields and sequester carbon. This soil amendment “we just call lovingly ‘rock dust,’ which isn’t very descriptive,” says Boudinot. “But it’s really silicate rocks that have been pulverized to a fine powder.” Continue reading

Balancing Power On Climate

The main way to counter the malign power of vested interest is to meet organized money with organized people. Photograph by Nicole Neri / Bloomberg / Getty

For the entire run of his newsletter McKibben made this point over and over again, and now one final time from his unique platform at the New Yorker:

The Answer to Climate Change Is Organizing

Dealing with global warming is always going to be about the balance of power.

Amore personal note than usual this week, because this will be the last of these Climate Crisis columns I’ll write (though it’s not the end of my work for the magazine). I’m incredibly grateful to The New Yorker for letting me do them—and especially thankful for Virginia Cannon, who has edited them each week with grace and aplomb. Our run has overlapped almost perfectly with the course of the pandemic, and for me it’s been the perfect moment to sit back and appreciate and highlight the work of so many across the wide universe of activists, scientists, economists, and politicians who are taking on the deepest problem that humans have ever wandered into. I can’t overstate the comfort of that universe: it didn’t exist thirty-two years ago, when I started writing about climate change; its slow but inexorable rise has given me not just welcome company but real hope. I’ve particularly enjoyed “passing the mic” to many members of that gathering throng. Continue reading

Really, Chase?

A climate activist picketing outside a Chase Bank branch in New York earlier this year. Photograph by Erik McGregor / Getty

It is a no-brainer to oppose Line 3, but mere opposition does not amount to much. Action is the thing. And action is not always as cumbersome as it may sound. For example, if you bank with the people who are bullish on the future of oil, and who mix your money up with that money, it is time to rethink that relationship. Pull your money out of that bank:

Slow-Walking the Climate Crisis

“Greenwashing” is too kind a term; this is more like careful sabotage.

Travellers arriving in an unfamiliar city used to worry that they’d climb in a taxi and be driven to their destination by the most circuitous route possible, racking up an enormous bill. That’s pretty much what Big Oil and its allies in government and the financial world are doing with the climate crisis—in fact, at this point, it’s the heart of the problem. Continue reading

Carbon Capture Closer

Fans draw air into Climeworks’ direct air capture plant in Zurich, Switzerland. CLIMEWORKS

Our thanks as always to Jon Gertner for this news.  Combining capturing carbon with other goals is not new, but it has been goal-setting elusive of significantly robust results; we are getting closer:

The Dream of Carbon Air Capture Edges Toward Reality

Next month, an industrial facility in Iceland will join a growing number of projects to remove CO2 from the air and put it underground. But major hurdles, including high costs, remain before this technology can be widely deployed and play a key role in tackling climate change.

Climeworks’ Orca plant under construction near Reykjavik, Iceland. CLIMEWORKS

In early September, at an industrial facility located about 25 miles southeast of Reykjavik, Iceland, the Swiss company Climeworks will mark the opening of a new project named “Orca.” At least in a conventional sense, Orca doesn’t actually make anything. It is comprised of eight elongated boxes that resemble wood-clad tanks. Each of these boxes — known as “collectors” — is roughly the size of a tractor trailer, and each is festooned with 12 whirring fans that draw a stream of air inside. Within the collectors, a chemical agent known as a sorbent will capture CO2 contained in the air wafting through. 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

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