Air pollution caused by fossil fuels kills millions

February 10, 2021 by  
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New research has revealed that fossil fuel pollution caused approximately 8.7 million deaths in 2018. The study, published in the journal Environmental Research , was a collaboration by scientists at Harvard University, the University of Leicester, the University of Birmingham and University College London. Experts found that countries that burn fossil fuels heavily for manufacturing and transport are the most affected. Countries such as the U.S. and many developed countries in Europe recorded 1 of every 10 deaths due to air pollution. The total was also higher than global deaths caused by tobacco and malaria combined. “We were initially very hesitant when we obtained the results because they are astounding, but we are discovering more and more about the impact of this pollution,” said Eloise Marais, study author and geographer at University College London. “It’s pervasive. The more we look for impacts, the more we find.” Related: Air pollution could increase risk of irreversible blindness The researchers have also established that the rate of deaths due to pollution is significantly lower in Africa and South America. They found that there are direct links between air pollution from burning fossil fuels and ailments such as heart disease, loss of eyesight and respiratory ailments.  According to Karn Vohra, a graduate student at the University of Birmingham and one of the researchers, the focus was on discovering the impact of pollution on specific populations. They looked at specific regions and used 3D modeling of pollution data to get more precise results. “Rather than rely on averages spread across large regions, we wanted to map where the pollution is and where people live, so we could know more exactly what people are breathing,” Vohra explained. This is not the first study to link loss of life or disease with air pollution. According to a recent academic  publication , the average global life expectancy would increase by more than a year without fossil fuels . A 2019 study by Lancet estimated that 4.2 million people die annually due to air pollution. The new findings place the figure much higher than previous studies, and some experts believe that the impact might even be worse than that presented by the latest report. + Environmental Research Via The Guardian and CNN Image via Juniper Photon

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Biden’s new executive order cuts fossil fuel subsidies

February 1, 2021 by  
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In a recent executive order, President Joe Biden has directed federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. The agencies are to find new opportunities that will “spur innovation, commercialization, and deployment of clean energy technology.” While the news has caused jitters among big oil corporations, conservation groups welcome the move toward clean energy . Cutting fossil fuel subsidies is a crucial step in reaching clean energy goals. After all, continuing such subsidies in a country that aims to go green means that the U.S. is essentially paying fossil fuel companies to pollute the air. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, there are several direct and indirect tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. In the U.S., direct subsidies to the oil industry reach a total of over $20 billion per year. Many of these subsidies intend to help American fossil fuel producers compete with producers in parts of the world where fuel production is cheaper. Among the direct subsidies is the Intangible Drilling Cost Deduction, which deducts costs incurred for drilling in the United States. The Percentage Depletion subsidy reduces taxable amounts, while the Credit for Clean Coal Investment offers tax credits for energy investments. Besides these direct subsidies, the U.S. also offers indirect subsidies for tax relief and foreign tax credits. According to a  Reuters  report, some fossil fuel industry leaders are not taking the new directives well. Before the ink dried on the order, the Western Energy Alliance filed a lawsuit challenging it. Specifically, Western Energy Alliance wants the order to reverse fossil fuel leasing on federal land declared unlawful by the courts.  This lawsuit represents some of the opposition against the country’s move toward clean energy. Some industry leaders have already lamented that the decision will make the U.S. reliant on foreign energy, alleging that this may put the country in a tricky economic position. “With a stroke of a pen, the administration is shifting America’s bright energy future into reverse and setting us on a path toward greater reliance on foreign energy produced with lower environmental standards,” Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement. Despite complaints from the fossil fuel industry, environmental activists have outlined just how important this executive order is in addressing the climate crisis. As Angela Anderson, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement, “ Climate change is not a distant crisis but rather one that has already reached our doorstep and can no longer be ignored.” Anderson also explained that “Black, brown, Indigenous and low-income communities are among the most devastated by the climate crisis. The executive order takes steps to remedy this unfair burden by incorporating equity and justice throughout the climate agenda.” Via CleanTechnica Lead image via Center for American Progress

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Hydrogen fuel cells good or bad for the environment?

February 1, 2021 by  
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Scotland is planning to have its first hydrogen-powered train ready to go by November of this year. It’s a huge undertaking involving many partners, including the Hydrogen Accelerator at the University of Saint Andrews and engineering firm  Arcola Energy . “With Scotland’s focus on achieving net zero emissions by 2035 and rail playing a leading role in this, hydrogen offers a safe, reliable and zero carbon alternative to other forms of rail propulsion,” Clare Lavelle, Scotland Energy business lead at project partner Arup said in a statement. “This project is not only a crucial step in helping us understand the practical challenges of using hydrogen traction power on our railways, but an example of the type of investment  Scotland  needs to take advantage of the opportunity to build a secure, flexible, cost effective and zero carbon energy network.” But not all experts are sure that  hydrogen  fuel cells are a clean enough power source to warrant enthusiasm. Many still question whether this mode of powering cars, planes and trains will actually help slow climate change. Some even worry hydrogen production will accelerate it. Related: Scotland to become first country to test 100% green hydrogen Hydrogen fuel cells 101 Even if you never took or passed chemistry class, you probably know that hydrogen is exceedingly common, putting the H in water’s H2O. Hydrogen is also present in compounds like methane and coal. This gas could be a potent source of clean  energy , and, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it has the highest energy content by weight of any common fuel source. In terms of emissions, burning hydrogen for energy doesn’t hurt the environment, as the only byproducts it releases are heat and water. The problem comes when separating out the hydrogen. To make it usable as a fuel, hydrogen must be separated from water, coal, natural gas or animal or plant waste. Currently, most of the 9 million metric tons of hydrogen the U.S. produces annually comes from  methane  via steam reforming. This process releases greenhouse gases. Still, hydrogen can also be separated from water through a process called electrolysis, which can be powered by wind, solar or other renewable energy sources. The downside of this option is the much higher cost. Hydrogen is also currently used in food processing, treating and refining metals, NASA’s space fuel and to power a few exclusive car models, such as the Toyota Mirai. As  Popular Mechanics  explains it, hydrogen cars are electric cars. “When we talk about electric cars, that includes plug-in hybrids, hybrids, battery electrics, fuel cells, and anything else that may come along later that still uses an electric motor,” said Keith Wipke, laboratory program manager for fuel cell and hydrogen technologies at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory .  However, a fuel cell is much different than the giant lithium-ion battery you find in  electric cars . The hydrogen fuel cell produces electricity through electrochemical reactions when the hydrogen combines with air. Pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cells Inventors and engineers have experimented with hydrogen as a clean energy source for decades. Back in 2003, the Bush administration dedicated $1.2 billion for hydrogen  research . The fact that hydrogen is about three times as efficient as gasoline for fueling cars entices many. But, in addition to the cost challenges of clean hydrogen fuel production, there’s a danger of the gas escaping into the atmosphere while being stored or transported. Hydrogen is tricky to transport because it needs to be stored under high pressure. According to models designed by researchers at the California Institute of Technology, without a completely efficient way to produce, store and transport hydrogen, 10% to 20% of the gas will escape into the atmosphere. “More or less dramatic scenarios are equally imaginable, but clearly the potential impact on the hydrogen cycle is great,” the researchers concluded. These researchers theorized that oxidized hydrogen would cool the stratosphere and make more clouds, adversely affecting the polar vortex and increasing the holes in the  ozone layer .  But let’s say the production, storage and transportation problems could be overcome and hydrogen’s efficiency safely tapped into. Before there’s a hydrogen-powered auto in every garage, the costs will have to come down and the convenience will need to go up. Right now, the three premier hydrogen-powered  cars  — the Toyota Mirai, the Honda Clarity and the Hyundai Nexo — cost between $50,000 and $60,000. You could buy about three Civics for that. And you’re not going to get very far in a hydrogen-powered vehicle unless you have somewhere to refuel. For now, in the U.S., that means cruising through California or tooling around Wallingford, Connecticut, according to the  U.S. Department of Energy  website. Whether or not major oil companies will ever willingly add hydrogen tanks to gas station offerings remains to be seen. In addition to competing with their prime commodity — gasoline — companies also face the issues of safe storage and, so far, low demand. We obviously need to make some big energy changes, and there’s hope for hydrogen. But for now, better hold onto your Civic. Or, better yet, your  bike . Via How Stuff Works: Science , Physics World , and U.S. Department of Energy Images via Matthew Venn

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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge lease sale attracts few bidders

January 8, 2021 by  
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The Trump administration has suffered a major blow to its environmental policy rollbacks. On Wednesday, the open bid for oil companies to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge came to an end, without any big oil companies placing a bid. Interestingly, only three bidders expressed interest in the leases, one of the bidders being the state of Alaska. The other two bidders were small companies based in Alaska . Nine of the coastal plane land parcels issued for lease did not receive any bidders, except for a state-owned economic development corporation. By the end of the bidding period on Wednesday, almost half of the land issued had not received a single bid. Related: Trump administration furthers Arctic drilling plan “They held the lease in ANWR — that is history-making. That will be recorded in the history books and people will talk about it,” said Larry Persily, an observer of the fossil fuels industry. “But no one showed up.” Most oil experts believe that the slow uptake of the parcels can be attributed to the global recession, a drop in oil prices and the continued pressure by environmental groups against drilling. Persily explained that even though politicians may be interested in pursuing oil in reserved areas, many oil companies are no longer interested in such a risky business. At the conclusion of the bid, the lease had raised $14.4 million. Half of all the bids came from the economic development corporation, which does not participate in oil drilling . The company has never been involved in the oil exploration business. “I laughed out loud. It was a joke. A joke to the American people,” said Desirée Sorenson-Groves, director of the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign. “I’ll tell you, I have a message to those who bid today, there were only three. But here’s the message: ‘You will never ever drill in the Arctic Refuge. We’ll stop you.’” Via NPR Image via Alexis Bonogofsky / USFWS

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China plans to go carbon-neutral by 2060

September 24, 2020 by  
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China, the world’s biggest source of carbon dioxide , is aiming for carbon-neutrality by 2060. President Xi Jinping announced this goal while speaking to the UN General Assembly by video. Xi took the assembly by surprise. Since world events and political tensions have stalled global climate negotiations, the general assembly had expected little progress on climate change until 2021. “We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060,” Xi said, according to the official translation. China is currently responsible for about 28% of the planet’s carbon emissions . Related: Google becomes retroactively carbon-neutral Xi and then U.S.-President Barack Obama came to a climate change understanding in 2014, which laid significant groundwork for the 2015 Paris Agreement. President Trump immediately backed out of the Paris Agreement upon taking office. Some experts believe that Xi is making an advantageous statement to the world at a time when the U.S. won’t address climate change. “Xi Jinping’s climate pledge at the UN, minutes after President Donald Trump’s speech, is clearly a bold and well calculated move,” said Li Shuo, a climate policy expert from Greenpeace Asia, according to BBC. “It demonstrates Xi’s consistent interest in leveraging the climate agenda for geopolitical purposes.” While many observers agree that Xi’s pronouncement is a significant step, lots of questions still remain to be answered, such as exactly what he means by carbon-neutrality and how China will get there. “Today’s announcement by President Xi Jinping that China intends to reach carbon neutrality before 2060 is big and important news — the closer to 2050 the better,” said former U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern. Richard Black, director of the U.K.-based think tank Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, is hopeful about Xi’s pronouncement. “China isn’t just the world’s biggest emitter but the biggest energy financier and biggest market, so its decisions play a major role in shaping how the rest of the world progresses with its transition away from the fossil fuels that cause climate change.” Via BBC Image via Ferdinand Feng

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Critical Antarctic glaciers are drifting away

September 24, 2020 by  
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New findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have revealed that two of the most important Antarctic glaciers are breaking away. The findings, which follow analyses of satellite imagery, indicate that a natural buffer that prevents the glaciers from breaking away is deteriorating at a rapid rate and could lead to destructive sea level rise. The two Antarctic glaciers in question, Pine Island and Thwaites, are located along the coast of the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica. For years, scientists have been carrying out studies to determine the best way to ensure that these two glaciers do not drift off into the ocean. Currently, the two glaciers already contribute to about 5% of global sea level rise . It is feared that if the glaciers drift, they could contribute up to a 10-foot sea level rise, which could lead to devastating losses of life and property. The survival of Pine Island and Thwaites is so critical that the U.S. and the U.K. have already invested millions into research concerning these glaciers. Related: Canada’s last Arctic ice shelf has collapsed Stef Lhermitte, one of the authors of the study and a satellite expert at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, said that the images are alarming. “The stresses that slow down the glacier, they are no longer in place, so the glacier is speeding up,” Lhermitte said. “We already knew that these were glaciers that might matter in the future, but these images to me indicate that these ice shelves are in a very bad state.” Ice shelves are very important in retaining seawater in the form of ice. As explained by The Washington Post, they are vast, floating ice sheets that extend across the ocean’s surface to the outer edge of glaciers . Although they freely flow over water, the ice shelves can attach themselves and freeze into the mountainsides. After freezing into mountainsides, they anchor into the seafloor. But warming oceans can cause the ice shelves to thin and glaciers to break away. As they drift off, the glaciers can melt and release more water into the oceans. If this happens, the resulting sea level rise could critically change the world as we know it. + Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Via The Washington Post Image via Kate Ramsayer / NASA

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Candelas hydrofoil boat is the worlds first electric speedboat

September 22, 2020 by  
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Candela is a Sweden-based start-up company on a mission to switch the world’s marine transport industry to electric power. Now, the company has announced its new hydrofoil boat, the Candela Seven, as the world’s first fully electric speedboat. According to Candela, the biggest hurdle keeping the electric marine craft industry from reaching its full potential is the discrepancy between speed and range. Electric water-bound vehicles typically either have speed or range, but not both, because planing motor boat hulls need enormous amounts of energy to go fast. A standard 25-foot boat, for example, needs 15 times the amount of energy of a standard car. Building an electric boat with the capability to perform just as efficiently as a boat that uses fossil fuels with contemporary batteries poses the biggest challenge. Related: Cool retro boats restored with electric motors In order to reduce friction from the water, Candela uses submerged hydrofoils under the surface of the water. These wings provide enough lift at 17 knots to completely lift the boat’s hull out of the water, reducing energy use by as much as 80%. The result is an exceedingly long all-electric range at high speeds, upward of 50 nautical miles or 92 kilometers, on one charge. Speeds go up to 20 knots, and the range is three times more efficient than the best electric boats currently on the market. In addition to the range and speed, these hydrofoils also provide a smoother ride thanks to their ability to move above the water’s wake and chop. Rather than feeling the boat bounce up and down on the water as it moves, occupants on the hydrofoil boat get to effortlessly glide along the water as the hydrofoils lift the vessel up and over rough water. According to the company, a series of onboard computers and sensors went into the design of the Candela Seven. In order to monitor the boat’s stability, these sensors constantly measure the height and adjust the foils to maintaining pitch, roll and height automatically. + Candela Speed Boat Via Electrek Images via Candela Speed Boat

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Norway oil drilling expands to Svalbard

August 27, 2020 by  
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Norway is expanding oil drilling operations farther north into the Arctic. Environmentalists are concerned about the fragile Arctic ecosystem, and campaigners worry relations with Russia will deteriorate as Norway pushes the limits of the Svalbard treaty. The Svalbard archipelago is northwest of Norway, east of Greenland and south of the North Pole. In addition to the 2,667 people who lived in Svalbard as of 2016, polar bears, Svalbard reindeer and Arctic foxes make their home in the remote and rugged terrain. Svalbard is one of the northernmost inhabited areas of the world. Related: Trump administration furthers Arctic drilling plan “Irrespective of changes in the environment, the Arctic is a very harsh place,” said Ilan Kelman , a professor at UCL and Agder University in Norway.  “A lot can go wrong, and when something goes wrong … it can cause extensive damage for a long time.” Several environmental groups, including WWF, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Norway , sent an open letter to the Norwegian government pointing out its long track record of ignoring the wisdom of environmentalists to not continue a decades-long northward expansion of oil exploration. “Given that we don’t yet have the technology to clean up spills in an Arctic environment, it really doesn’t make any sense to continue with offshore extraction there,” Kelman said of the Svalbard move. Two of the reasons that this oil expansion is so tricky are the Svalbard treaty and the definition of the “ice edge.” Originally called the Spitsbergen Treaty, eight countries signed it in Paris in 1920 to try to regulate administrative and economic activities in an area that has been compared to the Wild West. Now, 46 countries are involved. The treaty states that Norway governs Svalbard legally and administratively, but that citizens from all treaty signatory nations can access Svalbard for economic activities. No nation, including Norway, is allowed to permanently station its military on the archipelago. Some experts are worried that Norway’s petroleum development in Svalbard will cause tension with other countries, especially Russia. Then there’s the ice edge, that place where open seas meet ice. This area is important because it’s where marine mammals, fish and birds feed on plankton. Because it’s so ecologically sensitive, the ice edge has been a no-fly zone for petroleum activities. But Norway has continually nudged its definition of the ice edge north to accommodate oil extraction. This latest move to open parts of Svalbard to petroleum companies is the farthest push north yet. Via The Guardian , High North News and The Maritime Executive Image via Einar Storsul

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DNC reverses pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies

August 20, 2020 by  
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The Democratic presidential and vice-presidential candidates were barely announced before the DNC removed campaign pledges to end fossil fuel subsidies. In the final draft of the Manager’s Mark, the ledger of party demands, that promise was quietly omitted. The July 27 version of the Manager’s Mark included the statement, “Democrats support eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels, and will fight to defend and extend tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy .” Related: Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan: create millions of jobs, reverse climate change So what happened? According to a DNC spokesperson, the amendment regarding fossil fuels was “incorrectly included in the Manager’s Mark” and removed “after the error was discovered.” But activists say the amendment didn’t make the platform’s final draft because an anti-fossil fuel stance could lose voters in oil- and coal -producing states like Texas and Pennsylvania. “This is ridiculous,” said Collin Rees , a campaigner for the nonprofit Oil Change U.S. “This is a commonsense position held by both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. … The DNC should immediately include it in the platform.” The exact amount of U.S. government subsidies to the oil and gas business is unknown. Some estimates show a low of $20 billion per year. But last year, the International Monetary Fund concluded the figure was closer to $649 billion in 2015 alone. According to the journal Nature Energy , even before the recent plunges in oil prices, about half of U.S. oil reserves were subsidized so that companies could generate profits. Environmentally minded voters are feeling frustrated by the Democratic Party’s backpedaling. “This platform is a step backwards, and we deserve better,” said Charlie Jiang, a campaigner at Greenpeace. Via Huffington Post Image via Jwigley

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Cariuma welcomes a new Pantone collection of natural, vegan shoes

August 20, 2020 by  
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Brazilian sustainable sneaker company Cariuma has released its newest collection of completely vegan and natural footwear . All styles in the fall Pantone collection are made of organic cotton canvas and raw natural rubber gathered through ethical tapping. Released on August 12, the new vegan shoes come after a similar Color of the Year collaboration that sold out on pre-order after just one week and gained a waitlist of 5,000 hopeful customers. The collection is inspired by the unique color palettes found in nature from different regions around the world. The Picante color comes from Arizona’s red rocks and desert, while the Bungee Cord green is inspired by free climbers on El Capitan in California. Blueprint blue recalls the last spot on the horizon where the sky blends into the sea, and Snow White is inspired by the snowy white mountain caps on Everest. The black shoes, dubbed Moonless Night, resemble the dark days of Alaskan winter. These naturally occurring tones are chosen for versatility so that each color is easy to match with your style, even as the seasons change. Related: Vegan shoes from Insecta are a stylish option for eco-friendly footwear Cariuma is on a mission to take a stand against fast fashion as well as other wasteful and unsustainable practices in the fashion industry. The brand’s IBI collection, for example, was the first sneaker made from bamboo and RPET, making it 30% to 40% lighter than common sneakers. Perhaps even better, every purchase of a pair of vegan shoes from Cariuma will go toward planting two trees in the Brazilian rainforest, directly aiding in reforestation and preservation of endangered species and natural habitats. These reforestation efforts will focus on native Brazilian species such as the Jacaranda, Pau-brasil-branco, Peroba, Caroba and the Murici-da-mata. Prices in the new Pantone collection range from $89 to $98, depending on style. + Cariuma Images via Cariuma

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Cariuma welcomes a new Pantone collection of natural, vegan shoes

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