Thoughts on Using COVID Relief Funds to Mitigate the Climate Crisis

March 11, 2021 by  
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Guest posting by James Thebaut I’m a longtime public policy … The post Thoughts on Using COVID Relief Funds to Mitigate the Climate Crisis appeared first on Earth 911.

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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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Hydrogen fuel cells good or bad for the environment?

Advene’s handbag reduces plastic, not style

February 1, 2021 by  
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Advene has just restocked its Age bag, an accessory that is transparently constructed and designed to eliminate unnecessary plastics. Advene releases one product at a time, using responsible materials to create its designs along with a commitment to reducing harmful plastic waste throughout the process. The name Advene is taken from “advenience.” This term was coined by Roland Barthes, a philosopher who used the word to describe art that stirs something up inside of you when you see it. Environmentalists may be stirred not just by the design of the Age bag, but by the fact that it is made from 100% traceable leather that has been upcycled from food byproducts. There are no unnecessary plastic fillers. The construction process of the bag is completely transparent thanks to a comprehensive video of how it is manufactured. Related: This backpack is made from locally sourced cork and recycled materials The leather used to make the Age bag is produced in a scope-C gold-standard tannery that has been certified by the Leather Working Group. Customers who opt for minimal packaging to reduce waste get a discount on the bag. The standard packaging is an FSC-certified grayboard box and dust cloth made from GOTA-certified hemp . That’s right: no plastic! That’s the whole point of the Age bag. This handbag features a classic silhouette with a handle and a triangular pouch. It can be fastened securely and easily with a magnetic closure. There’s also a detachable shoulder strap, so the wearer has an option to carry the bag two different ways. Both the shoulder strap and the handle strap are adjustable. True to the company mission, no plastic was used to give the bag structure. The Age bag sold out quickly after it was first released in November 2020. Advene has launched a restock of the bag, which is now available in cream and black. Advene is one of many companies making strides toward sustainable fashion in an effort to eliminate unnecessary waste and source materials responsibly. Companies that are using sustainable materials and eliminating waste in their designs are proof that perhaps the world can be saved — one handbag at a time. + Advene Images via Advene

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Foie gras ban to take effect in New York

November 1, 2019 by  
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Fancy feasters in the Big Apple will have to acquire new tastes because New York will soon follow California’s example in legislating for a foie gras ban. Earlier this week, the New York City Council passed a bill calling for the ban, and Mayor Bill de Blasio will soon sign it into law. Animal activists have been rejoicing, calling the new legislation a win, although it won’t take effect until 2022. Those not in compliance by then will face a $2,000 penalty fine per violation. Foie gras is a rich, extravagant dish that has been appreciated since Ancient Roman times. The French have even defended it via article L654 of France’s 2006 Rural Code, which states, “Foie gras is part of the protected cultural and gastronomic heritage of France.” Related: Foie gras ban in California stands after court battle But foie gras production has met with criticism from animal welfare advocates. Foie gras is produced by forced overfeeding of ducks or geese to fatten and enlarge their livers. Feed volume is in excess of a bird’s normal voluntary intake, making the process unnatural because it overrides a bird’s typical preferences and homeostasis. The Canadian Veterinary Journal , for instance, has documented that this unnatural overfeeding process spans a two-week period and involves “repeated capture, restraint and rapid insertion of the feeding tube” that causes discomfort and increased risks for esophageal injury and associated pain. All of this produces a duck or goose liver that is “seven to 19 times the size of a normal liver with an average weight of 550 to 982 grams and a fat content of 55.8 percent,” while a normal liver is just “76 grams with a fat content of 6.6 percent.” In 1998, The European Commission recognized that these force-fed birds were up to 20 times more likely to reach mortality than their normal counterparts. If the same fatty cell buildup would occur in humans, it would be likened to alcohol abuse or obesity. New York’s ban follows at the heels of California’s foie gras ban. The Golden State’s legislation, however, has met some choppy waters. Initially passed in 2012, it was later overturned in 2015, then upheld by a circuit court judge in 2017, followed by further support earlier this year when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of California’s ban. On the other hand, Chicago’s ban on the delicacy was not so successful. Passed in 2006, it was repealed by 2008 via concerted efforts from foie gras producers, celebrity chefs and high-end restaurants that pushed back to sway public opinion. Their lobby strategies centered around the argument that if the foie gras ban persists, then other delicacies like lobster and veal might be in jeopardy, too. Chicago’s former mayor, Richard Daley, eventually called the ban “the silliest ordinance” his city’s council ever had, making the Windy City “the laughingstock of the nation.” It remains to be seen whether New York’s foie gras ban will succeed like California’s or be overturned like the ban in Chicago. Via Time and Fast Company Image via T.Tseng

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Foie gras ban to take effect in New York

Trump administration moves to weaken Endangered Species Act amid global extinction risks

August 13, 2019 by  
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It’s no secret that endangered species around the globe continue to face extinction, and the dilemma could get worse with the recent revamp of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) . On August 12, the Trump administration unveiled new changes to the ESA, which was first passed in 1973. The new ESA rules will change how federal agencies implement portions of the conservation law, making it easier to remove recovered species from the protected list and allow for more drilling and development. First proposed in July 2018, the changes will allow federal agencies to weigh economic factors into decisions on assigning species protections. The law previously prohibited this. The administration believes the new changes will  “modernize” and “improve” the law, lifting regulatory burdens while continuing to protect species . Karen Budd-Falen, the Interior Department’s deputy solicitor for fish, wildlife and parks, said the changes will “ensure transparency” in the ESA process and “provide regulatory assurances and protection for both endangered species and the businesses that rely on the use of federal and private land.” However, environmentalists have a different view and believe the new rules only help industry and will continue hurting ecosystems , ultimately resulting in their downfall. Alarmingly, a three-year United Nations study found up to 1 million species wildlife are at risk of extinction by human actions if current trends continue. The changes to the ESA could speed up the process. Related: 1 million species are at risk of extinction, says new UN report Today, the ESA protects more than 1,600 plants and animals, as well as the habitats important to their survival, according to one report. The ESA has prevented 99 percent of listed species from becoming extinct . “The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal ? recovery of our rarest species,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, an ex-oil and gas lobbyist, said. “The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation.” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra promised to battle the new ESA changes in court. “I know that gutting the Endangered Species Act sounds like plan from a cartoon villain, not the work of the president of the United States, ” Healey said during a call with journalists. “But unfortunately, that’s what we’re dealing with today.” Via Huffington Post Image via Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

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Polls show climate change is a determining issue for 2020 elections

May 20, 2019 by  
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Recent polls indicate that climate change will be a central issue for voters in the upcoming 2020 presidential elections. According to the George Mason University poll , 38 percent of participants indicated that the topic is “very important” for their decision, while the lead researcher, Anthony Leiserowitz said, “This is truly a top-tier issue for the Democratic base.” The poll, released in early May, only sampled 1,000 people, but the results are consistent with similar polls by Manmouth University and CNN, which showed that climate change ranks as the second most important topic, right below healthcare. According to CNN , 82 percent of Democrats say it is “very important” that candidates take aggressive action to combat the climate crisis. The increased interest is likely due to a surge in both public awareness as well as extreme weather events ranging from wildfires to hurricanes. Related: Climate activists will turn up the heat at presidential debate “With the salience of wildfires in the West, sea-level rise in the Gulf Coast and Florida and the way that weather affects farmers, people are beginning to see the effects of climate change,” said Sean Hecht of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. In 2018, an alarming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  report upped the urgency of climate change and massive protests broke out across the globe. In 2016, no candidate had a specific climate platform, but reports indicate that this year, candidates will need to detail specific action plans if they hope to be taken seriously. With protests already planned for the first Democratic debate, it is almost certain that journalists will ask candidates tough questions about their positions on the environment and the fossil fuel industry. According to Bill McKibbens from 350.org , voters will be looking for more than broad support. Many progressive democrats are demanding candidates formally endorse the Green New Deal , while others expect candidates to refuse campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry — a long standing tradition with presidential hopefuls. Currently, only Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Kirsten Gillibrand and Jay Inslee have specific climate change platforms. Via Reuters Image via Molly Adams

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US stops Arctic Council joint statement over climate change language

May 8, 2019 by  
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On May 7, the Arctic Council released a statement of various priorities, but for the first time it could not publish a joint declaration, reportedly due to push-back from the U.S. over climate change language. The Arctic Council is comprised of indigenous leaders and eight nations, including the U.S., Canada, Finland, Russia, China, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland. After meetings in Rovaniemi, Finland, the group released its disjointed statement, but it could not agree on a declaration of urgent challenges and strategies for the next two years. “A majority of us regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic and acknowledged the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions and to strengthen resilience,” the chair of the meeting, Finnish Minister Timo Soini, said in the statement. Minister Soini refused to point fingers at which nations would not acknowledge climate change as a fundamental challenge. Related: 1 million species are at risk of extinction, says new UN report Indigenous leaders argue that climate change is indeed the most pressing issue in the Arctic and should be a primary focus. Scientists suggest that temperatures are rising twice as fast  fast in the Arctic region than in the rest of the world. Melting ice is contributing to sea level rise in low-lying countries, but it is also creating new shipping routes and opening access to undiscovered oil reserves. The Arctic contains 13 percent of the world’s untapped oil and 30 percent of natural gas reserves. This fossil fuel wealth makes it a controversial region, and development there is highly sought after, particularly by world powers like the U.S., China and Russia. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed too many versions of the declaration as the reason the Council could not reach an consensus, and spent most of his floor time pointing fingers at Russia and China for going against previous agreements and rendering them ineffective. + Arctic Council Via Reuters Image via  Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard / U.S. Geological Survey

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US stops Arctic Council joint statement over climate change language

Climate activists will turn up the heat at presidential debate

April 23, 2019 by  
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Young people have been making a lot of noise around the urgency of climate change , and they aren’t quieting down. Following the hotly debated release of the Green New Deal and last month’s Youth Climate Marches in 123 cities, young people in the U.S. are plotting their next high-impact climate action. The Sunrise Movement (the organization pressuring candidates to approve the Green New Deal) plans to stage a massive protest at the first Democratic Primary debate. The Democratic National Committee announced in March that the first debate will be held in Miami on June 26. Long before the date and location were known, the Sunrise Movement began plotting to disrupt the event and make it impossible for the candidates, media and millions of viewers to avoid their climate questions. Their goal is to make sure all presidential hopefuls acknowledge the gravity of climate change and discuss their specific platforms. Related: NYC considers Manhattan land expansion to fight climate change Miami is the perfect location for a debate focused on the impacts of climate change – the city stands to lose between 13 and 34 inches to sea level rise by 2060. Globally, there has been a shift in media and public attention related to climate change and the urgency of taking action. Some of this new attention is thanks to vocal groups like the Sunrise Movement and youth leaders like Greta Thunberg. Some activists have been galvanized by worrisome news, like the International Panel on Climate Change’s recent report that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be irreversible if not addressed within the next 12 years. Still others are alarmed by the uptick in natural disasters – wildfires in California, hurricanes from Texas to Puerto Rico and cyclones in Mozambique. According to a recent poll , 80 percent of Americans believe it is important for presidential candidates to spend “a lot” of time talking about their climate change platforms, with only health care ranking higher as a priority issue. Holding politicians feet to the fire “We’re seeing a shift in people’s consciousness,” Janet Redman, Greenpeace’s climate program manager, told Mother Jones .  “We need to see that starting to be reflected in our politics—that it’s not an isolated set of incidents or phenomenon. The public is craving politicians to have a conversation on this. They want to know real solutions.” Greenpeace has signed on to Sunrise Movement’s plan to disrupt the debate, along with other environmental advocacy groups including 350.org, Credo Action and Friends of the Earth. The Democratic National Convention does not control the questions at the debate – the TV network hosting the event gets to choose. However, previous debates have focused on single themes before – such as the economy or national security. Climate activists argue that previous debate questions about the environment have been too vague. Questions like “Do you believe climate change is real?” are no longer adequate for the majority of young people, who accept climate science and want concrete solutions, specific proposals and accountability. “My fear is there will be some softball climate questions that aren’t specific, aren’t digging deep, [and] therefore make it hard for us to make any candidate who is elected accountable,” said Janet Redman. “What we’re trying to do by focusing on primaries is pulling the entire field of candidates to bolder positions.” What questions would they like to hear? Redman explained questions that force candidates to take explicit positions will help the American public understand their different stances and make informed voting decisions. For example, she would like to see questions as specific as demanding candidates express their opinions about leasing public land to fossil fuel companies. Plans to #ChangetheDebate “Our demands are simple: all presidential contenders must back the Green New Deal or face the contempt of young people everywhere, and the mainstream media must fully cover climate change or slide further into irrelevance,” Lora Zaguilan, a Sunrise Movement organizer in Northern California told Inhabitat. Over ten million people tune in to watch the debates, so the protests have the potential to create a massive, but peaceful, impact. “The tactics like civil disobedience and powerful stories that we used to put the Green New Deal on the map in D.C. this past Fall are some of our best tools,” says the Sunrise website . The site calls on activists and young people to show up in Miami for the debate, claiming thousands have already registered to attend what is being called by its hashtag, #ChangetheDebate. Via Mother Jones Images via Ella McDonald

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Stunning ‘beach shack’ on remote Australian beach is 100% self-sufficient

April 23, 2019 by  
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Sydney-based firm  Casey Brown Architecture  has unveiled a gorgeous home in Great Mackerel Beach, a remote coastal area in South Wales. Conceived as a modern beach shack, the Hart House is tucked deep into a steep cliffside looking out over the ocean. Only accessible by boat, the home, which is covered in an aluminum shell, is completely off-grid thanks to solar panels on the roof, a water collection system and an onsite waste system. According to the architects, the home’s simple box volume is a “contemporary interpretation of the quintessential one-room Australian beach shack.” The house sits back from the shoreline and is tucked into a rising cliffside covered in natural vegetation. Using the incredible landscape as additional inspiration, the architects focused on creating an  energy-efficient home that would be both resilient and self-sustaining. Related: Circular, solar-powered beach house is a sustainable holiday retreat Because of its remote location, the home is only accessible by water, which meant that the structure had to not only be resilient but self-sufficient. A rooftop array of solar panels generates enough energy to meet the needs of the residents. Additionally, the design has an integrated rainwater collection system, and waste is processed on-site. Clad in a corrugated aluminum shell, the beach house is well-protected from the local climate , such as the harsh salt environment, cold winds and even bushfires. Only the front of the home is left exposed with a large glass wall made up of several floor-to-ceiling panels that provide an abundance of natural light and stunning views of the ocean. The home’s corrugated aluminum shell is punctuated with small openings, framed in large Corten Steel frames, which allow for optimal cross ventilation. The interior design of the three-story home creates a harmonious connection with the surrounding natural environment. Lined in birch plywood with timber flooring and large windows, the top floor living space is a warm, light-filled oasis. Spotted gum was chosen to build the front deck as well as the doors and windows because of its sustainable profile as well as its natural fire resistance. Under the living space is a bedroom that leads out to a terrace constructed from  sandstone  harvested onsite. The terrace sits on a base, also made of sandstone, that cascades down toward the beach through various stepped retaining walls. + Casey Brown Architecture Via Wallpaper Photography by Rhys Holland via Casey Brown Architects

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Stunning ‘beach shack’ on remote Australian beach is 100% self-sufficient

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