Birds are dying mid-air possibly due to climate crisis effects

September 17, 2020 by  
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The deaths of thousands of birds in the southwestern U.S. have sparked concern from scientists. This phenomenon has been described as a national tragedy by ornithologists, who suggest that it could be related to the climate crisis. The species of birds affected include flycatchers, warblers and swallows. Bird carcasses have been spotted in numerous places, including New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and Nebraska. According to Martha Desmond, a biology professor at New Mexico State University (NMSU), many of the cases show signs of starvation. The carcasses have little remaining fat reserves, and many of the birds appear to have nose-dived into the ground mid-flight. Related: Migratory birds triumph over Trump administration “I collected over a dozen in just a two-mile stretch in front of my house,” Desmond said. “To see this and to be picking up these carcasses and realizing how widespread this is, is personally devastating. To see this many individuals and species dying is a national tragedy.” Many of the birds belonged to a group of long-distance migrants that fly from Alaska and Canada to Central and South America. These birds travel long journeys and have to make several landings for food before they proceed. However, the recent fires across the western states might have made it difficult for the birds to follow their regular route. If the birds moved farther inland to the Chihuahuan desert, they likely struggled to find food and water, leading to starvation. At the same time, the southwestern states have experienced drier conditions than usual, which might have reduced the number of insects on which the birds could feed. Scientists have also discussed the possibility that the wildfires and their accompanying smoke may have harmed the birds’ lungs. “It could be a combination of things. It could be something that’s still completely unknown to us,” said Allison Salas, graduate student at NMSU. “The fact that we’re finding hundreds of these birds dying, just kind of falling out of the sky is extremely alarming. … The volume of carcasses that we have found has literally given me chills.” Via The Guardian Image via Florian Hahn

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Financial models that will get you that on-site microgrid

September 4, 2020 by  
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Financial models that will get you that on-site microgrid Sarah Golden Fri, 09/04/2020 – 01:30 I’ve written about my high hopes for microgrids and my disappointment at the speed of deployment (due in part to COVID-related slowdowns that stalled construction).  But don’t be confused. Like a swimming duck, a lot has been happening with microgrids under the surface. New third-party financing options for microgrids in which the energy offtaker does not own or maintain the asset — known as energy-as-a-service (EaaS) or microgrids-as-a-service (MaaS) — are making microgrids accessible to small businesses with small energy loads, according to a new report from Wood Mackenzie . While not a new structure (EaaS has been around for the better part of a decade), the research shows the market is maturing. Increasingly, financers are investing in small-scale microgrids that are less than 5 megawatts, a size better suited for on-site power generation for, say, medium to large commercial buildings or a mid-sized industrial facility.  This is kind of a big deal, as financial innovations are as important as technological innovations for clean energy technologies to proliferate. Solar is the classic example; it took off once people could get it without upfront costs.  Here are three forces that, together, finally could get you that microgrid you’ve been eyeing.  1. Microgrid portfolios are opening up new financing models Once upon a time, microgrids were bespoke and built on a project-by-project basis. That required legwork by financers to assess the technology risk and business models, which only made sense if the projects were bigger — say, 10-20 MW minimum.  Increasingly, microgrid service providers are selling a portfolio of microgrids — that is, deploying multiple microgrids with similar (if not identical) components at different locations. The homogenization of the microgrid technologies allows investors to streamline due diligence and finance the portfolio in aggregate. Examples include projects at Stop & Shop , which recently announced it will install microgrids at 40 of its grocery stores in Massachusetts using Bloom Energy fuel cells, and H-E-B , which plans to install microgrids at 45 locations in Texas through Enchanted Rock . We’re seeing customers learning what microgrids can do for them fundamentally. “The financer is basically betting that that set of controls and that technology is the same or similar across the portfolio, so they’re able to quantify and manage technology risk,” said Isaac Maze-Rothstein, microgrid analyst at Wood Mackenzie and author of the report, in a phone conversation. Just as beneficial to financers, providers can replicate their microgrid-as-a-service business model for different customers, as Enchanted Rock has done in Texas.  “For the financer, they’re evaluating a single business model across a portfolio of diverse customers,” Maze Rothstein said.  2. Standardization is driving down costs — and increasing investors’ appetite The predictability of the microgrid technologies in a portfolio makes them cheaper to site and install. While bespoke microgrids required on-site construction, the modular microgrids are essentially prefab, ready to be installed when they arrive on site.  As a result, the distributed energy resources (be they renewable, energy storage or fossil-based) are becoming the lion’s share of the capital costs for microgrids. The cost of renewable technologies has fallen precipitously in the last decade and is expected to get cheaper.  The aggregated portfolio of microgrids and lower costs are piquing investors’ interest — and not just the usual suspects, such as utilities.  “You also have infrastructure investors who have historically focused on oil and gas and midstream investments who are looking for above-market returns with the reliability of an infrastructure investment,” Maze-Rothstein said. Because the mass potential size of the new market (companies that want energy reliability, need less than 5 MW and don’t want to pay upfront costs), microgrid supermajors are partnering with investors to roll out projects. Earlier this month, for example, Schneider Electric announced a partnership with Huck Capital to serve commercial buildings. 3. Energy resilience is driving more customers to microgrid as a service model  No PR campaign could have better educated companies on the need for energy resilience than recent extreme weather events. From floods to hurricanes and wildfires, businesses are starting to understand the cost of inaction.  Enter MaaS, which promises resilience without upfront or ongoing costs, a much cheaper option than buying or renting backup generators or interrupting operations. In addition, on-site microgrids can save customers money on electric bills.  “We’re seeing customers learning what microgrids can do for them fundamentally,” Maze-Rothstein said. “Many people, if you’ve lived in California in particular and you’ve had regular power outages of various types, you start looking at resilience options.”  A study from Rocky Mountain Institute shows that businesses affected by last year’s planned power shutoffs in California would have saved money if they had bought solar plus storage outright. With microgrid-as-a-service, customers can get the resilience benefits and not even fork over the cash.  And as more companies hear about these financing options through press releases and news articles (hi!), the more common they will become.  This is in contrast to microgrids owned by the offtaker (such as utilities), which are more often driven by economics and renewable integration.  Pull Quote We’re seeing customers learning what microgrids can do for them fundamentally. Topics Energy & Climate Microgrids Featured Column Power Points Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off An aerial view of an Enchanted Rock microgrid site. Courtesy of Enchanted Rock Close Authorship

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Global warming could push air conditioning demand up 59%

August 21, 2020 by  
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An analysis done by Climate Central shows that demand for air conditioning in the U.S. will increase by 59% by the year 2050. According to the study, there has been a continued rise in demand for air conditioners in the U.S. and other parts of the world because of global warming. The study shows that continued greenhouse gas emissions are leading to unpredictable weather patterns in most regions. Regions that were traditionally colder are warming up, and those that are warm are getting hotter. These changes are forcing more people to use air conditioners to regulate home temperatures. The study was based on data collected from 242 U.S. cities. The data tracks down air conditioning usage via a measure known as cooling-degree days (CDD). Cooling-degree days simply refers to the difference between the accepted temperature for human comfort and the daily average temperature. The human body is expected to feel comfortable at 65°F. Any temperature below or above 65°F can lead to discomfort, hence the demand for air conditioning. If a region experiences a daily average temperature of 80°F, the CDD for that location would be 15. Related: Global warming expected to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius Analysts behind the study have revealed that 96% of the cities in the U.S. have experienced an increase in CDD between 1970 and 2019. Some of the states that have been widely affected by high CDD include Texas, Nevada and Arizona. Higher temperatures are pushing more people to purchase air conditioners. Today, many people use some form of air conditioning to control the temperatures in their homes and offices. Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Central, said that the average person uses air conditioning to deal with higher temperatures without thinking about climate change , which is only made worse by increased reliance on air conditioners. “When our air conditioning is powered by electricity generated through fossil fuels, heat-trapping CO2 is released,” Climate Central explained. “Air conditioners emit heat back outside and can add to the heat island effect in urban areas. And if old air conditioners are not disposed of properly, they can leak chemicals that are themselves harmful heat-trapping gases.” + Climate Central Via Yale Environment 360 Image via TrioSolution1

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Florida to release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes

August 21, 2020 by  
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It sounds like the premise for a 1950s horror movie: release 750 million genetically altered mosquitoes in the Florida Keys and see what happens. But Florida and the federal government have approved this plan for 2021 and 2022. “What could possibly go wrong? We don’t know, because EPA unlawfully refused to seriously analyze environmental risks, now without further review of the risks, the experiment can proceed,” Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. Related: Rare blue bee spotted in Florida The GMO mosquito, named OX5034, is a modified version of Aedes aegypti developed by the biotech company Oxitec . This species carries dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever. The new-and-improved mosquito produces female offspring that die while still in the larval stage. For mosquitoes, females feed on blood and males on nectar. So, female babies born to OX5034s will die before they mature enough to bite humans and spread disease . The EPA approved the pilot project for the Florida Keys in May to test whether the OX5034 approach will work better than controlling Aedes aegypti by spraying insecticide. The project just received final approval by local authorities — often over the protests of residents worried about the implications of modifying mosquitoes. Some Floridians have called OX5034 a “Robo-Frankenstein” mosquito and a “superbug” and worry that it will endanger the birds , insects and mammals that eat mosquitoes. While dengue fever is uncommon in the U.S., local outbreaks occasionally occur. Hawaii, Florida and Texas have suffered the most cases. Outbreaks in the Florida Keys in 2009 and 2010 strapped the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which budgets upward of $1 million per year — a tenth of its funding — to fight Aedes aegypti . This species accounts for only 1% of the area’s mosquito population. Harris County, Texas, also plans to release OX5034 in 2021. Both Florida and Texas officials are basing their decisions on field tests Oxitec conducted in Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands. In a trial area of Brazil, OX513A, a predecessor to OX5034, reduced the Aedes aegypti population by 95%. Via CNN Image via Hans Braxmeier

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HIVE Project proposes biophilic, self-sufficient homes of the future

August 21, 2020 by  
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As part of RIBA’s The Home of 2030 design competition, Gianluca Santosuosso Design has created The HIVE Project, a honeycomb-inspired modular solution for lower carbon and low-energy housing. Developed for scalability, the prefabricated timber-framed hexagonal structures would offer residents a great degree of flexibility in customizing their homes throughout different stages of life. The honeycomb-inspired homes are also designed for energy self-sufficiency via renewable energy sources and would be integrated with a water recycling strategy that sustainably handles wastewater as well. The HIVE Project — short for ‘Human-Inclusive & Vertical Ecosystem’ — is a scheme for a circular economy that includes residences as well as shared facilities and onsite food- and energy-generating systems. This “Socio-Eco-System” promotes social cohesion and nature regeneration by incorporating the needs of not only humans, but also the existing site and local flora and fauna. For instance, the ideal starting site for the HIVE Project would be a brownfield that would be rehabilitated and enriched as the community grows. Related: Green-roofed Hive home opens and closes with the sun The hexagonal modules would be prefabricated offsite, where they would be bound together with a mix of locally sourced industrial hemp and natural binder that also provides strong insulation properties. As the community expands, more modules can be quickly added with minimal site impact. At the end of the solar-powered building’s lifecycle, the biodegradable construction materials can be easily disposed of while the remaining elements can be reused for new construction. “HIVE combines the properties of the honeycomb with the shape of the archetypal house and creates a new hybrid type of living space able to merge nature’s efficiency with the ingenuity of humans,” the architects explained. “We intend to provide the HIVE with a wide spectrum of co-owned and shared facilities that will empower individuals, families and communities to be self-sufficient while allowing local authorities and administration to limit the need for public investments. … Using these ‘Kits-of-Parts’, every single plot development will be unique and diverse.” + Gianluca Santosuosso Design Images via Gianluca Santosuosso Design

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2020: Fossil fuels are dead, long live the sun

August 13, 2020 by  
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2020: Fossil fuels are dead, long live the sun Hunter Lovins Thu, 08/13/2020 – 00:15 We’re female entrepreneurs and environmentalists. We’ve spent decades promoting clean energy technologies. In this strangest of all years, as the death toll mounts from a disease caused by human incursions into once intact ecosystems, we’re observing another death — the demise of fossil fuels. Is that possible? Consider this: In April, Royal Dutch Shell, one of the largest companies in the world, announced its intent to become a net-zero carbon company by 2050. When oil and gas companies say that they’re getting out of oil and gas, shouldn’t you? No doubt Shell is counting on some miracle like carbon capture to preserve its adherence to a century-old business model of selling oil. And who could blame it? For years, extracting the black gold from the ground, processing it, then selling gasoline, fuel oil, petrochemicals and other refined products has been one of the most profitable businesses in history. In 2008, Exxon made a record $40.6 billion . For years, seven of the top 10 companies on the Dow Jones Index were oil companies until 2016 when most fell out of the top 10, leaving only Exxon. Last year, no fossil company made the top 10 list. Exxon’s 2018 revenues were half of what it made a decade earlier; in 2019, it was only $14.3 billion . That’s still a lot of money, but running an oil business is capital-intensive: Exxon was borrowing to pay dividends before COVID-19. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis reported that “the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas companies shelled out a total of $71.2 billion in dividends and share buybacks last year, while generating only $61 billion in free cash flow.”  Meanwhile, the coal and natural gas industries are also collapsing around us — a swift decline from the shale fracking boom. Fracking equipment sits idly in fields, and utilities shutter coal and natural gas power plants indefinitely. While businesses, community organizations, utilities and government agencies move away from dependence on fossil-fueled power generation, you can make that same shift, too. In April, the bubble popped, perhaps forever: Oil future prices hit negative $37 a barrel.  What happened? COVID-19 constricted commuting, and demand for refined oil products fell fast. Oil companies ran out of places to store the stuff. Tankers at anchor in the Houston Ship Channel started bumping into each other, but the oil kept flowing.  Why? It turns out it’s not easy to stop. Capping a well, realistically, means writing it off. Wells are capital-intensive to drill in the first place, but they are also costly to reopen. The cost to buy an oil rig runs from $20 million to $1 billion. Renting one isn’t cheap, either. In 2018, Transocean (yes, the folks who brought you the BP oil spill) charged Chevron $830 million ($445,000 a day) for one rig for five years. We bet someone’s now trying to renegotiate that contract. Hydraulic fracturing isn’t any cheaper. Even before the coronavirus hit, the shale gas Ponzi scheme was falling apart as investors realized that the enormous sums that they were asked to continue pouring into the industry were never likely to return a profit . Prices to frack a new well vary widely, depending on whether you’re drilling in West Texas or horizontally to frack under housing developments, varying from $40 to $90 a barrel. The costs multiply because fracked wells typically last less than a year. Even before COVID-19, traditional oil was lifting for $10 to $20 a barrel in Saudi Arabia, with a world average of $40. Fracking was not a viable industry even before oil went negative.  If this is the case, isn’t it a breach of fiduciary responsibility to invest in oil and gas extraction? If these are your own funds, throw them away if you wish, but Bevis Longstreth , former Securities and Exchange commissioner forecasted back in 2018, “It is entirely plausible, even predictable that continuing to hold equities in fossil fuel companies will come to be ruled negligence.” This helps explain why more than $11 trillion have been divested from fossil ownership, even before the University of California announced that it was divesting its $80 billion portfolio. Surely the world runs on oil. This will just be a blip to what is an essential industry for humankind, won’t it? No. It won’t. We can see the end. When the Kentucky Coal Museum puts solar on its roof because it is cheaper than hooking up to the coal-fired grid at its doorstep, it’s over. For fundamental economic reasons, solar power generation plus battery storage will provide at least half of electric power generation globally by 2030. Last summer, General Electric walked away from a natural gas plant in California that had a projected 20 years life because it can’t compete with solar. And this trend is happening around the world.  India canceled 14 new proposed coal plants because they can’t compete with solar. Portugal achieved 1.6 cents a kilowatt hour (¢kWh) for utility-scale solar, a price almost five times below building a new coal or gas plant. This spring the government announced that the country was 100 percent renewably powered and canceled all subsidies for fossil energy . And then Abu Dhabi set the latest new record for “everyday low price” when it brought on utility scale solar at 1.3 ¢kWh. In the bellwether state of California, the death knell for fossil fuels came when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power signed a deal to buy power from a utility-scale solar plus battery storage facility at 2.9¢kWh. To put it simply, that is record-cheap solar power. While businesses, community organizations, utilities and government agencies move away from dependence on fossil-fueled power generation, you can make that same shift, too. You can have solar on your roof, a battery bank in your garage and be immune from power shutoffs, rising prices and vulnerability of all sorts. Centralized energy distribution from fossil fuels via the grid is not reliable (or cheaper). Extreme weather events are the biggest contributor to power outages and will increase with climate change, which the Department of Energy estimates costs the U.S. economy $150 billion annually. Customer-sited solar plus storage allows you to generate and store your own power, on or off-grid. Welcome to the triumph of the sun. Pull Quote While businesses, community organizations, utilities and government agencies move away from dependence on fossil-fueled power generation, you can make that same shift, too. Contributors Catherine Von Burg Topics Renewable Energy Solar Oil Natural Gas Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Mysterious seeds from China arriving in mail across America

July 30, 2020 by  
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Agricultural officials from several states have expressed alarm over unsolicited packages of seeds delivered to residents. The packages appear to come from China, as they feature China Post labeling. Agricultural officers advise farmers not to plant the seeds, in case they are harmful or invasive. Warnings sent out to farmers and residents follow reports of unsolicited seed packages being delivered in residents’ mail. Several people reported receiving seeds in white pouches that featured Chinese writing and the words “China Post.” Another concerning detail is that the seed packages were not labeled as food or agricultural products. Envelopes included misleading labels, with some listing the contents as jewelry, toys or earbuds. States that have released public notices against planting the unsolicited seeds include Washington, Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, Colorado, Iowa, Georgia, Minnesota, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Dakota, Texas, Alabama and Florida. Kentucky , one of the first states to receive reports of unsolicited seeds, issued warnings to residents. As Ryan Quarles, Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner, wrote on Twitter, residents should “put the package and seeds in a zip lock bag and wash your hands immediately.” Residents must also send any seeds they receive to the Department of Agriculture. Following the reports, several other states, including Arkansas, Michigan , Oregon and New Jersey, issued warnings to residents. Such measures may help prevent farmers from planting harmful, contaminated seeds. The Chinese Embassy in Washington claims these China Post packages “to be fake ones with erroneous layouts and entries.” Cecilia Sequeira, spokesperson for the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, says the department is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop illegal importation of prohibited seeds. Should you receive any mysterious seeds in the mail, report it to the nearest Agriculture Office. + NY Times Image via Pexels

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How Black environmentalists are organizing to save the planet from injustice

June 26, 2020 by  
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How Black environmentalists are organizing to save the planet from injustice Rachel Ramirez Fri, 06/26/2020 – 00:30 This story originally appeared in Grist;  and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story . “I can’t breathe.” These were among the final words that George Floyd and Eric Garner gasped before their deaths at the hands of white police officers. That plea has become part of the current rallying cry for racial justice and an end to police brutality in the United States. But for Black people living near industrial facilities, the phrase has an additional layer of meaning: a reminder of their disproportionate pollution burden. “While many in power seemed surprised that COVID-19 is killing twice as many Black Americans, those of us in the environmental justice movement know that the health impacts of cumulative and disproportionate levels of pollution in our communities have created underlying health conditions that contribute to our higher COVID-19 mortality rates,” said Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said at a virtual press conference in mid-June. Shepard is part of the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN) , a national coalition of Black environmental justice groups and grassroots activists founded in 1991. Although the network took a hiatus in 2006 after executive director Damu Smith died , the network just announced that it’s making a comeback against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and renewed calls to fight racial injustice. We see these environmental rollbacks as not just fast-tracking project permits, but as a fast-track to the emergency room and cemeteries. The network’s mission sends a clear message: Environmental injustice is not a single issue. Rather, it’s a constellation of issues including discrimination in housing, jobs and healthcare. It’s impossible to untangle Black communities’ current risks from America’s long history of racist policies and practices. Discriminatory policies such as banks’ government-sanctioned refusal to approve home loans and insurance for people in communities of color, also known as redlining, forced Black families into neighborhoods more likely to be exposed to industrial pollution and extreme heat . Now these same communities face a surge in unemployment and poverty rates as a result of the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic, and they also are  disproportionately dying from the novel coronavirus as a result of a lack of health insurance, unequal access to test sites and higher workplace exposure via employment in essential services. As if that weren’t enough, a recent Harvard study also found a link between air pollution and death from COVID-19. Given the systemic conditions that disproportionately expose Black people to the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and other worsening crises, NBEJN members — including the network’s co-chairs, environmental justice pioneers Robert Bullard and Beverly Wright — say they are looking to bring in Black lawyers, engineers, leaders and other experts to join forces to help create an equitable green stimulus package, take on the fossil fuel industry and fight the Trump administration’s seemingly endless orders to weaken environmental protections . “We see these environmental rollbacks as not just fast-tracking project permits, but as a fast-track to the emergency room and cemeteries,” said Bullard, an author and professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University. “The NBEJN is about dismantling systemic racism, and we’re talking about turning the dominant paradigm on its head.” Network leaders say COVID-19 recovery legislation could be an opportunity for lawmakers to pass a robust green stimulus package that would focus on environmental justice. Such a green stimulus package, the coalition said, needs to address core issues of systemic racism by, for example, providing green jobs to communities of color. NBEJN is needed today to fight these conversing threats and underlying conditions that are denying Black people the right to breathe and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness enjoyed by white America. “Green stimulus packages often only look at protecting the world, but not protecting people like us,” said Wright, executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. “Any stimulus package dealing with transportation to housing or whatever they’re talking about doing will have to include us and need to be viewed with equity and justice lenses.” Even if an equitable green stimulus package makes it through Congress and the White House, there still will be a lot more work to be done. Bullard said that even if the Democratic party wins the presidential election or takes control of the Senate, it will take time to reverse Trump-era environmental policy damages, including the country’s withdrawal from the 2016 Paris Agreement. Even then, he added, policymakers will need to take additional steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions and center frontline communities. And NBEJN leaders say the network will stick around to make sure those steps are taken. “Racism is baked into America’s DNA,” Bullard said. “NBEJN is needed today to fight these conversing threats and underlying conditions that are denying Black people the right to breathe and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness enjoyed by white America.” Pull Quote We see these environmental rollbacks as not just fast-tracking project permits, but as a fast-track to the emergency room and cemeteries. NBEJN is needed today to fight these conversing threats and underlying conditions that are denying Black people the right to breathe and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness enjoyed by white America. Topics COVID-19 Policy & Politics Environmental Justice Equity & Inclusion Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock Tverdokhlib Close Authorship

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How racism manifests in clean energy

June 5, 2020 by  
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How racism manifests in clean energy Sarah Golden Fri, 06/05/2020 – 00:00 As our institutions strain under the uprising in cities across the country, I’ve been struggling to comprehend the depth of racism in America. I understand why these moments of police violence, the senseless destruction of black bodies caught on tape, would spark a fire that rages across this country. I also know that the tinder has been building for generations and is about so much more than this one horrific moment. Every sector plays a part. Including clean energy.  It’s no secret that there are grave inequities in clean energy. In the spirit of this moment, I turned the microscope on my own sector to ask, how does racism manifest in clean energy?  Manifestation 1: ‘I can’t breathe’ “I can’t breathe” refers to more than police violence. Black communities have been struggling to breathe for decades.  “The right to breathe isn’t just related to surviving interactions with police,” said Alexis Cureton, former electric vehicle fellow at GRID Alternatives , an organization that works to bring clean energy jobs and access to low-income communities. “It pertains to surviving and being able to breathe clean air.” Dozens of studies document the racial disparity in environmental impacts, and I’ve linked to a number of those below. To name a few, consider that in America black people: Are on average exposed to 1.54 times more hazardous pollution than white people — regardless of income. Breathe 56 percent more pollution than they create. Are exposed to 50 percent higher rates of particulate pollution than the general population. Are more likely to live near highways, airports, refineries and other sources of hazardous air pollutants. Are disproportionately exposed to toxic air pollution from the fossil fuel industry. The impacts are also real. African Americans have higher rates of lung cancer and asthma , and are more like to have (and die from) heart disease . It’s no coincidence that African Americans are three times more likely to die from coronavirus than white people. To make matters worse, inequities in health care result in black communities paying almost twice as much in premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.  In this way, the story of George Floyd is symbolic of many struggles in the black community.  We have to remove the repercussions for constructive criticism around programs that don’t address racial equity. “A cop put his knee in the back of his neck and choked him to death, amid his cries for help. You can hear the dude calling for his mom,” said Bartees Cox, director of marketing and communications at Groundswell , an organization that brings community solar to low-income customers. “You look at black people in America and our journey, every opportunity that we’ve had to get ahead has been choked out, fully, over time. Every bit of progress gets choked out.” But here’s the thing: Clean energy technologies exist to reverse this problem. The missing piece is getting them deployed at scale in the communities most affected by dirty energy.  Manifestation 2: Paying more and getting less from energy  More than any other racial group in the United States, African Americans struggle to afford baseline energy needs, a state known as energy insecurity or energy poverty. As a percentage of their income, black households pay upwards of threefold more than white households for energy. They’re also disproportionately affected by utility shut-off policies , leaving them more vulnerable to dangerously hot and cold days.  Why? It’s expensive to be poor. Many solutions that save money in the long run — electric vehicles, rooftop solar, energy efficiency upgrades — require upfront costs or access to capital that exclude many black communities.  Paying more and getting less means black households are often playing catchup. According to Cox, in some places African Americans pay more for energy than for rent.  “We’re not putting people in a situation where they can succeed if they’re spending that much on their energy consumption,” Cox said.  That’s especially true for a community with fewer economic opportunities.  “We have a lack of jobs, we have a lack of access, we have a lack of money in communities,” said Taj Eldridge, senior director of investment at Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator ( LACI ). “Economics are a huge part of it. All of the other issues that we see, from health disparities to educational disparities, the root of that is racism and economic discrimination.” Manifestation 3: Myopic clean energy equity programs  Well-meaning programs and incentives can go only so far if they fail to take a broader view of inequalities.  Take, for instance, a California program that aims to increase access to electric vehicles by providing incentives to install a charging station at your home — provided, of course, that you’re a homeowner. That does little to help African Americans who have been systematically denied homeownership through redlining and lack of access to capital.  “Inherently, that’s racist,” said Cureton, who worked with the program while at GRID Alternatives. “Programs like these aren’t targeted at black people. They’re targeted at people who always lived in California, who always had access to capital. Programs like that don’t help to alleviate the systemic racism that is not only within this country but within this industry.” Cureton says that in order for these programs to work better, it’s essential for those who work in clean energy and equity to be able to talk about the shortcomings of policies without fear of losing funding or negatively impacting the organization.  “This equity push, it looks good and it sounds good,” Cureton said. “But for people of color who are suffering right now, it doesn’t feel good. We have to remove the repercussions for constructive criticism around programs that don’t address racial equity.” All of the other issues that we see, from health disparities to educational disparities, the root of that is racism and economic discrimination. To be clear, this critique isn’t to marginalize the hard work of GRID Alternatives — or other equity organizations working to support underserved people, such as Greenlining Institute , The Solutions Project and New Energy Nexus . Rather, it’s a reminder that systems of oppression are intertwined and that support needs to flow to those that understand the complexity of the problem.  “I think people get that there is an issue here,” Cox said. “‘Equity’ and ‘intersectionality’ are, like, the foundation buzzwords of the last four years. It’s where the big-money people are moving with their strategies. I think the next step is making sure the money gets to the right people.” Manifestation 4: Lack of representation  Organizations that design policies, programs and products usually are controlled by white people. That lack of diversity around the table leads to a lack of diversity in solutions.  The clean energy sector and companies with climate goals have tremendous power to change this.  Cox, who grew up in Oklahoma, never considered a job in clean energy. His turning point was when professional peers told him about the sector and encouraged him to get involved. That type of proactive engagement is what is needed to change the racial balance.  “The onus is on these companies to do outreach,” Cox said. “Not just in the big cities, not just at Howard and Hampton, take it to Texas Southern. Go to Dillard. Go into the deep south, go into rural areas, recruit at these community colleges. Tell people about the jobs that are available, and push people into them.” Eldridge echos this sentiment, noting that white professionals are often disconnected from the deep bench of talent in the African American community. “There’s not a pipeline issue. There never was. It’s a relationship issue,” Eldridge said. “It amazes me when people say they can’t find people to interview or to have these conversations with, because I see them in the room all the time.” This isn’t altruistic. It’s well documented that companies that embrace diversity perform better and have a happier workforce.  It also isn’t tokenism. Getting the people in the room that understand the black experience is key to finding the policies that untangle the systems of injustice.  “As it relates to shifting power and creating change, your voice can’t be taken seriously if you yourself don’t have an entity that represents you,” Cureton said. “That’s extremely important.” Pull Quote We have to remove the repercussions for constructive criticism around programs that don’t address racial equity. All of the other issues that we see, from health disparities to educational disparities, the root of that is racism and economic discrimination. There’s not a pipeline issue. There never was. It’s a relationship issue. Topics Energy & Climate Equity & Inclusion Featured Column Power Points Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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How racism manifests in clean energy

Gensler upcycles an old warehouse into creative offices in Austin

June 2, 2020 by  
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At the heart of East Austin, an old and uninviting warehouse has been transformed into a creative office building fittingly dubbed UPCycle after its site-sensitive design approach that includes the reuse of the entire building. Gensler led the renovation and updated the space with an additional 16,000 square feet of mezzanine area as well as energy-efficient improvements including new insulation and high-efficiency mechanical systems. The industrial character of the original building has been retained and celebrated as part of an overarching goal to preserve a piece of East Austin history.  Originally built in 1972, the 65,000-square-foot warehouse had originally been used as the former location of the Balcones Recycling Center. Drawing inspiration from the building history, the architects sought to reuse the entire building and integrate reclaimed materials in creative ways. All components found onsite — from the steel structure and metal panel skin to the existing railroad tracks and graffiti art from past exhibitions — were reclaimed or preserved and enhanced. Even the building skin was repurposed and turned inside out to reveal its natural finish. Related: Adobe’s renovated headquarters channels the design giant’s creative energy “By recycling and upcycling 95% of the existing building, approximately 1,830,000 kilograms of embodied carbon dioxide were saved, and the lid of the existing structure significantly lengthened,” Gensler said in a project statement. “This savings amounts to the equivalent of taking nearly 450 cars off the road.” Expanded to 81,711 square feet, UPCycle now serves as a multi-tenant creative office building. In addition to repurposed materials , the building has been updated with new elements, such as butterfly trusses covered in graffiti by local artists and a new roof with clerestory windows to bring more natural light indoors. To pay homage to the site’s direct access to the adjacent rail lines, Gensler created a new entry lounge from a converted boxcar placed on the building’s original railroad tracks and fitted it with seating, WiFi and music. + Gensler Photography by Dror Baldinger via Gensler

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Gensler upcycles an old warehouse into creative offices in Austin

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