Two Roads Diverge

Two news stories from yesterday paint pictures of which road can be taken with respect to battling climate change. The first road leads us to Copenhagen, where it is reported the goal of leadership is to be net carbon zero in the city’s mpact on the planet.

The city has new building codes which require eco-friendly approaches. There are schools with solar panels on the walls, buildings with greenery on top that utilize rainwater effectively, e.g. They also have numerous bicycle and walking paths, which support the 62% of the commuters who pedal to work.

The second road leads us to Washington, where the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is going to repeal the Obama Clean Power Plan. This plan gave the flexibility to states on crafting individual plans to bring down carbon emissions beneath 2005 levels.

Pruitt said the “War on coal is over” as he announced the change in Kentucky. What he fails to realize, it is over. Coal has been dying off and being replaced by cheaper and cleaner options. Natural gas drove the first dagger into coal and continues to do so. Trump’s own plan will drive it deeper.

But, we should not ignore that wind and solar are growing by double digit rares over the last five years and will continue to do so. In fact, in Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma, they are one of the top wind energy states in the country.

Fortinately, cities around the world are leading the way on battling climate change, as they are the biggest polluters. And, they are learning from each other. States are also leading the way – several states will enable the US to meet the Clean Power Plan requirements by themselves.

Let me conclude with a quote from the CEO of a solar energy company at a conference in NC, the second largest solar energy state. He told legislators to “Just stay out of the way and we will blow past the Clean Power Plan requirement.” That is the question – we need Trump and Pruitt to just stay out of the way.

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Drawdown – a detailed guide to reducing climate impact

Paul Hawken is an optimist about battling our climate change crisis. He is also active in planning to do something about it. But, who is he? Hawken is an author, advocate and businessman who is the Executive Director of Project Drawdown, based his book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Priposed to Reverse Global Warming.”

The book is based on the concept of drawing down the amount of carbon that is getting dangerously present in our atmosphere and warming the planet. It summarizes 100 solutions noting their cost, long term savings and estimated impact. Project Drawdown has an impressive Board of Directiors and research staff offering a seriousness of purpose.

Rather than list all 100, let me note the top ten solutions, which are interesting and makes one think holistically. And, some of these have small price tags.

1. Refrigeration Management: While the hydrocarbons that were hurting the ozone were banned, their replacement (HFCs) is warming our planet, much of it released in the last few years of life of the refrigerator. There is a plan to phase out HFCs from new refrigerators. It is also key to decommission old refrigerators earlier to prevent the greater release.

2. Offshore Wind Turbines: With the heavy ocean breezes, the offshore turbines have a huge upside on savings and impact. As with onshore wind energy, the cost has dramatically declined and wind energy is ready to replace even more fossil fuel energy sourcing. Offshore wind energy is being used significantly by other countries, with the first US development opening last December off Rhode Island.

3. Reduced Food Waste: Of all the issues, with relative little cost, we can make a huge dent in emissions from unused, rotting food. Between supermarkets, restaurants and homes, this wastage could be minimized with some concerted efforts which would not compromise taste. Better labeling on best-by dates, using imperfect looking food, better food planning at home, better gleaning of unpacked crops, using local produce more, etc. would produce dividends.

4. Plant Rich Diet: If cows were a country, they would be third largest abuser of the climate change impact. By shifting to more plant rich diets, we can reduce the amount of emissions leaked into the atmosphere and improve our own health.

5. Tropical Forests: We have greatly reduced our carbon eating forests, which has changed the equation dramatically. The planet used to be covered 12% by tropical forests, but it has declined to 5%. By replenishing tropical forests, the trees can have a positive impact on the environment and absorb more carbon.

6. Educating Girls: I have been an advocate of this for civil rights and economics, but it has a significant impact on climate. Hawken notes through education, girls can enter womanhood on their own terms. Now, too many girls are married at very young ages and never have a chance to consider a career. The younger they are married, the more children they have. Also, more educated women, means more intellectual capital to solve problems.

7. Family Planning: This goes hand in hand with the education of women. Larger family size is highly correlated with increased poverty. It is also highly correlated with a larger carbon footprint. Our planet also does not have unlimited resources, so we need to use what we have more efficaciously. If all people consume like the average North American, we have 2X too many people already.

8. Solar Farms: The cost of solar has dropped dramatically and jobs are growing  at an annual double digit rate for the past several years. Solar farms are much cheaper to build than a power plant and will continue their growth rate as battery storage improves.

9. Silvopasture: What does this mean? It is an ancient practice of integrating trees and pastures for crops and livestock. The symbiosis of the two better controls carbon absorption in a sustainable way.

10. Rooftop Solar: Putting solar panels on rooftops scares utility companies as it changes their model. Solar energy need not be done only through big projects to be effective. It can be very decentralized, Utilities are pushing back in several states to buy surplus electricity at a lower rate than they sell it when you need it at night. As battery storage improves, solar power will be even more integrated and expansive.

Hawken says we need to be alarmed by what is happening by climate change, but we should plan to act and then act. While discouraged by the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, he said the positive is far more Americans are aware of climate change and cities, states and businesses are acting in lieu of the void caused by the federal government.

I have been encouraged by this renewed vigor in addressing climate change. There are many good things occurring in the US and abroad. We can no longer wait and should celebrate, focus and leverage these solutions.

 

 

Four disasters this week

Between the horrible earthquake outside of Mexico City and Hurricane Maria, two disasters are harming people. This is on top of the two terrible hurricanes that hit Texas (Harvey) and Florida and the Caribbean Islands (Irma) in the past three weeks. We need to help those impacted and who may still be impacted as Maria continues onward. At last count, 245 people in Mexico City and the area have died from the earthquake and Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, etc. have been decimated by Maria.

While it is highly likely man-influenced climate change has made the hurricanes more powerful, two other disasters are clearly man-made and harmful to people. For one, we have to travel to Myanmar and Bangladesh as the government of Myanmar is doing an ethnic cleansing of a minority group of Muslims called Rohingyas. Over 400,000 Rohingyas have sought refuge in Bangladesh to escape the raping, killing, beating and burning of their homes. Sadly, the leader of Myanmar is Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel Prize for standing up to the military rulers she has replaced, has stood silent.

The other disaster was embodied in the US President who did his best impersonation of former USSR Premier Nikita Khrushchev. During the Cold War, Khrushchev beat on his table with his shoe and announced to the United Nations crowd that if you don’t watch out “We will bury you.” This is beyond the pale of decorum and tact and painted the Soviet Leader as a pariah, rightfully so.

Scrolling forward fifty plus years to this week, the current White House incumbent spoke to other world leaders at the United Nations in a bombastic manner that could not be confused with civil discourse or diplomacy. Compared to low expectations, Trump had some presentable parts of his speech, yet he falls way short when compared to his predecessors. Beating on his chest, he told the world he would have no problem in killing tens of millions of North Koreans wiping the country from the face of the earth.

While a few more controlling leaders are OK with Trump’s bombast, many leaders have been critical of the Nikita-like speech. I have witnessed in interviews the UN Leader, the President of France, the Leader of the International Monetary Fund, the current Mayor of New Orleans and the former Mayor of New York each show their dismay over Trump’s words and bombast. There are others. Watching the body language of General Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, during the speech was very telling.

Long before this, Trump has shown to other leaders, he is not trustworthy or knowledgeable about global affairs. A Republican global advisor to Mitt Romney even used the word “ignoramus” to define the President’s foreign policy. Trudy Rubin, one of the best writers on global affairs, said Trump “Does not care to learn what he does not know.”

But, Trump has done even more, as evidenced by his speech. He has made America out to be a pariah in the world. That is highly frustrating to this American. I clearly recognize North Korea is a dilemma. I also fear the man who will make our decisions on this as he has little understanding of the situation and will likely stir up matters where cooler heads are needed.

When boys with toys start comparing egos and name calling, it makes military action a higher probability. We should not confuse being tough or having seriousness of purpose with sounding tough – the White House incumbent does not understand this. And, one thing Americans, the majority of whom support military action, need to think about is the other side will shoot back and millions will die in South Korea, Japan and maybe in the US. We only need to watch the documentary series on The Vietnam War to understand what happens when we think we are invincible and don’t tell the truth to the American people. Let’s seek diplomatic solutions.

The Renewable Energy Train continues to board former skeptics

I have written before the renewable energy train has left the station. The current White House incumbent’s position on climate change and promoting more fossil fuel development, can slow the train, but he cannot stop the market forces that are driving it down the track.

A newspaper story reprinted today supports this thesis and illustrates how more unlikely folks are getting on board the train. An editorial from the Fayetteville (NC) Observer entitled “Solar turning a corner in NC?” noted the opening of the largest solar farm east of the Mississippi. But, a new solar farm in NC is not news, as NC trails only California in solar energy.

What I found newsworthy beyond the size is the attendance at the grand opening of at least two Republican politicians – US Representstive Robert Pittenger and State Senator John Szoka. Szoka had spearheaded a renewable energy support bill, which is ironic since he was a previous skeptic. He noted “What changed my opinion is facts. Facilities like this are drawing down the cost of energy.”

But, these folks are not alone. There are groups like Conservatives for Clean Energy that are helping to propel the train. There is the work in several red states that have developed wind energy into a sizable part of their energy portfolio. These plain states like Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, e.g. are investing heavily in this increasingly cheaper source, with Iowa getting 1/3 of its electricity from wind energy.

I highlight the Conservatives who are jumping on the train, as unfortunately, climate change and renewable energy have been made a political issue. The people who have made it so are the fossil fuel companies who continue to wield their powerful influence to garner more profits. The White House incumbent and his cabinet are perpetuating this influence, but fortunately they are on the wrong side of the tracks and market forces and other political, business and citizen leaders are moving the train forward.

An Inconvenient Sequel

I watched the documentary sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth,” earlier this week. The title is aptly named “An Inconvenient Sequel,” and is truly a must-see movie with Al Gore leading the charge to discuss battling climate change. Former Vice President and Nobel Prize winning Gore is one of the few people who walks the talk on any subject.

He is out there teaching countless others and bringing leaders together to look to our future. His expertise as a non-scientist is unparalleled and the respect he is genuinely afforded by world leaders is in evidence. Many of the folks he has taught, usually in groups of 600 or so people, have gone on to lead efforts in other countries. From the movie, he played a key role in getting India to the table with financial commitments to build solar farms rather than a devastating 400 coal plants.

He demonstrates some of the predictions made in the first movie in 2006 have come to fruition. A particular example was the prediction of the flooding of lower Manhattan if a hurricane met up with warmer oceans and came ashore. He was criticized after the first movie, but Hurricane Sandy did indeed flood the area getting into the 9-11 monument construction, as forecasted.

He also waded through the streets of Miami Beach with the Mayor and others as flooding routinely occurs at high tide, even without storms. The Mayor was very clear that climate change is happening and it is right here. It should be noted this is in a state where the Governor refuses to meet with people to discuss climate change and has forbidden discussion of climate change by his staff. That is the power of the fossil fuel industry where a Governor of a state surrounded on three sides by water cannot bring himself to discuss the flooding of his biggest city.

The movie spends some time on the lead up to the Paris Climate Change Accord and the excitement there. It was very interesting seeing Gore help broker a deal with India and a solar energy company and investor capital. Coming to an agreement was a major victory for the world, even though our current President has back tracked on what was committed. Fortunately, as I mentioned in the post on the book “Climate of Hope,” cities, businesses and citizens are leading the way, leaving Washington behind.

In the movie, Gore highlights the significant efforts in places like Chile as they exponentially increase solar energy development in dramatic fashion. Even in our own country, solar and wind energy are going like gangbusters with double-digit job growth and surpassing earlier forecasts. Progress is being made, but we cannot backtrack. The current President is throwing water on the fire, but the fire is too big for him to stop the changes.

Please spread the word about the movie and go see it yourself. It is that important.

 

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Are you sure you want to double down on fossil fuels?

The United Kingdom just announced it will ban sales of combustible engine cars in 2040. Australia announced the same week the planned development of a super highway for electric cars, complete with charging stations.

These announcements come a month after France made a similar decision to the more recent UK one to ban combustible cars and Volvo said they would no longer make combustible cars after 2019. And, not to be outdone, several cities like Paris, Mexico City, Madrid et al, want to ban combustible cars much sooner by 2025.

In fact, as reported in the book “Climate of Hope” by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Sierra Club ED Carl Pope, cities around the world are leading the way on the climate change fight. They are making huge strides in making buildings more green, improving the time for taxis and cars to move across the city which produces less exhaust, developing more pedestrian and bike areas that improve safety and Eco footprint and migrating to hybrid and electric vehicles among other things. Bloomberg cites large buildings as a huge impact on carbon emissions, so improvements like NYC made with the 1931 built Empire State Building pays dividends.

Lastly, the shareholders of three energy companies – ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and PPL – voted in May to require management to report their climate change impact and plans to reduce such impact to the shareholders. It is not ironic that ExxonMobil is being investigated by three state attorney generals for alleged past misrepresentation to shareholders of the impact of climate change on its business, which would be a securities crime.

So, back to my question in the title which is addressed to the US President, EPA Director and DOE Director, are you sure you want to double down on fossil fuels? Or, would you rather acknowledge the significant movement toward renewable energy and conservation in your own country and invest in the true growth industries and our environment?

Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind

With a shout out to one of my favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd’s songs “Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind,” here are a few tidbits for this Tuesday.

It should not be lost on anyone that two of the biggest players in wind energy are two of the largest manufacturing companies in the world – Siemens and GE. With Iowa at almost 1/3 of its electricity provided by wind and oil rich Texas at 13% and the largest US wind energy state, this is much more than a breeze and just shy of a gale.

What the ranchers and farmers in the Midwest and in other areas have learned, is leasing their land to wind mills earns annual income and let’s them continue to use the land. In North Carolina, for example, one farmer leased his farm for eleven wind mills for annual income of $55,000. With the variability of profit margin associated with working the land, this adds some stability.

Thinking of a different kind of wind, the Senate leader is a particularly blowhard. Now, that the third effort to revise the Senate ACA repeal and replace has fallen apart, he is still reluctant to take the more appropriate path. Rather than working with all members of the Senate following normal procedure for legislation, he now is talking about a full repeal vote, without replacement. Not only is that malfeasance in my view, it runs contrary to the wishes of most Americans. The fact the President suggested it does not improve the veracity of the idea.

Folks, please pay attention to the good and bad things happening. We can no longer assume our elected leaders will act with the necessary diligence and stewardship.