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If the government will abandon a climate change and levelling up programme for the sake of a short term cut in fuel bills are they really serious about either issue?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 7:01pm in

As The Guardian reports this morning:

More than 30,000 jobs would be put at risk if the government were to scrap the energy bill levy that pays for home insulation improvements for poor households, the industry has warned.

This story matters. It reveals the priority of the government. Under pressure from increasing energy prices, the government's reaction is to end a measure designed to help those on low income and which is critical to progress in achieving energy efficiency in UK houses, which must be part of its net-zero programme. We have both levelling up and climate change on the table here, and the government is willing to throw both away to say £29 a year on energy bills instead of, for example, imposing an energy tax on the companies that will benefit enormously from the increase profits that increase increasing tariffs will bring.

If the government will abandon its supposed priorities on the basis of such a small pretext when alternative policy is available to them what chance is there that we can believe that this government is serious about climate change?

11 Small Lifestyle Changes That Are Good for the Planet

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 10:31am in

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Environment

From budgetary concerns to dietary restrictions, there are many barriers to adopting sustainable practices at home. One thing that shouldn’t get in the way of your sustainable living goals is an all-or-nothing mentality. Much like any lifestyle change, be it weight loss or healthy eating, making the switch to a sustainable lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight. It’s…

The post 11 Small Lifestyle Changes That Are Good for the Planet appeared first on Peak Oil.

The Historic Failure of COP26

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 1:29am in

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Environment

The World’s Food Systems Are in Crisis, and Big Agribusiness Is at Its Heart

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/01/2022 - 9:29pm in

Public finance plays a large role in agriculture. Instead of propping up corporate interests, it should learn from local food producers

Palm Oil Is the Worst. Could This Replace It?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/01/2022 - 7:00pm in

The beignets, eclairs and tartelettes at Ludovic Gerboin’s bakery in the small village of Moosinning, Germany, glow in vibrant shades of red, blue, green and purple. “In school, we learned that these are taboo colors for baked goods,” the Bretagne-born baker says in his strong French accent. But these colors, produced by micro algae he gets from a lab at the nearby Technical University of Munich (TUM), make his baked goods healthier. “The algae are rich in proteins, antioxidants and vitamin B,” raves Thomas Brück, professor of synthetic biotechnology at TUM. “Two slices of algae bread cover your daily need of vitamin B.”

These nutritional benefits are a perk, but the most important aspect of Gerboin’s baking is undetectable by design: the tasteless, odorless “yeast oil” he fries his beignets with instead of palm oil. 

baked goodsA sampling of the goods available at Ludovic Gerboin’s bakery. Credit: Ludovic Gerboin

This yeast oil comes from right here in Gerboin’s own bakery. At the end of the day, he roasts his unsold leftover bread, grinds it up and delivers it to TUM, one of Germany’s most innovative universities. There, Brück’s team ferments the stale bread with a special yeast, and within two days, a yellowish oil is dripping steadily out of the lab’s centrifuge. This oil is then sent back to Gerboin, who uses it for baking and frying. “The yeast oil lasts longer than palm oil,” he says. “I can reuse it up to 60 times. I even make my Bavarian cream with it.” 

More importantly, it is a zero-waste, 100 percent sustainable solution. “We replace the conventional palm oil monocultures with a truly circular bio-economy without waste,” Brück says.

The devastating consequences of the world’s addiction to palm oil are well-documented. Check your cabinets and you will probably find it in half of the consumable products you own: pizza, margarine, peanut butter, detergent, candles, soaps and lotions, though it’s often disguised benignly as “vegetable oil” on the ingredients list. Between 1995 and 2015, palm oil production quadrupled, and is projected to quadruple yet again by 2050.

palm oilIndonesian palm oil plantations as seen from space. Credit: European Space Agency

It’s such a lucrative business that 47 million acres of oil palm monocultures have replaced rain forests, destroying the critical habitats of orangutans, elephants, tigers and other threatened species. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), palm-driven land use in Indonesia and Malaysia generates roughly 500 million tons of CO2 equivalent each year — nearly as much as global aviation. The oil is also often contaminated with toxins. 

But as an ingredient, palm oil is tough to replace. It is cheap, versatile and odorless, which is why hardly any bakery manages to operate without it. “Bread, croissants, beignets — it’s pretty much in every product, even in the chocolate fondant,” Gerboin admits. Especially during holidays, when he bakes for events, he easily uses hundreds of liters of palm oil per week. Ecological alternatives such as coconut oil or certified organic palm oil usually cost more than twice as much, and small village bakers like Gerboin already operate on thin margins.

Gerboin still kneads his dough by hand, lets his sourdough rest for 24 hours and spends half the night in the bakehouse. “He can’t compete with the industrial bakery down the road where their ready-made baking mix is done within two hours,” Brück attests after he spent a night baking with Gerboin. “It’s backbreaking work. But it makes you appreciate traditional quality.”

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Brück and Gerboin had long been friends — their daughters attend the same Montessori school — before they started their partnership to produce a viable ecological alternative to palm oil. After seven years of tinkering, their patented fermentation process now takes only 48 hours to turn 120 kilograms of stale bread into 70 to 75 liters of oil. “That’s where the innovation from my lab joins forces with the creativity of a master baker to produce a high-value product,” Brück says.  

From the start of his career, Brück, who studied in the U.K. and the U.S., has been looking for ways to use organic waste to replace chemicals and environmentally destructive production processes. For instance, Brück produces carbon fibers from algae for the bodies of cars and airplanes. “Algae grow ten times faster than most plants and are excellent CO2 sinks,” Brück explains. “The airplanes and cars built from algae carbon already start carbon-negative into their lifecycle.”

palm oilA vat at TUM in which yeast oil is being produced. Credit: TUM

The oil vats in the pilot facility at TUM resemble the steel caldrons of a brewery. Indeed, the process to produce alcohol is comparable: Brück’s team uses enzymes collected through fermenting bread; these enzymes turn the carbohydrates into sugar. Fermenting the sugar with different types of yeast can transform it into alcohol or fat. For the yeast oil, Brück isolated a particular yeast from Irish shrimp shells that is especially good at producing oil. A simple centrifuge separates the oil from the yeast without any of the toxins that are usually needed for palm oil production. 

Brück emphasizes that the yeast is natural and not genetically manipulated. “We take waste products — shrimp cells and old bread — to create a new, high-value product. It is truly a circular bio-economy because the fermentation process uses no toxic chemicals and leaves no waste.” The fermentation wastewater is rich in nutrients and used again during the subsequent fermentation round.

A rising alternative

Baked goods are a high-waste product. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 1.7 million tons of baked goods go uneaten annually in Germany alone. The highly perishable quality of them makes this hard to avoid. Before the yeast oil was invented, Gerboin roasted ten percent of his unsold bread and reused it as flour. “But the time involved does not make this effort financially viable,” he says. “Therefore most bakeries throw everything away at the end of the day or give it to farmers to feed pigs.” 

By upcycling some of these baked goods as yeast oil, Brück believes, “We can save at least four million tons of CO2, probably more.” To arrive at this number, he calculates the land and resources needed for international palm oil production. When he adds in the food and organic waste that is burned annually, “16 million tons of CO2 can be saved every year.” Sensing the skepticism at these big numbers, he gives a startling example: “In Bavaria alone, 600,000 tons of wheat bran are deemed insufficient for food production every year and are burnt. But we could use it very efficiently to produce yeast oil.”

Brück, along with Mahmoud Masri, who studied chemistry in Damascus before he perfected the fermentation of yeast oil, founded the startup Global Sustainable Transformation (GST) with the aim of producing 100,000 liters of yeast oil in 2022. With support from the German government, where Brück is a strategic advisor, they want to make their patented technology more widely available. “For one baker, the investment to build a fermentation facility would be too overwhelming, but for a big enterprise, or if several smaller ones team up, the investment will amortize within a few years,” Brück believes. 

baked goods“The yeast oil lasts longer than palm oil,” says Gerboin. “I can reuse it up to 60 times. I even make my Bavarian Cream with it.” Credit: Ludovic Gerboin

According to Brück, the odorless yeast oil could also replace palm oil in soaps and lotions. At a current price of 1.40 euros (about USD $1.60) per liter, the process is price-competitive. After a year of upscaling, those costs could come down to 60 US cents per liter, Brück estimates.

Until their new production facility is up and running, the trio is tinkering with other solutions. In addition to his green “alguette” and his tartelettes with algae filling, Gerboin is experimenting with integrating protein-rich insects into his bread and beignets, including baking the world’s first worm beignet. “Chocolate caramel beignet with ten percent meal worms,” he says enthusiastically. “I even put insects into the cracknel.” 

Fair warning to those on New Year’s resolution fitness kicks, however: yeast oil might be climate-friendly, but the baked goods it’s used in are no less caloric than those cooked with palm oil. “Thomas gained at least ten pounds!” Gerboin teases Brück during our Zoom call, referring to the pallets of donuts he regularly delivered to the university for testing. On the other hand, it offers a perfect excuse: Sure, I’d like to eat healthier, but I need to indulge in those sweets for the planet.

The post Palm Oil Is the Worst. Could This Replace It? appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Will Conservative Chaos Halt the Green Agenda?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/01/2022 - 8:00pm in

Will Conservative Chaos Halt the Green Agenda?

With focus on the climate emergency once again fading from headlines, Tom Burke assesses the achievements of the COP26 summit and how prioritising green policies could be a casualty of the Prime Minister’s current political turmoil

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The cameras are gone. The tented city on the banks of the Clyde have been dismantled. Political misconduct reoccupies the headlines. COP26 is over and climate change is no longer prominent in the public conversation. 

Was the UN summit last November, as former US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed, “the last best chance” to avert climate catastrophe? We had better hope not because that was not achieved. A climate catastrophe remains possible.

Progress was made. It was not all ‘blah, blah, blah’. Despite rapidly deepening global divisions, the world did come together in Glasgow. It agreed to end the use of coal. Pledges were made to raise carbon targets – 90% of the global economy is now committed to getting to net zero.

Other pledges will increase the flows of public and private money to tackle climate change. Coalitions of the willing were formed to drive forward progress on deforestation, electric vehicles and methane emissions reductions. 

Governments agreed the threshold of ‘dangerous climate change’ in 2008 as a rise of 2°C. Recent science has made clear that this was too high. A rise of more than 1.5°C will now take us into ‘dangerous’ territory. If all the pledges made in Glasgow were actually delivered – a big if on current experience – we would be en route to a rise of 2.4°C. This leads some to argue that Glasgow, and indeed the entire UN climate regime, has failed. They are wrong. They misunderstand both the scale and difficulty of achieving climate policy success and the way international agreements actually work. They also overlook the progress we have already made. 

Climate policy success means getting the world’s economies to coordinate their energy policies. This is certainly technically conceivable, but the politics of doing this are among the most difficult ever attempted. The EU, despite having successfully coordinated 27 countries into a single market, has not yet succeeded in creating a common energy policy illustrating just how politically difficult it will be to succeed.


Even as the World Burns,Johnson has to Play hisAnti-Immigrant Fiddle
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Seen in this light, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is arguably one of the most successful global regimes yet created. Like almost all global policy regimes, it does not work through some formal compliance mechanism. Instead, it works by focusing political leaders’ attention at critical moments and by integrating climate change into other international institutions and mobilising them and non-state actors into influential alliances for climate action.

If the world had taken no action on the climate since 1990, when the negotiations to create the UNFCCC started, the rise in global temperature would have been 4.4°C. The promises made in 2015 in Paris reduced the projected rise by 30% to 3.1°C. If the pledges made in Glasgow are fully delivered, the rise would be reduced another 25% to 2.4°C. This is still a long way from avoiding dangerous climate change, but it is also progress.

The UK’s President of COP26, Conservative minister Alok Sharma, made ‘Keep 1.5 Alive’ his goal for Glasgow. It was not achieved. But, by securing agreement to try again to raise the ambition of countries’ commitments at COP27 in Egypt, sooner than previously agreed, he can legitimately claim that the door to a 1.5°C world remains open. However, he now has to lead the global effort to get through that door.

Sharma did rather better as COP President than many had expected. He was not known as a political heavyweight but he was willing to put in the countless hours, and air miles, required to build the understanding and trust necessary to broker ambitious international agreements. This paid off despite some very unhelpful decisions from the Prime Minister.

By seeming to care more about ongoing disputes over Brexit with the EU than climate change at a crucial G7 meeting just after he agreed to cut Britain’s globally respected overseas aid budget, Boris Johnson took a lot of political wind out of Sharma’s sails.

Fortunately for Sharma, this was offset, to some extent, by the legitimacy of Britain’s long-standing position as a climate leader. This goes back to the very origins of the UNFCCC, in which British ministers played a key role in overcoming a reluctance of the US to join. The passage of the UK’s Climate Change Act in 2008, which set up the Climate Change Committee, was a global first that has since been copied by other countries. Britain’s carbon emissions fell 38% below 1990 levels by 2019 while its GDP more than doubled, underpinning its diplomatic success.

Climate policy success is especially difficult because the world must not only get to a specific place – net zero carbon emissions – but it must get there by a specific time: the middle of this century. Keeping 1.5°c alive means getting another 35% reduction to the existing total of reduction pledges by 2030. Achieving this requires rapid progress in two key areas. 

Sharma must get agreement from the larger governments to accelerate the flow of public and private finance into the energy transition as part of the response to restoring Coronavirus-impaired economies. He must also get agreement to do more to deal with the rapidly increasing damage that climate change is already doing to many countries.


A Successful Climate MovementWon’t Be Radical Or Moderate– It Will be Both
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Sharma will run into strong opposition as he tries to drive the world forward along these two essential paths to getting further emissions reductions agreed in Egypt later this year. He cannot hope to succeed unless Britain continues to lead by example and delivers on its own targets. Here, he may discover, as an old maxim about the House of Commons holds, that his opposition may be in front of him, but his enemies sit on the benches behind him.

The Prime Minister has made climate change a signature policy of his Government – in the headlines at least – consistently talking up his ambition to make Britain a greener, net zero economy. But the gap between his ambitions and his actions became ever more visible as Glasgow approached and it became clear that not all of his colleagues, the Chancellor in particular, shared them.

There has long existed a faction of extreme libertarians within the Conservative Party who see a successful climate policy as contrary to their minimalist government political project. They can count on the steadfast support of the media empires of Lord Rothermere, Frederick Barclay and Rupert Murdoch. Emboldened by the recent spike in gas prices, they are now openly seeking to eliminate the green levies that support the achievement of Britain’s climate targets. Not that this prevented MP Steve Baker, chair of the Conservatives’ European Research Group, or his Tory colleague Craig Mackinlay from voting to use a green levy to fund nuclear power recently.

The Prime Minister’s loss of authority, and potential loss of office, is now an open invitation to candidates to succeed him to seek support by abandoning his high profile green policies.

The next 12 months will be critically important as the world seeks to avoid a climate catastrophe. Alok Sharma has the unenviable job of leading the effort to make the most of this year in what is one of the few areas in which Britain retains any credible claim to global leadership. It would be wholly consistent with our current political malaise if his best efforts were defeated from within rather than without.

Tom Burke has been an environmentalist for 50 years. He is the chairman and co-founder of E3G and previously led Friends of the Earth and the Green Alliance

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The post Will Conservative Chaos Halt the Green Agenda? appeared first on Byline Times.

Cartoon: Petro-persecution

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/01/2022 - 11:50pm in

As many readers here probably already know, the American Legislative Exchange Council is a Koch-backed group that pairs corporate lobbyists with right-wing lawmakers to generate model bills that are pretty much industry wish lists. The Energy Discrimination Elimination Act would require that states maintain a blacklist of financial firms that have divested from fossil fuels, and deny any government contracts to those companies. This anti-divestment campaign is already the law in Texas.

Support these comics by joining the Sorensen Subscription Service!

Follow me on Twitter at @JenSorensen

How Norway Popularized an Ultra-Sustainable Heating Method

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/01/2022 - 7:00pm in

When Karen Byskov Lindberg bought a house in Oslo in 2018, she set about a refurbishment that would drastically transform her energy consumption.

After removing the house’s old oil boiler system, she installed improved wall insulation, new window fittings, an air recovery system and, importantly, a heat pump. As a result, she says the structure’s average energy use has dropped from 35,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year to just 8,500 kWh – less than a quarter of what it was before.

“The energy use is extremely low,” says Lindberg, who is a 43-year-old university professor in the Norwegian capital. “It’s economically beneficial but also it reduces CO2 emissions.”

heat pumpKaren Lindberg’s home. Credit: Karen Lindberg

Like Lindberg, millions in Norway and across Europe are increasingly turning to heat pumps as a hyper-efficient, eco-friendly way to warm their homes. According to data from the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA), nearly 15 million households in Europe had heat pumps in 2020, up 7.4 percent from the year before.

But Norway is by far the leader of the pack. With 1.4 million units, it has 604 heat pumps installed for every 1,000 households. The next closest are Sweden with 427 per 1,000 and Finland with 408 per 1,000.

Heat pumps began appearing in Norway after the oil crisis of the 1970s, according to Rolf Iver Mytting Hagemoen, secretary general of the Norwegian Heat Pump Association, when a government-funded program to encourage their use was established. Yet for years they remained relatively niche, he says, with less than 10,000 heat pumps installed by 2005.

The heat distribution system providing heat to the floor of the house. Credit: Karen Lindberg

But Norway’s embrace of heat pumps eventually arrived, fueled by government subsidies, high fossil fuel taxes, low electricity rates and restrictions on oil boilers (which have been banned since 2020). “There was initially slow growth in heat pumps in households since 2000,” says Hagemoen. “But Norway was an early mover in the market. It’s now the leading country in Europe.”

While heat pumps are yet to become widespread globally, Hagemoen says they offer several benefits compared with traditional heating. Low maintenance and cheap to run, they work as both a heating and cooling system, and have a very efficient conversion rate of energy to heat. They’re also light on emissions if the electricity used is renewable. “If you want to be independent of gas, you need other solutions,” says Hagemoen. “And when it comes to electricity, heat pumps are hard to beat.”

Heat pumps, which can operate at external temperatures of -25C (-13F) and provide hot water at 65C (149F), come in several forms. The most common is the air-to-air pump, which looks similar to an air conditioning unit. It sucks in air and distributes it over a system of tubes filled with a refrigerant liquid, which warms and turns into a gas. The pump compresses the gas back into a liquid to release the stored heat, which is spread through radiators or underfloor heating, working like a refrigerator in reverse.

Nick Eyre, professor of energy and climate policy at the University of Oxford and director of the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions, says that heat pumps are one of the most effective options to decarbonize heating systems.

“Hydrogen is an option, but it’s some way off [from large-scale use],” he says. “In some countries, such as in Scandinavia, there’s biomass. But when it comes to electricity-powered energy, the heat pump is much more efficient.”

In most developed countries with temperate climates, about 30 to 40 percent of household energy consumption is used for heating, according to Eyre. “It’s a serious problem and it does need to be solved,” he says. 

One issue, however, is that in some countries demand for energy is “strongly winter-peaked.” That can mean huge seasonal strains on the network. “In a climate like the UK, we basically use very little space heating for six months of the year,” he says. “In the other six months, there’s a big variation.”

Four times as much energy can be used at peak times when compared to a normal day –0 far more than current infrastructure would allow for. “The amount of electricity capacity and stations you would need would be very large, implausibly large,” he says. “That’s a conundrum for decarbonizing heating. That’s the long-term challenge, the generating capacity and the wires in the ground.”

Another obstacle is the upfront cost. According to Hagemoen, while air-to-air systems are the cheapest option at around €1,500 to €3,000 (USD $1,700 to $3,400), air to water heat pumps can cost up to €15,000, and geothermal systems, the most efficient, can cost over €25,000. At the same time, gas boilers remain very cheap in many European countries. “Most people are more interested in the investment costs,” he says. “So for the moment you need subsidy schemes and building regulations for people to choose heat pumps.”

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But Lindberg says that while her initial investment of 2.3 million krone ($250,000) for the complete refurbishment is expensive, it will pay for itself in the long term, while being much better for the environment. “The reason people don’t invest in geothermal heating is because it’s expensive,” she says. “But the gains you make are through the lifetime of the investment. The house will stand for the next 60 years.”

As it stands, only six percent of Europe’s 244 million residential buildings have heat pumps installed, according to the EHPA. While the European Commission aims to phase out fossil fuels in heating and cooling by 2040, that means 40 percent of residential and 65 percent of commercial buildings will need to be heated with electricity by 2030. To achieve those goals, the EHPA estimates the number of heat pumps in use will need to increase to 50 million.

Meanwhile, technological advances could see heat pump use expand beyond households and into industry. Norway is developing a heat pump that can produce temperatures of up to 180C (356F), and according to research by Sintef Energy Research, the Norwegian University of Science & Technology, and industrial partner ToCircle, the technology could allow a fifth of all European industry to cut its energy use by 70 percent.

“As the technology gets more popular across Europe it will get cheaper and cheaper, just like solar panels have,” says Hagemoen. “It is the technology of the future.”

The post How Norway Popularized an Ultra-Sustainable Heating Method appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Jerome Powell Calls Fed’s Role in Addressing Climate “Limited”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 16/01/2022 - 2:33am in

The Federal Reserve’s role in the climate emergency is “limited,” Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday, to what is effectively an educational role in helping financial institutions understand their long-term risk.

Powell’s narrow approach was offered in response to questioning from Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who have pushed for the Fed to take a more aggressive posture.

“Our role on climate change is a limited one, but it’s an important one,” Powell said during Tuesday’s confirmation hearing in the Senate Banking Committee to reappoint him as chair of the Federal Reserve. “It is to ensure that banking institutions we regulate understand their risks and can manage them, and it’s also to look after financial stability.”

“Well, the world is running out of time to deal with the climate crisis,” replied Warren, “and the Fed has an important role to play here, and I hope the Fed will step up.”

Powell’s nomination is threatened by Democratic doubts about his interest in tackling the climate crisis. Powell’s past reticence on climate change’s relevance is one of the key reasons that Warren and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., oppose the reappointment of this centrist Republican, who was nominated to the Fed board by President Barack Obama in 2012 and made chair by President Donald Trump in 2018.

At the hearing, Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the committee, encouraged Powell to ignore climate. In his opening statement, Toomey called global warming “politically charged” and insisted that it is “totally irrelevant” to the Fed’s job of maximizing employment and ensuring stable prices.

Though Powell sees the Fed as a steward of stability, climate stress scenarios measuring how banks will fare amid oncoming global warming would not incur regulatory action, he said.

“We are looking at climate stress tests. I think it’s very likely that climate stress scenarios, as we like to call them, will be a key tool going forward,” Powell said. “I would stress these are very different from the regular stress tests, which affect capital. Climate stress scenarios, at this stage, are really about ensuring large financial institutions understand the risks they are taking, including the risks that may be inherent in their business model regarding climate change over time.”

Under the stress tests that were set up after the 2008 financial meltdown, banks face real consequences if the Fed’s analysis shows that they aren’t well positioned to weather a downturn. If they don’t take corrective action, they could be prevented from paying out their executives and shareholders with dividends.

Powell indicated that he’s more worried about the “transition risk” of climate action than what one might call the “civilizational collapse risk” of inaction.

Climate advocates have called for similar climate stress tests that would require remediation plans and suspension of capital distribution, but Powell took pains to tell Brown that the Fed won’t do that. All he committed to is having the Fed report the equivalent of, “Oh, hey, look, bank X is really screwed in certain climate scenarios, maybe you want to take a look at that.”

In his remarks to Warren, who outlined an aggressive climate agenda for the Fed in her presidential campaign, Powell indicated that he’s more worried about the “transition risk” of climate action than what one might call the “civilizational collapse risk” of inaction.

“With financial stability, the issue really is, can something from climate change rise to the level that would threaten the stability of the entire financial system?” Powell said. “That sounds more like something in the nature of transition risk, where some unexpected government policy change happens, which could potentially create disruption.”

These “transition risks” were defined by Lael Brainard, the Fed governor nominated by Biden for vice chair, in a 2019 speech on climate as “the risks associated with the transition to a policy framework that curtails emissions.” So: stuff like billions in investments in fracking, tar sands, and coal mines going belly up if the United States were actually to take the global carbon budget seriously.

Throughout the Trump years, Brainard, the only Democrat on the board, was a thought leader on the question of climate as a risk to the financial system and seemingly the only prominent Fed official who was willing to discuss its role in climate change. At her nomination hearing on Thursday before the same committee, Brainard was hectored by Toomey that “there is no reason to believe that global warming poses a systemic risk to the financial system,” apparently because he never looks out the window.

Importantly, climate-related “transition risks” can still cause a big threat to the economy and financial system, even in the absence of climate action. The fossil fuel industry was distressed for years before the Covid-19 recession, and the pandemic greatly accelerated this distress, causing a wave of bankruptcies, insolvencies, and job loss and offering a glimpse of the disruption to come.

Some Democrats have been calling for a far more aggressive Fed on climate than Powell or even Brainard would countenance. Merkley and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., have introduced legislation that would require the Fed to mandate that banks stop financing fossil fuel projects. Meanwhile, Republicans continue to demand that the Fed open the spigot for more fossil finance, even as the disasters from climate pollution cascade.

A version of this commentary originally appeared in the Hill Heat newsletter.

The post Jerome Powell Calls Fed’s Role in Addressing Climate “Limited” appeared first on The Intercept.

Protecting Homes From The Next Climate Firestorm

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/01/2022 - 10:31pm in

Click to share this on FacebookProtecting Homes From The Next Climate Firestorm

In the final days of 2021, the Marshall Fire ripped through Boulder County, Colorado, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses. The inferno was fed by months of drier and hotter-than-normal temperatures, caused by climate change, and spread quickly due to hurricane-force winds.

The fire was especially jarring because of its setting — suburban cul-de-sacs and built-up developments — and was perhaps best characterized, according to climate scientist Daniel Swain, as an “urban firestorm.”

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Wildfires and other extreme weather events will continue to encroach into new areas and cause more damage, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change. Meanwhile, new research indicates that markets have failed to incentivize people to take even minimal adaptation measures in the face of these growing risks.

That finding doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise: Over the past decade, Americans have migrated towards some of the areas most vulnerable to climate impacts. Such behaviors have come at steep cost: In 2021 alone, extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change caused more than $145 billion in damages nationwide, the third highest in history.

But a new study about wildfire building codes, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), reveals that state-mandated mitigation measures may be even more effective at protecting people against climate risks than previously thought. Requiring climate adaptation, through policies such as building codes, would save property owners money as well protect their homes. Yet in the absence of mandates, people do not take these cost-saving measures voluntarily, the study found.

“A cost-benefit calculation implies that low takeup in the absence of standards is likely driven by market failures as opposed to a lack of cost-effectiveness,” wrote the study’s authors Patrick W. Baylis of the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia and Judson Boomhower of the University of California, San Diego. “These facts can inform policies to mitigate other risks like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and heat waves, where voluntary takeup of adaptation investments also appears to be limited.”

These findings could have immediate implications for Colorado. State legislators intend to introduce a bill this spring to enact statewide building codes that make buildings less likely to ignite. In the wake of the Marshall Fire — the state’s most destructive on record, causing at least $1 billion in insured losses — lawmakers hope that people who previously opposed a statewide building code will come on board.

“We have a different context this year because of the Marshall Fire, and just as importantly, the largest forest wildfire season we’ve ever had. It has changed the political debate,” said state Sen. Chris Hansen (D), who intends to reintroduce statewide building code legislation in this spring’s session. “Local governments are focused on this in a way they weren’t before. Before there was a libertarian, ‘do what you’d like on your property [approach].’ But now I think people are seeing the collective risk is raised when you take that approach. It’s bad for the state, it’s bad for insurance rates, it makes things more dangerous for citizens.”

40 Percent Less Likely To Be Destroyed

Across the west, people have been moving into the wildland-urban interface for years, even as the climate crisis heightens the risk of living in those areas.

But only four states — California, Utah, Nevada, and Pennsylvania — have statewide building standards for wildfires, while a few more, including Colorado, have codes in some local jurisdictions.

California’s standards are the strictest, and were first developed after a 1991 fire in Oakland caused $1.5 billion in damage. The rules, which were strengthened in 2008, are mostly applicable only to new construction.

The NBER study was the first comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of those codes. The study’s authors compared the survival rate of homes that had faced identical wildfire exposures in California between 2003 and 2020, as well as factored in data from 11 counties outside the state.

The results were striking. “A 2008 or newer home is about 16 percentage points (40 percent) less likely to be destroyed than a 1990 home experiencing an identical wildfire exposure,” noted the study’s authors. “There is strong evidence that these effects are due to state and local building code changes — first after the deadly 1991 Oakland Firestorm, and again with the strengthening of wildfire codes in 2008.”

The study also found that the costs of complying with these new codes actually proved cheaper to homeowners than the cost of not adapting, because they were so effective in protecting properties from wildfires — both for homes built in alignment with the codes and their neighbors.

“The data show that an adaptation mandate substantially improved resilience to wildfires and a cost-benefit approximation suggests that low takeup without standards is more likely driven by market failures than by fully-informed individual decision making,” the authors concluded.

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“A Compelling Set Of Facts”

These findings buttress the arguments of Colorado legislators attempting to pass a new statewide wildfire building code.

After the devastating 2012 wildfire season, which caused $538 million in losses, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper convened a task force to study fire mitigation measures. However, a legislative committee formed to review the resulting recommendations ultimately rejected a bill to pass a new statewide building code.

Opposition from construction and real estate groups played a role in killing the legislation, said Lisa Dale, a lecturer in sustainable development at Columbia University who sat on the Colorado task force as a policy advisor for the state Department of Natural Resources.

According to Dale, interest groups often argue the costs of updating building codes for new construction outweigh the potential benefits. That’s because while Dale believes such code updates are necessary, they only offer limited help compared to the scale of the problem. This challenge has been endemic to climate fights across the country: The problem is so big that no single policy will be adequate to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

“The vast majority of people who live in the West live in a wildfire risk zone,” Dale said. “We are not just talking about a few towns that are in the woods, we’re talking about two-thirds to three-quarters of all homes across the West that are subject to risks from wildfire. The scale of what we are facing is broad and deep, and any tool like building codes that only impact new construction in designated risk zones is going to have limited measurable outcomes.”

Dale also said homeowners associations supplied substantial opposition to the legislation, largely for aesthetic reasons.

“A lot of communities across the country are organized by homeowners associations,” she explained. “Many homeowners associations are driven by aesthetics and safety, so they want all of the houses in their development to look the same. What we found was that many of these homeowners associations are relying on decades-old guidelines regarding building materials that had all sorts of reasons for being developed at the time, and haven’t been updated and made current.”

The web of interest groups opposing just minor mitigation efforts in 2013 is once again popping up to oppose the new potential statewide building codes.

The Colorado Association of Homebuilders, whose membership includes construction companies as well as real estate companies, has argued that governments should educate homeowners about climate risks but not institute mandates. The group said its number-one goal for the 2021 legislative session was to “oppose efforts to expand code adoption beyond electric, plumbing and energy codes at the state level.”

“Market forces, such as the ability to obtain and retain insurance, are also powerful incentives for property owners to mitigate their risk,” Ted Leighty, CEO of the Colorado Association of Home Builders, told the Colorado Sun last October about the proposed legislation. “One of the most important roles of state and local governments is to provide resources to help educate homeowners about how to mitigate risk through defensible spaces and hardening of structures.”

Leighty’s comments are undermined by the findings of the NBER paper, which found that publicizing information about climate risk has not been enough to encourage people to build homes that have a better chance at withstanding fires.

But Hansen, who plans to introduce the legislation, thinks the tables are turning. Not only are Coloradans more concerned about property damage from wildfires than they were a decade ago, especially in the wake of the Marshall Fire, but Hansen says abstract conversations about climate now often include concrete budgetary questions.

“You have a subset of voters who are very worried about climate change, that argument has been made and won with that subset of voters,” Hansen told The Daily Poster. “But there is a much bigger chunk of the electorate that doesn’t think climate is a big threat, but cares very much about insurance rates, local fire protection, and those types of issues. And so I think we are in a stronger position to pass this legislation because we have a compelling set of facts and a compelling argument with a bigger chunk of voters.”

Colorado is losing out on federal money for wildfire mitigation, due to its lack of a statewide code. The Federal Emergency Management Agency distributes grants for disaster mitigation to states based on a number of criteria, one of which is whether the state has a minimum building code.

“One of the angles that is different this time is that we are really looking at this from a budgetary standpoint,” Hansen told The Daily Poster. “We have missed out on tens of millions of dollars in federal grants that we otherwise would have had a good chance of getting. That means we’ve really got to fix this, from a budget standpoint, because there just aren’t enough resources at the state level to do this by ourselves.”

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