renewable energy

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Vocabulary ‘Fitbits’ Are Changing How Babies Learn Words

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/08/2020 - 12:02am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Small talk

By the time they reach kindergarten, children from low-income households have heard up to 30 million fewer words than their wealthier peers. All that lost vocabulary can have consequences for literacy attainment and language skills. So a project in Alabama is using wearable word counters to keep track of how many words young children hear — and encourage their caregivers to stay chatty all day long.

The program, called Birmingham Talks, currently has 250 families enrolled. Each kid gets a “talk pedometer,” a small Fitbit-style device that counts the number and variety of words the child hears, and produces detailed data breakdowns for the parents. Not only does this help them figure out how much vocabulary their child is absorbing, it has a “nudge effect” that appears to increase the variety of words those parents use around their kids.

A study of a similar program found that 56 percent of children involved were exposed to more adult words once they started wearing the device. Best of all, the kids who started out with the lowest exposure to words saw the biggest gains, from an average of 8,000 words per day to more than 12,000. “This provides parents with actual data to make sure they are meeting their goals,” said one of the program’s directors.    

Read more at 100 Days in Appalachia

Local flavor

The pandemic has dealt Phoenix a triple blow in terms of its food needs. Restaurants and caterers are facing a devastating slowdown, unsold food is spoiling in fields and warehouses, and food insecurity is rising as locals lose their incomes. Now, the city is using the CARES Act to connect local food producers with demand, helping to solve all three problems.

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Few cities are using CARES Act funding for emergency food relief, in part because using federal dollars for this sort of thing involves copious amounts of red tape. “Looking at federal guidelines, we would have had to have farmers submit three years of tax returns and huge forms and other reporting requirements,” one local organizer told Next City. “I said we can’t do it that way, so what can we do?” 

To take the bureaucratic burden off farmers, the city improvised its own documentation system in which the city’s Office of Environmental Programs uses receipts and photos to track the food being procured. The food will be sent to local restaurants and caterers for preparation, and each meal will contain at least three locally produced ingredients. These meals will then be distributed to residents experiencing food insecurity. The city council was so impressed that it allocated $500,000 in CARES Act money to put the plan into action — three times what had been requested. 

Read more at Next City

Clean save

The U.K.’s biggest pension fund has officially begun divesting from fossil fuels. With nine million members, the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) handles the pensions of workers who save for retirement in the country’s auto-enrollment program. Some £5.5 billion ($7.2 billion USD) will be redirected in “climate aware” investments, which are expected to get a boost from new policies aimed at making Europe’s economic recovery a green one. “We have a unique opportunity to support sustainable growth and transition towards a low-carbon economy,” the fund’s chief investment officer told the Guardian.

Read more at the Guardian

The post Vocabulary ‘Fitbits’ Are Changing How Babies Learn Words appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Kentucky’s Abandoned Coal Mines Are Elk Heaven

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/07/2020 - 11:20pm in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Herd mentality

In Kentucky, a destructive form of coal mining known as mountaintop removal has, inadvertently, given way to a resurgence in elk populations. The mining method employs explosives to blow apart jagged shale and limestone mountains, and the debris from these explosions often creates a grassy plateau. These plateaus have bloomed with shrubs and trees as many of the mines have been decommissioned, creating opportunities for new uses such as farming and hiking.

They’ve also been discovered by the region’s elk. “Elk are classified as an intermediate feeder,” a biologist with the Nature Conservancy told the New York Times. “They’ll graze, they’ll browse, they’ll eat acorns and stuff that are falling from trees.” For well over a century, however, elk had vanished from Kentucky, hunted to extinction before the Civil War until being reintroduced by conservationists in the 1990s. Even upon reintroduction, however, the animals had trouble locating enough food. Now, they’re finding all the vegetation they can eat growing where the mines once were. Today, Kentucky has some 13,000 elk, all of them subsisting on the grassy plateaus of coal country. “Elk can survive just about anywhere,” said a biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. “They’ve just got to have some grass.”

Read more at the New York Times

Three wheels good

According to the Washington Post, Ranchi, the capital of the Indian state of Jharkhand, “may be the only city in the world where the municipal authorities found themselves grappling with a surfeit of electric vehicles.” 

The source of Ranchi’s unexpected boom in EVs can be traced to a surge in electric rickshaw purchases by people who see tuk-tuk driving as a lucrative side gig. Why electric? The e-rickshaws are slightly smaller and slower than gas-powered ones, which means that until recently, they weren’t subject to motor vehicle regulations. “No permit, no license, no documentation required,” as one Ranchi e-rickshaw dealer put it. As their numbers grew, authorities began regulating them, but already there are 7,000 e-rickshaws plying the city’s streets.

RanchiRanchi, India. Credit: Biswarup Ganguli

The proliferation has caused some problems, including traffic snarls on the city’s main thoroughfare and stolen electricity as drivers power up wherever they can. But the popularity of the e-rickshaws has some wondering if India might become a leader in electric vehicle usage. EV sales rose sharply in 2019, with two- and three-wheeled vehicles accounting for the bulk of the growth. The government is even considering legislation that would require all two- and three-wheeled vehicles to go electric by 2026, though it has been put on hold by the pandemic.

Read more at the Washington Post

Solo riff

La Gare is a jazz club in Paris that was once a railway station. Now, it has transformed again, from a raucous social scene to an intimate venue of concerts for one.

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Concerts solos pour spectateurs seuls. #lameilleurechosedepuisquel'hommeaarrêtédemarchersurlalune

A post shared by La Gare (@la__gare) on Jun 25, 2020 at 6:25am PDT

Like all nightclubs, La Gare closed to the public when France’s lockdown began, but it reopened once social distancing rules eased — to only a couple of patrons at a time. Customers can enter the club alone or with one other person with whom they live. Once inside, solo musicians play a brief mini-concert directly to the attendees. It’s a highly intimate experience that even the performers themselves have had to get used to. “You’re being closely watched and that can be a bit nerve-racking for the first 30 seconds,” one bass player told the Guardian.

Each performance lasts only a few minutes, allowing the club to serve a large number of patrons — in just a few weeks, it has hosted over 3,000 mini-concerts. “Even before the coronavirus we would ask people not to talk during the concerts and never turn their back on the musicians,” said the owner. “In most places, they say the customer is king. Well, at La Gare they’re not. The music is king. And we want people to give it their full attention.”

Read more at the Guardian

The post Kentucky’s Abandoned Coal Mines Are Elk Heaven appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Social Justice in the Steady State

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/06/2020 - 3:07am in

By Brian Snyder

It is a luxury to be able to worry about future generations, biodiversity loss, or climate change, and it is only available to me because of a great deal of privilege. I don’t have to worry about affording food for my family, or finding a safe place to live, and I’m confident that my kids will inherit much of the same bourgeois life that I did. My privilege frees me to think, worry, and write about the environment, energy, and economic growth. However, in all this self-important thinking about the Anthropocene, it can be easy to forget that the USA, and the rest of the world, is already in severe political and environmental danger. It is easy to forget that the hellscape I worry about future generations inheriting is not dissimilar from the daily experience of billions of people currently living on Earth.

Sustainability Venn diagram

It’s time to rethink the sustainability Venn diagram. How do we ensure that social justice is not viewed as a third wheel? (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Credit: Sustainability Hub)

This critique about environmental concern—that it ignores the suffering of the present to replicate a prosperous life for the wealthy—is not new. However, the protests convulsing American cities should be a wakeup call for folks like me who tend to be more concerned about long-term sustainability than short-term justice. There are morally compelling issues of injustice happening right now, and any solution we propose to address long-term ecological crises must explicitly address these immediate issues as well.

Just as this critique of environmentalism isn’t new, neither is the observation that “sustainable” solutions must be socially just. Indeed, this linkage is often expressed as a Venn diagram of overlapping “social,” “environmental,” and “economic” circles. In my experience, those of us concerned about sustainability tend to focus on the economic and the environmental and minimize the importance of the social. The social circle is often seen as sort of a third wheel, something we should be mindful of, a side effect of a well-designed policy perhaps, but not the goal of sustainability. It feels tacked on.

No Sustainability Without Social Justice

However, building a socially just society is every bit as critical to sustainability as maintaining natural capital or ending overconsumption. A sustainable system requires social justice, but not just because it is in the Venn diagram. Without a socially just system of government and equitable treatment across race, gender, and class, we will not have a stable, sustainable socioeconomic system.


Black Lives Matter demonstrations are subtly congruent with advancing the steady state economy. (Image: CC BY 2.0, Credit: Fibonacci Blue)

Imagine a steady state economy, but one in which some people are born into generational poverty or otherwise unable to provide meaningful, healthy lives for themselves. In such a world, this hereditary underclass will oppose the sociopolitical system and the policies that limit economic growth. From their perspective, the planet may be sustainable, but they remain impoverished and marginalized. Such an economic system will fail due to internal strife.

Thus, we should see the current protests for criminal justice and police reform as a core component of the movement toward a steady state economy because social justice is a prerequisite of sustainability. A common protest sign reads, “No Justice, No Peace.” We could modify that to read, “No Justice, No Sustainability,” and it would remain true. If we cannot figure out how to end racial discrimination, and particularly racial economic inequality, we will not build a sustainable environment.

In other words, the Venn diagram concept of sustainability is short-sighted. There are not three separate but overlapping circles of social, economic, and environmental solutions, but a single circle in which social justice, economic efficiency, and environmental sustainability must be simultaneously solved.

Or perhaps sustainability is more like a Rubik’s cube. In a Rubik’s cube, if one side is wrong, the problem is not solved. Sustainability is likewise; if one systemic issue is not solved, nothing is solved. A steady state economy in a racist society is as useless as a half-solved Rubik’s cube.

Rubik's cube

The steady state economy as a Rubik’s cube. All sides must be solved to achieve equality and sustainability. (Image: CC0 1.0, Source)

This is both good and bad news. It is bad news because those of us who are concerned about environmental sustainability must consider another universe of problems when one universe is already overwhelming. But it is also good news because it highlights the systemic, ethical nature of the problem. Perhaps getting the ethics right will solve problems in each universe.

We often get the impression from media and academics that we are just an innovation away from solving our environmental problems. Sometimes, we are told that if we increase renewable energy use our struggles will fade away; other times, carbon dioxide removal or geoengineering is the solution. While I do not intend to denigrate those ideas, they will not fix systemic environmental problems caused by economic activity and human greed. A new invention will not change the 2nd law of thermodynamics, but a new ethical framework might change our avarice.

Our allies protesting for social and racial justice have a similarly daunting ethical problem. It appears that our ethnocentrism and xenophobia is as hard-wired as our greed. While criminal justice reform is needed, public policy will not solve millennia of racism and xenophobia. Only a cultural and ethical change can move society toward a post-racist future. As in our environmental crises, there is no easy fix.

 

Sustainability, Social Justice, and the Golden Rule

Yet, because our environmental and social problems are fundamentally ethical and cultural, the good news is that fixing one will likely fix the other. Any coherent ethical philosophy that favors social and racial justice will also favor sustainability and vice versa. This occurs because social justice and sustainability are applications of the Golden Rule, the precept in every major world religion that one should treat others as they would like to be treated. Social justice is based on the idea that societies and governments are responsible for following the Golden Rule, and sustainability is simply the application of the Golden Rule to future generations. Thus, a socially just society is one that treats its current citizens by the Golden Rule, and a sustainable society is one that treats its current and future inhabitants by the Golden Rule. As a result, if we move toward a more socially just society that implements the Golden Rule across its contemporary population, we are likely to pursue a more sustainable society that expresses the same ethic to its future population.

Perhaps we should see the protests for social and racial justice as the start of a movement that may be more significant than ending police brutality. The extraordinary progress toward sustainability made in the 1960s and early 1970s did not begin with the publication of Silent Spring or the Cuyahoga River fires. Instead, it emerged from the unrest and uprising of the civil rights and anti-war movements. Without those larger social movements to galvanize and educate people, elect new leaders, and, most importantly, change the ethics of American society, we may never have passed the Clean Air or Clean Water Acts. We might imagine that something similar could happen half-a-century later, and as we solve one side of our Rubik’s cube, the other sides will fall into place too.

Brian F. Snyder is an assistant professor of environmental science at Louisiana State University and CASSE’s LSU Chapter director.

The post Social Justice in the Steady State appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Climate Advocates Say that Reserves of Oil and Gas are Increasingly Worthless

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/06/2020 - 3:09am in

Fossil fuel giant BP announced Monday it will write down nearly $18 billion in existing assets, a move that climate advocates say is more evidence that the industry is undergoing a massive shift that will leave oil and gas reserves less and less valuable as the world pivots to more planet-friendly and financially-viable sources of energy. Continue reading

The post Climate Advocates Say that Reserves of Oil and Gas are Increasingly Worthless appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

What Police Budgets Are Being Spent on Now

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/06/2020 - 1:14am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Service oriented

“Defund the police” has become a rallying cry, not to reduce police violence but to redirect money spent on law enforcement toward social services. Minneapolis’s move to reconstitute its police force as a community-led public safety system is the biggest example of this yet. But according to Citylab, at least 15 other cities are also taking steps to divert some of their policing budgets toward social services and neglected communities.

Los Angeles plans to cut up to $150 million from its police budget and redirect it — plus $100 million more — into investments in black communities. In New York, the mayor has committed to shifting police funds into youth and social services when the city’s budget is released in July — a letter from criminal justice employees is asking for a shift of $1 billion. Meanwhile, in St. Louis, a new sales tax that generates $50 million per year was earmarked to hire more cops — now councilmembers want it spent on “violence interrupters, social workers and substance abuse counselors” instead.

black lives matterA protest in Los Angeles, one of many cities already redirecting some of their police budgets toward social services. Credit: Brett Morrison / Flickr

Advocates argue that these reallocations simply rebalance budgets that put far more money into law enforcement than social and community services. For instance, in St. Louis, one-third of the city’s general fund and one-fifth of its total budget go to the police, but only 2.3 percent is earmarked for mental health services. “We’ve continued to underfund social services and human services,” said St. Louis Councilmembber Megan Ellyia Green, adding that it’s time ”to start to go after the root causes of crime in our city.”

Read more at Citylab

It’s electric

A scientist drives a small spike into the stem of a rhododendron, connects it by wire to an LED light and rubs the leaves together. Let there be light! It sounds too simple to be true, but it works. Leaves gather electrical charges from the air, just like your clothes sometimes do. Those charges are funneled into the plant, turning it into a bright green battery. Now, researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology are working on ways to tap that battery — and help trees create even more static charge.

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They’re doing this by adding artificial leaves made of silicon rubber, so that when the wind blows the tree has more leaves to rub together, creating additional electricity. That power can then be channeled out of the tree using common electrical conduits. One tree that the researchers tested in a wind tunnel lit up 150 LED lights once the fake leaves were attached.

Attaching fake leaves to trees is laborious, and large amounts of wind power are probably better harnessed with regular wind turbines. But the researchers say that for certain low-voltage needs — say, powering the lights in a park — trees could provide the electricity needed with minimal infrastructure. One big unknown remains, however: Do the trees need the energy we would be taking from them?

Listen at the BBC

Till death do you part

The U.K. is implementing a long-sought public health solution: It is designating every adult an organ donor unless that person specifically opts out.

organ donorsA 2015 demonstration in London drew attention to the fact that three people die every day in the U.K. while waiting for an organ transplant. Credit: TaylorHerring / Flickr

File this one under no brainers. Over 80 percent of British citizens say they would donate their organs, but fewer than 40 percent have actually registered to do so. In other words, the opt-out model simply gives people what they want without making them take the extra steps to get it. Family consent is still required at the point of transplant, as an added safeguard against unwanted donations. The model has been a success since 2015 in Wales, where consent rates have risen from 58 to 75 percent.

Read more at the Guardian

The post What Police Budgets Are Being Spent on Now appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Steady Stater Stance on Renewable Energy: A Clarification

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 03/06/2020 - 2:14am in

By Brian Czech

Ever since my review of Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans, some misunderstandings have come to light about the stance of myself, and by extension CASSE, on renewable energy. One such misunderstanding—spread far and wide—is that we are “against renewables.” A clarification is definitely in order.

CASSE and steady staters at large are all for renewable energy. Of course! Along with the steady state economy as the sustainable alternative to growth, renewable energy is the sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. What we oppose is the fallacious notion of “green growth” that has come to dominate pro-renewable political discourse. We also oppose the wholesale, automatic acceptance of any and every wind and solar project; not everything touted as “green” turns out to be ecologically economic. Along those lines, we certainly don’t support the liquidation of biomass stocks that otherwise provided crucial ecosystem services.

We also suggest putting the political horse before the technological cart. As I, Herman Daly, and Bill Rees have each pointed out independently, a sustainable shift to renewables must follow a conscious, intentional adoption of the steady state economy (entailing a phase of de-growth) as a policy goal. Otherwise, with the goal of economic growth ruling the policy arena, renewables and nuclear plants will be used to supplement rather than replace fossil fuels, and the resulting amount of destructive economic activity will only increase. Adding insult to injury, not only will the destruction on the ground increase, but greenhouse gas emissions as well!

renewable energy and nuclear power plant

As long as GDP growth is the goal, renewable energy will add to—not replace—fossil and nuclear plants. (Image: CC0, Source)

That said, a certain amount of respect is due those who are so passionate to save the planet that they’ll do just about anything, as soon as possible, for a transition to renewables. As with passionate people in other walks of life, they can be obsessive and zealous. It’s hard to blame them, because climate change is a current psychological threat as well as a mounting existential one. They lose sleep at night (well-documented especially in children) and develop ulcers over the relentless forcing of greenhouse gases into the precious atmosphere of our common home. They are ready to go to verbal war (and maybe more) with anyone who detracts—or who they think detracts—from the transition to renewable energy. They are in some ways heroic and tragic figures, as haunted by the fossil-fueled world as steady staters are by the pro-growth world.

Furthermore, some are doubly haunted. That is, they fully acknowledge the need for a steady state economy as well as renewable energy. Yet, not abiding the wisdom of Daly that “sequence matters,” their days are spent not in advancing the steady state economy but rather in developing renewable energy technology, designing renewable energy projects, or pushing politically for renewable energy. Maybe they hope that others will prevail in advancing the steady state economy, such that solar and wind actually replace rather than supplement fossil fuels.

The decision for any one person or organization about what to prioritize—advancing the steady state economy or advancing renewables—entails a number of factors. One such factor is the technical background of the individual. All else equal, someone whose expertise is primarily in renewable energy is better suited to advancing renewables. If the background is in ecological economics, then advancing the steady state economy is a better fit.

Another factor is age. A young renewable energy scholar who concludes that advancing the steady state economy is the first order of business may find it feasible to steer further academic and professional development toward advancing the steady state economy. An elder statesman of renewable energy may not.

As other factors come into play, almost all steady staters conduct a mix of advancing the steady state economy and renewable energy, but with a decided emphasis on the former. Indeed, it would seem to be the emphasis on advancing the steady state economy that makes one a “steady stater.”

Aside from one’s expertise and age, two other prioritization factors warrant a closer look. One is the marginal benefit of “steady statesmanship” vs. renewable energy action. Which offers the biggest bang for the buck? Another is an overlooked ecological footprint; we’ll follow it among the technological trees while remaining cognizant of the sustainability forest.

Biggest Bang for the Buck

How many people and organizations support renewable energy? Could we even stop counting? We could go on and on, starting with steady staters and moving into ever-widening circles of sustainability scholars, environmental activists, professional scientific societies, little environmental NGOs, big NGOs, and even many corporations, utilities, and politicians. Most importantly, it includes a substantial share of the general public, and even most nations!

Now, how many people and organizations support the steady state economy? Again we can start with the steady staters. Next, we can include a fair number of sustainability scholars and environmental activists, plus a tiny number of environmental NGOs and a handful of professional scientific societies. That’s about where it stops. So far we haven’t been able to get a Pew researcher, much less a Roper poll-taker, even interested in the steady state economy, so we have only a vague idea what the general public thinks. This is one of the main reasons we strive to obtain signatures on the CASSE position on economic growth; to demonstrate public support for the steady state economy, empowering NGOs to tell it like it is about limits to growth, and empowering politicians to support steady-state policies such as the Full Seas Act. While the current number of almost 15,000 signatories is nothing to sneeze at (especially given such notable signatories) it must be millions if not billions less than the number of people who support renewable energy.

So, if you are a student, scholar, activist, or philanthropist wondering which activity—advancing the steady state economy or promoting renewable energy—needs more help and offers a higher marginal benefit from your studies, scholarship, action, or philanthropy, consider the proportions above. Unless you believe in “green growth,” it should be more obvious by the GDP-bloated day that the bigger bang for the sustainability buck comes from advancing the steady state economy.

Technological Progress: The Forgotten Footprint

There is room for disagreement about how much additional, destructive GDP will transpire as renewable energy is added to the mix of fossil, nuclear, and (semi-renewable) hydrological sources. Clearly there will be additional destruction as long as GDP growth is the overriding domestic policy goal, but the destruction can be lessened to the extent that steady statesmanship prevails. Moderate success in steady statesmanship reduces the GDP growth rate. Full success is when the steady state economy is recognized as an a priori goal and deliberately accomplished with effective policies. With fully successful steady statesmanship, the ecological footprint from renewable energy may be offset by a reduced footprint from non-renewable energy. How will this happen, though, if advancing the steady state economy is the exercise of such a small minority?

Meanwhile, arriving at ever-higher proportions of renewable (as opposed to fossil) energy entails its own ecological footprint. This is an ecological footprint quite beyond that of the activities fueled by renewable energy. For starters, we have the obvious ecological and economic costs of retrofitting the fossil-fueled grid and the energy system at large. These costs includes the surveying, excavation, construction, and circuitry entailed in the development of wind and solar harvesting and delivery facilities. It also refers to the demolition of fossil-fueled plant and infrastructure, plus the disposal and replacement of fossil-fueled implements and appliances en masse. For example, approximately 40% of American homes have gas stoves, which means about 50 million stoves must be replaced or retrofitted in the USA alone to convert (on a one-to-one service basis) from fossil-fueled power to renewables.

Now let’s dig a level deeper. What about all the analyses, presentations, meetings, conferences, slideshows, websites, videos, magazines, community relations campaigns, planning, lobbying, negotiations, settlements, legislation, subsidies, loan assistance, bureaucratic reorganization, personnel management, tax reforms, and regulations that have been and must be devised and performed for purposes of moving the energy system toward renewables? These were, are, and by no means will be cheap. We might loosely call these “transaction costs.” Don’t take the wrong point from this; the transaction costs might be worth it, especially if the transactions are actually effective. The point, however, is that resources are required—energy and other natural resources—to fund all the transactive activity, because in our triangular economy money originates as a function of the agricultural and extractive surplus that frees the hands for the division of labor, all the way to presenting, meeting, conferencing, etc.

Every single expenditure, in other words, takes an ecological footprint. No such footprint can be overlooked if we want a thorough understanding of sustainability. This is why we consistently point out at CASSE that GDP is the single best indicator of environmental impact in the aggregate. Expenditure entails environmental impact. That’s Ecological Macroeconomics 101, trophic levels and all.

So, let’s go to a deeper level still. No one woke up one morning decades ago and said, “Let’s replace the fossil-fueled system with solar and wind. We already have all the technology to do it.” Instead—and as part of a bloating GDP—vast amounts of research and development had to be conducted in order to arrive at a point whereby wind and solar technology was capable of significant coverage of our energy needs, such as in oft-cited Germany. Vast amounts more are required to accomplish full powering of national and global economies, assuming that is even possible. “Full powering” means not just the electricity grid but transportation (including the manufacturing of the fleet), off-grid building management, and what Jeffrey Sachs calls the “hard sectors” such as aviation, ocean shipping, steelmaking, cement, and petrochemicals.

For almost a decade now, global investment in renewable energy has exceeded $200 billion annually; it now approaches $300 billion! This is higher than the GDPs of Greece, Iraq, or most African countries combined. In fact, less than a quarter of all nations on the planet have the dubious distinction of “achieving” the $300 billion level—and many will drop below it post-COVID.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory.jpg

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO. Excavation of the site is an obvious footprint. But what about the forgotten footprint? That is, how much agricultural and extractive surplus was required at the trophic base of the economy to generate the money required for planning, excavation, and construction? How much more agricultural and extractive activity is required on an ongoing basis to generate the money for conducting the research programs managed therein? (Credit: CC0, Image: Dennis Schroeder)

Now, much of the renewable energy technology availed to us via already-conducted R&D should of course be employed, especially if replacing fossil fuel plant and infrastructure. The ecological footprint of the R&D expenditure has already transpired. Why let it go to waste, assuming the transaction costs are not prohibitively destructive. But does anyone think that moving from, say, 40 percent renewable energy to 80 percent will be as easy as the original 40 percent? Not me. I expect diminishing returns to scale as the lowest-hanging thermodynamic fruits (such as Sonoran Desert sunlight) are picked and siting becomes ever more competitive—and ever more biodiversity-busting—in a bloated global economy. Therefore, I expect the R&D needs to increase substantially, and I’m not alone in this opinion. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA) says we need “accelerating research for a low-carbon future.”

On several major fronts, we’re nowhere near any kind of renewable solution. As the IREA describes, “For one-third of the world’s anticipated energy use in the coming 20-25 years, no practical decarbonisation solutions exist today. Nearly all of this relates to energy demand for end uses, such as buildings, heat and transport.” They conclude that R&D “needs to happen faster to make renewable solutions viable in these areas.” Not that they think we are out of the woods already with wind and solar technology for the grid, either. “The share of wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) in power systems can increase significantly to cover half of all generation by 2050. Effective integration of these variable sources will depend on accelerated innovation.” For additional insights on the extent, complexity, and expense of renewable energy R&D, check out what the US Department of Energy is up to, including a coupling of nuclear power to wind and solar in the name of “clean energy.”

I also expect the transaction costs to mount as the efforts required for full transition become more apparent to consumers, rate payers, utilities, and politicians. While I find it hard to appreciate pro-growth analyses that fail to acknowledge the profound perils of climate change, some are proficient at pointing out the conventional costs, at least, of transition to renewable energy. Note that they’re not even addressing the ecological costs of generating and expending money on R&D and transactive struggles.

So, when we recognize the ecological footprint of expenditure, we see renewable energy transition in a whole new light. It’s as if we were tracking in the forest, looking for “unsustainability varmints.” While we saw the typical tracks of well-known varmints such as fossil fuels, plastics, and Roundup, one ecological footprint was hard to spot; that is, the footprint of renewable energy transition. Now that we see it in light of the environmental impact of generating money to invest or in any way expend, the ecological footprint seems quite big! In fact, it’s been a bit like running into a dinosaur track. We didn’t see it because we weren’t looking for an outline so large, but there it is for the tracking.

What’s Next?

At the end of the day, those who are passionate about promoting renewable energy—especially those with expertise in the subject and a little late in the game for re-tooling a career—will continue emphasizing renewable energy. Hopefully more of them will start explicitly acknowledging the need for a steady state economy as well.

Degrowth protest

Renewable energy is an important alternative to fossil fuels. But if we are to establish renewable energy as a solution, then we must also pursue a steady state economy through degrowth. (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, Credit: Klimagerechtigkeit Leipzig)

That leaves a large number of younger students, scholars, professionals and activists to reconsider, if not their career path, then at least the emphasis of their activism. With a recognition of the prohibitive costs and heavy ecological footprint of a full-fledged transition to renewables, plus the coupling of renewable energy interests with the “green growth” paradigm, they may decide their time is better spent in advancing the steady state economy. Hopefully this personal decision-making is also reflected at the organizational level, starting with the emphases of environmental NGOs and foundations.

Coming full circle, yes, steady staters support renewable energy as the sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. Yet we cannot support the notion of “green growth,” and we’re not even convinced that a full-fledged transition to renewables at the currently sized global economy can be ecologically economic, all ecological footprints considered. On the other hand, we do realize that the fossil-fueled economy at the current level is an existential threat. The common theme here is the “current level” of the economy. The current level just doesn’t allow for sustainable options. Therefore, we conclude that the most salient emphasis to have at this time is the transition from the paradigm of economic growth to that of the steady state economy, via a phase of de-growth.

Brian Czech

Brian Czech is the Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The post The Steady Stater Stance on Renewable Energy: A Clarification appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Europe Is Going Coal-Free

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/05/2020 - 1:21am in

In the ‘60s I lived in Baltimore and my parents would take me with them when they went to visit their families in Scotland. The buildings in Glasgow then were all black, covered in coal soot. Now it’s been sandblasted off to reveal the lovely red sandstone underneath. 

We stayed at my grandparents semi-detached. I loved watching the coal fire that heated the house, but didn’t like so much the ritual of getting up in the cold mornings and restarting it. The whole city smelled like coal. I loved this smell, and recognized the smell again when I made a short visit to East Berlin years before the wall came down.

Coal was the principal energy source in those days, and had been for over 200 years. It is the largest contributor to man-made climate change. In 2019, 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions globally came from coal. That doesn’t even account for the mercury, lead and sulfur dioxide that goes into the air when coal is burnt. Those are all killers, too, but it’s the carbon dioxide that is irreversible — and that will make large parts of the Earth uninhabitable. The externality, the true cost, of the Industrial Revolution might be irreparable and unimaginable damage to the whole planet. And there’s no Planet B.

Some countries are releasing more CO2 than ever, particularly those with fast-growing economies like China, which was responsible for the vast majority of last year’s growth in global emissions. But many others are turning away from the dirtiest energy source in the world. Last year, coal emissions globally declined unexpectedly by about one percent, driven, in large part, by sharp reductions in coal use in Europe. European nations are pulling the plug on coal, and an end to coal power is in sight, or at least possible. 

Holland

Holland, aiming to make its electricity production carbon neutral by 2050, is phasing out most of its coal power. Interestingly, this is partly in response to legal action. 

An organization called Urgenda (a bit like the National Resources Defense Council or Client Earth) sued the Dutch government in 2013 for endangering the lives of its citizens by allowing carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. Urgenda won, and now coal power there is being scaled back, as is cattle and pig farming and other polluting industries. The country’s major coal plants are being forced to reduce their capacity by at least 75 percent. Their effort sets a legal precedent that many other countries are looking at. A group of young people in Colombia is using this tactic to stop deforestation of the jungle in that country

Germany

Germany closed its last coal mine on December 21, 2018 and plans to shut all of its coal power stations by 2038.

abandoned coalPart of the Zollverein coal mine and coking plant in Essen, Germany, which was abandoned in 1993. Credit: Pim GMX / Flickr

As locally mined black coal became more expensive than coal from less regulated countries in recent years, closing German mines became a bit of a no brainer. And though it might be a good start, simply switching to unethically mined foreign coal, which is what they did, doesn’t really solve the problem. Getting off coal as a power source will take a bit longer, but the country remains committed as it works to meet its obligations under the Paris climate accords. Germany aims to be completely carbon neutral by 2050.

Austria

Austria closed its last coal power plant in April. It plans to turn off its last gas-fed power plant by 2030 and switch to 100 percent renewable sources. Wow, not just coal but all fossil fuels! To become an all-renewables nation, however, some argue it will need to get the public to sign off on more dams — since much of Austria’s renewable energy is generated from hydropower — and that could be a tough sell. Dams have their own problems with silt and wildlife.

Sweden

Sweden closed its last coal power plant in April, just after Austria did the same — two years ahead of its own self-imposed deadline. The early closure was made possible by a mild winter that reduced power demand. When it shut down, the energy firm that owns it, Stockholm Exergi, announced that the closure would reduce the company’s total CO2 emissions by half, and that its goal was to transition to an all-green energy profile.   

Belgium

Belgium shut down its last coal power station, Langerlo, on March 30, 2016. This marked the end of a long process in Belgium. Coal has been crucial to the country’s economy for centuries, so much so that when Belgium declared independence from the Netherlands in 1831 its separatists cited “rich supplies of coal” as proof that Belgians could make it on their own. 

Though Belgium started shutting down coal plants in the ‘80s, as recently as 1994 coal accounted for 27 percent of the country’s energy mix. Oddly, in 2007, the energy company E.ON announced plans to build a new coal plant in Antwerp, but there were loud public protests and in 2009 the government denied the permits.

France

France will be coal-free by 2021. It closed its last mine in 2004, the first large country to do so. But some power plants are still operating using imported coal, which is a fraction of the price of French coal, hence the closing of the French mines. 

abandoned coalAn abandoned coal plant in France. Credit: Simon / Flickr

In January 2018 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, President Emmanuel Macron announced that he would speed up a phase-out process begun by the previous president, Francois Holland, who had promised to get off coal by 2023. France only gets one percent of its energy from coal now, so this virtue signaling Macron did at Davos was hardly radical, but it does set a good precedent.

Portugal

In 2018 Portugal began reducing tax exemptions for coal power (they got tax exemptions!?) and their environmental minister now says that the last of the country’s coal plants will close by 2030. They hope to be carbon neutral by 2050 by switching mainly to solar — a goal that Portugal has shown promise of hitting. In 2018, some 55 percent of its energy came from renewable sources, and in April the government announced plans for a solar-powered green hydrogen production plant as part of its Covid-19 economic recovery.

United Kingdom

In February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the U.K. will end the use of coal power in 2024, a year earlier than anticipated. (It’s on a trajectory to be close to zero by then anyway.) Already, all but four of the country’s coal power plants have shut down in anticipation of the ban, and coal now makes up only two percent of its total power mix, down from nearly a quarter four years ago. The closures are a reflection of Britain’s broader transition to green energy. Since 2012, the “carbon intensity” of its grid — the measure of how much CO2 it must create to produce energy — has fallen by over two-thirds.  

Italy

In an announcement widely celebrated as great news for the climate, Italy’s economic development minister confirmed that his country is committed to phasing out coal by 2025. However, the government has yet to reveal its strategy for meeting this commitment.

Several other European countries have quit coal, including Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Malta. Altogether, Europe emits almost 10 percent of the world’s CO2. That might make it seem like ending coal use there won’t make a huge difference, but if they can do it then surely others can, too. And this turn-around in what was until recently an essential energy source has happened within our lifetimes. It’s not too late.

Trends

If this is a trend, it’s a good one. BloombergNEF is an organization that charts energy use. They note that in the last decade the cost of solar has dropped 87 percent and offshore wind by 62 percent. 

Coal renewablesIn 2017, energy produced from coal in Europe fell below the level of energy produced from renewable sources. Credit: The European Power Sector in 2017, Sandbag and Agora Energiewende

They report that two-thirds of the world’s people live where these are now the cheapest sources of power. In 10 years, solar will be cheaper than fossil fuels everywhere. Many governments — surprising to me — continue to help fund the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $400 billion. Whether this is the result of the lobbying power of oil and gas companies is hard to say, but the writing’s on the wall when sustainable is cheaper.

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Crossroads for Planet of the Humans

By William Rees

 

[Editor’s Note: The Steady State Herald first published a review of Planet of the Humans on May 1. The following review adds valuable information to the dialog.]

“It stands to reason…”

Who hasn’t heard this expression in everyday conversation? Humans tend to think of themselves as rational beings, and many people sincerely believe they are being reasonable all the time.

However, human reason invariably operates in a straitjacket. Even the most elevated of human thought is constrained by life experience and the unquantifiable set of beliefs and values, as well as facts and assumptions, that every individual acquires by growing up in a particular cultural environment. Life experience determines a person’s perception of reality. Unsurprisingly, people are most comfortable when the universe unfolds in harmony with their culturally preset notion of how things ought to be.

Of course, in complex societies there are many potential versions of “truth” on any particular subject. “Reality”—or rather, our socially-constructed perception of reality—comes in many guises.

Herein lies potential chaos. It starts when a line of thought taken for granted by a group of people who share the same cultural narrative is disputed by another group who observe a different set of beliefs, values, and assumptions.

Renewable energy

Politicians, corporations, and big environmental NGOs claim that renewable energy can support the economy. Really? At what level and at what cost? (Image: CC0, Credit: Kenueone)

Consider the dilemma of modernity. Propelled by fossil fuels, our increasingly global techno-industrial (mainly capitalist) society has generated unprecedented material prosperity for hundreds of millions of people. This extraordinary progress leads us to believe an endless energy bounty will support the ten billion humans expected on the planet by mid- to late century. The catch is that this same success is already well on the way to depleting and polluting the seas, denuding the continents of forests, displacing the world’s wildlife, and triggering climate change.

This is not a problem according to the cultural mainstream. Radiating self-confidence and buoyed by unquestioned past material success, the political and corporate leadership seem confident that human ingenuity (our greatest resource) will prevail. They argue that we have already found economically viable renewable substitutes for fossil fuels such as biomass, wind turbines, and solar photo-voltaic arrays. These alternatives should enable economic growth to continue indefinitely, bringing the affluence needed to “fix” the ecosphere. The big environmental NGOs have climbed on board for pushing the techno-fix narrative, and most citizens are only too happy to go along for the business-as-usual ride.

Not everyone is jumping on the pro-growth bandwagon, however. A surge of scientists and citizens has written a competing narrative. This renegade group reasons that wind and solar technologies are quantitatively insufficient to power modern society, contribute to ecological destruction, and are heavily subsidized by fossil fuels and not really renewable. To them, the only reasonable “solution” to the ongoing climate and eco-catastrophe, difficult as it may be to achieve, is adapting to much lower levels of energy and material consumption, sharing existing income/wealth, and learning to live within the biophysical means of nature.

Michael Moore

Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs challenge the notion of “green growth.” (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Nicolas Genin)

This new movement has been growing steadily and waiting to catch fire politically. While there has been a deepening discussion about the impacts of the economy on the environment, there has also been a significant lack of media coverage about it. That was, however, until a few weeks ago, when one documentary ignited the argument against economic growth: Planet of the Humans.

The Gibbs/Moore production has ignited a conflagration of competing worldviews unparalleled by any debate about alternative energy sources in the history of the environmental movement. As a human ecologist, I’ll admit up front that I am in the renegade camp, but I am not blinded to certain weaknesses in Gibbs’ take on our dilemma. This film contains many pros and cons when framing the conversation of environmental protection. Let’s explore what Planet provided.

The Underbelly of Environmental Organizations

Planet of the Humans does a great service in eroding faith in renewable energy, particularly the travesty of broad-scale biomass energy. It achieved less than it could in undermining wind and solar power. This is a shame since the loudest screams of “foul” come from wind/solar advocates, and there are plenty of recent analyses and data which the film could have drawn on to cut them off. It’s an ironic weakness, because the films critics are most adamant about how “dated” the wind/solar information is. Yes, it’s dated, but on both sides of the argument about whether wind/solar is capable of replacing fossil fuels at the current size of economy.

The film also succeeds in skewering several environmental organizations and popular heroes in the process. Though it’s difficult to watch the hypocrisy of environmental champions unveiled, investigating into these advocacy groups is important and necessary. For instance, Gibbs reveals the large and mainstream environmental organizations are highly dependent on the corporate sector for their financing, either directly or indirectly. This certainly compromises what they can say about the (corporate) values of society and helps to explain why so many environmental NGOs support capital-intensive (i.e., profit-oriented) approaches to energy supply and climate change—e.g., electric cars, solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, carbon capture and storage, etc. These organizations make us think they are saving the planet by introducing “green” tech; yet they are supporting—and enjoying the support of—the corporate giants that contribute to destroying the earth. Even the Green New Deal is a false-promise approach that suggests all we have to do is invest in techno-fixes to continue on our growth-bound path.

A Better Refute Against Renewables Replacing Fossil Fuels

As noted above, up-to-date data are important, and accurate data even more so. Planet of the Humans relies excessively on old research and off-the-cuff comments from interviewees. Gibbs/Moore could have better supported their case by referencing current issues with “green” technology, including extended net energy analysis from mine-shaft through operation, as well as the decommissioning of commercial wind turbine and solar installations.

Solar panels in Germany

Germany: Powered by renewables? (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Andrew Glaser)

However, Gibbs does bring a critical question to light: Are renewables effectively displacing fossil fuels?

Let’s look first at the case of Germany, a leader in green energy investment. According to Clean Energy Wire, while wind and solar make a significant contribution to German electricity production (21 percent and 8 percent respectively) these two sources supply a mere 5 percent of German primary energy consumption (3.5 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively). Biomass—largely green trees as Gibbs pointed out—supplies a full 7.6 percent. Meanwhile, fossil fuels still account for about 78 percent of primary consumption, and carbon emissions have been more or less plateaued for a decade. (Yes, carbon emissions did drop in Germany in 2019, by about 6 percent, but 2019 also marked a sharp slump in German GDP growth, especially in the industrial sector). All this despite hundreds of billions invested in wind and solar energy. Furthermore, keep in mind that wind and solar require full backup power, either domestic or imported. (Note this well: It is a common error to conflate electricity generated with total energy demand/consumption. The former is typically only about 20 percent of the latter.)

Then there’s the global picture to consider. According to BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, in 2018, fossil fuels supplied 11,743.6 Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) or 85 percent of the world’s primary energy, while non-hydro renewables (mostly commercial biomass, wind, and solar) contributed only 561.3 Mtoe (4 percent).

Are renewables catching up? While the contribution of non-hydro renewables to global primary consumption has expanded by 437 Mtoe since 2008 (16 percent per year), consumption of fossil fuels increased by about 1,750 Mtoe (about 1.5 percent/yr) in the same period. This marginal increase is over three times the total supplied by non-hydro renewables in 2018. This same year, consumption of non-hydro renewables increased by 71.1 Mtoe (14.5 percent), but fossil fuels were up by 276.3 Mtoe (2.4 percent).

Bottom line? Starting from a much larger base, the pre-pandemic annual absolute growth in fossil fuel production/consumption continues to outpace that of renewables, especially non-hydro-renewables, by a wide margin, despite the higher relative growth rate of renewables. Nothing suggests this will change while economic growth remains the goal, especially since new technology requires economic growth based on current levels of technology.

Bountiful Energy Could Do More Harm Than Good

Gibbs underplays (and the subsequent criticism I have seen entirely misses) a critical point: Even if renewables were “the answer”—i.e., even if our techno-industrial, capitalist growth succeeds in contriving any cheap, plentiful substitute for fossil fuels—it would be catastrophic. Without a sea change in expansionist values and our anthropocentric approach to the natural world, humans will simply use the energy bounty to complete their dismemberment of Earth. (Planet’s horrific sequences of stranded orangutans—their habitats destroyed for palm oil and sugar cane for “green energy”—is perhaps the most illustrative example of this potential destruction.)

In short, it’s really beside the point whether “100 percent renewable energy” is possible because any techno-fix would be disastrous given the prevailing cultural narrative and macroeconomic goals.

The Bottom Line

Planet of the Humans is far from inaccurate in undermining today’s overconfidence in renewables and mainstream environmental NGOs but is arguably a bit unfair to some individuals. Gibbs engages people on both sides of a complicated issue, selectively goring some. Wherever one stands on the issue of sustainable energy, though, Planet of the Humans is proving to be a deeply moving and motivating production.

And now there is a complicating—but possibly complementary—factor. The COVID-19 pandemic provides an unscheduled opportunity to rethink our energy and economic futures. The real planet of humans is at a crossroads: Pre-pandemic trends will not simply resume as if nothing had happened.

Homo sapiens is an allegedly rational species. Virtually everyone agrees that we must avoid an ecosystem collapse and reverse global warming. We also recognize that if civilization is to persist, we must have energy sources. So, what is the solution that balances these two issues?

CASSE’s push for the steady state economy is certainly one of the most rational answers to that question. It really ”stands to reason” that we need an economy that fits on the planet, using a reasonable amount of energy from renewable sources and with processes that don’t destroy our ecosystems. Reducing energy use to that reasonable amount surely entails real (not just political) degrowth. “Degrowth toward a steady state economy” summarizes the solution quite well.

William Rees is a human ecologist, ecological economist, Professor Emeritus, and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning, best known for ecological footprint analysis.

The post Crossroads for <em>Planet of the Humans</em> appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Germany Is Leading the World Toward a Green Recovery

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 16/05/2020 - 2:07am in

Residents in some of the most polluted cities in the world have been startled by an unfamiliar atmospheric phenomenon: blue skies. “I look at the sky quite often and enjoy its blueness from my balcony,” retired English professor Sudhir Kumar told the New York Times from his home in Delhi. “I don’t know how long this will last, but right now I feel much better.” 

Across the world, coronavirus lockdowns, while severe in their human costs, are leading to ecological rejuvenation. Wild goats have been seen grazing in the deserted streets in a Welsh village. A kangaroo was spotted hopping through the streets of downtown Adelaide. In Hong Kong, a pair of pandas, relieved to finally have some privacy, conceived a baby.  

The lockdowns are temporary, however. To preserve some of the gains the natural world has made in our absence, economies will need to reopen as far greener engines than before. This won’t happen everywhere — the U.S., for instance, is already using the crisis to roll back environmental protections. But in many other countries, the reboot could end up pushing forward the world’s green transition faster than before.

Accelerate the change

Late last year, this transition was already getting underway. The European Union announced in December a €1 trillion European Green Deal aimed at transforming almost all aspects of their economy. Described by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as “Europe’s man on the moon moment,” the EU’s 27 member states created a plan to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2050 by overhauling transportation, construction, agriculture and energy. 

GermanyRecovery efforts “will not just be a question of carrying on as we did before the pandemic,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Credit: Dirk Paehr-Heine / Flickr

The coronavirus crisis could have derailed it. Instead, a growing number of European leaders, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are calling for this plan to be accelerated as part of the economic recovery. “All politicians of all levels will be asked by their citizens…that we recover quickly from the Covid crisis,” said European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans last month. “We can do it in two ways. We can repeat what we did before and throw a lot of money to the old economy, or we can be smart and combine this with the necessity to move to a green economy. I think this is a huge opportunity. In the European Union, we see the Green Deal as our growth strategy.”

That strategy may prove prescient. Last month, the International Energy Agency announced that the pandemic has radically reconfigured the world’s power production landscape. “The plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas. Only renewables are holding up,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “The energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before.”

One country betting big on this future is Germany, Europe’s biggest economy. In a video summit on April 23, Chancellor Angela Merkel said recovery efforts “will not just be a question of carrying on as we did before the pandemic.”  

“The goal is a green recovery,” emphasized the German environment ministry.

Germany is planning to use the economic recovery to accelerate its transition to renewable energy. Credit: German Ministry of the Environment

Merkel called for the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund to invest in “climate action,” an aim that has the support of Germany’s business community. Over 60 German companies — including iconic brands like Bayer, ThyssenKrupp and Puma — issued a joint statement calling for any stimulus they receive to be tied to a green transition.

“We appeal to the federal government to closely link economic policy measures to overcome both the climate crisis and the coronavirus crisis,” they wrote. Some have offered specific proposals. Salzgitter, one of Germany’s biggest steel manufacturers, is lobbying the government to seize this moment to transition steel production from coal-powered to hydrogen-fueled.

Germany’s businesses aren’t alone. Fifty leading European financial firms recently endorsed a recovery plan to retrofit buildings, electrify transportation systems and build renewable energy and storage. They also propose decarbonizing industrial facilities, scaling up local food production and boosting research into new technologies such as hydrogen energy and non-carbon air transport. 

“The benefits of these green investments include improved air quality, population health and quality of life in cities. Successfully implementing this emergency plan will also give us greater legitimacy as active participants in the next European Green Deal,” read a statement from the Green Recovery Alliance, which includes the two largest insurance companies in Europe and several of the largest banks. “Let us use the present challenge we are facing together as an opportunity for us all to put the environment at the core of a collective rebound.”

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Research co-authored by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Nicholas Stern shows how going green in recovery can maximize the impact of any stimulus. The scholars interviewed 231 experts and examined over 700 stimulus plans since the 2008 economic meltdown, and found that investing in green projects will “create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long-term cost savings, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus…The Covid-19 crisis could mark a turning point in progress on climate change.” 

Even more of an outlier was where this advice was coming from. “The folks that they were surveying were not environmentalists and even environmental economists. They were…government finance economists and central bank officials,” noted Kathryn Harrison, professor of political science at the University of British Columbia. 

Even the International Monetary Fund — not always known for its forward-thinking approach to economic stimulus — is calling for recovery efforts to catalyze a green transition. “A ‘green recovery’ is our bridge to a more resilient future,” said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva last month, echoing a similar sentiment expressed by the Institutional Investor Group on Climate Change, which collectively manages nearly half of all capital investments in the world worth over $34 trillion. “As governments pursue efforts to recover from this economic downturn, they should not lose sight of the climate crisis,” warned the IGCC In a May 4 statement. “Governments should avoid the prioritization of risky, short-term emissions-intensive projects.”

Such projects are already looking like riskier bets. Collapsing demand pushed prices for West Texas crude below zero, Exxon suffered its first quarterly loss in three decades and Shell was forced to cut investor dividends for the first time since World War II. Meanwhile, the sun keeps shining and the wind keeps blowing. Danish windmill giant Ørsted reported a 33 percent increase in profits over this time last year. Abu Dhabi Power Corporation is moving forward with the largest solar installation in the world aided by plunging production costs in the sector. The two-gigawatt project will provide power for only $1.35 per KWh — less than half that of coal generation.  

Credit: David Blaikie / Flickr

These tectonic technological shifts are driving public policy well beyond Europe. The ruling Democratic party in South Korea won a landslide re-election last month on its own Green New Deal platform. The country now aims to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, the first such pledge in East Asia. 

The moves are being driven by shifting public opinion among Korea’s politically active citizenry, as they are in cities around the world. Over half of the global population lives in cities with dangerously poor air quality. In the last few months, billions have been able to breathe fresh air, many for the first time. A recent study documented how air pollution caused 8.8 million premature deaths in 2015 and reduced overall life expectancy by almost three years — as much as tobacco and HIV combined. Some researchers believe improved air quality due to lockdowns may have saved more lives than the quarantine itself.

No wonder 96 mayors from around the world have stated their intention to emerge their cities from the pandemic cleaner and greener than before. “We, as leaders of major cities across the globe, are clear that our ambition should not be a return to ‘normal,’” wrote the C-40 Cities coalition in a statement. “Our goal is to build a better, more sustainable, more resilient and fairer society out of the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.”

Representing over 700 million people and one-quarter of the global economy, these local leaders are now sharing ideas on how to pivot toward urban transformation. The easing of gridlock has allowed bold experiments that may persist after the lockdown. Milan has opened up 22 miles of streets for walking and cycling. The mayor of Paris dedicated 300 million euros ($325 million USD) towards expanding cycling lanes. Bogata is permanently closing 75 miles of streets to car traffic.

“There is now a hell of a lot of collaboration among very powerful politicians who do think a green economic recovery is absolutely essential,” said Mark Watts, the chief executive of C-40. “We are talking about collectively creating funds…which would then support electric vehicles, support rollout of cycle lanes [and] support retrofitting of buildings.”

Will the world be a greener place as a result of the pandemic? It’s too early to say for certain, and not all the news has been promising. In the U.S., the EPA suspended enforcement of environmental regulations, apparently at the request of the American Petroleum Institute. A $2.2 trillion aid package provided $500 billion in guaranteed loans to American businesses and $25 billion in grants to airlines, but zero funding to scale up renewable energy. 

But the pandemic has dramatically shifted our perspective on what kind of future is possible — a shift that is clearly reaching those who are in a position to shape that future. In this respite from the daily din, we hear the promise of what might be. Due to disease, emerging technology and dumb luck, a greener future may come sooner than expected. 

The post Germany Is Leading the World Toward a Green Recovery appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

BBC World Service Programme Next Tuesday on Scientists Generating Electricity from Leaves

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/05/2020 - 2:49am in

This sounds completely bonkers, like the academy discussing ways to generate sunlight from cucumbers in Swift’s great satire, Gulliver’s Travels, but apparently is real science. According to the Radio Times again, next Tuesday, 19th May 2020, the BBC World Service programme, People Fixing the World, is about how scientists have found a way to generate electricity from leaves. The blurb about the programme by Tom Goulding on page 120 of the Radio Times runs

Money might not grow on trees, but scientists in Italy might have discovered the next best thing: leaves that generate electricity when they touch one another on a windy day. This process, enough to power 150 LED lights, is one of several remarkably simple ways of producing energy that scientists are just beginning to understand. In this optimistic documentary, reporter Daniel Gordon investigates some age-old ideas that could finally become viable renewable energy sources with new technology, such as the interaction between fresh and salt water at estuaries and a 5 km well being dug to extract untapped heat in Iceland.

The programme is on at 3.05 in the afternoon.

This sound really awesome, though it reminds me a little of the ‘treeborg’, a cyborg tree aboard a spaceship in a Matt Smith Dr. Who story, and also somewhat of the Matrix films, in which the robots have risen up and enslaved humanity. Unable to use sunlight after humanity wrecked the planet’s whether and created permanently overcast skies, the machines turned instead to growing us all in bottles and using the electricity generated from our bodies. Fortunately, I don’t think that’s a viable option. After the movie came out, people naturally wondered whether that could actually work. And the answer is, that it doesn’t. The amount of electricity generated by the human body is way too small. Nevertheless, reading this in the Radio Times makes you wonder if someone couldn’t harness it to provide useful power, nonetheless. Should the producers of this programme be giving them ideas?

Going on to geothermal power, I can remember in the 1970s watching items about it in Iceland on the popular science programmes’ Tomorrow’s World on the Beeb and Don’t Ask Me on ITV. That was the programme that gave the viewing public the great science broadcasters Magnus Pike and David ‘Botanic Man’ Bellamy.

I haven’t heard of electricity being generated by the interaction between fresh and salt water before, but I was amazed at how long ago tidal power has been around as a possible power source. Turbine wheels were put in the Thames estuary in the 16th century to provide power for mills. George Bernard Shaw also mentions tidal power in his book, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. As an example of the type of wrangling that goes on in parliamentary democracy, he asks the reader to imagine the type of fierce debate that would occur if someone suggested putting up a tidal barrage in one of Britain’s great rivers. There would be a fiery contingent from Wales arguing that it should be on the Severn, and an equally fierce body of proud Scots declaring it should be on one of their rivers. I don’t think he need have worried. There have been debates about building a barrage on the Severn since I was at secondary school, and it’s no nearer being built because of concerns over its ecological effects.

But this programme sound amazing. I thinks there’s a simple science experiment for children, in which electrodes are stuck into a lemon or potato, and connected together to turn on an electric lightbulb. Will we be doing something similar in our gardens in a few years’ time, just as people are now putting solar panels on their rooves?

 

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