For today’s article Cleantechies and I are willing to shed some light on an interesting initiative that comes from Seattle. Carbon Washington is a local revenue-neutral carbon tax campaign. I interviewed their team.
This is literally an outrage. According to several sources, oil giant company Shell bought the European energy policy to be as low as possible on renewable energy sources.
As a close examiner for the past decade of energy and climate policies for the European Union, I have been wondering why, oh, why did the EU backed up recently from its previously ambitious policies on climate change.
Now, we just know. The Guardian and many other sources have published this week article on how an oil company spent around four million euros (and as much in US Dollars given the current parity) per year to water down renewable energy goals for 2030.
One single company with a few millions euros was favored by our elected representatives over the wellbeing of its citizens and of our economies. We have seen previously that the ambitious 2020 goals have already been partially reached and that as a result, hundreds of thousands of green jobs have been created in the past few years.
Yes, the European Union still has somewhat ambitious goals for 2030. Cutting by 40 percent total greenhouse gases emissions by that date compared to 1990 levels is ambitious, but it could and should be much more.
I just hope that now this has been exposed new targets will be voted. Shell or any other fossil fuel giant conglomerated should have the last world when we determine our future.
Image credits : Flickr.
People often evaluate scientific evidence not on the basis of its perceived merits, but on whether they agree with the policy implications of the research, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Using issues like climate change and air pollution as test cases, Duke University researchers sought to determine if what they call a “solution aversion” bias could be detected among self-identified Republican or Democratic survey participants.
In one example, participants were provided a scientific assertion that global average temperatures could rise as much as 3.2 degrees by the end of the century, after which they were presented with potential policy solutions. If that solution involved government regulation or increased taxes, just 22 percent of Republican participants expressed confidence in the initial scientific finding. But if the solution emphasized using market forces to curb temperatures, the percentage of Republicans accepting the initial temperature predictions rose to 55 percent. Self-identified Democrats displayed no difference in the same experiment, but liberal biases were clearly elicited on other issues, including crime and gun control, the researchers found.
The study complements previous analyses from Yale University and elsewhere, which suggest that education in the sciences is a poor predictor for global warming beliefs, and that rejection or acceptance of the problem is a product of much complicated sociological and psychological factors.
The most recent column on “groundbreaking innovation” Co-Exist from Fast Company was titled “If Your Neighbor Gets a Solar Panel, You’re Going to Want One Too: Whether your neighbor has a solar installation is more likely to influence your decision than politics or income level.”
The articles’ author Ben Schiller cites studies which mapped 3,843 solar units installed in Connecticut between 2005 and September 2013. What they found was “‘considerable clustering of adoptions’ in ‘wave-like centrifugal’ patterns. When they looked at the dates of the installs, they found one decision in a neighborhood tended to lead to another.”
Pretty cool, but isn’t this old news? Back in 2005, a study in San Diego compared the influence on energy consumption between potential money savings vs concern for the environment vs peer pressure. The results clearly supported social influence, which reduced consumption by 10 percent.” Influence guru Robert B. Cialdini weighed in on the remarkably effective tactic of adding a smiley face to bills for energy reduction, which further reduced energy use: “People don’t just want to conserve energy, they want to be acknowledged for conserving energy.”
Electric Vehicle (EV) adoption also spread in clusters. Not surprisingly, EV and hybrid purchases have been most concentrated in affluent communities with early-adopter characteristics. But far more interesting and perhaps even more relevant, 50.5% of all registrations are clustered in just three suburbs, Atherton and Los Altos (in Silicon Valley), and Santa Monica in Southern California. California has created an infrastructure for EV/Hubrids and is first in ownership, but if affluence was the defining attribute, wouldn’t EV/Hybrids be spread evenly across California’s many wealthy communities?
Now that many low- and mid-priced vehicles are offered in hybrid varieties (i.e., Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, and Ford Fusion), green social influence is moving from novelty for the affluent to smart money for the mainstream. It happened before with residential solar: the highest concentration of Connecticut solar installations clustered in middle income, Republican-voting areas of the state.
Peer influence is also having an impact in the corporate world, where renewable energy is replacing fossil fuels in industry clusters. Benchmarking in industries and companies – comparing your sustainability performance against your peers – leads to greater adoption of renewable energy.
As reported in the solar industry’s third annual Solar Means Business, solar installations cluster by industry, with retail leading the pack. Walmart remains the top solar user overall, spurring its leading competitor Target to move from 16th to 8th ranking with the addition of 15 new solar systems. Retailers’ large flat store roofs are well-suited to roof-top solar apps and their razor-thin margins make energy cost reduction perhaps a higher priority, but other industries are following suit. Apple, which once eschewed environmental concerns, is now fourth in solar installations. Their acknowledgement? Apple appeared first alongside Google and Facebook (their data farms run on wind power) in the Greenbiz article “Apple, Facebook, Google score in Greenpeace data center ratings.”
Peer influence, whether in a corporate or a residential setting, modifies environmental behavior. Can peer shaming work too? Freakonomics economist Steven Levitt, would argue yes. In his words: “…society actually likes it when other people get shamed. … it’s actually a really incredibly efficient mechanism for punishing people who do things we don’t like.”
Another experiment tests peer shaming empirically. San Francisco and Berkeley have both passed legislation requiring that as of March 1, 2015, gas station owners must put climate change warning labels on all gas pump nozzles. The labels say how much carbon dioxide is emitted for every tank of gas burned, saying explicitly how using gas as fuel is contributing to climate change.
Reflecting in The Guardian on a University of Minnesota study that again showed the power of social influence, Adam Corner of the University of Cardiff says, “We may currently compete through demonstrations of conspicuous material consumption, but material goods are simply a marker for social status. It’s the social status that’s important – and the markers we use to signify it can easily change.”
Article by Carol Pierson Holding. Article originally appeared on CSRHub, appearing courtesy 3BL Media.
The negotiating architecture that has governed the decades-long pursuit of an international climate agreement is outdated, said Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change at the State Department and the nation’s lead climate negotiator. In remarks delivered at Yale University’s Law School on Tuesday, Stern reiterated the U.S. position that all nations — both rich ones and developing ones — must be brought together under one agreement that includes pledges to cut emissions.
“This split between developed and developing countries in the climate convention is the singular fault line in these negotiations,” Stern said, “and has been from the beginning.” Under the recently expired Kyoto protocol, developing countries like China and India were exempted from committing to emissions cuts.
Climate talks are scheduled to resume in Lima, Peru later this year, with a goal of achieving a new and fully global treaty at a meeting in Paris in 2015. That pact, Stern argued, ought to require all nations to submit emissions reduction targets, tailored as needed to national interests and abilities. These should not be made legally binding, Stern said — a tack he described as “untenable” — but compliance could be ensured with clear rules for transparency, standardized metrics for accounting and reporting of emissions, and ideally, the passage of sound climate policies in each nation.
On the prospect for domestic climate legislation in the U.S., Stern suggested a tipping point was near: “I doubt, even year from now,” he said, “whether major political candidates will consider it viable to deny the existence of climate change.”
There have been memorable social marketing campaigns over the years–Smokey the Bear, the sizzling egg that is your brain on drugs and the coining of “Obamacare” come to mind. Now Grist reports that Martin Glaser, the advertising genius that came up with the “I Heart New York” logo, has turned his communications brilliance to Climate Change.
As I said in my earlier post on the importance of communications to public policy, Madison-avenue style marketing should not be reserved for toothpaste and cell phone plans. Policy, like anything else, needs to be sold to the public in order to be accepted and effective.
The slogan is “It’s not warming. It’s dying.” You can see the campaign here. I like the slogan, it captures the urgency. But more than the slogan, I like the graphic of a green circle being overcome by a black shadow. I think it is quite effective.
If Madison Avenue can get Americans to believe that 4 out of 5 dentists agree that sugar free gum is good for you, then hopefully Martin Glaser can improve Yale’s survey finding that “only one in three Americans thinks people in the U.S. are being harmed “right now” by global warming in the United States.”
It’s been quite a while since I’ve addressed green patents in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other international efforts to develop climate change policy.
A guest post by Prof. Matthew Rimmer discussed the UNFCCC Doha meeting in December 2012, and I commented on the 2010 Cancun climate change agreement.
Summarizing where we left off, most of the middle-income countries (AKA “developing” countries) together with the least developed countries (collectively, ”G77 + China”) have taken the position that IP protections act as a barrier to development and transfer of green technologies in and to their domestic markets.
The “rich-world” countries, by contrast, advocate strong intellectual property rights and believe they facilitate green tech development, transfer, and deployment.
What is the reality? We don’t know.
A 2008 report by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) equivocally concluded that “IP is potentially both an incentive and an obstacle to the transfer of technology.” The report also noted that “no comprehensive study has been conducted on the impact of IP rights” in green technologies.
Half a decade later, the international community plugs on, and little has changed.
Three Working Groups of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change each generated a report this year that addresses various aspects of climate change. Working Group II’s report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability and Working Group III’s report on Mitigation of Climate Change each addresses IP issues, though the contribution to the debate is small both in volume and significance.
The report of Working Group II skates over familiar ground, stating that in many cases “patents and other intellectual property protection constrain technology transfer” but noting the opposing view that “strong IP protection in receiving countries is facilitating technology transfer from advanced countries…” The report does say the evidence suggests that middle-income countries are benefiting from exports, foreign direct investment, and technology licensing associated with IP protection.
Working Group III’s report is similar in substance and tone, observing that IP protection can provide incentives for innovation but “also works to slow the diffusion of new technologies, because it raises their cost and potentially limits their availability.” Elaborating on the favorable evidence on tech transfer to middle-income countries, the report says IP protection “may be necessary to limit the risk for foreign firms that transfer of their technology will lead to imitation and resulting profit erosion.”
But like the ICTSD report from six years ago, the 2014 report of Working Group III still finds insufficient data to conclusively resolve this debate:
In summary, there is inadequate evidence in the literature regarding the impact of IP policy on transfer of GHG-mitigating technologies to draw robust conclusions.
Where is the comprehensive research we need on the true impact of IP rights on green technology development and diffusion?
Two disconnected events yesterday and today were linked in my mind to the large, open spaces of the West and the challenges we face in striving for a sustainable future. The first was spotting this marquee yesterday with “The Sustainability Secret” catching my eye. The cowspiracy took longer to process.
Cowspiracy is a new environmental documentary (trailer here) with the emphasis on the industry with the link to a sustainability secret being secondary as suggested in the title. After reading about the intrepid filmmaker “uncovering the most destructive industry facing the planet today, and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it” I don’t think the film reflects a whole systems approach to problem solving, but I won’t say much more until I have a chance to see it. And there was that nasty situation in 1998 summed up in this story headline as “Oprah Winfrey vs. The Beef People.” Will maintain an open mind.
What came along today in my inbox was a New York Times documentary on the Sage Grouse and Wind Turbines. These two events together got me thinking of several sustainability champions that address climate change from the perspective of grasslands, carbon, cows and (what wasn’t mentioned much) climate change:
In this video, Grasslands, Carbon, and Climate Change, Jeff Goebel talks about the importance of restoring grasslands to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, doing so rather quickly, and the relationship of grassland restoration to climate change. His interview relates to cows and places like Wyoming where sage grouse live. Jeff has been influenced by the work of Allan Savory who isPresident and Co-founder of the Savory Institute in Boulder, Colorado and is featured here in this video interview, How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change.
“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And terrifyingly, it’s happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes — and his work so far shows — that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.
As an urbanite I feel more comfortable learning about the economic and social aspects of sustainability especially when it comes to understanding the conversations and recommendations of experts. Yet my roots are firmly planted in the farmlands of Ireland and Canada, my family having been dairy farmers so I’ve been interviewing farmers and experts like Jeff Goebel and Allan Savory then adding them to the EarthSayers.tv in special collections addressing biodiversity and climate change. I hope this post proves useful to understanding what may well be a sustainability secret, one I would argue of many.
This political campaign ad from the woman running against Mitch McConnell for a U.S. Senate seat in Kentucky reminds me of an important issue—perhaps the only important issue—driving the ultimate success of the renewable energy industry in this country: the promise of jobs.
The ad depicts an out-of-work coal miner from Eastern Kentucky, providing Ms. Grimes the opportunity to promise how she’ll put this fellow and thousands like him back to work. Never mind that he works in what is arguably the world’s deadliest (legal) profession; the quality of the work isn’t really the point here, rather, that the fossil fuel industry claims to be all about jobs.
They hope you won’t look into this too closely and come to understand that there are 6.5 million jobs supported by renewable energy worldwide. That’s not a promise, by the way; it’s 6.5 million weekly paychecks. They hope you don’t know that EnergyFactCheck.org hosts literally hundreds of articles that describe the huge profusion of jobs opening up every day in the U.S., as solar, wind and the rest continue to expand.
The fossil fuel boys are, of course, the wealthiest and most powerful industry in the history of humankind, and so it’s to be expected that they going to continue to spend some of that lucre to convince you that oil, coal and gas are the only games in town. But ask yourself: why are we hearing about this so much all of a sudden?
My guess is that, for the first time, they’re threatened–and it’s serious. 10 years ago, the fossil industry wasn’t spending a nickel denigrating renewables; they didn’t need to, as we were barely a rounding error. Now, these folks are gazing in horror at some of the most critical facts—data points that become more alarming each week:
• Wind energy is close to five percent of the U.S. grid mix
• The cost of clean energy continues to plummet, and the efficiencies are rising
• Virtually every country other than the U.S. is taking seriously its responsibilities to migrate away from fossil fuels, based on concerns about climate change, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity, lung disease, etc. How long can they continue to count on the ignorance of the American people?
The handwriting’s on the wall. So what to do?
Attack, of course.
But the renewable energy industry’s response isn’t a counter-attack per se; it’s not hysteria and lies; it’s facts and reason; it’s the truth about what is clearly destined to be the defining industry in the 21st Century, and thus the place where real job growth resides.
We’ve been hearing about the potential wonders of the Smart Grid for several years now. It will save energy, make utility operations more streamlined, support renewables and save money for consumers. All these things are true, and they will be even more important in the years ahead as the impacts of climate change are felt more strongly. But blackouts are happening right now, and they are costing utilities money. That seems to be the primary driver for many power companies to begin investing in technology today.
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), power outages cost US businesses $150 billion per year. The number of blackouts has increased 285% since 1984 and their duration, here in the US, is the longest among industrialized countries.
Why is that? There are two reasons. First, there is more power going through our electric grid than ever before. Second, and most important, the grid is getting old.
The U.S. electrical grid, once considered a marvel, is becoming a dinosaur. Going back over 60 years, some of the designs date back to Edison himself. It consists of some 7,000 power plants pushing electrons out over 450,000 miles of transmission lines, to businesses and homes that are interconnected by some 2.5 million miles of feeder lines. According to the Edison Electric Institute, it is worth $876 billion, though the value of what it produces is incalculable.
It was built for a time and a scale when things could be done manually. Meter readers would go from house to house reading mechanical meters, and linemen could inspect the lines to see where repairs were needed. Today, it has become too big and too indispensable for that.
Houston-based CenterPoint Energy oversees some 50,000 miles of power lines. Rather than relying on linemen to search for breaks and downed tree limbs, they have deployed wireless relays that send out transmission data every 15 minutes. The data allows the utility to see the usage from every home they’re connected to, allowing them to forecast demand, as well as finding line breaks as soon as they occur. This is the first stage of an “intelligent grid” pilot that will rely on a network of sensors, switches, smart meters, and data analysis software that will give the utility far more control over the dynamic ebbs and flows of supply and demand, which will ultimately allow them to operate more efficiently. It will also allow them to more effectively integrate renewable sources like wind and solar, dispatching power into the grid or into storage on a moment by moment basis.
CenterPoint is one of many utilities that are investing in smart grid technology with the assistance of Federal dollars. Detroit’s DTE Energy, in conjunction with Tollgrade, is investing $250 million on an outage prediction system that they expect will eliminate half a million outage minutes for its customers over the next three years.
Pecan Street in Austin, Texas in another demonstration project that is attempting to show how the interconnection between utilities and customers can help avoid overbuilding and over-generation.
These are exciting, high-profile projects that are helping to get the word out on how effective these types of interconnections can be. But, digging deeper we find that many utilities are not yet jumping on the bandwagon. Smart Grid Insights recently did a Municipal Smart Grid Survey of 91 utilities in which they found that:
- Smart grid deployment for the largest proportion (42%) of utilities was only in the planning/investigatory stage.
- Managing, storing, and effectively using smart grid data concerned 97% of these utilities (42% were very concerned).
- Most important smart grid application area was smart meters/AMR/AMI (85%).
- Smart grid projects, over the next five years, was most often a moderate priority (47%).
- Over 1/3 (36%) of utilities said no customer outreach has been made.
- Additionally, over half (52%) of respondents said they were not exploring formal renewable energy generation initiatives.
The most common reason given for this lack of participation was budget limitations (44%). The biggest area of concern (77%) for deployment was utility system integration. While each utility is looking after their piece of the pie, there appears to be a vacuum at the upper level where someone needs to be responsible for making sure that all the pieces work together. This would be a natural place for government oversight, perhaps under DOE, but in today’s political environment, it could be difficult to establish such a function.
On a global scale, the presence of people corresponds to more plant growth, according to an analysis of three decades of global vegetation greenness data from satellites. More than 20 percent of global vegetation change can be attributed to human activities, such as agriculture, nitrogen fertilization, and irrigation, rather than climate change, researchers report in the journal Remote Sensing.
The findings suggest that global climate change models, which typically don’t consider human land use, should take into account the relatively large impact human settlements can have on vegetative cover, the researchers say. From 1981 to 2010, for example, areas with a human footprint saw plant greenness and plant productivity increase by up to 6 percent, while areas with a minimal human footprint, such as rangelands and wildlands, saw almost no change.
The finding doesn’t imply that relatively small areas with massive populations like New York City, with a high population density, are necessarily flourishing in increasingly abundant greenery, the scientists say. Rather, most of the increases in growth and greenness were seen near villages and rural areas, where agriculture is more intense.
The small island nation of Kiribati has purchased a swath of land in Fiji as a refuge for citizens who may be displaced by rising sea levels, marking the first time a country has taken such actions as a defense against climate change, the Guardian reports.
Kiribati, home to roughly 110,000 people scattered across 33 islands in the Pacific Ocean, is one of several small island nations in the Pacific and Indian oceans that could be extensively or completely submerged within a few decades.
The cost of protecting such countries often far outweighs their national incomes, which are heavily dependent on tourism. Kiribati, with a GDP of under $200 million, ranks among the 10 countries facing the most severe financial impacts of climate change.
The tract of 20 square kilometers on the island of Vanua Levu, Fiji, could potentially provide a future refuge for all of Kiribati’s citizens, the country’s president said, but in the meantime Kiribati plans to use the land for agriculture and fish-farming projects.
From all the news about how anthropogenic emissions of CO2 are increasing tremendously (remember the hockey stick graph?) you would think that these emissions are causing all the atmospheric increases of CO2. And, our use of fossil fuels is increasing exponentially, with more than half of all fossil fuels ever used by humans being consumed in the last 20 years.
However, in comparison with the amount of carbon that enters the atmosphere from natural sources, our fossil fuel emissions are modest. “Carbon dioxide generated by human activities amounts to only a few percent of the total yearly atmospheric uptake or loss of carbon dioxide from plant life and geochemical processes on land and in the ocean,” said Gregg Marland, a professor in the Geology Department of Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina. “This may not seem like much, but humans have essentially tipped the balance.”
Scientists are able to accurately measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, both today and in the past, and the impact of our activities is apparent in those measurements. Before the Industrial Revolution, there were about 280 molecules of carbon dioxide out of every million molecules in the atmosphere, that is, 280 parts per million. By 2014, the concentration had risen to about 400 parts per million.
Although we know the concentration of carbon dioxide, much about the processes that govern the gas’s atmospheric concentration remains a mystery. We still do not know precisely where all of the carbon dioxide comes from and where it is being stored when it leaves the air. That information is crucial for understanding the impact of human activities on climate and for evaluating options for mitigating or adapting to climate change.
Scientists expect to get some answers soon to these and other compelling carbon questions, thanks to the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, a new Earth-orbiting NASA satellite scheduled to launch on July 1. OCO-2 will allow scientists to record detailed daily measurements of carbon dioxide — around 100,000 measurements of the gas around the world every day.
“Now that humans are acknowledging the environmental effects of our dependence on fossil fuels and other carbon dioxide-emitting activities, our goal is to analyze the sources and sinks of this carbon dioxide and to find better ways to manage it,” Marland said.
Article by Roger Greenway.
A top Chinese climate adviser signaled Tuesday that the country planned to set a new cap on carbon emissions by the end of the decade, which would be the first such effort from the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
The comments by He Jiankun, chairman of China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change, came a day after U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration proposed the first-ever carbon limits for existing power plants. (See related story: “Four Key Takeaways from EPA’s New Rules for Power Plants.”)
The adviser, speaking at a conference in Beijing, said that the cap on emissions starting from 2016 would come as part of China’s next five-year plan. “The government will use two ways to control CO2 emissions in the next five-year plan, by intensity and an absolute cap,” he said, according to Reuters. China is responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. (See related interactive map: “Four Ways to Look at Carbon Footprints.”)
He did not provide specifics about what the target would be, and the comment was not an official announcement. But the way some media outlets interpreted the remarks became a story in and of itself, as The New York Times‘ Andrew Revkin noted that the Guardian and USA Today mistakenly billed the comments as a “pledge” from China to reduce emissions. Reuters later issued a corrected version of its original story, changing the attribution from “China said” to “a senior government adviser said.”
Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, said that He Jiankun is “effectively one of the most senior advisers” to the climate minister at China’s National Development Reform Commission, “one of the most powerful ministries in China.”
Schmidt said, “As with many things in China, these officials don’t speak unless there’s some emerging consensus in the government that this is a position that they’re trending toward. I think it’s a very positive sign that this kind of debate has taken hold.” (Take the related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Energy in Asia.”)
The United States, which ranks second in world carbon emissions, has committed via the Copenhagen Accord to reducing its emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
The rules proposed yesterday would require U.S. states to reduce pollution from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels over the next 15 years. States will be able to create their own plans for how to meet the targets.
The carbon reductions at stake with the power plant goals are extremely modest from a global standpoint, but have been widely seen as momentous action on climate change from the Obama administration, which has been unable to push major climate legislation through Congress. (See related story: “One Key Question on Obama’s Push Against Climate Change: Will It Matter?“)
Sarah Ladislaw, a director and senior fellow of the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said last week that U.S. action on climate change was critical to shoring up confidence from other nations as the world prepares for international climate talks in Paris next year. She said, “It’s really about the United States and China trying to show—and actually define—what leadership is on this issue.”
The next round of climate talks under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change began this week in Bonn, Germany.
NRDC’s Schmidt said that ahead of next year’s climate talks in Paris, key emitting countries including the U.S., China, and India are expected to announce their climate targets beyond 2020. “In that context,” he said, “there’s a very intense debate in China about when its emissions will peak, and at what level.”