Climate and Energy News Roundup 11/7/2022

Ultimately, climate change will not be solved by climate scientists and engineers calculating how many solar panels we need installed. It will be solved by citizens sitting down and talking to each other over a glass of iced tea about how we need to start taking care of each other, trusting each other, and working together to save this place and everything we love. —Andreas Karelas

Our Climate Crisis

Scientists are finding an alarming global drop in biodiversity. One study shows that monitored populations of vertebrates have declined an average of 69% from 1970 to 2018. That’s more than two-thirds in only 48 years.  The top driver on land is agriculture, as we turn forests and other ecosystems into farmland. At sea, it’s fishing. Unless we’re able to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5 degrees, climate change will become the leading cause of biodiversity loss in coming decades.

Extreme drought in the American Midwest has pushed water levels in the Mississippi River and its tributaries to drop to record lows this month. This has both constrained barge cargo traffic on the Mississippi and is allowing salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to creep up the river.

So-called ghost forests are stretching across eastern U.S. coastal communities. The miles of gray, barren trees in once-healthy wetlands are the result of sea rise and saltwater infiltration, which are the direct products of climate change. This is happening right now in our region, not by the end of the century or in some far off polar region.

A study by the World Meteorological Organization shows that the amount of methane in the atmosphere is racing ahead at an accelerating pace, threatening to undermine efforts to slow climate change. A worrisome part of the finding is that the bulk of the increased methane is coming from wetlands and other natural systems as a result of global warming.

Some 20 million people are already being displaced every year by natural disasters. All signs point to even more people being forced from their communities by weather-related disasters as well as slow-onset catastrophes like drought and sea-level rise. The World Bank projects that 216 million people will be forced to migrate because of climate change by 2050 if we do not take serious efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Politics and Policy

The Amazon rainforest was on the ballot in Brazil’s presidential election runoff, which former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva narrowly won over President Jair Bolsonaro. Deforestation skyrocketed under Bolsonaro and Lula made climate and protecting the Amazon part of his election campaign. Even so, it will be a tough fight because Bolsonaro won the popular vote in half the states that make up the rainforest.

The Inflation Reduction Act allocates $141 billion to wind and solar energy. This is the first time that subsidies and tax credits for renewable energy in the United States have exceeded subsidies to fossil fuel companies. Still, these renewable energy subsidies are only about two-thirds of what the petrochemical companies have received from the government over the past decade.

Germany is in the process of phasing out its nuclear reactors. Now, in response to the energy crisis created by the war in Ukraine, it is gearing up coal power plants to help meet energy needs for the winter. Climate activist Greta Thunberg created a heated political argument by chastising Germany for cutting already operating nuclear power for coal. Chancellor Olaf Scholz then ordered Germany’s three remaining nuclear plants to remain in operation at least until next April.

More than 20 major universities have pledged to stop investing their endowment funds in fossil fuel stocks. Getting them to stop taking donations from fossil fuel companies has been a harder sell. They need to stop doing so to protect the integrity of their climate research. It was therefore a major breakthrough when Princeton University recently committed not just to divest but also to disassociate from 90 fossil fuel companies. This puts pressure on other major universities to do the same.

The World Bank has come under fire for investing nearly $15 billion in fossil fuel projects despite its commitment to addressing climate change. One of those projects is a natural gas pipeline, which will stretch across the entire country of Turkey to deliver gas from Azerbaijan to Europe. The World Bank is pushing back on the criticism by saying they have “delivered a record $31.7 billion for climate-related investments, to help communities around the world.”

A report from the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund gives the Virginia science standards for public schools a failing grade in teaching climate change. It received an F grade along with only two other states, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Energy

“Energy markets and policies have changed as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, not just for the time being, but for decades to come,” according to the executive director of the International Energy Agency. The spiraling energy costs caused by the war and various other factors could be a turning point toward cleaner energy. Worldwide investment in wind and solar is set to outpace oil and gas drilling for the first time this year.

Record wind and solar production in Europe offset 11 billion euros in natural gas costs this year. This softened the blow of limited natural gas supply and soaring energy prices caused by the war in Ukraine. Even so, this is too little to end the energy crisis or to completely supplant the continent’s appetite for fossil fuels.

The House speakers in Virginia and West Virginia recently announced that they are working together to bring advanced small, modular nuclear reactors to the rural and economically challenged regions of their states. The energy hub in Virginia would be located on former coal mine sites in the Southwest part of the state. Residents there say they were not consulted on the proposal to locate a nuclear reactor in their community.

This is part of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s push to make Virginia an innovative energy hub with a focus on emerging technologies such as nuclear, hydrogen, carbon capture, and battery storage—strangely omitting offshore wind. Environmental critics say the plan focuses on unproven technologies that are not necessarily green. This is kicking the climate can down the road.

Australia will build the world’s largest battery to help position the country to shut down its biggest coal plant. Australia has more than doubled its renewable electricity generation in the last decade thanks to rapid growth in solar and wind production. The battery will help the electric grid to store and evenly distribute this intermittent energy.

Climate Justice

Twenty poor countries most vulnerable to climate change say they are caught in a trap of spending money for climate change mitigation that will increase their debt payments. They are pushing for the creation of an international fund that would compensate them for losses and damage caused by climate change. Therefore, whether wealthy countries like it or not, climate reparations will be on the agenda at the United Nations climate change conference, or COP27, in Egypt this month.

A study, recently published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, shows that climate anxiety is spreading all over the planet, not just in wealthy countries. A related study shows that “45 percent of teens and young adults said that climate anxiety was affecting their daily lives and ability to function.” They are taking various actions “like going to a protest, becoming an advocate for mass transit, or trying to get an environmental champion elected.”

Climate Action

The transportation sector accounts for 27% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., making it the largest single emitter. Tackling those emissions will necessarily include better public transit that utilizes microtransit, demand-response transit, and specified commuter routes in addition to fixed circular routes. Cities and local governments can utilize $3 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act climate law to create such efficient transportation systems.

Under a new federal program, nearly 400 school districts across the United States are receiving roughly $1 billion in grants to purchase about 2,500 electric school buses. This will benefit the health of children, who will no longer be exposed to noxious diesel fumes, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Protected bike lanes can help cities cut greenhouse gas emissions. It, however, requires a full network of protected lanes to make biking a viable, safe alternative for more people. Bogota’s $130 million investment in protected bike lanes proves that it works.

Two of our biggest problems globally are hunger and climate change. Food waste accounts for 8 to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. When it rots in a landfill, it produces methane that quickly heats up the planet. At the same time, 31% of food that is grown, shipped or sold is wasted. This is where governments and resourceful local people are stepping in to help feed hungry people, while cutting down on food waste. 

Many homes in the U.S. are ill-prepared for the increasing stresses of climate change. The Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program helps low-income homeowners save on utility costs, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Activities covered under WAP include adding insulation, replacing heating and/or cooling systems, air sealing, replacing doors and windows, as well as various repairs.

There are roughly 50 million acres of lawn in the U.S.; they take up as much land as all our national parks combined. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, our sod-obsessed, grow, mow and blow culture relies on three trillion gallons of water, 800 million gallons of gasoline, and 59 million pounds of pesticides per year. Louise Washer discovered that her lawn was a food desert for bees and other wildlife so she is transforming it into a pollinator friendly landscape.

Eight states are launching their own Civilian Climate Corps programs after funding was stripped out of the Democrats’ landmark climate bill this summer. Using the AmeriCorps program and additional state funding, these efforts range from home energy conservation in Maine to composting and edible food recovery in California. Advocates hope that these programs will eventually provide a powerful model for a Civilian Climate Corps at the federal level.

Solar panels were recently installed on the roof of the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Center as supporters gathered to celebrate with a solar picnic. The Harrisonburg Carpenters’ Guild had earlier carried out weatherization improvements on the building. An energy efficient electric HVAC system will also be installed. These upgrades will make the center more effective at achieving its core mission while contributing to environmental solutions.

The second annual Rocktown Energy Festival was held in downtown Harrisonburg on Saturday, Oct. 29, near the farmers market. It was a great place to learn more about efforts to combat climate change through converting to clean energy. Local non-profits and clean energy companies were there promoting practical solutions such as home weatherization, installing solar panels, transitioning to EV cars, and offering ways to get politically involved. There were also forums where speakers discussed various clean energy related matters. 

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 10/11/2022

“Like other countries, the United States needs to embark on a decades-long course of cutting its [greenhouse gas] emissions. And no matter how much help comes from Washington, much of the work will need to be done by state and local communities.” –Hal Harvey and Justin Gills, The Big Fix: Seven Practical Steps to Save Our Planet

Our Climate Crisis

After pummeling Cuba, Hurricane Ian was among the most powerful and devastating hurricanes to make landfall in the US. The destruction of property alone appears to be among the worst recorded. According to Michael Wehner at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, “Climate change didn’t cause the storm but it did cause it to be wetter.” Warming oceans caused it to absorb and dump 10% more water than it otherwise would have, creating a significant multiplying effect.

According to a recent scientific report, global warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius will most likely set off several climate “tipping points.” This includes the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, abrupt thawing of Arctic permafrost, the loss of mountain glaciers, and the collapse of ocean currents in the North Atlantic. This will have long-term effects such as unrelenting sea level rise, the release of more heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere, and more extreme weather.

South Asia’s monsoon, which brings life-giving water to nearly a quarter of humanity, is becoming more extreme. This includes erratic periods of drought punctuated by heavy rainfall events. Climate change induced warmer air holds more moisture, which can stay in the atmosphere for longer periods and then dump it in a short period of time.  A normal week’s or month’s rainfall can fall in a few hours to a few days, creating severe flooding as recently experienced in Pakistan.

Politics and Policy

Environmentalists fear that the side deal on federal energy permitting reform that majority leader Chuck Schumer agreed to with Sen. Joe Manchin could be a giveaway to the fossil fuel industry. Others see it as necessary for building out necessary clean energy infrastructure. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine sharply criticized such permitting reform if it is used to force completion of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, saying that “it could open the door to serious abuse and even corruption.”

Chevron is exploiting a news desert created by the closure of local newspapers to serve up a mixture of local news and energy propaganda in Texas. This copies the tactics of right-wing operatives who used a sprawling network of 28 fake news sites to publish almost 5,000 articles about teaching critical race theory in schools to influence the Virginia governor’s race in 2021.

Sixty-one Virginia Democrats signed onto a letter opposing Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed regulatory route to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The letter states that participation in RGGI is mandated by law, making it a decision for the General Assembly. This makes Gov. Youngkin’s proposed regulatory route improper and illegal. Even so, Youngkin says he supports flood mitigation even though RGGI funds are used for this purpose.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia Energy Plan takes an all-of-the-above approach to energy and regulatory reform. It calls for looking beyond solar- and wind-powered generation of electricity by supporting the development of hydrogen fuel, geothermal energy, small modular nuclear reactors, and carbon sequestration. It also seeks to roll back aspects of the Virginia Clean Economy Act. Climate activists are concerned about its reliance on unproven technologies and fear that it is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to support the fossil fuel industry while obstructing our transition to a clean energy economy.

Current Virginia laws regulating electric utilities hinder an affordable and equitable clean energy transition in Virginia. The regulatory system rewards utilities for capital-intensive investments rather than cost-saving measures for customers. Additionally, they’re able to pass along 100% of fuel costs to customers, incentivizing them to sell as much energy as possible instead of prioritizing energy efficiency, which saves money and reduces pollution.

Energy

There’s a surge in electric vehicles in India but not necessarily electric cars. Instead, electric powered mopeds and three-wheeled rickshaw taxis that sell for as little as $1,000 are zipping along India’s congested urban streets. This is providing a template for how developing countries can get rid of combustion engines and combat climate change as well as urban smog.

Renewable energy (including wind, hydropower, solar, biomass and geothermal) now powers 24.8% of U.S. electricity generation, leap frogging past coal last year. Natural gas remains the leading fuel for electricity, with 37.9% of the country’s total; coal contributes 18.5%; and nuclear, 17.9%. It will be a while until renewables dethrone natural gas, but that day is coming.

The notion that switching to clean energy sources will be expensive has been stood on its head by rising fossil fuel prices and the dropping costs of wind and solar energy. An Oxford University study shows that switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy could save the world as much as $12 trillion by 2050.

Building large-scale, high-power EV charging centers across the U.S. is rapidly moving forward. The startup company Terawatt Infrastructure has raised $1 billion to roll out charging depots for electric cars and trucks. To date, more than $6.4 billion toward this effort has been raised by equity and debt financing through various private-sector efforts. In a related development, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the approval of the first 35 states to build out EV charging infrastructure across 53,000 miles of highway. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes $5 billion available for this effort over five years.

The Inflation Reduction Act will make clean energy much more competitive in the next decade according to analysis from ICF Climate Center, a global consulting firm. The cost of solar energy could fall 20 to 35% and the cost of wind energy could fall 38 to 49%. The cost of green hydrogen could fall a whopping 52 to 67% and become cost-competitive with new natural-gas-powered facilities by 2030.

The nations of the world recently committed to drastically lower greenhouse gas emissions from the world’s airplanes in an effort to reach net zero by 2050. Airline companies have previously relied on offsetting aviation’s emissions growth through tree-planting programs or through investing in yet unproven technology to pull carbon dioxide out of the air. Reaching net zero will, however, require them to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in increasingly efficient planes and cleaner fuels to sharply reduce emissions from air travel.

The United States now gets about 40% of its electricity from carbon-free sources and researchers have a pretty good idea of how to cost-effectively get to about 90%. But there’s little agreement about how to get to the last 10%. Some researchers say we can do it with wind and solar power along with battery storage. Others think it will take options like nuclear and hydrogen, with perhaps fossil fuels connected to carbon capture.

The US Department of Defense is the single largest institutional fossil fuel user in the world, being responsible for 77 to 80% of federal energy consumption. While the Pentagon looks at the world in terms of threats, it fails to see its own role in increasing greenhouse gas emissions as part of a massive global threat.

Climate Justice

Some $60 billion in environmental spending recently passed by Congress has been earmarked for environmental justice. Robert Bullard, a scholar at Texas Southern University known as the father of environmental justice, sees this as a reason for celebration, but also caution. Never before has so much been at stake. Too often, federal money and relief funds are “doled out inequitably by state and local governments, and away from people of color and poor communities, who are the most afflicted by pollution and most vulnerable to climate change.”

Africa is most disproportionally affected by the impact of climate change even though its contribution is historically negligible. Around 15% of the world’s population lives on the continent but they contribute less than 3.8% of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming.

Vanessa Nakate, a 25-year-old, thoughtful, smart and quietly spoken climate activist from Uganda, comments, “Africa is on the frontlines of the climate crisis but it’s not on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. Every activist who speaks out is telling a story about themselves and their community, but if they are ignored, the world will not know what’s really happening, what solutions are working. The erasure of our voices is literally the erasure of our histories and what people hold dear to their lives.”

Rising sea levels, heatwaves, wildfires, and increasingly intense hurricanes are putting more Americans in harm’s way. People looking for places to live have flocked to areas vulnerable to such disasters, leaving some 40 million people at risk. Now local, state, and federal officials are increasingly considering managed retreat, or buyouts, as a way to get people out of such areas. But this raises questions of equality? What gets lost, and who gets left behind?

Climate Action

California’s power grid was strained to the limit by record-high demand in the beginning of September during a searing heat wave.  Californians saved the grid by responding to a call from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services asking them to “conserve energy now to protect public health and safety.” The state should, therefore, go all in on smart thermostats, solar-charged batteries, EVs and other devices that can help shore up the grid when it is stressed.

Various ways to combine solar power with agriculture are being tested. The most common and successful combination is grazing sheep under and around solar installations. A farmer in Maine is also experimenting with growing wild blueberries under a solar installation on his farm. Researchers at the University of Vermont are successfully growing saffron between solar panels.

Virginia schools are among the top in utilizing solar energy in the US. The solar capacity of Virginia’s K-12 schools has more than doubled over the past two years, saving them millions of dollars. This progress was largely spurred by a policy change in Virginia allowing tax-exempt entities like schools and localities to use third-party power purchase agreements.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 9/7/2022

The future is a replay of the past—a combination of admirable advances and (un)avoidable setbacks. But there is something new as we look ahead, that unmistakably increasing (albeit not unanimous) conviction that, of all the risks we face, global climate change is the one that needs to be tackled most urgently and effectively. —Vaclav Smil

Our Climate Crisis

A third of Pakistan has been flooded and more than 1,000 people were killed in a “monster monsoon” that has swept away lives, homes, crops and bridges. Local climate experts are drawing a direct line to human-made climate change, saying their country has made a negligible contribution to global warming but is now suffering from its effects.

Scientists have known for some time that the Arctic is warming faster than other regions. Recent research shows that it’s occurring four times faster than average, not the two to three times that has been previously reported. One result is the even faster melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which one study shows will cause the ocean to rise about 12 inches by the end of the century even if greenhouse gas emissions were halted today.  It also influences weather, like extreme rainfall and heat waves in North America and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere.

A severe heatwave and drought has caused China to suspend production in several major manufacturing regions to conserve electricity. It is also pushing them to expand their use of coal for energy as they have had to cut back on hydroelectricity. The extreme heat and drought that has been roasting a vast swath of the country for at least 70 straight days has no parallel in modern record-keeping in China.

In the American Southwest, a climate exacerbated historic drought is forcing severe reductions in water taken from the Colorado river. Together with historic heat, drought, and flooding in other places around the world, this is making climate change a secret driver of inflation by disrupting both manufacturing supply chains and agriculture.

Drought conditions and extreme weather have wreaked havoc on agriculture across the United States, but especially in the Central and Southern Great Plains, reducing yields by as much as a third compared with last year. The poor yields are likely more than a one-year blip, as climate change alters weather patterns across the country.

Saltwater intrusion from rising sea levels is threatening coastal agriculture on the Delmarva Peninsula and in the Carolinas. Thousands of acres are already unable to be farmed and it’s projected that an additional tens of thousands of acres will be unusable within the century. The Nature Conservancy is promoting conservation easements to facilitate a transition of cropland to salt marsh, providing numerous ecosystem services and up to 90% of the market value for farms.

Politics and Policy

Democrats delivered a dramatic win in the effort to fight climate change.  The Inflation Reduction Act will accelerate U.S. emission cuts and put the country on a path to reduce greenhouse gases by 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.  This will significantly narrow the gap in our goal, under the Paris climate agreement, to cut emissions by at least half by that date.

The landmark Inflation Reduction Act amends the Clean Air Act by defining carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels as “air pollutants.” This language was written specifically to address the Supreme Court’s justification for reining in the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year by arguing that Congress had never given the E.P.A. the authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

Other states are poised to follow California’s lead in banning the sale of new gas-powered cars beginning in 2035. It will halt the sale of such vehicles in Virginia because a 2021 law, pushed through by state Democrats, links the state to vehicle emissions standards and electric car sales targets set by California. This year, Republicans tried but failed to repeal the law, which is supported by the influential Virginia Automobile Dealers Association.

A Republican led effort in the Virginia General Assembly would have prevented cities and towns from restricting access to gas utility service and propane. The bill was defeated in the House by environmentalists and Democrats because it would have stripped local governments of their ability to set climate policy.

In turn for Sen. Joe Manchin’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act, congressional Democratic leaders agreed to advance legislation to streamline the approval process for infrastructure projects such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline.  Manchin’s political maneuvers in support of the pipeline are, however, not necessarily certain to succeed. Environmental activists are committed to continuing the fight. Despite such opposition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently granted the company a four-year extension to complete the pipeline.

Energy

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act climate and health bill includes a big win for the solar industry by including a 10-year extension of the 30% investment tax credit. The tax credit had dropped to 26% this year and was going to go to 22% next year. After that, it was going to end for residential projects, and go to 10% for large-scale projects.

New York City announced a $70 million initiative that will install 30,000 electric heat pumps to bring climate-friendly comfort to residents of its aging public housing units. This is part of a broader effort by New York state and city governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings 40% by 2030.

The 835-acre solar farm that Dominion Energy plans to build at the Dulles International Airport will be the largest airport-based solar and battery development in the United States. At peak production it will provide enough energy to power about 37,000 Northern Virginia homes.

Fervo Energy, a leading geothermal energy startup, just raised $138 million to build and run a fleet of power plants fueled by the Earth’s heat. They will use the same drilling techniques as the oil and gas industry, to access geothermal resources that are otherwise too expensive or technically complex to reach. Their first commercial project now under construction will produce 5-megawatts of power to support Google’s data center operations in Nevada.

Virginia now has more acres in solar energy production than in tobacco. We’re now creating energy in Virginia that we previously had to import as fossil fuels from other places. This is a big gain to the state economy, saving electric customers close to $50 million.

Climate Justice

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act climate and health bill includes up to $60 billion in environmental justice initiatives. These initiatives include: 1.) reducing greenhouse gas emissions in low-income and disadvantaged communities, 2.) cleaning up industrially polluted Superfund sites that disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income residents, 3.) block grants for community-led environmental and climate projects, and 4.) funds to help make affordable housing more energy efficient.

RCF Connects, a nonprofit in Richmond California, restores abandoned homes and facilitates first-time home ownership among the city’s Black and brown residents. Now, working with a grant from the California Energy Commission, they are turning these houses into a source of green energy for the grid by making each house part of a “virtual power plant.” Each house will have solar panels, energy efficient appliances, and battery storage, allowing the owner to not only enjoy low energy bills but even sell energy back to the grid.

The recent catastrophic floods in eastern Kentucky, one of America’s poorest areas, have exacerbated the brutal cycle of poverty. That’s because low-income people are more likely to be located in flood zones, and less likely to access relief funds to repair the damages. People most often have no option other than rebuilding in the same flood prone area.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is trucking millions of tons of contaminated coal ash from an inactivated power plant. This involves huge dump trucks rumbling through the historically black community of south Memphis for the next 8-10 years to dump it in a nearby landfill. And residents have discovered that there is nothing they can do to stop it.

Climate Action

Former vice president Al Gore, a tireless crusader against climate change, couldn’t believe that it took Congress so long to respond to the crisis. That changed when President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law several weeks ago. Gore ecstatically exclaimed, “It will create jobs, lower costs, increase U.S. competitiveness, reduce air pollution and, of course, tackle the climate crisis. We have crossed a major threshold, and it’s going to have significant impacts on international climate action.”

Spending hours in a commercial kitchen standing over the open flame and heat of a gas-burning stove can be suffocating. That’s why chef Christopher Galarza has become such a big proponent of switching to induction electric ranges that he and a friend started a consultancy called Forward Dining Solutions. Switching to electric cuts down on fossil fuel consumption while improving the physical and mental toll of working in a commercial kitchen.

Harrisonburg recently added the first two EV cars to its fleet. The city has also secured grant funding for a pilot program for two electric school buses and infrastructure for the first 10 electric school buses. Councilwoman Laura Dent says next steps in cutting down the city’s carbon footprint includes shifting “the entire city fleet, and transit buses, and school buses” to become electric.

Moving to a four-day workweek could be a net plus for the environment by cutting down on transportation and other energy consumption but this depends on what people do during their time off work. The move to remote work also has environmental pros and cons but appears to be a net positive by cutting down on the use of fossil fuels and improving air quality.

Universal cycling could roughly erase one-fifth of CO2 emissions from using passenger cars. To do that we need to start bicycling like the Dutch. The transformation will depend on designing our communities to make it easier for people to get around by public transportation, on foot, and on bicycle.

The Virginia Clean Energy Plan, developed every four years, establishes a plan to achieve a “net-zero carbon energy economy” by 2045. Comments on what should be included in the 2022 plan are welcome through October 1, 2022.

  1. You can email your comments to: energyplan@energy.virginia.gov
  2. Or you can fill out the survey at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5VN2VNT)

Harrisonburg Electric Commission’s Friendly City Solar program now offers customers the opportunity to participate in a community solar partnership that supports renewable energy without the high upfront costs or ongoing maintenance of installing solar panels on their home. You can find out more here.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/3/2022

Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things. — Lao Tzu

Our Climate Crisis

Ancient giant sequoias in California, once considered impervious to flames, are again under threat from wildfires, this time in the Yosemite National Park. The wildfire has grown into the state’s largest of the season. Bristlecone pine trees in Death Valley, which have lived for more than 1,000 years, are likewise under threat from climate change induced drought and bark beetle infestations.

Europe experienced a bout of exceptional heat across Britain, France, Spain and Portugal that then moved east across central Europe. Temperatures surged to as high as 117 degrees Fahrenheit over the Iberian Peninsula, and the United Kingdom saw the hottest temperatures ever recorded there. People have been evacuated from their homes across southern Europe due to heat related wildfires blistering the landscape.

Deadly climate induced summer heatwaves and the war in Ukraine are pushing European countries—but also other countries like China and India—into a desperate scramble to secure energy for electricity. This is upending plans to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. In effect, our ability to slow down climate change is being undermined by the producers of the very fossil fuels that are responsible for climate change.

Politics and Policy

President Biden has made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030. A study by an independent research firm, however, reveals that our country is on track to reduce emissions by only 24 to 35% below 2005 levels by 2030.  It will take substantial additional policy action to reach the goal of reducing emissions 50% by 2030.

In a fast moving story, after months of negotiations, Sen. Joe Manchin announced that he could not support climate legislation, leaving President Biden with the option of making some climate related executive actions. Then, after lots of urging from corporate CEOs, other senators, climate activists, and labor unions, Sen. Manchin announced that he and senate leader Chuck Schumer had agreed on the outline of a bill involving $369 billion in climate incentives in the newly dubbed Inflation Reduction Act, H.R. 5376 (117). If enacted into law, this promises to be a huge climate action game changer.

A conservative climate advocate says the recent Supreme Court decision in West Virginia vs. EPA demonstrates the need to further incentivize clean energy innovation rather than relying on regulations to slow greenhouse gas emissions. Empowering innovators will play to America’s comparative advantage and provide cleaner choices at lower prices.

California’s aggressive policy of cutting back on the use of fossil fuels is experiencing pushback from localities that depend heavily on tax revenue from oil, gas and coal to fund their schools, hospitals and roads. Because California is ahead of other states in the fight against climate change, this struggle portends similar future struggles across the country.

Rising temperatures in heavily populated countries like Indonesia and India are encouraging more and more people to invest in home air conditioning, which is still relatively uncommon in their countries. This creates a vicious cycle because these countries still rely largely on inefficient, carbon emitting coal-fired electric power plants, which inordinately contribute to global warming. Breaking out of this cycle will require major policy changes and clean energy investments.

Mainstream economic and political thinking assumes that social stability and rising standards of living depend on economic growth. Our pursuit of growth is, however, causing great ecological harm and incurring more costs than gains. Economist Herman Daly, therefore, advocates a steady-state economy, which forgoes the environmentally destructive drive for growth. It’s also why Virginia conservationist Brian Czech founded the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy in 2003.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has received lots of public reaction against the request by Mountain Valley Pipeline to extend the project for an additional 4 years. Submissions opposing the extension include a letter from 27 Virginia state legislators, a sign-on letter by 270 participating organizations, as well as thousands of individual comments. Alternatively, it appears that Sen. Joe Manchin has received a pledge from Democratic leaders that they will support finishing this contested pipeline as part of his agreement to support the $369 billion climate bill.

The Sierra Club Virginia Chapter has given our area state legislators a failing grade on energy policies. Here’s the score: Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-24), Del. John Avoli (R-20), Del. Tony Wilt (R-26), Del. Chris Runion (R-25) and Del. Ronnie Campbell (R-24) all received an “F” rating.

Energy

A Consumer Reports survey finds that more than a third of Americans would consider buying or leasing an EV. Respondents who said they would not consider an EV, raised concerns about charging logistics, vehicle range, and the overall cost. While some of these worries are perhaps justified, they may have more to do with perception than reality.

Buying an EV is now a better deal than a comparable car that runs on gasoline, due to much lower fuel and maintenance costs. For example, comparing the numbers on a 2022 Nissan Leaf and a 2022 Nissan Sentra, the Leaf will pay for itself in 5 years even with its higher sticker price. It will pay for itself in less than one year with a $7,500 tax credit.

The fastest way to slash greenhouse gas emissions is to switch as many buildings as possible to using electricity as their sole power source for heating and cooling. The fastest way to achieve that is through installing two-way heat pumps that both heat and cool. The cost of manufacturing them is only a few hundred dollars per unit more than a central air-conditioner. We should, therefore, encourage the federal government to incentivize manufacturers to make that simple switch.

Walmart announced that they agreed to buy 4,500 electric vans from manufacturer Canoo. The vans will be used to deliver online orders in a way that’s environmentally sustainable, beginning next year.

Buoyed by stronger than expected demand, Ford has set ambitious global production targets to manufacture over two million EVs by 2026. For perspective, Tesla, the largest EV manufacturer at this time, built 936,000 EVs in 2021. Ford’s line of EVs will include cars, pickup trucks, and commercial vans.

China installed eighty percent of the world’s new offshore wind capacity last year. Even though that percentage is expected to drop significantly in the future, China is expected to dominate the sector for years to come.

President Biden’s plan to open up more than 700,000 acres in the Gulf of Mexico to commercial wind farms is receiving surprising support from the oil and gas industry in the region. That’s because they see their infrastructure and skills used for oil rigs in the Gulf as transferable to the offshore wind industry.

After intense pressure, the US Post Office has pledged to electrify at least 40% of its new delivery fleet. This is a significant change from its earlier commitment to have only 10% EV trucks in its new fleet. This reversal goes a long way toward President Biden’s goal for the entire government fleet to be EVs by 2035.

Heatwaves in Texas have broken records for energy demand at least 11 times this summer. What prevented the state from experiencing rolling blackouts is that it has nearly tripled its solar capacity in the past year.

Climate Justice

Caribbean nations are trapped between being indebted to the global financial system and a looming climate disaster. The legacy of colonialism that syphoned resources to rich countries and the post-colonial experience of being indebted to foreign banks shapes the crisis. Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, is fighting for a way out through tough negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to equitably restructure her nation’s debt. The goal is finding the necessary financial resources needed to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Presbyterian Church USA voted to divest from five oil companies that it believes are not doing enough to address climate change. These companies join a divestment list of 85 other companies, most with ties to the military or weapons industry. A spokesman for the denomination said, “Divestment is never the goal. Corporate change is the goal.”

The climate anxiety discussion has a whiteness problem because the perspectives of  marginalized people are often not included in the conversation. Climate anxiety as a term can be very privileged. People experiencing climate induced trauma in places like the Philippines and India may not even have words for such trauma. The hope is that the conversation will evolve to include marginalized people and their experience.

Climate Action

Searing heatwaves in urban centers are an increasingly common and deadly manifestation of our warming planet. In response, the cities of Phoenix, Miami, and Los Angeles have recently hired  a “chief heat officer” to help them focus on the risks posed by sweltering temperatures and to seek opportunities for adapting.

Faith leaders in West Virginia are trying to change minds about the climate crisis by moving the conversation to a moral imperative instead of the typical political discourse. They begin small by advocating for planting native species and energy efficiency in places of worship but also recognize the importance of public advocacy.

The US Department of Energy recently hosted the Carbon Negative Shot Summit, which explored low-cost, clean and innovative ways to store huge amounts of carbon. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that the Biden administration’s priority continues to be preventing emissions from entering the atmosphere as she insisted, “Carbon dioxide removal is key to restoring our climate.” Carbon removal technology is in its infancy and remains prohibitively expensive.

California keeps scaling up battery storage in its effort to convert to renewable energy. It now has 3,100 megawatts of utility-scale battery storage systems but this is still small compared to other energy sources. For perspective, a large coal, gas or nuclear power plant has a capacity of about 2,000 megawatts. Natural gas power plants continue to regularly provide more than 13,000 megawatts to the California grid.

A consortium of construction firms, property developers and building engineers have pledged to increase the proportion of ​“low-emissions” concrete that they use to 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030. One way to do that is by adding aggregates such as fly-ash, slag and rice hulls to cement mixes. The bigger challenge is cutting down the emissions used to make Portland cement, which is manufactured by heating limestone to temperatures of greater than 1,400 degrees Celsius (2550°F)—a level of heat that’s hard to achieve without burning fossil fuels.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/5/2022

Whether we and our politicians know it or not, nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do. Wendell Berry

Our Climate Crisis

Unprecedented floods in South Asia and China have forced mass evacuations and left millions miserable. In our country, the destructive flooding along the Yellowstone River in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming was a 500-year event. At the same time, parts of Europe, Japan, China, and the US have been experiencing intense, record breaking heatwaves. Furthermore, heat and drought have contributed to devastating, widespread wildfires in Alaska and New Mexico. The wildfire in New Mexico was accidently set by a controlled burn by the Forest Service. Increased heat and a drier climate has narrowed the window of time for safely doing such burns.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased again this year. “Watching these incremental but persistent increases in CO2 year-to-year is much like watching a train barrel down the track towards you in slow motion. It’s terrifying,” says climate scientist Andrea Dutton. CO2 in the atmosphere now averages 421 parts per million compared to 280 parts per million before the industrial revolution.

The Great Salt Lake has already shrunk by two-thirds and the surrounding area is facing an environmental nuclear bomb as it continues to dry up. The lake’s flies and brine shrimp are on the verge of dying off, threatening the 10 million migratory birds that stop at the lake annually to feed on the tiny creatures. Even more alarming, the dried-up lake bottom will most likely create a bowl of toxic dust that would poison the air around Salt Lake City.

Virginia could lose 42 percent of its coastal wetlands to sea level rise by 2100. These wetlands are critical ecosystems that serve as a home to an array of fish, plants, birds and other species. They also store carbon and protect communities from encroaching seas. Acting now to conserve coastal land into which these wetlands can migrate is a ‘decisive factor’ in offsetting future losses.

In many coastal cities around the world, land is subsiding, due to groundwater extraction, even faster than the sea level is rising. Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is sinking at an alarming rate and one-third of the city will be underwater by the middle of this century. Many other major cities, such as Manila, Tampa, and Alexandria will similarly experience coastal flooding much sooner than predicted by models of sea level rise alone.

Climate anxiety is widespread among young people. More than half of those surveyed in a recent study agreed with the statement “humanity is doomed.” Almost half said such anxiety interferes with their sleep, their ability to study, to play, and to have fun. They have grown up on a different planet with tougher choices than their parents had. Some are finding that accepting this is the first step to avoiding despair and leading productive lives.

Politics and Policy

A Supreme Court ruling last week severely limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate climate pollution by power plants. The case was part of a coordinated strategy by Republican attorneys general, conservative legal activists, and their fossil industry funders to use the judicial system to rewrite environmental law and weaken the executive branch’s ability to tackle global warming. Even so, Biden can turn to other avenues in the effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The Supreme Court ruling will most likely not greatly affect utility companies’ already considerable commitment to transition to clean energy. Furthermore, across the country, states, cities, and local governments are accelerating their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, even as federal climate fighting tools are being taken away.  An example of this is the City of Harrisonburg’s “Environmental Action Plan” as noted in the Climate Action section below.

Years-long waiting times and potentially project-killing upgrade costs are creating an expensive process of connecting new solar, wind and battery projects to U.S. electrical transmission grids. In response, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently proposed a host of major regulatory changes meant to unclog these bottlenecks to building the carbon-free electrical grid needed to forestall the most catastrophic harms of climate change.

Virginia Gov. Youngkin recently issued an executive order on curbing food waste and boosting recycling across Virginia. It might pass environmental muster, by keeping leftovers out of landfills and doubling down on composting efforts statewide, if it didn’t simultaneously get rid of the previous administration’s single-use plastics phase-out.

Climate activists and some House Democrats are urging President Biden to push for a transit fare holiday instead of a gas tax holiday if he’s serious about tackling climate change. Biden is appealing for Congress to suspend the federal gasoline and diesel tax for three months in response to rising gas and diesel prices. This will incentivize the use of fossil fuels in the transportation sector which accounted for 27% of carbon emissions in our country in 2020.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled against Mountain Valley Pipeline’s request that it draw a new three-judge panel to reconsider permits for the embattled project that have repeatedly been struck down by the present panel hearing the cases. Because of these delays, the pipeline developers then asked federal regulators for an additional four years to complete the project that is way over budget.

Energy

Solid-state sodium-sulfur batteries have recently made a leap toward mass production. They will allow EVs to run much longer on a charge than is possible with present lithium-ion batteries. Solid-state batteries also show lots of promise for long-duration energy storage in electrical grids and other applications. The advantages of solid-state batteries is that they are low cost, easy to build, have a high degree of mechanical stability and are chemically stable.

Roughly only one percent of public buses in Virginia run on electricity. Thanks to federal funding through the recently passed Infrastructure Law, that’s set to more than double this year. The challenge, moving forward, is how rapidly bus fleets can be converted to electric energy given the challenges of startup costs and needed infrastructure. Conversely, the reduced operating costs of electric buses is a huge incentive during a time of high fuel prices.

Amogy, an energy startup company, has raised $46M to develop green ammonia as a fuel to decarbonize tractors today and ocean freighters in the near future. Their goal is to develop technology to decarbonize industries that are the highest emitters of greenhouse gases but cannot run on battery power alone.

Arrays of floating solar panels on reservoirs and other large bodies of water have the potential to solve several problems plaguing conventional solar energy. Among them are limiting the use of prime land, more accessible energy distribution, and the added benefit of cutting down environmentally destructive heat buildup on large river reservoirs.

Climate Justice

Gov. Youngkin has been doing everything possible to dismantle the popular Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which collects carbon emissions dues from power utilities and uses the millions of dollars generated to augment coastal resilience against sea-level rise and in energy efficiency home upgrades for low-income residents. Check out this inspiring article by the Southern Environmental Law Center about how the Collins family in Blacksburg was able to use RGGI funds to reduce their energy bill last winter from an average of $330 to just $112 a month.

Bringing the benefits of solar power to low and middle-income households is a matter of equity and justice. Virtual power plants, which coordinate solar power generated and stored by individual rate payers, could be part of the solution. An ambitious plan by the city of Richmond, CA,  includes a VPP that directs electric bill savings to low-income residents along with increased grid reliability, safety, and efficiency. The plan also includes energy-efficient rehabs for abandoned homes, which will be sold to low-income home buyers.

As a new hurricane season begins, Native Americans along the Louisiana coast are still struggling to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida when it roared through their communities last year. Centuries of colonization have pushed Native people into this fragile, deteriorating coastal ecosystem. The tribes most affected by Ida still do not have federal recognition, even though they have been engaged in a decades long process seeking it. This makes it difficult to get desperately needed federal disaster relief resources.

Another looming catastrophe is that some insurance companies in Louisiana have gone bankrupt from massive claims related to Hurricane Ida. Other companies are fleeing the state, leaving many homeowners without storm insurance at the beginning of another hurricane season.

Climate Action

Fed up with poor electrical utility infrastructure, residents of Puerto Rico have more than doubled the installation of rooftop solar since Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017. They have done this without meaningful support from government or their electrical utility. It’s a bottom-up movement that’s changing Puerto Rico’s energy landscape.

Harrisonburg’s updated Environmental Action Plan prioritizes converting city vehicles to EVs because its cars, trucks and public transit make up 35% of municipal greenhouse gas emissions. Related goals include building more EV charging stations, improving traffic signals to decrease time spent waiting at stoplights, increasing the use of public transit by optimizing bus routes, and encouraging walking and biking by adding sidewalks and bike lanes.

Protecting our local natural resources is a crucial part of climate action. An article by Erin Burch describes what the Alliance of the Shenandoah Valley is doing to protect our part of the Chesapeake Bay. These efforts include stream bank restoration along Mossy Creek, planting a streamside forest and initiating sustainable grazing practices along a creek that flows into the Middle River, and putting a 432-acre property along the South Fork into a conservation easement.

‘Elder power’ is becoming a force in Virginia as more retirees step up and get involved in climate action. One example is a recently formed state chapter of environmentalist Bill McKibben’s recently formed group called Third Act. They organized a two-week “Walk for Appalachia’s Future” to protest the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and are pressuring big banks to shut off funding for the pipeline and other fossil fuel infrastructure.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 6/6/2022

We all face real-world challenges and tough choices that complicate the effort to completely decarbonize our lives in a system that is still reliant on fossil fuel infrastructure. We must change the system. Individual efforts to reduce one’s carbon footprint are laudable. But without systemic change, we will not achieve the massive decarbonization of our economy that is necessary to avert catastrophic change. – Michael Mann

Our Climate Crisis

Thousands of firefighters in New Mexico are presently battling a colossal wildfire that has become the largest in state history. In a recent PBS interview, Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University and author of The New Climate War, says that such wildfires are a function of heat and how dry the climate has become. We need to address the problem at its core—our consumption of fossil fuels.

A World Meteorological Organization report shows global temperatures above pre-industrial levels could temporarily hit the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold within the next five years. While a single year of temperatures above the 1.5°C threshold set by the Paris Climate Agreement does not mean we have breached the agreement, it will reveal that we are edging ever closer to a situation where it could be exceeded for an extended period.

Climate change is exacerbating rising temperatures combined with high humidity beyond levels the human body can endure. The threshold of human endurance is 95 degrees Fahrenheit combined with wet bulb or 100% humidity. The Persian Gulf, India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Central America are all careening toward this threshold before the end of the century. People should be advised that any temperature above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, especially when combined with high humidity, can be dangerous and deadly.

A recent analysis finds that extreme heat that used to occur every 300 years in northwest India and Pakistan may now happen about every three years. Related news is that a recent heat wave has decimated the mango harvest in India.

Heavy pre-monsoon rains have washed away train stations, towns and villages, leaving millions of people homeless in India and Bangladesh. Both countries are particularly vulnerable to such events exacerbated by global warming because of their proximity to the warm tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. This extends a pattern where extreme rainfall and landslides washed away a sprawling Rohingya refugee camp overnight last year. Torrential rains submerged at least a quarter of Bangladesh in 2020.

Politics and Policy

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, the Shenandoah Group of the Virginia Sierra Club, and 50 by 25 Harrisonburg are proposing that the Harrisonburg City Council add the words “environmentally sustainable” to the mandate of the Harrisonburg Electric Commission, Harrisonburg’s municipal utility. They are also asking council members and candidates to publicly state their response to the proposal. A recent article in the Harrisonburg Citizen explains how this will help the city to reach its goal of having 100% renewable energy on our local electrical grid by 2035. To view the letter that was sent to the candidates, click here. To view candidate responses, click here.

Most of the past three decades have been a painful slog for Australian climate activists. The conservatives, who ran Australia under Prime Minister Scott Morrison, have unabashedly promoted the fossil fuel industry and scoffed at concerns about climate change. This has now changed dramatically when the Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, trounced the conservatives in the last election with the promise to make Australia a “renewable energy superpower.” While supporting renewable energy and EVs, Labor’s strategy, however, largely leaves Australia’s huge fossil fuel energy sector untouched. That makes especially significant the surge of votes for Green Party candidates and others outside the two-party system who make it a priority to combat global warming by reducing consumption of fossil fuels.

Electric heat pumps are two to four times more efficient than competing fossil fuel devices and can dramatically reduce indoor air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. A recent Senate bill, introduced by Amy Klobuchar, would incentivize manufacturers to build two-way heat pumps that both heat and cool. This has the potential to quickly cut emissions while saving consumers money. The bill has the potential of gaining needed bipartisan support in the Senate.

There is a boom in large-scale solar electric farms in Virginia.  The number of large-scale solar farms in Virginia has grown from zero in 2015 to 51 today. Furthermore, 279 applications for large-scale facilities have been, or are being, reviewed across the Commonwealth. This is pushing the need to develop comprehensive land plans governing the size, location, and environmental impact of solar farms.

A Charlottesville clean energy company has applied for a permit to build a 138-megawatt solar farm on approximately 650 acres in southeast Albemarle County. The site is on a 2,300-acre property with pine trees that have been heavily industrially timbered over the past 80 years. The installation would supply electricity to 25,000 homes in the area.  The Albemarle County Climate Action Plan supports utility scale solar energy and prioritizes placing them on roof tops, parking lots, brownfields, landfills and post-industrial or other open lands over forested or ecologically valuable lands.

New York state’s landmark 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act commits the state to reaching 100 percent zero-emissions electricity by 2040. A major obstacle is that 85% of New York City’s electricity comes from fossil fuels. State regulators accordingly recently approved two clean energy projects that will reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuels by more than 50 percent over the next 10 years. The first project will supply the city with wind and solar power from upstate. The second, more controversial project—opposed by some environmental and community groups—will supply the city with hydro-power from Quebec, Canada.

Energy

Green hydrogen has the potential to become a key energy source—especially for heavy industry and trucks. That’s why a $9.5 billion package for the development of hydrogen as a fuel was wrapped into the 2021 federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Alleyn Harned, the executive director of Virginia Clean Cities, is a proponent of green hydrogen. In an interview with Elizabeth McGowan, a reporter for the Energy News Network, he explains how it can benefit Virginia’s economy and environment.

A recent report by Energy Innovation demonstrates that EV models are competitive or cheaper to purchase and maintain than their gasoline-fueled equivalents over the life of a six-year auto loan. The real savings comes after the loan has been paid off. Depending on the EV model, the annual comparative savings is between $800 to $1,400.

A new generation of electric trucks is beginning to hit cost and range targets that makes them competitive for short-haul U.S. freight-moving. To facilitate the transition to electric trucks, the Port of Long Beach in California, one of our country’s busiest freight hubs, is installing 26 high-speed electric truck charging bays as part of its push to reach a zero-emissions fleet by 2030.

Climate Justice

Climate modeling at NASA and other agencies is increasingly focusing on the impact that global warming is having on food production. It’s becoming increasingly clear that climate change is a “threat multiplier,” making hunger emergencies worse. The United Nations reports that a record number of 283 million people in 80 countries went hungry or were at high risk of going hungry last year and that this number is expected to increase in the future. Global warming is creating much more year-to-year variability in food production. A major worry is climate-induced “food shocks” in many countries.

Climate anxiety is now part of the zeitgeist, as evidenced by data from Google Trends. Stanford University researcher Britt Wray’s newly released book Generation Dread dives into the hard emotional truths of the climate crisis. It’s also about real, acute mental health impacts of disasters in frontline communities such as what’s happening to Indigenous people who live very close to the land.

The Hadza people in Tanzania, one of Africa’s last hunter-gatherer tribes, are embracing environmentalism. They are doing so by selling carbon credits generated from conserving their forests and using the revenues to employ their youth as scouts to protect their land. The Ujamaa Community Resource Team, a local NGO, has helped the Hadza secure legal title to their territories and works in concert with The Nature Conservancy to secure carbon credits to fund the effort.

Climate Action

ACTION ALERT: Many of us who live, work, or volunteer in Harrisonburg, have participated in Phase 1 in-person meetings and/or the online survey to get community input on how our city should allocate the $23.8 million it will receive in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds in response to the Covid pandemic. We now have the opportunity to fill out a Phase 2 survey here for more targeted responses (the survey will be open for two weeks). This is a great opportunity to advocate for responding to human needs in ways that help to combat climate change and enhance our natural environment. There is more opportunity to do so in this Phase 2 survey than there was in the Phase 1 survey.

Making the transition to solar energy is easier and more affordable than ever, thanks to Solarize Virginia. Sign up through June 30 to access discounted prices and get connected with a vetted installer. Experts will be by your side to answer any questions and take the guesswork out of the process. Get started at SolarizeVA.org and find out if your home is solar-ready.

You can also register at this link for Solar United Neighbors (SUN) Ready Set Solar program, happening online on June 15 at noon. You can also attend a SUN in-person session at Massanutten Regional Library (174 S Main St, Harrisonburg) on July 17 at 6 pm. These programs are for Shenandoah Valley residents.

Community Housing Partners Energy Solutions and the Harrisonburg Electric Commission (HEC) are partnering to provide no-cost weatherization services for income-qualifying households to help lower utility bills and improve energy efficiency. The first 25 HEC customers to complete their application will receive a $100 bill credit. Click here or call 888-229-3714 to see if your household qualifies.

Donate to the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project’s Energy Efficiency and Solar Effort. CAAV supports helping SVBHP reduce its energy costs; we hope you will too.

The loss of bee populations is a harbinger of the impact of climate change. The extinction rate of bees and other insects is eight times greater than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. Scientists have, therefore, begun mapping the genomes of dozens of different bees to bolster our knowledge of bee biology and behavior. They can then use this information to tackle big picture questions like how to protect bees and how they’ve evolved alongside us over time.

Dominion Energy investors recently supported a resolution calling on the utility to reevaluate its natural gas investments in response to climate change. Ruth Amundsen, a solar project financier who is a Dominion shareholder, said that “Dominion cannot keep investing in natural gas while saying they’re going for net-zero by 2050.”

Washington and Lee University is partnering with a solar energy developer to build a solar farm in North Carolina to purchase enough solar energy to match 100% of the university’s annual electricity consumption.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/6/2022

If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5°C goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach. And that would be catastrophe. This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction. — UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Our Climate Crisis

Christiana Figueres, a former UN climate chief and co-author of The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, says that we’re caught between joy and despair. We can be grateful that pledges by countries to reduce emissions made since the Paris agreement could keep global warming within 2°C. That is a huge improvement on where we’d be headed without these efforts but it doesn’t even come close to the 1.5°C goal and will lead to a world that will not be livable for vast swaths of humanity. Christiana comments, “So we are caught between two truths, and two deep feelings in our bones: outrage and optimism. Both are valid responses and both are necessary.”

South Asia is at the forefront of places in the world where climate change could make life become unbearable before the end of the century. Temperatures have recently soared to dangerously high levels in India and Pakistan. While this part of the world is no stranger to extreme heat, scientists say that recent heat waves have been worsened by climate change. The high temperatures are increasing the danger of fires, contributing to the predicted 20% decrease in the regional wheat harvest, and the danger of river flooding caused by rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayas. 

A scientific study at Princeton University finds that marine life will be decimated by 2300 at the current pace of global warming. That would be on par with the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. On the other hand, if we can rein in emissions to keep within the upper limit of the Paris climate agreement, it would reduce ocean extinction risks by more than 70 percent.

Rising groundwater levels and intensifying rains, exacerbated by climate change, are creating overflowing septic tanks and back-yard drain fields. This causes smelly, unhealthy wastewater to collect in yards and back up into homes, creating vexing problems for homeowners and local governments. The problem is especially pronounced in the coastal middle peninsula of Virginia, which local people refer to as suffering from a “soggy socks” problem. In a related story, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed colonial Jamestown on a list of the country’s most endangered historical places because it is losing its battle with rising water levels caused by climate change.

Politics and Policy

Maryland just passed one of the most aggressive climate laws in the US. It mandates reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state to 60 percent below 2006 levels by 2031 and sets a 2045 deadline for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the state’s economy. Central to that effort will be reducing energy use in buildings, which are responsible for about 40 percent of Maryland’s carbon emissions.

California recently announced its plan to phase out all new gas-powered cars by 2035. Under the proposed plan the state will require 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold in 2026 to be powered by batteries or hydrogen before making it mandatory for all passenger vehicles less than a decade later. If enacted, the plan will mark a big clean energy transition as 12.4% of new vehicles sold in California are currently zero-emissions.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a proponent of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), praised the recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval of the MVP plan to bore under streams and wetlands at 120 locations in West Virginia and Virginia after the original plan to cross these areas by open trenching had been rejected. The approval is, however, contingent on the success of other permitting processes that are being held up in court.

In another development, Sen. Manchin and Republican lawmakers have publicly denounced FERC for adopting rules requiring energy regulators to consider new gas pipelines’ effects on climate change and environmental justice. In response to the political pressure from Manchin and Republicans, FERC backtracked and voted to recategorize the policies as mere drafts that wouldn’t apply to new gas projects. Part of the reason for the new rules had been court rulings that FERC had ignored climate change and environmental justice in its approval of projects.

In an even more recent development, Sen. Manchin and several of his colleagues in Congress have begun talks to gauge bipartisan interest in a climate deal. One policy that has been repeatedly mentioned in these talks is some form of carbon pricing legislation.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality recently rolled out several major changes to the management of stormwater runoff from solar farms, saying prior policies may have underestimated the impact of stormwater runoff. The solar industry worries that the policy shift could dampen efforts to build renewable energy, but some local officials and environmental groups say it could help to better account for how precipitation, which is increasing in both frequency and intensity due to climate change, interacts with solar farms. 

Energy

As part of President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, Virginia will receive $31.8M this fiscal year to fund projects to cut down on carbon emissions. Executive Director of VA Clean Cities, Alleyn Harned says it’s a step in the right direction because “transportation is our leading source of greenhouse gases in the commonwealth and in the country and in Harrisonburg. And for us to be able to see some light at the end of the tunnel with a valued federal program like this really presents a lot of great opportunities.”

The sales of electric vehicles have been rising in the first quarter of this year while just about every other category is falling. This surge was enough to double EVs’ share of the market to 5.2 percent, up from 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2021.

Virginia generated more electricity from the sun than from coal in 2021. This is a first for our state, which ranked number four in the country in solar installation last year.

A Virginia legislative bill that creates a property tax exemption for residential and mixed-use solar energy systems up to 25 kilowatts was signed into law by Gov. Glen Youngkin. The bill expands clean energy choice for consumers and promotes the local solar industry. It attracts businesses and creates jobs in our state. For some unknown reason, local state house delegates Tony Wilt and Chris Runion both voted against the bill.

In a move that runs counter to his top priority of lowering Virginian’s cost-of-living, Gov. Glen Youngkin vetoed an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill aimed at lowering the electric consumption of veterans, low-income, elderly and disabled ratepayers. The bill targets energy savings by focusing energy efficiency projects on those homes that are the most dilapidated and difficult to weatherize.

In a bid to show that it is working to increase the domestic oil supply as prices surge in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration announced plans to resume selling leases for new oil and gas drilling on public lands. This violates a signature campaign pledge made by Mr. Biden to climate activists when he was running for office.

Climate Justice

Low-income households in the US spent an average of 8.1 percent of their income on energy costs, compared to 2.3 percent for wealthier households. That’s why poor families often need to pull back on other expenses, like medicine, groceries, or childcare to cover their energy bills. One consistently overlooked aspect of our nation’s affordable housing crisis is the staggering number of homes occupied by poor families that require substantial repairs before they are eligible for federal weatherization funds. To address this, a bipartisan group of Pennsylvania state legislators is putting forward the Whole-Home Repairs Act, providing a legislative solution to the problem. It will do so by providing eligible residents with grants up to $50,000 to make needed home repairs. Small landlords could apply for the same amount in forgivable loans.

In an effort to bring down the price of gasoline, President Biden recently visited Iowa to announce his plan to accelerate the production of ethanol from corn. This is at a time when poor people around the world are suffering because the price of food grains around the world are skyrocketing because of the war in Ukraine. The amount of corn it takes to fill an SUV with ethanol could feed a person for a year.

Climate Action

Environmental activist Bill McKibben is stepping away from some of his other involvements to  help launch a new organization, called Third Act, aimed at engaging activists over age 60. He is in that age bracket himself and said that “he’s become convinced that his generation should more actively join the climate movement, following in the footsteps of a galvanized youth. He noted that Americans his age and older have a large share of the country’s financial assets and a tendency to vote in high numbers, giving them political power.”

Using commercial solar installations as pastureland for sheep is proving beneficial for farmers and solar operators, while sequestering carbon and improving soil health. Still in its infancy, such combined use of solar sites makes sense on various levels. Flocks of sheep are already grazing contentedly under and around solar panels in Virginia and other states.

Levels of methane in the atmosphere have been increasing steadily over the past 15 years. Last year they rose by a record amount over the year before for the second year in a row. Most methane spews from oil and natural gas operations, sometimes through unintentional leaks. Other sources of methane include livestock, landfills, and the natural decay of organic material in wetlands. While it is less abundant and not as long-lasting as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it has more potent near-term effects. That makes quickly cutting down methane emissions crucial to combating global warming.

Your household can cut down on its carbon emissions by switching from your old gas range to a new super-efficient induction electric range. You’ll be surprised by how quickly and precisely it heats—beating a gas range on both counts. It also eliminates the indoor pollution of a gas range. Click here to learn more about cooking with an induction range. Or you can ask me about how I like our induction range.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/5/2022

Reversing the climate crisis cannot be done by one country, one economic sector, one industry, one culture, or one demographic. There is not going to be a magic technology that will fix it. We cannot wait to see if experts, governments, or corporations figure out how to end the crisis, because they can’t by themselves. The crisis, if it could speak, would tell us all that we have forgotten that we truly are a “we,” and nothing less than our joint effort is sufficient to reverse decades and centuries of exploiting people and the earth. Climate change and poverty have the same roots. —Paul Hawken

Our Climate Crisis

Countries racing to replace Russian oil, gas and coal with their own dirty energy are making matters worse, warns United Nations secretary general António Guterres. Continuing to rely on fossil fuels instead of pivoting to clean energy is “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.” While we are making progress in bending the curve in emissions, they are still set to increase by 14% in the next decade. The most recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claims that it’s still possible to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change if societies take immediate, drastic action. This includes slashing annual greenhouse gas emissions by almost half in the next eight years and finding a way to zero out carbon pollution by the middle of the century.

Embedded in all future calculations on climate change is the assumption that global economic activity will increase steadily throughout this century. The Covid pandemic has, however, demonstrated that a future health pandemic could dramatically curtail economic activity. Furthermore, the frightening possible escalation of the war in Ukraine (which could even go nuclear) makes global economic collapse no longer seem inconceivable. In the most extreme scenario, nuclear war could even cause extensive global cooling and create a nuclear winter.

Unusually high temperatures have recently been recorded in both Antarctica and the Arctic. The Arctic, as a whole, was 3.3°C warmer than average, while the Antarctic, as a whole, was 4.8°C warmer than average. These temperature spikes have shocked researchers, who warn that such extremes will become more common as a result of the climate crisis. In a related occurrence, a 450-square-mile ice shelf recently collapsed in the eastern part of Antarctica. This is the first observed collapse of an ice shelf in that region of the continent since satellites began observing Antarctica nearly half a century ago.

Using an “OK doomer” riff on “OK boomer,” some young climate activists are focusing on climate solutions in response to the all too common doomsday focus on how bad things are. While they do not want to minimize the climate crisis, they believe that “focusing solely on terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Using social media, they seek to change the narrative by highlighting positive climate news as well as offer ways that people can personally become engaged in fighting the climate crisis.

Politics and Policy

Dominion Energy has received regulatory approval in Virginia for a series of solar projects expected to generate enough electricity to power 250,000 homes. This is the second batch of annual projects submitted under the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act, which calls for 16,100 megawatts in solar or wind energy projects to be in place or under way by 2035. Accordingly, projects of a similar scale will be submitted by Dominion every year over the next 15 years.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, recently laid out some energy policies he supports, including a tax credit for clean energy manufacturing, replacing fossil fuel generation with advanced nuclear power, developing hydrogen energy, and the development of carbon capture technology. It is reported that he is willing to negotiate on a slimmed down clean energy bill in the coming months. Because of his pivotal role in an evenly divided senate, the climate lobby and other senators are being very circumspect in criticizing him in hopes that he will support at least part of their clean energy agenda.

Now weatherization, a decades-old program, has become central to the Biden administration’s plans to cut Americans’ power bills and lower fossil fuel emissions. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced roughly $3.2 billion of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill will be used  to retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes in low-income communities. Emphasizing the potential cost savings, she noted that the program has lowered some families’ power bills by as much as 30 percent.

Energy

Data from 75 countries, which represent 93% of the global power demand, shows that clean energy—including wind, solar, hydropower, nuclear, and biofuels—accounted for a total of 38% of the world’s electricity generated in 2021. The share wind and solar has more than doubled to 10.3% from 4.6% when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015. A big part of this growth stems from advancements in technology which has cut the price of solar electricity by 89%, and the price of onshore wind by 70%.

Tony Smith, CEO of Virginia solar energy company Secure Futures, says that the best way to unhook from oil and gas wars is by rapidly transitioning to solar energy. Their company introduced the first solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) in Virginia, with a 104-kW rooftop solar array at Eastern Mennonite University in 2010. Today there are 700 times as many kWs of solar energy produced under solar PPAs in Virginia. Even so, natural gas still accounts for 61 percent of the electricity generation in our state. We should rapidly transition to solar, which is much cleaner, cheaper, and not tied to the volatility of global fossil fuel markets.

Efforts to electrify commercial vehicles have lagged behind EV passenger cars. That is now rapidly beginning to change. Carriers such as UPS, Amazon, and FedEx are investing billions to build out EV delivery fleets. At the same time, the US Postal Service ordered as many as 148,000 gas guzzling mail delivery trucks despite opposition from top environmental regulators and directives from the Biden administration to green the federal fleet.

Decarbonizing heavy industry such as steel manufacturing and transportation will depend on alternative fuels such as green hydrogen, which still remain prohibitively expensive. Australian researchers now claim they have made a giant technological leap in producing affordable green hydrogen. Denmark has also made a big investment in green hydrogen, including subsidies to make it commercially viable. Given the war in Ukraine, they see this as an important step in achieving independence from fossil fuels.

The United Kingdom, as an island nation, is making big investments in clean tidal energy, which is on track to be cheaper than both nuclear power and fossil fuels. While the country presently produces only 3% of its energy this way, the goal is to increase that to 10%. To help reach this goal, a North Wales firm recently secured £31m ($40.75m) in government funding to develop a tidal energy project in the Irish Sea.

Climate Justice

Internationally recognized environmental lawyer and climate negotiator, Farhana Yamin was a key architect of the Paris climate agreement who helped to secure the goal of net-zero emissions by midcentury. When Donald Trump then pulled the US out of the Paris agreement and other countries continually delayed strong action on climate, she decided “we cannot rely on lawyers and diplomats alone.” She came to see that the climate movement is fragile because it mostly relies on insider tactics and not on movement building. She, therefore, became involved with social mobilization and nonviolent action to advance the cause. More recently she has begun social organizing with frontline communities of color in Britain and is helping to mobilize more broadly with a focus on climate justice.

Climate Action

Climate change is spurring a movement to build more resilient homes. FEMA told Becky Nixon that she would receive another mobile home after her triple-wide trailer on the Florida panhandle was destroyed by hurricane Michael in 2018. She, instead, had a brand new two-bedroom home built for her in a joint effort of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), Samaritan’s Purse, and donated materials. The home was built to considerably more than standard requirements for energy efficiency and hurricane ratings following guidelines advocated by the Resilient Design Institute.

Charlottesville, VA is on track to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Overall, emissions are down 30% from 2011 even though energy use is up. Much of this progress is because of the availability of cleaner electricity. Heating and the cooling of homes consumes the largest amounts of energy in the city. Susan Kruse, the executive director of the Community Climate Collaborative, says this makes residential energy efficiency programs especially important. There has, however, been a virtually non-existent drop in emissions from vehicles. This makes weaning vehicles off of fossil fuels vital, as is getting people to use buses and public transport. Moving to a fleet of electric city buses will have an even greater impact.

The food system produces about one-third of our greenhouse emissions. This calls for making dramatic cuts to reach our goal of cutting emissions to zero by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Furthermore, we will need to feed a population expected to approach 10 billion by 2050, meaning we’ll need to make those drastic cuts while increasing food production by more than 50 percent. This calls for huge structural changes in how we grow, process, package, and distribute food. On a personal level, changing our eating behaviors is perhaps the most impactful change we can make. Some suggested practices are:  

  • Move to a mostly plant-based diet.
  • Buy locally grown food.
  • Eat everything you buy.
  • Eat healthy amounts.

This shift will not only help combat climate change. Other environmental harms driven by the food industry include loss of biodiversity, vital forest ecosystems being destroyed for grazing and farming purposes, fertilizer runoff creating dead zones in the ocean, and the massive extinction and loss of insects due to pesticides.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/11/2022

In a sense, our climate radar has been pointing in the wrong direction—at coal, cars, and carbon. Of course, these are crucial causes, and they are being addressed brilliantly by many. However, the radar needs to point the other way too, to the true cause, which is what we believe and how we treat one another.—Paul Hawken

Our Climate Crisis

The big climate news this month has been the release of the U.N. Climate Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The picture it paints is not encouraging. Written by 270 researchers from 67 countries, the report warns that any further delay in global action to slow climate change and adapt to its impacts “will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”

Climate reporter Raymond Zhong contrasts this with the previous IPCC report in 2014, which said that global warming was having a “relatively small” effect on human health compared with other stressors. It also said that there was “limited evidence” that nations needed more money to cope with its dangers. The new report tells a dramatically different story.

It finds that “climate change is not only adding to ecological threats such as wildfires, heat waves and rising sea levels, it is also displacing people from their homes and jeopardizing food and water supplies. It is harming people’s physical and mental health, with increasing incidence of food and waterborne illness, respiratory distress from wildfire smoke and trauma from natural disasters.” Furthermore, finding necessary funding for dealing with all this has widened significantly.

The report is “an atlas on human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” according to António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general. “With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.” Some takeaways can serve as a roadmap of what needs to be done to mitigate the worst effects of global warming:

·       The widespread adverse impacts of global warming have disproportionately affected the most vulnerable humans and ecosystems, pushing them beyond their ability to adapt.

·       Approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in highly vulnerable regions.

·       If global warming reaches 1.5°C (it is presently at 1.1°C) it will cause multiple risks to ecosystems and humans. Actions that will limit warming to 1.5°C, however, would substantially reduce those damages compared to even higher degrees of warming,

·       Near term actions to mitigate global warming will significantly reduce losses and damages accrued by 2040 and beyond.

·       Climate change impacts and risks are becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to manage.

·       If global warming exceeds 1.5°C in the coming decades, many human and environmental systems will face additional severe risks, some of which will be irreversible even of global warming is later reduced.

Politics and Policy

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is pressuring FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to reverse the 4th Circuit Court decision blocking the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. He says that the 4th Circuit has been unmerciful on allowing any progress and that the case can be moved to the D.C. Circuit Court. He argues, “Energy independence is our greatest geopolitical and economic tool and we cannot lose sight of that as instability rises around the globe.”

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sen. Manchin wants to use natural gas from West Virginia to achieve U. S. energy independence and to help European countries. He is now calling on President Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act if necessary to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline following the ban on oil imports from Russia.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing strict new limits on pollution from buses, delivery vans, tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks. It would require heavy-duty trucks to reduce emissions of nitrogen dioxide—which is linked to lung cancer, heart disease and premature death—by 90 percent by 2031. It would also slightly tighten truck emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is driving climate change.

Energy

Dominion Energy is building a $500 million ship to build wind turbines up and down the Atlantic Coast, beginning in 2023. Depending on the approval of state-regulators, it will also be used to build Dominion Energy’s own 2,640-megawatt wind turbine farm off the coast of Virginia. Scheduled to go online in 2026, it will power the equivalent of 660,000 homes.

Six energy companies bid a total of $4.27 billion in an auction for leases to develop offshore wind in federal waters off the coast of New York and New Jersey. This is huge! To help put it in perspective, it is 10 times more than what was paid for any previous off-shore wind lease. It is also much more than the record for winning bids of $191.7 million for oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico in 2021. A federal judge revoked those Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases because the federal government had not adequately factored in the impact they would have on climate change.

Climate Justice

Liz Carlisle, an assistant professor in the Environmental Studies Program at UC Santa Barbara, where she teaches courses on food and farming, has recently written the book Healing Grounds: Climate, Justice and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming. She writes that young farmers and scientists of color are “reviving ancestral regenerative farming traditions in a self-conscious effort to respond to climate change and racial injustice in tandem.” They understand “regenerative agriculture not as a menu of discrete, isolated practices from which one can pick and choose and then tally up into a sustainability score. Rather, they see regenerative agriculture as their ancestors had—as a way of life.”

The practice of redlining, where loan banks and loan agencies deemed minority urban neighborhoods too risky to invest in, still has adverse environmental effects even though it was banned 50 years ago. The practice made it difficult for people of color to get home mortgages. Furthermore, local zoning officials worked with businesses to place polluting operations such as industrial plants, major roadways. and shipping ports in  or near these neighborhoods. A recent study finds that, as a result, 45 million people in these neighborhoods are still breathing dirtier air and face other environmental challenges, including excessive urban heat, sparse tree canopy and few green spaces.

Climate Action

Cheap, fast, and disposable fashions are accelerating the greenhouse emissions of the clothing and textiles industry, which accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than international aviation and shipping combined. Lower prices means poorer quality clothes that don’t last as long. Those lower prices have also “resulted from unseen human and environmental costs such as pollution of rivers, poor working conditions, low wages and exploitation of workers in factories.” We can do our part to mitigate this trend by buying second hand, repairing or adjusting existing clothes, and restricting our purchases to fewer items that are durable and will last.

Cities that are serious about meeting their carbon reduction goals will want to make their streets more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Melinda Hanson, co-founder of micromobility firm Electric Avenue, says that “upward of 50% of all car trips in the U.S. are relatively short and are taken by a single person.” Examples from all across the world demonstrate that building pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure is not that expensive, and it works.

London has taken a more aggressive approach to reducing carbon emissions within its city limits. Beginning next year, anyone who wants to drive a more-polluting older vehicle manufactured before 2014 will have to pay a 12.50 pound ($16.70) daily charge to do it.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/16/2022

“The climate crisis is not a science problem. It is a human problem. The ultimate power to change the world does not reside in technologies. It relies on reverence, respect, and compassion—for ourselves, for all people, and for all life,” Paul Hawken, Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation.

Our Climate Crisis

As we write our monthly Climate and Energy News Roundup, Joy Loving and I find that it can be challenging to know how to honestly acknowledge the severity of our climate crisis, get into the nitty-gritty of politics, and advocate for climate action in ways that encourage resilience and offer hope. This tension is also evident in the words of Paul Hawken and Jane Goodall below.

In his book Regeneration, Paul Hawken states, “We live on a dying planet—a phrase that sounded inflated or over the top not long ago. . . The Earth will come back to life no matter what. Nations, peoples, and cultures may not.” In her forward to the book, Jane Goodall strikes a more encouraging note, “I have three reasons for hope: the energy and commitment of youth: the resilience of nature . . . and the way animal and plant species can be rescued from extinction; and the human intellect, which is focusing on how we can live in greater harmony with nature.”

While I want to recognize and celebrate progress and our human creativity, I don’t want to downplay the severity of the crisis we humans have created. For example, a recent scientific study published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that the present megadrought, exacerbated by climate change, in the Western U.S. and northern Mexico is the region’s driest period in at least 1,200 years. During that last comparable extended megadrought the region was still largely inhabited by scattered Native American tribes. Today it is home to more than 10 million people. This rapidly growing population has been relying on the amount of water that was available a century ago. Park Williams, the lead scientist of the study says that this megadrought in the southwest is forcing us to “pull out all the stops” and plan for less water.

When psychologist Thomas Doherty and his colleague, Susan Clayton, published a paper a decade ago proposing that climate change would have a powerful psychological impact, it was met with lots of skepticism. Eco-anxiety is now becoming widely recognized, affecting not only those bearing the brutal brunt of climate change but also people following it through news and research. Professional certification programs in climate psychology have begun to appear and the recently formed Climate Psychology Alliance is providing an online directory of climate-aware therapists.

Politics and Policy

In a win for environmentalists, Democrats in the Virginia Senate recently voted along party lines 21-19 to reject Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s nomination of Andrew Wheeler as Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, had served as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator under President Donald Trump, where he systematically worked to deconstruct environmental regulations.

Even though the Build Back Better bill hit a wall in the U.S. Senate, it now appears that a stand-alone climate bill  has the possibility of moving forward with the crucial support of Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia. President Biden indicated that he has been talking to colleagues on the Hill and recently told reporters, “I think it’s clear that we would be able to get support for the $500 billion plus for energy and the environment.” Several Republicans also indicated support for portions of a climate bill, but none were willing to go on record as supporting the climate provisions that had been in the Build Back Better bill.

Top U.S. corporations like Google and Amazon have made pledges to combat climate change and to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. The question is if they are serious about this or if these public pledges are another example of corporate green-washing. The report Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor indicates that they are the latter. They are exaggerating their goals and their efforts lack transparency.

The historically high $770 billion military spending bill—$24 billion more than the president had requested—sailed through congress with broad bipartisan support. Yet, there is almost nothing in this mammoth bill that addresses climate change and its related disasters, which is the greatest threat to our national safety and well-being.

At the same time, the U.S. Army recently released its first ever climate strategy, an effort to brace the service for a world beset by global-warming-driven conflicts. “The plan aims to slash the Army’s emissions in half by 2030; electrify all noncombat vehicles by 2035 and develop electric combat vehicles by 2050; and train a generation of officers on how to prepare for a hotter, more chaotic world.” If implemented, this could be huge! The Defense Department accounts for 56 percent of the federal government’s carbon footprint and 52 percent of its electricity use.

Energy

It is projected that by this summer Harrisonburg residents will have the option to buy solar powered electricity from the Harrisonburg Electric Commission (HEC) for a few extra pennies per kilowatt-hour. ( A valid critique is why solar-powered electricity should cost more when it actually costs less to generate.) This will make HEC the first municipal utility in the state to offer a community solar option to customers. The solar-powered electricity will flow from a 1.4-megawatt array being developed by Dominion Energy on a 10-acre plot on Acorn Dr. that the city purchased for $550,000.

As wind and solar power have become dramatically cheaper, and their share of electricity generation grows, skeptics are propagating the myth that renewable energy will make the electricity supply undependable. While the variable output of wind and solar power is a challenge, it is neither new nor especially hard to manage. No electricity supply is constant.

Most discussions on managing variability focuses on giant batteries and other expensive storage technologies. There are less costly options such as increasing energy efficiency in buildings and managing demand flexibility around peak-use hours. The bottom line is that electrical grids can deal with a much larger percentage of renewable energy at zero or modest cost, and this has been known for some time.  

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down two government permits that are needed for the Mountain Valley Pipeline to pass through the Jefferson National Forest. The company vows to push through with the completion of the pipeline, which it says is 94% completed. Complying with changes necessary to get the permits will, however, most likely push back the completion date that had been projected for this summer to sometime in 2024.

House Bill 1257, prohibiting local governments from banning natural gas, is wending its way through the Virginia House of Representatives. No Virginia municipalities have been moving aggressively in that direction, but the Richmond City Council recently passed a climate resolution that committed them “to working with the city’s administration on an equitable plan to phase out reliance on gas and shift to accelerated investment in city-owned renewable energy.” The Virginia Oil and Gas Association has been urging the legislature to preempt local governments from placing restrictions on the use of natural gas.

Climate Action

Native American environmental activists were able to draw on the Virginia Environmental Justice Act passed in 2020 to advocate before the Virginia Air Pollution board against the proposed Lambert Compressor Station that the Mountain Valley Pipeline wanted to install in their community in Chatham, Va. As reported in The Nation, “In an astonishing precedent, the Air Pollution board agreed—by a margin of six to one. This has never happened before in Virginia, where regulatory boards always vote in favor of industry.”

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy reports that 2021 was a landmark year for energy efficiency legislation. At least a dozen states passed new clean energy legislation or adopted new energy-saving standards such as fuel switching and electrification, encouraging clean heating systems, strengthening building codes, and the creation of transit-oriented affordable housing projects. Now comes the hard part—implementing this legislation.

Mark and Ben Cullen, in their recent article in the Toronto Star, give some handy tips on fighting climate change in your own garden. These same practices can also be used on a larger scale by farmers and ranchers.

  • Minimum tillage or “no-till” supports microscopic bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Tilling tears apart these beneficial structures allowing nutrients such as carbon to escape into the atmosphere.
  • Cover-cropping and inter-cropping are climate-friendly tactics that prevent soil erosion and improve the fertility of your soil.
  • Avoid synthetic fertilizers, which are a massive contributor to climate change. The production of synthetic fertilizers uses a tremendous amount of energy, including natural gas.
  • Plant perennials such as berries and tree fruits. Perennial plants develop deeper root systems which enhance soil health, and they are more effective in attracting pollinators.
  • Compost. Compost uses food waste from your kitchen as well as plant waste from your yard and garden. Composting greatly diminishes the greenhouse gas emissions from plant waste that would otherwise be bound for a landfill. Furthermore, finished compost will greatly enrich the soil in your yard and garden.

Mark and Ben Cullen say that “climate change can make us feel overwhelmed — and maybe helpless. But taking direct action in your own garden is one way to make a positive contribution to this major issue of our time, while enjoying the vast benefits of gardening.” I can personally attest to the psychological benefits of working in my garden when I feel overwhelmed by the severity of our climate crisis.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee