Tag Archives: climate & energy

Trump has no standards when it comes to vehicle emissions

President Donald Trump just slashed vehicle mile-per-gallon requirements. That will not only lead to more gas guzzlers on the roads, but more greenhouse gases and pollution-related deaths.

The move stops gas mileage standards from ratcheting up past 2020 levels, nixing Barack Obama’s Administration standard which ramps up to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Instead, that target will top out at around 37 mpg after 2021.

The Trump administration also announced it was trashing a decades-old waiver that allows California to set its own pollution and gas-mileage standards above the federal government’s. Because California has so many car buyers, automakers follow the state’s guidelines, effectively making California’s higher standards the country’s.

Scrapping current mileage standards is likely to cost Americans billions of dollars, according to Energy Innovation, a pro-clean energy nonprofit. Allowing cars to guzzle more gas will also contribute to a host of pollution-related health problems: heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory disease.

Energy Innovation

Another risk is runaway climate change. By 2035, these changes will likely bump up yearly emissions by 11 percent from where they would be under the Obama standards. But, thanks to the popularity of electric cars, Energy Innovations expects things to take a turn for the better. More EVs on the road could help emissions reverse course by 2040.

Energy Innovation

The Trump administration’s move will also leave your wallet a little lighter. Junking the efficiency standards and the California waiver means we’ll all be buying more gas  — $457 billion more, according to Energy Innovation. It’s as if the Trump administration added a 57-cent tax in 2040. But instead of paying that money to the government so that it can repair roads and build better transit options, we’ll be giving it to the oil industry.

Energy Innovation

None of this is guaranteed. California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra is fighting to keep the standards in place. “We’re ready to file suit if needed to protect these critical standards,” Becerra said in April when the EPA said it might slash them. A few weeks later California and 16 other states sued the Administration.

At the very least, legal challenges could delay the revisions into November, when midterm elections will gauge the public’s enthusiasm for the administration’s policies. The legal wrangling could also reopen the case that gave the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases, giving an increasingly right-leaning Supreme Court the chance to weigh in. In the meantime, all this creates a lot of uncertainty for automakers, as they try to figure out what goals they’ll need to hit seven years from now.

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Trump has no standards when it comes to vehicle emissions

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Should big corporations pay for clean energy? Portland voters will decide.

A new ballot initiative in Portland would raise $30 million a year for clean energy through a tax on giant retailers. Sound unusual? It is.

The campaign for the Portland Clean Energy Fund is led by groups representing communities of color and grassroots environmental organizations. The local branches of the Sierra Club, 350.org, and the NAACP are all involved, too.

“It’s groundbreaking,” says Jenny Lee, advocacy director at the Coalition of Communities of Color, another organization spearheading the measure. “It’s the first environmental or climate initiative, as far as we know, that’s been led by organizations of color in Oregon.”

The campaign officially qualified for the November ballot on Friday after gathering 60,000 signatures from Portland voters (it only needed 34,000.) Lee says the volume of signatures speaks to the public enthusiasm for the measure, which would place a 1 percent charge on mega-retailers on revenue from Portland sales, excluding groceries and medicine.

So who would be paying up? We’re talking Wells Fargo, Apple, Comcast, and Banana Republic — companies that make over $1 billion in revenue a year and over $500,000 in Portland alone.

Between 40 and 60 percent of the money in the fund would be directed toward renewable energy and energy efficiency projects — half of which must be specifically intended to benefit low-income residents and communities of color. The fund devotes 20-25 percent to clean-energy jobs training that prioritizes women, people of color, and people with disabilities; 10-15 percent to greenhouse gas sequestration programs; and 5 percent to a flexible “future innovation” fund.

It’s the latest instance of social justice advocates and grassroots organizers calling for climate action in the Northwest. In Washington state, a wide coalition introduced a “carbon fee” that’s almost certainly headed to the ballot this November. If passed, it would become the first state law that looks anything like a carbon tax.

This recent wave of ballot initiatives followed some legislative letdowns in the region. Right after a carbon-tax proposal fizzled out in the Washington Senate in March, Oregon lawmakers set aside their plans for a cap-and-trade program. “Maybe Blue States Won’t Take Serious Action on Climate Change,” ran a headline in The Atlantic at the time. The article called into question the narrative we keep hearing — you know, the one about progressive cities and states fighting for climate action when the federal government refuses to.

While elected officials are one way to change policy, ballot initiatives are another — and they’re beginning to look like a hallmark of the Northwest’s climate justice movement.

“We knew that we couldn’t count on our legislators, both at the state and city level,” says Khanh Pham, manager of immigrant organizing at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, who served on the steering committee for the Portland Clean Energy Fund.

Initially, Pham says, her group wanted to take the measure to city council — an easier, more familiar way to pass city legislation. But without strong support from their local elected officials, they decided to try and put something on the ballot instead.

She says the Portland Clean Energy Fund would be complementary to other climate policies, such as a statewide carbon price. It’s meant to address the hidden carbon emissions in the products we buy.

“When I buy clothing that comes from China or Vietnam, or food from Peru, there’s a lot of carbon emissions that are baked into those supply chains from these global retailers that are unaccounted for,” Pham says.

Reverend E.D. Mondainé, president of the NAACP Portland Branch and chief petitioner of the Portland Clean Energy Fund.Rick Rappaport / Portland Clean Energy Fund

It’s challenging to raise revenue in Oregon, especially to meet the needs of vulnerable communities, says Tony DeFalco, Verde executive director and one of the initiative’s organizers.

In 2016, Oregon voters shot down Measure 97, an attempt to place a 2.5 percent tax on corporations with more than $25 million a year in Oregon sales. DeFalco says the new initiative wasn’t inspired by that attempt. Measure 97 did, however, suggest that Portland has some appetite for a tax on corporations: 60 percent of the city voted for the measure, which would have spent the money on education, health care, and senior services.

Still, the groups behind the measure know they’re up against a challenge. There’s already a PAC, Keep Portland Affordable, that’s fighting the new initiative.

“We knew that we needed to be organizing in communities beyond our own to win this,” Pham says. “It’s been really eye-opening to see the power that a coalition like ours can build — a green-brown coalition.”

Portland is 78 percent white, making it the whitest big city in America. But communities of color have always been in Portland, says Lee, and her group is seeking to make them more visible. This ballot initiative is one such effort, she says:

“It’s a very clear statement that we are here, we are leading on policy, and we are also building political power.”

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Should big corporations pay for clean energy? Portland voters will decide.

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Meet the young refugee behind Zero Hour’s climate platform

Standing on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on a rainy Saturday morning, 20-year-old Kibiriti Majuto tells me there’s something he doesn’t understand. He gestures to the U.S. Capitol building looming tall in the distance, and asks: If the vast majority of scientists believe in climate change, then why is the government not taking action?

Behind him, a crowd of young people wear shirts with slogans like “Choose a cooler world” and hold up hand-drawn signs that read “Youth for climate action now.” Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, an indigenous hip-hop artist, raps in the background, “Fight for the cause, die for the dream.”

When the group begins to march, Majuto’s near the front. Megaphone in hand, rain pouring down, he leads a chant, shouting, “What time is it?” The crowd, headed toward the Capitol, yells back, “Zero Hour!”

This is the Zero Hour climate march, a movement led by POC youth.

Majuto is the main author of the Zero Hour platform, the core set of the marchers’ demands. Hundreds of people — many of them young — braved the weather to attend the national march, while others gathered for sister marches all around the country. These Gen-Zers want action on climate change, and they want it now.

Founded by 16-year-old Jamie Margolin last summer, Zero Hour has been picking up steam, sorting out march logistics, and getting big-name environmental partners on board– all while trying to get their schoolwork done.

On the eve of the march, I spoke with Majuto about his experiences as a youth climate organizer. He’s part of Earth Guardians, an international group of young climate activists who Margolin reached out to for help. Six months ago, he stepped up.

Majuto is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His family fled to escape conflict, first for South Africa. He eventually found himself in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he attends Piedmont Virginia Community College.

He came to the U.S. in 2012, flying over the Statue of Liberty into JFK airport. In some ways, America was as he imagined. What he didn’t expect to see was so much poverty. He recalls a trip to Baltimore, about a year after he moved to the U.S., where he was shocked to see a lot of poor people, many of them black. This didn’t fit with his utopian image of America. “What went wrong?” he thought to himself.

To answer that question, Majuto read up on American history. His takeaway: The U.S. tends to address the needs of middle-class families, not people in poverty. That’s an issue he’s trying to address in the Zero Hour platform. He asks, “Who’s the most impacted? How do we start at the bottom and go up?”

The platform demands include the sort of things you’d expect: slashing greenhouse gas emissions, investing in mass transit, transitioning from fossil fuels, and fining polluters. But, per the bottom-up framework, Zero Hour goes much further.

For instance, just having a good mass transit system isn’t enough: The group says it needs to be accessible for people with disabilities. The transition away from fossil fuels needs to incorporate racial justice and workers rights. As for those pollution fines? They say some of the cash should go toward helping communities adapt to a warming world.

To talk about climate change, they believe, you need to address systems of oppression too.

“We experience climate change differently based on our class, race, and gender,” Majuto tells me. “Those that are well-off have a tendency to live where they can breathe fresh air and don’t have to worry about a pipeline and fossil fuel infrastructure being built in their communities.”

While adults might laud these efforts, the young people doing the work are actually kinda pissed. Adults have dropped the ball on climate change, Majuto says: “It’s not my job, or other young people’s in Zero Hour, to tell politicians who are literally civil servants it’s their job to be doing all this work.”

But they’re organizing and marching anyway, because they feel like there’s no other choice. Majuto says that he and his peers are simply trying to ensure that they can grow up and live as human beings.

“If we keep destroying our planet,” he explains, “we might not even have a future.”

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Meet the young refugee behind Zero Hour’s climate platform

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New evidence shows we’re still way too addicted to fossil fuels

It seems like there’s always some good news about clean energy: We are breaking records, building more solar panels and wind turbines every day!

Despite clean energy’s meteoric growth, a new global assessment from the International Energy Association shows that fossil fuel projects are growing even faster. The money going to fossil fuel projects accounted for 59 percent of all energy investments last year. Sorry to say but clean energy’s share is shrinking.

You can see what’s going on in the following charts. First, improving energy efficiency (orange) is now big business. That’s great! Investments in renewables along with new transmission lines and batteries (the blue rectangle labelled “networks”), now dominate the electricity sector. Great again! But then there’s that big honking red section, which swings things back in the other direction.

IEA

“Investment in all forms of clean power, as well as in networks, would need to rise substantially,” according to the IEA report, for the world to have a shot at keeping climate change below 2 degrees Celsius.

So what happened to all that good news about renewables? Well, it’s real. Investment in solar photovoltaics reached record levels in 2017, while the price of solar power was falling fast, which means those investments are getting more bang for the buck. Investment in offshore wind also hit a record last year, but investment in land-based wind turbines, hydropower, and nuclear fell. The world put nearly $300 billion into renewables, which is a lot, enough to dominate the electric power sector:

IEA

But that’s not as much as we spent on in oil and gas drilling and exploration (also known as “upstream” investment) — $450 billion. And that doesn’t count all the money that went into building new pipelines, refineries, and gas stations.

IEA

We could kick our addiction to oil by switching to electric vehicles. And, indeed, the world is spending lots of money on EVs. People spent $43 billion on them last year, and more than one out of every 100 new cars sold is electric. Investors are also putting lots of money into build the lithium batteries powering Teslas and Chevy Bolts: Funding for lithium mining has increased by a factor of 10 since 2012.

IEA

It’s good news but not good enough. All our driving and shipping and air travel caused oil consumption to grow by “1.6 million barrels per day,” according to the IEA. All the electric cars on the road trimmed consumption by 30,000 barrels a day.

If there’s a true bright spot in this report, it’s found in the section on government research. Around the world, governments spent $27 billion on energy research in 2017, a record high. Most of the growth in government R&D went toward low-carbon technologies.

As the costs of renewables fall, and more wind and solar power surges onto the electric grid, it can start to seem as if the market is taking care of climate change on its own. This report is a bucket of cold water to dispel that fantasy. Yes, there’s good news, but fossil fuels are still growing faster than clean energy.

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New evidence shows we’re still way too addicted to fossil fuels

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California’s carbon emissions are back to ’90s levels. It can be done, people!

California’s carbon emissions are back to where they were when Macaulay Culkin was battling burglars and MC Hammer first told us we couldn’t touch this.

The California Air Resources Board said Wednesday that the state had hit its goal of bringing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels four years ahead of schedule. The drop came thanks to a boom in renewables and improving efficiency.

“California set the toughest emissions targets in the nation, tracked progress and delivered results,” said Governor Jerry Brown in a statement.

The state actually hit the goal in 2016 and is only reporting it now because it takes a while to crunch the numbers. A 2006 law set the target and put the Air Resources Board in charge of charting the state’s progress.

The board’s report shows that carbon emissions dropped 13 percent from their recent peak, while the average Californian’s carbon footprint shrank 23 percent, to 10.8 metric tons per person — about half the national average.

CARB

The results put the lie to the canard that emissions can only fall when an economy shrinks: the Golden State’s economy boomed as it cut its emissions. “California now produces twice as many goods and services for the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as the rest of the nation,” according to the Air Resources Board.

CARB

The biggest reductions came from the electric power sector, where an increase in wind and solar energy has been displacing fossil fuels.

CARB

To be sure, there are some signs that future progress could be harder. In the first quarter of this year, for instance, California’s electric system was actually slightly more polluting than the same quarter of last year. The state will need to make improvements in other sectors to meet its goals. At this point those miles of vehicles, bumper to bumper on the freeways — not electric power — are the largest problem. And transportation emissions have gone up, not down.

CARB

And so policy makers are turning their attention to cars. Governor Brown has a goal of getting 5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, up from about 400,000 today. To help that happen, California is spending nearly a billion dollars on charging stations, electric buses, and electric vehicles for government agencies. Some legislators are also trying to allow developers to build more homes in cities, where people can bike or take transit rather than driving. Both candidates vying to replace Brown as governor have vowed to build more housing.

California’s climate laws set the next milestone at cutting emissions another 40 percent by 2030, what Brown called “a heroic and very ambitious goal.”

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California’s carbon emissions are back to ’90s levels. It can be done, people!

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Washington state will likely vote on a carbon price in November. The oil industry’s already fighting it.

A bunch of heavy boxes arrived in the Washington state capital on Monday morning. They were filled with thousands of petitions in support of the proposed “Protect Washington Act” — a first-of-its-kind “carbon fee.”

Initiative 1631 has collected nearly 380,000 signatures from Washington voters — 120,000 more than necessary for it to appear on the ballot this fall. If voters pass the measure in November, Washington would be the first state in the country to adopt anything like a carbon tax.

“We’re all set,” says Nick Abraham, communications director at the Yes on 1631 campaign. “It’ll take a week to two weeks to certify and verify all the signatures, and then we are officially on the ballot.”

It’s one of three carbon pricing efforts to watch in the United States this year. In Washington, D.C., Councilmember Mary Cheh is expected to introduce a “carbon fee” bill to the district’s progressive city council this month. The Massachusetts state legislature is also mulling over a (somewhat vague) carbon price.

Washington state’s proposal would charge industrial emitters $15 per metric ton on carbon emissions starting in 2020, ramping up by $2 per year until Washington state meets its climate goals. The revenue raised would go toward investing in clean energy, protecting clean water and forests, and helping to make sure the communities that suffer the most from carbon emissions prepare for the effects of wildfires and sea-level rise.

Surprise, surprise — major oil and gas companies are already trying to fight it. The Western States Petroleum Association recently formed the “No on 1631” political action committee. The Seattle Times reports that the PAC has the support of the big guys, like BP, Shell, Chevron, Phillips 66.

So far, opponents to the carbon fee are arguing that prices will rise at the gas pump, hitting average people where it hurts. Mark Funk, a spokesperson for No on 1631, told the Seattle Times that the fee would “place the burden for initiative squarely on middle-income and lower-income people.”

The PAC has already paid more than $130,000 in fees to a national consulting firm that helps wage battles over ballot measures, Winner & Mandabach Campaigns. (The company’s website boasts that it has a 90 percent success rate.)

The carbon fee initiative has something going for it, though. It’s backed by more than 200 groups across Washington state, from labor groups and faith communities to tribal nations.

“This is the largest and most diverse coalition in the political history of the state,” says Aiko Schaefer, director of Front and Centered — an alliance of organizations advocating for low-income residents and people of color that played a key role in drafting the initiative.

The Yes on 1631 campaign is going to be knocking on doors and making phone calls, Abraham says, working to educate people all over the state about climate change and what the initiative could do for their local communities. It’s also focusing on mobilizing voters.

“Polls show that people of color care deeply about these issues,” Schaefer says. “Our job is to show them that they have an opportunity to act on that concern this November.”

Polls have shown that both Latinos and African Americans want climate action more than the population at large. More than 80 percent of Latinos, for instance, support a carbon tax on fossil fuel companies, according to a 2017 survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Just two years ago, Washington voters rejected a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Kyle Murphy, executive director of Carbon Washington (the group behind that 2016 attempt) says his group supports the new campaign — and he has some advice.

Murphy says grassroots organizing is the best way to counter the oil and gas industry’s message. “People will always believe their neighbors, the local firefighter, or the local clergyman over ads on TV from the oil industry,” Murphy says. “It’s gotta be normal people, regular people out there fighting for this.”

The initiative also has to find a way to reach voters in the middle of the political spectrum, he says: “We need some sliver of Republicans and moderates to join Democrats in passing something here.”

Public opinion polls say that almost 70 percent of Washington voters would support a measure to regulate carbon pollution; that includes more than half of Republicans. One of the big challenges for the I-1631 campaign, Murphy says, is convincing people that this initiative is the one that they want.

That, and of course, the fossil fuel industry. Schaefer says that she knows they will do everything they can to fight the initiative. But she still feels confident.

“They have a lot of money, we have a lot of people,” Schaefer says. “So our job is to mobilize people.”

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Washington state will likely vote on a carbon price in November. The oil industry’s already fighting it.

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Rising seas could wipe out $1 trillion worth of U.S. homes and businesses

Some 2.4 million American homes and businesses worth more than $1 trillion are at risk of “chronic inundation” by the end of the century, according to a report out Monday. That’s about 15 percent of all U.S. coastal real estate, or roughly as much built infrastructure as Houston and Los Angeles combined.

The sweeping new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists is the most comprehensive analysis of the risks posed by sea level rise to the United States coastal economy. Taken in context with the lack of action to match the scale of the problem, it describes a country plowing headlong into a flood-driven financial crisis of enormous scale.

“In contrast with previous housing market crashes, values of properties chronically inundated due to sea level rise are unlikely to recover and will only continue to go further underwater, literally and figuratively,” said Rachel Cleetus, an economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and a report co-author, in a statement. “Many coastal communities will face declining property values as risk perceptions catch up with reality.”

The report defines chronic inundation as 26 flood events per year, or roughly one every other week — enough to “make normal routines impossible” and render the properties essentially worthless. It builds on the group’s previous work to identify the risk of chronic flooding under a sea-level-rise scenario of two meters (6.6 feet) by 2100. Using data from Zillow for every property in every coastal zip code in the lower 48, the results of this week’s report are at once familiar and surprising. (Here’s the interactive map where you can plug in your zip code).

It’s probably no surprise that Miami Beach is the community most at risk nationwide. More than $6 billion could be wiped out by 2045 (within the lifespan of current mortgages). That’s more than 10 percent of the city’s property value. (All amounts are in 2017 dollars).

A more surprising result: New Jersey is the state with the most to lose over the same time frame, eclipsing Florida. In Wildwood, Ocean City, and Long Beach, more than $10 billion is at risk.

In about two percent of all coastal zip codes, rising waters could soon eliminate more than half of property tax revenue. For these communities, like Crisfield, Maryland and parts of Newport Beach, California, sea level rise is an immediate existential threat — city services would have to shutter with such a catastrophic budget shortfall.

Looking further ahead — under the high sea level rise scenario to 2100 — a quarter of Boston would be underwater. Vulnerable barrier islands, like Miami Beach and Galveston, Texas, would be largely uninhabitable. Nationwide, more than $12 billion in property tax revenue would be lost.

The study estimates that Long Island, New York would experience floods at the scale of Hurricane Sandy more than two dozen times a year. The longer the world waits to significantly cut emissions, and the more bad news we discover about the inherent instability of the vast Antarctic ice sheets, the more likely this scenario becomes.

Though the costs and scale of this looming disaster are staggering, it’s important to remember that the catastrophe will hit some people much harder than others. Academics and climate activists have been talking about this for a long time, but local governments have struggled to prepare for a more watery future.

“While wealthier homeowners may risk losing more of their net wealth cumulatively, less-wealthy ones are in jeopardy of losing a greater percentage of what they own,” Cleetus said. “Homes often represent a larger share of total assets for elderly or low-income residents.” For some, taking a $100,000 loss could be a life-shattering blow; for others it’s a temporary setback.

The futurist Alex Steffen calls this situation a “brittleness bubble,” and it’s characteristic of slow-onset but predictable problems like climate change. When the brittleness bubble breaks, those without means — the economically poor, those from marginalized groups — will be forced to abandon their homes and ways of life.

“The risks we face grow with inaction,” Steffen recently wrote. “So, too, do the losses we can expect.”

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Rising seas could wipe out $1 trillion worth of U.S. homes and businesses

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Here’s how many people Pruitt’s environmental policies could kill

If the Trump administration is good at anything, it’s proposing rollbacks to environmental protections. “Proposing” is the key word here — though EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has tried to weaken or get rid of more than 40 rules, he hasn’t been very successful. Many of his attempted rollbacks have faced challenges in court.

If all these deregulations actually came to pass, we’d see astounding effects on public health: an additional 80,000 deaths and well over a million cases of respiratory illness over the next decade. And that’s an “extremely conservative” estimate, according to Harvard professors who tabulated the numbers in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week.

We’ve seen estimates of the health impact of environment rollbacks before, but here, the numbers have been collected in one place. The researchers lifted most of the estimates from reports published back when these life-saving regulations were originally proposed or implemented.

Air pollution could introduce some of the most threatening health problems. Back in October, Pruitt pledged to repeal the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era rule that aimed to cut the power industry’s emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Without that plan, the researchers foresee a rise in exposure to particulate matter, resulting in 36,000 deaths and 630,000 childhood respiratory illness cases over the next 10 years.

Another major contributor to breathing issues: Pruitt’s plan to revive a loophole that would allow diesel trucks to use engines that create 450 times more soot than their newer counterparts. If implemented, that could lead to an estimated 900,000 cases of respiratory illness over the next decade, as well as 41,000 premature deaths.

Other rollbacks that pose major health threats include watering down rules for coal-fired power plant waste and adding a two-year delay to the implementation of the Obama-era Clean Water Rule.

So, about that hope we mentioned. The courts have the chance to keep many of these rules — and these lives — intact. While Pruitt is seen as a master deregulator, he’s been faulted for crafting sloppy rules, some of which have gotten struck down. For example, when Pruitt tried to keep methane regulations from going into effect, a federal appeals court struck it down, calling the move “unreasonable” and “arbitrary.”

And more of his attempts are headed to court. Just this week, for instance, a coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the suspension of water regulations.

The Harvard authors note that this kind of policymaking takes a lot of time to come to fruition. “Fortunately for those interested in public health,” they write, “the regulatory process will take many years. Whoever is sworn in as President in January 2021 will have a large effect on whether the Trump administration’s full environmental agenda goes into effect.”

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Here’s how many people Pruitt’s environmental policies could kill

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NIMBYs could ruin Berkeley’s best chance of fighting climate change

My hometown, Berkeley, has a long history of making sweeping gestures at the bete noire of the moment. It called for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. It made mobile phones provide radiation warnings. And back in the 1980s, it declared itself a nuclear-free zone.

But now Berkeley has a foe that it could actually do something about. This week the city declared a state of “existential climate emergency” and said it plans to eliminate all city greenhouse gases as soon as possible. The city also pledged to start drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, turning itself into a so-called “carbon sink” by 2030. It hasn’t defined how it will do this.

“Steadily rising temperatures have brought intensified wildfires, drought, and storms that have displaced and threatened thousands of people in California, and millions more around the world. We must act now,” said Cheryl Davila, the city councilwoman who proposed the resolution.

This is the kind of commitment governments around the world would be making if they actually took climate change seriously. Berkeley deserves kudos for taking this first step. The question is, will they take the next step? There are plenty of obstacles in the way: NIMBYs, town politics, and the powerful inertia of the status quo.

Cities that have pledged to eliminate their carbon emissions really can make a difference. In April, researchers found that cities in California can prevent a major portion of the state’s emissions all by themselves. But doing so would require huge changes, including a political reorientation.

The researchers looked at Berkeley specifically and found that the most significant way for the city to shrink its carbon footprint was by building more housing — filling in parking lots and vacant areas.

Building housing is the most significant way Berkeley can shrink its carbon footprint.Jones et al.

The problem is, it’s fashionable to say you support housing in Berkeley, then add a list of conditions and caveats that would make it very hard to to build anything. One of Berkeley’s subway stations is surrounded by a massive surface parking lot, which could turn into condos. But at the first community meeting to discuss the idea in March, neighbors lined up to oppose that change. The city council later opposed a state bill that would have made it easier for the regional rail system to build new housing.

Filling in cities with denser housing makes them more walkable, reducing the distances people have to travel and making transit and bike lanes more effective. Building more housing also allows more people to move into these environmentally friendly cities. Berkeley has traditionally put proposals for new apartment buildings through an exacting and expensive series of public hearings that can stretch on for years. The politics in Berkeley, and in many cities, usually favors existing residents.

Take this week’s meeting, in which the council pledged to eliminate emissions. Minutes earlier, the council had advanced regulations that would ensure new buildings didn’t mess up the views of existing residents. That would add another hoop for any housing development to jump through.

It’s understandable that many people want to keep their neighborhoods from changing. After all, they moved to Berkeley because they liked the way the city looked. As a result, things have remained pretty static. The current population stands at around 121,000; in 1950 it was 114,000. If Berkeley really is going to embrace the low carbon transformation, it will also have to change its approach to housing. And it would magnify its effect if Berkeley embraced development and allowed a lot more people to move in and enjoy a low-carbon lifestyle.

That’s just the first of many difficult political fights Berkeley faces. Dr. Janice Kirsch, an activist working with Climate Mobilization who was at the city council meeting on Tuesday, said campaigners are up to the task. “Now begins the hard work. We plan to show up to the city council meetings and hold their feet to the fire. We intend to be relentless.”

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NIMBYs could ruin Berkeley’s best chance of fighting climate change

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Antarctic melt holds coastal cities hostage. Here’s the way out.

After a quarter-century of intense study, we now know the unequivocal truth: Antarctica is losing ice to the oceans, and that ice loss is picking up speed.

Forty percent of sea level rise since 1992 has happened in just the past five years — a three-fold increase in the pace at which icebergs are breaking away from land, according to a comprehensive new study based on satellite data, ground measurements, and models. In West Antarctica, where the ice sheet is inherently unstable, the last five years saw an average net outflow of 159 billion tons of ice. In total, the frozen continent has lost 3 trillion tons of ice since 1992.

“As we observe the system for longer, we see more and more changes of the type we feared could happen as the climate warms,” says Helen Fricker, a scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California-San Diego who worked on the study, in an email to Grist.

The collective work, published in this week’s special edition of the journal Nature, assembles a half-dozen papers written by the world’s top experts on Antarctica. It serves as a major update to our understanding of how human activity affects the Earth’s largest store of ice — and what it would take to prevent a worst-case scenario.

Antarctica’s glaciers are massive enough to flood every coastal city on Earth. So it’s no exaggeration to say that what happens in Antarctica over the next few decades will determine the fate of not just Miami and Mumbai, but also the course of human history. If we’re lucky and quickly start cutting emissions, Antarctica’s glaciers might mostly remain in place. The alternative is unthinkable.

There’s still so much we don’t know about Antarctica. But a series of major breakthroughs in recent years have raised the urgency and scale of scientists’ efforts. This week’s papers put that information into context. The clear takeaway: There is no sign of a slowdown in Antarctica’s melt rate.

After five major Antarctic ice shelf collapses in the past 25 years, there is now enough data for an emerging science of ice shelf “damage mechanics.” Ice shelves — floating extensions of glaciers grounded on solid bedrock — are vulnerable to melt from both warm air above and warm water below. Their health is increasingly at risk as climate change intensifies. In recent years, scientists have learned that ice shelf collapses are probably a precursor for major glaciers to accelerate toward the ocean — and therefore a requirement for worst-case scenarios of sea level rise in our lifetimes.

The biggest of these shelf collapses so far, Larsen B back in 2002, raised alarms throughout the research community. In a matter of weeks, a 10,000-year old mass of ice the size of Rhode Island was gone. Last year, a smaller and partial collapse of the nearby Larsen C ice shelf produced one of the largest icebergs ever seen.

Thanks to all the science that’s taken place since, we have the ability to project forward what could happen over the next 50 years. It’s the same story we know, but with more certainty: We are at a make-or-break moment when it comes to climate change. The ice shelf collapses that humanity has already kickstarted can’t be rolled back, so the goal now is to prevent more of them.

More than any other region on Earth, Antarctica holds humanity hostage — but humanity also has a way out.

“The next few years will be a pivotal period for decision making with regard to Antarctica,” Fricker says. “Depending on what is decided, we could be looking at significant and irreversible changes over the next 50 years.”

Believe it or not, there’s a clear bright side here. Quickly slash emissions, and the ice shelves should still remain stable across most of the continent. Doing so would require an unprecedented era of global cooperation, but the collaborative research taking place right now in Antarctica — an effort shared by dozens of scientists from 17 countries in this week’s update alone — could serve as inspiration. It’s a symbol of what’s possible when people work together for a common cause.

“If you are optimistic, you can find good news here,” says Christina Hulbe, a polar expert at the University of Otago in New Zealand. “Some amount of future change has been locked in by our past decisions, but there is still time to avoid the worst thatcan happen.”

Hulbe, whose first trip to Antarctica was in 1991 but was not directly involved with this week’s report, sees it partly as the culmination of what she’s been working for her entire life. In her view, the way the report is framed — as a stark choice presented to humanity — “accomplishes something that charts and graphs never will.”

In narrative prose unusual for a formal scientific study, the researchers imagine what Antarctica might be like in 2070 — with and without rapid cuts to emissions. Given the incredible size of the Antarctic ice sheets, actions taken in the next decade, the researchers conclude, will reverberate for millennia.

“I’ve never been at an Antarctic or climate conference where people said, ‘That happened slower than I thought it would,’” Hulbe says. “There is nothing here to be complacent about.”

Originally posted here: 

Antarctic melt holds coastal cities hostage. Here’s the way out.

Posted in alo, ALPHA, Anchor, FF, GE, LG, ONA, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Antarctic melt holds coastal cities hostage. Here’s the way out.