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Category Archives: green energy
Renewable energy has been one of the few bright spots amid a global pandemic, as solar and wind power have surged across electricity grids worldwide. But the industry that supports renewable power is getting devastated: The U.S. economy lost nearly 600,000 clean energy jobs in March and April, setting what had been one of the country’s fastest-growing sources of employment on edge. All the job gains in renewables over the last five years have now been wiped out.
The numbers demolished earlier estimates. Jobs in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electric vehicles tripled the losses originally reported for March, according to an analysis of Department of Labor data by BW Research. Their previous analysis had estimated that the industry would lose half a million jobs by the end of June; but that grim milestone arrived at the end of April instead.
“We saw those March figures and thought, ‘This is really quite severe and it’s going to get worse,’” said Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, one of the green energy groups which commissioned the report. “But I think what we didn’t realize is that March was just a signal of what was to come.”
With state governments locking down huge areas of the United States in an attempt to curb the coronavirus, the unemployment rate has jumped to almost 15 percent, the worst since the Great Depression. The Labor Department reported Thursday morning that claims for unemployment benefits have reached 36.5 million.
Clean energy workers are no exception. During the pandemic, workers are unable to enter homes and buildings to retrofit aging equipment to make it more efficient. Financing for clean energy projects has also dried up, as investors try to wait out the economic downturn. And even those projects that are up and running are struggling to buy panels and parts from shuttered factories around the world.
The clean energy industry employed over 3.4 million Americans last year, triple the number employed by the fossil fuel sector — and without federal aid, industry leaders warn that the situation could get much worse. BW Research now estimates that the industry could lose 850,000 jobs, a quarter of those employed in clean energy, by the end of June.
Wetstone said he hopes that the federal government will take a page out of the 2009 Obama-era Recovery Act, which helped renewable energy rebound from the Great Recession. That bill included a provision allowing wind and solar developers to continue to use federal tax credits.
Even in good times, renewable developers often don’t owe enough in tax to the federal government to make green energy tax credits worthwhile, so they partner with big investors that can offset their own own taxes. When the economy slumps, however, investors don’t owe as much tax — and so are unwilling to participate. The 2009 bill bypassed this problem by turning those tax credits into grants. Doing that now, Wetstone said, could get many people back to work sooner.
So far, however, there are few signs that the federal government will help out the struggling renewable industry. “We’ve seen the president be outspoken in defense of the oil and gas sector,” Wetstone said. “And we certainly hope that our champions are willing to likewise stand up and provide the help that we’re seeking in the clean power sector.”
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You might try to live an eco-friendly lifestyle at home. But how green is your community?
According to a Pew Research Center survey, roughly 59 percent of U.S. adults say climate change is affecting their community in some way ? through weather, temperature changes, etc. And that point of view is even stronger in those who live near a coastline. Plus, according to another Pew survey, the majority of respondents think the U.S. government isn’t doing enough to protect the environment, including preventing water pollution, ensuring safe air quality and protecting animals and their habitats.
But not all communities are equal when it comes to being environmentally friendly. WalletHub recently released a study of the 100 largest U.S. cities, comparing 26 “green indicators” ? i.e., factors that made the city more or less eco-friendly. It broke these factors into four main categories: environment, transportation, energy sources and lifestyle/policy. And each city received an overall green score based on points applied to the green indicators.
These are the 10 cities WalletHub found to be the most environmentally friendly, the 10 that could use some green improvements and some tips to make your own community a little more eco-friendly.
The Most Environmentally-Friendly Cities
Here are the top 10 greenest cities in the U.S., according to WalletHub.
10. Portland, Oregon
Credit: RyanJLane/Getty Images
Portland cracked the top 10 with a solid performance in some categories and a mediocre showing in others. It ranked 18th in energy sources and 59th in the environment category ? which measured factors, such as air quality, green space, water quality and light pollution. But Portland boosted its overall green score with an eighth-place finish in the transportation category ? in which it received the fourth highest bike score. And it took third in lifestyle/policy, in which it also came in third for the most farmers markets per capita.
9. Sacramento, California
Sacramento fared a little better than Portland in the environment category, coming in 38th place. It also took 19th for energy sources and ninth for lifestyle/policy. But its best showing was its fourth-place finish in the transportation category. That category included factors, such as the share of commuters who drive alone, the average commute time, the city’s walk and bike scores and the accessibility of jobs by public transit.
8. Seattle, Washington
Seattle just edged out Sacramento’s green score for eighth place overall. The city ranked 25th in the environment category, 21st in energy sources and 12th in transportation. And it was near the top of the pack for lifestyle/policy, finishing fourth. Metrics in that category included farmers markets and community-supported agriculture per capita, community garden plots per capita, green job opportunities and the number of local programs that promote green energy.
7. Fremont, California
Fremont was fairly average in two of the categories and stellar in the other two. It came in 52nd for transportation and 32nd for lifestyle/policy. But it took second place for environment ? and within that category it came in first for the highest percentage of green space. Plus, it was No. 1 in the energy sources category ? which included metrics, such as electricity from renewable sources, solar installations per capita and amount of smart-energy initiatives.
6. Honolulu, Hawaii
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Who doesn’t love the environment of a Hawaiian island? Honolulu’s worst category rank was its 24th-place finish in energy sources. But it made up for that by taking fifth in environment, fifth in lifestyle/police and second in transportation. Within the categories, the city had the fifth lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Plus, it tied for first (with Fremont and Alaska) for the highest percentage of green space. And it also tied for first for the most farmers markets per capita.
5. San Jose, California
San Jose’s overall green score just barely put it in front of Honolulu for its fifth-place finish. The city did fairly well in the transportation and lifestyle/policy categories, coming in 24th and 21st respectively. It took 13th for energy sources. And San Jose’s best category rank was its 10th-place finish in environment.
4. Irvine, California
Continuing California’s domination of the top 10 greenest cities, Irvine’s overall score was just a few tenths of a point better than San Jose’s ? landing it in fourth place. The city’s only category rank out of the top 10 was its 27th-place finish in transportation. It took seventh in both the environment and lifestyle/policy categories. And it came in at No. 1 for energy sources.
3. Washington, D.C.
Even though many people wish the government would do more to combat climate change (or even admit it exists), the nation’s capital still is one of the greenest cities in the U.S. Washington, D.C., ranked 35th for environment and 17th for energy sources. It took sixth in the transportation category, in which it had the third lowest percentage of commuters who drive. (Not everyone gets a motorcade to stop D.C. traffic.) And, somewhat ironically, D.C. took No. 1 for lifestyle/policy ? despite the ongoing political arguments on policies that would help the environment.
2. San Francisco, California
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We head back to the West Coast for the top two greenest cities. San Francisco took 20th for energy sources, ninth for transportation and sixth for environment. Within the transportation category, the city had the fourth lowest percentage of commuters who drive, and it received the second highest bike score, only behind Minneapolis. Plus, San Francisco ranked second for lifestyle/policy ? tying for first (with Honolulu) for the most farmers markets per capita.
1. San Diego, California
San Diego took home the title for 2019′s greenest city in the United States ? and underscored California’s dominance on the list. It ranked 19th in both the transportation and lifestyle/policy categories. And within lifestyle/policy, it came in fourth for the most farmers markets per capita. Plus, San Diego’s best category rank was its fourth-place finish in environment.
The Least Environmentally-Friendly Cities
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These 10 cities ranked at the bottom of WalletHub’s list.
10. Gilbert, Arizona
9. Cleveland, Ohio
8. Mesa, Arizona
7. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky
6. Detroit, Michigan
5. Memphis, Tennessee
4. Toledo, Ohio
3. St. Louis, Missouri
2. Corpus Christi, Texas
1. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Of those cities, Corpus Christi ? along with Houston; Denver; Oklahoma City; Louisville, Kentucky; and Tulsa, Oklahoma ? had some of the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita.
Plus, Baton Rouge and Lexington ? along with Fresno, California; Laredo, Texas; and Hialeah, Florida ? had very little green space compared to the other cities.
How to Be a Greener Member of Your Community
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Regardless of where your city falls on this list (or whether it’s even on here at all), there are still several ways you can help to make your home a more eco-friendly place. Here are some tips to go green in your community.
Support local establishments
Instead of shopping at big box stores, support your community’s establishments that sell products made from local materials. A prime example of this: Eat at restaurants that source food from the area, and shop at farmers markets whenever possible.
You know carpooling (and using public transit) is eco-friendly, but do you practice what you preach? Start a carpool group for school, work or even trips to the store. Even better, choose more sustainable methods of transportation whenever possible, such as walking and biking. Lobby your city for bike lanes and walking paths if you don’t already have them.
Organize Recycling Drives
Some communities have very accessible recycling and donation drives. But others make it difficult to sustainably get rid of items you no longer want. If your community falls into the latter camp, step up as an organizer. Learn what’s necessary to hold donation drives ? as well as recycling events for items, such as toxic waste and electronics. Your community will thank you.
Connect with Community Members
A strong team can get things done more efficiently than a lone person. Find other members of your community who also care about building a more eco-friendly environment. Learn from each other, and band together to organize events, such as area cleanups, a community garden or even a Food Not Lawns initiative.
Bring issues to Local Government
You and your other eco-friendly community members will likely have to work with local government on many green initiatives. Do your homework, so you’re prepared to lobby for your causes. Ask your government about issues, such as reducing pesticide use, enacting greener building practices, expanding the recycling program or implementing a community solar project. Progress might be slow, but don’t let that discourage you from putting your voice out there.
Main image credit: Ron_Thomas/Getty Images
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.
Norway’s $1 trillion oil fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, is to plunge billions of dollars into wind and solar power projects. The decision follows Saudi Arabia’s oil fund selling off its last oil and gas assets.
Other national funds built up from oil profits are also thought to be ramping up their investments in renewables. The moves show that countries that got rich on fossil fuels are diversifying their investments and seeking future profits in the clean energy needed to combat climate change. Analysts say the investments are likely to power faster growth of green energy.
Norway’s government gave the go-ahead on Friday for its fund to invest in renewable energy projects that are not listed on stock markets. Unlisted projects make up more than two-thirds of the whole renewable infrastructure market, which is worth trillions of dollars.
Previously, it had warned that such investments could be at risk from political interference. But now the sum the fund can invest in green projects has been doubled to $14 billion. “Even a fund built on oil is seeing that the future is green,” said Jan Erik Saugestad, CEO of Storebrand Asset Management.
In March, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund said it would dispose of its investments in 134 companies that explore for oil and gas, worth almost $8 billion. But it is retaining stakes in oil firms such as Shell and BP that have renewable energy divisions.
Norway also announced on Friday that the fund would sell off its stakes in more coal companies, having set a new limit for them of 20 million tons of reserves. This may see its investments in giants Glencore and RWE dumped. The fund divested $6.5 billion of coal-related investments in 2015.
Across the world, almost 1,000 institutional investors, managing more than $6 trillion, have now committed to fossil fuel divestment, driven by concerns about global warming and financial losses if climate action cuts the value of coal, oil, and gas investments.
“Unlisted renewable energy is a growth industry,” said Tom Sanzillo at IEEFA. “Investments by Norway’s fund now allow it to take advantage of this growth and to use its resources to develop the market for decades. This is a strong step for the health of the fund and the planet.”
Sverre Thornes, CEO of Norwegian pension fund KLP, said: “This move will most likely expand the market further and faster. Our overall renewables infrastructure rate of return was around 11 percent last year. Clean energy is what will move us away from the dangerous and devastating pathway we are currently on.”
Per Kristian Sbertoli, at the Norwegian climate think tank Zero, said the decision on unlisted renewable infrastructure was a “historic breakthrough” and welcomed the further divestment from coal: “These actions by the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund are noticed and contribute to reducing the cost for renewables, whilst accelerating the global shift away from coal.”
Charlie Kronick, at Greenpeace U.K., said such moves were “genuinely good news” but that all investors would have to follow suit to beat climate change.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund sold its last investment linked to oil and gas last week, with the sale of its $69 billion stake in Saudi Basic Industries Corporation to the nation’s oil company, Aramco.
Other Middle East oil funds are moving to diversify into renewable energy, according to Reuters, but are stopping short of following Norway in shedding oil and gas investments.
Individual sovereign wealth funds make little information public about their investments, but data on total private equity investments involving such funds suggests a strong shift from fossil fuels to renewables.
In 2018, $6.4 billion went into hydrocarbons, compared with $5.8 billion in renewable energy, according to the data firm PitchBook. In 2017, $18.8 billion went into fossil fuel investments, compared with just $0.4 billion into renewables.
Mark Lewis, at BNP Paribas Asset Management, said: “Renewables are the new rust for the oil-and-gas industry, and if the industry does not adapt to this new reality they will corrode its future profits just like rust corrodes oil rigs.”
READ GREEN WITH E-BOOKS
Publish Date: September 4, 2007
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
Bjorn Lomborg argues that many of the elaborate and staggeringly expensive actions now being considered to meet the challenges of global warming ultimately will have little impact on the world’s temperature. He suggests that rather than focusing on ineffective solutions that will cost us trillions of dollars over the coming decades, we should be looking for smarter, more cost-effective approaches (such as massively increasing our commitment to green energy R&D) that will allow us to deal not only with climate change but also with other pressing global concerns, such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. And he considers why and how this debate has fostered an atmosphere in which dissenters are immediately demonized.
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The urgency to get to a fossil fuel-free future is growing. Now comes the discussion over just how to get there.
The Green New Deal is taking shape — not so much in Congress (at least not yet), but certainly among the nation’s environmental groups, many of which came together to outline want they do and don’t want to see in any future climate legislation.
On Thursday, more than 600 organizations submitted a letter to House representatives with a list of steps they say are required “at a minimum” for the U.S. to help keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
The message was signed by green movement heavyweights like 350.org, Greenpeace, Sunrise Movement, and Friends of the Earth — as well as many local grassroots groups, including Communities for a Better Environment in California and WE ACT for Environmental Justice in New York.
The recommendations include:
A complete shift to 100 percent renewable power generation by 2035.
An end to all fossil fuel leasing, extraction, and subsidies. That includes putting a stop to the export of crude oil and other fossil fuels.
Greater investment in renewable-energy-powered public transportation and better incentives for electric vehicles, with a goal of phasing out fossil fuel-powered cars and trucks by 2040.
More input from Native American tribes, workers, and the communities most impacted by fossil fuels. The letter says these groups should have the first say in what the transition away from fossil fuels looks like because a lot of energy infrastructure disproportionately impacts the places where they live.
Despite the sign-off from many environmental organizations, the letter may not strike a chord with all renewable energy advocates. It takes a stand on several topics that have ignited debate within the green community.
The letter demands a halt to nuclear energy, garbage incineration, and biomass energy. Such a move would throw a wrench in the green energy targets for several states which count these sources as “renewable.” Although there’s been some excitement for next-gen nuclear energy, these energy alternatives have posed health risks associated with toxic emissions and uranium contamination.
The letter also says the Clean Air Act should be used to rein in greenhouse gases. Traditionally, the act is associated with air pollution, not CO2. That said, carbon is often released with co-pollutants, and communities breathing the worst air say Congress should tackle pollution and climate change with one fell swoop.
The letter closes with a vow by the signing organizations to “vigorously oppose … corporate schemes that place profits over community burdens and benefits, including market-based mechanisms and technology options such as carbon and emissions trading and offsets, [and] carbon capture and storage.” (Carbon trading programs, like California’s popular cap-and-trade system, have been called out for making air quality worse in some communities, and critics of carbon capture say it takes the focus away from creating an economy that isn’t dependent on fossil fuels).
Browsing the 600+ organizations that endorsed the letter, there are still some big names missing, including the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council.
In Katowice, Poland, delegates from around the world have gathered to discuss how to curb emissions of greenhouse gases. The intent is to meet the goals that emerged from the 2015 Paris United Nations Climate Summit. But this year there’s a new top dog at the table.
The United States, led by a president who doesn’t believe in climate change or the scientists who study it, will take a back seat at this month’s climate summit, known as COP24. Meanwhile China, with its massive economy and growing green energy sector, has become the world’s climate leader.
That might seem like a good thing if it weren’t for a couple of problems. China is the world’s biggest carbon polluter, and its emissions won’t start easing for many years. Chinese leaders are also exporting dirty energy around the world through their “belt and road” development program, which is spurring economic growth throughout Africa and Southeast Asia. A construction boom in coal-fired power plants has accompanied that growth in places like Vietnam, Pakistan, and Kenya, for example.
So having China as the big power at a climate summit doesn’t bode well for any new get-tough-on-carbon deals between now and the end of the meeting on December 14, experts say. “The negotiations abhor a vacuum,” says Andrew Light, senior fellow at the World Resources Institute and a former climate negotiator in the Obama administration. “The U.S. is not showing leadership, so China steps in.”
The latest round of climate negotiations (held in the capital of Poland’s coal-producing region of Silesia) are focused on the technical issues of how best to measure and verify each country’s stated emissions reductions. Even though the negotiations are held under the flag of the United Nations, there’s no real carbon police out there. So it’s up to each country to self-report their carbon dioxide emissions from factories, automobile tailpipe emissions, and other sources that end up forming a warming blanket in the Earth’s atmosphere. Those numbers are then fact-checked by other nations and NGOs.
A major report released in October by a panel of the world’s leading scientists says that the planet will experience severe environmental damage — wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, and floods — that could top $54 trillion by 2040 unless there’s a big downward shift in carbon dioxide emissions. That’s going to require every nation to make changes, as well as individual cities, states, and businesses.
“It will require things that are more aggressive, like shutting down existing power plants, and by 2030, we probably need to reduce global coal power production by 70 or 80 percent,” says Nathan Hultman, director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland.
Hultman, who worked on climate issues in the Obama White House, says the solutions may be politically impossible for now. “Are we doing enough quickly enough?” he said. “The answer is probably no. At the same time, we have to ask, how do we ramp up contributions toward limiting emissions.”
Still, Hultman and others see progress, and they see China as both a cause of the problem and a potential solution. China burns half the world’s coal and has added 40 percent of the world’s coal capacity since 2002. More than 4.3 million Chinese people work in coal mines, compared to 76,000 in the U.S. (that’s fewer employees than work at Arby’s or in radio).
While China is gaga for coal, it also is more green than anyone else. China owns half the world’s electric vehicles and 99 percent of the world’s electric buses. One quarter of its electricity comes from renewable power like solar or wind. Its cheap silicon panels have driven down the price of solar energy worldwide, and Chinese manufacturers are now starting to export EV batteries to automakers in Europe, Asia, and the U.S.
For Chinese leaders, boosting global green energy isn’t a moral issue, it’s an economic one, according to Jonas Nahm, assistant professor of energy, resources, and environment at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. “It doesn’t come from an altruistic place,” Nahm said. “They are doing this as an economic development strategy.”
Nahm has been studying the disconnect between green energy targets announced by party leaders in Beijing, and the actions of local leaders in China’s far-flung provinces. He found that up to 40 percent of renewable energy is wasted because there’s no national power market in China. That means that wind and solar power generated in one province can’t be sent to an adjacent province, so more coal plants are fired up even if there’s cheaper green energy next door.
But China’s reliance on dirty coal has come back to haunt its own citizens, according to Nahm. “The air pollution crisis is a reason to get away from coal,” he said. “That’s the first environmental crisis that’s pushed the government to act, and then the impact of climate change. There’s desertification, water shortages, giant dust storms, and some of these problems are getting more severe.”
Nahm and the other experts believe that China is headed in the right direction on climate change, but its economy is so big and so dependent on coal that it takes a while to get there. As for the climate summit in Poland, it’s possible that China might try to wiggle out of meeting even tougher new climate commitments, even as it becomes the biggest nation supporting the U.N. Paris agreement goals. President Trump said he plans to walk away from the Paris agreement; the earliest he can do that is in 2020.
There’s also the issue of checking up on each country’s measurements. Before the Paris agreement, China was considered a “developing” nation subject to less stringent reporting requirements. That changed after 2015. But without a strong U.S. influence to check it today, China might try to loosen the bookkeeping, says Samantha Gross, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
“What will the reporting requirements be and how will they be verified,” said Gross. “That’s what the negotiators will be duking out in Poland. I’m curious to see how far they get.”
As for China, Gross says they hold the cards for the world’s climate future. “We’re all gonna fry if they don’t do something.”
Most of the climate-related coverage of this week’s midterm elections was pretty pessimistic. But if you dig down to the state level — the true hotbed of climate policy in the Trump era — the results were much brighter, even hopeful.
Climate-friendly Democrats won governorships and state legislatures across the country. In several key states, they managed to do both at once, achieving a “trifecta”: Unified control of the governor’s mansion and both branches of the statehouse. In most cases, that means there’s a wide-open lane for an expansion of renewable energy mandates and other climate-friendly policy from coast to coast — at a critical moment in planetary history.
Before the election, Democrats had trifectas in Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. This week, they added Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, New York, and Maine. Combined, those 14 states are home to more than a third of the U.S. population.
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Here’s a quick look at some of states that are gearing up to finally put climate change on the front burner:
Newly elected Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is aiming to transform New Mexico — the third largest oil-producing state in the country, behind Texas and North Dakota — into an environmental leader. She wants the state to be able to produce so much renewable energy that they can export it to California.
Incoming Governor Jared Polis campaigned on a promise of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, which would be the boldest state-level policy in the country. That goal is so ambitious that even Polis admits it will be a heavy lift, but he’s got the backing of the legislature to help make it a reality.
Voters in Nevada managed to pass a 50 percent renewables mandate by 2030 on Tuesday, one of the most aggressive in the country — and one of the few big direct democracy victories this week. Incoming Governor Steve Sisolak campaigned in support of the ballot measure, and will have the full support of his state legislature to roll out policies to make it happen.
Newly elected Governor JB Pritzker has vowed to turn the most populous state in the Midwest into a renewables powerhouse, boosting its relatively weak 15 percent by 2025 mandate to 25 percent, and ally his state with others vowing to uphold commitments under Paris agreement.
It was the state senate that flipped, not the governorship, in New York. That will free up Andrew Cuomo to answer his critics and pass legislation to put the state on a path to 50 percent renewables by 2030, something he’s been trying to do for a while now. This comes a year after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for the city to purchase 100 percent renewable energy “as soon as sufficient supply can be brought online.”
Janet Mills, the first woman elected governor in Maine, is aiming to reduce the state’s emissions 80 percent by 2030 and supports the development of offshore wind farms — widely seen as more efficient and reliable than onshore wind. Maine’s potential offshore wind resources are 75 times greater than its current statewide electricity use, meaning it could soon sell energy to other parts of New England and the East Coast.
In these state plans, it’s easy to get a glimpse of a future United States that’s actually on a path to holding global warming to less-than-catastrophic levels. Today’s bold state policies could quickly grow into regional hubs entirely reliant on renewable energy, leapfrogging the broken incrementalist approach of the past few decades at the national level and stealthily achieving the kind of world we need.
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