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Apocalypse Never – Michael Shellenberger


Apocalypse Never

Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All

Michael Shellenberger

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $14.99

Expected Publish Date: June 30, 2020

Publisher: Harper


Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world. It is not even our most serious environmental problem. Michael Shellenberger has been fighting for a greener planet for decades. He helped save the world’s last unprotected redwoods. He co-created the predecessor to today’s Green New Deal. And he led a successful effort by climate scientists and activists to keep nuclear plants operating, preventing a spike of emissions. But in 2019, as some claimed “billions of people are going to die,” contributing to rising anxiety, including among adolescents, Shellenberger decided that, as a lifelong environmental activist, leading energy expert, and father of a teenage daughter, he needed to speak out to separate science from fiction. Despite decades of news media attention, many remain ignorant of basic facts. Carbon emissions peaked and have been declining in most developed nations for over a decade. Deaths from extreme weather, even in poor nations, declined 80 percent over the last four decades. And the risk of Earth warming to very high temperatures is increasingly unlikely thanks to slowing population growth and abundant natural gas. Curiously, the people who are the most alarmist about the problems also tend to oppose the obvious solutions. What’s really behind the rise of apocalyptic environmentalism? There are powerful financial interests. There are desires for status and power. But most of all there is a desire among supposedly secular people for transcendence. This spiritual impulse can be natural and healthy. But in preaching fear without love, and guilt without redemption, the new religion is failing to satisfy our deepest psychological and existential needs.

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Apocalypse Never – Michael Shellenberger

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Coronavirus’s next victim: Big Meat

Americans are soon going to be eating a lot less meat — just not in the way environmentalists had hoped that would happen. Coronavirus has shuttered so many meatpacking plants around the country that the number of cattle and pigs slaughtered every day is down 40 percent. Farmers are euthanizing pigs by the thousand and trucking the meat to landfills to rot.

“The food supply chain is breaking,” wrote John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods Inc. in a full-page that ran in major newspapers on Sunday.

As far as his business is concerned, Tyson is right: The meat industry has never experienced a crisis like this before. It’s likely to lead to many long term changes: more scrutiny of the industry’s consolidation, more support for smaller meat companies, and a renewed push for mechanization. In the short term, it means two things: scarcity and higher prices.

“It’s going to cause price spikes somewhere downstream,” said Rich Sexton, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis. But the average shopper might only notice empty shelves rather than higher prices, because “big grocery chains don’t like to jack up prices, especially in times like this.”

By the last week of April, some 16 plants had been shut down. In response, President Donald Trump issued an executive order Tuesday to reopen meatpacking plants, provoking protests from unions and Democratic politicians who say that the order doesn’t do enough to protect workers from getting infected. “We are really putting workers in grave danger today,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut at a press conference on Tuesday. At least 20 meat-processing workers have died from coronavirus so far.

It’s all frightening enough that very serious people are warning of a collapse that could end in food riots. So is it time to panic-buy for real? How could we protect the people risking their lives to produce food? And could this crisis wind up breaking the grip of the few companies that control most of meat processing in America? Here’s our explainer for anyone who wants to get beyond their reflexive Trump-fury and search for solutions.

Would people starve if the meatpacking plants stayed closed?

After Trump announced his order, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa tweeted that “society is 9 meals away from food riots.” But, no, there are still plenty of calories to go around — even with farmers dumping mountains of potatoes and oceans of milk. Meatpacking plants are not an existential necessity, because humans survive primarily on grains; we are more seed eaters than beef eaters. The supply chains delivering bread, pasta, and rice are still working well because they rely on machines rather than virus-vulnerable human labor. And much more food is in storage.

“There’s still enough food, but it might not be what we wanted,” said Jayson Lusk, food economist at Purdue University.

What’s the argument for keeping these plants open?

Keeping even a few of the biggest meatpacking plants closed for more than a month could cripple every food business and farmer connected to them. And they are connected to almost everyone. The meat industry is shaped like an hourglass, with farmers at one end, eaters at the other, and a few enormous packing plants at the chokepoint. For example, just 15 slaughterhouses kill 60 percent of the pigs in America.

Purdue University

So the economists I talked to said it only made sense to find a way to get the plants running again as soon as possible.

Farmers are scrambling to find smaller slaughterhouses and meat packers, and those smaller businesses are benefiting, said Nelson Gaydos of the American Association of Meat Processors, which represents these smaller companies. “A lot of people are saying it’s like Christmas on steroids,” he said.

But the big boys are so enormous that the small- and medium-sized meat companies can’t make up for their losses. Imagine you ran a small slaughterhouse that killed 200 pigs a day from local farmers: That might sound like a lot, but you’d have to do that for 100 days to provide as much pork as one of the big plants butcher in a single day (Lusk did the math in a blog post).

Can the plants reopen safely this soon?

It’s tough to tell. Companies are giving workers masks, having them stand six feet apart, and putting up plexiglass barriers when they need to be closer, said Gaydos.

Democrats have said that the government should mandate worker protections rather than simply asking for good-faith efforts as Trump did in his executive order. “It is vital that we do everything we can to protect food supply workers,” wrote a group of Democratic senators in a letter to Trump. “Breakdowns in the food supply chain could have significant economic impacts for both consumers and agricultural producers.”

There’s only so much the government can do. Trump’s executive order releases meat companies from liability from worker’s lawsuits, and it overrules state and local authorities calling for shutdowns. But the president can’t force workers to come back to the job if they don’t feel safe.

How will this crisis change things?

A crisis exposes weaknesses. This one is revealing two major vulnerabilities in the meat industry: Its reliance on human labor and its concentration.

Henry Ford modeled his assembly lines after the disassembly lines he saw in meat packing plants. Automobile assembly lines grew more and more automated, while meat plants continued to rely mostly on dirty, dangerous grunt work. The experience of a pandemic could soon change that. There’s one slaughterhouse in Holland that is almost completely run by machines.

“There is going to be even more of a rush to automate farmwork and slaughterhouses,” Sexton said.

The hourglass shape of the meat industry is another vulnerability. This concentration of just a few giant meat companies is able to put inexpensive meat on the plate of people at even the lowest income levels in America, but it can’t nimbly respond to changes.

Concentration causes other problems, too. For instance, the meat behemoth JBS recently sent a cease-and-desist letter to a union for conducting a “multi-faceted corporate campaign” to “coerce” the corporation to make worker-safety concessions at a plant in Greeley, Colorado.

Of course, unions exist to coerce companies to give workers more money and better conditions. The fact that JBS views the union demands as an illegal breach, rather than business as usual, suggests that it is not used to serious challenges to its authority.

The number of slaughterhouses has fallen 70 percent since the 1960s, a result of bigger companies swallowing up the little ones to grow even bigger. But the pandemic has put these giants in the spotlight. On Wednesday, a bipartisan pair of Senators asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate meatpacking consolidation.

And maybe this crisis will lead politicians to lift some of the regulatory barriers that keep smaller businesses out, Lusk said.

What about the environment? At the moment, that’s an afterthought. The attention right now is focused on ensuring Americans have a steady supply of meat, not on prodding the industry to become environmentally sustainable.

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Coronavirus’s next victim: Big Meat

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Ocean Outbreak – Drew Harvell


Ocean Outbreak

Confronting the Rising Tide of Marine Disease

Drew Harvell

Genre: Environment

Price: $18.99

Publish Date: April 16, 2019

Publisher: University of California Press

Seller: University of California Press

There is a growing crisis in our oceans as rates of infectious disease outbreaks are on the rise. Marine epidemics have the potential to cause a mass die-off of wildlife from the bottom to the top of the food chain, impacting the health of ocean ecosystems as well as lives on land. Fueled by sewage dumping, unregulated aquaculture, and drifting plastic in warming seas, ocean outbreaks are sentinels of impending global environmental disaster.   Ocean Outbreak follows renowned scientist Drew Harvell and her colleagues as they investigate how four iconic marine animals—corals, abalone, salmon, and starfish—have been devastated by disease. Based on over twenty years of research, this firsthand account of the sometimes creeping, sometimes exploding impact of disease on our ocean’s biodiversity ends with a hopeful message. Through policy changes and the implementation of innovative solutions from nature, we can reduce major outbreaks, save some ocean ecosystems, and protect our fragile environment.      


Ocean Outbreak – Drew Harvell

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Why I Love a Good Clothes Swap

Back in middle school, when shopping was a favorite pastime but?spending money was hard to come by (that allowance didn’t stretch very far), my little clutch of girlfriends and I invented what we thought was an ingenious way to expand our wardrobes for free. We called this grand exchange a “clothes swap.”

Each season, one of us would host?a party?to which we’d bring a haul of items that we’d grown out of or grown tired of. After arranging ourselves on the floor in a circle, wares displayed, we’d take turns holding up an item for “bid.” From there, it was up to expert female negotiation, complete with try-ons, to decide who got what. (Talk about diplomacy!)

By the time we were finished, each of us would walk away with?a whole new bag of clothes, filled to the top with cute pieces of clothing from the others’ closets. At the end of the season, we’d return what was?borrowed, deciding whether what we’d given away was worth missing, then gradually evolving our wardrobes?from there. It was magic!

Later on, I realized that we weren’t the only ones onto the idea that sharing is caring. In fact, clothes swaps have become a very popular party format. I mean, who doesn’t love the idea of getting something new to wear without having to spend a dime?

So many of us?find ourselves blankly staring at our closets each morning wondering how we could possibly have nothing to wear. Despite wardrobes overflowing with shoes, tees, dresses and jackets, we still grow tired of seeing the same pieces day after day. And when the urge to shop strikes, our wallets (and knowledge of our destructive consumeristic tendencies) halt us in our tracks.

A clothes swap solves all of these problems at once. It’s free, has no environmental impact and helps inject a little novelty into our wardrobes just when we need it most. Really, it’s a fantastic idea!

Sound like something you could get into? All you need is willing participants, a few guidelines for the group and keen minds ready to barter! Here are some ideas to get you started.

How to Host a Clothes Swap

1. Invite?a mix of guests?within a similar size range or make the party accessories only (shoes, bags, scarves, jewelry).

2. Set rules that will help create a calm, polite space for negotiating. Settle on a specific number of items to bring (say, 10 or so), set up a lottery system for picking order, and lay out some criteria for the quality items.

3. Encourage browsing and bartering, clear space for a makeshift fitting room and set a fixed amount of time for the swap. You could even display all the items like you might in a boutique!

4. Set out snacks and drinks to establish a leisurely pace to the evening. The last thing you want is a selfish frenzy! It’s all just for fun, after all. This isn’t a sample sale.

5. Donate any pieces that are leftover. There’s no pressure for every last straggling item to be taken home.

If your first clothes swap goes well, it might just become a regular event, like it did for my friends and I back when we were kids. Hold a swap once per season, or make it an annual bash that brings together friends from a variety of different social circles. Your closet will?be glad you did!


Why I Love a Good Clothes Swap

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Can New York make buildings super-efficient, fast?

This story was originally published by CityLab and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

New York City passed the most aggressive climate bill in the nation in April, and the city got it done in a truly New York way.

The Climate Mobilization Act is the city’s effort to abide by the Paris climate-change agreement even after the Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the global accords. Before its abrupt about-face, America’s plan had been to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. New York is taking up that pledge by introducing new regulations to address the energy performance of buildings.

Buildings contribute a huge share of New York’s carbon emissions — nearly 70 percent, thanks to normal everyday use, but exacerbated by inefficient heating and cooling systems — so they’re an obvious target for regulation. But it’s less obvious how the building sector will answer this charge. There’s a fundamental mismatch in expertise: The people who know how old buildings really work aren’t the same people designing energy-efficient retrofits. Only a big push will get them in the same room (at great expense to landlords).

The city’s new “80-by-50” law prescribes several benchmarks along the way to the ultimate goal in 2050. Some buildings will need to produce real results soon; different types of buildings will be subject to specific targets. The city’s first big milestone arrives in 2030: By then, New York buildings will need to have collectively cut their carbon emissions by 40 percent. Any buildings larger than 25,000 square feet will be subject to the cap (with some key exceptions), which means around 50,000 buildings in total. For landlords and building owners, this is an enormous lift in just over 11 years. That’s by design.

“There’s still a lot of details to figure out as to how this gets implemented,” says Lindsay Robbins, a director for strategy and implementation at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which hashed out this policy’s compromises with the Real Estate Board of New York. “I don’t think any city has done this on this scale before.”

The hope is that New York’s climate law is awesomely burdensome. No, that doesn’t mean a ban on glass skyscrapers. But a law that turns over the everyday dealings of real estate in New York has a great deal of promise for upsetting how buildings work everywhere. That’s what this represents, according to supporters like John Mandyck, CEO of the Urban Green Council, a nonprofit devoted to making New York buildings sustainable. “This law could possibly be the largest disruption in our lifetime for the real-estate industry in New York City,” he says.

New York’s new law is an effort to make the road by walking: It’s not something anyone knows how to do until everyone commits to doing it. The fact that this legislation is sweeping in its scope is why it stands a chance of succeeding, its supporters say. It’s the first plank in the suite of legislation that Mayor Bill de Blasio describes as the city’s own Green New Deal. The idea is to build a durable industry in energy retrofitting, one that benefits everyone involved — and by doing so, establishing a model for other cities around the world. And the city can’t get there with a measure that asks building owners to simply swap out light bulbs.

“New York City is going to spend billions and billions of dollars to meet this new law. When we do that, New York Harbor is still going to flood if the rest of the world doesn’t enact aggressive climate reduction strategies as well,” Mandyck says. “Our point all along has been that if we’re going to spend the billions of dollars, let’s make sure we come up with policies that are exportable.”

New York is going it alone here

Other cities are looking at building performance, to be sure. Every city has an incentive to level up the energy efficiency of buildings: In New York, buildings alone account for 95 percent of electricity use for the city, according to the Urban Green Council. But most cities have not taken steps beyond tracking and disclosure.

More than 25 U.S. cities have adopted various energy-benchmarking policies, as have the states of California and Washington. These laws make it mandatory for building owners to report their energy use (namely their electric and gas bills). Disclosure laws have guided net-zero building codes and voluntary agreements. Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., were early signers.

It’s worth noting the limits of disclosure. Building owners who don’t meet voluntary standards don’t pay any price. Importantly, disclosure is not supposed to be a shaming tool: Benchmarking in New York might show a range in energy consumption by hotels, for example, with usage calculated per square foot so as to compare big hotels with small ones, without naming any specific buildings.

What New York is doing is more strident: It’s the first city to attach a dollar value to these disclosure figures. Washington, D.C., passed a building-energy performance standard in December for buildings over 50,000 square feet, and when buildings in the District fall out of compliance, those landlords will be moved into an advisory lane to get back on track. San Francisco passed a law this month requiring big buildings to switch to renewable electricity, an easier goal for a city with a forgiving climate located in a state with a cleaner grid.

In New York, building owners who don’t meet their carbon reduction requirements will pay fines. Potentially very large fines: The statute calls for a penalty of $268 per every assessed ton of carbon over the cap. For landlords just over the line, the fine will be nominal. But the city’s worst offenders could be looking at annual penalties of more than $1 million.

It’s a policy with teeth, in other words. Fortunately for landlords, there’s a lot of room for buildings to improve, according to Vivian Loftness, professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the Paul Mellon chair in architecture.

“Buildings in the U.S., and certainly commercial buildings, have been incredibly sloppy in their energy use,” Loftness says. “We’ve got [older] mechanical systems that are running at 50 percent efficiency, where there’s things on the market that will run at 95 percent efficiency. We’ve got a lot of room for upgrades for boilers and chillers, air-handling units, control systems — there’s so much room in just the hardware of buildings.”

New York’s strict standard may work for landlords

The Climate Mobilization Act sets deep reduction targets over a fairly short period. Since the law establishes 2005 as the benchmark year  — meaning building energy consumption needs to fall 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 — landlords who have made some strides in energy reduction will get credit for their work. The poorest performers will need to show improvement sooner, by 2024, but about one-quarter of buildings won’t require substantial changes. Taking the progress already made into consideration, New York will need to level up its building-energy-performance game by 26 percent over the next 11 years.

Still, it’s significant, especially for New York landlords with multiple buildings in their portfolio. The Real Estate Board of New York, which represents many large developers, has vocally opposed the legislation. The legislation “does not take a comprehensive, city-wide approach needed to solve this complex issue,” said John H. Banks, the board’s president, in a statement. The group objects in particular to exemptions that they say put a greater strain on the building owners subject to this regulation.

“A coalition of stakeholders including environmental organizations, labor, engineering professionals, housing advocates and real estate owners came together and proposed comprehensive and balanced reforms that would have achieved these goals,” Banks said. “The bill that passed today, however, will fall short of achieving the 40 x 30 reduction by only including half of the city’s building stock.”

Douglas Durst, the chair of the Durst Organization, wrote in a letter to Crain’s New York Business that under this legislation, “empty buildings score better than occupied ones, and hundreds of thousands of inefficient and energy-intensive smaller, city-owned and [New York City Housing Authority] buildings have significantly less stringent standards.”

“To get down to even 20 percent from where I am today, with the technology that exists, there’s nothing more that I can do,” Ed Ermler, the board president for a group of condo buildings in Queens, told The New York Times. “It’s not like there’s this magic wand.”

It will take work, no question, says Lane Burt, managing principal for Ember Strategies, a consultancy and strategy firm. But it will not take a wizard. For starters, not every individual building needs to make the 40 percent mark: That’s an aggregate goal. And buildings don’t need to hit their target tomorrow.

“If you’re a building owner and your engineers are telling you, it’s impossible to get 20 percent carbon reduction or 30 percent carbon reduction, really, you need better engineers,” Burt says. “What I interpret from that concern is that the owners are saying, ‘It’s financially impossible for me to do this right now.’ And that I believe completely.” He adds, “The good news is, it might be financially impossible for them to do right now, but we’re not necessarily talking about right now. We’re talking about three decades.”

Over a long enough time span, in fact, the heavier lift makes it more likely that landlords will succeed, not less so, according to supporters of the bill.

“What’s smart about this bill is it doesn’t ask for a small increase. It asks for a big increase,” says Greg Kats, president of Capital-E, a clean-energy consultancy and capital firm. “It’s the kind of thing where if you’re going to do something, you should do quite a lot of it, because the transaction costs [for landlords] to set it up, to engage with tenants, are substantial fixed costs.”

Switching to solar might show gains in kilowatt hours fast. But often, measuring energy efficiency is trickier. It means achieving a negative outcome, a reduction in energy consumption, usually by introducing additive systems that contribute to an overall decrease. Buildings are complex systems: Higher-efficiency windows lead to lower air leakage, which reduces heat loss, which lowers heating bills. Buildings are all different, though, so figuring out the suite of improvements suited to a particular building is complicated.

After all, the work involved is interruptive, whether it means overhauling HVAC processes or considering more costly improvements to a building’s roof or facade. While tenants see the benefit of this work once it’s done, they hate it while it’s happening. With a long-enough runway, landlords can plan around the natural business cycle of a lease (around 10 years, generally) to find the lowest-cost window for this work. And given a tall order, building owners have an incentive to spend in order to achieve big savings.

The hassle of getting to a 10 or 15 percent reduction is not that different from reaching 40 percent, Kats says. Either way, a landlord needs to capture data, engage with landlords and utilities, meet with vendors and consultants, and buy new equipment. These transaction costs are high, but many of these costs are the same whether the goal is 15 percent or 40 percent.

A bad bill — something that asked landlords to make smaller changes more gradually, or with less certainty about future benchmarks or timing — might encourage landlords to look for the low-hanging fruit, the barest improvements necessary to meet the regulatory burden. But big asks translate into benefits that landlords can show to tenants. A law firm may not love an interruption from building management — but replacing office lighting with LED lamps that improve visual acuity? A promise against freezing-cold workspaces that landlords can actually keep? Tenants want those changes!

“If you go deep on [energy efficiency], there are some real economies of scale,” Kats says. Landlords can make changes “that save on capital costs or create more space for you that’s rentable space. It’s that kind of systems approach which deep upgrades allow that makes it much more cost effective.”

How will building owners come up with the capital?

Deep upgrades require capital, of course. Improvements for buildings are expensive, and the payback is long. Most investors don’t think of the building sector as a 50-year investment or even a 30-year investment. It’s rare for a building owner to weigh upfront investments against long-term operating costs, because the capital comes from different pockets, and the savings may variable or may not be guaranteed, according to Loftness. Building improvements ought to pay out within the lifetime of the equipment or materials, but not within, say, five years — so there’s a mismatch between up-front costs and long-term savings.

Owners who also occupy their buildings tend to have longer views about costs, she says, but they may not share the same long-term economics. The question is academic for a building owner who doesn’t have the capital to pay for building upgrades. So it’s good news, for both investors and owner-occupants alike, that the market has an answer to help New York meet this new burden.

The solution comes from California. When the state passed energy-conservation laws 30 years ago, it made utilities responsible for achieving those savings, with the idea being that utilities can bear to wait 30 or 50 years to see a gain. So California utilities have actively promoted investments, financed by the utilities themselves, as a way to meet the regulatory burden. A similar approach is likely to be popular in New York to meet the new energy benchmarks.

“Rather than you, the building owner, having to come up with the money, the utility is coming up with the money, and basically taking the payback through the energy savings,” Loftness says. “Your bill stays the same, but 10 years later, you’ve paid back the ‘loan’ of what they invested in the building.”

The most common category of energy-efficiency financing are negotiated payments known as energy service performance contracts (ESPCs). Under this arrangement, a third party finances the upgrade, sharing the savings with the property owner and making a profit. Third parties that develop, design, build, and fund these improvements are called energy service contract organizations (ESCOs). When utilities are directly involved, as in the California model, the savings-backed arrangements are called utility energy service performance contracts (UESPCs or USPCs), to complete the acronym soup of energy-efficiency financing.

Whether it’s Con Edison or Siemens, these organizations play an important function, as lenders, consultants, or engineers who help building owners bridge the gap for their capital needs.

The federal government, for example, can literally print the money it needs to invest in its own energy retrofits. But federal agencies have a hard time getting Congress to actually allocate the funds to meet these standards (namely set by the Energy Policy Act of 1992). So the government relies on ESCOs to finance and perform this work for federal buildings. As silly as it sounds, the federal government pays private entities to finance this work, through anticipated future savings, even though it’s a safe bet that the U.S. Department of Energy will still be here 50 years down the road.

State and local governments offer their own avenue for financing energy retrofits. Known as property assessed clean energy (PACE) programs, these municipal assessments are effectively loans that are attached to the property. PACE programs, such as the one that New York is introducing with the Climate Mobilization Act, offer long-term financing for little or no money down, with an alternative approach to underwriting that opens up access to these loans to a greater number of consumers than private lenders might. By attaching a loan to a property (and not the property owner who takes out the loan), PACE assessments can transfer with the property when the title changes — meaning that a building’s former owner is not stuck with the tab.

Loftness says that she expects that this meta-industry around energy efficiency financing will be a much bigger part of the New York landscape by 2030 and beyond. “It makes financial sense,” Loftness says. “They make more money on the savings than they do on the expense to upgrade the building.”

An industry may emerge to fully support the changes coming to New York buildings. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a challenge. The city will need to help building operators and owners — the people who know the most about their buildings — talk with the people who can design the solutions to improve them over time. Operations and design engineering aren’t the same skill sets. It may take the full three decades between now and 2050 to find all the answers.

“The reality is, this is difficult. This is the engineering challenge of our time,” Burt says. “There’s not a lot of folks around who really understand how big buildings work, especially the way they were designed 50 or 60 years ago.”

This problem is not specific to New York. The knowledge gap between operating buildings in St. Louis and boosting building performance in St. Louis is just as wide. But if New York can figure out a solution that touches all the buildings in New York, then it will have necessarily developed the knowledge, the expertise, and the specialization that can serve the entire country. Or the world.

Saving the climate through better bureaucracy

New York’s law aims to put officials and experts in an optimal position to answer the questions that haven’t even come up yet. To that end, it creates a new sub-department under the New York Department of Buildings. While its precise mandate is still to be determined, this department will be outside the mayor’s office and fully integrated into the function of the city. “That’s the city sending a signal to building owners that this is something you need to manage, just like vacancy or rent,” Burt says.

The law also establishes an advisory board, with members appointed by the mayor and the city council, to evaluate several issues on an ongoing basis. The board will at times reconsider the per-square-foot carbon reduction goals for each of 10 building category types, from residential to hospitals to retail. While the legislation has set standards for the first compliance period, there are still a lot of details to determine for the next phase (2030–2034), and the fine print will fall to the Department of Buildings, the advisory board, and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

“For this [policy], the Department of Buildings is also the same department that has administered the benchmarking legislation and the audit requirements that have been in place, so I think that’s they were also chosen to administer this,” Robbins says. “Since this is a whole other level of oversight and decision-making, and paperwork and processes, that’s why they decided to create a whole new division and a new person to head that up, to make sure this legislation is successfully implemented.”

The city’s forthcoming Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance will be headed up by a registered design professional, the legislation stipulates. No director has been named yet.

Still to come: Carbon cap-and-trade for buildings

One of the most formidable policy ideas in the bill also falls in the TBD category: It sets the stage for a carbon-trading market between buildings. It authorizes a study and guidelines for implementing a real-estate carbon market by 2021. If and when carbon trading comes to town, building owners could trade carbon-emissions credits in order to meet the cap. Owners of large portfolios could trade between their buildings to meet targets.

If New York’s policy is done right, carbon trading could serve low-income neighborhoods in particular. Extra credit could be given to upgrades performed in distressed areas, creating an incentive in areas that lack access to capital, whether the factor is 2-to-1, 3-to-1, or 10-to-1. Picture an ESCO — a Siemens or a FirstEnergy — meeting with building owners in low-income neighborhoods and offering do the building upgrades in exchange for the credits.

“This creates an entirely different source of capital to finance efficiency upgrades in low-income neighborhoods,” Mandyck says.

“The overall importance of trading is that it’s globally relevant,” he adds. “It doesn’t matter what political system you have, what climate you’re in, what your building stock is. Building carbon trading can work anywhere in the world.”

There are still lingering questions that the Climate Mobilization Act hasn’t addressed. Some involve the carbon trading market: how those low-resource neighborhoods will engage in the carbon market shaping up around them, for example. Robbins notes that New York State has committed to a number of energy-efficiency investments; it’s unclear whether buildings owners can apply for these grants in order to meet New York City goals, or whether the state will deem them “free riders” for whatever political reasons.

Robbins also notes that an enormous chunk of New York City buildings were exempted from the guidelines. Any building with more than one rent-regulated housing unit will face a different regulatory path. If buildings with affordable housing — and this means buildings with any affordable housing — don’t comply with the carbon caps, they’ll face a list of “pre-set prescriptive measures,” Robbins says. A slap on the wrist compared to fines.

Residential buildings over 25,000 square feet with affordable units represent half the large buildings in New York. This means half of the applicable buildings won’t be required to meet the energy standards, which also means the other half will need to work that much harder to get to 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent the following decade. New York lawmakers feared that the cost would be passed on to renters, or that rents on buildings might be raised to the point at which units are no longer considered rent stabilized.

“We understand the constraints and the reasons why rent-regulated housing was dealt with the way that it was,” Robbins says. “But that is such a huge swath of the multi-family buildings in this city, and it is a sector that we really want to see get the benefits of energy efficiency.”

There are other features of the bill that could produce big changes in industry. Mandyck notes that the law enables building owners to switch to renewable energy sources in order to get to compliance; currently, 70 percent of all electric energy use in New York City is generated through fossil fuels. He says that a renewable-energy credit will create a much higher demand for renewable energy in New York.

There are drawbacks to be addressed, too. Laurie Kerr, president of LK Policy Lab, a research and design institute for energy efficiency, says that it might be a mistake to set a single target for compliance in 2030. Rather than asking owners of half of New York’s buildings to hit a single deadline, the city might consider cascading annual targets for different building typologies.

But she praises the potential of a building-to-building carbon-trading market as a “least-cost path” for a bill that otherwise sets stringent targets for buildings. She points to a similar, smaller ordinance in Tokyo as a model for carbon trading. New York’s bill is strict, she says; any degree of freedom for building owners is going to help.

While the long runway and high benchmarks for success set by New York’s climate law makes it worth the trouble for building owners — and tenants, and providers, and consultants — it will still mark a huge shift for the city. The Real Estate Board of New York is joining forces with the Institute for Market Transformation, an energy-efficiency nonprofit, to provide training sessions to help the real-estate industry adjust.

It could fail — it could fall to corruption, incompetence, or politics. Sweeping climate answers such as the Paris accords have demonstrated that they are vulnerable to populism and the slow-moving wheel of democratic consensus.

But if New York real estate and New York regulators can get it right? If a climate bill can work in New York, it can work anywhere.

“There was a time before cities had departments of sanitation. There was a time before cities had departments of health,” Kerr says. “These were all game-changers in the histories of cities. This is another turning point.”

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Can New York make buildings super-efficient, fast?

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Batteries are key to clean energy — and they just got much cheaper

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Batteries are critical for our clean energy future. Luckily, their cost has dropped so low, we might be much closer to this future than we previously thought.

In a little less than a year, the cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen by 35 percent, according to a new Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. Cheaper batteries mean we can store more solar and wind power even when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing. This is a major boost to renewables, helping them compete with fossil fuel-generated power, even without subsidies in some places, according to the report. Massive solar-plus-storage projects are already being built in places like Florida and California to replace natural gas, and many more are on the way.

The new battery prices are “staggering improvements,” according to Elena Giannakopoulou, who leads the energy economics group at Bloomberg NEF. Previous estimates anticipated this breakthrough moment for batteries to arrive in late 2020, not early 2019.

According to the report, the cost of wind and solar generation is also down sharply — by between 10 to 24 percent since just last year, depending on the technology. These numbers are based on real projects under construction in 46 countries around the world.

The lower battery prices have big implications for electric cars, too. There’s a key cost threshold of about $100 per kilowatt hour, the point at which electric vehicles would be cheap enough to quickly supplant gasoline. At this rate, we’ll reach that in less than five years.

Now that cheap batteries are finally here, we’re well on our way to electric modes of transportation and always-on renewable energy — and not a moment too soon.

What’s driving the plunge? Giannakopoulou cites “technology innovation, economies of scale, stiff price competition and manufacturing experience.” Other storage methods, like pumped hydro, still account for the vast majority of energy storage capacity, but lithium-ion batteries are much more flexible and don’t require specific locations or environmental conditions to work. Like everything in the built environment, lithium-ion batteries also require mining and manufacturing. There’s still a chance that some new exotic battery technology will quickly supplant lithium-ion, but its ubiquity and — now — cheapness will be hard to beat.

Electric vehicles will become cheaper to own and operate than gas ones. In places like California, Texas, and Germany, electricity prices have occasionally dropped below zero — a sign that the grid wasn’t yet ready to handle the glut of renewable energy produced there. Now, more of that cheap power will be stored and passed on to consumers. This could be the moment when renewable energy starts to shut down fossil fuel for good.

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Ilhan Omar’s 16-year-old daughter is co-leading the Youth Climate Strike

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Freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is championing one of the boldest climate policies in America. The Minnesota representative grew up in Somalia before immigrating to the United States as a refugee, so she was able to see firsthand the consequences of drought and make deep connections between climate change and all aspects of human society.

“I’m one who is urging my colleagues to really take this opportunity to not just issue resolutions and talking points, but for us to actually put a real bill on the table and to allow us to have a real conversation on this issue,” Omar recently told Minnesota Public Radio.

But Omar is not the only environmental influencer in her family — her daughter Isra Hirsi, 16, is one of the three youth leaders planning the U.S. component of Friday’s International Youth Climate Strike, in which young people will walk out of class in order to call for urgent climate action.

I had a chance to talk with Isra about how her efforts are already making a huge impact, and how her passion for the environment has influenced her family.

Update: In response to this piece, Omar wrote on Twitter: “Proud mom here! I hope other Members of Congress will join me in this strike. We need to listen to the wisdom of our kids!”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q. What’s it been like for you getting this all together?

A. It’s been a lot. There’s just a lot going on. Every 10 seconds there’s something else that pops up that you wouldn’t expect. It’s been crazy. There are so many people involved and so many things you have to do. It’s been really stressful. It definitely does interfere with school. I respond to texts and messages during the school day, and then I come home at four and that’s when I start doing all my calls. I have calls every single night. It’s kind of go-time. It’s all over the place. It’s a lot of work, more than I expected.

Q. How have you influenced your family by taking this on? Have you been able to teach them things about why you feel so strongly about this?

A. My parents are already kind of on top of it, a little bit less so my siblings. But my little sister is really young and so she kind of gets it. I told her that she should go to the strikes and she’s was like, “yeah I want to go.” So my dad is going to take her to the capital. She’s really interested. My parents definitely understand and are up with everything.

Q. How old is your sister?

A. She’s 6.

Q. Are you going to be speaking at the strike at the capital?

A. I’m going to D.C.

Q. Oh cool. With your mom?

A. Yeah.

Q. She just announced she’s going to be attending. (Editor’s note: so far, Omar is the only member of Congress who has confirmed she will be attending this Friday’s nationwide school strike for climate change)

A. Yeah, she’ll be speaking too.

Q. How do you feel about that?

A. I mean, I kind of got her to. It’s good. I kind of wanted to get people there. We invited some other people like [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and Bernie Sanders and we’re just hoping they all come.

Q. How was that conversation with your mom to get her to speak there?

A. It was just a matter of, she wanted to go — she was probably speaking about it that weekend, and she said, “I’ll be in D.C., I’ll go speak.” So I’m going to fly out from Minneapolis and then fly back with her, so it’s just perfect.

Q. How has your family influenced you? You said both of your parents “get it.” Where do you feel most of your inspiration is coming from?

A. I wouldn’t say it would be my parents. I would say more of the spaces that I’m in. Learning more about climate change and what it does, all of the different things that impact it. I learned about things like Line 3, and wildfires in California. There are so many things that got me realizing how important this is. It’s important to talk about what climate change does to marginalized communities, what it could do to your community. I think that’s a really great way to get more people involved.

Q. And watching the whole national conversation over the past few months.

A. Especially Sunrise. They’re very big now. Reading about the Green New Deal, it’s inspiring. Learning about all these things is kind of interesting. And Sunrise has helped put women of color at the forefront.

Q. Why do you think it’s important to have women of color leading the climate change movement?

A. People of color are disproportionately affected by climate change and that kind of just gets ignored. People are living with these things right now. Accessibility, when it comes to fighting for climate change, also gets ignored. Every interview I have, they’re like, “Are you striking every Friday?” And I’m like, no, I can’t. There’s no way. People say, “Oh you’re not vegetarian!” And I say, “Well, my family is not from this country. They grew up as meat-eaters, I can’t control those things.”

It’s important for people to step back and realize that they’re not the only people. Environmental racism is a really big thing. The environmental movement is still predominantly white, how do we change that conversation? Having women of color leading is one way to do that.

Q. How is your school reacting? Is your school supporting you?

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A. I recently sent an email to my teachers explaining the climate strikes and what I was doing. A lot of them brushed past it and were kind of ignoring it. Some were really interested. It’s also awareness for them to understand that students won’t be in school on Friday and this is definitely a conversation we should be having. My peers and I are going around to science classes and talking about the climate strike and all the teachers are letting us. Some teachers are even giving kids extra credit if they go to the marches.

Q. There are some high schools that are actively supporting kids who go. Has your principal made any sort of announcement?

A. The problem isn’t my principal; it’s my district. They’ll definitely count it as unexcused. But my school is really supportive. A lot of the students are also apolitical, they don’t care. It’s not really a question of the teachers or the principal, it’s more like will the high school students actually attend.

Q. But if they see role models, if they see you up there …

A. That’s true, but last year I tried to get 1,000 kids from my high school to go to something and I only got 200.

Q. That’s pretty good.

A. Well, there are 2,000 kids at my school. We’re in the middle of Minneapolis, we’re super close to the light rail, we can easily go over to the state capitol building.

Q. So, what’s your strategy? Do you double down on the kids that get it?

A. Yeah, we’re really just focused on the students who actually care. We go into those classes and get the teachers to talk to those students who are actually interested. It’s easier. It’s still worth it to get the kids who care. The climate strikes are a great way for young people to get involved pretty easily. It’s also a way for politicians to understand that young people really care.

These strikes are happening all over the world. Getting young people out, going to state capitols, going to city halls, going to the nation’s capital and talking about these things, that says something. That’s what we’re trying to do: Change the conversation not only about things like the Green New Deal but so much more. Obviously, one strike isn’t going to change everything, but this isn’t the last strike.

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Want to pick up litter while jogging?

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Are you already falling behind on your New Year’s fitness goals? Do you love a trend that combines two seemingly unrelated things (whatever happened to goat yoga, amiright)? Have we got a gift for you: plogging, aka picking up trash while jogging.

Plogging, coined by skier and trail runner extraordinaire Erik Ahlström, is a mashup of “jogging” and “plocka upp,” Swedish for “pick up.” Swedes are also responsible for “fartlek,” or “speed play,” so it’s safe to say they have the corner on hilariously named exercise trends. In this case, what’s dirty is all the garbage you’ll be picking up on your jog (er, plog). Who ever said exercise can’t benefit the whole community?

Plogging could burn 15-30 percent more calories than normal jogging, one exercise metabolism expert told BuzzFeed News. (There’s no official research on plogging. Yet.) “The idea of [plogging] is you’re stooping, bending, twisting, stopping, starting,” University of Montana’s Brent Ruby said.

And while you’re bopping it, twisting it, and pulling it, you can get creative (while hopefully not trashing your back). Ploggers recommend incorporating squats or lunges while you reach down to grab bits of trash. When your bags get full, you can even throw in a few bicep and tricep curls. Whatever you do, don’t forget to ‘gram it and hashtag it.

Picking up trash is a nice thing to do for your neighborhood, and running is a nice thing to do for your body. So if you want to jump on it, we won’t yuck your yums — get out there and #plog your butt off!

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In natural disasters, a disability can be a death sentence

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This story was originally published by the HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Several of the 88 people killed in the Camp Fire that devastated Butte County, California, in November had disabilities.

Their deaths were only the latest example of a tragic reality: When disaster strikes, people with disabilities are disproportionately affected. There are no statistics that show how many disabled people in the U.S. say they could easily evacuate in an emergency, but around the world, just 20 percent of disabled people say they would be able to do so. And only 31 percent said they would have someone to help them in an emergency, according to a 2013 United Nations global survey.

Surviving a disaster is a complicated process for disabled people, with barriers every step of the way. For visually and hearing impaired people, even being alerted to an emergency isn’t as simple as it is for everyone else. For physically disabled and low-mobility individuals, a quick evacuation is extremely difficult, if not impossible — especially in a natural disaster like the Camp Fire, which raged at the rate of destroying the equivalent of one football field per second.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. By inviting disabled people into conversations about disaster preparedness and response, investing in important equipment, and mandating that disaster response teams be knowledgeable on these issues, communities can reduce fatalities and offer a more humane and inclusive response to disasters.

Relying on luck

The Americans With Disabilities Act devotes chapters to emergency planning and recovery. However, states institute their own policies and codes for evacuation and emergency planning, and those policies aren’t always enforced, said Hector M. Ramirez, a Ventura County, California-based disabled man and board member of Disability Rights California.

Evacuation plans can be outdated, he said. And community members often aren’t aware of what those plans are even if they do exist. In fact, only 17 percent of disabled people were aware of their community’s emergency evacuation plan, according to the U.N. survey.

Some federal institutions, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have created online resources about emergency preparedness and response. But disabled people are both frequently left out of developing emergency preparation plans and not made aware of the ones that are put in place, Ramirez said.

Plus, on-the-ground disaster response is often facilitated by well-meaning volunteers who might not be well-versed in the specific needs of the disabled community.

Federal, state, county, and nonprofit institutions all provide emergency response, and Ramirez said they all “need to familiarize themselves with our issues.”

And for many disabled people, getting out of their homes is only the beginning. Shelters often lack necessary equipment and medications for disabled people who do evacuate, like hearing aids, walkers, wheelchairs, or ventilators, Ramirez said. The prospect of rebuilding a home that had been built around an individual disability can also be daunting and expensive — particularly considering disabled workers typically earn significantly less than their able-bodied counterparts.

Mobility is the top issue in preparing disabled people for a disaster, said Evan LeVang, director of Butte County’s Disability Action Center. He recalled a horrifying phone call during the Camp Fire, during which a quadriplegic man was stuck in his second-floor apartment with a broken elevator. The caller said his goodbyes because he thought he was going to die.

“You could hear the propane tanks going off in the background,” LeVang said. “It was emotional.”

LeVang’s team managed to contact a first responder on the ground in the town of Paradise, and the man was saved — but there had been no system in place to make that rescue happen, other than the luck of getting through to that first responder.

There were plenty of “heroic acts” in Paradise during the fire, but LeVang said the disabled community shouldn’t have to solely rely on individual acts of heroism to survive.

For now, though, he said, the unfortunate reality is that disabled people may be left to do their own emergency planning.

‘Disabled people need to be part of the planning’

Some communities have taken steps to support disabled people, but there’s still a tremendous need for wider inclusion.

In 2007, the city of Oakland implemented a Functional Needs Annex to its Mass Care and Shelter plan, ensuring that disabled community members weren’t left out in an emergency. The annex is updated every few years to stay relevant to the community, and initial reports show the program helped identify more accessible shelters and more accessible alert notification systems. Kentucky has updated its disaster alerts systems by incorporating community training and committing to notifying disabled people in-person at the onset of a disaster. Arizona’s state health department purchased equipment to meet the needs of 1,000 disabled people in an emergency.

These are small and important steps, but “planning for this level of natural disasters hasn’t really begun,” Ramirez said. And until it does, the disabled community will continue to suffer — especially, Ramirez said, as climate change makes these incidents more frequent and more severe.

“I think it’s really important for us to ask [ourselves]: Can we really afford to not be doing this, knowing what we know now?” Ramirez asked.

Systemic change certainly needs to happen, but advocates like Ramirez and LeVang also want to encourage able-bodied people to show up for their disabled friends, family, neighbors, and loved ones whenever there’s an emergency.

“Always ask people if they need help,” he said, noting that not every disability is apparent. “Recognize that that’s going to be a transitional phase. There’s going to be need for support on the long term, a continuum of care.”

Ultimately, inclusion — on both a systemic and individual level — matters most.

“I really think it’s important that people with disabilities be at the table making some of the decisions that impact our lives,” Ramirez said, “because when it doesn’t happen … a lot of the work falls short.”

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Report: Climate change could flush your savings

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Businesses say risks to their bottom line from climate climate add up to tens of billions of dollars. That may seem like a lot, but their actual risks to business are at least 100 times higher, according to a study just published in Nature Climate Change. Trillions, instead of billions.

The mismatch between those numbers could liquify the money you’ve been saving for retirement. Company climate plans “give little inkling that up to 30 percent of manageable assets globally may be at risk,” researchers wrote.

Climate change could soon be “the defining issue for financial stability” according to Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England and former head of the Financial Stability Board, the international body established to make recommendations to prevent financial collapse. To take that out of econo-speak: Failure to fully comprehend climate risks — droughts, floods, heat waves — could lead to an economic crisis that makes the Great Recession look like a joyride.

The researchers had access to a treasure trove of data, environmental disclosures from 1,630 companies worth more than more than two-thirds of the world’s stock markets added together. It’s the biggest and most comprehensive study of this kind ever done. Some 83 percent of businesses said that they faced real risks from climate change, but only 21 percent had quantified those risks.

It’s fascinating to see how the one in five companies that have crunched the numbers anticipate climate change will affect their business. For example, Samsung estimated that if a cyclone shut down one of their semiconductor factories for a single day it would cost $110 million. And when monsoon floods stopped Hewlett-Packard’s hard drive manufacturing in Thailand, back in 2011, it cost the company $4 billion.

“It was just endlessly surprising, as I did the data analysis, to see all the ways that companies were being affected, and how they were adapting,” said Allie Goldstein a scientist at Conservation International and lead author on the paper.

Airlines are preparing plans to carry fewer passengers and cargo on extreme heat days, because warmer air temperature generate less lift for their planes. Rubber companies, concerned about droughts killing rubber trees, are investing in synthetic alternatives. The Colombian utility Celsia SA is planting thousands of trees upstream from its hydroelectric dams to improve the watershed and hedge against declining rainfall. The Japanese conglomerate Hitachi is installing anti-flood bulkheads in its factories.

“There’s a real thought and creativity going into this, and coming up with an amazing diversity of solutions,” said Will Turner, an executive at Conservation International who also worked on the study. “That’s the positive. The negative is that it’s all incremental progress — it represents just a nascent understanding of the risks.”

You might give less credence to a study like this, because it suggests a need for more action on climate change and comes from an environmental organization that pushes for more action on climate change. But the estimates of investor risk come from the Economist Intelligence Unit, academic research, and the World Economic Forum, not Conservation International. In this paper, the researchers simply tallied up all the adaptations companies are making.

“I always encourage people to be smart consumers of science and look at the methods and also who is doing it,” Goldstein said. “They will find that these findings are based on real data, and real results, not preconceived notions.”

It’s easy to think that average people have little influence over major companies But we have to think differently, if we want to prevent a financial meltdown as climate disasters begin to pile up, Goldstein said. “There’s a tendency to think that this is someone else’s problem, but if you are an employee, or a customer, or an investor, I’d encourage people to think of this as something they can influence themselves, by making a call or asking a question.”

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