Category Archives: Climate Change & Energy

It can be done: Carbon emissions in the UK have fallen to a 120-year low 

Akshat Rathi, QUARTZ

The last time the UK emitted less carbon dioxide than it did in 2016, most Brits were still traveling by horse and carriage.

Last year, the UK emitted 381 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), according to an analysis by Carbon Brief. The last time the country spewed less of the greenhouse gas was way back in 1894. (Industrial strikes in 1921 and 1926 also resulted in lower emissions, but for unintended reasons.)

Carbon emissions in 2016 fell by 5.8% compared with 2015, and the use of coal fell by a record 52% over the same period. More oil and gas was burned that year, but both are relatively cleaner fuels. The UK also generated more power from wind than coal for the first time ever last year.

The precipitous drop in coal use was attributed to UK’s carbon tax, which doubled in 2015 to £18 ($22) per metric ton of CO2.

Carbon emissions in 2016 fell by 5.8% compared with 2015, and the use of coal fell by a record 52% over the same period. More oil and gas was burned that year, but both are relatively cleaner fuels. The UK also generated more power from wind than coal for the first time ever last year.

The precipitous drop in coal use was attributed to UK’s carbon tax, which doubled in 2015 to £18 ($22) per metric ton of CO2.

Source: Carbon emissions in the UK have fallen to a 120-year low — Quartz

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

Can marijuana ever be environmentally friendly?

Natasha Geiling, THINK PROGRESS (from April 20, 2016)

Another big issue that the burgeoning cannabis industry will have to confront as legalization becomes increasingly widespread is the industry’s massive environmental footprint. Cannabis is the country’s most energy-intensive crop, largely because around a third of cannabis cultivation in the United States currently takes place in indoor warehouses, a process that requires huge amounts of lighting, ventilation, cooling, and dehumidifying. According to a 2016 report released by New Frontier Financials, cannabis cultivation annually consumes one percent of the United States’ total electrical output, which for a single industry growing a single crop, is a lot — roughly the equivalent of the electricity used by 1.7 million homes. If energy consumption continues at current levels, the electricity used by indoor cannabis operations in the Northwest alone will double in the next 20 years.

One of the first things that Tyson Haworth does when we meet on his farm in rural Oregon is spread his palms out, up toward the April sunshine, and apologize. “I just applied some predatory fungus in the greenhouse,” he says, splaying his fingers and inspecting his hands. He doesn’t use any synthetic pesticides on his farm, he explains, preferring predatory bugs and bacteria and fungi instead, and before he can show me around, he excuses himself to wash his hands in his house adjacent to the farm. Between the farm and the house, on the other side of the gravel driveway that leads visitors from the winding back roads onto Haworth’s property, is a wooden play structure — a sign of Haworth’s two kids, who are the reason he moved from Portland, about thirty miles north, to Canby.

Them, and because it was getting hard to keep growing his cannabis in a garage.

Haworth started cultivating cannabis in 2007, after his wife had to undergo a second back operation. The first time around, she took opiates to manage the pain, but she didn’t want to do that again. So Haworth — who grew up around his father’s wholesale produce company and worked as a manager of a wholesale organic distribution company himself — started growing cannabis, medically, both for his wife and for Oregon’s decades-old medical market. For years, Haworth cultivated cannabis on the side, not able to make enough profits from the medical market to become a full-time cannabis grower. Then, in 2013, Oregon’s medical marijuana market shifted, allowing, for the first time, a legitimate retail component.

And so Haworth put his organic produce job on hold and jumped feet first into cannabis cultivation, moving SoFresh Farms to Canby in 2014. But he didn’t want to completely eschew the decades of knowledge he had gained working in the organic produce industry. And so Haworth decided to do something that not many cannabis farmers were doing at the time: create an organic, sustainable cannabis farm, a place without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, a place that sequesters carbon and helps repopulate native flora. A place that grows cannabis and leaves the environment better for it.

“It’s not enough to not be bad,” Haworth said. “We want to be good. It’s not enough to not be part of the problem, we want to be part of the solution.”

Read more at: Can Marijuana Ever Be Environmentally Friendly?

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable Living, Water

EPA chief Scott Pruitt says CO2 not a primary contributor to warming

Tom DiChristopher, CNBC

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said Thursday he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“But we don’t know that yet. … We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

The statement contradicts the public stance of the agency Pruitt leads. The EPA’s webpage on the causes of climate change states, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

Pruitt’s view is also at odds with the conclusion of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Read more at: EPA chief Scott Pruitt says CO2 not a primary contributor to warming

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

Trump’s budget cuts: Even worse than you thought

Dan Farber, LEGAL PLANET

As you dive into the details, things keep looking worse.Trump is proposing huge cuts to EPA and other agencies. That’s bad enough. We’re beginning to learn more details, and the message is grim.  While these cuts may not emerge from Congress at the end of the day, they do express the Administration’s goals. In particular, they demonstrate that the Administration is deeply hostile to environmental science and that it lacks any interest in continuing to clean up our air and water.

Here’s what we know as of now:

Environmental Science. I have posted previously about the threat to scientific research posed by the Trump Administration. The Administration’s attack on environmental science – climate science in particular – is now taking concrete form.

  • NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would lose 26% ($126 million) of its current funding.NOAA’s satellite data division would lose 22% ($513 million) of its funding.
  • The Global Change Research, a program started by President George H.W. Bush, would be eliminated.EPA’s research on air, climate, energy (EPA) would be cut 50% (to $46 million)EPA’s research on chemical safety and sustainability would be cut 30% (to $62 million.)
  • Overall, EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) would be cut 40% (from $510 million to $290 million).
  • [Addendum] On March 9, the press reported that the Administration is planning at 30% cut for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which researches cutting edge energy technologies.

Read more at: Trump’s Budget Cuts: Even Worse Than You Thought | Legal Planet

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County Forests, Part Two: Changing woodlands

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a series about the indigenous forests that blanket Sonoma County — their past, present and threats to their future.This is the second in a series of three stories about Sonoma County forests that will be published in Sonoma Outdoors.

Part 1: The history of Sonoma County forests, January

Part 2: Where our forests stand now, February

Part 3: Our forests’ future, March

The 2017 North Coast Forest Conservation Conference, “Growing Resilience,” will take place June 7-9 at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm, 7450 Steve Olson Lane, Forestville.

More information: Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group, sonomaforests.org

For the latest on the Sonoma County Vegetation map, visit sonomavegmap.org

Our forests “are undergoing a sea change,” observes Mark Tukman, founder of Tukman Geospatial, who is spearheading the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District’s development of a fine-scale vegetation map.

“I’ve spent over a year looking at aerial photos and coordinating field teams. Many of our oak woodlands are disappearing rapidly, transitioning to Douglas fir and California bay,” he said.

In many places this is visible at ground level — dead manzanitas scattered beneath oaks dying in the shade of Douglas firs — a century of change visible in a glance. Of course, oaks and firs represent just a few of our native trees. Sonoma County’s wide range of geology, soils, landforms and climate has been described as “where Alaska meets Mexico.” With 10 species of oaks and 19 conifers, our forests reflect this diversity.

Close up, they can seem infinitely complex. But if you pull back, larger patterns emerge. Moving west to east, conifers grow in parallel bands — Bishop pine along the cool coast, then redwoods, and finally Douglas fir reaching warmer areas far inland. Interspersed are woodlands of oak, bay, madrone and other hardwoods. There are no hard boundaries between any of these types — in fact mixed conifer-hardwood forests are more common than either alone.

By the early 20th century, forested lands had seen severe impacts. Logged-off tracts of redwood and Douglas fir were now brushy and crowded with young trees. Oak and madrone woodlands, leveled for firewood, had become grassland. Settlements replaced oak savannahs. By all indications, there were far less trees 100 years ago than today.

Read more at: The state of Sonoma County’s forests | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Habitats

Op-Ed: Trump’s Congress speech left unsaid his continued assault on our environment

Rhea Suh, THE HILL

“What kind of a country,” he asked, “will we leave our children?”

In his address to Congress and the nation on Tuesday, President Trump made sparse mention of a leading focus of his first six weeks in office — his unmitigated assault on the nation’s environment and public health.

True, Trump boasted of having worked with congressional Republicans to set mining companies free to pollute mountain streams and destroy forests, by killing the Stream Protection Rule, leaving hard hit coal communities to pay the price.

He highlighted his call to do away with two existing regulations for every new safeguard put in place, an irrational and unlawful approach that short changes the government’s ability to respond to emerging threats in a complex and changing world.

He celebrated his order to revive the Keystone XL dirty tar sands pipeline bragging that he had “cleared the way” for some of the dirtiest oil on the planet to be shipped through the breadbasket of America to be refined on our Gulf coast and shipped, mostly, overseas.

And he took pride in noting his order to sweep aside the voices of the Standing Rock Sioux and force the Dakota Access pipeline across their water sources and sacred lands.

Not great, any of that.

Trump made a fleeting plea “to promote clean air and clear water,” but he never mentioned the order he signed, just hours before, to “eliminate” the Clean Water Rule that provides needed protections for wetlands and streams that feed drinking water sources for 117 million Americans.

He steered clear of reports that he plans crippling budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency and to open more public land to the ravages of coal mining.

And he said nothing about his pledge to eviscerate the Clean Power Plan – the single most important measure the government has taken to fight rising seas, widening deserts, blistering heat, raging fires, withering drought and other hallmarks of climate change.

And who could blame him?

Nobody voted in November for dirty water or to put our children’s future at needless risk. Why would Trump tout an extremist agenda for which there’s little public support?

Read more at: Trump’s Congress speech left unsaid his continued assault on our environment

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Water

Bay Area might adopt world’s first regional oil-refinery emissions caps

Will Parrish, EAST BAY EXPRESS

On May 17, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District will consider a proposal that would make the San Francisco Bay Area the world’s first region to place limits on oil refineries’ overall greenhouse-gas and particulate-matter emissions. This new regulation, Refinery Rule 12-16, would prevent oil corporations from making the East Bay a hub of Canadian tar-sands processing, because it would enforce a cap based on historic emissions levels at the five major Contra Costa and Solano county refineries.

Not everyone agrees with this approach.

As the Express reported last June, BAAQMD executive staff members oppose the emissions cap, which they say would be illegal under state law. They also say it could lead to oil-price spikes, a stance shared by the industry.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is about to weigh in on the debate, though. And at the February 1 BAAQMD board of directors meeting, Contra Costa County supervisor and California Air Resources Board director John Gioia noted that ARB Executive Officer Richard Corey is preparing a new letter detailing the agency’s position on Refinery Rule 12-16 and other refinery-related air-quality protections that BAAQMD is considering.

Ultimately, the two-dozen county supervisors and city council members who comprise the BAAQMD board of directors will decide the emissions caps’ fate. But several BAAQMD directors have said they prefer that local rules dovetail with California’s climate programs, so Corey’s letter could help make-or-break the emissions-cap proposal.

Corey reportedly has stated his intention to send the letter by the end of the month. Meanwhile, its content has become a subject of heated speculation among BAAQMD directors.

Read more at: Bay Area Might Adopt World’s First Regional Oil-Refinery Emissions Caps | East Bay Express

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

Op Ed: A conservative proposal for a carbon tax

Eric Biber, LEGAL PLANET

An impressive lineup of senior Republican leaders has embraced a carbon tax as an approach to address climate change.  The proposal is to trade away the Obama Administration Clean Power Plan and tort liability against fossil fuel companies for a $40/ton carbon tax that would increase over time.  All revenues from the tax would be rebated per capita to individuals, producing a per-person payment of about $2000/year, and increasing over time.

Right now, given the current chaotic political scene in DC, the proposal is probably dead in the water for now.  But I think it is significant, because it is the first serious attempt by Republican institutional leaders to push for action on climate change.  In that light, it is a very positive development for the future.

Is this a deal that we should take?  I’m cautiously optimistic.  As this report from the group that sponsored the proposal indicates, a $40/ton carbon tax would have a major impact on emissions in the U.S., lowering them by about 28% by 2025 from 2005 levels, meeting the U.S.’s Paris commitments.  The carbon tax is about three to four times higher than the current price for cap-and-trade credits in California, and similarly higher than EU emissions trading credits.

Here are the issues that I think still would need to be worked out with the proposal – which I hope the leaders working on this are thinking hard about.

Read more at: A conservative proposal for a carbon tax | Legal Planet

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living

In demand but increasingly swamped, Highway 37 has no easy fixes

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

“This is something we foresaw because there are several low spots along these berms and levees,” said [Fraser] Shilling, whose report, Rising Above the Tide, says sea levels have already risen 8 inches along the California coast.

Persistently swamped Highway 37 — historically a sore spot for motorists — is rapidly becoming one of the Bay Area’s most pressing issues as heavy storms keep rolling through this winter, forcing repeated closures of a crucial transportation link.

The peculiar highway, which looks more like a rural farm road in places, connects the North Bay to the East Bay by cutting through wetlands and hay fields along the northern shore of San Pablo Bay. Wine Country day-trippers use it, as do drivers headed to Sonoma Raceway and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo.

The increasingly popular artery, which was shut down for much of last week, has been closed for about three weeks this winter because of flooding.

The soggy blockages have raised aggravation levels among tens of thousands of commuters who use Highway 37 each day, and are providing a disturbing glimpse into what ecologists say is a wetter future, in which floodwaters powered by climate change could permanently drown the roadway.

“It is definitely the most problematic area in the Bay Area from the point of view of shoreline flooding and threats to communities and infrastructure,” said Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis and author of a 2016 report analyzing the future of the highway.

Read more at: In demand but increasingly swamped, Highway 37 has no easy fixes – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Transportation

Debate stalled over how to upgrade Highway 37 to deal with climate change

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Surveying flooding along Highway 37 in January, ecologist Fraser Shilling began doubting his projections for when climate change will cause severe, perhaps catastrophic impacts on the major North Bay thoroughfare.

In an influential 2016 report used as a guide for the highway’s future, Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis, had established a timetable of several decades for those impacts to be fully realized.

But that was before January storms forced the full or partial closure of the highway for roughly 12 days, causing havoc for thousands of daily commuters.

“We’re starting to overwhelm the system in places that we were thinking we had 20 years of lead time. But we don’t,” Shilling said this week from his office in Davis. Delaying action could be catastrophic, he said, predicting that one day water will push over embankments and levees and the highway will be “gone.”

Highway 37, one of the lowest-lying in California, has long been threatened by climate change and rising sea levels, inadequate levees and political waffling over who bears responsibility for maintaining and upgrading the road. The 21-mile highway meanders across four counties — Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Marin — traversing tidal marshlands, rivers and creeks, and farmland where flooding presents a threat to livelihoods.

“You’ve got farms, freeways and frustrated drivers — and sea level rise,” said Brian Swedberg, who manages 525-acre Petaluma River Farms north of the highway across from Port Sonoma.

Read more at: Rising seas and pounding storms taking toll on Highway 37 | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Transportation, Water