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Divestment works – and one huge bank can lead the way

Bill McKibben, THE GUARDIAN

On 15 October, the European Investment Bank meets to decide its policy on fossil fuels. The hand of history is on its shoulder.

Millions of people marched against climate crisis over the past two weeks, in some of the largest demonstrations of the millennium. Most people cheered the students who led the rallies – call them the Greta Generation. But now we’ll start to find out if all their earnest protest actually matters.

Perhaps the first real test will come on 15 October, when the board of the EU’s European Investment Bank – the largest public bank in the world – meets to decide whether the time has finally come to stop expanding the fossil fuel sector. This should be a no-brainer decision: the bank’s staff has put forward a cogent proposal, supported by campaigners across the continent, that would end loans to new fossil fuel projects by 2020.

That plan fits with the facts: when the world’s climate scientists declared last autumn that we would need to have fundamentally transformed our energy sector within a decade, it was clear that the first job was to stop building any new infrastructure. The first rule of holes is, when you’re in one, stop digging.

In this case that means no more digging for gas pipelines or ports or anything else that will help lock in carbon emissions for decades to come. In the past week of Guardian reporting we’ve learned that the biggest oil companies plan to increase production as much as 35% in the next decade. It’s going to be hard enough to phase out the vast existing fossil fuel infrastructure in the years ahead: adding new projects at this point is insane.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/13/divestment-bank-european-investment-fossil-fuels

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Richmond v Chevron: the California city taking on its most powerful polluter

Susie Cagle, THE GUARDIAN

The Chevron refinery that looms over Richmond, California, its muted orange tanks nestled into the scrubby low-slung hills above San Francisco Bay, is older than the city itself.

The refinery processes nearly 250,000 barrels of crude oil each day. When it “flares”, as it did more often in 2018 than in any other year over the past decade, dark smoke spirals up and across town in the bay breeze.

When it explodes, like it did in 1989, 1999 and 2012, the thick cloud is visible across the bay and beyond, a blot against the sky that ascends before falling and settling on everything within a multi-mile vicinity that is not covered, closed or sealed up.

A fire on 6 August 2012 sent more than 15,000 people to seek treatment for respiratory distress at local hospitals.

Richmond has long been known for the three Cs: crime, corruption and Chevron. You could also add coal to that list, which the Levin-Richmond terminal began exporting out of the city in 2013, along with coke, the petroleum-refining byproduct.

Despite its proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley’s wealth, Richmond’s median household income is below the California state average, with more than 15% of residents living in poverty. More than 80% of residents are people of colour. And Richmond children have roughly twice the rate of asthma as their neighbours countywide.

“It’s a textbook example of an environmental justice community,” said Matt Holmes, the executive director of the nonprofit Groundwork Richmond. “I think the whole country owes Richmond a debt.”

And the city is here to collect. Richmond may be a company city, but it is in open and sustained conflict with the industries that sustain it. Environmental justice activists here are fighting a multi-front war against the fossil fuels that gave the city life, but which, they argue, are also slowly killing it.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/richmond-chevron-california-city-polluter-fossil-fuel

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The world’s oceans are in danger, major climate change report warns

Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Climate change is heating the oceans and altering their chemistry so dramatically that it is threatening seafood supplies, fueling cyclones and floods and posing profound risks to the hundreds of millions of people living along the coasts, according to a sweeping United Nations report issued Wednesday.

The report concludes that the world’s oceans and ice sheets are under such severe stress that the fallout could prove difficult for humans to contain without steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Fish populations are already declining in many regions as warming waters throw marine ecosystems into disarray, according to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders in policymaking.

“The oceans are sending us so many warning signals that we need to get emissions under control,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and a lead author of the report. “Ecosystems are changing, food webs are changing, fish stocks are changing, and this turmoil is affecting humans.”

Hotter ocean temperatures, combined with rising sea levels, further imperil coastal regions, the report says, worsening a phenomenon that is already contributing to storms like Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston two years ago.
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For decades, the oceans have served as a crucial buffer against global warming, soaking up roughly a quarter of the carbon dioxide that humans emit from power plants, factories and cars, and absorbing more than 90 percent of the excess heat trapped on Earth by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Without that protection, the land would be heating much more rapidly.

But the oceans themselves are becoming hotter, more acidic and less oxygen-rich as a result, according to the report. If humans keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an increasing rate,marine ecosystems already facing threats from seaborne plastic waste, unsustainable fishing practices and other man-made stresses will be further strained.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/25/climate/climate-change-oceans-united-nations.html

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Good and bad news in California’s greenhouse gas emission inventory

Irwin Dawid, PLANETIZEN

Executive Summary: California Greenhouse Gas Emissions for 2000 to 2017

Overall greenhouse gas emissions in California dropped 1% in 2017, according to the inventory by the California Air Resources Board, which includes a 9% drop in emissions from electricity generation and a 1% increase in transportation emissions.

“The California Air Resources Board said Monday that the state’s emissions fell 1% in 2017, the most recent year available, to 424 million metric tons,” writes J.D. Morris, a business reporter covering energy and California’s clean power initiatives for the San Francisco Chronicle reporter covering energy. “The state is now well past its 2020 goal of reducing greenhouse gas levels to 1990 levels — 431 million metric tons.”

Clearly, the big success story is that carbon-free sources of energy, “[f]or the first time since the state began tracking greenhouse gas emissions, powered most [52%] of the state’s electric grid,” notes Morris.

Electricity generation, from in-state and out-of-state sources, accounted for 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector, the third-highest after transportation (41%) and industrial (24%).

The news is not so positive when it comes to transportation. For the fifth consecutive year, emissions have increased, although the increase in 2017 was “the lowest growth rate over the past 4 years,” notes the second bullet in the executive summary of the 24-page report, California Greenhouse Gas Emissions for 2000 to 2017 [pdf]. Vehicle tailpipe emissions accounted for 37% of emissions in 2017.

Read more at https://www.planetizen.com/news/2019/08/105810-good-and-bad-news-californias-greenhouse-gas-emission-inventory

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Sonoma County supervisors declare climate emergency, pledge to make climate change priority

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday declared a climate emergency, but for many activists and even a majority of the supervisors, that formal measure doesn’t go far enough, with no specific call for action that would show regard for the climate crisis as a true emergency, critics said.

The three-page declaration designates the county’s response to climate change a top board priority, and directs county staff to reevaluate existing policies “through the lens of the climate emergency,” which it says threatens humanity and the natural and built environments.

“We have to stop acting like business as usual is cutting it, because it’s not; we need a transformation,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, whose district covers the Sonoma Coast. “It’s critical we pass a resolution and follow that up with meaningful change. We need to act like our planet is on fire because it is.”

The board’s action comes ahead of a planned weeklong climate strike, in which youth of the world are expected to demand action on climate change starting Friday.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/home/a1/10057981-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-declare-climate?

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Sonoma County climate activists to join in worldwide call for action

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Joining an international day of youth-led environmental strikes, local activists are planning to walk out of school and work later this week to rally support for efforts to fight global climate change driven by fossil fuel emissions.

Strikes are set for Friday in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Sonoma, Petaluma, San Francisco, Oakland and dozens of other cities and towns around the world. The events, timed just ahead of a United Nations climate summit, are the latest in a series of weekly Friday events in which young people speak and act out in the name of saving the planet.

“This is a very hopeful and action-driven event,” said Franchesca Duval, a Sebastopol chicken farmer helping to organize the Santa Rosa strike. “It’s not just ‘Come out and get scared.’ It’s come out and let the world know that we as Californians are supporting the global community, that we need to be making these changes.”

More than 500 people, including students from Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University, and Analy High School, are expected to participate Friday, Duval said.

Santa Rosa’s event will begin at 9:30 a.m. on the junior college campus. A march to Old Courthouse Square will begin at 11 a.m. A rally will follow at noon, and “opportunities for action” also will be available on the square after the rally.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10058368-181/sonoma-county-climate-activists-to?sba=AAS

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Santa Rosa and other cities consider natural gas bans as way spur transition to all-electric homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Marlena and Barry Hirsch have found numerous rays of sunshine since the Tubbs fire of October 2017 destroyed their Santa Rosa-area home and took out about 40 trees on their property, mostly black oaks.

The Hirsches had previously thought about adding solar panels to their roof, but a technician who visited their Mark West Springs home told them the canopy overhead was too dense. Looking up in the early phases of their rebuilding process, they saw a lot more sunshine and realized they could go ahead and add photovoltaic cells to their new home, which they moved into last October.

They didn’t stop there, outfitting their home with an induction stove and electric appliances to heat and cool their water and space, as well as an electric car. They didn’t bother with hooking up their new home with natural gas lines or a propane tank, which fueled their old home.

“We went for the whole package in this house,” said Barry Hirsch, who said he and his wife were fueled by a desire to power their home and transportation with greener energy. He acknowledged that their life situation is favorable to making such a change: He’s a retired homebuilder, and the couple have good insurance coverage and no mortgage or minor children.

Homes like theirs could soon become the norm in the North Bay and in dozens of California municipalities poised to ban natural gas infrastructure in new houses by requiring most to use electric appliances.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10014958-181/santa-rosa-and-other-cities

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More residents turn to solar power as North Coast faces growing threat of wildfires, blackouts

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Rick Mead and Mark Marion finally flip the switch on the solar array atop their rural Sebastopol home, their $300 monthly electric bill will drop to $25 — the cost of maintaining a connection to PG&E’s power grid.

A 30% federal tax credit, which declines next year to 26%, on the cost of the solar energy system made the investment a good idea, Mead said.

“It no longer made sense not to go with solar,” he said. “PG&E rates will increase in the coming years — in the long run, the estimate is that our system will pay for itself in seven years.”

But it wasn’t just economics that motivated Mead and Marion. The idea of powering their home on renewable energy was the right thing to do, Mead said, at a time when many people are troubled by the fallout of climate change, such as increasingly deadly and destructive wildfires in Northern California.

“It’s a great investment in ourselves, our community and our planet,” he said.

Jeff Mathias, owner and chief financial officer of Sebastopol-based Synergy Solar, which installed Mead and Marion’s solar system, said recent wildfires — which many argue have been exacerbated and supercharged by climate change — are bringing more attention to rooftop solar systems.

The increasing threat of fires and public safety efforts to prevent them that include potential blackouts are bringing more attention to residential solar energy systems that are environmentally friendly. Until recently, solar power mainly had been used by home and business owners to reduce electric bills.

A big concern among Sonoma County residents is a PG&E wildfire-prevention measure to temporarily turn off power to certain customers and entire communities, if necessary, threatened by a blaze, Mathias said.

“When power goes out, the system disconnects from PG&E and allows that home to continue to operate,” Mathias said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10028338-181/more-residents-turn-to-solar

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Greater wildfire risks prompt growth of electrical ‘microgrids’ to rely less on PG&E

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In his standard blue jeans and unbuttoned flannel shirt, David Liebman could blend in with many of the young students walking to and from classes at Santa Rosa Junior College.

But Liebman, manager of energy and sustainability for the college district, has something bigger on his mind than class assignments and midterm projects.

Liebman, 27, is heading a $5 million electrical infrastructure project that addresses climate change and fundamentally will transform the way energy is distributed and used on campus.

Using the new solar arrays at the Santa Rosa campus, Liebman is coordinating the development of an electrical microgrid that could operate independently of PG&E during nearby wildfires, or when the escalating threats of fires in the age of climate change prompt the utility to temporarily turn off power.

“Unless we change the infrastructure that runs our society, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble because we won’t be able to adapt to the significant changes that are happening to both the environment and technology in general,” Liebman said.

Fueled by solar energy and equipped with battery storage and a complex control system, the SRJC project is a small part of a much larger movement environmental experts say could fundamentally flip the paradigm on energy usage here and across the country. Before, massive power plants were turned on to meet demand for electricity; now, microgrids could help do that with available renewable energy such as solar, wind and geothermal.

In Sonoma County, microgrid systems would allow key institutions such as hospitals, municipal utilities, a college campus and certain government agencies to continue to operate in the event of a natural disaster that interrupts PG&E’s electrical transmission and distribution.

Local interest in microgrids has heightened with the prospect of Pacific Gas & Electric shutting off power during times of high fire risk.

To provide a model for developing the mini-power networks, a microgrid laboratory has risen just west of the town of Sonoma, at the Stone Edge Farm Estate Vineyards & Winery. The multimillion-dollar microgrid — a testing ground for the latest renewable energy and storage and control technology — encircles 16 acres of vineyards, olive trees and fields of heirloom vegetables and fruit.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10027255-181/greater-wildfire-risks-prompt-growth

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Big lifestyle changes ‘needed to cut emissions’

Roger Harrabin, BBC NEWS

People must use less transport, eat less red meat and buy fewer clothes if the UK is to virtually halt greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the government’s chief environment scientist has warned.

Prof Sir Ian Boyd said the public had little idea of the scale of the challenge from the so-called Net Zero emissions target.

However, he said technology would help.

The conundrum facing the UK – and elsewhere – was how we shift ourselves away from consuming, he added.

In an interview with BBC News, Sir Ian warned that persuasive political leadership was needed to carry the public through the challenge.

Read more at https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-49499521