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City leaders aim to shape green recovery from coronavirus crisis

Matthew Taylor and Sandra Laville, THE GUARDIAN

Mayors coordinating efforts to support a low-carbon, sustainable path out of lockdowns

Cities around the world are already planning for life after Covid-19, with a series of environmental initiatives being rolled out from Bogotá to Barcelona to ensure public safety and bolster the fight against climate breakdown.

Mayors from cities in Europe, the US and Africa held talks this week to coordinate their efforts to support a low-carbon, sustainable recovery from the crisis as national governments begin to implement huge economic stimulus packages.

Many cities have already announced measures, from hundreds of miles of new bike lanes in Milan and Mexico City to widening pavements and pedestrianising neighbourhoods in New York and Seattle.

The initiatives are designed to allow people to move around urban spaces safely in a world where physical distancing will be the norm for the foreseeable future – and do so without sparking a drastic increase in air pollution.

The mayors who took part in the newly formed economic taskforce this week believe these initial schemes point the way to more radical long-term measures that will help tackle inequality and the climate crisis.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/01/city-leaders-aim-to-shape-green-recovery-from-coronavirus-crisis

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COVID-19 stimulus measures must save lives, protect livelihoods, and safeguard nature to reduce the risk of future pandemics

Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz, Eduardo Brondizio and Dr. Peter Daszak, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)

There is a single species that is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic – us. As with the climate and biodiversity crises, recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity – particularly our global financial and economic systems, based on a limited paradigm that prizes economic growth at any cost. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones.

Diseases like COVID-19 are caused by microorganisms that infect our bodies – with more than 70% of all emerging diseases affecting people having originated in wildlife and domesticated animals. Pandemics, however, are caused by activities that bring increasing numbers of people into direct contact and often conflict with the animals that carry these pathogens.

Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people. This often occurs in areas where communities live that are most vulnerable to infectious diseases.

Our actions have significantly impacted more than three quarters of the Earth’s land surface, destroyed more than 85% of wetlands and dedicated more than a third of all land and almost 75% of available freshwater to crops and livestock production.

Add to this the unregulated trade in wild animals and the explosive growth of global air travel and it becomes clear how a virus that once circulated harmlessly among a species of bats in Southeast Asia has now infected almost 3 million people, brought untold human suffering and halted economies and societies around the world. This is the human hand in pandemic emergence.

Yet this may be only the beginning. Although animal-to-human diseases already cause an estimated 700,000 deaths each year, the potential for future pandemics is vast. As many as 1.7 million unidentified viruses of the type known to infect people are believed to still exist in mammals and water birds. Any one of these could be the next ‘Disease X’ – potentially even more disruptive and lethal than COVID-19.

Read more at https://ipbes.net/covid19stimulus

Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Earth Day at 50: Why the legacy of the 1970s environmental movement is in jeopardy

Denise Chow, NBC NEWS

Changing global and political landscapes have made the kind of broad and bipartisan agreements reached in the 1970s seem impossible.

The first Earth Day, held on April 22, 1970, marked a turning point for U.S. environmentalism, capturing the growing activism of the 1960s and putting the country on track to create the Environmental Protection Agency and many major pieces of legislation in the 1970s.

Fifty years later, those efforts are at risk of being rendered null.

For the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, veteran climate activists are offering words of warning about the changing global and political landscapes that have made the kind of broad and bipartisan agreements reached in the 1970s seem impossible.

“What’s disturbing to me about what’s happened over the last 50 years is this steady drift of the Republican Party toward opposing environmental action and dismantling 50 years of environmental progress,” said Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University.

And with countries around the world in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, some experts fear that climate action could fall by the wayside as nations attempt to restart their economies. Rather than investing in infrastructure to support renewable energy and focusing efforts on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, for example, countries could revert back to the status quo in a bid to recoup coronavirus-related economic losses.

But the path ahead won’t be easy. Humanity is quickly running out of time to keep global warming below2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) and slow the most damaging impacts of climate change. And even with aggressive action, the planet is still at risk of rising seas, drought, wildfires, extreme weather and other potentially damaging consequences of the warming that has already happened.

Still, David Muth remembers when taking environmental action wasn’t always a partisan fight.

As the director of Gulf restoration for the National Wildlife Federation, Muth knows that climate policies have always been hard-won, but beginning in the 1960s, as the severity of human-caused pollution was becoming more apparent, people started to demand change.

Read more at https://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/earth-day-50-why-legacy-1970s-environmental-movement-jeopardy-n1189506

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How we can build a hardier world after the coronavirus

Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed one particularly shocking thing about our societies and economies: they have been operating on a very thin margin. The edifice seems so shiny and substantial, a world of silver jets stitching together cities of towering skyscrapers, a globe of soaring markets and smartphone connectivity. But a couple of months into this disease and it’s all tottering, the jets grounded and the cities silent and the markets reeling. One industry after another is heading for bankruptcy, and no one knows if they will come back. In other words, however shiny it may have seemed, it wasn’t very sturdy. Some people—the President, for instance—think that we can just put it all back like it was before, with a “big bang,” once the “invisible enemy” is gone. But any prosperity built on what was evidently a shaky foundation is going to seem Potemkinish going forward; we don’t want always to feel as if we’re just weeks away from some kind of chaos.

So if we’re thinking about building civilization back in a hardier and more resilient form, we’ll have to learn what a more stable footing might look like. I think that we can take an important lesson from the doctors dealing with the coronavirus, and that’s related to comorbidity, or underlying conditions. It turns out, not surprisingly, that if you’ve got diabetes or hypertension, or have a suppressed immune system, you’re far more likely to be felled by COVID-19.

Societies, too, come with underlying conditions, and the two that haunt our planet right now are inequality and ecological turmoil. They’ve both spiked in the past few decades, with baleful results that normally stay just below the surface, felt but not fully recognized. But as soon as something else goes wrong—a new microbe launches a pandemic, say—they become starkly evident. Inequality, in this instance, means that people have to keep working, even if they’re not well, because they lack health insurance and live day to day, paycheck to paycheck, and hence they can spread disease. Ecological instability, especially the ever-climbing mercury, means that even as governors try to cope with the pandemic they must worry, too, about the prospect of another spring with massive flooding across the Midwest, or how they’ll cope if wildfire season gets out of control. Last month, the U.S. Forest Service announced that, owing to the pandemic, it is suspending controlled burns, for instance, “one of the most effective tools for increasing California’s resiliency to fire.” God forbid that we get another big crisis or two while this one is still preoccupying us—but simple math means that it’s almost inevitable.

And, of course, all these things interact with one another: inequality means that some people must live near sources of air pollution that most of us wouldn’t tolerate, which in turn means that their lungs are weakened, which in turn means they can’t fight off the coronavirus. (It also means that some of the same people can lack access to good food, and are more likely to be diabetic.) And, if there’s a massive wildfire, smoke fills the air for weeks, weakening everybody’s lungs, but especially those at the bottom of the ladder. When there’s a hurricane and people need to flee, the stress and the trauma can compromise immune systems. Simply living at the sharp end of an unequal and racist society can do the same thing. And so on, in an unyielding spiral of increasing danger.

Since we must rebuild our economies, we need to try to engineer out as much ecological havoc and inequality as we can—as much danger as we can. That won’t be easy, but there are clear and obvious steps that would help—there are ways to structure the increased use of renewable energy that will confront inequality at the same time. Much will be written about such plans in the months to come, but at the level of deepest principle here’s what’s key, I think: from a society that has prized growth above all and been willing to play fast and loose with justice and ecology, we need to start emphasizing sturdiness, hardiness, resiliency. (And a big part of that is fairness.) The resulting world won’t be quite as shiny, but, somehow, shininess seems less important now.

Read more for interview with Bill McKibben: https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-a-warming-planet/how-we-can-build-a-hardier-world-after-the-coronavirus

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

California issues first new fracking permits since July

CBS SACRAMENTO

California issued 24 hydraulic fracturing permits on Friday, authorizing the first new oil wells in the state since July of last year and angering environmental groups who have been pressuring the state to ban the procedure known as fracking.

California halted all fracking permits last year after Gov. Gavin Newsom fired the state’s top oil and gas regulator after a report showed new wells increased 35% since Newsom took office.

In November, the California Geologic Energy Management Division asked for an independent, scientific review of its permitting process to make sure the state was meeting standards for public health, safety and environmental protection.

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory completed that review, and Friday the state issued 24 permits to Aera Energy for wells in the North Belridge and South Belridge oil fields in Kern County near Bakersfield.

California still has 282 fracking permits awaiting review. State Oil and Gas Supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk said the state now has a “more technically robust process” to review those applications, “including requiring additional technical disclosures to improve transparency.”

Read more at https://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2020/04/03/california-issues-first-new-fracking-permits-since-july/

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Natural and working lands most cost-effective among our climate solutions

Grace Perry, CALIFORNIA CLIMATE & AGRICULTURE NETWORK (CALCAN)

The natural and working lands recommended carbon sink actions were selected by scientists from more than 50 carbon storage pathways because of their low cost and productivity estimates. In total, the study estimates that natural and working lands can sequester an estimated 25.5 million tons of carbon annually. Other studies suggest that natural and working lands climate strategies can sequester even greater amounts of carbon, but not without scaling up and accelerating better management of natural and working lands.

Natural and working lands solutions

Aligning with the variety of natural and working landscapes present throughout California, the LLNL report recommends a suite of natural and working lands interventions to achieve emission reductions—including forest, wetland and grassland restoration, and healthy soils practices. Additionally, the report acknowledges the importance of reducing the likelihood of natural and working lands to act as a carbon emitter through land preservation and wildfire management.

Forest, wetland and grassland practices

Forest, wetland and grassland interventions consist of scaling up restoration practices that enhance carbon sequestration capacity. Reforestation and changes to forest management are among the recommended practices.

Soil practices

The potential for increasing carbon sinks in soils is well documented. As such, the LLNL researchers focused heavily on the potential of soil emission reduction drawing on their own extensive research. They propose California adopt a broad range of healthy soils practices—including cover cropping and composting—to meet the carbon sequestration potential of natural and working lands. They also acknowledge the importance of reducing the rate of carbon emission from soils, which can be achieved by limiting physical disturbance through reduced or no-till farming. In total, the near-term potential for carbon sequestration in California soils is estimated to be around 3.9 million tons of CO2 per year. This yields a total of 25.5 million tons of CO2 per year of sequestration potential by 2045 when combined with other natural and working lands solutions.

Read more at http://calclimateag.org/natural-and-working-lands-most-cost-effective-among-our-climate-solutions-from-lawrence-livermore-national-laboratory/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , ,

Globe afloat in excess oil

Stanley Reed, THE NEW YORK TIMES

A chaotic mismatch between the supply and demand for oil is saturating the world’s ability to store it all.

The world is awash in crude oil, and is slowly running out of places to put it.

Massive, round storage tanks in places like Trieste, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates are filling up. Over 80 huge tankers, each holding up to 80 million gallons, are anchored off Texas, Scotland and elsewhere, with no particular place to go.

The world doesn’t need all this oil. The coronavirus pandemic has strangled the world’s economies, silenced factories and grounded airlines, cutting the need for fuel. But Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer, is locked in a price war with rival Russia and is determined to keep raising production.

Prices have plummeted.

“For the first time in history we are seeing the likelihood that the market will test storage capacity limits within the near future,” said Antoine Halff, a founding partner of Kayrros, a market research firm. As storage space becomes harder to find, the prices, which have already fallen more than half this year, could drop even further. And companies could be forced to shut off their wells.

This chaotic mismatch in supply and demand has benefited consumers, who have watched gasoline prices slide lower.

And it has been a field day for anyone eager to snap up cheap oil, put it someplace and wait for a day when it’ll be worth more.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/business/energy-environment/oil-storage.html?searchResultPosition=1

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Dakota access pipeline: court strikes down permits in victory for Standing Rock Sioux

Nina Lakhani, THE GUARDIAN

Army corps of engineers ordered to conduct full environmental review, which could take years.

The future of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline has been thrown into question after a federal court on Wednesday struck down its permits and ordered a comprehensive environmental review.

The US Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS), after the Washington DC court ruled hat existing permits violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The ruling is a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.

“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” said the tribal chairman, Mike Faith. “It’s humbling to see how actions we took to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet.”

In December 2016, the Obama administration denied permits for the pipeline to cross the Missouri river and ordered a full EIS to analyze alternative routes and the impact on the tribe’s treaty rights.

In his first week in office, Donald Trump signed an executive order to expedite construction. Construction of the 1,200-mile pipeline was completed in June 2017.

The tribe challenged the permits – and won. As a result, the corps was ordered to redo its environmental analysis, which it did without taking into consideration tribal concerns or expert analysis.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/25/dakota-access-pipeline-permits-court-standing-rock

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Are frequent flier miles killing the planet?

Seth Kugel, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Climate activists say it is time to rethink loyalty programs that reward consumers for taking flights.

In October, a two-line recommendation buried on Page 35 of a report commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Committee on Climate Change garnered disproportionate attention in the world of frequent fliers.

“Introduce a ban on air miles and frequent flier loyalty schemes that incentivize excessive flying,” it suggested.

Message boards and blogs that serve points-obsessed, platinum-status-seeking travelers lit up. “Air miles should be axed to deter frequent fliers, advises report,” blared a headline in The Guardian.

But then, in December, hordes of passengers did what they do every year: took cross-country or transoceanic flights for little purpose other than maintaining elite status (and thus, access to lounges and upgrades) on their chosen airline for 2020. Many proudly posted about the deals on message boards or used #mileagerun and #statusrun hashtags to show off their business-class digs on Instagram.

At a time when the airline industry is bending over backward to be — or at least seem to be — concerned about climate change, can airline companies still justify loyalty programs that would seem to encourage people to fly more?

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/05/travel/loyalty-programs-climate-change.html

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Housing on the way in the North Bay

Teri Shore, GREENBELT ALLIANCE

Around the Bay Area, more homes are getting built every day. It will take time to fill the need for homes that everyone can afford, but there is relief on the horizon.

Here in Sonoma County where I do most of my work in the North Bay, more than 18,000 new places to live are in the pipeline within existing cities and towns — not including the rebuild of 5,000 homes lost from the wildfires. In fact, the number of new homes in the county pipeline jumped by more than 2,000 compared to last year.

Best of all, these new homes are focused on climate-healthy housing near services, inside Urban Growth Boundaries, and within existing communities. More than half of new homes are being built in the biggest cities of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park. In Rohnert Park, an estimated 5,829 new homes are in the works, and in Santa Rosa, it’s 5,346. This includes all pending development and permitted projects, according to the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.

Read more at https://www.greenbelt.org/blog/housing-on-the-way-in-the-north-bay/