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Climate controversy: California’s plan for handling crisis is flawed, advisors say

Nadia Lopez, CALMATTERS

California’s climate change plan fails to provide substantial evidence that capturing carbon will meet ambitious greenhouse gas goals, critics say. The plan “does California a disservice,” one state advisor said.

As California races to prevent the irreversible effects of climate change, some experts are questioning key policies that the state is counting on to meet its ambitious goals and accusing state officials of failing to provide substantial details to back up its claims.

The California Air Resources Board’s proposal, called a scoping plan, outlines policies that would transition the economy away from fossil fuels. The purpose of the plan is to fulfill state mandates to reduce planet-warming emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.

In this year’s highly-anticipated climate policy blueprint, some critics say the state agency has not been transparent on how it plans to achieve its goals. The process has left legislators and others at the forefront of the climate discussion confused over the air board staff’s projections.

“The draft scoping plan does California a disservice,” said Danny Cullenward, an economist and vice chair of the Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee, a group of five experts appointed by the governor and top legislators to assess the effectiveness of the state’s landmark cap and trade program. “It focuses on long-term goals at the expense of near-term action.”

At two recent state committee meetings, environmentalists, academics and climate policy experts who serve on state advisory panels voiced concerns over California’s approach to tackling the climate crisis. They called the plan incomplete, ambiguous and confusing.

Read more at https://calmatters.org/environment/2022/06/california-climate-change-plan-flawed/?utm_id=57747&sfmc_id=3422102

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Op Ed: California can do better than carbon neutrality by 2045

Daniel Kammen, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ten years ago, many Californians could not have imagined the climate nightmare we are living today — dark orange skies during wildfire season, heat waves in the dead of winter, mandatory water restrictions amid crippling drought.

Without urgent action, we may well look back on this moment as the calm before the storm. Over the course of the next decade, California’s biggest climate challenges — hotter summers, a shorter rainy season and more destructive wildfires — could double in intensity.

It’s against this backdrop that the California Air Resources Board last week released a draft of our state’s scoping plan, a blueprint for combating climate change that will guide California’s policy for years. Despite the stakes for Californians, and although my research indicates the state could actually become carbon negative by 2030, the draft proposal would delay reaching carbon neutral until 2045. The barriers to a target of 2030 are political, not technical.

The draft plan calls for investment in new fossil fuel electricity resources, and it relies on unproven and costly carbon capture technologies that would lock in fossil fuel pollution. Adopting this approach would be lazy, nonsensical and racially unjust. During the current 45-day period for public review of the plan, California has the chance to choose a smarter path.

Renewable energy, even when coupled with energy storage, is cheaper than fossil fuels. California’s own state laws say that renewable energy must be prioritized before building out expensive and polluting gas power plants. Instead, California must set ambitious targets that immediately cut pollution through no-regrets strategies.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/opinion/kammen-california-can-do-better-than-carbon-neutrality-by-2045/

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Federal rail board wants to hear out mysterious coal train proposal, jeopardizing Great Redwood Trail project

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The federal body that oversees the nation’s railroad rights of way indicated this week that it will consider the proposal from a mysterious Wyoming company to reconstruct defunct rail lines and ship coal out of Humboldt Bay to Asia.

The coal export proposal, widely regarded as unrealistic, is facing staunch opposition from local and state lawmakers, the tight margins of a declining coal industry and would need up to $2 billion to restore abandoned sections of track in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, according to previous state estimates.

But the decision by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board could complicate another North Coast venture: the proposed Great Redwood Trail, a 320-mile bicycle and pedestrian recreation route along former railways stretching from Eureka to San Francisco Bay.

The trail project, championed by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and many other elected officials, conservationists and economic development officials, made significant strides in March with the creation of a state agency to spearhead the effort.

The coal shipping proposal surfaced in August 2021, when a newly-formed, Wyoming-based entity called the North Coast Railroad Co. filed documents with the federal rail board suggesting it could raise the funds to restore abandoned rail segments.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/federal-rail-board-wants-to-hear-out-mysterious-coal-train-proposal-jeopar/

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California injects $40M into heat pump water heater effort amid broader push to decarbonize buildings

Kavya Balaraman, UTILITY DIVE

California energy regulators Thursday approved an additional $40 million in funding from the 2023 gas cap-and-trade allowance auction to promote heat pump water heaters, on top of a previously authorized $44.7 million.

The initiative, part of the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) self-generation incentive program, which promotes existing and emerging distributed energy resources, is one of many efforts to cut carbon emissions from buildings by expanding incentives for electric appliances, CPUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen said at the agency’s meeting.

Dive Insight:

California’s building sector contributes around a quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, and regulators see heat pump water heating systems as a promising tool to reduce that. Heat pump systems tap into the electric grid to heat water, and as the state’s electricity mix grows cleaner, they can offer a cleaner and more efficient alternative to natural gas water heating, according to the CPUC.

Approximately 800,000 water heaters are replaced every year in California, and under the agency’s program, customers can receive incentives for installing heat pump water heaters — up to $4,885 for low-income, single-family residential customers and $3,800 for other single-family residential customers.

The heat pump water heater systems are required to operate in a way that shifts electricity demand to off-peak hours on the grid, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, in order to be eligible for the incentives. Using a technology called a “thermostatic mixing valve,” these systems can pre-heat water when electricity demand is low, essentially allowing them to provide energy storage services.

Read more at https://www.utilitydive.com/news/california-injects-40m-into-heat-pump-water-heater-effort-amid-broader-pus/621869/

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Greta Thunberg on the state of the climate movement

KK Ottesen, WASHINGTON POST

Since there are no binding agreements that safely put us towards a safe future for life on Earth as we know it, that means that we have to use morals, and we have to be able to feel empathy with one another. That is all we have right now.

Student and climate activist Greta Thunberg, 18, burst improbably onto the world stage in late 2018 when what began as a one-person school strike outside the Swedish parliament ended up galvanizing a global climate movement to demand immediate action to prevent environmental catastrophe.

Thunberg’s school strike spread in Sweden and around the world, inspiring a youth-led global climate strike movement, Fridays for Future, which urged cuts in carbon emissions. Her speeches at major political gatherings, including the World Economic Forum, the British Parliament, the U.S. Congress and, most recently, the United Nations climate summit known as COP26, have castigated leaders for failing future generations with their “fairy tales of eternal economic growth.” Or, as she said in one speech, “How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

Thunberg credits her Asperger’s syndrome, which is considered part of the autism spectrum, for her truth-telling and focus as a climate activist. She lives in Stockholm.

You called COP26 a “failure” and a “PR event.”

Well, in the final document, they succeeded in even watering down the blah, blah, blah. Which is very much an achievement, if you see it that way. Of course it’s a step forward that, instead of coming back every five years, they’re doing it every year now. But still, that doesn’t mean anything unless that actually leads to increased ambition and if they actually fulfill those ambitions.

What do you mean when you say, “watering down the blah, blah, blah”?

As we all know, or as we might know, the so-called “f-word” was included for the first time in this document: fossil fuel. Which makes you wonder what they have been doing these decades without even mentioning fossil fuels for a problem which, to a very, very large extent, is caused by fossil fuels. And instead of “phasing out” [coal, the document’s language became] “phasing down.” So, yeah, that is one very clear example.

And also, one question that was very up in the air was the question about finance for loss and damage and the Green Climate Fund, which they again failed to agree on. The money that has already been promised, the bare minimum that the so-called global north have promised that they will deliver, they failed to come to any conclusions, and it’s been postponed once again.

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2021/12/27/greta-thunberg-state-climate-movement-roots-her-power-an-activist/

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Windsor exploring ban on new gas stations, gas infrastructure

Brandon McCapes, SOCONEWS

The Town of Windsor will soon join the City of Petaluma in banning new gas station infrastructure, following a recommendation by the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA).

At their Nov. 3 meeting, the town council voted unanimously to direct planning staff to explore a ban, which would not affect current gas stations, but only prevent the establishment of fueling stations providing fossil fuels, or adding to the number of fuel pumps at existing stations.

Kim Voge, a planner from the community development department, said that, following Petaluma’s ban in March of this year, the RCPA has been recommending all jurisdictions in Sonoma County follow suit.

The Town of Windsor declared a climate emergency in September 2019, and the general plan includes policies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and achieve net zero emissions.

Currently, Windsor allows gas stations in three zoning districts (community commercial, service commercial and gateway commercial), requiring a use permit; the ban would be implemented by removing gas stations from the zoning ordinance, making all gas stations “non-conforming.”

Read more at

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Aiming to ship coal out of Humboldt Bay, shadowy corporation makes bid to take over NCRA line

Ryan Burns, LOST COAST OUTPOST

Unidentified coal companies appear to be behind a new backdoor effort to acquire the North Coast Railroad Authority’s right-of-way between Eureka and Willits and rehabilitate the defunct railroad, all so they can export coal to Asian markets via the Port of Humboldt Bay.

State Senator Mike McGuire calls this development “one of the largest environmental threats to hit the North Coast in decades.”

On Aug. 16, a mysterious, newly formed corporation called North Coast Railroad Company, LLC, filed a pleading with the Surface Transportation Board. Ostensibly a proposal to submit an “Offer of Financial Assistance” to rebuild the line, the filing makes a number of surprising claims.

For one, the 14-page filing, submitted by a pair of Chicago attorneys, says NCRCo. is “capitalized to the tune of $1.2 billion” and has “thoroughly-developed plans” to acquire and rehabilitate the dilapidated rail line between Humboldt Bay and Willits. Once complete, the company says, this newly reconstructed railroad will move “high-volume shipments” between the San Francisco Bay Area and Humboldt Bay.

The document does not disclose what these “high-volume shipments” might contain. Nor does it identify anyone involved with the corporation.

The pleading prompted an incredulous response from the North Coast Rail Authority (NCRA), the state agency that spent 30 years trying to resuscitate that same stretch of railroad but is now, under McGuire’s leadership, working to develop the Great Redwood Trail, a multi-use pathway extending 320 miles along the agency’s right-of-way.

Read more at https://lostcoastoutpost.com/2021/sep/2/aiming-ship-coal-out-humboldt-bay-shadowy-corporat/?

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The Climate Crisis: August 18, 2021

Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER

I’ve long felt that one of my great failings as a climate communicator has come in trying to get across the dangers posed by methane, the second most damaging greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide. Despite long years of many people trying to underscore the risks of methane, our go-to shorthand for climate pollution remains “carbon.” That’s why companies and political leaders boast about how much they’ve reduced their carbon emissions, but, if they managed the trick by substituting gas for coal, their total contribution to global warming has barely budged—because natural gas is another word for methane, and because when it invariably leaks from frack wells and pipelines it traps heat, molecule for molecule, much more effectively than CO2.

Now, finally, methane appears to be having its day in the sun. A key thing to understand about methane (CH4) is that it doesn’t hang around in the atmosphere anywhere near as long as CO2: its life span is measured in decades, not centuries. While methane is in the air, it traps a lot of heat, but a dramatic reduction in the amount of CH4 would be a quick fix that would help slow the rise of global temperatures, giving us more time to work on the carbon quandary. As Stanford University’s Rob Jackson told me, last week, the best estimate is that methane caused about a third of the global warming we’ve seen in the past decade, not far behind the contributions of CO2.

The first way to reduce methane in the atmosphere, of course, is to stop building anything new that’s connected to gas: stop installing gas cooktops and gas furnaces, and substitute electrical appliances. And stop building new gas-fired power plants, instead substituting sun, wind, and battery power. And, as a really important new study by the star energy academics Bob Howarth and Mark Jacobson emphasizes, by all means do not start using natural gas to produce hydrogen, even if you’re capturing the carbon emissions from the process.

Read more at https://link.newyorker.com/view/5be9d06e3f92a40469e05fc8er70o.6ds/6fbf19eb

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Greenhouse gas emissions must peak within 4 years, says leaked UN report

Fiona Harvey and Giles Tremlett, THE GUARDIAN

Global greenhouse gas emissions must peak in the next four years, coal and gas-fired power plants must close in the next decade and lifestyle and behavioural changes will be needed to avoid climate breakdown, according to the leaked draft of a report from the world’s leading authority on climate science.

Rich people in every country are overwhelmingly more responsible for global heating than the poor, with SUVs and meat-eating singled out for blame, and the high-carbon basis for future economic growth is also questioned.

The leak is from the forthcoming third part of the landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the first part of which was published on Monday, warning of unprecedented changes to the climate, some of them irreversible. The document, called the sixth assessment report, is divided into three parts: the physical science of climate change; the impacts and ways of reducing human influence on the climate.

Part three is not scheduled to be released before next March, but a small group of scientists decided to leak the draft via the Spanish branch of Scientist Rebellion, an offshoot of the Extinction Rebellion movement. It was first published by the journalist Juan Bordera in the Spanish online magazine CTXT.

Bordera told the Guardian that the leak reflected the concern of some of those involved in drawing up the document that their conclusions could be watered down before publication in 2022. Governments have the right to make changes to the “summary for policymakers”.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/aug/12/greenhouse-gas-emissions-must-peak-within-4-years-says-leaked-un-report

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A hotter future is certain, climate panel warns. But how hot is up to us.

Brad Plumer and Henry Fountain, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Some devastating impacts of global warming are now unavoidable, a major new scientific report finds. But there is still a short window to stop things from getting even worse.

Nations have delayed curbing their fossil-fuel emissions for so long that they can no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years, though there is still a short window to prevent the most harrowing future, a major new United Nations scientific report has concluded.

Humans have already heated the planet by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, since the 19th century, largely by burning coal, oil and gas for energy. And the consequences can be felt across the globe: This summer alone, blistering heat waves have killed hundreds of people in the United States and Canada, floods have devastated Germany and China, and wildfires have raged out of control in Siberia, Turkey and Greece.

But that’s only the beginning, according to the report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists convened by the United Nations. Even if nations started sharply cutting emissions today, total global warming is likely to rise around 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades, a hotter future that is now essentially locked in.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/09/climate/climate-change-report-ipcc-un.html