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A travel writer contemplates a less mobile future

Henry Wismayer, THE WASHINGTON POST

…the coronavirus shutdowns have reinforced an uncomfortable truth: The way we engage with the wider world has needed to change for a long time.

A future without travel? Until recently, I admit, it’s not a concept I’ve been able to imagine, much less embrace. Ever since I turned 18, I have shaped my life, and scratched a writer’s living, around the pursuit of foreign places. In that time, the weeks that I spend overseas have often seemed like a prerequisite of contentment: a source of not only stimulation, but also self-actualization.

That is how vital travel can feel to those of us who let it. In an era in which spirituality has in many ways been supplanted by a quest for temporal experience, to venture abroad is to accumulate evidence that we are making the best of our short time on Earth. Bask in the afterglow of the last adventure. Count down to the next.

At least that’s how it used to be.

For the last few months, the borders have closed, and the skies have emptied. The cruise ships have all docked, the hotels have shuttered. Suddenly, those of us who love to travel have found ourselves living in a strange limbo, lavished with a surfeit of time, yet deprived of the liberty to take full advantage of it.

In the months since the coronavirus outbreak pushed much of the global population into quarantine, many of us have sought distraction, even enchantment, in photographs of the newly empty human world. Among these, tourist attractions can seem among the most poignant and uncanny, for it is rare that we get to see these places without the throngs of visitors that usually populate them. It is interesting to consider what our response to these images suggests about travel today.

Of course, there is longing. The sight of famous destinations, absent crowds and traffic, evoke a Sartre-like ideal — travel, without the hell of other people — that only accentuates their enticement. But alongside this desire, for me at least, there is also melancholy, for it is impossible to witness the serenity of the paused planet without feeling a tinge of regret for what travel has become. In the same way that some of us have found a misanthropic thrill in apocryphal tales of dolphins swimming up a Venice canal, or satellite images of pollution dissipating over China, the coronavirus shutdowns have reinforced an uncomfortable truth: The way we engage with the wider world has needed to change for a long time.

Recently, I marked 10 years of travel writing feeling uneasy about the state of modern tourism. In part, my idea of foreign places had become infected by the unavoidable backdrop of an angrier, destabilizing world. And while millions still jumped on planes for leisure, I couldn’t shake the creeping sense that so much of what we call travel is extractive, the commodification of someone else’s sunshine, culture and photogenic views. In my most cynical moments, I had started to see travel as something monstrous, a vector of humanity’s infestation that has evolved out of all proportion with what the planet can sustain.

Last summer, I looked on, aghast and complicit, as the world’s most celebrated sights and cities were inundated like never before. Regions once off-limits to all but the most intrepid now teemed with rubberneckers from every corner of the world. Those tourists brought with them a litany of collateral issues, from environmental damage and consumer price inflation to cultural insensitivity and urban displacement. Lines snaked beneath the summit of Mount Everest. Behemoth cruise ships jostled for space at the Venice quayside.
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Environmentalists protest new gas stations in Sonoma County

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A group of Sonoma County residents on Thursday continued their campaign against new gas stations, gathering at Highway 12 and Llano Road to protest a proposed development at the busy intersection. The group has pointed to a variety of problems with the proposal to build a gas station, RV storage park and car wash, including zoning issues. But the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations, led by Woody Hastings, a longtime Sonoma County environmentalist, centers its objections on opposition to any new fossil fuel infrastructure.

“Building new fossil fuel infrastructure during a climate crisis is inappropriate and contrary to the county’s policies on climate change, including the climate emergency resolution approved in September 2019,” Hastings said in a news release this week.

The CONGAS group previously protested the expansion of an existing 7-Eleven at Highway 12 and Middle Rincon Road.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/11039816-181/environmentalists-protest-new-gas-stations?sba=AAS

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Global emissions plunged an unprecedented 17 percent during the coronavirus pandemic

Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens, WASHINGTON POST

But scientists say the drivers of global warming could quickly bounce back as social distancing ends and economies rebound.

The wave of shutdowns and shuttered economies caused by the coronavirus pandemic fueled a momentous decline in global greenhouse gas emissions, although one unlikely to last, a group of scientists reported Tuesday.

As covid-19 infections surged in March and April, nations worldwide experienced an abrupt reduction in driving, flying and industrial output, leading to a startling decline of more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That includes a peak decline in daily emissions of 17 percent in early April, according to the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. For some nations, the drop was much steeper.

Scientists have long insisted that the world must scale back carbon pollution significantly — and quickly — to mitigate the worst effects of climate change over coming decades, although none have suggested that a deadly global pandemic is the way to do so.

Tuesday’s study projects that total emissions for 2020 will probably fall between 4 and 7 percent compared to last year — an unheard-of drop in normal times, but considerably less dramatic than the decline during the first few months of the year when economies screeched to a halt. The final 2020 figure will depend on how rapidly, or cautiously, people around the world resume ordinary life.

The unprecedented situation produced by the coronavirus has offered a glimpse into the massive scale required to cut global emissions, year after year, to meet the most ambitious goals set by world leaders when they forged the 2015 Paris climate accord. Last fall, a U.N. report estimated that global greenhouse gas emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year beginning in 2020 to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/05/19/greenhouse-emissions-coronavirus/?arc404=true

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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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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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Heathrow third runway ruled illegal over climate change

Damian Carrington, THE GUARDIAN

Appeal court says decision to give go-ahead not consistent with Paris agreement

Plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport have been ruled illegal by the court of appeal because ministers did not adequately take into account the government’s commitments to tackle the climate crisis.

The ruling is a major blow to the project at a time when public concern about the climate emergency is rising fast and the government has set a target in law of net zero emissions by 2050. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, could use the ruling to abandon the project, or the government could draw up a new policy document to approve the runway.

The government is considering its next steps but will not appeal against the verdict. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “Our manifesto makes clear any Heathrow expansion will be industry-led. Airport expansion is core to boosting global connectivity and levelling up across the UK. We also take seriously our commitment to the environment.”

Johnson has opposed the runway, saying in 2015 that he would “lie down in front of those bulldozers and stop the construction”. Heathrow is already one the busiest airports in the world, with 80 million passengers a year. The £14bn third runway could be built by 2028 and would bring 700 more planes per day and a big rise in carbon emissions.

Johnson is thought to have been looking for a pretext to withdraw support for the extra runway and could make the argument for Birmingham to provide increased airpot capacity for London given that train journey times will be reduced by HS2.

The court’s ruling is the first major ruling in the world to be based on the Paris climate agreement and may have an impact both in the UK and around the globe by inspiring challenges against other high-carbon projects.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/27/heathrow-third-runway-ruled-illegal-over-climate-change

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Activists protest plans for gas pumps at new Rincon Valley 7-Eleven

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Santa Rosa Planning Commission will need to approve the company’s plans before any work on the project can occur and has not put 7-Eleven’s proposal on an agenda, said city planner Adam Ross.

7-Eleven’s plan to demolish one of its east Santa Rosa stores and several surrounding buildings to build a sleek new convenience store and add gas pumps has sparked opposition from activists who oppose new fossil fuel outlets in Sonoma County.

Texas-based 7-Eleven aims to replace the existing shop at Highway 12 and Middle Rincon Road with a new 24-hour convenience store and at least six gas pumps, according to an application filed with Santa Rosa planning officials.

Designs call for demolishing the store, a martial arts studio and at least one adjacent home, forcing longtime tenants to find another place to live.

To local climate activist Woody Hastings it doesn’t make sense to displace a family to make way for fuel pumps, noting that the Santa Rosa City Council weeks ago formally declared a climate crisis.

“If we’re going to extricate ourselves from the fossil world, we’ve got to start now,” said Hastings, who was leading about two dozen protesters outside the 7-Eleven on Monday. They held signs and chanted their opposition to the proposal.

7-Eleven in 2017 bought a chunk of land surrounding its store including an adjacent house occupied by a family. Company officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the redevelopment plans. 7-Eleven has more than 70,000 stores worldwide and 11 in the Santa Rosa area.

The company plans to hold another neighborhood meeting to “address concerns,” said Kim Barnett, director of national programs for Tait & Associates, a Rancho Cordova-based firm working with 7-Eleven on the development of the new store and gas station, in an email. She did not provide a date for the meeting.

Barnett described the Rincon Valley project as “a state of the art 7-Eleven” with “fresh foods,” featuring charging stations for electric vehicles and solar power. Though plans call for a car wash, Barnett said “there will be not be a car wash.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10693433-181/plans-for-new-east-santa

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Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport sets record for January passengers

Kevin Fixler, PRESS DEMOCRAT

The popularity of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport continues to grow, with the regional hub recording its highest-ever passenger count for the month of January.

Nearly 37,000 commercial passengers traveled through the local airport during the first month of 2020, which represented a 30% increase from the same time last year. In January 2019, Sonoma County airport counted another record for the month, with 28,400 passengers — an 8% gain from the prior year.
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County airport adding more flights to major hubs

With the addition of new routes, including the introduction of nonstop flights to Denver and Dallas/Fort Worth in 2019, the local airport set a new record last year with more than 488,000 passengers. The all-time high maintained a decadelong streak of annual growth.

The airport, which began offering commercial service in 2007, expects to add three more flights later this year, which at its peak will bring the number of daily departing flights to 19. American Airlines already launched a second daily flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Feb. 13. Starting March 19, Alaska Airlines will add a second daily route to each of San Diego and Orange County.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10727039-181/charles-m-schulz-sonoma-county-airport

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UK airports must shut to reach 2050 climate target, new research concludes

Paul Brown, CLIMATE NEWS NETWORK

The reasoning behind the report is that technologies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon capture and storage, will not be developed in time and on a large enough scale to make a difference to emission reductions by 2050.

If it is to achieve its target of net zero climate emissions by 2050, all UK airports must close by mid-century and the country will have to make other drastic and fundamental lifestyle changes, says a report from a research group backed by the government in London.

With the UK due to host this year’s round of crucial UN climate talks in Glasgow in November, a group of academics has embarrassed the British government by showing it has currently no chance of meeting its own legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to nothing within 30 years.

Their report, Absolute Zero, published by the University of Cambridge, says no amount of government or public wishful thinking will hide the fact that the country will not reach zero emissions by 2050 without barely conceivable changes to policies, industrial processes and lifestyles. Its authors include colleagues from five other British universities.

All are members of a group from UK Fires, a research program sponsored by the UK government, aiming to support a 20% cut in the country’s true emissions by 2050 by placing resource efficiency at the heart of its future industrial strategy. The report was paid for under the UK Fires program.

As well as a temporary halt to flying, the report also says British people cannot go on driving heavier cars and turning up the heating in their homes.

The government, industry and the public, it says, cannot continue to indulge themselves in these ways in the belief that new technologies will somehow save them – everyone will have to work together to change their way of life.

Because electric or zero-emission aircraft cannot be developed in time, most British airports will need to close by the end of this decade, and all flying will have to stop by 2050 until non-polluting versions are available.

Electrification of surface transport, rail and road, needs to be rapid, with the phasing out of all development of petrol and diesel cars immediately. Even if all private cars are electric, the amount of traffic will have to fall to 60% of 2020 levels by 2050, and all cars will have to be smaller.

Read more: https://www.ecowatch.com/u/climate_news_network

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US greenhouse gas emissions likely fell last year after rising in 2018

Emma Foehringer Merchant, GREEN TECH MEDIA

The power sector led the way, but adequate emissions cuts remain far off, according to a new analysis from the Rhodium Group.

U.S. emissions likely fell in 2019, putting the country back on a downward emissions trend, according to newly released analysis from research firm Rhodium Group.

The results, which estimate a decline in greenhouse gas emissions of around 2 percent in 2019, contrast with 2018, when emissions rose for the first time in three years. Rhodium attributes much of the 2019 turnaround to the electricity sector, where technologies such as wind and solar, in addition to super-cheap gas prices, continued to erode the dominance of coal-fired power.

But emissions increases in other sectors tempered the 10 percent reductions in the power sector.

“[It] shows how much coal matters, because in reducing generation from coal we get pretty sizable reductions in the power sector. But at the same time, it shows the limit of coal-led reductions in power, and of the power sector overall, in bringing down economywide emissions,” said Hannah Pitt, a senior research analyst with Rhodium’s climate and energy group. “There is only so much you can squeeze out of the power sector before you really need to start seeing reductions in other sectors.”

While electricity emissions declined and transportation emissions remained fairly flat in 2019, Rhodium estimates that emissions from buildings, industry and other sectors increased.

Taken together, the U.S. is still dangerously far from the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, whether or not President Trump is successful in his bid to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement.

Read more at: https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/emissions-fell-in-2019-per-rhodium-group