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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

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After another record-breaking year, Sonoma County airport adding more flights on established routes

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Commercial carriers operating out of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport will add four direct fights on existing routes early this year, building on the growth in local air travel after another record-breaking year for passenger numbers in and out of Santa Rosa.

American Airlines will add a second daily flight next month to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The world’s largest airline launched service from Santa Rosa to its Phoenix hub in February 2017, and will increase service Feb. 13 with an evening flight, supplementing its existing early afternoon departure.

American Airlines also is set to resume its flights in April to Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles International airports. The routes debuted last summer as seasonal offerings but passenger counts were high enough on each flight that the airline is planning to offer them year-round this year, according to airport officials.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10590414-181/after-another-record-breaking-year-sonoma

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Study finds 26,000 lives were saved by shift from coal to natural gas

Oliver Milman, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

The human toll from coal-fired pollution in America has been laid bare by a study that has found more than 26,000 lives were saved in the U.S. in just a decade due to the shift from coal to gas for electricity generation.

The shutdown of scores of coal power facilities across the U.S. has reduced the toxic brew of pollutants suffered by nearby communities, cutting deaths from associated health problems such as heart disease and respiratory issues, the research found.

An estimated 26,610 lives were saved in the U.S. by the shift away from coal between 2005 and 2016, according to the University of California study published in Nature Sustainability.

The coal sector has struggled in recent years, with 334 generating units taken offline during the period analyzed in the study. A cheap glut of natural gas has displaced coal, with 612 gas-fired units coming online during this time.

As a result, more than 300m tons of planet-heating carbon dioxide has been saved, while levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, emitted by coal plants and linked to irritations of the nose and throat, dropped by 60% and 80%, respectively.

“When you turn coal units off you see deaths go down. It’s something we can see in a tangible way,” said Jennifer Burney, a University of California academic who authored the study. “There is a cost to coal beyond the economics. We have to think carefully about where plants are sited, as well as how to reduce their pollutants.”

Read more at https://www.hcn.org/articles/climate-desk-study-finds-26-000-lives-were-saved-by-shift-from-coal-to-natural-gas?utm_source=wcn1&utm_medium=email

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Op-Ed: Why California’s climate solution isn’t cutting it

Jacques Leslie, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Many Californians take pride in the state’s position on the front lines of the global climate change struggle, but the dismal performance of its centerpiece climate program — cap and trade — shows that in a crucial way the state’s reputation is undeserved. Even here, in the heartland of climate awareness, it turns out that the oil industry calls the most important shots.

A revelatory November report by ProPublica delineates how the oil industry has successfully gamed the cap-and-trade program. The system is supposed to force a gradual decline in carbon dioxide emissions by issuing polluting companies an annually decreasing number of permits to pollute, but it has granted so many exceptions that the program is nearly toothless.

As a result, since the beginning of cap and trade in 2013, emissions from oil and gas sources — generated by production, refining and vehicle fuel consumption — have increased by 3.5%, according to ProPublica’s analysis. This is alarming, not least because the last of those categories, the transportation sector, is the leading source of emissions in the state.

In fact, the oil industry has found California’s cap-and-trade program so accommodating that it has been promoting similar market-based climate approaches — cap and trade and carbon taxes — around the world, according to ProPublica. The bigger threat to the oil industry is direct regulation, which it consistently opposes. Unlike cap and trade, regulations could target specific economic sectors and focus directly on limiting the oil industry’s carbon pollution.

Market-based policies now dominate programs that are intended to curb climate change. The 2015 Paris climate agreement touted such approaches as a principal method to reduce emissions, and according to a World Bank report in June, at least 57 jurisdictions have established carbon pricing programs. The problem, as the report points out, is that “prices remain too low to deliver on the objectives.”

The oil industry’s leverage over California’s cap-and-trade program stems in part from its successful backing of Proposition 26, a 2010 state ballot initiative that requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to raise fees, including the cap-and-trade program’s charges for permits to pollute. That meant that in 2017, when state leaders set about extending the program for another decade after 2020, they needed buy-in from legislators in both parties who represent districts with major oil installations. That gave the oil industry an opening to nix provisions it didn’t like.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-01-02/cap-and-trade-california-oil-and-gas-industry

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Sonoma County airport feels crush of holiday travel during another record-breaking year

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The forecast 10% rise in passengers over last year burnishes the airport’s standing as one of the fastest growing in the nation, based on rate of passenger increase over the past four years, according to airport officials. It also extends a now nine-year streak of gains, stretching back to the sluggish years following the nation’s economic recession.

The holiday rush this week at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport was another symptom of the regional hub’s clear growing pains, reflecting its rising popularity among air travelers but also laying bare the need for a planned terminal expansion.

Through November, the airport had already set another record this year for passenger traffic, surpassing the 440,000 people who flew in and out last year. Once December’s numbers are added, airport leaders expect nearly 500,000 passengers will have passed through the facility in 2019.

But with the swelling passenger totals, waits in security and check-in lines have increased inside the 52-year-old building, which operates with one small baggage claim and a single queue for passenger screening.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10508867-181/sonoma-county-airport-feels-crush