Energy & Environment

New A.I. Traffic Signals Could Be a Game Changer

IEEE Spectrum: “Traffic congestion costs the U.S. economy $121 billion a year, mostly due to lost productivity, and produces about 25 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, Carnegie Mellon University professor of robotics Stephen Smith told the audience at a White House Frontiers Conference last week. In urban areas, drivers spend 40 percent of their time idling in traffic, he added.”

“The big reason is that today’s traffic signals are dumb. Smith is developing smart artificial-intelligence-fueled traffic signals that adapt to changing traffic conditions on the fly. His startup Surtrac is commercializing the technology.”

“In pilot tests in Pittsburgh, the smart traffic-management system has gotten impressive results. It reduced travel time by 25 percent and idling time by over 40 percent.”

The Left vs. A Carbon Tax

Vox: “This is not an election year in which it is easy to get attention, unless your name rhymes with Gump. Nevertheless, it’s worth taking note of a colorful, contentious, and counterintuitive political drama playing out in the top left corner of the country.”

“Here’s the situation. There’s a carbon tax on the ballot in Washington this November, meant not just to put the state on the path to its climate targets but to serve as an example to other states.”

“The measure, called Initiative 732, isn’t just any carbon tax, either. It’s a big one. It would be the first carbon tax in the US, the biggest in North America, and one of the most ambitious in the world.”

“And yet the left opposes it. The Democratic Party, community-of-color groups, organized labor, big liberal donors, and even most big environmental groups have come out against it.”

Another Casualty of Climate Change: Endangered Languages

Grist: “Though it’s not a perfect measure, language is one of the best ways we know to gauge cultural diversity. And that diversity is in danger. Linguists predict in the next 100 years, half of the 7,000 languages currently spoken in the world will vanish.”

“If you’re well versed in the effects of climate change, that list will sound familiar. As the world heats up, we’re on track to see more intense storms, rising seas, prolonged droughts, and the spread of infectious diseases — all of which can, in turn, lead to chaos, armed conflicts, and migration. And when people settle in a new place, they begin a new life, complete with new surroundings, new traditions, and, yes, a new language.”

Could America’s Smallest State Lead the Way Toward the Next Energy Age?

Brookings Institution: “The tiny state of Rhode Island is at a crossroad, facing major decisions on investing in fossil fuel infrastructure or turning sharply to renewable energy.”

“The contrast between two major projects—a huge natural gas-fired power plant and towering offshore wind turbines—could not be greater, and the long-term implications of the decisions for the state and the country are far-reaching. Depending upon which road it takes, tiny Rhode Island could be a leader of a new energy age for the U.S., or a middling actor locked into fossil fuel infrastructure for decades.”

Russians and Saudis Pledge Joint Effort to Limit Oil Production

Bloomberg Markets: “Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world’s two largest crude oil producers, said they’re ready to cooperate to limit output, helping send prices to a one-year high in London.”

“Coordinated output curbs by Russia and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, who together pump about half the world’s oil, could boost fuel prices for consumers and revive the fortunes of a battered energy industry. While Putin’s comments are the firmest indication yet that such an agreement is possible, Russia is still pumping at record levels and has stopped short of a commitment to pull back. OPEC members also have many hurdles to overcome before implementing their first cuts in eight years.”

To Fight Climate Change, Institute a Four-Day Workweek

Quartz: “A reduction in working hours generally correlates with marked reductions in energy consumption, as economists David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot have argued. In fact, if Americans simply followed European levels of working hours, for example, they would see an estimated 20% reduction in energy use—and hence in carbon emissions.”

“With a four-day week, huge amounts of commuting to and from work could be avoided, and electricity used running an office could be saved. At a point when we need to massively cut back our carbon outputs, instituting a three-day weekend could be the simplest and most elegant way to make our economy more environmentally friendly.”

How to Fulfill the Promise of the Paris Climate Deal

Carter Roberts and Ray Offenheiser: “By the end of this week, the United States, China, India, the European Union, Canada and more than 50 other countries will have legally joined the agreement, crossing the thresholds that brings the pact into full legal force. Under its terms, the agreement comes into force 30 days after 55 nations, representing 55% of global greenhouse emissions, legally join. These dual thresholds were chosen to ensure that the new deal becomes binding only when both the biggest polluting nations, and a large share of all countries, large and small, are on board.”

“As we look ahead to this new chapter, the choice is between cooperation or division. The Paris Agreement happened because leaders worked together, sometimes at great political risk. And more is needed. The reality is that no single country can solve this problem alone. Our success here in the U.S. relies on success in places like India and Mexico. We need to invest in those places too if we hope to meet our goal.”

Americans Strongly Favor Expanding Solar Power

Pew Research Center: “As the solar energy industry gears up to add more electricity-generating capacity than any other source this year, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that almost nine-in-ten U.S. adults (89%) favor expanding use of solar power, while only 9% oppose it. That sentiment bridges the partisan divide, with large majorities from across the political spectrum favoring more use of this alternative source.”

Americans Appear Willing to Pay for a Carbon Tax Policy

New York Times: “The stumbling block in Congress for confronting climate change has perpetually been the economic challenge. There has been little support for paying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

“But now, there is some evidence of a quiet undercurrent of support for a carbon policy, whether it be a tax, cap-and-trade or regulations.”

“The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) — which, in full disclosure, I direct — and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released a poll Wednesday on how Americans feel about various issues related to climate and energy.”

The Sequel to Keystone XL: The North Dakota Access Pipeline Debate

Brookings Institution: “In what looks to be a sequel to the Keystone XL Pipeline dispute, a group of climate activists, Native American groups, and landowners are opposing the construction of yet another oil pipeline. Since the North Dakota Access Pipeline was first announced in 2014, opposition to it has slowly gathered momentum, culminating in high-profile protests last week.”

Here are some things to know:

“What is the Dakota Access Pipeline?”

“The 1,172-mile project is expected to carry nearly half a million barrels of crude oil daily—enough to make 374.3 million gallons of gasoline per day—from the hydrofracked sites in the Bakken formation in northwestern North Dakota  through South Dakota and Iowa into Illinois.”

“Why is it being built?”

“Supporters of the project argue the pipeline represents the safest and most efficient way to transport Bakken oil… Dakota Access LLC, the company behind the pipeline, claims that the project produces significant economic benefits.”

“Why is the pipeline controversial?”

“The protests have been the most intense in Sioux County, North Dakota, home of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a reservation of 8,000 people. The Native American group says the pipeline endangers sacred sites and drinking water resources… The pipeline has also brought together environmentalists and climate activists intent on blocking the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Recycled Ocean Plastic Could Become the Building Block of the Future

Curbed: “More than 300 million tons of plastic trash is generated every year, but less than 8 percent of that waste is recycled. In fact, as much as 12 million tons ends up in the ocean. A new U.S.-based startup, ByFusion, has a novel solution for tackling the growing problem of ocean plastic: turn it into construction material.”

“It sounds straightforward, but the details of the process is where things get interesting. The compressing equipment is small, mobile enough to fit inside of a shipping container, the process is almost entirely carbon neutral, and the density and shape of the blocks is customizable. And, unlike conventional recycling, the RePlast process works for any and all types of plastic without sorting or washing.”