Energy & Environment

Acceptance of Gays in U.S. at a New High

Gallup: “A new high of 60% of Americans say they are satisfied with the acceptance of gays and lesbians in the U.S. — up from 53% in 2014 and 2015. As recently as 10 years ago, satisfaction was as low as 32%.”

Trend: Americans' Satisfaction With Acceptance of Gays and Lesbians in the U.S.

“But despite being in the minority, there are many Americans who are unhappy with the advancements made in gay rights, and there are judges, religious figures and GOP presidential candidates who seek to undo what gay rights supporters have achieved. Meanwhile, another faction of Americans are dissatisfied because they seek more acceptance for gays and lesbians — perhaps in response to continued efforts to walk back newly achieved gay rights, hate crimes against LGBT people and other acts of intolerance directed at the community.”

Cuomo Pledges to Phase Out Coal in New York by 2020

The Hill: “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday he aims to phase out coal-fired power plants in the state by 2020.”

“‘We will help the few remaining coal plants transition but we must clean our air and protect our health and that must be our first priority,’ he said. New York only gets about 1.3 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.”

“In his speech, Cuomo also reaffirmed his plans to cut carbon pollution in New York by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. He has mandated that the state get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and pledged to add 150,000 solar panels and 300 wind turbines around the state. ”

“Cuomo’s energy pledges are among the most aggressive in the nation. Hawaii lawmakers lawmakers passed a law last year mandating 100-percent renewable energy by 2045. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has pushed to generate half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.”

Renewables Finish Another Record-Breaking Year

Bloomberg: “Renewables just finished another record-breaking year, with more money invested ($329 billion) and more capacity added (121 gigawatts) than ever before, according to new data released Thursday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.”

“This wasn’t supposed to happen. Oil, coal and natural gas bottomed out over the last 18 months, with bargain prices not seen in a decade. That’s just one of a handful of reasons 2015 should have been a rough year for clean energy. But the opposite was true.”

Bloomberg: “The 4 percent increase in clean energy technology spending from 2014 reflected tumbling prices for photovoltaics and wind turbines as well as a few big financings for offshore wind farms on the drawing board for years, according to research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance released on Thursday.”

“Another ‘strong year’ is in store for renewables in 2016, said Angus McCrone, chief editor at BNEF, stopping short of saying another record will be reached. “

Obama’s Focus on Climate Change in SOTU: Is it Enough?

Daily Kos: “President Obama spent eight paragraphs on climate change Tuesday night in his State of the Union address … This continued reordering of presidential priorities dating back to his June 2013 speech on climate change is welcome indeed … Our optimism is tempered with caution.”

“Here’s Jamie Henn at Common Dreams: With Keystone XL rejected and the Paris agreement in his back pocket, President Obama may feel like his climate legacy is secured. But the coming months will be defining ones for his Presidency and the entire planet. Many of the fights ahead won’t be in the Halls of Congress or in Washington, D.C. but out in places like [the oil pipeline hub of Cushing, Oklahoma] on the sharp edge between the fossil fuel era of the past and the clean energy economy of the future. The decisions about which coal, oil and gas reserves the administration intends to set off limits will determine the scorecard used by future historians in judging the President’s record on the issue. Which is why the climate mantra for the rest of President Obama’s term, and whoever succeeds him, is strikingly simple: keep it in the ground.”

Climate Science Denial Rages On

The Guardian: A new study has looked at 15 years worth of output from 19 conservative U.S. thinktanks and concludes, “We find little support for the claim that ‘the era of science denial is over’ – instead, discussion of climate science has generally increased over the sample period.”

“The conservative thinktanks under the microscope are the main cog in the machinery of climate science denial across the globe, pushing a constant stream of material into the public domain.”

The study analyzed “more than 16,000 documents published online between 1998 and 2013 by mainly US groups like the Heartland Institute, the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute.”

“Contrary to some commentators, the study found attacks on science had increased in later years. At the same time, the thinktanks were focusing less on policy issues.”

“Dr Aaron McCright, of Michigan State University said the ‘denial machine’ had since expanded from think tanks to include bloggers and fake grassroots campaigns and was now ‘more diverse and seemingly ubiquitous.’”

“He said conservative think tanks had influenced the public’s understanding of climate change and the way policymakers had reacted to it, in two ways.”

“First, he said in recent decades US Republicans had used thinktank materials in committee meetings and hearings ‘to justify inaction on climate change.'”

“Second, thinktank materials had been taken up as the standard talking points for conservatives.”

NOAA: 2015 Second Hottest Year in U.S.

Politico: “The United States posted its second hottest year on record in 2015, government scientists reported Thursday, extending the streak of warmer-than-average annual temperatures.”

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the annual average temperature in the contiguous United States last year was 54.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a figure that was 2.4 degrees above the average in the last century. The only warmer year in the United States since record keeping began in 1895 was 2012, which clocked in at an average of 55.3 degrees, NOAA said.”

“NOAA said 2015 was the 19th year in a row that the annual average U.S. temperature was above the 20th century average. There were also 10 extreme weather and climate events that each resulted in more than $1 billion in damages. Those events resulted in 155 deaths, the the agency said.”

“Even though U.S. temperatures didn’t set an all-time high last year, scientists have said the global average would likely set a new record.”

Despite Cheap Fossil Fuels, Renewables Building Binge Projected for 2016

Joby Warrick in The Washington Post: Wind and solar power appear set for a record-breaking year in 2016 as a clean-energy construction boom gains momentum in spite of a global glut of cheap fossil fuels.

Installations of wind turbines and solar panels soared in 2015 as utility companies went on a worldwide building binge, taking advantage of falling prices for clean technology as well as an improving regulatory and investment climate. Both industries have seen stock prices jump since Congress approved an extension of tax credits for renewables as part of last month’s $1.14 trillion budget deal.

Orders for 2016 solar and wind installations are up sharply, from the United States to China to the developing economies of Africa and Latin America, all in defiance of stubbornly low prices for coal and natural gas, the industry’s chief competitors.

Energy analysts say the boom is being spurred in part by improved technology, which has made wind and solar more competitive with fossil fuels in many regions. But equally important, experts say, is better access to financing, as major Wall Street investment houses adopt a more bullish posture toward an industry that was once considered financially risky. In November, Goldman Sachs announced it was quadrupling its investments in renewables to $150 billion.

Climate Debate Isn’t a Partisan Issue: It’s Only With Conservatives

The latest survey by Yale’s Project on Climate Change Communication finds that “majorities of registered Democrats, Independents and liberal and moderate Republicans want climate action, will vote for candidates who will support it and represent the mainstream of American voters. The survey also finds that conservative Republicans’ views are often different from the rest of American voters.”

“Registered voters are more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly supports action to reduce global warming (36% are more likely to vote for such a candidate, 16% are less likely). Only conservative Republicans are less likely to vote for such a candidate.”

“Likewise, registered voters are less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming (43% are less likely, 13% are more likely). Only conservative Republicans are more likely (slightly) to vote for a candidate who strongly opposes action to reduce global warming.”

“Too often, the debate about climate is portrayed as one between Democrats and Republicans. In fact, it’s not. It’s a debate between most Americans and conservative Republicans. Liberal and moderate Republicans often have views about global warming that are similar to Democrats and Independents.”

Paris Climate Deal: One of History’s ‘Great Triumphs’

Jonathan Chait: “Mitigating climate change is not a simple yes-no proposition. Holding temperature increases to 2.5 or 2.7 degrees Celsius may not be as good as holding them below 2 degrees, but it’s much better than holding them to 3.3 or 3.8 degrees. What’s more, the structure of the agreement is designed to produce additional reductions over time.”

“Obviously, such reductions will only happen if they are economically feasible. But recent history shows that political willpower and innovation feed off each other. Support for green energy in the United States (through the stimulus), Europe, China, and elsewhere spurred research and investment that have triggered a revolution in affordable solar and wind power, among other green-energy technologies. The green-energy revolution has made what was unaffordable in 2009 suddenly affordable. It is realistic to assume that the momentum from Paris will continue the virtuous cycle of political willpower and market innovation — the massive new market for reducing carbon emissions will spur more investment that will produce newer and more efficient technologies, allowing elected officials to make deeper emissions cuts.”

“It is hard to find any important accomplishment in history that completely solved a problem. The Emancipation Proclamation only temporarily and partially ended slavery; the 13th Amendment was required to abolish it permanently … Victories are hardly ever immediate or complete. The fight continues and history marches on. The climate agreement in Paris should take its place as one of the great triumphs in history.”

The Biggest Killer of Them All? Fossil Fuels.

Quartz: “Global warming will affect billions of lives in the future. But, by one estimate, our love for fossil fuels may already be responsible for more deaths than those caused by wars, murders, and traffic accidents combined.”

“These figures come from the 2012 Climate Vulnerability Monitor. In 2010, some 4.5 million deaths could be attributed to air pollution, because of the production of carbon particles and nitrogen oxides. Another 500,000 deaths that year could be attributed to changes in climate, which lead to extreme weather events, flare ups in infectious diseases, and other disastrous phenomena.”

Carbon Emissions Growth Expected to Stall in 2015

The Hill:  “According to a study from the University of East Anglia and the Global Carbon Project, emissions from burning fossil fuels could fall by as much as 0.6 percent this year, after it grew by only 0.6 percent last year.”

“Emissions have declined in the past, but usually during times of economic problems. If 2015 plays out as the research suggests, this would be the first time there’s been a decline during a time of global economic growth.”

“The average annual growth in emissions over the last 15 years has been about 2 or 3 percent, the head of the study said in a statement.”

“The study said declining coal use in China has driven down emissions around the world. The U.S., the second-largest carbon emitter, is projected to see its emissions fall by 1.4 percent in 2015, similar to declines in other years.”

“But officials said the decline is unlikely to stick even as the world continues its transition to cleaner energy. And the study follows separate reports that have shown record concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, something researchers warn could exacerbate climate change.”

Renewables to Provide More Energy Than Fracked Gas

Bloomberg: “New wind turbines and solar panels worldwide will provide more energy over the next five years than U.S. shale-oil production has over the past five, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.”

“The leading renewable-energy technologies will add the equivalent of 6.2 million barrels of oil a day to the global energy mix, exceeding the 5.7 million barrels a day pumped from U.S. shale oil wells since 2010 … Goldman Sachs said the biggest shift will occur over the next decade as demand for renewable energy, LED lighting and plug-in vehicles accelerates.”

“’Wind and solar are on track to exceed 100 gigawatts in new installations for the first time,’ the analysts wrote. Solar and wind energy are saving a gigaton of carbon dioxide emissions annually and the market for four leading low-carbon technologies is now worth more than $600 billion per year.”

Krugman: GOP Has Turned Its Back on Science

Paul Krugman claims that should the Paris climate talks fail to yield an agreement, “we may be doomed. And if we are, you know who will be responsible: the Republican Party.”

“What I said is, in fact, the obvious truth. And the inability of our news media, our pundits and our political establishment in general to face up to that truth is an important contributing factor to the danger we face.”

“Senior Republican members of Congress routinely indulge in wild conspiracy theories, alleging that all the evidence for climate change is the product of a giant hoax perpetrated by thousands of scientists around the world. And they do all they can to harass and intimidate individual scientists.”

“It’s true that conservative parties across the West tend to be less favorable to climate action than parties to their left. But in most countries — actually, everywhere except America and Australia — these parties nonetheless support measures to limit emissions. And U.S. Republicans are unique in refusing to accept that there is even a problem. Unfortunately, given the importance of the United States, the extremism of one party in one country has enormous global implications.”

“More important, probably, is the denial inherent in the conventions of political journalism, which say that you must always portray the parties as symmetric — that any report on extreme positions taken by one side must be framed in a way that makes it sound as if both sides do it.”

As Legalization Spreads, Pot Growers Guzzle Billions in Electricity

Quartz: “As more states legalize marijuana in the US, pot cultivation is sucking up an ever-growing amount of energy from the grid.”

“Since most of the legal weed is grown indoors, the pot industry burns through large quantities of electricity used to power lamps, ventilation systems, and air conditioning. A square foot of planting requires some 200 watts of electricity, about the same as a data center, according to a report this year in the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law.”

“The paper notes that marijuana plantations soak up at least 1% of the country’s electricity at a cost of $6 billion a year.”

“If all states legalized pot, the amount the industry spends on electricity could go up to $11 billion, High Country News notes.”

“That’s putting enough pressure on electric utilities that regulators discussed the issue at their annual meeting on Nov. 11, in a session titled ‘The Straight Dope on Energy & the Marijuana Industry.’”