Energy & Environment

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.”

How Three Day Weekends Could Save the Environment

The Independent: “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, as well as the energy outputs from running workplaces. 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.”

“It’s happened before. For example, in 2007 the US state of Utah redefined the working week for state employees, with extended hours on Monday to Thursday meaning it could eliminate Fridays entirely. In its first ten months, the move saved the state at least US$1.8m (£1.36m) in energy costs. Fewer working days meant less office lighting, less air conditioning and less time spent running computers and other equipment – all without even reducing the total number of hours worked.”

Climate Change Is Making Oysters and Other Shellfish Dangerous to Eat

Quartz: “Oyster happy hours are going to be getting sadder in the coming years—and we probably have climate change to blame.”

“The connection comes from a new study (paywall) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that links the rapid rise in sea temperatures in the North Atlantic with a surge in Vibrio, a genus of bacteria that thrives in shellfish and teems in coastal waters—and can be fatal to humans.”

“It’s pretty hard to miss the truly alarming thing about the chart above: that the total number of Vibrio infection cases has been climbing steadily for years. And that’s likely due to how climate change is cooking our seas. The new research is significant because it’s the first to link rising ocean-surface temperatures to Vibrio abundance and disease incidence. Since the deadly bacteria thrives in warmer water, climate change is sickening more and more people.”


Human-Made Climate Change Started Twice As Long Ago As We Thought

Quartz: “Now that climate science has hit the mainstream, it’s easy to think of the change as having started some time in the 20th century. But an international group of scientists, publishing today in the journal Nature, has now found that it’s been going on much longer: pretty much as long as we’ve been industrialized.”

“Humans began burning coal to power steam engines back in the 1780s, and ramped up to intense industrialization by the mid-19th century. Evidently, this left its mark on the planet.”

Wind Power Drives a Grid Crunch in Texas

MIT Technology Review: “The Lone Star state is by far the largest state for wind power, with nearly 18,000 megawatts of wind generation capacity already built and another 5,500 megawatts—nearly equal to California’s total installed capacity—planned.”

“Completed in 2014, the new wires—known as Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, or CREZ—have the capacity to carry some 18,500 megawatts of wind power across the state. That’s not enough to handle the 21,000 megawatts of capacity Texas expects to reach this year, and it’s creating a situation that’s straining the transmission system and potentially resulting in periods where the turbines go idle.”

“Now the state’s utilities and transmission companies are faced with spending hundreds of millions more to upgrade the system, demonstrating just how costly and complicated it is to shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, even where those sources are abundant.”


It’s Getting Too Hot to Work, and It Could Cost the Global Economy Trillions

Quartz: “The heat is rising, and it could cost the global economy $2 trillion by 2030.”

“New research suggests that climbing temperatures will make it harder for workers to do their jobs, particularly in the world’s poorest economies. The situation is worst for those in the lowest paid and most heat-exposed professions, such as construction and farming.”

“India and China together stand to lose $450 billion in output by 2030. The economies of richer nations, such as Japan and the UK, were unaffected by heat stress—only the US saw a modest dip of 0.2% of GDP.”

Oil Industry Rethinks Its Politics Ahead of 2016 Elections

Politico: “Facing the increasing likelihood of a Hillary Clinton presidency, growing attacks from liberals and its own divides over a potential carbon tax, the oil industry is rethinking its political strategy on climate change.”

“The American Petroleum Institute is making quiet efforts to revamp its climate messaging, creating a task force that could revisit the industry’s long-held opposition to taxing greenhouse gas emissions. Many in the politically powerful industry believe that such a levy could be on the table if Clinton wins in November, especially if Democrats retake the Senate. The Democratic party’s Sunday endorsement of a carbon price in its platform promises to fuel that speculation further.”

“If the industry ever supports a carbon tax, it would probably be predicated on the elimination of a series of climate change-related regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency or the Interior Department. Exactly which regulations to target — and whether Democrats can be persuaded to eliminate them — would be one likely topic for the task force.”

Obama Fracking Rules Are Struck Down by Court

New York Times: “A federal judge on Tuesday night struck down an Obama administration regulation on the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas on public lands, a blow to President Obama’s muscular stand on the extraction of fossil fuels on government lands.”

The rule, released by the Interior Department in March of last year and scheduled to take effect this Friday, was designed to increase the safety of fracking. It would have required companies to comply with federal safety standards in the construction of fracking wells, and to disclose the use of some chemicals in the fracking process.”

“Judge Scott W. Skavdahl of Federal District Court in Wyoming ruled that the Interior Department lacked the authority from Congress to issue the regulation, and also noted that fracking is already subject to other regulations under state and federal law.”

“The blocked rule would not have affected most fracking operations in the United States, since it would have applied only to fracking on federal lands. The vast majority of fracking in the United States — almost 90 percent — is done on state and private land and is governed by state and local regulations.”

Transportation Dethrones Power Plants As America’s Biggest Climate Problem

Vox: “Power plants are only about one-third of America’s CO2 emissions. Transportation, another third (and now the biggest source), remains much tougher to address. In fact, since 2013, transport emissions have been creeping upward again.”

“Back in 2005, about half of US electricity came from burning coal, which emits a staggering amount of CO2. Since then, spurred by new pollution rules and shifts in prices, utilities have switched to cheaper natural gas (which produces just half the CO2 as coal when burned, though with some offsetting methane emissions), as well as wind and solar. Coal now accounts for just one-third of US electricity.”

“Transportation is trickier. Oil remains by far the dominant source of fuel for cars, trucks, and planes, and there’s no readily available substitute here.”