Climate change and inequality

Climate Change by Riccardo Maria Mantero via Flickr CC

For Earth Day OXFAM’s Elizabeth Endara listed six facts about climate change and inequality. That seems the nub of the climate change crisis—it affects populations and natural habitats unequally.

OXFAM cites six things about inequality and the climate crisis:

1. The biggest villain in this climate emergency is the fossil fuel industry, “but in the US, fossil fuel companies are receiving $15 billion annually in federal subsidies paid for by taxpayers.”

2. “The people who contribute the least to climate change are the ones who face the worst impacts.” An example: due to the effects of climate change an estimated 13 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia have been displaced in search of water and pasture, just in the first quarter of 2022, despite having done little to cause the climate crisis.

3. “Black and Indigenous people face the worst impacts of climate change, which causes heat waves, storms, and other disasters.”

4. “Climate change disproportionally impacts women—whether it’s walking further to collect water, being last to eat during droughts, or assuming most of the household care responsibilities in the wake of extreme weather.”

5. “The richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the three billion people who made up the poorest half of humanity in the last 25 years.”

6. The US has many laws in place—such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act—that could be protecting communities from fossil fuel pollution and climate change; but unfortunately, politics and big polluters often get in the way.

These points point to what appears an unsolvable problem: there will never be a comprehensive and stable solution for all peoples and nations. How can there be?

Status of Green Business?

Climate change by quote catalog via Flickr CC. Credit www.quotecatalog.com 

In a few words, green business is improving, but not nearly fast or widespread enough.

The State of Green Business 2022, by Joel Makower and the editors and analysts at GreenBiz Group, is out and the prognosis remains highly uncertain.

As Makower says, “We find ourselves in uncharted and unfamiliar territory. Again. The worlds we collectively inhabit — corporate sustainability, sustainable finance, the circular economy, climate tech — are all reaching inflection points, growing and changing faster than many could have imagined. Along the way, they’re roiling industries, companies, jobs, and career paths — mostly for the better but also in a be-careful-what-you-wish-for kind of way.”

It sounds a bit like gobbledygook, but there it is. Simply put, there are too many balls in the air. As Makower notes, the Covid pandemic era now coincides with the rise of most aspects of sustainable business: companies’ commitments to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions; the increase of green bonds and sustainability-linked loans; the inexorable growth of renewable energy, alongside its declining price; the mainstreaming of electric vehicles; the rise of concern about biodiversity loss and its economic impact, and more.

Perhaps the past two years of pandemic life have focused organizational attention on how to deal with multiple crises and issues in business health and the environment. “Despite our self-imposed isolation, the klieg lights focused on companies’ environmental and social commitments and performance have grown increasingly brighter and hotter, in lockstep with the rise of concern about the scale, scope and pace of change. With the signs of a changing climate becoming ever more apparent — and costly — the business world is finally recognizing that sustainability is not merely a nice-to-do activity,” Makower says.

But the bottom line is that while the pace of change has increased, it’s far from what’s needed to address the challenges ahead.

Here are some points to consider from the report:

– This is an exciting and perilous time for companies, their stakeholders, and the world in general. The impacts of a changing climate are clear as storms, droughts, wildfires, heatwaves and other weather phenomena become more frequent and extreme.

– It’s not just the climate crisis. The increasing loss of biodiversity, and all of the economic activity it enables, is a major growing concern.

– In addition, the increasing economic inequality in the world seems an insoluble problem. Unconscionable numbers of people still lack adequate food, shelter, water, electricity and sanitation, while those with financial means are, as a rule, doing better and better.

– The rise of “net-zero” commitments by companies and countries was one of the major themes of 2021, along with the pushback from activists, regulators and investors that many of these claims weren’t backed by credible action or plans. “It’s not necessarily that companies aren’t serious about reaching these goals, say critics. It’s that they’re not serious about the speed at which they need to reach them.”

– The finance component of sustainable business is proving to be powerful.The world’s largest financial institutions are committing trillions of dollars to fund the transition to a net-zero world, though many of them also continue to back fossil fuel companies and projects. Still, the trajectory away from coal, oil and natural gas is clear — though, once again, the pace of change may be way too slow.

“All of this together — the perils and the promise — suggest that business — and, indeed, humankind — is undergoing an epochal transition. Those who view tomorrow’s world as a continuation of today’s are increasingly having those assumptions challenged. As we face these existential threats, there is an opportunity to renew and regenerate the structures upon which we rely for our health, wealth and security. Nearly everything, it seems, must be reinvented if we are to prosper into the future, indefinitely and for all.”

Can business get it done? It has too.

The planet is dimming…

in many ways, none of them good from a population and climate perspective.

Earthshine eg. image 1 by Ben Laken via Flickr CC

Let’s skip a discourse on the current quality of general human intelligence because that seems too easy and depressing, even though human stupidity and inaction in the face of overwhelming evidence has created the climate crisis.

Now there is evidence the Earth is dimming due to climate change. According to a report in EarthSky, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) last month said that Earth’s warming oceans are causing fewer bright clouds to reflect sunlight back into space. So we are not shining so brightly in the universe, and more heat is reaching the Earth’s surface. This additional heat will, presumably, lead to even warmer oceans, according to the article. “This result is contrary to what many scientists had hoped. They’d hoped a warmer Earth might lead to more bright clouds and higher albedo (greater reflectivity), and more heat reflected away.” That outcome would have helped to moderate warming and balance the climate system, but the AGU result shows the opposite is true. The new Earth-albedo study was published in the peer-reviewed AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Earthshine is what happens when sunlight bounces from Earth onto the night landscape of the moon. It’s that dim glow you sometimes see on the darkened portion of a crescent moon. The Big Bear Solar Observatory in Southern California gathered the earthshine data from 1998 to 2017. The scientists said the Earth is now reflecting about half a watt less light per square meter than it was 20 years ago. Most of the drop has occurred in the last three years of earthshine data.

….

Meanwhile on the “let’s do something” climate crisis front, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized its first new climate rule last month, slashing the use of powerful greenhouse gases widely used in home refrigerators and air conditioners and often found to be leaking from U.S. supermarket freezers.

The final rule establishes a comprehensive program to cap and phase down the production and consumption of climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the United States, the EPA said on 23 September. “HFCs are potent greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, as well as foams and many other applications. A global phasedown of HFCs is expected to avoid up to 0.5 °C of global warming by 2100. This final rule will phase down the U.S. production and consumption of HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years, as mandated by the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act that was enacted in December 2020.”

For more information on this rule, visit:  https://www.epa.gov/climate-hfcs-reduction/final-rule-phasedown-hydrofluorocarbons-establishing-allowance-allocation

We’re racing against the clock as the lights go out.

A Desperate Read from IPCC

Sometimes we have to take it slowly, but this is not the time. The IPCC report is not a gentle meditation.

Climate change by quote catalog

The Sixth Assessment Report of the .Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released earlier this month underscores and update what the IPCC has stated for many year.

The 42-page “Summary for Policymakers” — the full report is more than 3400 densely-written  pages — is more of the same, only more so.

Here are some of the summary’s findings:

  • On the “current state” of the climate: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.” Each of the last four decades” has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850. Global surface temperature in the first two decades of the 21st century (2001-2020) was 0.99 [0.84- 1.10] °C higher than 1850-1900.”
  • “The scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole and the present state of many aspects of the climate system are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years.”
  •  “Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has strengthened since AR5 (the fifth Assessment Report).”
  • “Improved knowledge of climate processes, paleoclimate evidence and the response of the climate system to increasing radiative forcing gives a best estimate of equilibrium climate sensitivity of 3°C with a narrower range compared to AR5.”

On “possible climate futures”:

  • “Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”
  • “Many changes in the climate system become larger in direct relation to increasing global warming. They include increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, and heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions, and proportion of intense tropical cyclones, as well as reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.”
  • “Continued global warming is projected to further intensify the global water cycle,including its variability, global monsoon precipitation and the severity of wet and dry events.”
  • “Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.”
  • “With further global warming, every region is projected to increasingly experience concurrent and multiple changes in climatic impact-drivers. Changes in several climatic impact-drivers would be more widespread at 2°C compared to 1.5°C global warming and even more widespread and/or pronounced for higher warming levels.”

Even in scenarios with lower GHG emissions, it will take 20 years or more to detect “discernible differences”  in global surface temperature trends. In short, this crisis is virtually “irreversible.” Tough stuff indeed. And it seems hopeless.

We want to see with wisdom and clarity what is going on with our planet and accept the facts in front of us. The time to act is now

Further reading:

Porsche Demands 1,300 Suppliers Use Renewable Energy

May Keystone rest in …

2014 XL Dissent by Stephen Melkisethian via Flickr CC

The often on again-off again Keystone XL Pipeline project has been touchstone of environment activism for about 13 years, but now it appears it is off for good.

Last week, TC Energy, the Canadian company behind the pipeline, said that it had decided along with the government of Alberta to end the multibillion-dollar project. XL was the focus of frequent delays, construction permit battles, and changing government policies. It was the bane of environmentalists because of its scope and because tar sands are among the filthiest, most polluting form of fossil fuel. If completed, the 1,200-mile pipeline would have carried 830,000 gallons of oil from the vast tar sands mines in Alberta to refineries on the US Gulf Coast.

A Sierra Club article on the pipeline termination said: “The whole operation would have added more than 181 million tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere each year. Oil from the tar sands is some of the dirtiest on the planet, producing 20 percent more CO2 than conventional crude. Along the way, the Keystone XL Pipeline would have passed through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, where it would have threatened farmland, drinking water, and wildlife habitat.”

Keystone is gone but the writing is on the wall for other pending projects, so stay tuned.

Big Oil’s bad day – for a change

Climate change activist, guru and New Yorker contributing columnist Bill McKibben called it the “most cataclysmic day so far for the traditional fossil-fuel industry.” Shareholders at the major oil companies such as ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron have long tried to push the oil giants to change their ways and address the damage to the climate they have caused over many decades.  McKibben, in a recent article, wrote that a “remarkable set of shareholder votes and court rulings have scrambled the future of three of the world’s largest oil companies.”

Last week, a court in the Netherlands ordered Royal Dutch Shell to dramatically cut its emissions over the next decade—a mandate it can likely only meet by dramatically changing its business model. Then, a few hours later, 61% of shareholders at Chevron voted, over management objections, to demand that the company cut so-called Scope 3 emissions, which include emissions caused by its customers burning its products.

Oil companies are willing to address the emissions that come from their operations, but, as Reuters has pointed out, the support for the cuts “shows growing investor frustration with companies, which they believe are not doing enough to tackle climate change.”

Powerful proof of those frustrations also occurred when ExxonMobil officials announced that shareholders had (over the company’s opposition) elected two dissident candidates to the company’s board, both of whom pledge to push for climate action.

McKibben wrote:

“The action at ExxonMobil’s shareholder meeting was fascinating: the company, which regularly used to make the list of most-admired companies, had been pulling out all stops to defeat the slate of dissident candidates, which was put forward by Engine No. 1, a tiny activist fund based in San Francisco that owns just 0.02 per cent of the company’s stock, but has insisted that Exxon needs a better answer to the question of how to meet the climate challenge. Exxon has simply insisted on doubling down: its current plan actually calls for increasing oil and gas production in Guyana and the Permian Basin this decade, even though the International Energy Agency last week called for an end to new development of fossil fuels. Observers at the meeting described a long adjournment mid-meeting, and meandering answers to questions from the floor, perhaps as an effort to buy time to persuade more shareholders to go the company’s way. But the effort failed. Notably, efforts by activists to push big investors appear to have paid off: according to sources, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, backed three of the dissident candidates for the Exxon board.”

The court case involving Shell is noteworthy. The Dutch court found that, though Shell has begun to make changes in its business plans, they are not moving fast enough to fall in line with the demands of science, and that it must more than double the pace of its planned emissions cuts. “The court understands that the consequences could be big for Shell,” Jeannette Honée, a spokeswoman for the court, said in a video about the ruling. “But the court believes that the consequences of severe climate change are more important than Shell’s interests.” Honée continued, “Severe climate change has consequences for human rights, including the right to life. And the court thinks that companies, among them Shell, have to respect those human rights.” Shell plans to appeal the court decision.

McKibben concluded, “It’s clear that the arguments that many have been making for a decade have sunk in at the highest levels: there is no actual way to evade the inexorable mathematics of climate change. If you want to keep the temperature low enough that civilization will survive, you have to keep coal and oil and gas in the ground. That sounded radical a decade ago. Now it sounds like the law.”

Maybe the times are truly changing.

Cutting greenhouse gases

Fireball by Dan via Flickr CC

Congress and the Biden Administration are taking the first steps to reduce emissions of two dangerous greenhouse gases: methane, which is emitted during natural gas extraction and by leaks from oil and gas wells, and hydrofluorocarbons, which are used in refrigeration and air-conditioning systems.

Both of these planet-warming gases are many times more potent than carbon dioxide, even though they don’t stay in the atmosphere as long. Scientists say dealing with them is critical to slowing the pace of global warming.

The Senate, using a rarely invoked law to reverse a Trump administration rollback on methane, essentially reinstated an Obama-era regulation imposing controls on leaks of methane from oil and gas wells. And the Environmental Protection Agency moved to implement new curbs on the production and importation of HFCs, which Congress approved late last year.

“By taking fast action on these short-lived climate pollutants, of which HFCs are the most potent, we can buy ourselves some time and actually help avoid climate tipping points,” said Kristen N. Taddonio, a senior climate and energy adviser for the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.

The 52-42 Senate vote reinstates the Oil and Natural Gas New Source Performance Standards, a handful of Obama-era regulations on methane emissions that were rolled back by former President Donald Trump in August 2020. The measure drew support from every Senate Democrat, as well as Republican Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), who has opposed GOP efforts to deregulate methane emissions in the past; Lindsey Graham (R-SC); and Rob Portman (R-OH). The rule is expected to be taken up and passed by the House of Representatives in this month.

The standards alone won’t be sufficient to meet the president’s pledge to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2030 — a goal meant to help keep global warming this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but it represents an important step toward meeting that commitment, because methane is seen as a major driver of climate change.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the Senate’s move “one of the most important votes, not only that this Congress has cast but has been cast in the last decade, in terms of our fight against global warming.”

Progress and hope are back in the picture.

Time to act fast

Carbon Visuals: One day’s carbon dioxide emissions from the UN Secretariat Building via Flickr

According to a recent article by two climate experts in the online publication, The Conversation, there are more reasons for optimism on climate change than we’ve seen for decades. The authors, Gabi Mocatta, Lecturer in Communication, Deakin University, and Research Fellow in Climate Change Communication, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania, and Rebecca Harris

Senior Lecturer in Climatology, Director, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania, say two big reasons help explain the optimism:

1. The science on climate change “is now more detailed than ever. Although much of it is devastating, it’s also resoundingly clear

2. “It’s now also unequivocal that people want action”

Above all, the article maintains we need to act fast. “The 2020s really are our final chance: our “Earthshot” moment to start to repair the planet after decades of inaction.”

More news on the climate crisis front:

– President Joe Biden committed the U.S. to cutting fossil fuel emissions in half by 2030. It’s a good thing, but will it be enough? Does it put the U.S. back in the forefront of leadership on climate change? President Biden will commit the U.S. to cutting emissions in half by 2030 during a virtual climate summit with 40 world leadersNew York Times

– The U.S. and China agreed to work together on climate change “with urgency.” Well, that is the headline; we’ll see what “working together” means for each party. US envoy Kerry confirms cooperation with China on climate change – Kyodo News Plus

Catch the wind

Wind Turbine by Rachel Schowalter, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center via Flickr

Climate change is deadly serious; but it strikes me the word change is too soft a term because the change occurring is not anything like changing your clothes or your diet or your drapes. Rather it’s a climate crisis.

Climate crisis is a better way to think about what is happening to the planet, and after four years of dreadful neglect, denial and inaction from the previous administration, the Biden administration is taking the crisis seriously. And it is taking action.

The White House last week unveiled a goal to expand the nation’s nascent offshore wind energy industry in the coming decade by opening new areas to development, accelerating permits, and boosting public financing for projects.

Then there is Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which includes $85 billion for mass-transit systems, another $80 billion for Amtrak to expand service and make needed repairs, and $100 billion to upgrade the nation’s electrical grid. The infrastructure plan also would allocate $174 billion to spur the transition to electric vehicles, $35 billion for research in emissions-reducing and climate-resilience technologies, and $10 billion to create a New Deal-style Civilian Climate Corps.

The plan will lead to “transformational progress in our effort to tackle climate change,” Biden said, speaking at a carpenters’ training facility outside Pittsburgh.

A Reuters report provided more detail on the offshore wind power plan: “The blueprint for offshore wind power generation comes after the Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leasing auctions on federal lands and waters, widely seen as a first step to fulfilling the president’s campaign promise of a permanent ban on new federal drilling to counter global warming.

The United States, with just two small offshore wind facilities, has lagged European nations in developing the renewable energy technology.

“We’re ready to rock and roll,” National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said at a virtual press conference to announce the administration’s moves.

According to the report, the plan sets a target to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, which the administration said would be enough to power 10 million homes and cut 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

One of the first steps will be to open a new offshore wind energy development zone in the New York Bight, an area off the densely populated coast between Long Island, New York and New Jersey, with a lease auction there later this year.

The industry will employ 44,000 workers directly by 2030 and support 33,000 additional support jobs. Many of those jobs will be created at new factories that will produce the blades, towers and other components for massive offshore wind turbines and at shipyards where the specialized ships needed to install them will be constructed. The administration predicted the nation would see port upgrade investments related to offshore wind of more than $500 million.

The administration said it will also aim to speed up project permits, including environmental reviews, and provide $3 billion in public financing for offshore wind projects through the Department of Energy.

The United States’ two small offshore wind farms include the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island and a two-turbine pilot project off the coast of Virginia. There are more than 20 GW of proposed projects in various stages of development.

Europe, by contrast, has more than 20 GW of capacity already and plans to expand that more than ten-fold by 2050. Many of the companies developing U.S. projects are European, including Norway’s Equinor, Denmark’s Orsted, and a joint venture between Avangrid, the U.S. arm of Spain’s Iberdrola, and Denmark’s Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

So, it is a world climate crisis.

Further reading:

Biden’s Jobs Plan Is Also a Climate Plan. Will It Make a Difference?

To See How Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Will Address Climate Change, Look at the Details

IMO publishes short list of actions for quick carbon footprint reduction in shipping