Earth Matters – Progressive climate and clean energy news for January 22, 2023

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Extreme heat could put 41% of land vertebrates in peril by end of the century – According to a paper in Nature, “The frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme thermal events are increasing and are projected to further increase by the end of the century” with temperatures that were rare in the past likely to become the norm.

(Tiger mage by Andreas Breitling from Pixabay)
(Tiger image by Andreas Breitling from Pixabay)

By Meteor Blades

How damaging that will be to various animal species depends on how high those temperatures rise and where, but in the worst case in the worst places, huge numbers of species of reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals are at risk.  Birds and amphibians have long been showing negative impacts on their populations from climate change. Phoebe Weston at The Guardian writes:

Researchers mapped the effects of extreme heat on more than 33,000 land vertebrates by looking at maximum temperature data between 1950 and 2099. They considered five predictions of global climatic models based on different levels of greenhouse gas emission, as well as the distribution of terrestrial vertebrates, to work out how exposed animal populations would be.

The study found that under a high greenhouse gas emission scenario of a 4.4 degrees Celsius (7.9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer world, 41% of all land vertebrates (31.1% mammals, 25.8% birds, 55.5% amphibians, and 51% reptiles) will be exposed to extreme thermal events beyond their historical levels in at least half their distribution by 2099. Under lower emission levels, less peril. At the lowest level studied—1.8 degrees C (3.2 degrees F)—the overall exposure of vertebrates would only be 6.1% of land vertebrate species and many species would avoid heightened exposure entirely. But if the high scenario occurs, by 2099, 3,773 species of land vertebrates (11.2%) “will face extreme thermal events for more than half a year period. Overall, future extreme thermal events will force many species and assemblages into constant severe thermal stress. Deep greenhouse gas emissions cuts are urgently needed to limit species’ exposure to thermal extremes.”

Current consensus is that the world is on a trajectory to see perhaps a rise of global average temperature over pre-industrial times of 2.7 to 3 degrees C (4.9 to 5.4 degrees F). But the study’s lead author, Gopal Murali, told Weston, “A couple of studies have shown recent climate warming trends match the 4.4 C scenario much better than the other scenarios. We wanted to highlight the disastrous consequences for wildlife if we end up with a high, unmitigated emission scenario.”

Speaking of imperiled land vertebrates, a study in 2021 found that more than 5 million humans already die from extreme temperatures every year, more from the cold than heat, but the latter toll is relentlessly rising.

ECO-QUOTE

No single energy technology ever in history has grown as massively steeply as photovoltaics.” 
– Christian Breyer, professor of solar economics at Finland’s LUT University.

ECOPINION

Paying for an overheating Earth: Whose planet are we on? By Stan Cox and Priti Gulati Cox at Tom Dispatch. “Oxfam puts the matter all too strikingly: ‘The number of climate-related disasters has tripled in the last 30 years. Between 2006 and 2016, the rate of global sea-level rise was 2.5 times faster than it was for almost all of the 20th century. More than 20 million people a year are forced from their homes by climate change.’ And, of course, that’s just to begin a rundown of what’s already becoming an endless list of unprecedented floodsfiresmegadroughtsmelting ice and rising sea levels, ever more devastating storms, and so on down a list that only gets longer by the year. And the human toll from all this, especially in the Global South, grows ever more horrifying. … Sadly, unlike the northern powers largely responsible for the greenhouse gases that created this growing set of disasters, the countries of the Global South can’t afford to pay for what’s happening to them.”

Austin MetroRail
Austin MetroRail 

Fare or Free? Fare evasion and stepped-up enforcement reignite the debate on fareless transit. If going fare-free is the answer, then the question is: Who pays? By Gabrielle Gurley at The American Prospect. “The hunger for fare-free transit shunts aside some sticky multimillion-dollar realities—namely, if riding without opening your wallet is the answer to ending fare evasion, who, then, foots the bill? Transit systems are already vexed at fare-jumpers, since they drain dollars from their overall fare revenues. … Americans often fail to appreciate the enormous government subsidies that go into building and maintaining transportation assets. Drivers do not pay the real costs of monitoring and maintaining the roads they use, and transit riders do not bear the actual costs of taking rail or bus trips. A Washington Policy Center analysis of Seattle’s Sound Transit light-rail operations and capital funding costs came up with a per-trip cost of $14; factor in expansion costs and the price tag rises to $179. (One-way fares on the area’s light rail range from temporarily free to less than $6.)”

Can the world ‘halt and reverse’ biodiversity loss by 2030? By Daisy Dunne at Carbon Brief. “Biodiversity is currently declining at the fastest rate observed in human history. At the Montreal summit on diversity, the ‘framework’ signed onto by almost every nation — though not the U.S. — aims to reverse this decline with wide-ranging targets for 2030, from protecting 30% of Earth’s land and seas and halting human-induced species extinctions through to cutting the risk from pesticides by half and slashing subsidies harmful to nature by $500 billion annually. The previous global attempt to address biodiversity loss ended in failure. It is clear, say experts, that meeting the new targets will require international cooperation and new financial support on a scale that has never been achieved at UN biodiversity talks before. And, if countries move as fast as possible to meet these targets, is it even possible — scientifically speaking — namely, to halt and reverse biodiversity loss in just seven years?”

The Problem With Silent Spring Environmentalism. By Scott W. Stern at The New RepublicA new Rachel Carson & Silent Springhistory of the environmental movement places too much emphasis on famous figures like Rachel Carson and shies away from confronting failures. “Carson’s influence should not be undercounted, but to credit her—full stop—with launching the environmental movement is wrong. Historian Douglas Brinkley’s focus in his new book on the best-known (and, often, best-loved) figures in environmental history is, in fact, uniquely ill suited to explain fights to protect land, water, and air, which are necessarily movement-driven. He notes, at times, that activists pushed the presidents and other powerful figures — but we hardly ever meet these unfamous advocates. Bizarrely, Brinkley entirely fails to cite one of the most important works of environmental history to be published in recent years (and one highly relevant to his project), The Myth of Silent Spring: Rethinking the Origins of American Environmentalism by Chad Montrie, which compellingly argues that multiple, significant grassroots environmental movements arose largely independent of Carson’s influence. By contrast, Brinkley’s approach flattens the movement to a march of saints who, inexplicably, must be safeguarded against critique or elision.”

From 300 gigawatts to 3,000 gigawatts per year — a utopia? By Eckhart K. Gouras at PV Magazine. “The photovoltaic industry is expected to achieve annual global expansion of 300 GW as early as this year. That sounds like a lot, but is it enough? In view of climate change and rising energy demand, it is time for a new vision. ‘No single energy technology ever in history has grown as massively steeply as photovoltaics,’ said Christian Breyer, professor of solar economics at Finland’s LUT University, in reference to the PV learning curve in the past 20 years. But are even the most optimistic solar advocates underestimating what we need and what we can produce?”

The Lead Industry’s Continuing Influence. By Perry Gottesfeld at Undark. “A study published in The Lancet Public Health in 2018 estimated that, each year in the U.S., more than 400,000 deaths can be attributed to environmental lead exposure. That’s nearly three times the number of people who die annually from excessive alcohol use. In the face of more stringent regulation in the U.S., the industry has shifted production to countries with weaker standards and few resources for enforcement. At the same time, the world’s largest lead battery company, Clarios, recently established a foundation that launched a major public relations effort to gloss over the industry’s own responsibility. The U.S. has committed billions of dollars to eliminate lead water pipes, clean up lead contaminated soil, and abate lead paint from housing. While addressing the legacy of lead pollution, we must recognize the role of industry influence in growing the lead market and keeping regulators at bay.”

HALF A DOZEN OTHER THINGS TO READ (OR LISTEN TO)

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Spodek’s solar panels and battery, both bought used.

I disconnected from the electric grid for 8 months—in ManhattanBy Joshua Spodek at Ars Technica. What started as an experiment has turned into a habit I hope will inspire others. “Today, more than half the world lives in cities. I’ve always thought that living “off the grid” meant living “off in the woods,” where you can live simply and set up an alternate power source. But I’m a professional in Manhattan and need to earn a living. I have to meet the expectations of professional service from my clients and from New York University, where I teach leadership and entrepreneurship. Before this experiment, I didn’t believe my lifestyle would let me disconnect from the grid for a day, let alone longer. But that sort of thinking was in tension with my work. Over the years, I have helped leaders in business, politics, and other fields learn to lead on sustainability. These leaders can then change their organizations’ and constituencies’ cultures and practices to embrace sustainability. Even though corporate and policy choices matter more than those of any individual, I was still curious to see if I could make my own practices more sustainable. Personal responsibility matters to me, so polluting less motivates me; it’s a small thing, but one I can control, even if it’s important to make policy and political changes, too.”

Germany Targets Three New Windmills a Day for Energy Reboot. By Chris Reiter at Bloomberg Green. “Chancellor Olaf Scholz says the country needs to increase its pace of expanding renewable power to reach its goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2045, even as Europe’s largest economy withstands the initial impact of Russia’s energy squeeze. ‘We are getting through this winter” without a gas shortage, Scholz said Saturday at the opening of a liquefied natural gas terminal. He added that there’s been “no economic crisis in Germany.’ For the long-term transition away from coal, oil, and natural gas, Germany needs to increase electricity generation by one third by 2030 and then double that in the following decade, Scholz said in an interview. ‘If we want to achieve the energy transition, we need more speed. The goal needs to be to set up three to four large wind turbines in Germany every day.’ Given that it takes an average of six years to site and permit a single wind turbine in Germany, that is quite a tall order.”

Some Regenerative Farms Are Weathering California’s Unprecedented Rainfall. By Ryan Peterson at Civil Eats. In the face of intensifying weather patterns like the series of storms pounding the West, regenerative organic farms are demonstrating that the key to resilience is working with nature. “As California experiences this historic situation, most of us will see extensive reporting on power outages, flooding, and mudslides. Though they are suffering from prolonged water scarcity, most of the farms here will see limited direct benefits to their land from the atmospheric rivers hitting the state this season. Many will also suffer crop losses as their fields are flooded and crops in compacted soils drown. And, come summer, they will likely be back to overpumping underground aquifers and overreliance on surface water (as the Sierra snowpack is now melting earlier than it once did). But amid the destruction, there is a story of resilience and preparedness that will get less attention. A small but growing contingent of farmers is poised to not only rebound from the deluge of water, but to benefit from it. These farmers have a valuable lesson to share: ecologically-minded, regenerative organic agriculture that prioritizes soil health is critical to our future.”

How heat pumps of the 1800s are becoming the technology of the futureBy Chris Baraniuk at Knowable. “The magic of a heat pump is that it can move multiple kilowatt-hours of heat for each kWh of electricity it uses. Heat pump efficiencies are generally measured in terms of their coefficient of performance (COP). A COP of 3, for example, means 1 kWh of juice yields 3 kWh of warmth — that’s effectively 300 percent efficiency. The COP you get from your device can vary depending on the weather and other factors. It’s a powerful concept, but also an old one. The British mathematician, physicist and engineer Lord Kelvin proposed using heat pump systems for space heating way back in 1852. The first heat pump was designed and built a few years later and used industrially to heat brine in order to extract salt from the fluid. The IEA estimates that, globally, heat pumps have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 500 million metric tons in 2030, equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions produced by all the cars in Europe today.”

No eyes on the skies. New Mexico’s tough new pollution rules rely on oil and gas operators to report their methane emissions. Can self-policing work? By Lindsay Fendt at Searchlight New Mexico. “In response to massive leaks of methane in New Mexico’s extensive oil and gas industry, the state’s environmental offices crafted ambitious new rules. One rule, from the state’s Oil Conservation Division, limits the amount of unwanted methane that operators can burn off (flare) or release directly into the air (vent). Another, from the New Mexico Environment Department, requires operators to replace leaky equipment, inspect their wells more often and promptly fix any leaks they discover. By 2026, operators will have to capture 98 percent of all the natural gas their operations produce by either selling or using it. The rules are some of the strongest in the country, but there’s a catch: They rely on the industry to police itself and accurately report its own emissions. And out in the field, it’s clear that things are already slipping through the cracks. In fact, 13 of 20 facility reports required by the understaffed state agency charged with enforcing the rules failed to show methane releases consistent with what Searchlight observed in the field.”

TO GO WITH AFP STORY US-ENVIRONMENT-ENERGY Wind turbines, built to provide eco-friendly power, stand at sunset, December 1, 2009, in Greensburg, Kansas. On May 4, 2007, Greensburg, a typical Midwestern US farming town of some 1,400 people, was 95 percent destroyed by a tornado. After the tornado, residents took the decision to rebuild as a model green community for rural America, attracting a group of experts and enthusiasts, helping the community to try to achieve economical, environmental and cultural sustainibilty using renewable energy, LEED building standards and encouraging residents and businesses to go green. Greensburg is the only US city that requires that all city-owned buldings meet the US Green Building Council's LEED Platinum standards. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. Will Need Thousands of Wind Farms. Will Small Towns Go Along? By David Gelles at The New York Times. “The only way the Biden administration’s ambitious climate goals will be met is if rural communities, which have large tracts of land necessary for commercial wind and solar farms, can be persuaded to embrace renewable energy projects. Lots of them. There are obstacles. It was the tenth night of hearings by the Piatt County zoning board, as a tiny town debated the merits of a proposed industrial wind farm that would see dozens of enormous turbines rise from the nearby soybean and corn fields. There were nine more hearings scheduled. ‘It’s painful,’ said Kayla Gallagher, a cattle farmer who lives nearby and is opposed to the project. ‘Nobody wants to be here.’ In the fight against global warming, the federal government is pumping a record $370 billion into clean energy, President Biden wants the nation’s electricity to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2035, and many states and utilities plan to ramp up wind and solar power. But while policymakers may set lofty goals, the future of the American power grid is in fact being determined in town halls, county courthouses and community buildings across the country. Opposition to many of these projects is widespread and growing. While there are legitimate concerns, the campaigns against such projects are in part powered by disinformation campaigns brimming with the usual fossil-fueled lies about renewable sources of power and climate change. Among these are anti-wind activists with ties to groups backed by Koch Industries, which owns oil refineries, petrochemical plants and thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines, and has a decades-long record of funding malarkey about the climate crisis.”

GREEN LINKS

• ‘You must end these activities’: Nearly 700,000 sign letter demanding oil executives stop new projects • EVs offer car designers more freedom compared to internal combustion engines • This Village Is Standing in the Way of Germany’s Coal Revival • Germany’s Offshore Wind Slump to Challenge 2030 Target, Report Says  Why California’s Climate Change and Housing Crises Hit Women Hardest • Scottsdale cuts off Rio Verde Foothills water supply amid drought • EPA’s proposed air pollution standards for soot could save thousands of lives • Deforestation ‘out of control’ in reserve in Brazil’s cattle capital • How to Live With Wolves • Georgia Power delays Vogtle nuclear unit number 3 start-up after discovering vibrations in plant’s cooling system • Nature’s Tools Help Clean Up Urban Rivers

(Originally appeared at DailyKos)



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