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The NAACP is bringing renewable energy to communities of color.

Over the next year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will install solar panels on 20 households and 10 community centers, train 100 people in solar job skills, and push for equitable solar access policies in at least five states across the U.S.

“Underserved communities cannot be left behind in a clean energy transition,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO, said in a statement about the new Solar Equity Initiative. “Clean energy is a fundamental civil right which must be available to all, within the framework of a just transition.”

The initiative began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day by installing solar panels on the Jenesse Center, a transitional housing program in L.A. for survivors of domestic abuse. The NAACP estimated that solar energy could save the center nearly $49,000 over the course of a lifetime, leaving more resources to go toward services for women and families.

Aside from the financial benefits, the NAACP points out that a just transition to clean energy will improve health outcomes. Last year, a report by the Clean Air Task Force and the NAACP found that black Americans are exposed to air nearly 40 percent more polluted than their white counterparts. Pollution has led to 138,000 asthma attacks among black school children and over 100,000 missed school days each year.

It’s just a start, but this new initiative could help alleviate the disproportionate environmental burdens that black communities face.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The NAACP is bringing renewable energy to communities of color. on Jan 16, 2018.

http://ift.tt/2EP9JC5 Source: http://grist.org



Los Angeles schemes to sue major oil companies over climate change.

California has had a hell of a year: droughts, wildfires, and now, mudslides. As taxpayers shoulder the brunt of the state’s enormous disaster relief tab, two L.A. lawmakers say fossil fuel companies should take financial responsibility for climate change-related damages.

In a written proposal, L.A. city council members Mike Bonin and Paul Koretz say fossil fuel companies did “nothing to stop their destructive ways” even though they knew their actions exacerbated climate change. They request a meeting with city attorney Mike Feuer to assess the feasibility of pursuing legal action against oil and gas companies.

In addition, the proposal suggests filing a motion to bolster New York City’s lawsuit against five major oil companies. That case, filed last Tuesday, also looks to shift the costs of climate change back on the companies responsible for causing the damage.

San Francisco and Oakland filed similar lawsuits in September 2017, arguing that oil and gas companies have failed to curtail emissions despite evidence that “global warming has become gravely dangerous.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Los Angeles schemes to sue major oil companies over climate change. on Jan 16, 2018.

http://ift.tt/2DDzsy3 Source: http://grist.org



We recycle so much trash, it’s created an international crisis

original video: https://youtu.be/lH4WpBbX0oE

You may have heard the delicate whispers on the wind: “China doesn’t want to take our recycling anymore.” And you ignored those whispers, because you didn’t know China took our recycling in the first place, and there’s no way this has anything to do with your life! Right?

Oh, dear. As a nation, we’ve been passing on too many low-quality recyclables to other countries — China, primarily — to get them to deal with it. Watch our video above to find out what has to change.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline We recycle so much trash, it’s created an international crisis on Jan 16, 2018.

http://ift.tt/2FGcg2G Source: http://grist.org



Hey — everyone can get into national parks for free on Monday.

The Department of Interior is doing something that isn’t the worst! Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Wait — the National Park Service had 16 free-entrance days in 2016. This year, there are just four. Plus, there are plans to nearly triple entrance fees at a bunch of the most popular national parks during peak season.

Let’s review what else the ol’ Interior Department has been up to lately.

A massive overhaul: On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed the biggest reorganization in the department’s history. It would shuffle tens of thousands of workers to new locations, and divide up the department’s current state boundaries into 13 new regions, affecting more than 500 million acres of land and water.

A monumental change: President Donald Trump recently downsized two national monuments in Utah, and Zinke has recommended shrinking a bunch more. Cool.

A Christmas story: On Dec. 22, the Interior quietly rescinded a bunch of climate change policies issued by the Obama administration, Elizabeth Shogren reported. Apparently, the rules were “potential burdens” to energy development.

So, uh, between the proposed fee hikes and the concern that climate change is slowly taking away our parks’ namesake glaciers and forests, you might want to take advantage of those free-entrance days and visit America’s beautiful landscapes ASAP.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Hey — everyone can get into national parks for free on Monday. on Jan 12, 2018.

http://ift.tt/2EBOW4P Source: http://grist.org



It’s time to go nuclear in the fight against climate change

After holding steady for the past three years, global carbon emissions rose in 2017 by an estimated 2 percent. That increase comes amid the largest renewable energy boom in world history.

That irony points to what I see as an inescapable conclusion: The world probably can’t solve climate change without nuclear power.

Something big has to change, and fast, in order to prevent us from going over the climate cliff. Increasingly, that something appears to be a shift in our attitudes toward nuclear energy.

By nearly all accounts, nuclear is the most rapidly scalable form of carbon-free power invented. And, the technology is rapidly improving. But lingering concerns about waste and safety have kept nuclear power from staying competitive.

Solar power has grown at a whopping 68 percent average rate over the past 10 years, but still accounts for less than 2 percent of total U.S. electricity generation. The 99 reactors in the U.S. generate about 10 times that amount. Nearly 30 nuclear facilities are set to retire in the next few years because those plants have become economically infeasible. That’s despite producing more than double the amount of electricity than all the solar panels in the United States combined.

“In 2016, renewables received about 100 times more in federal subsidies than nuclear plants,” Michael Shellenberger, founder of the Berkeley, California-based, pro-nuclear advocacy group Environmental Progress, wrote in an email to Grist. “If nuclear received a fraction of those subsidies, there would be no risk of nuclear plants closing in California or anywhere else.”

Jesse Jenkins, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, reveals in a preliminary scientific paper — meaning it’s still awaiting peer review — that the rapid decline in the cost of natural gas has been the driving factor in undercutting the electricity market in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. Those regions are home to a majority of the nuclear reactors now expected to go offline.

The take home? The advent of fracking — in addition to being the fastest-growing source of emissions in the U.S. — is also cannibalizing what is currently our biggest source of carbon-free electricity.

A similar story is playing out in Germany. The country’s nuclear power plants have been shuttered with only part of the capacity replaced by wind and solar. Dirty coal has filled the gaps. So it’s no surprise, German electricity sector emissions are actually rising slightly — and the country’s leaders are now considering scrapping an ambitious climate goal for 2020.

Jenkins wrote on Twitter that Germany’s shift in energy policy was misguided and resulted effectively in fossil fuels replacing much of the missing nuclear power — a pattern that’s playing out at home, as well. To get to a cleaner energy mix faster, you’d want to nix coal before nuclear.

For once-and-future climate leaders like Germany and the United States to turn their backs on one of the best tools we have for rapidly decarbonizing the global economy is a short-sighted decision of international and multi-generational consequence. It’s also a climate story few people are talking about.

Historically, nuclear power has been the fastest way to decarbonize the global economy, Shellenberger argues, and it can be again. New reactor designs offer a generational leap in terms of cost and safety, but proponents have so far struggled to secure the billions of dollars in funding that renewables are getting.

Big name climate experts, like former NASA scientists James Hansen agree that a bias against nuclear is holding it back. He and Shellenberger see support for the industry as a tactic for attracting the Trump Administration’s attention on climate policy. (In September, the Trump administration made a conditional loan to help finish the construction of a languishing nuclear power project in Georgia.)

The sheer urgency of climate change demands an all-of-the-above approach to making carbon-free energy.

“If we discovered nuclear power today, we would be working like mad to make it as safe and cheap as possible,” Stanford University climate scientist Ken Caldeira tweeted last summer.

But resistance by mainstream environmental organizations has helped stymie that progress. And the most ardent supporter of climate change legislation in last year’s presidential election, Bernie Sanders, ran on an anti-nuclear platform. (In December, Shellenberger announced he is running for California governor as an explicitly pro-environment, pro-nuclear independent.)

The more the world feels the powerful effects of climate change and the longer we wait to reduce emissions the more attractive nuclear energy could become. On our current track, scientists are increasingly alarmed that multiple simultaneous weather and environmental disasters — like last year’s horrific hurricanes and wildfires — could ultimately bend society to the breaking point in our lifetimes.

If we were smart, we’d see nuclear power for what it is: A good bet to save the world.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline It’s time to go nuclear in the fight against climate change on Jan 12, 2018.

http://ift.tt/2EAIbAq Source: http://grist.org



Most Ohio conservatives want to pay for renewables and stop propping up coal.

Here’s the idea: Build underwater barriers in front of the glaciers most vulnerable to collapse, keeping warm ocean water from sloshing in to melt them.

Princeton glaciology postdoc Michael Wolovick presented this concept at the American Geophysical Union conference in December, as the Atlantic reports.

The Antarctic glaciers Wolovick studies are subject to disastrous feedback loops: The more they melt, the more they are exposed to melt-inducing seawater. Recent studies have suggested these massive stores of ice could collapse much faster than previously thought, potentially raising sea levels by 5 to 15 feet by the end of the century (that’s seriously bad news for coastal cities).

Wolovick has been researching the feasibility of slowing that collapse with ‘sills’ constructed out of sand and rock along the fronts of these vulnerable glaciers. Unlike a seawall, they would be entirely underwater, but would keep warm ocean water from reaching a glacier’s vulnerable base.

That could stall glacial retreat dramatically, and maybe even reverse it. In Wolovick’s virtual experiments, even the least successful version of the sills slowed a glacier’s collapse by 400 or 500 years.

It’s all still a huge if, Wolovick admits, that requires more research. But if it works, it could buy some crucial time against sea-level rise.

http://ift.tt/2ATPEbC Source: http://grist.org



Coal’s death spiral, in 3 charts

The latest reports suggest that coal has the equivalent of black-lung disease: the condition is chronic, and the long-term prognosis is dire.

Power companies plan to shutter more than 10 big coal plants in 2018, extinguishing a major portion of coal burning in the United States (see the map below). According to projections released by the Energy Information Administration this week, coal-fired plants will produce less than 30 percent of the electricity Americans use this year. Back in 2000, coal provided more than half of our electricity. Cheap natural gas has knocked coal out of competition.

2018 will be a bad year to be a gray dot. EIA

This year is expected be a big one for coal-plant retirements but, as you can see below, so was 2015, and 2012, and, well, much of the past decade.

Pretty much all the plants shutting down are fossil-fuel plants. EIA

“Coal in the U.S. might not be dead, but it is in a death spiral,” said Alex Gilbert, of the energy research firm SparkLibrary. “Coal’s demise is inevitable, but it can still emit significant greenhouse gas and other emissions on its way out. The main policy question now is whether the death spiral should be a decade long or decades long.”

What pushed coal power into the death spiral? In a word, fracking. A crackdown on toxic pollution and the rise of wind and solar power, too. If you look at this map of plants scheduled to open this year, it’s all renewables and gas.

Look at all those renewables… and gas plants. EIA

Gilbert said coal companies also played a supporting role in the dirty fuel’s demise. “Coal’s decline is mainly due to market competition with natural gas with regulations playing a secondary role,” he said. “Fundamentally, however, coal is dying because the industry decided to fight changing times. Instead of innovating into a 21st-century compatible energy source, they played politics.”

So, what does all this mean for greenhouse-gas emissions? Well, even if we stop burning coal, it wouldn’t be enough to solve our emissions problems. And as we squeeze carbon out of our electrical system, carbon emissions from cars, industry, and heating are all going up. That’s consistent with a long term trend.

“Between 2005 and 2016, almost 80 percent of the reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. came from the electric power sector,” wrote Trevor Houser and Peter Marsters of the Rhodium Group, a company which analyzes energy trends. To get greenhouse-gas emissions down, other sectors have to play a larger role.

Rhodium Group

This year, people are expected to drive more, and a growing economy will cause industry to ramp up. All told, the United States is likely to pump out more greenhouse gases this year, according to the new data from the EIA.

“After declining by 1.0 percent in 2017, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are forecast to increase by 1.7 percent in 2018,” the EIA wrote.

It looks like our biggest problem is no longer coal. It’s cars.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Coal’s death spiral, in 3 charts on Jan 11, 2018.

http://ift.tt/2D6fi1E Source: http://grist.org



Could we retrofit Antarctica’s glaciers to keep them from collapsing?

Here’s the idea: Build underwater barriers in front of the glaciers most vulnerable to collapse, keeping warm ocean water from sloshing in to melt them.

Princeton glaciology postdoc Michael Wolovick presented this concept at the American Geophysical Union conference in December, as the Atlantic reports.

The Antarctic glaciers Wolovick studies are subject to disastrous feedback loops: The more they melt, the more glacier is exposed to melt-inducing seawater. Recent studies have suggested these massive stores of ice could collapse much faster than previously thought, potentially raising sea levels by 5 to 15 feet by the end of the century (that’s seriously bad news for coastal cities).

Wolovick has been researching the feasibility of slowing that collapse with ‘sills’ constructed out of sand and rock along the fronts of these vulnerable glaciers. Unlike a seawall, they would be entirely underwater, but would keep warm ocean water from reaching a glacier’s vulnerable base.

That could stall glacial retreat dramatically, and maybe even reverse it. In Wolovick’s virtual experiments, even the least successful version of the sills slowed a glacier’s collapse by 400 or 500 years.

It’s all still a huge if, Wolovick admits, that requires more research. But if it works, it could buy some crucial time against sea-level rise.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Could we retrofit Antarctica’s glaciers to keep them from collapsing? on Jan 11, 2018.

http://ift.tt/2CSvvEz Source: http://grist.org



Puerto Rico’s power outage keeps getting weirder and more infuriating.

It turns out that the territory’s utility has been withholding supplies needed to restore power after Hurricane Maria.

In a tense, armed standoff last weekend, FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seized much-needed electrical equipment from a warehouse owned by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Kate Aronoff reported for the Intercept. Governor Ricardo Rosselló said the Department of Justice is investigating the power utility after the incident.

The feds quickly distributed the seized materials to contractors — who were apparently spending their time watching movies in their trucks because they didn’t have the supplies they needed.

Because the energy infrastructure in Puerto Rico is more than twice as old as the rest of the United States, many of the parts needed to repair the damaged grid aren’t readily available and need to be manufactured. The lack of materials has contributed to the epically slow recovery on the island.

Needless to say, people are really pissed off. “Hundreds of thousands of families have been in the dark for more than 125 days, people keep dying, and businesses continue to close due to the lack of energy while the necessary spare parts were in the possession of PREPA,” Eduardo Bhatia, minority leader of the Senate of Puerto Rico, told the Intercept.

This week’s drama is just the latest in a string of mismanagement that has plagued the recovery process, including the canceled contract with Whitefish Energy.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Puerto Rico’s power outage keeps getting weirder and more infuriating. on Jan 11, 2018.

http://ift.tt/2FsaUs9 Source: http://grist.org



Houston’s city-beautification efforts might also fight future flooding

On a recent afternoon, Beth White, CEO of the nonprofit Houston Parks Board, steps onto a trail along Brays Bayou in the southeastern part of the city. There are 12 major bayous in Harris County, connecting 22 watersheds to the Gulf of Mexico. The waterways are a defining feature of America’s fourth-largest metropolis, giving it 2,500 miles of waterfront and the moniker “the Bayou City.”

When they flood, as they did during Hurricane Harvey in August, so does Houston.

White is walking near a meandering part of the Brays in the neighborhood of Idylwood. Bikers and skateboarders zip by. Pelicans fly above and dive into the water for fish. Harris County Flood Control District finished expanding this section of the Brays in 2007. Parks Board, a local nonprofit that advocates for green space, completed trails here in 2014, adding a kayak ramp and native plants as part of its Bayou Greenways 2020 project.

White sees her job, in part, as assuring Houstonians that “it’s OK to be down here.” Over years of neglect, bayous were less a destination to see nature and more akin to a freeway underpass. Today, Brays Bayou is increasingly lush.

The waterways are getting greener for a lot of reasons, reflecting broader shifts in how urban residents envision their surroundings and how local officials manage flooding. As Houston recovers from Harvey, they offer a promising vision of a city living in harmony with its rivers.


Founded in June 1837, the city of Houston promptly flooded four months later thanks to a hurricane.

John Jacob, director of the Texas Coastal Watershed Program at Texas A&M University, believes that Houston’s floods don’t have to be so severe. His research suggests that different natural features, like wetlands and reservoirs, help to mitigate flooding.

Jacob wrote a popular blog post for the Texas Coastal Watershed Program after Harvey, outlining these points. “Why not build a magical city served by beautiful and functional green infrastructure?” he asked.

But in a flood-prone city, there’s a limit to how much nature can mitigate problems created, well, by nature, says Gary Zika, a project manager at Flood Control overseeing work on the Brays. “There was always flooding in Houston, whether there were prairies here or forests,” he adds.

The Bayou Greenways project is based on a plan from 1912 to connect Houston’s bayous with park space. One hundred years after that proposal, residents finally voted to fund it. Since, Parks Board has acquired 5,000 acres of green space and built and connected trails on basically every major bayou in Houston.

Greenways are not the only project of its kind. On the opposite side of Houston, Flood Control is also working on Willow Waterhole — a group of detention ponds surrounded by parks and native habitat. While that widely acclaimed effort has made southwest Houston greener, it also gives floodwaters in the area somewhere to go besides homes and businesses — which is why Flood Control’s involved.

The agency hasn’t always favored green solutions to mitigation. In the 1960s, local conservationists fought a years-long battle to keep Buffalo Bayou, which runs through central Houston, natural. Flood Control wanted to “channelize” it, by replacing its lush banks with reinforced concrete. And when its executive director of nearly two decades retired last year, he derided the notion that native grasses could soak up floodwaters as “magic sponges in the prairie.”

Brays Bayou overflows its banks in August during the rainstorm caused by Hurricane Harvey. REUTERS / Nick Oxford

Still, the district has increasingly turned to nature as inspiration for its flood-mitigation work. Steve Fitzgerald, chief engineer at Flood Control, tells me that by strengthening the main banks with plants and allowing a bayou to zig-zag, Flood Control is reducing the risk that the waterways will fill with silt and need to be dredged again and again.

“Bayous want to meander,” Fitzgerald says. “The more closely we emulate natural systems in our designs, the more likely the bayous will be stable.”

The results of this green-ward drift have been good for residents and wildlife alike. In northeast Houston, the Greens Bayou Wetlands Mitigation Bank, finished in 2016, filters water and provides habitats for native species. Flood Control planted trees along a river to prevent erosion and is using another creek to study how well prairies soak up floodwaters.

Bob Eury, executive director of the nonprofit Central Houston, attributes the greening of Houston and its bayous to a cultural shift that’s created strong public support for projects like Plan Downtown. Released earlier this year, it aims to create a “green loop” around downtown, in part by relying on the central stretches of bayou.

Eury, who jogs regularly on bayou trails, notes he’s seen a steady rise in the number of parkgoers. “Nothing delights me more than when I’m out running and I see a green heron flying up the bayou right through the heart of the city,” he says.


Back in Idylwood, the beautification and flood control improvements haven’t stopped all the flooding. The city has weathered three so-called “500-year” or “1,000-year” floods since 2015, including during Harvey — when parts of Houston got 52 inches of rain, more than the region normally gets in an entire year.

Jen Powis, who until recently was advocacy director for Parks Board, said the message of Harvey was that local government had failed Houstonians. “It was Harris County and Harris County Flood Control’s failure,” she says, adding that they had permitted “rampant development in areas they knew would flood.”

The hope is that with Greenways, there’s more of a buffer between Houston’s waterways and development — a fact Beth White illustrates by pointing to the trail we’re on along the Brays. It’s 10 feet wide, she says — to allow for Flood Control vehicles.

“We’re not primarily a flood-mitigation project,” she says. “But everything we do has to be looked at through the lens of flood mitigation.”

What Greenways is primarily, at least in White’s view, is an effort to get Houston’s residents to appreciate the natural beauty all around them — to make them care more deeply about where they live. She points to Amy Dinn, a member of the Idylwood Civic Club, as evidence of Parks Board’s success.

After Harvey, Dinn organized a group of neighbors to clean debris out of the bayous. She agrees that without the Greenways initiative making the waterways part of her neighborhood’s fabric, she probably wouldn’t have felt compelled to restore the waterways on her own time.

“That’s what got me up at 8 a.m. to clean it,” she says. “I wasn’t here for the coffee.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Houston’s city-beautification efforts might also fight future flooding on Jan 11, 2018.

http://ift.tt/2Ft5QEb Source: http://grist.org




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