Tag Archives: fossil fuels

Can We Be Optimistic? (2021 installment)

I’ve written posts like this at the end of the last few years. I’ve even copied the title from the previous versions. (What? You expect originality from a professor who’s bleary eyed from grading papers at the end of the semester?) It’s difficult to be the EcoOptimist these days when there is so much news on the negative side. I won’t – and you probably don’t need me to – start enumerating it. And I’d be violating my self-anointed title and role.

So, instead I’m focusing here on some of the more positive news – news that perhaps will help motivate us for the coming year. Here’s a selection.

I have a post in the works, btw, on how unexpected types of legal actions, here and elsewhere, are having an impact. I’ll try to make use of the holiday downtime to finish that one. Meanwhile…

from Gizmodo
December 15, 2021
Microbes May Be Evolving to Eat Plastic:
The latest research findings from our dystopian present

plastic waste

Image: Chalmers University of Technology

EcoOptimism’s Take: From my favorite environmental-blog-that-isn’t-an-environmental-blog, comes this news about the tiny organisms that may eat our way out of our century of plastics. There have been other reports of forms of life with a diet of plastics, but this sounds like a hopeful step.

There’s a bit of SciFi dystopianism here in that the study says these microbes didn’t just naturally have this appetite – they’re evolving that way.

“We found multiple lines of evidence supporting the fact that the global microbiome’s plastic-degrading potential correlates strongly with measurements of environmental plastic pollution — a significant demonstration of how the environment is responding to the pressures we are placing on it,” according to Prof Aleksej Zelezniak at Chalmers University of Technology 

In other words, our environmental failings have altered the DNA of bacteria.  Dunno about you, but I find that a bit scary.

Putting my Jurassic Park paranoia aside, the downside here, and it shouldn’t outweigh the positive, is that, as the article mentions, this does not mitigate the issue; it doesn’t help stop the problem from occurring. It merely deals with what we already have and what will still be produced. This is an unfortunate byproduct of well-intentioned ’solutions.’ It’s the problem with, for example, geoengineering. While it’s arguable that we have reached the point (pardon my non-ecooptimism) where we will need to do this to address the climate emergency, it doesn’t stop carbon emissions and, in fact, can worsen the problem by leading us to think that we don’t have to.

Still, I welcome the idea of providing sustenance to these – hopefully friendly – critters. Bear in mind that, given the amount of plastics out there for feasting upon, we might be welcoming our new microscopic neighbors everywhere.

And then there’s this different approach to remediating plastics using nature:

from Microfiber Innovation Challenge
Squitex
Seaming, Coating and fibers from self-healing materials

image of squid

image: WSTale.com

EcoOptimism’s Take: Biomimicry, design inspired by nature, gets us to some of the coolest ideas – things we mere humans, who have just a tidbit of the knowledge gained by nature over 3.8 billion years, could never come up with on our own. In this case, it’s a self-healing fiber that can reduce microfibers in the ocean, made from squid’s tentacles combined with genetic resequencing (arguably something nature has been doing all along in the form of evolution, or so it seems to this non-scientist). So addressing the problem of microfibers in the waters might come from creatures who live in that water.

Will squid become our next octopuses: creatures far smarter than we thought?

from Reuters
September 29, 2021
Democrats weigh first nationwide fee on plastic in U.S. budget negotiations

Snapple sign boasting about switching to plastic

photo: David Bergman

EcoOptimism’s Take: Does this have a chance in an intractably partisan Congress that can’t even accept the urgency of the climate crisis? And where any fee, even one that seems to be a capitalist laissez faire approach that internalizes those pesky externalities inherent in single-use plastics, is dead on arrival? Prove me wrong. Please. Don’t make me become an EcoRealist.

from Gizmodo
December 14, 2021
Dell’s Concept Luna Could Be the Future of Laptop Design

image of modular laptop

Image: Framework

image of modular mobile phone

image: Fairphone

EcoOptimism’s Take: Right to repair laws have been all the rage (well, perhaps that’s an overstatement) this year. But to really make those work, products have to be repairable – and not have things like batteries and RAM soldered in as many Apple and other manufacturers do. That goes hand in hand with making electronics modular so that items like those as well as screens, keyboards and motherboards are removable and replaceable.

I recently had to buy a new laptop because one of the keys became stuck. The repair shop told me it would be too expensive to be worthwhile. (The laptop was just out of warranty, of course.) Similarly, on the previous laptop that caused me to purchase the one that then developed a hatred for the letter A, a cracked screen was not worth replacing. (It valiantly, if expensively, gave its life by breaking my fall when I fell backwards onto the backpack it was in.)

Modular electronics offer the hope of being both repairable and upgradeable, which help keep electronics from becoming ‘e-waste.’ Efforts to accomplish this date back to a student project at Stanford ‘s School of Design Thinking (as if other school’s design programs don’t include thinking!) quite a few years ago. And Motorola’s original modular phone, Project Ara, was a great idea, but never caught on. Its less adventurous successor, the Moto Z is still finding its feet.

But its concept has been replaced by Fairphone, which, unfortunately is not available in the US. Nor is their more recently released Framework modular laptop. (Crossing my fingers it will be more available when my current laptop decides to develop a small but insidious problem that defies economical repair.) But now, signaling the mass market potential, Dell is taking a shot at the idea. It’s a shame that my Dell with the malfunctioning keyboard came out a couple of years too early.

from NPR
December 14, 2021
The largest city in the U.S. bans natural gas in new buildings

image of cooktop with both gas and induction burners

Image: ABT

EcoOptimism’s Take: Banning gas appliances is a concept that took root, of course, in California. Those appliances, ranging from stoves to boilers and heat pumps, have both environmental and health issues. Their use emits carbon dioxide, which contributes to the fact that 40% of the country’s carbon emissions comes from buildings. (It’s even higher – 50% – in NYC because using public transportation instead of cars emits less carbon, and that means buildings are a higher percentage of the total.)

And from a health point of view, combustion gases in enclosed spaces like kitchens are also deadly for us humans, not merely bad for the atmosphere. They’re the reason we have carbon monoxide detectors in our homes.

Banning gas appliances in new buildings is a big deal. Many people still prefer gas stoves, though. Fortunately, induction cookers and electric ovens are darn good alternatives. They still require energy, but local emissions are reduced because the electricity needed comes from power plants which are usually located outside cities and are more efficient. 

Here’s yet another way to look at it: energy efficiency. With a gas stove, you’re heating not just the food, but the area around the stove as well. Not so with an induction cooktop. It heats only the pot or pan. It’s also what makes it safer.

Now I just have to convince my chef client to forget the “now we’re cooking with gas” slogan, which originated as a natural gas industry campaign in the 1930s and that, unfortunately, implies doing a good job.

“Can we be optimistic?” has an implied negative tone to it. Wouldn’t it be great if I can change that title for my 2022 end of the year EcoOptimism post?

Pandemics and US deregulation be damned. Plastic bans are not getting derailed.

NYS's plastic bag ban now enforced

It’s back, baby

As I wrote about several months ago, single-use plastic bans and fees have taken a back seat to the urgency of the COVID pandemic. First, there was the mistaken idea that plastic bags were necessary for sanitary reasons. Bag manufacturers did their best to take advantage of this. (As they have for decades as shown in the appropriately if cutely titled report, “Talking Trash: The Corporate Playbook of False Solutions,” from the Changing Markets Foundation.) And then there was just the fact that there have been more pressing things for governments to deal with.

The glut of oil resulting from less travel and manufacturing has created a need for the fossil fuel industry to find other ways to utilize those “stranded assets,” and the primary direction is to increase plastic production, whose raw material is oil. But in Earther, Gizmodo’s sub-blog, Bruce Kahn documents the potential for “peak plastic” and a counterreaction in which governments are creating more bans and fees. (The US has, unsurprisingly, given our current regime, been an exception, but one hopes that will begin to change on January 20th.)

As evidence – maybe – of this, the U.S. Plastics Pact has brought together some of the major users of plastics, Coca Cola, Nestle and Unilever, with notable environmental organizations such as the Ocean Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund to phase out unnecessary plastic packaging and make sure other single-use plastics are recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025. Forgive my cynicism, but I’m both dubious of this actually happening and suspicious of the terms recyclable, compostable and reusable.

But this blog is about optimism.

The big news this week, here at least, is that New York State’s ban, delayed from earlier in the year, is finally going to get enforced. Celebrating this belated event, I’ve added a few more entries in my Plastics Bans Worldwide database.

Canada’s ban moves forward: https://environmentaldefence.ca/2020/10/09/canada-ban-six-single-use-plastic-items-next-year/

England bans single-use plastic straws, stir-sticks and cotton swabs with plastic stems: https://www.treehugger.com/plastic-straws-banned-in-england-5080319

Scotland goes further and bans plastic straws, plates, knives and forks and polystyrene cups: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/scotland-ban-plastic-single-use-straws-cutlery-cotton-buds-england-b990587.html

New Jersey’s comprehensive plastic ban, called “This is the single most comprehensive plastics and paper reduction bill in the nation,” by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator and Beyond Plastics President Judith Enck, is a step closer to becoming law: https://www.ecowatch.com/new-jersey-plastics-ban-2647824015.html?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2 New York State’s plastics ban also calls for a 5-cent fee on paper bags. NJ goes a step further with a ban on them.

Foam packaging and containers haven’t, until recently, been as scrutinized, but that’s changing. NYC banned Styrofoam takeout containers and packaging peanuts last year, but it has sizable loopholes and enforcement is spotty. The latest ban, the first one by a state, comes from Maryland: https://www.ecowatch.com/maryland-foam-container-ban-2647845717.html

California, ever the environmental leader, is adding a new approach. Not exactly a ban and a bit off the mark considering the problems of plastic recycling, is incrementally requiring recycled content in liquids containers: https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/09/25/california-passes-first-in-nation-plastics-recycling-law/

EcoOptimistic News for the End of an Environmentally Crappy Year

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered political opinion, denial is an alternative fact and the word “protection” in the Environmental Protection Agency’s name is a cynical leftover from its original mission. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.

The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.

Yeah, we’ve all heard about the UN IPCC report that gives us 12 years to get our shit together. And then we got that surprisingly frank White House “National Climate Assessment” that, despite the Trump regime’s best efforts to bury it, made headlines. Plus, of course, there was devastating evidence of climate change already rearing its head in the form of a sometimes record-breaking series of hurricanes and typhoons.

But fortunately for the holidays – and perhaps for our sanity and our therapy sessions – we can snag some happier news. So I started compiling EcoOptimistic articles a few months ago, though some of it is from earlier in the year, when I realized that, now more than ever, we need to counterbalance the daily litany of the-end-is-nigh headlines.

It’s not that I don’t believe those headlines. Rather, it’s that I won’t give in to the fatalism of them. Many of us, sometimes  – OK, often – including me, feel the despair coupled with the frustration and anger at those who avert their eyes, who won’t listen to fact or reason, who pursue blind self-interest, or who rationalize it in desperate ways. (No, it won’t cost jobs.) But letting them rule the news is infuriating and letting them determine our future is unacceptable.

FIRST, A SUMMARY…

From Earther
Dec 4, 2018

“The Rare Environmental Victories of 2018”

EcoOptimism’s take: The headline, I think, is self-explanatory.

Perhaps one of the most (eco)optimistic events of the year was the surprise election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the House of Representatives. Her “Green New Deal,” which combines environmental issues with job issues, is creating a politically appealing scenario that’s garnering more and more support with both local officials and voters.

And combined with this poll, perhaps the political “climate” may have turned a corner.

From Yale Environment 360:
April 18, 2018

“Americans Who Accept Climate Change Outnumber Those Who Don’t 5 to 1”

EcoOptimism’s take: Chew on that, Fox News. 

From the Washington Post:
Dec 13, 2018

“The Energy 202: Why 2020 candidates will be talking a lot more about climate change”

And then there’s this:

From the Guardian:
Dec 19, 2018

“Environment, Jaffa Cakes and Kylie Jenner star in statistics of the year”

EcoOptimism’s take: Um, OK. Not entirely sure what to make of this, but nevermind.

While it’s a bit cliché to refer to the younger generation taking the reins, there has been some notable news on that front, too. The suit by a group of teenagers against the federal government is continues to move forward despite the administration’s efforts to get it thrown out of court. A Swedish 15-year-old made headlines at the recent UN climate change conference, lecturing the officials, “You are not mature enough to tell it like it is.”

I’ve mentioned before that Teen Vogue has been consistently taking up environmental topics, most recently taking up the issue of ocean plastics here and here. (See more on that topic below.)

RENEWABLE ENERGY IS COMPETITIVE WITH – AND SOMETIMES CHEAPER THAN – FOSSIL FUELS… 

One of the first items in that Earther post above notes the falling prices of renewable energy. “Beautiful, clean coal” is not cutting it financially despite the administration’s best efforts. And there are some significant milestones accompanying it. It’s been happening all year, not just in the last few months.

From Business Insider:
May 8, 2018

“One simple chart shows why an energy revolution is coming — and who is likely to come out on top”

From Earther:
June 14, 2018

“Solar Just Hit a Record Low Price In the U.S.”

A Same-Day Twofer from Forbes:
Dec 3, 2018

“Plunging Prices Mean Building New Renewable Energy Is Cheaper Than Running Existing Coal”

“Coal Power Plants Lose Their Cost Advantage Over Clean Energy”

EcoOptimism’s take: So much for “The sun don’t always shine and wind don’t always blow.”

We’re seeing some of the results

From EcoWatch:
Nov 6, 2018

“Britain Achieves the ‘Unthinkable’ as Renewables Leapfrog Fossil Fuel Capacity”

From Yale Environment 360:
Oct 15, 2018

“10 States Now Get At Least 20 Percent of Their Electricity from Solar and Wind”

From Think Progress:
Apr 24, 2018

“Wind, solar deliver stunning 98 percent of new U.S. power capacity in January, February”

AND RENEWABLE ENERGY GOALS ARE BEING MET AHEAD OF SCHEDULE… 

From Gizmodo:
July 12, 2018

“California Is Way Ahead of Schedule for Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions”

From Treehugger:
Aug 24, 2018

“Sweden to reach its 2030 renewables target 12 years early!”

EcoOptimism’s take: Yes, we may need our rose-colored glasses here, but it’s evidence of – don’t get too choked up here – “yes, we can.”

SINGLE-USE PLASTICS ARE IN THE CROSSHAIRS… 

In some previous years, I’ve nominated a word of the year. (2012, 2013, 2014) This year, Collins Dictionary did it for me, choosing “single-use.” 

Spurred by a graphic and very disturbing video of a turtle having a plastic straw removed from its nose, the nascent movement to regulate or ban SUPs got a jump start. EcoOptimism has been charting the international movement

Along with bans have come alternatives. We’re not talking about bioplastics, which while interesting have their own issues, but about reducing or replacing demand.

From EcoWatch:
Dec 4, 2018

“Corona Becomes First Big Beer Brand to Trial Plastic-Free Rings”

And from The Guardian:
Sept 6, 2018

“Carlsberg to replace plastic ring can holders with recyclable glue”

Images: Beverage Daily

EcoOptimism’s take: We know Brett Kavanaugh “likes beer,” though probably not for this reason.

AND FINALLY…

The subtitle of this blog is “Finding the Future We Want.” A great example of that is “turning lemons into lemonade.” 

From The Washington Post:
Oct 24, 2018

“Where does your recycled plastic go? Perhaps into future highways.”

EcoOptimism’s take: There isn’t a much bigger lemon than all that plastic waste and, while we may have mixed feelings about roads (unless they’re for non-fossil-fueled vehicles and don’t encourage more sprawl), here’s some lemonade.

From Yale Environment 360:
Nov 23, 2018

“A Former UK Coal Plant is Being Redeveloped Into an Eco-Village”

EcoOptimism’s take: Re-use of decommissioned power plants may be emblematic of the possibilities, making this a good story to end on.

The Distillery: November 17, 2017

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered evil, denial is an alternative fact and the EPA is now what I’m calling the Environmental Destruction Agency. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.

The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.

Back in October 2014, an EcoOptimism post asked “Will the solutions come from cities?” In the context of that year’s fruitless UN Climate Summit, I wrote “[EcoOptimism lies] not with national governments at all, and that’s reason for hope…. In its stead, lower level officials, notably mayors, have been leading from the bottom up, changing mundane things like building codes and transportation programs.

“Cities are where a majority of us 7 billion humans live. [And cities] emit 75% of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. So focusing on cities makes a lot of sense.”

As a case in point, I cited NYC’s “One City Built to Last” report, which was a follow up to the previous administration’s PlaNYC.

With the current US federal administration’s move to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, the role of the federal government is even further diminished and local governments are filling the void, many under the mantle of We Are Still In.

From Business Insider:
June 5, 2017

“A group representing $6.2 trillion of the US economy says they’re ‘still in’ the Paris climate agreement”

EcoOptimism’s take: The WeAreStillIn group had a sizeable presence at last week’s COP (Conference of the Parties) that was the first one since Trump withdrew the US from the Accords. It served to show, exactly as the hashtag says, that much (or most?) of the US is still on board. And it was a stark contrast to the official US presentation which promoted coal and nuclear energy.

From CityLab:
October 23, 2017

Cities Are Thinking and Acting Globally, Says Paris Mayor

Image source: Raw Story

EcoOptimism’s take: This reaction, by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, recognized the significance of local commitments. (In an unrelated context, Hidalgo said “Mr. Trump is so stupid.)

From Grist:
August 24, 2017

“States keep cutting carbon, despite federal inaction.”

Image source: Paul Horn/Inside Climate News

EcoOptimism’s take: The local level includes states as well as cities. The northeast states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont) have jointly agreed on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This will partially replace the Clean Power Plan initiative by President Obama and that Trump has vowed to rescind.

(New Jersey outgoing Governor Christie had pulled the state out of an earlier RGGI, despite the state Senate attempting to override him as well as a court ruling against him. The incoming Democrat-led administration will probably rejoin.)

From ThinkProgress:
August 22, 2017

St. Louis adopts a 100 percent renewable energy goal”

Image source: Wikipedia

EcoOptimism’s take: This further illustrates the potential role of states, even those that you might think would be averse to clean energy. The post notes that “Missouri’s history is deeply tied to coal.”

 

From The Nation:
November 15, 2017

California Governor Jerry Brown Is Doing Far More to Combat Climate Change Than Trump’s Washington

EcoOptimism’s take: We can always count on Jerry. And this is particularly important given both the size of California’s economy – it’s the sixth largest in the world – and the fact that California often sets the precedent for other states.

The Distillery: October 12, 2017

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered evil, denial is an alternative fact and the EPA is now what I’m calling the Environmental Destruction Agency. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.

The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.

In our September 18th post, we “distilled” a series of articles all regarding, as we put it, “the oncoming and inevitable demise of cars powered by the internal (or, some would say, infernal) combustion engine.” Yesterday, the Washington Post, made the same observation in both an article and an opinion column.

From The Washington Post:
October 11, 2017
Why 2017 will go down as the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine

October 11, 2017
Do automakers dream of electric cars?

And from a bit earlier in the month:
October 2, 2017
Death of gas and diesel begins as GM announces plans for ‘all-electric future’Do automakers dream of electric cars?

Image via CleanTechnica

EcoOptimism’s take: While we don’t like to boast, can say here that we scooped the Washington Post?

And gotta love the title of the op-ed.

 

 

The Distillery: September 18, 2017

EcoOptimism’s current selection of favorite posts

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered evil, denial is an alternative fact and the EPA is now what I’m calling the Environmental Destruction Agency. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.

The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.

While EcoOptimism’s Distillery picks don’t intentionally have themes, this confluence of posts that began over the summer warrants a topical selection. The topic is the oncoming and inevitable demise of cars powered by the internal (or, some would say, infernal) combustion engine. Places from Paris to India to China, and manufacturers from Volvo to Jaguar – no word from American manufacturers – are phasing them out.

September 11, 2017

From ThinkProgress.org:
Electric cars are about to get their biggest boost ever: China plans to ban new fossil-fuel powered cars.

EcoOptimism’s take: The significance here can’t be understated. China manufactured and sold more than 28 million cars last year (compared to the US’s 17.55 million) and yet still only one in five owns a car. It’s the world’s largest car market — responsible for around 30 percent of global passenger vehicle sales. Given that China has almost ¼ billion people, you can begin to guess the ginormous number of future cars – especially as the affluence of Chinese consumers grows – that this will represent.

Photo source: CleanTechnica.com

July 26, 2017

From Bloomberg.com:
France Aims to End Sale of Fossil-Fuel-Powered Cars by 2040

EcoOptimism’s take: This news goes back to July but, along with the news from China, the death of fossil fuel powered cars seems ever more imminent.

Photo: Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz) [CC BY-SA 3.0]


June 3, 2017

From CNN Tech:
India to sell only electric cars by 2030

EcoOptimism’s take: The air quality in India contributes to 1.2 million deaths a year, and “doctors have said breathing the air in New Delhi…is like smoking 10 cigarettes a day.” India will subsidize electric cars for a couple of years and, after that, believes electric cars – by the millions – will start paying for themselves. That’s both the ecological and economic sides of EcoOptimism.

photo: Mark Danielson – Flickr/Creative Commons

September 7, 2017

From BusinessGreen:
Jaguar Land Rover to make only electric or hybrid cars from 2020

The BusinessGreen post seems to sometimes be behind a paywall, but you can check out a related Treehugger post:
Jaguar Land Rover to phase out gas/diesel-only cars

EcoOptimism’s take: Given the low mpg of expensive SUVs and sportscars, getting rid of their gas versions is a big deal.

photo: Jaguar Land Rover

July 11, 2017

From Forbes:
Volvo’s Electric Car Announcement: Turning Point or Nonevent?

EcoOptimism’s take: There’s a note of skepticism in this post from a not-exactly-green source. They write that Volvo’s announcement doesn’t actually mean they won’t be making cars that use fossil fuels; they will still make hybrids. But still it’s a pretty big deal, especially since Volvo is Chinese-owned.

photo: Volvo

The Distillery: August 23, 2017

Triangles_Distillery_Text-smr

EcoOptimism’s current selection of favorite posts

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered evil, denial is an alternative fact and the EPA is now what I’m calling the Environmental Destruction Agency. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.

The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.

We’ve got a plethora this week.

August 22, 2017

From Grist.org:
California defies Trump claim that environmental regulation kills economic growth

EcoOptimism’s take: Just more “fake news,” right? (It doesn’t get more EcoOptimistic than this!)

source: U.S. Navy photo by Rick Naystatt

source: U.S. Navy photo by Rick Naystatt

August 22, 2017

From Grist.org:
The eclipse was a test, and the solar industry aced it

EcoOptimism’s take: Chicken Little lives another day. CNBC headline on August 18 before the eclipse: “The total solar eclipse is going to knock out a lot of solar power.”

solar panels dark

August 14, 2017

From Environmental Network News:
Ozone Treaty Taking a Bite Out of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions

EcoOptimism’s take: In my sustainable design classes, when I describe all our environmental issues and my students begin to get totally demoralized, I point out there are some bright spots. One of them is an international agreement, the Montreal Protocol, that addressed ozone depletion (aka ozone holes) by reducing the use of chemicals causing the depletion. This 1989 agreement has been an enormous success and the ozone layer is now predicted to return to normal within this century.

Those ozone depleting gases, CFCs, are also one of the greenhouse gases causing climate change and this article says “In a twist, a new study shows the 30-year old treaty has had a major side benefit of reducing climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S.”

The ozone hole has stopped growing. Source: NASA

The ozone hole has stopped growing. Source: NASA

August 17, 2017

From Yale Environment 360:
Renewable Energy Prevented 12,700 Premature Deaths Over Nine-Year Period, Study Says

EcoOptimism’s take: It’s great when environmental actions, as illustrated by the ozone article above, have side benefits.

“The expansion of wind and solar energy, and the resulting avoided emissions from fossil fuels, helped prevent up to 12,700 premature deaths in the U.S. from 2007 to 2015, according a new study in the journal Nature Energy.”

Credit: Department of Energy via ThinkProgress.org

Credit: Department of Energy via ThinkProgress.org

The Distillery: August 14, 2017

Triangles_Distillery_Text-smr

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered evil, denial is an alternative fact and the EPA is now what I’m calling the Environmental Destruction Agency. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.

The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.

August 7, 2017

From EcoWatch:
Costa Rica Wants to Become World’s First Country to Eliminate Single-Use Plastics

EcoOptimism’s take: Only a fraction of plastics gets recycled. The rest of this persistent scourge ends up in the oceans and distant beaches or, at best, in landfills to live on virtually forever.

They’ve even been found in the deepest place on Earth: the Marianas Trench.

And in case that’s not nasty enough, bear in mind this doesn’t take into account the resources (oil!) and energy required to make them.

Marine debris on Kamilo Beach, Hawaii. Credit: Algalita.org

Marine debris on Kamilo Beach, Hawaii. Credit: Algalita.org

August 9, 2017

From ThinkProgress:
America’s Wind Energy Industry Passed a Major Milestone

EcoOptimism’s take:  in 2016, wind energy passed the generating capacity of hydroelectric power became the nation’s top renewable generating source.

For all the talk naysaying renewable energy – it’s too expensive or too unreliable because “the sun don’t always shine, the wind don’t always blow” – it’s now the most rapidly growing and inexpensive form of energy. More efficient solar cells and new types of batteries will only further the trend, and the renewable energy industry is already creating more jobs than fossil fuels are.

Credit: Department of Energy via ThinkProgress.org

Credit: Department of Energy via ThinkProgress.org

 

A Positive – and EcoOptimistic – Outlook

I recently came across this great post citing the reasons 2015 will be the year that changes the socio/economic/political world of energy production and thereby undermines climate denial. The post is by Paul Gilding, author of The Great Disruption, and presents some convincing evidence that it isn’t the politicians (though he cites the US/China deal) or the public, but the business world that will come around.

There has been a lot of discussion about not just climate denial but science denial. We’ve tried for years, starting perhaps with Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, to convince the public by using science – and sometimes by using fear — that climate change is real. Many people have indeed been convinced, but it’s still less than a majority.

In Gilding’s post, he writes: “…science is now largely irrelevant in this process [of convincing people]. If the scientific evidence was going to shift the system, it would have done so by now….” He continues “What we have to look for instead is evidence of shifts in the human response, not the ecological one.”

The cover of the March 2015 issue of National Geographic

The cover of the March 2015 issue of National Geographic

He goes on to cite six reasons that the human – and especially the business – response is changing. I’ll list them here, but you should go to his post to read the explanations:

  1. The US China Climate deal – how change really occurs
  2. Collapse in oil prices [Which would seem counterintuitive, but many, including Gilding, have argued otherwise.]
  3. Solar price falls set to continue
  4. Market prices reflect economic disruption
  5. The political power of big business starts to shift sides
  6. Physical impacts accelerating and driving economic and security impact

While this list, without his explanations, seems a bit vague and jargon-y, it basically amounts to an EcoOptimistic outlook, that the economics of energy will cause businesses to come around to the realization that fossil fuels have no future economically as opposed to environmentally. “[W]hile many climate activists focus on the political power and influence of the fossil fuel industry, I see an industry scrambling to defend itself against overwhelming forces that will see it destroyed – not in a mighty moral crusade but something far more brutal and fast – the market turning on it.”

According to a Treehugger post, even the National Bank of Abu Dhabi — yes a Middle East bank heavily invested in fossil fuels — has concluded that “‘fossil fuels can no longer compete with solar technologies on price’, and that the majority of the $US48 trillion needed to meet global energy demand over the next 20 years will come from renewables.”

This goes to the core of EcoOptimism: that, contrary to the public perception, there is a synergy between economic and ecological goals.

There is much more in Gilding’s post. Though he doesn’t refer to it, the issue of our unfortunate inability to think in the long term lurks in the background. We humans concentrate on short term needs and issues. Long term ones are too often not considered in our decision making, especially when that long term is intangible and may not be in our lifetimes. This explains why some environmentalists now emphasize what the impacts will be on our children.

Businesses, too, driven by quarterly profits and reports, tend to think in the short term. But they’re now beginning to see the long term issues. When your primary resource appears destined to become what Wall Street calls a stranded asset, that gets the attention of board rooms.

What Gilding does discuss is another barrier: realizing the scale of an issue, but not being able to cope with it and, therefore, ignoring or even denying it. “This is not climate denial but an example of “implicatory denial”, the rather bizarre ability of humans to accept a risk but then stop processing the implications, just because those implications are so overwhelming.” That’s where the economic influences take over. If convincing the public (and Republican electeds) through either science or fear isn’t working, perhaps newly enlightened businesses – especially those that contribute to political campaigns – can.

Surprise: Environmentalism Actually Boosts the Economy

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

One of the premises of EcoOptimism is that environmental actions and solutions complement the economy. Too often, the assumption – particularly within the business world and among conservatives – is that the opposite is true. They believe, sometimes fervently, that environmental rules and regulation are a drag on the economy, causing job losses and working against the interests of capitalism and growth.

But by almost all capitalist measures, environmentalism has proved to be an aid to the economy. I was struck by this with an assortment of posts all in one day. The first was a report stating the U.S. solar industry now employs close to 174,000 jobs and grew at a rate of 28% in the past year, nearly 20 times faster than the overall economy. Few sectors, including oil, can make a claim like that. In fact, 1.3% of the jobs created in the past year were in solar industries.

Source: SustainableBusiness.com. Their caption reads: “This year, the solar industry expects to add 35,000 jobs, bringing the total to 210,060, a 20.9% increase.”

Source: SustainableBusiness.com. Their caption reads: “This year, the solar industry expects to add 35,000 jobs, bringing the total to 210,060, a 20.9% increase.”

A related post compared this to the number of jobs created in fossil fuel industries last year. The oil and gas industry, including pipeline construction, added just 19,000 jobs, compared to solar’s 31,000. And according to the US Energy Information Administration, coal mining jobs fell by 11.3% in 2012, a year in which solar jobs grew by 13%.

Bear in mind that this is looking at only solar jobs and related growth, not the entire arena of renewables. Wind is another area of rapid growth compared to the rest of the economy. A new report from the advocacy group Oceana found that “offshore wind [in the Atlantic] would produce twice the number of jobs and twice the amount of energy as offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.” As would be expected, pro-oil advocacy groups, who are promoting drilling for gas and oil off the East Coast, claim that that would create thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars in revenue for states. Oceana says, though, those numbers are inflated because they are based on drilling in sites that are not economically viable. (Especially as the price of oil falls as it has in recent weeks.)

offshore wind stats

Furthermore, according to Oceana, drilling could put other jobs and industries, including fishing and tourism, at risk. This could have a much great economic impact: a potential loss of 1.4 million jobs and over $95 billion in gross domestic product. Wind, on the other hand, poses little risk. (Bird kills, while a concern, are smaller offshore and, in any case, are far lower than the aviary impact of air pollution and global climate disruption.)

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

All this makes renewable energy, to put it in Republican terms, a “job creator.” If only the Republican Party weren’t beholden to fossil fuel interests, perhaps they would see that and would see that this is, in EcoOptimism terms, a win-win solution.