Search Results for 'Climate change'

Berkeley Conversations: Climate Change and Covid-​​19, can the crisis shift the paradigm?

April 27, 2020.  To watch the webinar, click here. Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 10.40.18 AM

A panel of UC Berkeley experts discussed Monday what effect COVID-19 is having on the environment. (UC Berkeley video)

Ever so slowly, communities around the globe are cautiously easing shelter-in-place orders, and people are heading back to work — bringing with them damaging behaviors that hurt the environment and impact climate change, such as increased reliance on single-use plastic grocery bags.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, say four UC Berkeley environmental and energy experts. Instead, they say, the current COVID-19 pandemic offers lessons in how shared global solutions can help beat back the continued threat of climate change.

“We can restart the economy and put people back to work, and we have to do so in a way that we’re taking advantage of where renewable energy is today — then there’s a really positive opportunity,” said Dan Kammen, professor and chair of the Energy Resources Group and professor of public policy and nuclear engineering. “We have to put people back to work in a way that’s equitable and green.”

Disposable plastic bags have made a comeback as people have grown leery of being too close to other people and their possessions. In a number of cities and states, including San Francisco, new bans on plastic bags have been delayed or existing bans have been temporarily halted and customers ordered not to bring into shops their own bags, mugs or reusable items from home.

Kammen, along with colleagues David Ackerly, dean of the Rausser College of Natural Resources, Kate O’Neill, professor of environmental science, policy and management, and Valeri Vasquez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Energy and Resources Group, were part of a Berkeley Conversations panel that examined on Monday how the pandemic has caused seismic shifts in how we produce and consume goods and could also open a path to a more sustainable future.

“Right before the outbreak, we were actually starting to feel like we could make a real difference in terms of getting rid of single-use plastics and solving a lot of the issues with global waste streams,” O’Neill said. “But for any of us who’ve been in the Berkeley Bowl parking lot recently, one of the first things we might have noticed is a lot more litter. Plastic bags, rubber gloves, masks. This is something we’re going to have to push back on and really question. The main problem coming up is going to be reinstating zero waste policies once (the pandemic) is over.”

Vasquez underscored how the COVID-19 pandemic is revealing deep societal inequities and also demonstrating the interconnectedness of health, climate and sustainability issues.

“The public health and climate debates are really inextricably linked,” she said. “In our highly connected world, a disease that originated 3,000 or 6,000 miles away can be at our doorsteps in a day or less. So, the way that we mobilize against COVID-19 needs to be reflected in the way that we mobilize against that other big global affliction called climate change.”

Berkeley Conversations: COVID-19, are a series of live, online events featuring faculty experts from across the UC Berkeley campus who are sharing what they know, and what they are learning, about the pandemic. All conversations are recorded and available for viewing at any time on the Berkeley Conversations website.

CLR 2020 Workshop: Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning

Click here for conference details: April 26.   Many in the ML community wish to take action on climate change, yet feel their skills are inapplicable. This workshop aims to show that in fact the opposite is true: while no silver bullet, ML can be an invaluable tool both in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in helping society adapt to the effects of climate change. Climate change is a complex problem, for which action takes many forms - from designing smart electrical grids to tracking deforestation in satellite imagery. Many of these actions represent high-impact opportunities for real-world change, as well as being interesting problems for ML research. Screen Shot 2020-04-09 at 4.01.05 PM    

Social Distancing? You Might Be Fighting Climate Change, Too

In The New York Times, March 13, 2020:

As the nation shifts abruptly into the fight against coronavirus, a question arises: could social isolation help reduce an individual’s production of greenhouse gases and end up having unexpected consequences for climate change?

The biggest sources of carbon emissions caused by our lifestyles come from three activities, said Kimberly Nicholas, a researcher at the Lund University Center for Sustainability Studies in Sweden: “Any time you can avoid getting on a plane, getting in a car or eating animal products, that’s a substantial climate savings.” Many people trying to avoid the coronavirus are already two-thirds of the way there.

Dr. Christopher M. Jones, lead developer at the CoolClimate Network, an applied research consortium at the U.C. Berkeley Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, said that “all these extra precautions that schools and businesses are taking to keep people home are saving lives, and that’s clearly what’s most important.” Having said that, he added that many of the actions people are taking in response to the coronavirus outbreak could have a benefit of a reduced carbon footprint — though others would have little effect or could even expand it.

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To continue reading, click here.

Robert Frank & Dan Kammen in conversation on the Psychology of Climate Change


Robert Frank will visit GSPP on Monday, Jan. 27, from 3-5 pm in the Living Room to discuss his upcoming book, Under the Influence. The book will officially be for sale on Tuesday, Jan. 28 in stores. “After more than three decades, the public is finally beginning to grasp what a serious threat global warming poses. What’s missing from the climate conversation now is a plausible narrative about how we might parry this threat. Drawing on ideas from his recently published book, Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work, Robert Frank explains why our ability to tap the prodigious power of behavioral contagion may make the path forward less daunting than many think.” Robert H. Frank is the Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics at Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management. For more than a decade, his "Economic View" column appeared monthly in The New York Times. He received his BS in mathematics from Georgia Tech and then taught math and science for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Nepal. He holds an MA in statistics and a Ph.D. in economics, both from the University of California at Berkeley. His papers have appeared in the American Economic Review, Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, and other leading professional journals. His books have been translated into 23 languages, including Choosing the Right Pond, Passions Within Reason, Microeconomics and Behavior, Principles of Economics (with Ben Bernanke), Luxury Fever, What Price the Moral High Ground?, Falling Behind, The Economic Naturalist, The Darwin Economy, and Success and Luck. Please join us for light refreshments after the discussion at 4:30 pm.   Event website: click here.

Kammen disputes the veracity of Jonathan Franzen’s essay on climate change.

Originally published on the KQED news & discussion pages, Sept 10, 2019.

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The climate apocalypse is coming and there's nothing we can do to stop it. At least that's the thesis of writer Jonathan Franzen, whose recent essay in The New Yorker, titled "What if We Stopped Pretending?," tapped into a fear about a climate apocalypse that many people are grappling with. But in the wake of Franzen's piece, published on the magazine's website Sunday, climate scientists, advocates and journalists quickly took to social media to pick apart his interpretation of the current scientific outlook, and his framing of the world's goal of reducing carbon emissions to the point of staving off global catastrophe, as practically impossible. Franzen writes:
The goal has been clear for thirty years, and despite earnest efforts we’ve made essentially no progress toward reaching it. Today, the scientific evidence verges on irrefutable. If you’re younger than sixty, you have a good chance of witnessing the radical destabilization of life on earth—massive crop failures, apocalyptic fires, imploding economies, epic flooding, hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing regions made uninhabitable by extreme heat or permanent drought. If you’re under thirty, you’re all but guaranteed to witness it.
Critics of the piece were quick to assert that Franzen's argument is based upon misreading reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and prominent scientific journals like Nature. A particular sticking point for some was Franzen's assertion that roughly two degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels represents a tipping point that will push the Earth past the point of no return. Sean Hecht is the co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA Law School:
Daniel Kammen, a UC Berkeley climate physicist and co-author of previous IPCC reports, who also served as science envoy for the U.S. Department of State under President Obama, says the reality is not that black and white. "No one has a precise year, has a precise number, that if you exceed this all hope is lost," he said. "That is just not the scientific fact." "It's just really unfortunate because it doesn't reflect any of the current science. It's as if he ignored the comments of the IPCC. reports," Kammen said. "This piece clearly got no fact checking." Franzen argues that in order to collectively make a go at averting all-out disaster, "The first condition is that every one of the world’s major polluting countries institute draconian conservation measures, shut down much of its energy and transportation infrastructure, and completely retool its economy." He adds: "Call me a pessimist or call me a humanist, but I don’t see human nature fundamentally changing anytime soon." But, Kammen says, it's far from a given that one-and-a-half or two-degrees of warming is unpreventable. "While the U.S. is ignoring this, the rest of the world is proceeding," Kammen said. And within the U.S., he pointed out, California, New York and New Mexico are making significant  progress in reducing greenhouse gases. With advances in electric vehicles, solar and wind power, and energy storage, Kammen said,  "the technology base to make it happen is there."
Franzen's essay does make a case for the benefits of reducing the world's carbon footprint. "Even if we can no longer hope to be saved from two degrees of warming," he wrote, "there’s still a strong practical and ethical case for reducing carbon emissions." Postponing what may be inevitable and mitigating the fallout of climate collapse are worthwhile pursuits, he says. As are investing in communities, local farming and conservation. But he also argues against putting all of our collective eggs (i.e., precious resources and hope) in a long-shot war against carbon when other, more addressable problems, such as water depletion and the overuse of pesticides, merit attention. Franzen writes that, "a false hope of salvation can be actively harmful." Personal initiatives like biking to work and voting green, he says, may lure the public into a state of "complacency." Instead, he argues, we should be preparing for life in a radically different -- and hotter -- future, where wildfires and floods persist and the threat of destabilization looms over civilization.
Doom and Gloom Some of Franzen's critics say the kind of apocalyptic rhetoric he employs can be dangerous. "All the discussions of doom and gloom have not led to change we need," said Rob Jackson, chair of Stanford University's Earth Systems Science Department. "It almost relieves us of responsibility. If an apocalypse is inevitable, why should I do anything to stave it off, to minimize it's effects? It reduces actions, rather than enhancing action." While Jackson says he thinks Franzen is correct to point out that we need to better prepare for a changing world, "We are not locked into a Mad Max world.” The fallout from climate change is on a continuum, he says, and "Every tenth of a degree matters. Every tenth of a degree increases the chances of runaway permafrost melt and methane release. Every tenth of a degree will increase the amount of ice melt and sea level rise we face over the next millennium." "We don't know where all the tipping points are. A two degree threshold is an arbitrary threshold. The farther we go, the more likely we make it that catastrophic things will happen." But Franzen is right that climate is an existential thread, Jackson said, "so we should vote and act like it." Not everyone thought Frazen's arguments were so off base. In an article published Monday by Mother Jones, Kevin Drum points out that while the use of renewable energy sources is on the rise — up from 19 to 22 percent of the world's energy capacity since 1990 — so is our dependence on fossil fuels. "All told, our reliance on fossil fuels has increased from 62 percent to 65 percent," Drum wrote. "We haven’t even managed to stabilize carbon emissions, let alone reduce them." But Drum continues:
Franzen’s prescription is wrong: we shouldn’t give up hope. Success is still possible, even if it’s hardly certain. However, his assessment of human nature is something to be taken seriously and it should illuminate the way we approach climate change. Working with human nature is far more likely to produce results than fighting it, and that means finding new ways to make green energy cheap and plentiful instead of fruitlessly pleading with people to use less of it.

Climate Change, hurricanes make the affordable housing crisis even worse

\Teresa Wiltz, USA Today, for the original, click here. Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 3.24.20 PM

Last year, right before Hurricane Florence hit New Bern, a small riverfront city along the North Carolina coast, Martin Blaney rushed to the public housing complex he runs, banging on doors, yelling: “Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate!”

When the winds settled and the rains ended in New Bern, Blaney’s nearby offices were under 6 feet of water. Even worse: Nearly half of New Bern’s public housing stock – 108 buildings, all in a flood zone, out of 218 – was under water, too. Twelve buildings were damaged beyond repair. (A nearby public housing complex for seniors, located above the flood zones, was unscathed.)

“We didn’t know the destructive force of deep water,” said Blaney, the executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of New Bern. “It blew us away.

“All of a sudden, you’ve got 108 households that need to have a roof over their head.”

Hurricane season in full swing

Hurricane season is underway – and storms that make landfall might further exacerbate the nation’s shortage of affordable housing, housing experts say. A new report by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies said finding enough money to make housing sturdier and fix the damage done by increasingly frequent and severe storms is “an urgent housing challenge for the nation.”


A climate change solution slowly gains ground

For the original Washington Post, story, click here. Screen Shot 2019-04-22 at 9.58.46 PM   HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - At the end of a cul-de-sac called Fresh Way, two bright green structures the size of shipping containers gleam in the warm sunlight, quietly sucking from the air the carbon dioxide that is warming the planet. One structure houses computer monitors and controls. Atop the other, large fans draw air through slabs made of honeycomb-style ceramic cubes. The cubes hold proprietary chemicals that act like sponges, absorbing carbon dioxide at room temperature. Every 15 minutes, the slabs rotate and the cubes are heated, releasing a stream of 99 percent pure carbon dioxide into a shiny steel pipe.

This is Global Thermostat, one of just three companies at the leading edge of the hunt for ways of skimming carbon dioxide from the air. It is a tiny step, but a hopeful one, toward reducing global warming. Amid a steady drumbeat of grim news about climate change, more and more people are captivated by the idea that a feasible process can help offset decades of damage to the atmosphere. Some big deep-pocketed corporations - including oil companies - are looking, too. They are lured not so much by the virtues of fighting climate change but by the prospects of making money. Though long a prohibitively expensive technology, carbon capture has become a tantalizing possibility thanks to technological advances - and new generous government incentives. There's little time to spare. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has written that any hope to meet the 2 degree Celsius goal for global warming "will require measures to reduce emissions, including the further deployment of existing and new technologies." For a decade, the three companies - Carbon Engineering, Climeworks and Global Thermostat - have experimented with technologies such as the shape and chemical makeup of the spongelike membranes in an effort to reduce the towering cost of capturing carbon dioxide directly from thin air. Now their work is poised to move beyond the lab tables and prototypes.
"Our business plan is to show that cleaning the atmosphere is a profitable activity," said Graciela Chichilnisky, a Columbia University economics professor and one of the co-founders of Global Thermostat who estimates that CO2 could become a trillion dollar market. Over the past several years, the firms have vied to make technological progress. The cost of carbon capture has fallen from $600 a ton to as low as $100 a ton - and lower if a cheap or free source of heat or energy is available. Federal subsidies are just as important. New U.S. federal tax credits provide as much as $50 for every ton of carbon dioxide captured and stored underground in well-sealed geological formations.
Oil companies can use the credits to pay for turning captured carbon dioxide into transportation fuels, essentially recycling the CO2. That would help Big Oil meet California regulations requiring lower amounts of carbon in motor fuels. And the oil giants can also claim a $35-a-ton credit for enhanced oil recovery - injecting carbon dioxide into the ground to increase well pressure and boost oil production in old fields like the Permian Basin in west Texas. Oil companies currently extract natural carbon dioxide from natural reservoirs before pumping it back into the ground. The federal tax credits, known as 45Q credits, were slipped into the 2018 federal budget in the wee hours of Feb. 9, 2018, after a nine-hour government shutdown. It attracted support from both parties, with leading roles played by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., whose state relies heavily on oil, gas and coal production, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who has spoken almost weekly on the Senate floor about the urgency of climate change and the danger of burning fossil fuels. One reason they agree: It's politically more appealing to give away money through a tax credit than it is to impose a carbon tax that takes money away. A carbon tax is levied on the carbon content of hydrocarbon fuels such as coal, oil or natural gas that emit carbon dioxide and it raises prices for products such as gasoline or electricity. Environmentalists are divided on the tax credits. Most want to bury captured carbon dioxide in geological formations underground rather than using it to produce more fossil fuels. "We concluded that it was not possible to square it with our work to end fossil fuel subsidies," said David Hawkins, director of climate policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which stayed neutral on the measure.
But of the 65 million tons of carbon dioxide that is pumped underground in the United States every year, about 60 million tons is for enhanced oil recovery, said Sally Benson, co-director of Stanford University's Precourt Institute for Energy. And demand is growing. Whitehouse said "at this point, the only revenue proposition for carbon capture is enhanced oil recovery." "As angry and frustrated I am at the behavior of these companies," he said, "if that's what it takes to save the planet I'm willing to make that investment." And Republican senators joined in the name of "innovation," and seemed unbothered that by putting a price on the credits they were flouting the Trump administration's effort to stymie any form of carbon tax. "People now understand the need for addressing climate change," Carbon Engineering's chief executive Steve Oldham said in an interview after testifying before a Senate committee. "When you don't have a solution, it's a scary thought." "We're trying to get the message out that there is a solution here," he added, "and it is not forcing everybody to buy a new car or stop taking airplanes." --- Oldham himself is a sign that carbon capture is closer to becoming a business. He only recently took the helm at the 10-year-old Carbon Engineering, which has built a prototype on a scenic spot near an old lumber town about 30 miles north of Vancouver. Oldham wasn't an expert on carbon capture, but he had worked at a big Canadian tech company raising money from government and commercial sources for complex projects such as large satellites and robotics. Carbon Engineering "has been R&D focused," Oldham said. "Now, they need a different skill set." The Squamish, British Columbia-based firm's early investors included Bill Gates. And Carbon Engineering recently raised $68 million with investments from tar sands financier and Calgary Flames co-owner Murray Edwards, Occidental Petroleum's Low Carbon Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, and BHP, an international mining and resources giant. Oldham said the firm will use the money to design a full-size commercial plant and that it has already identified fives sites in the United States and two in Canada. Drawing on research at the University of Calgary and Carnegie Mellon University, Carbon Engineering converts carbon dioxide into transportation fuels. It does that by combining CO2 with hydrogen - creating a carbon neutral cycle. That could help oil companies meet California's requirement to reduce the carbon intensity of motor fuels by 20 percent by 2030. Harvard University engineering and public policy professor David Keith, acting chief scientist and a board member at Carbon Engineering, estimated in a paper last year that using current know-how and existing components, the company could capture carbon dioxide at $94 to $232 a ton. Even if Carbon Engineering's technique is expensive, it might still be cheaper than alternative methods of meeting the California standards. In addition, by producing fuel, Carbon Engineering could make air travel carbon neutral without having to turn to biofuels or electrification that would be difficult to use in aircraft. "It gives you choices," Oldham said. --- Climeworks, based in Switzerland, was founded by two engineering graduate students, Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher. It became the first company to extract CO2 from the air and sell it to a commercial customer, albeit on a tiny scale. It sells about 900 tons a year - the equivalent of emissions from 200 cars - to a commercial greenhouse near Zurich that grows vegetables. The company has erected a vertical array of 18 fans, each the size of a full-grown adult that helps speed the capture process. The CO2 increases the greenhouse's crop yields by 20 to 30 percent. Climeworks has also forged an agreement to sell carbon dioxide to Coca-Cola HBC in Switzerland for sparkling drinks. Economics could drive future decisions. Last year Europe suffered carbon dioxide shortages when some British fertilizer plants that produce CO2 as a byproduct unexpectedly closed down for maintenance and Coke's CO2 supplies were threatened. Like Global Thermostat, Climeworks traps CO2 simply by exposing a filter to air. The filter contains amines, a derivative of ammonia. Once the filter is saturated, it is heated with steam past the boiling point of 100 degrees Celsius, hot enough to free the carbon dioxide so it can be pumped into pipes or storage tanks. Currently, the Climeworks uses free waste heat from a local incinerator, reducing its costs. --- Global Thermostat has a somewhat different model than the other two. The company is the brainchild of two Columbia University professors: Chichilnisky, an economist and mathematician who took part in the 1990s climate conference in Kyoto, and Peter Eisenberger, an applied physicist who has worked at Bell Laboratories, Exxon, Princeton and now Columbia University. With his flyaway hair, he bears a passing resemblance to Dr. Emmett Brown from the film "Back to the Future." "When Peter and Graciela first talked about this, people thought it was crazy," said Miles Sakwa-Novak, the plant's young engineer. He says that Carbon Engineering essentially takes two mature processes and combines them in a new way, but that Global Thermostat is developing something new. "We literally farm the sky," Chichilnisky says in a company video. The company's early investors included the Canadian tycoon Edgar Bronfman and the utility NRG, one of the biggest U.S. emitters. The company's process uses devices called monoliths that look like sponges to maximize surface area. That area is covered with amines, the nitrogen based chemical that naturally absorbs carbon dioxide from the air. The monoliths are similar to those used in catalytic converters and Chichilnisky says that the manufacturer Corning has provided key materials. The next step - prying the carbon dioxide loose - is harder and more expensive. Yet Global Thermostat only needs to heat up its amine cells to 80 degrees Celsius, less than what it takes to boil a cup of tea, lower than its competitors and thus relatively cheaper. This is the dark secret of virtually all carbon capture techniques: They tend to use large amounts of energy, which adds to carbon emissions and costs. Some say they can be combined with solar installations. So far, Carbon Engineering has tapped into cheap Canadian hydro power. Many analysts wonder why the direct air capture companies don't place their devices near the exhaust of a natural gas or coal plant. Chichilnisky explains that sometimes lower concentrations work better, just as gasoline in a combustion engine needs oxygen. She said that their process requires less energy and works best at concentrations found in the air at 400 parts per million, 300 times more diffuse than in power plant smokestacks. The compact size of the Global Thermostat project could be part of its appeal, Chichilnisky says. Companies with modest CO2 needs - such as soft drink bottlers or oil field service firms - can move Global Thermostat's equipment to a site without having to worry about building pipelines. Global Thermostat is already in talks with a soft drink maker and a major oil company. --- Chichilnisky is optimistic about Global Thermostat, but she's worried carbon capture will be too little too late. "The real problem with climate change is time," she says. Time and scale. The carbon capture enterprises are minuscule compared to the global crisis. In 2018, mankind pumped about 37.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the air. One of Global Thermostat's container size units would capture just 4,000 tons; to offset all global emissions would take 9 million of the units. Climeworks says it can manufacture 100 to 150 CO2 collectors a year, each one capable of sucking up the emissions of 250 cars. A unit with six Climeworks filters would fit in a shipping container. In order to meet its goal of capturing 1 percent of growing global emissions, Climeworks would need to fill up 750,000 shipping containers. Arguing that is doable, Climeworks notes that it is equal to the number of shipping containers that pass through Shanghai harbor every two weeks. Carbon Engineering is planning on much bigger projects, each costing close to $600 million, about the same as a coal-fired power plant. Oldham estimates that it would take 5,000 of his company's plants to offset U.S. carbon emissions - 5.3 gigatons - at a cost of $3 trillion. That's why, he says, "the real answer is a combination" or cutting emissions and building carbon capture. What that means, Chichilnisky says, is that the fight to reduce emissions must continue. The danger of progress on carbon capture is that people will see it as a reason to relax their efforts. Until now, carbon capture has been a bad bet financially. Since 2010, the Energy Department spent about $1.1 billion to help nine carbon capture and storage demonstration projects, the General Accountability Office said in a report. Private industry chipped in $610 million. But most found the cost way too high and abandoned the projects; only one power plant was still active at the end of 2017, GAO said. Many coal companies see the federal carbon credits as a new lease on their lives. "The coal lobby was always in our office" seeking credits, said a former Energy Department official from the Obama administration who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But, he said, "carbon capture and storage makes coal more expensive, not less." Dan Kammen, professor of energy and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, says that carbon capture is diverting attention from cheaper and more scalable ways to taking carbon dioxide out of the air. "The prices [of carbon capture] would have to fall a huge amount for it to be part of our near-term portfolio, meaning 2050 or sooner," Kammen says. Carbon capture from the air "can be an arrow in the quiver," he says. But he adds that changing land use and forestry, using known techniques for taking CO2 from the air and storing it, "would be the best investment in carbon capture today." "I recommend the boring Charlie Brown strategy," he says. "When is the best day to plant a tree? Yesterday. Second best? Today." New carbon capture technology is "the shiny new object on the table," he says, but "with the 30-year clock more than ticking we have to scale up technology. We absolutely need to invest in carbon capture because we will have to do a good deal more of it."

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