For just Dan Kammen’s essay, click here.
Sheltering in place has plenty of downsides, especially economically, but there is one thing you can feel good about if you’ve taken to working from home. It’s likely drastically reducing Bay Area air pollution.
SF air pollution is 38% lower than it was at this time in 2019, according to the EPA. This is likely largely due to decreased transportation, which accounts for up to 30% of the typical U.S. household’s emissions, whether driving or taking public transportation.
During recent quarantine measures in China, there was also a direct impact on pollution levels. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China when comparing Jan. 1–20, 2020 (before quarantine) and Feb. 10–25 (during quarantine). Nitrogen dioxide is emitted by motor vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities.
According to NASA scientists, the reduction in NO2 pollution was first
apparent near Wuhan, but eventually spread across the country. “This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the NASA post.
The drop in nitrogen dioxide did coincide with Lunar New Year celebrations, where generally businesses and factories close to celebrate. Air pollution usually decreases during this period and then increases once the celebration is over, but this year the country didn’t see an increase.
While the U.S. may see similar reductions in emissions as people are driving and flying less, it likely won’t have a lasting effect, warned Daniel Kammen, an energy professor at U.C. Berkeley.
“We’ve seen this after 9/11 and during the Beijing Olympics,” Kammen said. “Emissions went down temporarily but then they roared back afterward as factories reopened and everyone made up for lost production. Looking at this emission drop is exceedingly deceptive.”
Kammen, who was formerly a science advisor to the Trump administration (he resigned over the president’s 2017 response to the Charlottesville demonstrations) and also served as an adviser to the Obama administration, also noted that looking at just our own emissions doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, much of the emissions coming from China are because of U.S. goods being made there. He said he hopes people understand the full impact of an individual’s carbon footprint and that while he cautions getting overly optimistic about the decrease in pollution, what we learn during the crisis could have a larger impact on the working world.
“We could be able to take some lessons from this on how to be climate-smart,” Kammen said. “If we learn from this crisis that we could shift a lot of our IT activities, our conferences, etc. to use Zoom and Slack and the like then that’s a good lesson. These are ways we can decarbonize our economy.”
While the environmental impacts may not be sustained, they have had short-term gains. Marshall Burke, an assistant professor at Stanford’s Department of Earth System Science, wrote that while the harms the virus will cause will likely far exceed any health benefits from reduced air pollution, it may have saved the lives of between 50,000 and 75,000 people. “The reductions in air pollution in China caused by this economic disruption likely saved twenty times more lives in China than have currently been lost due to infection with the virus in that country,” Burke wrote on G-Feed, a site run by a group of scientists researching the relationship between society and the environment.
While there are health benefits of the air pollution changes, Kammen cautioned about the long-term impacts to the economy that we can’t yet know that could also impact the environment. “There is no question that we’re seeing big carbon impacts due to coronavirus,” he said. “We won’t be able to say the reduction is a good thing because the economic impacts are going to be so large.”
U.C. Berkeley researcher and professor Dennis D. Baldocchi also said it’s likely too early to understand any of the effects coronavirus will have long term, but he agreed that we could learn from this new way to work. “Often with the environment, there are winners and losers. You try to do one good thing and one thing pops up that’s unintentional,” he said. “But this could show that we can function differently in the future and still be socially interactive.”
Baldocchi also acknowledged the unknown impact of the increased waste right now, like everything from plastic hand sanitizer bottles to more takeout containers to medical equipment.
“It’s too early to say what the impacts are right now, but if we revisit in March 2021 and compare it to this year it will be very interesting,” he said.
January 17, 2020
Costa Cruises and AIDA Cruises ships calling at Aqaba, Jordan, are offering their guests climate-friendly vegetables from an innovative farm outside the city. The new partnership brings together the Costa Group and the Norwegian non-profit Sahara Forest Project Foundation.
The initiative will deliver vegetables to a total of 14 incoming ships during the season from March to October.
With 28 ships and over 85,000 berths among the different brands, the leading cruise company in Europe and China wants to create a trend through this project.
“We believe that through this project we offer the chance to replicate the same approach in places and communities where the application of these cutting-edge technologies will represent a step forward into their life,” Davide Triacca, secretary general of the Costa Crociere Foundation, told Forbes.com.
“We also see the tremendous potential of making hundreds of thousands of guests on board Costa and Aida ships aware of key topics. Lastly, on a global scale the impact will be multiplied as usually other players in the cruise industry follow Costa’s leadership example.”
According to Costa, it ‘s not easy to scout innovative and sustainable projects that can be applicable in a realistic time-frame and that can provide a concrete value to the people and the environment.
“We acknowledge that innovation is not (only) an introspective process and that’s why the Foundation is always open to effective, sound project proposals from non-profit organizations and start-ups in various fields,” Triacca added. “We don’t have any geographical boundary as we will support projects that can bring benefits to the communities and the environment.”
Professor Dan Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at the University of California Berkeley, welcomed the partnership recently presented at COP.
“The Sahara Forest Project planet in Jordan is an exceptionally promising example of true out-of-the-box thinking about the clean-energy-food-water possibilities,” Kammen told Forbes.com.
“By leveraging low-cost renewables, this effort demonstrates that the benefits of clean energy can leverage dramatic shirts to a sustainable future where added food and water access is brought to life.”
According to FAO, the global demand for food, water and energy is expected to increase by about 40 to 50% by 2030. “Doubling food production by 2030 will not come from putting more fertile land into production but mainly from sustainably intensifying production – that is, getting more from agricultural lands already in use – and from using marginal lands, such as drylands,” said FAO natural resources officer Alessandro Flammini.
Due to the war in Syria, however, there has been issues and delays to the roll-out and upscaling. Key logistic routes to markets have been closed and some stakeholders had to change their agendas.
Another challenge has been establishing a saltwater pipeline from the Red Sea to the farm’s site, but the company is currently working with Jordanian officials to make some development in this sense.
“As we understand it, there has been implementation challenges and delays, but we should all hope that they overcome those,” the director of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) Per Fredrik Pharo commented. “The Sahara Forest Project showed great promise. Clearly, its circular nature and ability to utilize non-fertile lands for food production and employment could be a breakthrough.”
Inaugurated under the patronage of King Abdullah II of Jordan and Prince Haakon of Norway in 2017, the Sahara Forest Project uses saltwater and sunlight to harvest products. It aims at greening desert areas and creating local jobs through production of food, freshwater and clean energy.
“The ongoing long-term agreement for supply of vegetables to Costa and AIDA ships can pave the way for an expansion of our project in Jordan, while raising international awareness for the need to scale-up innovative solutions to combat global warming and create local jobs in desert areas,” said Mr. Stake, managing director of the Sahara Forest Project.
“It is urgent to prove that it is possible to shift away from current agricultural practices traditionally using 80% of scarce freshwater resources and contributing with 25% of CO2 emissions in many dry countries and scale up concepts that are good for the environment, social development and business.”
For the original, click here.
On Thursday, Bernie Sanders released his long-awaited presidential climate plan. And folks, Bernie is gonna Bernie.
You can hear his voice in everything as it spits hot fire about prosecuting the fossil fuel industry, uplifting workers, and creating a whole swath of new public works programs and infrastructure. It also calls for 100 percent renewable energy for transportation and electricity sectors by 2030 while eschewing nuclear power and demilitarizing the world, setting a goal that’s somewhere between wildly ambitious and out of reach. In that regard, it perfectly captures the iconoclastic nature of the Vermont senator himself. But whether it can be implemented is a big question mark.
Former presidential candidate Jay Inslee, who exited the 2020 race on Wednesday, made waves when he announced a $9 trillion plan to combat climate change, a large portion of which would be leveraged investments from the private sector. Sanders’ plan goes much, much further. It guarantees a $16.3 trillion investment through 2030 to radically reshape American life and address the climate crisis.
The plan itself doesn’t focus on where the money will come from, though the campaign did say it would come in part from new taxes on the rich, raising revenue from the plan itself, reduced social safety net costs, and a few other sources. Instead, it focuses on who gets the money. The plan commits trillions of dollars to grants for low– and middle-income families to do everything from home weatherization to buying a new electric vehicle, and it would create a whole new host of publicly owned energy and internet infrastructure. It also uses language like “we will spend,” “we plan to provide,” and “give.” I’m not going all bUt HoW wIlL wE pAy FoR iT, given that we need a livable planet, but the language and the recipients themselves are the message: This is a goddamn revolution.
Among the outlays, Sanders would commit $2.37 trillion to renewable energy and storage, which the plan says would be enough of an investment to meet the country’s energy needs. Any renewable energy the government generates would be publicly owned, and a Sanders administration would prioritize selling it to publicly owned utilities and cooperatives at current rates to keep costs down. The campaign estimates that alone would raise $6.4 trillion of the $16.3 trillion needed to fund the transition. The plan highlights this under a bullet point about needing to “end greed in our energy system.”
To that end, the plan also says Sanders would instruct the Department of Justice (DOJ) to go after fossil fuel companies for both civil and criminal penalties. So far, cases winding through the state court systems have largely failed to hold Big Oil accountable for lying to everyone from the public to shareholders. There may be a federal precedent, though.
Michael Gerrard, the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told Earther that Sanders “is trying to replicate and go beyond what happened in 2006, when after a lengthy trial DOJ obtained the civil conviction of eleven major tobacco companies under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO).” The result of that case changed how Big Tobacco could advertise and forced them to issue corrective statements about the adverse effects of smoking, though no fines were levied. I would venture to guess a Sanders’ DOJ would hope for a stronger outcome.
Patricia Hidalgo-Gonzalez was today named a 2019–2020 Siebel Scholar in Energy Science!
Joining a community of graduate student Siebel Scholars, Paty is now part of The Siebel Energy Institute, global consortium for innovative and collaborative energy research.
The Institute funds cooperative and innovative research grants in data analytics, including statistical analysis and machine learning, to accelerate advancements in the safety, security, reliability, efficiency, and environmental integrity of modern energy systems.
Paty’s work is on power systems theory, including both analytic work and the development of the SWITCH modeling tools, and practice, with research foci in the US, Chile, and China, and on basic power system reliability, and deep decarbonization of the sector.
ERG student compiles data on climate change — right outside the President’s window! [Japan’s cherry blossoms signal warmest climate in more than 1,000 years]
From the April 4 Washington Post: and developed by ERG PhD student Zeke Hausfather:
For more than 1,000 years, emperors, aristocrats, governors and monks have chronicled the flowering of Japan’s famed cherry trees in the city of Kyoto. But bloom dates have shifted radically earlier in recent decades, a sure sign that the region’s climate is warming and warming fast.
Yasuyuki Aono, a professor of environmental sciences at Osaka Prefecture University, has assembled a data set that compiles blossom-flowering dates in Kyoto all the way back to 800 A.D. It shows a sudden and remarkable change in the past 150 to 200 years.
From roughly 800 to 1850, the blossom flowering time was fairly stable. While the bloom dates bounced around quite a bit from year to year during April, the long-term average hovered between April 10 and April 17 (the 100th to 107th day of the year).
(Invert plot to see the Hockey Stick!)
Dan Kammen, professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley and a climate adviser to the Obama administration, discusses the the potential of a carbon tax at the recent Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM7) conference in San Francisco.
“If we really want to bend the curve to make the transition, we need everyone to speak the same language — not always to agree, but to talk about things in the same way,” said Kammen. “You just can’t get environmentalists and business leaders and elected officials to do that unless we’re valuing and pricing out the impacts. Carbon tax will get us there.”
Kammen contends that the U.S. government could get the carbon tax ball rolling by making carbon accounting a “business requirement” for all federal contracts.
To watch the video: click here.
Interesting piece by Andy Revkin on famines: Amartya Sen was right!
I hope you’ll read “Is the Era of Great Famine Over,” an Op-Ed article by Alex de Waal, the executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University, which has a program tracking famine trends.
Filing from Ethiopia, which is in the midst of a potent drought but — for a change — not a calamitous famine, de Waal made these core points:
How did Ethiopia go from being the world’s symbol of mass famines to fending off starvation? Thanks partly to some good fortune, but mostly to peace, greater transparency and prudent planning. Ethiopia’s success in averting another disaster is confirmation that famine is elective because, at its core, it is an artifact and a tool of political repression.
It’s worth stressing that last line:
[F]amine is elective because, at its core, it is an artifact and a tool of political repression.
Please read the entire article and consider the trend against what has been learned by scholars like Joshua Goldstein and Steven Pinker about death rates from war and violence; declines in deep poverty as shown by Max Roser; and child mortality rates from the World Health Organization.
There’s a valuable deeper dive on global famine trends on the Tufts website.
Over all, human prospects continue to improve.
Setbacks are nearly always the result of ruptures in governance or unchecked extremism and violence. Click back to Nick Kristof’s searing commentary from South Sudan last year for another example. Here was his conclusion, even as he witnessed people collapsing on the street:
You might think that what’s needed to end a famine is food. Actually, what’s essential above all is an international push of intensive diplomacy and targeted sanctions to reach a compromise peace deal and end the civil war.
While the general picture is brightening, trend is not destiny, and, of course, the non-human world is not doing nearly as well.
But with sustained citizen engagement, increased monitoring and transparency, more “mundane science” (in the best sense, as conveyed by Dan Kammen and Michael Dove) and pressure on despots and other bad actors, chances of up-side surprises remain high.
Postscript | Don’t miss the slide show on the political roots of a host of great famines that accompanies the de Waal article.
In Africa, hydropower is one of the largest renewable power contributors to energy generation, however with climate change wreaking havoc across the continent, water is becoming a scarce commodity in certain areas.
Dr Daniel M. Kammen, founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL), and International Rivers’ Lori Pottinger discuss hydropower at length, identifying the climate risks and the addition of alternative renewable technologies in the East Africa region.
The African energy sector is generally speaking, underfunded, under-capacitated and in some places embattled. An estimated 70% of Africans have no access to grid-based electricity.
Blackouts and energy shortfalls are the norm in many places. Given this difficult landscape, taking advantage of opportunities to increase reliability, develop local sustainable resources, and support both on– and off-grid users is a powerful opportunity not to be missed.
The East African Power Pool (EAPP), which serves 10 countries, is at a critical junction.
It has the potential to play a key role in driving energy investments in the region for years to come but its heavy focus on costly large dams – and the lack of analysis on the risks that climate change brings to those investments – puts the region at high risk.
The plentiful renewable energy resources available to the region in the form of solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy mean that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Hydropower faces climate risks
As currently configured, the EAPP will rely heavily on some of Africa’s largest most controversial hydropower dams, including Ethiopia’s Gibe III Dam on the Omo River, and Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile.
Currently, about a quarter of electricity generated in EAPP countries comes from hydropower (higher than the global average but acceptable). Guture investments will create a much greater dependence on hydropower at a time of changing river flows and other climate disruptions.
The EAPP has identified hydropower projects that will almost double the EAPP’s current installed capacity, which means that an estimated 60% of the grid’s power will come from Ethiopian hydropower generation alone.
Not enough information exists about the risks involved in hydropower dams in East Africa to justify such heavy growth in hydropower.
The EAPP Master Plan does not include an analysis of the effects of climate change on the regional power strategy. It makes no attempt to address the impacts of possible droughts on the region’s economy.
The EAPP would be wise to shift its priorities to include a much greater proportion of renewable energy sources like solar, geothermal and wind, and to take greater account of climate risks to large hydropower projects.
Bridging the energy divide
Decentralised renewable energy sources are also more appropriate for bridging East Africa’s large energy divide.
Mini-grids and community energy programmes can greatly build local energy access and economic opportunity, which can be the ‘seeds’ of growing regional grids.
The clean, non-hydro energy potential of the East African region is vast and developing it can lead to strong economic, social and environmentally beneficial development.
A renewables based energy sector can meet the rapidly growing energy needs of the region, making additional progress in increasing energy access, in a way that achieves environmental sustainability.
With so many people living off-grid in the region, a balanced focus on grid-connectivity and on pay-as-you go and other off-grid and mini-grid clean energy solutions is a key step that governments in the region can enable, and that the international aid and business communities can support.
Our recent work on the ‘information-energy’ nexus and the strong performance of private providers of off-grid solar-based energy services (such as M-KOPA and SunnyMoney) indicates that diversified strategies have the potential to build capacity to serve all in the east African region.
It has been estimated that the region’s solar resource alone is sufficient to provide the needed energy resources for each nation within the EAPP.
Available non-hydro renewable electricity sources account for roughly 80% of the identified hydropower projects in the EAPP Master Plan.
Leapfrogging hydro to a broad base of renewables would be far less risky in a changing climate.
Leading by example
A good example of an energy sector that is already planning for climate risks to hydropower is Kenya. The east African country has increased its percentage of climate-safe geothermal electricity while reducing its dependence on hydropower.
Kenya is on pace to expand its geothermal production from just over 500MW to over 3,000MW in just a few years.
Geothermal is today the least-costly form of on-grid generation in Kenya, with costs as low at 8.5 cents/kWh, one third of the fossil fuel costs.
The geothermal story in Kenya is not unique. Wind could rival geothermal as a growth industry. New discoveries (such as the incredibly rich wind resource at Lake Turkana).
Challenges do remain, with the off-grid population and expansion of energy programmes for the poor being key issues (but where efforts from the growing private sector pay-as-you-go programmes of M-KOPA, SunnyMoney and others are making progress).
At the industrial level, however, the expansion of clean, on-grid energy can also bring about new industrial potential.
Even while taking the prudent step to dramatically reduce the planned use of hydropower, Kenya is planning a new industrial corridor built around clean geothermal, wind, and solar energy.
What is taking place in Kenya can and should happen elsewhere in the region.
About the authors:
This editorial piece is based on the findings of “A Clean Energy Vision for East Africa: Planning for Sustainability, Reducing Climate Risks and Increasing Energy Access” (2015) by Daniel Kammen.
Dr Daniel M. Kammen is the Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley, with parallel appointments in the Energy and Resources Group, the Goldman School of Public Policy, and the Department of Nuclear Engineering.
He was appointed by then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in April 2010 as the first energy fellow of the new Environment and Climate Partnership for the Americas (ECPA) initiative.
Lori Pottinger, works on the Communications and Africa Programme at International Rivers. Pottinger has worked on Africa’s rivers since the 1990’s. “A healthy river is such a remarkable thing, it gives so much to so many people; we’re working across the continent to keep Africa’s rivers healthy and flowing. If I wasn’t working on rivers, I’d be doing what I can to save the world’s oceans and coral reefs.”
 Alstone, P., Gershenson, D. and Kammen, D. M. (2015) “Decentralized energy systems for clean electricity access“, Nature Climate Change, 5, 305 – 314. DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2512
Lower Carbon = Higher Profit
Carbon emissions signal inefficiency in a system, an energy expert said in Chicago this week, so reducing emissions usually means increasing savings.
“In household after household and small businesses and schools, we’ve consistently found that carbon– or water-saving operations are good for the bottom line,” Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California Berkeley, told about 150 people at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute on Monday.
Kammen is backed up, in part, by a study he published in 2011 in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. Kammen and co-author Chris Jones found that a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions resulted in $2,100 per year in potential financial savings for a household.
“What we found, no surprise, is that actions that save you on carbon almost always save you on money,” Kammen said. “Because after all those emissions are a waste.”
The savings hinge on a number of actions that reduce waste: change diet, telecommute, take transit, eco-drive, maintain vehicles, ride bike, turn up thermostat, turn down thermostat, reduce flying, trade in vehicles, use compact fluorescent bulbs, line-dry clothes, use Energy–Star refrigerator.
“Average financial savings are frequently greater than $100 per metric ton of CO2e conserved for this set of actions,” the authors write. Some of these actions require an upfront investment—$4,800 for the average American household—which the authors say will pay back in 2.6 years and then continue to pay off.
The greatest savings come from changes in diet—$850 per year on average—which entail giving up carbon-intensive meat and dairy products and “non-essential food items.” The authors urge a reduction in overeating, from 2,500 calories per day to 2,200, and contend that dietary change will not only reduce carbon and save money but combat health problems associated with obesity.
The authors modeled these changes for about 2,000 types of households in 78 different regions of the U.S.
Dietary change produced the most dramatic effect across all regions, but other changes showed more variability.
For example, they compare a two-person household earning $90,000 in the San Francisco Bay Area (Household A) to a five-person household earning $50,000 in St. Louis, MO (Household B):
The Carbon footprint of household A is dominated by emissions from motor vehicles and air travel. Emissions from household energy are about half of the U.S. average due largely to the relatively clean fuel mix of California’s electricity grid and moderate San Francisco Bay Area climate. The household has essentially no emissions from cooling. Emissions from goods and services outstrip emissions from food due to the household’s relatively high income and low number of household members. The total ∼20% footprint reduction potential modeled corresponds to about $2100/yr in potential financial savings. As could be expected, transportation dominates total carbon footprint reduction potential (8 out of 10 tCO2e/yr total).
The carbon footprint of household B is dominated by emissions from electricity. This is largely a product of high emissions per kWh of electricity in St. Louis and larger than average heating and cooling demands. Emissions from food also outstrip direct and indirect emissions from motor vehicles, due to the large household size. This modest income family has lower than average emissions from goods and services. The household can save $1400 per year and reduce its carbon footprint by almost 3 tCO2e/yr by reducing overeating and waste from food and reducing the amount of meat, dairy, and nonessential food items consumed. Further savings of $500 per year and 3 tCO2e/yr can be obtained by increasing the family’s average fuel efficiency from 20 mpg to 25 mpg, reducing total vehicle miles traveled and practicing fuel-saving driving and vehicle maintenance habits. The household has virtually no emissions from air travel. Carbon footprint savings of 2 tCO2e can be achieved by adjusting the thermostat, replacing light bulbs, and line-drying clothes; however, financial savings are less than $200/yr due to relatively low energy prices in the state of Missouri.
The differences lead the authors to suggest that policymakers tailor policies and incentives to different objectives in different regions instead of trying to craft a blanket policy for all.
Kammen spoke Monday in Chicago at a forum sponsored by the University of Chicago Center for International Studies and other campus groups. He told me in a subsequent email that Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, which he founded, has also modeled carbon savings for business and industry, with similar results.
Some companies have caught on to the financial value of sustainability—Kammen mentioned Pepsi and Walmart—but most have not because “the data isn’t widely out there yet.”
Jones and Kammen used the data to build calculators that enable individuals and business owners to compare their carbon footprint to their neighbors and competitors. When faced with comparisons, Kammen said, people will often reduce carbon emissions voluntarily.
For example, the first brewer to use their calculator was Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, which has long emphasized sustainability.
“The next brewer said, ‘This data has to be wrong, no one can be this green.’ So we provided a little more information, they figured out which brewer it was, and a number of others decided to catch up. They only did it because a peer competitor had done it,” Kammen said.
“This process of egging each other on is an area of behavioral economics for which all of these energy teams have been scouring the landscape for behavioral economists who want to play.”