One Thing You Can Do: Make Your New Year’s Resolution Count

New Year’s resolutions suggest an abstract faith in the future. If we do this thing, we tell ourselves, our 2020 selves will look or act or feel better than our 2019 selves did. There’s an implicit acknowledgment that change is possible and that we are capable of making it happen (though just under half of us won’t hold on to our resolutions through February).

Talking about fighting climate change is a lot like that: Here’s what things look like if nothing changes. But if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a little — through the end of February, maybe — what happens? If we reduce them by a lot, what will the world look like and what will it take to make that happen?

At once we’re thinking about the present, modeling the future and thinking about how those models might differ depending on what we decide to do.

Climate change tends to scramble time, defying our sense of an orderly progression. As Robert Macfarlane, the chronicler of nature, climate, and the environment, has said, “We burn Carboniferous-era fossil fuels to melt Pleistocene-era ice to determine Anthropocene future climates.”

In so doing, we accelerate all kinds of phenomena: the melting of polar ice sheets and glaciersmass die-offs of coral reefs. Of the billions of tons of greenhouse gases we’ve added to the atmosphere, more than half have come in my lifetime, since 1990. We hurl ourselves into the future with increasingly precise models, only to be outpaced by our distortions of nature.

In light of all that, it is easy to feel defeated and powerless. But in the same way that you can imagine a better you, your New Year’s resolution can imagine a better planet, because it’s always possible to do something.

We know what happens if we give up and do nothing: Things only get worse. Currently we are on track for 3 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century. One million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction over the next few decades. Natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires are already becoming more frequent and stronger. Incremental changes today, like sea-level rise, will be catastrophic by 2100.

Climate change is not a problem that can be solved or mitigated enough by individual behavior, though it is good, important and a place to start. It’s easy to feel defeated after reading a set of facts like the one above and knowing that changes in our own personal habits aren’t enough.

I recognize that this might seem to fly in the face of the very concept of a New Year’s Resolution. But it doesn’t, actually.

We can’t fix this alone. We can’t all do everything. But, we can all do one thing. So just pick one thing — whether it’s eating less red meat, or composting, or riding your bike to work, or cleaning up plastic litter in your community, or buying secondhand clothing — and actually do it.

Maybe it will make you think change is possible, or you’ll think, “That wasn’t so hard,” and that maybe you could do another thing. Maybe it will reduce your carbon footprint or cause less pollution.

Maybe it will remind you that the most important change we can make as individuals is to stay focused on all the work that still needs to be done. The work that all of us — particularly companies and countries — need to do together to sidestep catastrophe. The work that we all need to make sure gets done.I can’t prove any of that, but I can say that it is entirely possible to do one thing, even after February. SOURCE

The Key to the Environmental Crisis Is Beneath Our Feet

Image result for resilience: The Key to the Environmental Crisis Is Beneath Our Feet

The Green New Deal resolution that was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in February hit a wall in the Senate, where it was called unrealistic and unaffordable. In a Washington Post article titled “The Green New Deal Sets Us Up for Failure. We Need a Better Approach,” former Colorado governor and Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper framed the problem like this:

The resolution sets unachievable goals. We do not yet have the technology needed to reach “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” in 10 years. That’s why many wind and solar companies don’t support it. There is no clean substitute for jet fuel. Electric vehicles are growing quickly, yet are still in their infancy. Manufacturing industries such as steel and chemicals, which account for almost as much carbon emissions as transportation, are even harder to decarbonize.

Amid this technological innovation, we need to ensure that energy is not only clean but also affordable. Millions of Americans struggle with “energy poverty.” Too often, low-income Americans must choose between paying for medicine and having their heat shut off. …

If climate change policy becomes synonymous in the U.S. psyche with higher utility bills, rising taxes and lost jobs, we will have missed our shot.

The problem may be that a transition to 100% renewables is the wrong target. Reversing climate change need not mean emptying our pockets and tightening our belts. It is possible to sequester carbon and restore our collapsing ecosystem using the financial resources we already have, and it can be done while at the same time improving the quality of our food, water, air and general health.

The Larger Problem – and the Solution – Is in the Soil

Contrary to popular belief, the biggest environmental polluters are not big fossil fuel companies. They are big agribusiness and factory farming, with six powerful food industry giants – Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Dean Foods, Dow AgroSciences, Tyson and Monsanto (now merged with Bayer) – playing a major role. Oil-dependent farming, industrial livestock operations, the clearing of carbon-storing fields and forests, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the combustion of fuel to process and distribute food are estimated to be responsible for as much as one-half of human-caused pollution. Climate change, while partly a consequence of the excessive relocation of carbon and other elements from the earth into the atmosphere, is more fundamentally just one symptom of overall ecosystem distress from centuries of over-tilling, over-grazing, over-burning, over-hunting, over-fishing and deforestation.

Big Ag’s toxin-laden, nutrient-poor food is also a major contributor to the U.S. obesity epidemic and many other diseases. Yet these are the industries getting the largest subsidies from U.S. taxpayers, to the tune of more than $20 billion annually. We don’t hear about this for the same reason that they get the subsidies – they have massively funded lobbies capable of bribing their way into special treatment.

The story we do hear, as Judith Schwartz observes in The Guardian, is, “Climate change is global warming caused by too much CO2 in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels. We stop climate change by making the transition to renewable energy.” Schwartz does not discount this part of the story but points to several problems with it:

One is the uncomfortable fact that even if, by some miracle, we could immediately cut emissions to zero, due to inertia in the system it would take more than a century for CO2 levels to drop to 350 parts per million, which is considered the safe threshold. Plus, here’s what we don’t talk about when we talk about climate: we can all go solar and drive electric cars and still have the problems – the unprecedented heat waves, the wacky weather – that we now associate with CO2-driven climate change.

But that hasn’t stopped investors, who see the climate crisis as simply another profit opportunity. According to a study by Morgan Stanley analysts reported in Forbes in October, halting global warming and reducing net carbon emissions to zero would take an investment of $50 trillion over the next three decades, including $14 trillion for renewables; $11 trillion to build the factories, batteries and infrastructure necessary for a widespread switch to electric vehicles; $2.5 trillion for carbon capture and storage; $20 trillion to provide clean hydrogen fuel for power, cars and other industries, and $2.7 trillion for biofuels. The article goes on to highlight the investment opportunities presented by these challenges by recommending various big companies expected to lead the transition, including  Exxon, Chevron, BP, General Electric, Shell and similar corporate giants – many of them the very companies blamed by Green New Deal advocates for the crisis.

A Truly Green New Deal

There is a much cheaper and faster way to sequester carbon from the atmosphere that doesn’t rely on these corporate giants to transition us to 100% renewables. Additionally, it can be done while at the same time reducing the chronic diseases that impose an even heavier cost on citizens and governments. Our most powerful partner is nature itself, which over hundreds of millions of years has evolved the most efficient carbon sequestration system on the planet. As David Perry writes on the World Economic Forum website:

This solution leverages a natural process that every plant undergoes, powered by a source that is always available, costs little to nothing to run and does not cause further pollution. This power source is the sun, and the process is photosynthesis.

A plant takes carbon dioxide out of the air and, with the help of sunlight and water, converts it to sugars. Every bit of that plant – stems, leaves, roots – is made from carbon that was once in our atmosphere. Some of this carbon goes into the soil as roots. The roots, then, release sugars to feed soil microbes. These microbes perform their own chemical processes to convert carbon into even more stable forms.

Perry observes that before farmland was cultivated, it had soil carbon levels of from 3% to 7%. Today, those levels are roughly 1% carbon. If every acre of farmland globally were returned to a soil carbon level of just 3%, 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide would be removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil – equal to the amount of carbon that has been drawn into the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago. The size of the potential solution matches the size of the problem.

So how can we increase the carbon content of soil? Through “regenerative” farming practices, says Perry, including planting cover crops, no-till farming, rotating crops, reducing chemicals and fertilizers, and managed grazing (combining trees, forage plants and livestock together as an integrated system, a technique called “silvopasture”). These practices have been demonstrated to drive carbon into the soil and keep it there, resulting in carbon-enriched soils that are healthier and more resilient to extreme weather conditions and show improved water permeability, preventing the rainwater runoff that contributes to rising sea levels and rising temperatures. Evaporation from degraded, exposed soil has been shown to cause 1,600% more heat annually than all the world’s powerhouses combined. Regenerative farming methods also produce increased microbial diversity, higher yields, reduced input requirements, more nutritious harvests and increased farm profits.

These highly favorable results were confirmed by Paul Hawken and his team in the project that was the subject of his best-selling 2016 book, “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.” The project involved evaluating the 100 most promising solutions to the environmental crisis for cost and effectiveness. The results surprised the researchers themselves. The best-performing sector was not “Transport” or “Materials” or “Buildings and Cities” or even “Electricity Generation.” It was the sector called “Food,” including how we grow our food, market it and use it. Of the top 30 solutions, 12 were various forms of regenerative agriculture, including silvopasture, tropical staple trees, conservation agriculture, tree intercropping, managed grazing, farmland restoration and multistrata agroforestry.

How to Fund It All

If regenerative farming increases farmers’ bottom lines, why aren’t they already doing it? For one thing, the benefits of the approach are not well known. But even if they were, farmers would have a hard time making the switch. As noted in a Rolling Stone article titled “How Big Agriculture Is Preventing Farmers From Combating the Climate Crisis”:

[I]implementing these practices requires an economic flexibility most farmers don’t have, and which is almost impossible to achieve within a government-backed system designed to preserve a large-scale, corporate-farming monoculture based around commodity crops like corn and soybeans, which often cost smaller farmers more money to grow than they can make selling.

Farmers are locked into a system that is destroying their farmlands and the planet, because a handful of giant agribusinesses have captured Congress and the regulators. One proposed solution is to transfer the $20 billion in subsidies that now go mainly to Big Ag into a fund to compensate small farmers who transition to regenerative practices. We also need to enforce the antitrust laws and break up the biggest agribusinesses, something for which legislation is now pending in Congress.

At the grassroots level, we can vote with our pocketbooks by demanding truly nutritious foods. New technology is in development that can help with this grassroots approach by validating how nutrient-dense our foods really are. One such device, developed by Dan Kittredge and team, is a hand-held consumer spectrometer called a Bionutrient Meter, which tests nutrient density at point of purchase. The goal is to bring transparency to the marketplace, empowering consumers to choose their foods based on demonstrated nutrient quality, providing economic incentives to growers and grocers to drive regenerative practices across the system. Other new technology measures nutrient density in the soil, allowing farmers to be compensated in proportion to their verified success in carbon sequestration and soil regeneration.

Granted, $20 billion is unlikely to be enough to finance the critically needed transition from destructive to regenerative agriculture, but Congress can supplement this fund by tapping the deep pocket of the central bank. In the last decade, the Fed has demonstrated that its pool of financial liquidity is potentially limitless, but the chief beneficiaries of its largess have been big banks and their wealthy clients. We need a form of quantitative easing that actually serves the local productive economy. That might require modifying the Federal Reserve Act, but Congress has modified it before. The only real limit on new money creation is consumer price inflation, and there is room for a great deal more money to be pumped into the productive local economy before that ceiling is hit than is circulating in it now. For a detailed analysis of this issue, see my earlier articles here and here and latest book, “Banking on the People.”

The bottom line is that saving the planet from environmental destruction is not only achievable, but that by focusing on regenerative agriculture and tapping up the central bank for funding, the climate crisis can be addressed without raising taxes and while restoring our collective health.

A decade of high expectations, broken promises for Indigenous peoples

Idle No More protestors close down Winnipeg’s major intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street in 2012. (John Woods / Free Press files)</p>

Idle No More protestors close down Winnipeg’s major intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street in 2012. (John Woods / Free Press files)

‘Completely unsustainable’: How streaming and other data demands take a toll on the environment

Tech firms look for solutions as data centres use huge amounts of power to fuel streaming and social media

Streaming services and other cloud-based apps are placing growing demands on data centres in Canada and abroad. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

For those of us binge-watching TV shows, installing new smartphone apps or sharing family photos on social media over the holidays, it may seem like an abstract predicament.

The gigabytes of data we’re using — although invisible — come at a significant cost to the environment. Some experts say it rivals that of the airline industry.

And as more smart devices rely on data to operate (think internet-connected refrigerators or self-driving cars), their electricity demands are set to skyrocket.

“We are using an immense amount of energy to drive this data revolution,” said Jane Kearns, an environment and technology expert at MaRS Discovery District, an innovation hub in Toronto.

“It has real implications for our climate.”

Tech companies in Canada and abroad, however, are coming up with innovative solutions to curb the growing problem.

Jane Kearns, vice-president of growth services at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District, says the massive energy consumption of the world’s data centres ‘has real implications for our climate.’ (Craig Chivers/CBC)

It’s not the gadgets themselves that are drawing so much power, it’s the far-flung servers that act as their electronic brains. Although often described as the “cloud,” the servers exist in real-world data centres, which Kearns calls “massive energy hogs.”

The data centres, often bigger than a football field, house endless stacks of servers handling many terabytes (thousands of gigabytes) of digital traffic. Just as laptops tend to warm during heavy usage, servers must be cooled to avoid overheating. And cooling so many machines requires plenty of power.

How much power does it take?

Anders Andrae, a researcher at Huawei Technologies Sweden whose estimates are often cited, told CBC News in an email he expects the world’s data centres alone will devour up to 651 terawatt-hours of electricity in the next year. That’s nearly as much electricity as Canada’s entire energy sector produces.

And it’s just the beginning.

Servers for data storage are seen at Advania’s Thor Data Centre in Hafnarfjordur, Iceland. (Sigtryggur Ari/Reuters)

Andrae’s calculations, published in the International Journal of Green Technology, suggest data centres could more than double their power demands over the next decade. He projects computing will gobble up 11 per cent of global energy by 2030 and cloud-based services will represent a sizeable proportion of that.

“This will become completely unsustainable by 2040,” Andrae wrote.

So, what’s driving the increased demand for data? Streaming video is currently the biggest culprit, with platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video eating up 60.6 per cent of all internet traffic, according to network analytics firm Sandvine, headquartered in Waterloo, Ont. And streaming video usage is only growing.

But higher-speed 5G cellular networks, more widespread artificial intelligence and the nascent Internet of Things, such as smart home devices, are guaranteed to send data demands through the roof. Autonomous vehicles, for instance, require a constant flow of information to stay on the road.

Greener solutions

The information and communications technology sector as a whole is thought to be responsible for two to three per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions — roughly on par with the often-criticized airline sector.

However, data-voracious tech giants are pledging to clean up their act. Amazon Web Services is the market leader in providing cloud computing to other companies. AWS, as it’s known, says it exceeded 50 per cent renewable energy usage in 2018 and has committed in the “long term” to exclusively use clean power sources, such as wind.

Finding green solutions “is not just something that’s nice to do,” said Marc Musgrove, a spokesperson for Digital Realty, a California-based company that operates data centres around the world. “It’s an imperative” demanded by the company’s clients, including Facebook.

Digital Realty intends to renovate the former Toronto Star printing press room and install more servers as part of the company’s sprawling data centre in Vaughan, Ont. The data centre already occupies much of the sprawling building. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Digital Realty’s 675,000-square-foot Toronto-area data centre formerly housed the Toronto Star’s printing press. In a bid to go green, the facility cools its machines for much of the year with fresh air-based systems. Heat exchange wheels installed on the building’s roof take outdoor air and push it down, to cool the warmer air in the server rooms.

It’s part of the reason Digital Realty set up shop in Canada. Environmental considerations “work well in this kind of climate,” Musgrove said.

Indeed, countries with cooler weather, such as Iceland and Ireland, have been investing in the sector to attract data centres. Canada is eager to get a slice of the growing pie as well.

The Department of Natural Resources says data centres already consume about one per cent of all electricity used in Canada, and the demand keeps growing.

But there are also homegrown energy solutions in the works.

Kearns, a vice-president at MaRS in Toronto, said the country’s tech firms are “absolutely on the cutting edge” in developing greener solutions to data management.

She pointed to Waterloo, Ont.-based Smarter Alloys, which is developing technology that recovers the kind of low-level heat emitted from large server facilities, a possible source of renewable energy.

The process “has the potential to make real positive impact on reducing carbon emissions with a cost-effective solution,” CEO Ibraheem Khan said in 2018, when Smarter Alloys was named as a finalist for an Ontario clean energy prize.

In Ottawa, Ranovus is taking a different approach, focusing on expanding the information transmission capacity within data centres to cut down on energy demands.

Hamid Arabzadeh is chairman and CEO of Ranovus, an Ottawa-based technology firm that’s working on making data transfers more efficient to cut down on the amount of energy required. (Thomas Daigle/CBC)

“We’re facing a tsunami of data,” Ranovus CEO Hamid Arabzadeh said in an interview.

At the company’s headquarters in the Kanata North innovation district, more than 40 staff are fine-tuning cutting-edge solutions, including what Ranovus calls the “quantum dot multi-wavelength laser,” which relies on microscopic technology to multiply the speed and capacity of data transfers.

The approach could reduce the amount of energy required for mass data transfers by 80 per cent, cutting costs dramatically.

Arabzadeh said the firm’s clients, who are mainly on the U.S. West Coast, are aiming for “undisrupted access to unlimited data with no latency.”

As the demand for bandwidth — and the pressure on data centres — grows, users should see no reduction in the quality of their experience, he said.

“But underneath… there’s a lot of work being done.”


‘A new focus for us’: Canada’s building code being modernized to address climate change

The update is being done this year, and ‘the major action will come in 2025,’ says National Research Council

A man stands on a residential street surrounded by floodwaters in the town of Rigaud, Que., west of Montreal on April 21, 2019. The new code will upgrade building requirements for wind resistance and how buildings bear snow loads. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

When storm winds howl and rivers flood, buildings take the brunt.

And as climate change makes all kinds of extreme weather more frequent and more destructive, scientists at the National Research Council are trying to figure out how to ensure Canada’s built environment is ready.

“We’re going to see change in the way we’re designing new buildings to help prevent the spread of wildfire, prevent the damage from flooding,” said Marianne Armstrong, who manages the council’s research effort.

“We want to create a culture of thinking about resiliency.”

The council is coming to the end of a five-year research program that has considered how changing weather and the new norms it brings will affect stresses on buildings, roads, wastewater, transit, bridges and other infrastructure.

More than 100 researchers have been working on the project, which has had a budget of $42.5 million. They include materials experts, ocean scientists and aerospace and transport engineers.

Another 100 organizations, such as universities, provinces and municipalities, have been involved.

Canada’s building codes are modernized every five years. The next update is due this year and is likely to see the first changes meant to address the country’s new climate reality.

New standards coming

“Climate change, the fact that we now see a rapid change of that environment, is a new focus for us,” said Frank Lohmann, the research council’s manager of code development.

The new code will upgrade building requirements for wind resistance and how buildings bear snow loads. There will be new rules for rainwater collection. Automatic backflow systems will be compulsory to reduce flooding risk.

New standards related to climate change are also on the way for windows, exterior insulation, fire tests, air barriers and asphalt shingles.

The coming changes are just the start, Lohmann said.

Members of the RCMP return from a boat patrol of a still flooded neighbourhood in High River, Alta., on July 4, 2013. The town of 12,000 just south of Calgary gained an international profile when flooding in parts of southern Alberta resulted in billions of dollars in damage. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

“The major action will come in 2025.”

The research council is building a database predicting climate stresses under different scenarios for every region of the country. Researchers are looking into how those stresses are likely to affect the durability of walls and roofs.

Some are developing new guidelines for how structures can better resist higher flood levels. Others are working on how to ensure buildings stay cool during hotter heat waves.

“Just now we’re getting the data together for those future climate conditions and coming up with how to design for it,” said Armstrong.

“That information will be finished by 2020 and in time to be considered for the next cycle of changes to the building code.”

While the council writes the national building code, it has no force until it is adopted by provinces, which write their own regulations. That means scientific advice may be reflected in a variety of ways — from outright rules to guidelines to incentive programs.

Canada is not alone in its efforts. Armstrong is recently back from a conference where Americans, New Zealanders and Australians were all asking the same questions.

“From all perspectives,” she said, “Canada is a few years ahead of the game. We have momentum in this country to adapt.”

The twisted remains of a building crane hang off a construction project in Halifax on Sept. 8, 2019. Hurricane Dorian brought wind, rain and heavy seas that knocked out power across the region, left damage to buildings and trees as well as disruption to transportation. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Still more to do

It’s a big job.

The council has to consider not only the variables of climate, but the different ways the world will respond to its challenges. It has to look at how Canada’s population could shift and how land use will be altered.

“There’s still a lot of questions, still a lot of science and work that needs to go in,” Armstrong said.

The future’s always going to be uncertain. That being said, we can tell you how uncertain, so you can make up your mind how to design for it.– Marianne Armstrong, of Canada’s National Research Council

“The future’s always going to be uncertain. That being said, we can tell you how uncertain, so you can make up your mind how to design for it.

“We do know for certain that past history does not represent the future.” SOURCE

For Extinction Rebellion to Succeed, It Has to Get Political

Extinction Rebellion London (Kārlis Dambrāns/CC BY 2.0)

More than 1,000 people have been arrested at Extinction Rebellion protests in London, in what is being hailed as one of the most successful displays of civil disobedience in modern UK history.

In a blend of performance art and protest, activists glued their hands to trains and bridges, chained themselves to politician’s houses and anchored a bright pink boat in the center of Europe’s busiest shopping area, transforming metropolitan London’s clogged arteries into open, green and communal spaces.

Extinction Rebellion has shocked the world, reenergized the climate debate and for those of us who didn’t need convincing, they have inspired hope in the face of an ecological crisis. But the group still faces serious questions about how its newfound spotlight will translate into concrete political gains.

The tendency among XR’s core activists to point to arrest numbers has sparked criticism across the political spectrum. Left wing critics (often in solidarity) argue that this laser-eyed focus on arrest counts risks alienating marginalized groups like migrants and ethnic minorities that are disproportionately victimized by the police. Prominent activists like Ash Sarkar have expressed support for XR, maintaining that it is more diverse than its critics acknowledge. But addressing these concerns will in no small part determine the group’s ability to forge meaningful alliances.

Extinction Rebellion has been criticized for being motivated by mainly white, middle-class concerns. XR organizer Robin Boardman stormed out of an interview with Sky News presenter Adam Boulton after the host decried the group as “a load of incompetent, middle class, self-indulgent people who want to tell us how to live our lives.” However, many of the activists I met in the two days I spent in London are unemployed, homeless or in precarious living situations. The sense of inclusiveness and belonging offered by XR might be the saving grace for those bruised by Brexit and nearly a decade of Tory government.

While XR’s core philosophy can at times seem like the odd fusion of game theory and environmentalism, or as if dissent is being “datified,” its tactics are culled from historic struggles like the civil rights and Indian independence movements. (Harvard political scientist Erica Chenoweth, whose chiefly empirical research stipulates that in order for a peaceful mass movement to succeed 3.5% of the population must join its ranks, is popular among the movement’s core.)

Extinction Rebellion describes itself as “an international apolitical network,” and of its strategic approaches, here lies perhaps its most enigmatic. Many within XR’s ranks claim that climate change is an issue that transcends politics and is beyond the purview of the opaque policy discussions that rattle the halls of power. But climate change is hardly an apolitical issue: It is fundamentally about the distribution of power in society and how we form community.

Is this a movement in its infancy hoping to cast wide appeal? Or does XR ascribe to the notion that once a more democratic form of governance is put in place, like a citizens’ assembly, the state will begin to lose its political character? (For the record, none of the organic farmers, teachers and youth climate activists I talked to ever quoted the Communist Manifesto). The most important question facing XR, however, is how it will render its message into a concrete political strategy.

Whatever misgivings Labour activists harbor for Extinction Rebellion I think that they are posing the same question to society: Are we really going to continue ‘business as usual’ and obey the logic of the market in the face of human extinction?

Despite its initial apolitical posturing, an internal memo that made the rounds early on Easter Sunday suggests that activists within Extinction Rebellion are making the case for a political turn. Farhana Yamin, XR’s political circle coordinator, said that the movement would momentarily scale back its occupations and shift focus toward making political demands. “Being able to ‘pause’ a rebellion shows that we are organised and a long-term political force to be reckoned with,” said Yamin.

This shift would be welcome by many on the left who argue that the Labour Party’s transformative economic program is the best way, or at least the best available way, to address the ecological crisis. Occupy Wall Street was short-lived, but it imbued our political discourse with a new moral vocabulary and undoubtedly helped pave the way for the Sanders revolution and insurgent candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. But Extinction Rebellion can go further. In the US, Occupy had the Democrats to contend with, a party that still actively suppresses the ascendency of its more radical factions. But in Labour, Extinction Rebellion has a potential partner — at the very least they have their attention.

The Labour leadership has lent solidarity to XR and the shadow health secretary John Ashworth has even backed their demand for a citizens’ assembly. When MPs returned to Westminster on Tuesday following the Easter recess, former Labour leader Ed Miliband called on the government to declare a climate emergency and introduce a Green New Deal. This groundswell of support follows the recent launch of Labour for a Green New Deal, a grassroots campaign inspired by AOC’s push for a radical economic program that tackles both inequality and the climate crisis. The campaign is calling for an expansion of public ownership, a massive investment in public infrastructure and a four-day work week.

The word movement itself evokes a sense of dynamism and fluidity. Movements are not static and fixed. Labour activists will have to decide whether their differences with XR will be hashed out on the sidelines or from within. Extinction Rebellion has elevated a vital conversation and depending on how the cards fall it might just be one that ends in a Green New Deal for the UK. SOURCE


California Advances an Ambitious Climate Policy That Should Be a Model for the World

The state is on the verge of passing a rule requiring 100 percent of its electricity to come from carbon-free sources

A solar farm at the University of California, Davis. Photo: UC Davis College of Engineering

California is accelerating its rollout of clean energy, even as the White House is racing to unravel climate regulations

On Tuesday, the California Assembly passed a bill requiring 100 percent of the state’s electricity to come from carbon-free sources by the end of 2045, putting one of the world’s most aggressive clean-energy policies on track for the governor’s desk.

Given the size of California’s economy and the bill’s ambitions, it’s “the most important climate law in US history,” says Danny Cullenward, an energy economist and lawyer at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

The actual impact of the measure on global emissions and climate risks will be negligible, unless the rest of the world responds in similar ways. But California is effectively acting as a test bed for what’s technically achievable, providing a massive market for the rollout of clean-energy technologies and building a body of knowledge that other states and nations can leverage, says Severin Borenstein, an energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

“We are showing that you can operate a grid with high levels of intermittent renewables,” he says. “That’s something that can be exported to the rest of the world.”

California’s actions stand in stark contrast to the direction of federal policy under President Trump, who pulled the nation out of the landmark Paris climate agreement within six months of taking office (see “Exiting Paris, Trump cedes global leadership on climate change”). Among other measures, the administration is working to water down the Clean Power Plan, prop up the coal industry, and roll back federal vehicle emissions standards while revoking the ability of states like California to set their own.

Reaching 50 percent

The new California bill, known as SB100, will still need to go back to the Senate to approve changes made since it passed there with a comfortable margin last year, but that’s not expected to be a hurdle.

The measure also moves up the state’s earlier timeline to reach 50 percent renewables, from 2030 to 2026. Notably, however, California regulators have said the state’s major utilities could reach that milestone as early as 2020, underscoring the rapid pace at which the energy transformation has unfolded since the state first put its renewable standards in place in 2002. (In fact, California would already be well beyond the 50 percent threshold if the state’s legal definition included carbon-free electricity sources like nuclear power and large hydroelectric plants.)

Borenstein says the state hasn’t always picked the most cost-effective paths, noting that customers are still paying inflated rates as a result of some excessively high early wind and solar contracts. But crucially, the rapid transformation occurred without wrecking California’s flourishing economy. The state’s gross domestic product climbed by $127 billion last year, making it the world’s fifth-largest economy.

The critical question now is: Can the state’s grid get to 100 percent clean energy as affordably and reliably?

Solving the second half

Many energy researchers believe the second half of California’s clean-energy puzzle will be considerably more difficult, and expensive, to solve than the first.

Back in 2002, California got off the starting block with a fair amount of existing wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass, and solar thermal power. From this point forward, every additional percentage point of clean power needs to be built from scratch. In addition, the state plans to close its last nuclear plant in the coming years, eliminating a carbon-free source that provides about 10 percent of the state’s electricity.

But perhaps the thorniest challenge is that the output of renewable sources like wind and solar vary greatly by the day and season. As renewables come to represent a larger portion of the state’s total electricity generation, managing that intermittency could become increasingly costly and complex.

“The amount of effort to achieve the last 20 percent might well be as much as it took the reach the first 80,” Jane Long, a former associate director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and energy researcher who has closely studied the mix of technologies that could be required to meet California’s emissions goals, said in an email.

Among other things, it could require expensive investments in energy storage, politically tricky expansions of transmission infrastructure, or greater reliance on controversial carbon-free sources like advanced nuclear, or fossil-fuel plants coupled with carbon-capture technology (see “The $2.5 trillion reason we can’t rely on batteries to clean up the grid”).

Added flexibility

A crucial nuance of the California bill is that it employs a wider definition of clean-energy sources than the state’s earlier rules, using the language “zero-carbon resources” rather than “renewables,” which means it could include those technologies or others that may emerge in the years ahead.

Long says that flexibility will be key to achieving the state’s goals. It’s also likely to require additional technological innovation, potentially including the development of storage technology that can work on a seasonal basis and affordable means of producing carbon-neutral fuels, she adds.

Some are more optimistic. Daniel Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that it won’t be increasingly challenging to reach California’s next set of goals. Among other things, he believes we’re sure to see the necessary energy storage advances in the years to come and says the state has yet to harvest other “low-hanging fruit,” like using electric vehicles as a form of distributed storage.

Moreover, Kammen says we’ll see a pronounced shift toward the “low-carbon lifestyles” embraced by younger citizens in the next few decades, as the state increasingly plans cities around dense housing and public transit rather than single-family homes and cars. SOURCE