Mega-Fires Almost Doubled Chile’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • Fires in 2017 were worst on record, burning 570,000 hectares
  •  Chile’s wildfires have worsened because of decade-long drought

Firefighters work to put out a wildfire at a forest in the town of San Ramon in Constitucion, Chile on Jan. 26, 2017.

Firefighters work to put out a wildfire at a forest in the town of San Ramon in Constitucion, Chile on Jan. 26, 2017. Photographer: Cristobal Olivares/Bloomberg

The mega-fires that ravaged Chile in 2017 emitted the equivalent of 90% of the country’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions, Chilean researchers estimated.The South American nation’s worst wildfires on record burnt more than 570,000 hectares and cost $350 million to combat, according to a report by Universidad de Chile’s Center for Climate and Resilience released last week. The previous record was 130,000 hectares in 2015.

The 2017 fires put about 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere, close to the 111.6 million tonnes emitted by all of Chile the year before. It would take cars in Santiago, home to about 7 million people, to run for 23 years to equal the emissions from the worst mega-fires.

There are no magic solutions to these fires,” said researcher Mauro Gonzalez at the report’s presentation in Santiago last week. “We have a great challenge ahead because we can’t manage climate change or meteorological conditions, so we need to focus on prevention.“

Hidden Emissions

Chile emissions from forest fires in 2017 almost equaled 2016 emissions

Last year saw the least rainfall on record in much of Chile, marking the completion of country’s driest ever decade, a phenomenon linked to climate change that scientists have named a mega-drought. As global temperatures rise, extreme heat and lack of rain have worsened forest-fire episodes in other parts of the world such as California, Australia and the Amazon.

Australia has lost 10 million hectares to the flames this session.

MORE

California eyes selling its own brand of generic prescription drugs to battle high costs

Medicines on a shelf in a pharmacy

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to announce a plan for the state to sell its own brand of generic prescription drugs. (Ebrahim Noroozi / Associated Press)

California would become the first state to sell its own brand of generic prescription drugs in an effort to drive down rising healthcare costs under a proposal Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to unveil in his new state budget Friday.

A broad overview of the ambitious but still conceptual plan provided by Newsom’s office says the state could contract with one or more generic drugmakers to manufacture certain prescriptions under the state’s own label. Those drugs would be available to all Californians for purchase, presumably at a lower cost. The governor’s office said the proposal would increase competition in the generic drug market, which in turn would lower prices for everyone.

The proposal drew both praise and skepticism Thursday as healthcare experts said they were eager to see details on how the state would rein in drug prices that have become increasingly out of reach for many in the state.

“It’s an interesting idea without there being any specifics,” said Craig Garthwaite, director of the healthcare program at Northwestern University‘s Kellogg School of Management. “The question is: What is the goal? Is it to decrease aggregate spending on drugs or fix market failures?”

Whether prescription drugmakers would follow California’s lead as Newsom’s administration has suggested is far from certain. And other key details, including what prescriptions would be manufactured and the timeline for the venture, were not provided.

“A trip to the doctor’s office, pharmacy or hospital shouldn’t cost a month’s pay,” Newsom said in a statement. “The cost of healthcare is just too damn high, and California is fighting back.”

Combating high prescription drug prices has been a priority for Newsom since he took office a year ago, tapping into an area of great concern to the public. Six out of 10 Americans report taking at least one prescription drug, while nearly 80% say the price of those medicines is unreasonable, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report last year. The issue has also become a priority for candidates courting supporters, with 70% of registered voters saying they favor candidates who support lowering drug costs, a 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found.

“Every state has been frustrated with high drug prices,” said Trish Riley, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy. “They want to balance their budgets and these drug price spikes make it difficult. This could have tremendous impact.”

No other state has attempted to cut out the supply chain that leads to drug markups, Riley said, but there is another, smaller-scale model California can turn to.

More than 1,000 hospitals in 46 states are a part of a nonprofit company called Civica Rx, which formed in 2018 to manufacture generic injectable drugs used in hospitals to lower costs and create a stable supply of the medicines. The nonprofit delivered its first generic drug to hospitals in the fall, an antibiotic that had been in short supply.

“It’s an example of what aggressive purchasing can accomplish,” Riley said.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts proposed a bill in 2018 to establish an Office of Drug Manufacturing, which would have allowed the federal government to make prescription drugs or contract with drug companies to produce them in order to lower costs for patients and reduce shortages. The bill did not advance, although Warren continues to promote the concept in her campaign.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry’s lobbying arm, said it is “waiting to receive additional details from the governor on his proposals.”

But others have expressed skepticism at the state’s potential move into the drug market.

“Frankly, I think it’s a ludicrous proposal that demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of generic drug economics,” said Adam Fein, chief executive of the Drug Channels Institute, a market research and consulting firm. “It’s like saying you want to go to Post [Consumer Brands] for your Fruity Pebbles and open a supermarket to buy them. It doesn’t make sense.”

Health experts said California’s plan has the potential to assist consumers if done correctly but cautioned that the state should not expect it to yield significant savings. Those experts said the state could identify drugs that have not generated sufficient competition among generic drug manufacturers and try to compete, but that would mean producing medicines that are in less demand.

It is unlikely that would lead to large savings for the state, but it could drive down prices on some less commonly used drugs for a smaller number of Californians, said USC health economist Geoffrey Joyce.

“This is not a bad move,” Joyce said. “But I wouldn’t oversell it. It will make a modest dent in overall drug spending and drug pricing in California. You are benefiting a modest group of patients, but you are benefiting them in a significant way.”

Garthwaite said the plan has potential to drive down prices, but it also has risks.

“Just because California makes these drugs, doesn’t mean they will make them at a lower cost,” he said. “They would have to target places where the margin is high. I would be worried about them having the discipline to know which markets to enter.”

In October, the state released its first report detailing wholesale drug price increases using data from a pricing transparency law passed in 2017. That report showed 114 generic drugs with reportable price hikes had the largest median price increase from 2017 through the beginning of 2019, rising 37.6%, according to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. That increase was based on the list prices of the drugs before discounts and rebates. Overall, the median list price for all drugs rose 25.8% over the three-year period, according to the report.

But the data include only cases in which generic drugs were subject to price increases and do not account for retail prices that consumers pay, which have been declining, said Allen Goldberg, a spokesman for the Assn. for Accessible Medicines, a trade group for generic drug manufacturers.

“If we’re going to craft policy, let’s understand the data,” Goldberg said.

Last year, Newsom signed executive orders to consolidate the state’s prescription drug purchases into a government-run program, a plan that is still in its early phases. Under the current system, Medi-Cal and state agencies separately negotiate prescription drug prices, but Newsom wants to combine the efforts to give the state more purchasing power.

The executive orders last year called for the state-run collective to be open to small businesses, California residents and local governments, with a handful of counties already pledging to join, including Los Angeles.

On Friday, Newsom is expected to announce plans to expand on the state’s bulk buying plan and seek additional partnerships. He plans to propose a drug pricing schedule for California, a system in which drug manufacturers would bid to sell their prescription drugs at set uniform prices in the state. Newsom’s plan calls for drug prices to be equal to or lower than those of any other state, national or global purchaser in order to sell the products in California.

No other specifics for the plan were made available. Newsom has said he would like to open the state’s future bulk buying program to all entities in California that negotiate with drug manufacturers, including Medi-Cal and the private insurance market. MORE

 

 

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

 

An end in sight for chlorpyrifos

Kid in field

Last week, California got great news from the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) — use of the brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos will be forbidden in California after December 31, 2020.

Chlorpyrifos has been linked to severe and permanent brain damage in young children, including ADHD, IQ loss and autism. It has also been the source of several farmworker poisonings in the state.

Steps to eradication

While the use of chlorpyrifos in California will end next December, there are a few key dates to look forward to before then that will aid in eliminating the harmful chemicals from the state’s agricultural and food system. DowDuPont (now Corteva), the principal manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, will have to cease all sales of the pesticide in California as soon as November 8.

Then, distributors must stop selling the chemical to growers by February 6, 2020. Hopefully with sales ending in February, chlorpyrifos will be mostly out of circulation well before the date in December fully prohibiting use.

Until then, all uses of chlorpyrifos must comply with existing restrictions, including a ban on aerial spraying, quarter-mile buffer zones and limiting use to crop-pest combinations that lack alternatives.

An ongoing process

PAN celebrated California Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement in May of this year to initiate the cancellation process of chlorpyrifos — applauding this strong action at the state level while we await progress on the pesticide at the federal level.

But as we celebrated, we braced ourselves for an ongoing and possibly unwieldy battle to see the cancellation process though. Just last month, the agrichemical corporations that manufacture chlorpyrifos filed an opposition to the accusations served against them by DPR that kicked off the cancellation process.

So last week’s announcement from DPR with a concrete timeline for phasing out chlorpyrifos was a welcome victory.  MORE

What’s driving California’s emissions? You guessed it: Cars.

California received plenty of praise back in 2016 when it hit its target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions four years ahead of time. But the Golden State’s progress has slowed, according to a report out Tuesday from a nonpartisan research center. California is now on track to hit its 2030 goal in 2061. Three whole decades late.

The biggest problem: California’s beloved cars.

“This is a sobering report,” said F. Noel Perry, a California investor who founded the center behind the report, Next 10. “We are at a very important point: California is going to need major policy breakthroughs and deep structural changes if we’re going to meet our climate goals.”

What happened? Over the last three years, California has reduced emissions at a rate of only 1.15 percent. At that pace, it would take a century for the state to zero-out carbon emissions. But a law ex-Governor Jerry Brown signed in 2016, requires the state to reach zero emissions by 2050. Since falling behind, the state would need to step up emissions reductions to 4.51 percent every year, according to the report.

Next 10

Next 10’s report, the California Green Innovation Index, shows that the state has plucked most of the low-hanging fruit, mainly by cleaning up electricity production. California’s next challenge is the tougher job of eliminating climate pollutants from transportation, industry, and homes, and offices. And, yes, all of those cars.

Passenger vehicles alone produce nearly a third of California’s emissions, more than all of the electric plants, livestock, and oil refineries in the state put together. Vehicle ownership has reached an all-time high, as has the total miles that Californians are driving. Moreover, “even in climate conscious California we’ve seen a consumer preference shift to favor SUVs and light trucks,” said Adam Fowler of Beacon Economics, which prepared this report for Next 10.

Next 10

Since early 2017, more than half the new passenger vehicles Californians bought were SUVs and trucks.

Another big, related problem is housing. California’s economy is booming, but cities haven’t built the homes needed by all the new workers. That’s forcing more people into suburbs far from public transportation. The report found that the percentage of people choosing public transit “declined substantially throughout most of California between 2008 and 2018.” Failure to build housing is doubly bad because new buildings are much more efficient in terms of insulation,climate control, and energy efficiency. Every new home even gets solar panels.

“This is one of the gnarliest challenges,” Perry said. “How do we reduce commute times and how do we build denser housing?”

It’s not all bad news. California continues to prove it’s possible to cut carbon emissions while the economy expands. From 2016 to 2017, California’s economy per capita grew 3.1 percent while each person’s emissions decreased.

And the authors said that the state still deserves a lot of credit. “California policies have made appliances more efficient, renewable energy cheaper, and given cars better gas mileage all across the country,” Perry said.

California just passed a bill that will make Uber and Lyft drivers employees

The move is a major blow for the ride-hailing firms—and a victory for gig workers in the state.

The news: California’s state senate has passed a bill that will make Uber and Lyft drivers, among other gig workers, employees instead of independent contractors. The bill, called AB5, will now head to Governor Gavin Newsom for approval. Newsom had previously said he would back the bill, so it is all but certain to be turned into law and then go into effect in 2020.

AB5 has received support from presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris. Though Uber and Lyft drivers are still considered independent contractors under federal law, experts say the bill is likely to influence other states to pass similar bills and set up a big fight over the future of work. Already, labor groups in New York have their eye on a similar bill.

ABCs: Ride-sharing companies insist that drivers aren’t employees because they own their own cars, set their own hours, and can work for competitors. The bill requires companies to instead use a legal standard called “the ABC test” to figure out whether someone is an employee or not. The three requirements are that the worker is “free from control” of the hiring company, the work is outside the company’s main business, and the worker has an independent business beyond this job.

AB5 has lots of exceptions—for example, freelance writers, real estate agents, and lawyers—but ride-share drivers are not exempted.  Uber, Lyft, and other gig economy firms would have to apply these three requirements to their drivers, and if they don’t pass, the drivers must be classed as employees. The two firms would then have to offer their drivers minimum wage and, among other benefits, overtime pay, sick leave and family leave, and contributions to Social Security and Medicare. Workers could also be reimbursed for mileage and for maintaining their vehicles.

Fighting back: In the weeks leading up to the vote, Uber and Lyft became increasingly desperate,  offering drivers a $21 minimum wage while on a trip. After it became clear that the bill was likely to pass, Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash said they would spend $90 million on a campaign to let residents vote on whether drivers should have a new, non-employee classification instead.

What’s next: It’s unclear. Companies have claimed that there will be fewer drivers on the road after the bill goes into effect, and Uber has said that it will continue to litigate employment cases. Gig workers usually agree not to be part of class action lawsuits against the company when they sign up, so it could be hard for cases to go to court—which means it’ll be hard to enforce the bill. Plus, details of the plan to make a third worker classification have not been made public. Passing the bill is a big deal, but a lot of questions remain.  SOURCE

Anitra Paris: Climate action across Cascadia—an op-ed on electrification in a time of crisis

On August 29, Justin Trudeau visited a B.C. Hydro facility in Surrey to make a joint announcement with Premier John Horgan about electrification initiatives in the extraction, processing, and liquefaction of natural gas.
On August 29, Justin Trudeau visited a B.C. Hydro facility in Surrey to make a joint announcement with Premier John Horgan about electrification initiatives in the extraction, processing, and liquefaction of natural gas.JUSTIN TRUDEAU

In 2019, there has been a global uprising of youth concerned about climate change. Examples like Extinction Rebellion hosting die-ins, a nonviolent protest that brings attention to the unprecedented mass extinction with one million species facing extinction. And, Greta Thunberg raising her voice and leaving an impression on many of her peers.

Many may also be familiar with the IPCC report stating that there are 12 years left to act. Now one year later, there are 11 years to mobilize and make change. There is a unified voice calling urgently for change.

Most of the headlines from our neighbours to the south are disheartening, ranging from tragic mass shootings to the myriad of atrocious Trump stories. However, there are some positive newsworthy stories spattered throughout. Certain states are pulling ahead and leading the way in decarbonization and fighting the climate crisis. I have been repeatedly impressed with two states: Washington and California.

Washington 

Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee has been paving the way and taking some serious climate action. The state is poised for carbon neutral electricity by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy by 2025. In March 2019, it went as far as banning hydraulic fracking for natural gas exploration.

California 

California is another state that has been taking climate action in strides. It is host to many innovative renewable energy, clean tech and storage companies. For example, Tesla and its recently developed utility-scale storage solution Megapack. The City of Berkeley recently banned natural gas in new buildings, becoming the first city in North America to embrace this clear step toward building electrification.

B.C.’s successes in electrification?

In British Columbia, our electricity generation is relatively low-carbon. However, one-third of our energy consumption still relies on fossil fuels. We need to permeate our energy consumption with clean electricity and stop using fossil fuels for transportation, the built environment, and industrial processes. This idea was echoed in the province’s CleanBC plan, released in December 2018. MORE