Per Capita: One step forward, two steps back … or is it the other way around?
The prior column was about pieces of the puzzle, how if we raise our gaze from our own circumstance with heat, drought, flood, whatever and take in the growing ubiquity of these extreme events around the planet, we will see a picture that requires us to act forcibly to protect the future.
This column is another way of looking at the same jigsaw-puzzle analogy. Instead of extreme weather events, the pieces are unrelated examples of efforts and facts, some positive, some negative that form a more complex picture that embodies both optimism and pessimism for the future.
Here we go.
A snippet from a recent National Geographic included the statement that, “About a million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute around the planet.”
A report published on UTILITY DIVE cited an update from the Rocky Mountain Institute and World Resources Institute in their Local Government Renewables Action Tracker, that stated, “Ninety-five local governments across 33 states procured 3,683 megawatts of new renewable energy generation capacity in 2020 through 143 deals, the largest amount of capacity ever added in one year”.
Also from the UTILITY DIVE, “The Wyoming legislature has sent a trio of bills to the governor that, pending approval, aim to prolong the use of coal-fired generation by requiring an expanded economic analysis of any proposed coal plant closures and creating a $1.2 million fund to litigate coal related legislation in other states.” More: “Wyoming joins four other states — Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia — that have passed or are pursuing legislation that seeks to prevent the closure of coal-fired power plants in some way”.
More from UTILITY DIVE:”A District Court judge dismissed a lawsuit last week challenging the city of Berkeley, California’s 2019 ban on natural gas infrastructure in new low-rise residential construction, a decision that some observers say could inspire more cities to follow with their own restrictions. And in that vein, a New York Times article reported that, “California regulators voted Wednesday to require builders to include solar power and battery storage in many new commercial structures as well in high-rise residential projects”.
The news source Grist issued a bad new, worse bad news article reporting that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ranked 2020 as the hottest year on record. Other organizations tracking temperature ranked it second, after 2006, and one said it was a tie. So it was a close call. But for context, Grist reports, “for 44 years in a row now the globe has been hotter than the 20th century average” and “The world’s hottest seven years on record have all taken place since 2014”. NASA also reported that, July 2021 was Earth’s hottest month on record.”
CarbonBrief, a daily briefing on all things related to climate and energy, reported in an article entitled “Investment industry at ‘tipping point,’ as $43tn in funds commit to net-zero” that, “Almost half the world’s assets under management have now pledged to meet climate goals after an array of big investors signed up to the Net-Zero Asset Managers initiative”. Adding a bit of a “however” to this good news, it was also noted that very few asset managers actually have “robust policies around issues such as phasing out of coal.”
Again, in a seemingly good news story with a tinge of not so good, Grist also reported that the shipping giant Maersk announced it would operate a “carbon neutral” vessel (think one of those huge container ship like the one that got stuck in the Suez Canal) by 2023 using a fuel that is “made from renewable sources, is free of soot-forming pollutants”, and this is the not so good part, “is currently in scarce supply.”
The fuel, methanol, is currently being used in “about a dozen” chemical tankers but is itself derived from coal or natural gas. Maersk’s plan is to use Bio-Methanol (made from biomass or from biogas from landfills or sewage) or E-methanol produced by combining hydrogen produced by using renewable electricity to split water molecules, with carbon dioxide from exhaust from power plants. It may be a bit ambitious to think this will all be technically possible at a scale to make it economically viable by 2023.
The headline in the New York Times reported that the “Pacific Is Now Open for Wind Farms.” Apparently the U.S. Navy has abandoned its opposition and two areas, one of nearly 400 square miles in Morro Bay and the other off the north coast near Humboldt. Together, the two sites could produce enough electricity for an estimated 1.6 million homes. This decision was just made; no leases have as yet been signed. This announcement comes on the heels of approval for an off-shore wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts, with about a dozen other proposals for the East Coast currently under review.
So, you decide; are we taking one step forward and two steps back, or is it the other way around?
— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to email@example.com.
Original post in the Davis Enterprise, Sept 13, 2021