Paper: Your money or your life? The carbon-development paradox #ActOnClimate

Click here to read the paper. Here’s the abstract:

The relationship between human health and well-being, energy use and carbon emissions is a foremost concern in sustainable development. If past advances in well-being have been accomplished only through increases in energy use, there may be significant trade-offs between achieving universal human development and mitigating climate change. We test the explanatory power of economic, dietary and modern energy factors in accounting for past improvements in life expectancy, using a simple novel method, functional dynamic decomposition. We elucidate the paradox that a strong correlation between emissions and human development at one point in time does not imply that their dynamics are coupled in the long term. Increases in primary energy and carbon emissions can account for only a quarter of improvements in life expectancy, but are closely tied to growth in income. Facing this carbon-development paradox requires prioritizing human well-being over economic growth.

#California: Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Project update #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Screen shot from EagleCrestEnergy.com video

From The Los Angeles Times (Sammy Roth):

Steve Lowe gazed into a gaping pit in the heart of the California desert, careful not to let the blistering wind send him toppling over the edge.
The pit was a bustling iron mine once, churning out ore that was shipped by rail to a nearby Kaiser Steel plant. When steel manufacturing declined, Los Angeles County tried to turn the abandoned mine into a massive landfill. Conservationists hope the area will someday become part of Joshua Tree National Park, which surrounds it on three sides.

Lowe has a radically different vision.

With backing from NextEra Energy — the world’s largest operator of solar and wind farms — he’s working to fill two mining pits with billions of gallons of water, creating a gigantic “pumped storage” plant that he says would help California get more of its power from renewable sources, and less from fossil fuels…

Pumped storage hydro electric.

At Eagle Mountain, one of several abandoned mining pits would be filled with water, pumped from beneath the ground. When nearby solar farms flood the power grid with cheap electricity, Lowe’s company would use that energy — which might otherwise go to waste — to pump water uphill, to a higher pit.

When there’s not enough solar power on the grid — after sundown, or perhaps after several days of cloudy weather — the water would be allowed to flow back down to the lower pit by gravity, passing through an underground powerhouse and generating electricity…

The Eagle Mountain plant wouldn’t interrupt any rivers or destroy a pristine landscape. But environmentalists say the $2.5-billion facility would pull too much water from the ground in one of the driest parts of California, and prolong a history of industrialization just a few miles from one of America’s most visited national parks.

Lowe rejects those arguments, saying his proposal has survived round after round of environmental review and would only drain a tiny fraction of the underground aquifer.

The project’s fate may hinge on a question with no easy answer: How much environmental sacrifice is acceptable — or even necessary — in the fight against climate change?

Click here to read the EIS.

Leaked report for [JP Morgan] says #Earth is on unsustainable trajectory #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Anti-climate change lobbying spend by the five largest publicly-owned fossil fuel companies. Statista, CC BY-SA

From The Guardian (Patrick Greenfield and Jonathan Watts):

The world’s largest financier of fossil fuels has warned clients that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity and that the planet is on an unsustainable trajectory, according to a leaked document.

The JP Morgan report on the economic risks of human-caused global heating said climate policy had to change or else the world faced irreversible consequences.

The study implicitly condemns the US bank’s own investment strategy and highlights growing concerns among major Wall Street institutions about the financial and reputational risks of continued funding of carbon-intensive industries, such as oil and gas.

JP Morgan has provided $75bn (£61bn) in financial services to the companies most aggressively expanding in sectors such as fracking and Arctic oil and gas exploration since the Paris agreement, according to analysis compiled for the Guardian last year.

Its report was obtained by Rupert Read, an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson and philosophy academic at the University of East Anglia, and has been seen by the Guardian.

The research by JP Morgan economists David Mackie and Jessica Murray says the climate crisis will impact the world economy, human health, water stress, migration and the survival of other species on Earth.

“We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened,” notes the paper, which is dated 14 January.

Drawing on extensive academic literature and forecasts by the International Monetary Fund and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the paper notes that global heating is on course to hit 3.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. It says most estimates of the likely economic and health costs are far too small because they fail to account for the loss of wealth, the discount rate and the possibility of increased natural disasters.

The authors say policymakers need to change direction because a business-as-usual climate policy “would likely push the earth to a place that we haven’t seen for many millions of years”, with outcomes that might be impossible to reverse.

“Although precise predictions are not possible, it is clear that the Earth is on an unsustainable trajectory. Something will have to change at some point if the human race is going to survive.”

The investment bank says climate change “reflects a global market failure in the sense that producers and consumers of CO2 emissions do not pay for the climate damage that results.” To reverse this, it highlights the need for a global carbon tax but cautions that it is “not going to happen anytime soon” because of concerns about jobs and competitiveness.

The authors say it is “likely the [climate] situation will continue to deteriorate, possibly more so than in any of the IPCC’s scenarios”.

Without naming any organisation, the authors say changes are occurring at the micro level, involving shifts in behaviour by individuals, companies and investors, but this is unlikely to be enough without the involvement of the fiscal and financial authorities.

Platte River Power Authority sets public sessions on energy options — The Loveland Reporter-Herald #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Transmission towers near the Rawhide power plant near Fort Collins, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

From the Platte River Power Authority via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

Platte River Power Authority will hold public focus group meetings as the power provider works to update the plan that details how it will continue to deliver electricity to customers in Loveland, Estes Park, Fort Collins and Longmont as it moves toward more renewable resources.

Platte River will hold sessions in each of those four communities, facilitated by Colorado State University’s Center for Public Deliberation, to receive input from residents and business owners as it updates its Integrated Resource Plan. A new such plan is produced every five years, using input, technology and best practices to lay out a mix of power sources.

This plan is being completed in 2020, one year early, because the power provider’s board of directors decided to pursue a 100% carbon-free energy mix by 2030. Currently, about 30% of the energy delivered by Platte River is carbon-free, a number that will increase to 50% by 2021 with new wind and solar power sources and could reach 60% by 2023, according to a press release.

Jason Frisbie, general manager and CEO, said in a press release that Platte River made significant progress on this updated plan last year and is now looking for input from businesses and residents regarding the “energy future of Northern Colorado.”

The meetings are scheduled for 6-8 p.m. on each of the following dates:

  • March 4, 17th Avenue Place Event Center, 478 17th Ave. in Longmont.
  • March 5, Ridgeline Hotel, 101 S. St. Vrain Ave. in Estes Park.
  • March 11, Embassy Suites, Devereaux Room, 4705 Clydesdale Parkway, Loveland.
  • March 12, Drake Centre, 802 W. Drake Road, Suite 101, Fort Collins.
  • To attend a focus group, RSVP to 970-229-5657 or online at cpd.colostate.edu/events/platte-river-power-community-focus-groups/

    Weaning off #coal: Northern #Arizona starts a painful transition — The Navajo Times #JustTransition

    navajogeneratingstationnearpageazsunrisevicathyccviaflickr

    From The Navajo Times (Krista Allen):

    The city of Page, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi Tribe are now dealing with economic repercussions of the Navajo Generating Station shutdown.

    When Salt River Project, operator of NGS, and the participants announced on Feb. 13, 2017, they had voted to close the power plant at the end of 2019, the community of Page and both tribes knew the closure would be disastrous for their economies.

    SRP permanently shut down the three units of the plant on Nov. 18, 2019. Since then, there has been a gnawing sense of despondency and anxiety in the Page-Lake Powell area where the closure has not only affected NGS and Kayenta Mine employees but also has impacted schools, Page Hospital, businesses and the libraries in Coconino County, among others.

    Page schools

    When Rob Varner, superintendent for Page Unified School District, started his job five years ago, student enrollment was around 2,650. Today, the enrollment f is 2,530, a 4.53 percent decrease. But the data constantly fluctuates…

    There are six schools within PUSD, which covers 1,800 square miles, including five northwestern Navajo Nation chapters. The student population within PUSD is 81 percent Native American, with at least 16 tribes represented. And of that population, 179 students have parents working at NGS.

    “We have seen a slow trickle of folks leaving,” Varner said…

    PUSD has lost $772,334 in revenue since the plant closed. This is due to student loss and cash inflow, said Varner…

    Page Hospital

    Page Hospital CEO Susan Eubanks said she has seen a decrease in revenue at the hospital, which decreases the facility’s access…

    Community college

    When talks of the NGS closure first started, Colleen Smith, president of Coconino Community College, talked to SRP about the possibility of developing some re-careering programs and a center for several of the regional colleges and universities to work together to provide higher education for people who were laid off from the plant.

    “I was encouraged to write a grant to SRP, but we didn’t receive anything, and we never received notice that we weren’t receiving anything,” Smith said. “We just wanted to provide good training. And I was working with (Coconino County District 5 Supervisor Lena Fowler) who was trying to help everyone.”

    Though CCC did receive some plant equipment to use for education.

    “But you need to know, along the way the things we’ve tried,” Smith said. “I’m adamant that we do not close (CCC’s Page Instructional Site) but that we continue to work to solve problems, be innovative and figure out how to provide more education up here in the northern part of our county. And we’ve been working with a lot of people to try to do that.”

    CCC has three campuses – two in Flagstaff and one in Page – and has been covering 18,000 square miles since 1991. CCC serves about 9,500 students annually. Smith said 75 percent of CCC students are full-time students who have jobs. And 20 percent of the CCC student population is Native American.

    But that percentage isn’t the same for the Page Instructional Site, said Kay Leum, executive director of extended learning at the Page campus, where 85 percent of the student population is Native.

    From fiscal year 2008 to 2017 state aid for the community college districts decreased by 71 percent, from $164.6 million to $47.7 million.

    Smith said that’s huge because nationally it’s considered appropriate funding for a community college to get one-third of its funding from the state.

    “One-third of the fund comes from local property taxes and one-third of the fund comes from tuition and fees,” Smith explained. “So, with these massive cuts – the cuts have affected CCC more than some colleges because we depend … on those funds: state appropriations because of our tax rate being so low (46 percent), far below the next (highest) one.”

    Smith said because the tax rate is so low, those cuts in state appropriations really impacted CCC.

    “It makes a difference in the things you accomplish … and I’m very proud of our college,” Smith said. “I think we’re good stewards for public funds because I think we’ve accomplished a lot with very little.”

    When the plant closed, CCC projected a loss of about $597,813 out of a $20 million general fund budget.

    “The effect of recession and cuts that all started in 2008 were massive,” Smith said. “Since then, we’ve seen significant increases in tuition and fees at our college. There were major cuts to classified and professional tech staff. Therefore, loss of programs, reduction in the number of students in the nursing program. (CCC) almost lost the program but instead cut it in half – many cuts.”

    And the Page Instructional Site nearly closed. Fowler convinced CCC officials to keep it open. The Williams campus, however, closed its doors.

    “Instead of closing the (Page campus), CCC just cut everything to the bone,” Smith said. “But I understand why that was done. It doesn’t mean I agree. I understand.”

    CCC has only 41 full-time faculty positions appropriated for its budget. Smith says that’s not enough. There are also some part-time faculty.

    Smith added that if CCC loses the $597,813, the board will have to make some decisions a little like what happened in 2008.

    “But I’m not saying these are the decisions they (CCC board) would make,” Smith said. “If we were to increase tuition to the amount that it would take to cover this loss, it would at least be (an extra) $10 per credit hour, which would be $300 more in tuition for students who are already paying the highest tuition in the state for community colleges.”

    Smith added that she’s strongly against closing the Page Instructional Site and that the board is trying to find ways to keep the Page campus open.

    “We did get some one-time money this year and one of the things we have been wanting to do is really support this campus (for new programs).”

    Three of those programs are a marine technology maintenance program, a hospitality program, and a tourism program to serve the area.

    “And everything we’re doing, we’re trying to bring our people home and keep them here, keep families together and strengthen our communities,” Fowler said. “When we talk about our communities. We don’t think about just Page or just LeChee, it’s all of us together.”

    @POTUS targets a bedrock environmental law — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #NEPA

    From The High Country News, February 12, 2020 (Jonathan Thompson):

    Three years of rollbacks have taken a toll, without delivering real benefits.

    “I’m approving new dishwashers that give you more water so you can actually wash and rinse your dishes without having to do it 10 times,” President Donald J. Trump told a crowd in Milwaukee in January. “How about the shower? I have this beautiful head of hair, I need a lot of water. You turn on the water: drip, drip, drip.”

    While this may sound like just another Trumpism intended to distract his base from his impeachment troubles, the words nicely encapsulate the administration’s disastrous approach to environmental policy. First, he gins up a false problem. Then he blames the false problem on “regulatory burdens.” Then he wipes out said regulations with complete disregard for any actual benefits or the possible catastrophic consequences.

    Trump followed this pattern in January, when he announced one of his most significant rollbacks yet, a drastic weakening of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA — the bedrock law passed during the Nixon era that requires environmental reviews for projects handled by federal agencies.

    Trump said the overhaul is necessary because the law imposes interminable delays on infrastructure projects, hampering economic growth. “It takes many, many years to get something built,” he said in an early January speech at the White House. “The builders are not happy. Nobody is happy. It takes 20 years. It takes 30 years. It takes numbers that nobody would even believe.”

    Maybe nobody would believe them because — like Trump’s assertion that modern toilets must be flushed “15 times” — they simply aren’t true. Every year, the nonpartisan National Association of Environmental Professionals analyzes the implementation of NEPA. The group has found that over the last decade, full environmental impact statements have taken, on average, less than five years to complete. Only about 5% of all reviews take longer than a decade, and less than 1% drag on for 20 years or more. These rare cases can be caused by a project’s complexity, or by delays or changes made by its backers that have nothing to do with NEPA or any other environmental regulations.

    Trump isn’t letting facts get in his way, however. The proposed changes would “streamline” reviews, according to the administration, and, most notably, “clarify that effects should not be considered significant if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the result of a lengthy causal chain.”

    A project’s potential contribution to climate change, in other words, would be discounted. Indeed, environmental effects will no longer be considered significant — except for the most direct, immediate ones. A proposed highway plowing through a low-income neighborhood, for example, would result in more traffic, leading to more pollution, leading to health problems for residents and exacerbating global warming. But since all of that is “remote in time” and the result of a “lengthy causal chain,” it would not necessarily be grounds to stop or modify the project. By discounting long-term and cumulative impacts, this seemingly simple change would effectively gut a law that has guided federal agencies for a half-century.

    That, Trump claims, will speed up approvals and create more jobs. But a look back at the effects of his previous regulatory rollbacks suggests otherwise.

    Since the moment he took office, Trump has been rescinding environmental protections. He drastically diminished Bears Ears National Monument, he tossed out rules protecting water from uranium operations, he threw out limits on methane and mercury emissions, weakened the Clean Water Act, and, more recently, cleared the way for the Keystone XL pipeline, yet again. According to Harvard Law School’s regulatory rollback tracker, the Trump administration has axed or weakened more than 60 measures that protect human and environmental health since he took office.

    Energy Fuels’ White Mesa Mill from inside Bears Ears National Monument. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Trump often boasts that his policies have created 7 million jobs during his term. Correlation, however, does not equal causation. Even as the overall economy has boomed — a trend that was already in place when Trump took office — the sectors that should have benefited the most from Trump’s rollbacks continue to flail.

    Trump killed or weakened at least 15 regulations aimed at the coal industry in hopes of bringing back jobs. By nearly every measure, the industry is weaker now than it was when Trump was elected. Trump shrank Bears Ears National Monument to make way for extraction industries and rescinded regulations on uranium in part to help Energy Fuels, a uranium company. But in January, the company laid off one-third of its workforce, including most of the employees at the White Mesa Mill, adjacent to Bears Ears. Nearly every one of the protections that Trump killed were purportedly “burdening” the nation’s mining, logging and drilling industries. Regardless, the number of people working in that sector is down 20% from five years ago.

    Rolling back environmental regulations will no more create jobs than removing “restrictors” from showerheads will give Donald Trump a thick head of hair — it won’t. It will merely result in more waste, dirtier air and water, and a more rapid plunge into climate catastrophe.

    Now, Trump is going after energy-efficient lightbulbs, and his reasoning is as specious as ever. “The new lightbulb costs you five times as much,” he told his followers at the Milwaukee rally, “and it makes you look orange.”

    Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at jonathan@hcn.org.

    Focusing on trees as the big solution to #ClimateChange is a dangerous diversion — The New York Times

    Like many Westerners, giant sequoias came recently from farther east. Of course, “recent” is a relative term. “You’re talking millions of years (ago),” William Libby said. The retired University of California, Berkeley, plant geneticist has been studying the West Coast’s towering trees for more than half a century. Needing cooler, wetter climates, the tree species arrived at their current locations some 4,500 years ago — about two generations. “They left behind all kinds of Eastern species that did not make it with them, and encountered all kinds of new things in their environment,” Libby said. Today, sequoias grow on the western slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada.

    Here’s a guest column from Erle C. Ellis, Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis that’s running in The New York Times:

    One trillion trees.

    At the World Economic Forum last month, President Trump drew applause when he announced the United States would join the forum’s initiative to plant one trillion trees to fight climate change. More applause for the decision followed at his State of the Union speech.

    The trillion-tree idea won wide attention last summer after a study published in the journal Science concluded that planting so many trees was “the most effective climate change solution to date.”

    If only it were true. But it isn’t. Planting trees would slow down the planet’s warming, but the only thing that will save us and future generations from paying a huge price in dollars, lives and damage to nature is rapid and substantial reductions in carbon emissions from fossil fuels, to net zero by 2050.

    Even a 16-year-old can tell you that.

    Focusing on trees as the big solution to climate change is a dangerous diversion. Worse still, it takes attention away from those responsible for the carbon emissions that are pushing us toward disaster. For example, in the Netherlands, you can pay Shell an additional 1 euro cent for each liter of regular gasoline you put in your tank, to plant trees to offset the carbon emissions from your driving. That’s clearly no more than disaster fractionally delayed. The only way to stop this planet from overheating is through political, economic, technological and social solutions that end the use of fossil fuels.

    There is no way that planting trees, even across a global area the size of the United States, can absorb the enormous amounts of fossil carbon emitted from industrial societies. Trees do take up carbon from the atmosphere as they grow. But this uptake merely replaces carbon lost when forests were cleared in the first place, usually long ago. Regrowing forests where they once flourished can undo some damage done in the past, but even a trillion trees can’t store enough carbon to head off dramatic climate changes this century.

    In a sharp rebuttal to last summer’s paper in Science, five scientists wrote in the same journal in October that the study’s findings were inconsistent with the dynamics of the global carbon cycle. They warned that “the claim that global tree restoration is our most effective climate solution is simply incorrect scientifically and dangerously misleading.”

    The focus must shift from treating climate change as a “global carbon” problem to a “carbon pollution” problem. No matter that deforestation, tilling soils for agriculture and even methane emissions from livestock and rice paddies also contribute to global climate change. All together these account for only about 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon pollution from fossil fuels is the overwhelming reason global climate change is such an urgent problem. Solve this, and the need for other climate change solutions is not nearly so urgent.

    Before it was blocked by the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency was already moving in this direction, by requiring states to meet targets for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from power plants. Combating pollution has a long track record of success in the United States and around the world — effective solutions have been pursued through an array of approaches, from direct penalties and taxes to cap-and-trade programs and government investments in new technologies that avert pollution.

    Still, carbon pollution from fossil fuels remains the greatest regulatory challenge ever. Globally, fossil fuels provide about 80 percent of the energy powering the global economy today. Yet ending fossil fuel use could also provide huge economic and employment opportunities. Through new spending on infrastructure and research for energy and transportation, the American economy could be transformed for the better and for the long run. For example, all internal flights between American cities less than 600 miles apart could be replaced by high-speed electric ‘bullet’ trains traveling over 200 miles per hour, providing a quicker, safer and cleaner way to get around and built with American technology, steel and workers. The battle against carbon pollution is also a battle for a better America and a better world.

    Everyone loves a simple solution, but it is just too tempting to say “let’s plant trees” while we continue to burn fossil fuels. We must not play foolish games with the Earth’s climate: We will all end up paying for it in the end. Regulating carbon pollution down to net zero emissions by 2050 will end the global climate crisis for good.

    And making this possible will require making clean energy cheap — through investments, incentives, regulation and research. Experience from around the world shows that decarbonizing modern societies is hard, and even harder in the face of the vested interests of industries and people still holding trillions of dollars in carbon stocks. But there is no other real solution.

    Cheap energy is a universal social good. But the reality is that fossil fuels are not cheap at all. More than $5 trillion per year is spent globally to subsidize fossil energy and the long-term costs of carbon pollution are orders of magnitude above those. Do not imagine that free markets are what sustain the fossil fuel industry either: at least 12 of the world’s 20 largest fossil fuel companies are state owned.

    The ultimate challenge in solving global climate change is to make clean energy cheap, safe and available. That and regulating fossil carbon pollution will boost innovation, employment and our health and well-being. When it comes to reducing emissions fast, let’s put the focus where it needs to be: regulating carbon pollution and making clean energy available to everyone. Planting trees can’t do that.

    Erle C. Ellis is a professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of “Anthropocene: A Very Short Introduction.” Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis are professors of earth system science at University College London, and the authors of “The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene.”