Posts Tagged ‘renewable energy’

Snowden is missing.  The IRS scandal is ongoing. SCOTUS struck down DOMA and punted on affirmative action. A Texas filibuster over a proposed abortion bill was picked up by a historic crowd at the state capitol who effectively blocked the legislation through sheer willpower. A red panda went missing from the National Zoo. DC United won a game. It’s been a hell of a week, and it’s only Wednesday.


I feel ya, buddy.

In the middle of it all, President Obama delivered the policy speech that environmentalists have been waiting for since the day he took office: the one on climate change. The President’s agenda outlined broad goals for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy, respond to the ongoing impacts of climate change, and finally, lead the international community in all of those areas, too. The official White House fact sheet is available here. But what about the details?

Coal, more than any other industry, took it on the chin in this one – not surprising given just how much pollution is generated by coal-fired power plants.  The plan directs EPA to move forward with regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by June 2014.  The plan also included expanded effort to fund renewable energy and use public lands for renewable energy sources, efficiency initiatives, and reforestation measures.

The plan was met with mixed reactions.  Commentators were quick to judge the measures as a scaled-back version of the lofty goals that Obama set at the outset of his Presidency, and not surprisingly, many Republicans continued the drumbeat of erroneously pitting environmental initiatives against economic goals. (Side note: when will they give up, and realize the renewable energy can also create jobs? Sigh.)  Coal stocks responded by plummeting.  Many environmental groups, including Sierra Club and 350.org applauded the measures as the long-awaited concrete action to back up the President’s constant promises to tackle climate change.  Former Vice President and environmental advocate Al Gore called the speech “terrific and historic,” responding optimistically to the steps proposed in the President’s plan as well as his willingness to finally move forward on a longstanding issue.  The mention of the infamous Keystone XL pipeline caught many by surprise, as did the President’s comments that the pipeline will not go forward if it is found to increase GHG emissions.  That of course, is a finding that in reality is stupid – of course expanded tar sands development, and continuing to enable fossil fuel exports, will increase emissions and accelerate climate change.  But, the “official” outcome could go either way depending on how groups calculate the emissions and how directly they tie the impacts to the pipeline itself.  You know the saying- lies, damned lies, and impact assessments.  Another surprising feature was the mention of fossil fuel subsidies, which was included in the President’s international goals, but not within his steps to curb emissions in the US.  (Honestly, I don’t know why nobody listens to me on this one.  Cut fossil fuel subsidies, cut federal spending, and cut emissions by forcing people to think about how much and how often they drive and make better choices. Oh well.)

Overall, while the actions were not as bold as some groups hoped, the result of the speech was a net positive – an acknowledgement that climate change is real, here, and happening, and a specific plan for moving forward.  Let’s hope that the follow-through is real.

A summary of the main points of the plan is available through Grist.org right here. A full transcript of the President’s speech is available here. As for Team Spinach, a detailed analysis of the plan by our resident climate expert, El Nino, will follow soon.

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We haven’t talked much about Keystone XL here at Spinach HQ for a while now, mostly becauase the news on that front continues to be more of the same – and more depressing.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure whether or not the general public (those of you outside the environmental field, that is) are sick of hearing about Keystone or not.  False claims and an incredibly convoluted regulatory and political process regarding approval of the environmental impact determination as well as the pipeline itself have slowly muddied the waters better than an oil spill.  I’ll be honest, even I’ve had a hard time keeping track of the timeline and the number of times the pipeline has been resurrected and then killed.

Which is why I was somewhat surprised (but excited!) to wander into the Foggy Bottom Metro stop in D.C. on Tuesday and be greeted by something that looked like this:


I couldn’t capture the whole ad in my camera phone (especially while trying not to look like some creeper taking a picture of the metro floor during rush hour….) but activist group SumOfUs.org is continuing to fight the good fight not just against Keystone XL, but against the expanded Tar Sands extraction that would come with it.

The ads direct you to the SumOfUs anti-tar-sands site, where they have already collected more than 17,000 of their goal level of 20,000 signatures for a petition to President Obama regarding the pipeline and expanded tar sands extraction.  Rather than solely attacking Keystone XL, the group is focusing on the impacts of the recent ExxonMobil tar sands oil spill in Arkansas.  Exxon’s response to the spill has been heavily criticized, with many community members voicing their doubts that the spill is contained or that Exxon is truly doing their part to take responsibility for the spill, contain it, and mitigate damages.

While the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to be decided by politics and not environmental impacts, the statement made by SumOfUs here is clear – and is taking the debate one step farther.  Instead of focusing on the impacts of the pipeline alone, the group is working to inform regarding some of the inherent risks (both environmental and economic) to expanded tar sands oil use as an energy source.  I’m happy to see these ads placed front and center in several key metro stations – maybe it’s a chance to finally have some dialogue about the real issue here, which is the overall direction of our energy future, and not one single pipeline.

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If you live in AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, MA, MD, OR, NY, then you’re in luck – solar panels for your home are now available at affordable rates.  Sungevity, one of the country’s leading residential solar providers, has partnered with The Sierra Club to help homeowners go solar easily and affordably;  the new partnership will help families save money on electricity and reduce pollution.

Here are some reasons why you should go solar and how you can get a price quote from Sungevity.  If you don’t live in these states, pass this onto your friends and family who do; hopefully, the partnership will grow to include more than 9 states.  If you need a refresher, or a quick 101 on how solar panels work, I think this article provides a good explanation.

And if you want solar energy in your neighborhood, well, doing nothing never gets anyone anywhere – so contact your local energy provider or your local government officials for more information so that you can save money on your energy bills and have cleaner air in your community. Cheers.

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Can you guess the source of this famous phrase?  Congrats, Family Feud.  The show has had many hosts over the years, but did you know Richard Dawson was the first and longest host of the show?  Depending on your age you know of Dawson or you caught reruns on the Game Show network (it’s not in the basic cable package); this week Dawson passed away and many will remember him as the kissing host that made housewives and contestants blush.

Dawson doing this thing.

Now that you’re caught up on the history of Family Feud, The Associated Press released survey findings this week from a AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll that shows Americans are more interested in reducing their energy bills and energy use than taking a vacation. This could be a result of more families across the U.S. facing new hardships, but the realization that being energy-efficient can save people money is excellent.  The results found that nearly 9 in 10 people said they had taken some action in the last year to save energy (that’s music to my ears).  Smaller steps, such as turning off the lights, turning down the heat, installing more energy-saving appliances and driving less, were the more common ways respondents said they chose to reduce energy in the last year.  Small steps can have huge savings.  My own sister simply unplugged all the electronics when they were not in use in my family’s house for one month and saved $100!  Now it’s a common habit.  Renewable energy from our land’s resources such as wind and solar are increasingly becoming more popular (stay tuned on a post for affordable solar panels), and can be a great source of energy because they won’t run out, such as natural gas or crude oil.  Small steps go a long way, especially when everyone is doing it.  Cheers.

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Well, here’s something new for ya: after watching weirder and weirder weather unfold for the past few years, a poll released today (reported by the New York Times) shows that the majority of Americans believe these events are the result of – wait for it – climate change.


Like I said: weird weather.

It’s certainly true that the past years have been an adventure.  Between the infamous east coast Snowmageddon (which I missed, because I was totally in Abu Dhabi, no joke), record flooding of the Mississippi River in 2011,  last year’s summer heat wave, the 2011 droughts in Texas and Oklahoma,  increasing tornadoes across the midwest and southern U.S., and 2012 bringing the warmest March on record, there have been no shortage of unusual patterns.  That’s just inside the U.S., too.


This might be a good time to turn around, eh?

Conducted by Knowledge Networks on behalf of teams at Yale and George Mason University, the study itself is the most comprehensive to date tracking public opinion on climate change. By almost a 2 – to – 1 ratio, Americans believe extreme weather patterns are due to global warming. A higher percentage than ever say that they have personally been impacted by the effects of climate change.  On top of that, after years where economic issues and concerns about international unrest eclipsed the issue of climate, the poll shows climate change is starting to climb the ranks once again.  (As an aside, failure to act on climate and energy could have profound negative impacts for both international politics as well as the economy, so I’ve always seen the issues as linked – but that hasn’t been the case with popular opinion.)

Of course, whether or not these individual events ARE directly caused by climate change is not as clear-cut as we’d like it to be.  Evidence is strongest that increased precipitation as well as heat waves are a result of climate change.  Wind patterns are also shifting, which could be the cause of the recent increase in the number of tornadoes. But, as with most environmental issues, the science isn’t what sways public opinion.  After all, the scientists have been beating the drum for years. We’ve seen the Keeling Curve showing the increase in CO2 detected by Manua Loa observatory in Hawaii.


(But just in case you haven't, here it is again.)

We’ve all seen photos of flooding in Bangladesh, and sad pictures of polar bears trapped on a single block of ice. But it hasn’t done much.  What sways public opinion, if past is precedent, is when people start to be impacted.  When it’s my town, my home, my family, my friends, my job, or my future that is on the line, people start to sit up and listen.  The issue, at that point, is real.


So is this polar bear. Hey, I had to include at least one.

And that’s precisely why many advocacy groups are jumping on shifting weather patterns as an opening.  Groups like 350.org, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, and other advocacy organizations see this as a way to grab public attention and increase momentum towards action.  Perhaps for the first time, climate change is no longer a far-off warning that we might not live to see, but something that could actually impact our daily lives.  That’s a new thought for a lot of folks, I think.

While it’s a shame that the past few decades politicized the issue and drowned out the voice of the scientific community, many are wondering if this real shift is what we need.  For years, climate change deniers could point to the fact that there was ‘no concrete evidence’ as a way of poking holes in scientific data.  Now, it seems events might be shifting to fall in favor of the other size of the fence.

Of course, whether or not any action comes of it remains to be seen.  If not, we’ll just be buying those sustainable bikinis in January, right?

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Hi guys. It’s Friday, DC decided to be cold and raining, and my brain sort of hurts from reading too many articles on oil prices.

So, instead of words, I present you this magnificent link, which a friend shared with me today.  I’d love to credit whomever is responsible, but I don’t know who that person is.  All I can tell you is that this thing is pretty nifty, and kind of makes you think about the potential that exists for wind energy in this country.


Behold: the wind map!




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Of all the headlines floating around over the past week, one in particular caught my eye.  Rather, it wasn’t a headline; it was a picture of one adorable creature.

Check yourself if you don't think this is cute.

Maybe it’s just me.  Perhaps my soft spot is softer than yours, a byproduct of not having outgrown my childhood love for reptiles and still secretly aspiring to achieve my life-long dream of becoming a paleontologist.

A young Indy right here.

But that is neither here nor now.

What is here and is now is that two of our great passions—protecting animals and generating energy from renewable sources—may be on a course to collide.  The Washington Post brought this issue to light this past week in discussing how BrightSource Energy’s $2.2 billion solar farm project in the Mojave desert is being brought to a standstill by the threatened desert tortoise.

What are the facts in this case?  Accounts say that BrightSource was warned that they would be infringing on a part of the Mojave rich with these hardshells–the exact number of which was unknown.  Yet, because the site is ideal for solar energy generation, BrightSource decided to pursue.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife granted BrightSource a permit to move a maximum of 38 tortoises from the location and a total of three accidental deaths per year over the three years of planned construction.

Their first concession to the tortoise came at the expense of 10 percent of the project’s expected power output, by adopting a re-designed plan that reduced the size of the solar towers.  They then agreed to build a 50-mile fence, at a cost of $50,000 per mile, to prevent tortoises from relocating back into harms way once removed.  During all of this, biologists surveying the site continued to find more and more tortoises than estimates yielded.  In all, BrightSource has spent $56 million so far to protect and relocate the tortoises, but even this has been met with problems for the tortoise.  BrightSource, for their end, states that their efforts to help the tortoise could sink the project–and in turn sink California’s efforts to meet its proposed renewable energy goals.

This story highlights the need and often overlooked importance of the National Environment Policy Act’s environmental impact statement (EIS).  You’ve probably heard a lot about the EIS recently; it’s been at the heart of the Keystone XL struggle, with Nebraskans asking to complete a new environmentally impact statement that reviews a pipeline course that does not run through the Sandhills region.  The whole purpose of an EIS is to assess the impacts of a particular project.  Whether or not it is actually required of a project, the value of such considerations comes to light in situations such as this one with BrightSource and the desert tortoise.  It’s clear that a thorough and well conducted EIS can actually help companies (believe it or not) avoid situations that may end up costing them $56 million dollars more than they were anticipating for a project.

So now I’ll pose the question to you: What do we do in a situation like this?  Do we protect this cherished species at all costs or try at all costs to maintain our place as the top renewable energy using nation? (Check on Christian Science Monitor‘s article for more on that.)  Weigh in with your thoughts.

My thought on the situation: this beloved species has weathered 220 million years on this planet; it would certainly be a shame that it be lost to the war on fossil fuels.

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