Last year, more than 807,000 electric cars were sold in the United States, 5.8% of the nation’s new car total, compared with 3.2% in 2021. In the first quarter of 2023, that portion hit 7.2%. Despite that encouraging trend, the U.S. has a long way to go and many hurdles to overcome to make the transition from gasoline-powered vehicles to EVs. In Germany, for instance, 33% of new cars sold in 2022 were EVs. It was 23% for the European Union as a whole. A Reuters/Ipsos poll of Americans in March found 34% of those surveyed would consider buying an EV, while 31% said no, with the rest unsure. The partisan split was wide, with 50% of Democrats saying they would consider an EV, while only 26% of Republicans and 27% of independents said they would.
Transportation is the number one greenhouse gas emitter in the U.S, just ahead of electricity generation, and transforming it is obviously crucial in addressing the climate crisis. President Joe Biden has called for 50% of all vehicles sold by 2030 to be electric. An ambitious goal, given how many are sold now. But not really more ambitious than what legacy automakers are promising. Most say they want EVs to make up 40%-50% of their sales by 2030. The federal target is backed up with many carrots—tax credits to reduce prices for buyers, support for battery development and manufacturing, funding of tens of thousands of charging stations, and other actions to accelerate the ongoing transformation of the automotive sector.
On Wednesday came the sticks. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan unveiled the agency’s long-awaited new emissions standards for passenger cars and light- and medium-duty trucks. The EPA cannot require carmakers to produce a certain number of electric vehicles. But under the Clean Air Act, it can restrict the pollution generated by the total number of cars each maker sells. Companies under the proposed standards would have to report total emissions each year. Those that fail to meet the standard could be fined billions of dollars and otherwise penalized. The announcement opened the door to 60 days of public comments, consideration of which could change the details of the standards.
The proposed changes cover heat-trapping emissions, toxic pollutants, and soot. Under one scenario the EPA laid out, the new rules could mean 67% of new sedans, crossovers, SUVs, and light trucks would be electric by 2030, well ahead of Biden’s goal. In addition, the agency forecast that around half of new buses and garbage trucks, along with a quarter of long-haul trucks, could be electric by then. The proposed standards in the light vehicle category would take effect in model year 2027. The standards won’t require a particular technology to control emissions. But given their strictness, automakers will be spurred into building more EVs sooner.
Unprecedented as the proposed standards are, otherwise supportive critics say they still don’t go far enough. For instance, they point to an analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that the Inflation Reduction Act’s investments alone could mean EVs would reach that 67% share of total sales by 2032, just two years after when the EPA forecast says emissions standards would produce the same result.
Those standards and new fuel efficiency standards announced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration late last year are forecast to provide $140 billion in net benefits over their life. Those benefits include fewer asthma attacks and other respiratory issues, savings of about 200 billion gallons of gasoline, a cut of 2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution, and a net saving of $900 for the average consumer in fuel costs over the life of the vehicle.
Clearly this is a move in the right direction. EVs are rapidly developing; their prices are falling and will soon reach parity with internal combustion cars. But the pace of the transition is too languid. The quicker ICE cars are replaced, the better. While we also need to wean as many people as possible off owning any kind of car and put more people into improved public transit, doing that on a scale that really matters will require a cultural change and reinventing of our cities. That should be done. But the timeframe for it is much longer than what we can afford for the climate’s sake.
Though speed is of the essence, as in the past when emissions standards have been brought up, litigation can be expected. The standards could be stalled in court for years.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia gave a hint of that Wednesday when he told The New York Times, “This administration is hell bent on destroying America’s energy security and independence by making us dependent on resources and components that can come only from abroad. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at the proposed rule, and we’ll be ready to once again lead the charge against wrongheaded energy proposals like these.”
Automakers have been critical of the proposed rules, too, and they could be a source of some of the expected litigation. But David Haugen, director of a secretive EPA automotive lab, said that car companies have always complained about new environmental and safety standards. “We’ve heard that from them for 50 years, and then the companies have done a great job meeting them each time the standards came in, which gives us confidence that this one is also going to go well.”
Politicians in the usual suspects category are intent on making this a bumpy road. In a statement, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said:
Today, the Biden administration made clear it want to decide for Americans what kind of cars and trucks we are allowed to buy, lease and drive. These misguided emissions standards were made without considering the supply chain challenges American automakers are still facing, the lack of sufficiently operational electric vehicle charging infrastructure, or the fact that it takes nearly a decade to permit a mine to extract the minerals needed to make electric vehicles, forcing businesses to look to China for these raw materials. They also did not consider that the average price of an electric vehicle was roughly $65,000 last year, more than the household income of 46% of American families.
And, not lost on an energy producing state like West Virginia is that while President Biden is seeking a massive transition to electric vehicles, his administration is doing everything in its power to shut down the coal- and gas-fired power plants that would provide the baseload electricity for those cars and trucks of the future.”
Capito is not wrong about supply chains, mining projects, or the fact that the recharging network is not yet anywhere close to the level it needs to be. The people directly involved in the EV transformation are well aware of that. The senator apparently skipped over reading about all the funding in the Inflation Reduction Act for dealing with precisely those issues before voting with all her fellow Republicans against it. As for powering future EVs with electricity from new coal and natural gas operations, apparently Capito skipped reading the latest U.N. climate report, too.
It is also true that EVs are, on average, more expensive than those powered by internal combustion engines. And they are still out of reach of many Americans. But the average EV price isn’t $65,000; it’s $58,385, down 10% since October, according to the Kelley Blue Book. And that’s before the credit of up to $7,500 is deducted, which could bring the average pretty close to the average of $48,763 paid for ICE cars. Now that $10,000 gap isn’t nothing. However, many carmakers already sell EV models that are far cheaper than the average. As the market grows, economies of scale will bring prices still lower. And, of course, EVs are cheaper to operate and maintain than ICE cars, which puts that gap into a context that all too often isn’t considered.
There are concerns on the left flank, too. In an interview shortly after he was elected the new president of the Detroit-based United Auto Workers last fall, Shawn Fain told Bloomberg Law, “As we’re transitioning to the EV work, we can’t just sit back and wait. We say we’re out in front of this, but I don’t see it. When the companies are announcing joint ventures and opening new battery plants and investing tens of billions of dollars in the non-union south—a lot of these plants aren’t UAW, they’re not coming under our master agreements. Leadership should be taking action on that. We’re falling further and further behind.”
On Wednesday, Fain issued a statement:
The United Auto Workers supports the transition to a clean auto industry and has been a proud leader in the fight against climate change. We will carefully review the EPA’s proposals and look forward to working with the Biden Administration in pursuit of standards that are good for workers and the environment. A transition to electric vehicles will not succeed without economic T
There is no good reason why electric vehicle manufacturing can’t be the gateway to the middle class that auto jobs have been for generations of union autoworkers. But the early signs of this industry are worrying, prioritizing corporate greed over economic justice. Forcing workers to decide between good jobs and green jobs is a false choice. We can and must achieve both.
People who build cars for a living don’t do it because we’re passionate about combustion engines or electric vehicles. We do it because we’re passionate about our families and our communities. We can have both economic and climate justice—and that starts by ensuring that the electric vehicle industry is entirely unionized. We look forward to working with the Biden Administration to hold the auto industry accountable to that mission.
There is one more issue that is already undermining the full benefits of EVs. To ensure we don’t keep generating electricity with coal and natural gas far into the future as Capito wants to do, we need to build out solar and wind rapidly. But that means new transmission lines. Those are notoriously hard to site because of local opposition and the need to persuade often reluctant authorities in several states to approve new lines. That’s a subject for another time.
WEEKLY GREEN VIDEO
RESOURCES & ACTION
A collection of Mobil and ExxonMobil op-ads, ranging from 1972 to 2004. These days, the advertising of ExxonMobil typically focuses on how very, very green this oil giant claims to be. Collected by the Climate Investigative Center, these older ads pretending-to-be-actual-newspaper-articles show the major difference between now and back then is that the lies now are a bit more polished than when the company’s bosses were paying alleged “experts” to lie about what ExxonMobil’s’ own scientists had (privately) made clear: climate change was real and continuing to burn fossil fuels will take the world down a perilous path.
A “Blueprint” to Save Critical Ecosystems and Stabilize the Climate. Let them tell it in their own words: “More than two years in development, the Global Safety Net is the first comprehensive global-scale analysis of terrestrial areas essential for biodiversity and climate resilience, totaling 50.4% of the Earth's land. The report was published in Science Advances and highlights the importance of protecting and restoring the natural world in order to address three converging crises—climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and the emergence of novel viruses such as COVID-19. The research team was led by the research organization RESOLVE in collaboration with the University of Minnesota, Arizona State University, and Globaïa, with funding provided by One Earth. The data compiled for the Global Safety Net (GSN1) is available through an interactive web application (GSNapp) developed by One Earth in partnership with Google Earth Engine and the data visualization firm Graphicacy. Users can click on a country, state, or ecoregion to see configurations of biologically important land for each region.”
15 community-based conservation opportunities to help people and the planet. Meant to benefit both people and nature, community-based conservation offers a means of simultaneously addressing the intertwined climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and socioeconomic inequalities. This recent article identified 15 key emerging threats and opportunities in community-based conservation. These emerged from a horizon scan undertaken over the past two years by a group of 39 conservation practitioners around the planet, including staff at the environmental website Mongabay. The group, coordinated by the Wilder Institute, analyzed input from an online survey that received responses from 555 individuals plus 36 groups with a diversity of backgrounds spread across 109 nations.
Population growth, dependence on a problematic, century-old agreement divvying up the annual Colorado River flow among seven western states, widespread parching from a 23-year-old mega-drought, and burgeoning long-term aridity from climate change have put the river’s end users—cities, tribes, and farmers—in a severe bind. As previously reported at DK here and here, officials in those states charged with allocating how much of the dwindling river will flow to whom have been locked in a dispute over voluntary cuts since last year. They have blown past two deadlines without meeting the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s demand that they come to an agreement. The bureau therefore had warned last year that if the states didn’t collectively agree to water reductions, it would do the painful divvying.
As it turned out, six states did agree, coming up with a plan for proportional cuts for all. But California said no, arguing instead for adhering to the arcane “law of the river,” which provides that individuals and other entities with senior water rights can use all their allocation before those with junior rights can exercise theirs. In the current circumstances, with the Colorado River running more than 30% below its average flow and the nation’s two largest reservoirs—Lake Powell and Lake Mead—barely more than a quarter filled, that could mean disaster for those holding junior rights. Not only are irrigation, industrial, and drinking water supplies at risk, but so are the hydropower capabilities of the dams at the two reservoirs. There, despite way heavier than average snowpack in the Rocky Mountains this winter, water is close to levels where it can no longer be used to spin the dams’ turbines that supply electricity to millions of households and thousands of businesses. While the past few months' western rains and snows have provided some relief, experts say it will take several consecutive years of above-average precipitation to fully replenish the reservoirs. They view this as unlikely.
The Biden administration has made clear it prefers the states to work out their differences in ongoing negotiations, but that if they don’t, it will impose its own solution. To give more impetus to the talks, in a 476-page supplemental environmental impact statement released Tuesday, the bureau laid out in detail three options for dealing with the water shortages without taking a stand on the government’s preference. The report states, “In the absence of consensus among all entities affected by changed operations, the Department must consider the overall conditions in the Basin in order to make the most prudent operational decisions. The overall sound and prudent operation of the major reservoirs on the Colorado River system during a period of declining inflows and historically low reservoirs will almost certainly lead to objection by specific entities to the impacts of one or more aspects of water management decisions.”
Public comments on the options will now be accepted for 45 days. If the states still don’t come to an agreement on who gets cut by how much, the bureau will decide which option to go with. Under that scenario, Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland would likely announce a decision in August. This plan would be in force until the bureau reworks its water management plan for the years after 2026.
The three options: do nothing; split the allocation cuts proportionately with Nevada, Arizona, and California each lopping off about 13% of current usage added to their previous cuts; follow the senior rights approach favored by California, which, in the worst circumstances would mean Arizona would lose most of its Colorado River allocation.
That first option would seem to be out of the question. But choosing either of the other two alternatives could spark years-long litigation that makes doing nothing the default. John Entsminger, the lead negotiator for Nevada, told The New York Times that the proportional approach is favored by his state. Sticking hard and fast to the senior rights approach no longer makes sense given the climate crisis, he said. “We have 19th century laws, we have 20th century infrastructure, and we have 21st century climate. And those three things don’t fit very well together.” On the other hand, a press release from the Imperial Irrigation District of Southern California said it “continues to have concerns with any alternative that involves ‘equal cuts’ among water users” outside the seniority system.
Thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act, the Interior Department is providing $12.9 billion in funds to deal with drought, cover conservation costs, and upgrade water infrastructure. For instance, Last week, the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona was awarded $150 million over the next three years to pay for lowering its water use. Rosa Long, vice chair of the Cocopah Indian Tribe, told the Los Angeles Times that tribes have vital roles to play in working toward the long-term health and sustainability of the river. “We must remember that our actions today will have a profound impact on the world our children and grandchildren will inherit. We owe it to them to work together to find solutions. It’s going to take all of us, and it is a very scary situation.”
Back in 2019, scientists published the first-ever comprehensive assessment changes of the bird population in the U.S. and Canada. They called the declines they found “staggering.” The number of breeding adults had fallen by 2.9 billion birds, according to their research, with the losses spread across every biome. Birders Anders and Beverly Gyllenhaal, retired journalists, wanted to figure out how this happened and what could be done to stop the plunging numbers. They drove across the nation, talking with 300 experts and amateurs working to restore those falling numbers. Out of this came their new book, “A Wing and a Prayer: The Race to Save Our Vanishing Birds.” Tora Lohan at The Revelator interviewed the Gyllenhaals. Here’s a brief excerpt:
Tora: What kind of impact do you think that report had on the general public?
Beverly: I think that it really helped that it was right before the pandemic, when everyone ended up being at home. People looked out their windows, saw birds and got interested in them. Did it stay in the headlines? Well, if you look at The Washington Post, they have all kinds of bird stories now. The New York Times is writing about birds. So I think it ratcheted up a notch on the hobby list for sure.
Anders: I think the question that was hard to answer, and as it is with so many environmental stories, is whether we’re powerless against this? Is this just too much [to fix]? Part of the answer with birds is that it’s a discrete element of the broader environmental story, where there are in fact myriad things that can be done—and myriad things that aren’t being done that could be done to try to change the situation. That’s one of the things we’re trying to get across: the stories behind this that can help people understand what they can do in response.
Tora: What did you find?
Beverly: It all kind of comes underneath the umbrella of how birds get saved in the United States. How does that happen? And it took us a long time to begin to try to get perspective on that. When we started out we had no idea that politics really plays any part in it, and we didn’t really understand the breadth and depth of the Endangered Species Act. We talked with more than 300 people to get a fix on how birds do get recovered—and many do. It’s a fascinating story in of itself, and much more complicated than we thought.
The exact opposite of what we need': G20's liquefied natural gas subsidies killing hope for livable future. By Jessica Corbett at Common Dreams. Despite pledging to take action on the climate emergency, Group of 20 governments continue to pour billions of dollars into natural gas infrastructure expansion, according to an analysis released April 5. "Oil Change International (OCI) finds that G20 government institutions were involved in financing 82% of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal capacity built from 2012-22," states the group's new report, highlighting at least $78 billion in public financing. Total capital expenditure for the LNG export terminals built in the last decade was $234.6 billion, with loans from international public finance institutions making up at least 24% of the total—$55.2 billion. The 17 completed projects included in the analysis have locked in emissions of 928,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year, comparable to "the annual emissions of 423 coal-fired power plants, nearly two times the annual emissions of Canada, or over three times the annual emissions of France." OCI's briefing warns that another dozen projects expected to be completed by 2026 would generate an additional 654,000 metric tons annually of planet-heating pollution. That’s about the same as each year’s emissions from Germany.
Mourning family and climate change in the age of loss and damage. By Robbie Parks at Environmental Health News. The death of my mother might not seem obviously connected to my job as a public health researcher, but the mourning caused by the losses from climate change are comparable to the ways in which losing a loved one feels. I’m not drawing any kind of equivalence between the grief and trauma of losing a parent and losing your entire life and livelihood after a disaster. Nevertheless, grief and feelings of loss permeate many experiences we go through. Whatever the source of grief and loss, my personal experiences have taught me that we need to process and accept these feelings for the sake of our mental and physical health. [...] What can be done to mitigate this grief and loss, to prevent this cycle of disaster and destruction from climate change? Solutions range from the local to the global. In New York City in the years after Hurricane Sandy, a network of emotional support was available via Project HOPE, involving individual counseling and public education. The Wildfire Recovery Fund in California supports mid- to long-term recovery efforts and provides mental health support. But post-disaster grief and loss is a worldwide phenomenon that requires coordination and cooperation.
Biden’s Arctic drilling go-ahead illustrates the limits of democratic problem-solving. President Biden continues to deploy conventional tactics against the highly unconventional threat of climate change. By Ruth Greenspan Bell at The Daily Climate. Howls of outrage met the Biden administration decision to allow Arctic oil drilling at the same time it pursues the most climate-friendly agenda of any American president. How can this conflict in priorities be explained? ConocoPhillips received permission to exploit the largest proposed oil project on U.S. federal land, the Alaska Willow project. At the same time, the president reduced the size of the project from five drilling sites to three, got the petroleum company to agree to return to the government leases covering about 68,000 acres in the drilling area and said new protections for a nearby coastal wetland are coming. The most sympathetic and telling explanation for this seeming contradiction is that the president drew on tools that have worked in his long political career. But his instinct toward finding the middle ground says as much about the American public, including the fiercest climate advocates, as it says about him. All of us have shirked responsibility on the existential issue that is climate change and that is reflected in our politicians and their decisions. As Walt Kelly said, “we have met the enemy and they are us.”
We Need a New Farm Bill—for My Iowa Farm and Beyond. By Wendy Johnson at Civil Eats. I grew up on a farm in Iowa during the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. Back then, life here was not flourishing, but dying. I pursued a career in fashion and moved to Los Angeles, where I discovered my connection to food. Then, 10 years ago, I returned to Iowa to find that things hadn’t changed much: Our small town was smaller, more farmhouses had been left to decay, and the big farmers had gotten bigger. I returned to the farm and I have stayed because I love Iowa and see it as ground zero in the battle for the heart of the food system. Now, I’m regenerating land, building healthy ecosystems, improving the water cycle, and storing carbon in the soil—all while the system is actively working against farms like mine. Iowa is one of the most altered ecosystems in the world. Once a rich and diverse landscape filled with prairie grasslands and oak savannas, today it is a grid of corn and soybean fields. The state is home to some of the richest soils in the world, a natural resource that took millennia to form, but those soils are being quickly washed and blown away through stronger and stronger wind and rain events due to climate change; we’re currently losing soil faster than at the height of the 1930s dust bowl. In the last 75 years, Iowa has essentially become a mining state, a place from which profit is being extracted while people are left behind to clean up the mess. Nitrate pollution is filling our natural and abundant underground aquifers, algae blooms proliferate our freshwater lakes, and pesticides fill the air we breathe.
Is Environmental Radicalism Inevitable? The new film “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” arrives at a time when climate action has stalled and even nonviolent protest is criminalized. By Kate Aronoff at The New Republic. What the film highlights is that any embrace of eco-terrorism would be a necessarily lonely one. Were such a phenomenon to arise here it would be well out of the purview of established environmental groups, coordinated—as in the film—over encoded Signal chats and off-the-grid meetings of tiny underground cadres. Following any such action, politicians would make a show of issuing subpoenas to green NGOs and sniffing out any connections they might have to the plotters. Fox News and more would have a field day with two of the main characters having campaigned to get their college to divest from fossil fuels, work long supported by prominent environmental nonprofits. The hope, though, as spelled out in Goldhaber’s film, is for one act of sabotage to beget others.
Water Is a Human Right. Let’s Create a Society That Affirms This. By Cherise Morris at Truthout. Indigenous spiritual frameworks and ways of understanding have always revered and protected water as the essential source of all life. Within the frameworks and structures of the prevailing capitalist system, however, water is nothing more than another resource to be extracted for profit. The water we depend on, as with anything else, can be a casualty of the violence and harm perpetuated by this system. A system that will exploit and destroy water will exploit and destroy human life. At the end of March, the Senate voted 53-43 to approve a resolution to overturn a rule that would expand federal protections of United States waterways. Meanwhile, Western states battle over quickly diminishing water reserves in the Colorado River as the potential for a water scarcity crisis looms in the region. Water crisis is increasingly becoming a reality for people across the U.S. We grapple with the threat of waking up and not knowing where the water we depend on may come from, or what it might be contaminated with. And in water crises across time and space, our society’s most vulnerable communities—communities of color, and poor and working-class communities—find themselves at the front lines of water inequity and its disastrous potential.
The Real Reason Big Oil Wants Climate Cases at the Supreme Court. By Amy Westervelt at the substack Drilled. For more than five years now, fossil fuel companies have been arguing that the more than two dozen climate liability cases filed against them by counties, cities and states across the country belong in federal court as opposed to state court where they were filed. This may seem like a minor administrative detail. But it's part of a bigger strategy that goes beyond the obvious point that they think they have a better chance of winning in federal court (in part because they've done it before, in the famed American Electric Power v. Connecticut case back in 2011). Yes, there's that precedent, and yes, the Supreme Court is stacked with right-wing judges guaranteed to be friendly to the industry, and yes Amy Coney-Barrett's dad working for Shell forever is a particularly obvious conflict of interest here. But in a filing this week, the fossil fuel defendants showed their real hand. [...]So, why are the fossil fuel companies so desperate to see these cases in front of the Supreme Court? A few reasons: first, they have successfully argued before that the Clean Air Act preempts any state action on greenhouse gas emissions. Second, they believe they have a better shot at this pro-industry bench siding with them than any left-leaning state court judges. Third, they'd like to put an end to the barrage of lawsuits they've been facing over the past five years. But fourth, and this is where I've seen almost no one connect the dots: they want to further expand corporate free speech. In almost all of the climate liability cases, the fossil fuel plaintiffs, once they get past arguing jurisdiction, are making a free speech argument that goes roughly: Anything we've ever said about climate change was said with the intention of influencing policy; that makes it political speech (or in legalese "petitioning speech"), which is protected by the First Amendment.
To leave the world better than you found it, sometimes you have to pick up other people’s trash.”—Bill Nye
half a dozen other things to read (or listen to)
We’re one step closer to reading an octopus’s mind. By Kenna Hughes-Castleberry at Ars Technica. Nine brains, blue blood, instant camouflage: It’s no surprise that octopuses capture our interest and our imaginations. Science fiction creators, in particular, have been inspired by these tentacled creatures. An octopus's remarkable intelligence makes it a unique subject for marine biologists and neuroscientists as well. Research has revealed the brain power of the octopus allows it to unscrew a jar or navigate a maze. But, like many children, the octopus also develops an impish tendency to push the boundaries of behavior. Several aquariums have found octopuses memorizing guard schedules to sneak into nearby tanks to steal fish; meanwhile, marine biologists have discovered that wild octopuses will punch fish for no apparent reason. According to Jennifer Maher, a professor at the University of Lethbridge in Canada, there are a “number of [different] types of learning [for octopuses]: cognitive tasks like tool use, memory of complex operations for future use, and observational learning.” How does the distinct structure of the octopus’s brain enable all this complex behavior? No one had successfully studied wild or freely moving octopuses’ brain waves until a new study by researchers at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) in Japan, among others. In their Current Biology paper, the researchers tracked and monitored three captive but freely moving octopuses, analyzing their brain waves for the first time. Using recording electrodes, the researchers found a type of brain wave never before seen, along with brain waves that may be similar to some seen in human brains, possibly providing hints about the evolution of intelligence.
’Decarbonization of the Power Sector Is Underway’: Power Sector Emissions May Have Peaked in 2022 as Wind and Solar Reached Record Heights. By Cristen Hemingway Jaynes at Ecowatch. In its fourth annual Global Electricity Review, think tank Ember researchers scrutinized data from 78 counties representing 93% of global power demand. They found that solar and wind energy generated a record 12% of total electricity in 2022, 2% more than in 2021. Wind rose by 17% last year; solar rose by 24%, with 80% of total demand met by those two sources. Renewable and nuclear sources combined generated 39% of the total. The report said, “The decarbonisation of the power sector is underway, as record growth in wind and solar drove the emissions intensity of the world’s electricity to its lowest ever level in 2022. It will be an impressive moment when power sector emissions begin to fall year-on-year, but the world is not there yet, and emissions need to be falling fast.” Ember lead author Malgorzata Wiatros-Motyka told Bloomberg, “It is the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age.”
Meet the Americans who live in their vans, buses and cars in pursuit of a simpler life using less energy. By Leslie Kaufman at Bloomberg Green. It isn’t possible to count how many Americans live in their vehicles. The U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development lump vehicle dwellers in with the homeless. But groups that monitor the trend—including the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the Homes on Wheels Alliance Inc. and governments in greater Seattle and Los Angeles—all report that the nomad population is surging. The reasons can vary, including skyrocketing property prices and more frequent climate-driven natural catastrophes such as wildfires and hurricanes destroying homes. Nomadland, which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2021, introduced the public to people who call their transportation home. The film, like the 2014 Harper’s Magazine article that inspired it, was largely about older people forced by financial hardship to live on the road, making ends meet as seasonal workers. But that’s not the case for many of the new nomads.
The World Will Miss the Climate Change Target. Time to Prepare. By Mark Schapiro at Capital & Main. The latest IPCC report is a reminder that to report on climate change—the biggest story of our time—is to start small. The report and its companion, a more compact 36-page Summary for Policymakers, is filled with every possible color combination to indicate rising sea levels, declining crop yields, and the ways in which landscapes are being deformed by melting glaciers. But the action journalistically is as close to the ground as possible. Climate adaptation stories often start small and cascade outward. Some startling nuggets to kick off any local reporting pop out in the cavalcade of disturbing news delivered by the IPCC. Start with the heat: Global surface temperature, the IPCC says with “high confidence” (a measure of the strength of scientific consensus on this assertion), has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2,000 years. Heat is a growth field in the climate realm, and is likely to be shaping every one of the other journalistic beats—with financial, political and health consequences, as this package in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists points out. Heat has even given rise to an entirely new position in municipal government—that of chief heat officers, operating in Southwestern cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles, where they are in charge of helping citizens deal with the health and financial repercussions of increasing temperatures. Hard to think of a more visceral way to illustrate what’s coming our way than figuring out what a resident “heat officer” has to do every day, including on the days when other sides of that coin, the cold and rain, are also made more extreme by climate change.
The Promises—and Perils—of Ocean Desalination. As the world gets drier, do we need to turn to the ocean? By Molly Taft at Gizmodo. In California, which had its driest six-month stretch on record last year, high-profile leaders have voiced support for desalination. “We need more tools in the damn tool kit,” Governor Gavin Newsom told the Bay Area News Group editorial board last April, where he was voicing support for a proposed ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach. But less than a month later, in a unanimous decision, the California Coastal Commission rejected the proposal for the plant Newsom supported: a $1.4 billion project, owned by the Poseidon Water company, that would have produced 50 million gallons of drinking water each day. The idea of dismissing the Poseidon plant, which could have provided drinking water to 400,000 people a day, during the worst drought in 1,200 years may seem foolish. But experts say that while the idea of simply making salt water potable is alluring, there’s a host of problems with ocean desalination that need to be addressed—and far better tools in the kit Newsom spoke of that we should turn to first. And even if desalination is the best idea for some communities, it has to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Rhode Island lawmaker wants to require solar on new homes and parking lots. Rep. Jennifer Boylan wants to “start having conversations” about following California’s lead in making solar an integral part of new construction. By Lisa Prevost at Energy News Network. Rep. Jennifer Boylan, a Democrat with solar panels on her home in Barrington, Rhode Island, said she sees every instance a new building goes up without solar panels as “a missed opportunity.” So she drafted a bill that would require all new single-family dwellings in the state to have a solar energy system large enough to meet at least 80% of the dwelling’s estimated annual average electricity use. The mandate would also apply to multifamily dwellings and commercial buildings up to 10 stories high. California is the only state that has a solar mandate on new construction. The California Energy Commission approved requirements for solar on new single-family homes and multifamily dwellings up to three stories high as of 2020. This year, additional provisions went into effect requiring solar power and battery storage in many new commercial structures and high-rise residential buildings. “It’s been incredibly effective,” said Ben Davis, a policy associate with the California Solar and Storage Association. “I live in a neighborhood with a ton of new construction. Every single building has solar on it, which is fantastic to see. The buildings are designed with solar in mind, so there’s a cost savings for permitting, and you don’t need to do any rewiring.” Other states besides Rhode Island are also pondering whether to mandate this. Such proposals are working their way through the state legislatures of New Mexico and Massachusetts.
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