Category Archives: Greenhouse Gas Reduction
Navajo & Hopi Tribes Reveal The Local Impact Of Closing A Coal Plant

The Navajo Generating Station (NGS) is a massive coal-fired power plant.  It is the country’s eighth-largest greenhouse gas polluter, at 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions (and hundreds of pounds of mercury and arsenic) each year.

But as I blogged earlier, it’s also the economic lifeblood for one of the most impoverished regions in the country, for the Navajo and Hopi Tribes. The plant is responsible for 3,000 jobs, and the Hopi Tribe alone receives $13 million annually, representing an astonishing 85 percent of the tribe’s yearly revenue.

Bloomberg reports on the economic challenge facing these communities with the impending closure:

It’s unquestionable that closing NGS is the best possible outcome for the land the Navajo and their neighbors, the Hopi, have called home for more than 800 years. It’s also unquestionable that closing NGS presents an existential threat to both tribes. Once the work of winding down operations is said and done, “some will say, ‘I have no choice but to make a life off the reservation,’” says Hopi Chairman Herman Honanie. “That is very likely, and something that we, as parents and tribal leaders, especially for younger people, may have to really encourage.” After centuries of fighting against both men and laws, it’s market forces that have brought them to this breaking point. “I think we need to reach deep down inside ourselves and ask how we want to survive as a people,” he says.

These communities don’t have a lot of other economic options, but it’s never a winning long-term strategy to be so totally dependent on one economic source. Like many rural communities across this country, they’re going to have to figure out alternative means of surviving economically, and they’re going to have to do so quickly.

Our Meat-Heavy Diets Are Destroying The Environment

So says a new World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report titled “Appetite for Destruction,” profiled in the Guardian:

“The world is consuming more animal protein than it needs and this is having a devastating effect on wildlife,” said Duncan Williamson, WWF food policy manager. “A staggering 60% of global biodiversity loss is down to the food we eat. We know a lot of people are aware that a meat-based diet has an impact on water and land, as well as causing greenhouse gas emissions, but few know the biggest issue of all comes from the crop-based feed the animals eat.”

With 23 [billion] chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and guinea fowl on the planet – more than three per person – the biggest user of crop-based feed globally is poultry. The second largest, with 30% of the world’s feed in 2009, is the pig industry.

Some studies even indicate that you can make a bigger impact reducing your carbon footprint by avoiding meat consumption than even by driving a hybrid.

Between our preference for meat-heavy diets and tendency to waste food, individual eating habits are making a major impact on the climate and the environment around us.

Now that’s some food for thought.

Standardizing Food Labels To Avoid Waste

Food waste is a staggering problem.  Researchers estimate that Americans waste 133 billion pounds of food each year. Globally, we waste or lose 1.3 billion tons of food annually. The economic costs are significant: the typical American family spends about $1,500 on food that they throw away, adding up to billions of dollars of waste.

Environmentally, it’s also a huge contributor to climate change.  Analysts have documented that food waste leads to 3.3 gigatons [billion tons] of CO2 equivalent emissions, making it the third top emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China.

One relatively straightforward solution is for the food industry to standardize food labeling.  Fortunately, an industry group has agreed to tackle the problem, per NPR.  The Consumer Goods Forum is a network of 400 of the largest food and consumer goods companies around the globe (including Walmart, Kellogg, Nestle, Campbell Soup, and Amazon), with a plan to harmonize labels:

These are the two standard phrases that you can expect to see on food packages in the future: “BEST if Used By,” which describes the quality of a food product. This term is meant to convey that “the product may not taste or perform” its best after the specified date, “but it is safe to use or consume,” explains the Food Marketing Institute in this release.

The second term is “Use By,” which applies to highly perishable products. “These products should be consumed by the date listed on the package – and disposed of after that date,” explains the FMI.

This is an important step that will hopefully give consumers more guidance about when to throw out food or not.  We’ll still need to tackle other parts of the problem, such as minimizing waste in the fields and at markets, but consumer education is a big need.

If you’d like to hear more about how to reduce food waste, check out this City Visions discussion I hosted in August on KALW FM 91.7.

End Of California’s Legislative Session Brings Victories On Housing But Setbacks On Renewables

The frenzy is over.  The California legislature finished its session last week and sent its approved bills onto the governor.  Casual observers note the big “victories” on housing:

  • A supermajority vote to raise fees on real estate documents to fund affordable housing;
  • Another supermajority vote to approve a bond measure to go before the voters to fund even more affordable housing;
  • A win for SB 35, to streamline local approvals for new housing in cities and counties that aren’t providing enough of it also passed; and
  • The “sleeper” AB 1568 (Bloom), which will improves infrastructure financing for infill projects under the acronym NIFTI (Neighborhood Infill Finance and Transit Improvements Act).

But as I wrote last week, SB 35 is the one that really gets to the heart of the problem of the housing shortage in California.  The new revenue measures are drops in a seemingly bottomless bucket, as local governments consistently prevent new housing from getting built, particularly in job-rich infill areas.  SB 35 instead starts to deregulate housing at the local level.  California will need much more of that approach to solve this crisis.

Finally, on renewable energy, the state suffered a setback.  SB 100, to increase the renewable mandate to 60% by 2030 and 100% by 2045, was kicked into next year, as was the plan to regionalize California’s grid to encourage more renewables across the west and lower electricity rates for all.  But the stalling of these bills gives the legislature and climate advocates a good place to start on next year’s priorities.

Next up: we’ll see what the governor signs in the coming weeks.

How To Pay For Energy Efficiency Retrofits — Evening Event At Berkeley Law On Thursday, September 21st

California has ambitious goals to make our existing buildings more energy efficient, through improvements such as wall and ceiling insulation and efficient appliances and fixtures.  We simply cannot meet our long-term climate goals without more progress on this front.

But these smart investments require upfront money, and it’s not clear yet how the state can make easy financing available.  As SB 350 (De Leon, 2015) requires California to double the energy efficiency of existing buildings by 2030, large-scale private sector investment will be critical to financing these energy retrofits.

Join UC Berkeley and UCLA Law for an evening event at UC Berkeley Law on Thursday, September 21st, from 5-7pm to discuss these issues:

Keynote Address: Commissioner Andrew McAllister, California Energy Commission

Panel Presentations:

  • Carmen Best, Independent Energy Efficiency Advisor & former California Public Utilities Commission supervisor
  • Cisco DeVries, Founder and CEO, Renew Financial Group LLC
  • Jon Wellinghoff, former chair of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)

Following up on our 2016 report from the two law schools, Powering the Savings, these speakers will focus on what metering technologies and new policies will be needed to unlock this large-scale financing.  We’ll cover recent innovations, new policies, and promising success stories on metered energy efficiency that the state can build on to achieve these ambitious and necessary climate and energy goals.

Please RSVP today as space is limited.  If you can’t attend in person, you can also livestream the event (registration required).   Hope to see you there!

Webinar: Net Economic Impacts Of California’s Major Climate Programs On The Inland Empire, Tuesday Sept. 12th At 10am

Following the state legislature’s landmark approval extending California’s cap-and-trade program through 2030 by a supermajority vote, Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy & The Environment (CLEE) and our research partners have completed the first comprehensive, academic study of the economic effects of existing climate and clean energy policies in Southern California’s Inland Empire.

Together with UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, and working with the nonpartisan nonprofit Next 10, the study found that between 2010 to 2016 the Inland Empire received:

  • an estimated net benefit of $9.1 billion in direct economic activity and
  • 41,000 net direct jobs, some of which are permanent and ongoing and many of which resulted from one-time construction investments.

Join the report authors as we discuss our findings on a webinar next Tuesday.  We’ll cover the impact of cap and trade, the renewables portfolio standard, distributed solar policies and energy efficiency programs and their effects on the Inland Empire’s economy to date and going forward, as well as what these findings mean for other regions of the state and beyond.

In addition to yours truly, the webinar will feature:

  • Betony Jones, UC Berkeley Labor Center 
  • F. Noel Perry, Next 10

The webinar will run from 10 to 11am on Tuesday, September 12th.  Register now to join the discussion!

UPDATE: The webinar video recording is now available:

The Smartest People Are Most Polarized On Climate Science

The people who deny climate science the most aren’t stupid, but actually are among the smartest, a new study confirms. Previous studies I’ve blogged about have documented this phenomenon, and now a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences documents the trend on a range of scientific — yet politicized — issues.

As E&E news summarizes [pay-walled]:

Looking at a nationally representative survey of views on stem cell research, the Big Bang, human evolution, nanotechnology, genetically modified organisms and climate change, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that respondents with the most education and the highest scores on scientific literacy tests had the most polarized beliefs.

On climate change, the researchers found that political identity was a more important signal of where respondents stood than their academic acumen or scientific sophistication.

“Conservatives with higher scores display less concern about climate change, while liberals with higher scores display more concern,” the authors wrote. “These patterns suggest that scientific knowledge may facilitate defending positions motivated by nonscientific concerns.”

The take-home point for advocates of climate action is that more facts won’t change people’s minds.  It’s not a question of ignorance that motivates this reasoning.  Instead, advocates should focus on new frames to address the challenge, as well as on specific facets of climate change that don’t require someone to accept all the science around it, like reducing air pollution or addressing sea level rise.

Essentially, climate change has become an issue of tribal identity and ideology — and no longer one of fact and reason.  While that’s disheartening, it’s also clarifying for understanding how to move forward on the issue.

China’s Horrible Air Pollution Problem Made Personal

China is infamous for its air quality problems, with pictures in global news outlets of record-breaking smog in cities like Beijing and people venturing outside in face masks.  The public outcry there is part of the reason that China has embraced climate change policies that reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, which are a major source of the pollution.

But the human impact of this pollution problem is easy to overlook for those of us who don’t know or talk to people in China.  In co-teaching a climate change class this spring at Berkeley Law with some law students from China, for example, I was surprised to learn that many Chinese families spend hundreds of dollars on air filters for their apartment windows.  Wouldn’t that money be better spent collectively instead, on slightly higher electricity rates from cleaner electricity sources?  Yet in a country with one-party rule, they simply don’t have the option to protest at the ballot box.  And when there are elections, voters are denied real choices.

Still, the government is getting the message, which is why they’ve been working with environmental attorneys from around the world to devise policies to reduce pollution.  And it’s probably a big factor in the government’s decision to sign the Paris climate accords and an earlier bilateral agreement with the U.S.

But we shouldn’t overlook the personal nature of the air quality and public health challenge there.  To that end, I found this documentary clip from Jing Chai called “Under the Dome” (Part 1) to be eye-opening and disturbing, from the perspective of a young mother looking out for her child’s health:

You can keep watching for further posted clips from the documentary. Let’s hope China will follow the success story of places like Los Angeles, which still suffers from smog but at a greatly reduced rate, and find cleaner skies soon.

California’s Climate Progress Report: Good Overall But Not On Transportation Emissions

Next 10 has just released its handy annual report card on California’s climate and economic progress, called the California Green Innovation Index.  The good news is that it shows carbon emissions in the state continue to fall while economic innovation and growth increases:

But the bad news is that transportation emissions are up:

Despite an overall reduction in GHG emissions of 0.34 percent, transportation-related emissions were up by 2.7 percent in the state between 2014 and 2015. Lower gas prices and increased housing costs have pushed residents farther away from job centers, leading to an increase in commute times of 2.8 percent, while public transportation ridership fell 4.8 percent across the state.

The state can’t do too much about low gas prices (although the recent SB 1 gas tax increase will add a few pennies to each gallon). But it can facilitate more infill housing to lower costs and bring people closer to their jobs.

The problem though is the strong political opposition to reforms that would boost infill housing, which essentially involve taking away local authority over land use. The local government lobby and its wealthy homeowner allies have made prospects grim for making much progress on this critical climate strategy. Case in point: in a legislative session that was supposed to be the “year of housing,” the current proposals, while small steps in the right direction, are basically tweaks that have been effectively neutered by various interest groups.

As a result, the state’s main hope for reducing transportation emissions will be rapid electrification of vehicles. California is a leader on this front, but we’ll need exponential sales increases. That means a lot is riding on “mass market” vehicles like the Chevy Bolt and the upcoming Tesla Model 3 to be huge successes.

Bottom line: while California has a good story to tell on climate action, efforts to reduce emissions in the near term should focus on boosting electric vehicles and infill housing.

Is It Productive To Scare People About Climate Change?

Climate change is one of the most difficult political — let alone natural — challenges we face.  It’s a relatively far-off calamity that requires action now among the entire developed and developing world, with uncertain costs associated.  So how do we motivate people to act?

One option is to scare them with the worst-case scenarios.  David Wallace-Wells tried this approach recently with a widely circulated New York Magazine cover story describing the absolute worst-case scenarios for climate change, starting with this intro:

It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.

Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.

Lots of climate advocates and scientists pushed back on this approach though, arguing essentially that “despair is never helpful.”

But David Roberts at Vox.com celebrated this kind of journalism, pointing out that we need to hear more of this alarming, worst-case potential to motivate action:

It may be that there are social dynamics that require some fear and paralysis before a collective breakthrough. At the very least, it seems excessive to draw a pat “fear never works” conclusion from these sorts of data.

Second, even if it’s true that fear only “works” when it is joined with a sense of agency and efficacy, that doesn’t mean that every single instance of fear has to be accompanied by a serving of hope. Not every article has to be about everything. In fact, if you ask me, the “[two paragraphs of fear], BUT [12 paragraphs of happy news]” format has gotten to be a predictable snooze. Some pieces can just be about the terrible risks we face. That’s okay.

Finally, fear+hope requires fear.

Julie Beck at The Atlantic meanwhile reports on the counter-productive tactic of simply making people anxious, particularly via social media. While the thought may be that anxiety leads to action, it can often instead just immobilize and distract people:

Just as social media allowed fake news to spread untrammeled through ideological communities that already largely agreed with each other, it also creates containers for anxiety to swirl in on itself, like a whirlpool in a bottle.

“If you look at the right-hand side of the aisle, and the left, they’re each talking about the things they fear the most,” says Morrow Cater, the president of the bipartisan consulting firm Cater Communications. “The anxiety that you’re talking about—be vigilant!—it comes when you’re fearful.”

But the article also notes that fear-based messaging can work:

Though several people I spoke to said that fear-based appeals to action don’t work, and may even backfire, there’s actually evidence that they do work. Dolores Albarracin, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, did a meta-analysis in 2015 of all available research on fear-based appeals and found that overall, inducing fear does change people’s attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. She and her team did not find a backfire effect.

But the fear appeals that Albarracin studied came with recommended actions. “If the message is not actionable, then you’re not going to get effects overall,” she says.

For my part, I think the public should think about the absolute worst-case effects of climate change. While the worst-case scenario may not come to pass, we need to be prepared for the full range of impacts. Second, we’ve seen fear lead to some of the biggest mass mobilization efforts in history: namely, wars. And climate change will require a similar level of mobilization and urgency.

But I agree that fear-based messages should be paired with actions. Those steps should range from the individual (eat less red meat, install LED light bulbs, buy an electric vehicle if you need one, install solar panels, etc.) to the political (support candidates and policies that address the problem, such as carbon pricing, renewable energy and energy efficiency mandates, and transit-oriented housing).

Otherwise, anxiety without hope or a achievable remedy will be self-defeating.

Next Page