‘It makes climate change real’: How carbon emissions got rebranded as ‘pollution’

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

What do you think of when you hear the word “pollution” — a city smothered in smog, a beach strewn with trash, factories pumping out dark clouds? Now try to picture “carbon emissions.” See anything? Probably not, since carbon dioxide is invisible.  This simple exercise helps explain the growing popularity of once-rare phrases like “carbon pollution” and “climate pollution” in place of “carbon emissions” or the older “greenhouse gases.” Connecting climate change with something visceral and dangerous brings more immediacy to a problem that’s often seen as unfolding far away or in the future, even though it’s causing suffering now. “Climate pollution” is becoming common on the websites of green groups and atop news stories. “Carbon pollution” has been adopted by the Biden administration, appearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s site, in press releases about cleaning up manufacturing, and in speeches by the president.  “I think ‘pollution’ is a better word to use than ‘emissions,’ because everyone understands that pollution is harmful,” said Susan Joy Hassol, the director of Climate Communication, a nonprofit for science outreach. Positioning climate change as a pollution problem might have bigger consequences than you’d think. Consider the recent Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA at the end of June. The court’s conservative majority ruled that the EPA can’t implement sweeping regulations on carbon dioxide without the explicit approval of Congress. The ruling threatened the Biden administration’s ability to make good on its pledges to tackle climate change. At least, until a month and a half later. The Inflation Reduction Act, the landmark climate legislation signed by President Joe Biden in August, amends the 1970 Clean Air Act to clearly identify greenhouse gas emissions as a form of air pollution. When it comes to the law, definitions mean everything. It wasn’t always a popular move to link global warming with air quality. Until recently, most environmental groups treated them as distinct problems. Environmental justice advocates, on the other hand, have argued that global emissions and local air pollution were inextricably linked and needed to be addressed together. Otherwise, they argued, climate legislation could actually impede efforts to clean up the air in communities saddled with pollution. President Joe Biden signs the Inflation Reduction Act in Washington, D.C., August 16, 2022. Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images Both the sources of climate change and its effects are linked to air pollution: Highway traffic means more planet-warming CO2 and dirty smog, and worsening wildfires mean people inhale more particulate matter. Over the past decade, more people have come around to seeing climate change as a threat to their health, not simply an “environmental” problem. Not only does connecting climate change to pollution make the problem relevant to people’s lives, but it also makes acting on it more popular. Clean air isn’t something just environmentalists want — basically everyone wants it.  To people who are skeptical that carbon dioxide could be considered pollution — after all, it’s natural! We breathe it out! — Hassol would point out that we use pollution to describe all kinds of disturbances, such as glowing cities (light pollution) and roaring airplanes (noise pollution). “Warm water isn’t a bad thing either, but if you’re dumping from a cooling tower water that’s too warm into a stream, it’ll kill the fish and it’s not allowed,” she said. “People understand intuitively what pollution means — it’s something that’s harmful that you’re introducing unnaturally into the environment. And so this perfectly fits that definition.” To describe greenhouse gas emissions, Hassol likes the phrase “heat-trapping pollution,” since people don’t need special background knowledge to comprehend it. People have deep anxieties about a poisoned environment: The pollution of rivers, oceans, and lakes has consistently numbered among Americans’ top 10 fears, whereas climate change didn’t make the cut in the most recent survey. Research has shown that framing climate change as a danger to public health increased people’s support for taking action on emissions and made them feel more hopeful. A paper in 2010 found that people considered the potential health benefits of reducing emissions “particularly compelling.” More recent research suggests that talking about air pollution rather than climate change increases people’s support for regulating power plant emissions, especially among Republicans.  “No matter where you are on the political spectrum, Democrat, Republican, progressive, conservative, there’s not a person out there that doesn’t care about the health and well-being of their children and the people they care about,” said Molly Kawahata, a former climate advisor to the Obama White House who now advises organizations on how to reframe the climate crisis. “Nothing is more personal to us than our personal health.” At a demonstration against the Cricket Valley gas power plant in Wingdale, New York, protesters cited the plant’s large contribution to climate change and local air pollution, November 16, 2019. Erik McGregor / LightRocket via Getty Images Framing climate change as an air quality problem also validates long-standing concerns from communities that are threatened by industrial pollution. Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans are, on average, more likely to breathe polluted air than white people, regardless of income, according to a recent study. Largely because of the legacy of redlining, Black and Latino people are more likely to live near industrial sites and polluting highways, hazards that are associated with health problems of all kinds, including asthma, childhood cancer, and preterm births. “Communities of color are not just the most impacted by the effects of climate change, like climate-related disasters,” Kawahata said. “They’re also most impacted by the sources of the climate crisis, which are our electricity and transportation industries.” Polluters often try to turn public attention away from these industrial sources. Oil companies have been promoting the concept of your personal “carbon footprint” for more than two decades, a message that helps them deflect responsibility. This individual-focused narrative has become a big part of how people think and talk about climate change. “When people hear ‘climate change,’ they don’t necessarily think of fossil fuels right away,” Kawahata said. “They think about taking planes and driving cars and they think about a lot of their personal behavior.” “Climate pollution,” by contrast, conjures images of billowing smokestacks, putting the culpability back on industry. The pollution lens gels with the idea that the climate crisis requires big-picture solutions from governments and corporations, as more Americans are beginning to understand. “It really shows it’s a systemic problem that affects everybody, and that to solve it, you need to solve it for everybody,” Kawahata said. One of the earliest signs that public health was a powerful framing for climate action? Polluting companies were worried that green groups would emphasize how greenhouse gas emissions would harm people’s health. In the mid-1990s, the Global Climate Coalition, a group of corporations working to stop environmental regulations, expressed concerns to their board when emerging research showed that a hotter planet would be hospitable to mosquitoes, leading to the spread of malaria and other tropical diseases. “[E]nvironmental organizations’ activities suggests their strategy is shifting to one of focusing on a purported increase in the spread of dangerous and lethal diseases as a result of climate change,” read the coalition’s annual report from 1995. “This could have major ramifications for the GCC.” But the early climate movement was strangely resistant to including public health in its plans to tackle global warming, dismissing activists who tried to do so. In the early 2000s, people living in highly polluted areas of California led the push for tackling local air pollution and climate change together. They pointed out that the same smokestacks that were spewing carbon emissions into the atmosphere were also emitting pollutants that harmed their families’ health more directly. Why not regulate greenhouse gas emissions and clean up air at the same time, accomplishing two important goals at once? When California began developing climate legislation in the early 2000s, however, local air quality got de-prioritized. The state started to “divert staff, time, resources, money, and grants away from local pollution” and toward limiting carbon emissions, said Michael Méndez, a professor of environmental policy at the University of California, Irvine, who wrote the book Climate Change from the Streets: How Conflict and Collaboration Strengthen the Environmental Justice Movement. A tanker truck drives by the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, March 9, 2010. AP Photo / Paul Sakuma, File Over the next several years, activists fought to get policymakers and traditional environmental groups to address air pollution and climate change head-on. But many officials and economists balked at combining the two issues.  Consider the following comment from a 2006 panel on developing cap-and-trade programs at an environmental law conference in California. Dan Skopec, then undersecretary for the California Environmental Protection Agency, said that the challenge of global warming was so great that it should be the single focus of policies. “Using the umbrella of global warming to satisfy other agendas is really going to distract from the solution and create inefficiency,” he said. “So, as we go forward, I hope that we can all focus this effort on the problem of reducing greenhouse gases and not try to solve everyone else’s unsolvable problems in other areas.” Environmental justice activists in California tried to popularize the phrase “climate pollution” starting around 2012, according to Méndez. He recalls talking to a legislative advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce who was uneasy about that language, saying they were wary of lumping all types of pollution together since it broadened the scope of regulation and would reduce economic efficiency. Around the same time, a legal battle began pushing the two issues together at the national level. Massachusetts and other states argued that the Environmental Protection Agency was required to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles under the Clean Air Act. But the EPA, under President George W. Bush, refused to do so, saying that the Clean Air Act didn’t give it that authority. The case eventually ended up in front of the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2007 that the EPA did have that power, since planet-warming emissions technically counted as “air pollutants.” The court ordered the agency to review the evidence to see whether carbon emissions endangered public health — and after an extensive two-year review, the EPA found that it did. The pollution-oriented way of talking about climate change eventually spread from California to the White House. When the Obama administration announced the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants in 2015, the press release highlighted the new “carbon pollution standards.” Testing conducted by the White House showed that public health was the best frame for discussing the problem. Over the course of the 2010s, the conflict between economic-focused climate advocates and grassroots organizations gradually softened, replaced by a spirit of collaboration, Méndez said. “I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture that all is good in terms of environmental justice in California, but those vicious fights over climate and environmental regulation are not as vicious anymore,” he said. Politicians are getting on board with defining carbon dioxide as air pollution and folding air quality standards into climate policies. Consider the cap-and-trade bill that Washington state passed last year, which establishes a regulatory program to reduce pollution in areas with poor air quality.  This new emphasis is reflected in the language people are using, too: Google Ngram, which tracks how frequently words are used in books, shows a clear increase in both “climate pollution” and “carbon pollution” over the last decade. “There has been a shift from opposing such approaches to embracing them now because they understand that it brings more people under the tent, and it makes the movement more powerful,” Méndez said. “It motivates people and energizes people because it makes climate change real.” This story was originally published by Grist with the headline ‘It makes climate change real’: How carbon emissions got rebranded as ‘pollution’ on Sep 29, 2022.

California activists paved the way for defining climate change as an air pollution problem. Now it's federal law.

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‘I use it because it’s better’: why chefs are embracing the electric stove

As evidence mounts that gas stoves are bad for human health, a growing number of professional chefs say electric even makes for a better cooking experienceThe evidence that gas stoves are bad for human health has grown so staggering over the last few years that the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recently announced that it would consider banning the appliances. Though a conservative backlash prompted the White House to rule out the possibility of a nationwide ban, and some states have passed pre-emptive laws that prohibit cities from ever passing gas bans, other cities including Berkeley, New York and San Francisco have already moved to bar new gas hookups due to health and environmental concerns.One study from earlier this month found that one in eight cases of childhood asthma in the US is caused by gas stove pollution. According to the lead author on the study, Talor Gruenwald, a research associate at the non-profit Rewiring America, that means that living in a home with a gas stove is comparable to living in a home with a smoker. Gas stoves release pollutants so harmful that the air pollution they create would be illegal if it were outdoors, and that’s not just true when you’re actively cooking – gas stoves continue to emit harmful compounds like methane even when turned off. Beyond the adverse health impacts, those emissions are greenhouse gasses that also contribute to the climate crisis. Continue reading...

As evidence mounts that gas stoves are bad for human health, a growing number of professional chefs say electric even makes for a better cooking experienceThe evidence that gas stoves are bad for human health has grown so staggering over the last few years that the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recently announced that it would consider banning the appliances. Though a conservative backlash prompted the White House to rule out the possibility of a nationwide ban, and some states have passed pre-emptive laws that prohibit cities from ever passing gas bans, other cities including Berkeley, New York and San Francisco have already moved to bar new gas hookups due to health and environmental concerns.One study from earlier this month found that one in eight cases of childhood asthma in the US is caused by gas stove pollution. According to the lead author on the study, Talor Gruenwald, a research associate at the non-profit Rewiring America, that means that living in a home with a gas stove is comparable to living in a home with a smoker. Gas stoves release pollutants so harmful that the air pollution they create would be illegal if it were outdoors, and that’s not just true when you’re actively cooking – gas stoves continue to emit harmful compounds like methane even when turned off. Beyond the adverse health impacts, those emissions are greenhouse gasses that also contribute to the climate crisis. Continue reading...

What to Know About the Risks of Gas Stoves and Appliances

This story was originally published by ProPublica. As a climate reporter, I was well aware of the growing concern about the gas stoves in people’s homes leaking dangerous pollutants, like methane, a potent greenhouse gas and explosive hazard; nitrogen dioxide, which worsens asthma; and benzene, which causes cancer. But I was a renter who had no […]

This story was originally published by ProPublica. As a climate reporter, I was well aware of the growing concern about the gas stoves in people’s homes leaking dangerous pollutants, like methane, a potent greenhouse gas and explosive hazard; nitrogen dioxide, which worsens asthma; and benzene, which causes cancer. But I was a renter who had no control over my appliances. So I mostly ignored it — until one day last fall when I smelled the rotten-egg odor of leaking natural gas while baking focaccia. I borrowed a $30 gas leak detector from a friend (a fellow climate reporter, of course). When I turned on the oven in my New York City apartment, the lights for a “significant” leak lit up. My kitchen was filling up with methane. According to the user manual, that meant I should “VENTILATE THE AREA IMMEDIATELY and move to a safe location” in case of an explosion. I opened the windows and ignored the evacuation advice (don’t follow my example), too intent on taking a video of the leak as proof for my landlord before turning off the oven. Then I vented my frustration by panic-texting friends and eating too much focaccia — after cutting it into pieces and baking it in my toaster oven. Luckily, my landlord replaced my faulty stove within days. I made sure to check the new stove (still gas, alas) for leaks after it was installed. “People still don’t recognize that there are health downsides to cooking with gas in your home,” said Regina LaRocque, a Harvard Medical School professor who does research on medicine and public health. “This is the 21st century, and we have better ways of cooking than over a fire.” The issue has caught national attention in recent weeks, as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission considers regulating gas stoves. Public health experts and environmentalists have long warned of the risks of gas ranges. One study found that indoor gas stoves were responsible for roughly 13% of childhood asthma cases in the U.S. The American Public Health Association and American Medical Association have urged consumers to transition away from gas. LaRocque uses a traditional electric coil stove at home. But she and other experts advocated for induction stoves, which use electromagnets to heat up food. These stoves are growing in popularity as consumers choose them for climate, health and safety reasons, though they can cost more than twice as much as a gas range. The federal Inflation Reduction Act will provide rebates to upgrade to electric or induction home appliances (here’s a Wirecutter guide on that program). Some states, including Massachusetts, offer their own rebates as well. Induction stoves are much more common in Europe, LaRocque said. That cultural shift has yet to occur in the United States, where more than a third of households use gas stoves. As Mother Jones reported, the gas industry embraced the term “cooking with gas” in the 1930s; an executive even made sure to get it worked into Bob Hope’s comedy routines. More recently, the industry has opposed electrification efforts with lobbying and social media influencers who tout gas as a “super cool way” to cook. I consulted multiple experts on the hazards of gas stoves and what people can do about them. Their advice boiled down to this: homeowners who can afford it should switch to an induction or electric stove. For renters and others who can’t replace their appliances, the experts provided tips on lowering the health risks. Methane is a greenhouse gas. The gas that’s piped into your house is virtually all methane. When you burn methane to cook food, it turns into carbon dioxide. But unburned methane trickles out from loose fittings and faulty stovetop igniters. Every pound of methane released into the air is 30 to 86 times more effective at warming the planet than a pound of carbon dioxide. When researchers analyzed 53 homes in California last year, they found methane leaking from almost every stove. More than three-quarters of that methane came from stoves that were turned off. The act of igniting a burner or oven released additional puffs of methane. If these leaks are consistent across the nation, then annual methane emissions from U.S. gas stoves would equal the greenhouse gas emissions of half a million cars. These leaks are “pretty much universal,” said Robert Jackson, a Stanford University professor and a study co-author. Jackson, who’s spent more than a decade studying methane leaks from gas wells, pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure, said it can be hard to predict where the leak is coming from. Based on the description of the leak in my kitchen, he told me it likely was caused by ignition problems with the oven. Jackson’s research has inspired him to ditch his gas stove, furnace and hot water heater in favor of induction and electric appliances. “I did not expect to see the high levels of indoor air pollution we saw consistently,” he said. “It strongly motivated me to replace my own stove.” Large methane leaks can cause explosions. If you smell gas in your home, leave the building and call your gas company. The distinctive rotten-egg odor comes from chemicals that gas companies add to the methane to make it easier to detect, since the gas is naturally odorless. Some people are much more sensitive to the smell than others, so it’s not a foolproof warning for explosive risk. Eric Lebel, lead author of the methane study Jackson worked on, recalled smelling gas in some of the homes where he did the testing, even though the homeowners couldn’t smell anything. Lebel is a senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy, a nonprofit science and policy research institute. Burning natural gas releases nitrogen dioxide, a respiratory irritant. Nitrogen dioxide exacerbates asthma and impairs lung function. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates these emissions from cars and power plants with national air quality standards, but those regulations don’t apply to indoor air. The Lebel and Jackson study measured nitrogen dioxide and a related compound. They found steadily rising emissions after turning on burners and ovens. “Simply having a combustion stove in your home is a health risk,” LaRocque said. In poorly ventilated kitchens, nitrogen dioxide levels could exceed outdoor air standards. “It would be like standing behind an idling car, or standing in a smoke-filled room,” she added. “I think if my child had asthma, I would definitely want to intervene.” Gas stoves leak benzene, a carcinogen that can cause leukemia. In a separate study published last fall, Lebel and his colleagues analyzed gas samples from residential kitchens. Out of 160 samples, all but one contained benzene. “If there’s a leak from that appliance, it likely contains benzene,” Lebel said. “It’s a rather unavoidable cost of owning a gas appliance.” Raw natural gas contains a mix of methane and toxic chemicals like benzene, toluene or formaldehyde. Gas companies strip out the impurities before piping the processed gas to homes, but they don’t eliminate all the toxins. Lebel’s team modeled the benzene concentrations from the leaking stoves and found a handful that failed to meet California’s benzene safety guidelines. They also found traces of other harmful compounds, including toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene, which can cause dizziness, nausea and liver damage. A separate study of gas appliances in the Greater Boston area found benzene in 95% of samples, though at lower levels than Lebel’s study. Turn on the range hood above your stove. Paul Francisco, associate director of building science at the University of Illinois Urbana, Champaign, suggests cooking on the back burners and using the hood whenever you turn on the stove or the oven. The fans improve ventilation and will pull benzene, methane and nitrogen dioxide outdoors. However, this only works if the hood connects to the outside of your house. Follow the piping on the hood: If the top of the device goes through the ceiling or the wall, then it should help with air quality. Another type of range hood, called a “ductless” hood, simply recirculates indoor air. If your hood has grilles or vents on the front, then it’s likely, but not guaranteed, to be ductless, Francisco said. These fans won’t cut down on harmful gases, but they might be able to reduce particulate matter — tiny particles created during cooking, which can cause or exacerbate respiratory illness. A 2014 study found that cooking on induction stoves produced far fewer particles than cooking on gas or electric stoves. Open a window to improve ventilation. At a minimum, an open window will dilute toxic gases. If your kitchen is in the upper half of a building, opening the window should draw the contaminants outside as long as there’s no wind and it’s warmer inside than outside, Francisco said. If you live in the lower half of a building, opening a window in the winter won’t be as effective, he said, though any ventilation is better than none. Get an induction hot plate. If you can’t replace your stove, experts said the next best thing is to buy an induction burner. Here are some consumer guides with reviews of portable hot plates. During last summer’s heat waves, when I couldn’t fathom lighting a fire inside my kitchen, I did almost all my cooking using an induction hot plate, an Instant Pot and an electric toaster oven. Excessive heat is another reason why some chefs advocate for induction burners. What about air purifiers? These devices have become more popular as a way to improve air quality and reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections. Most air purifiers won’t have any effect on toxic gases, though they do remove particulate matter, Francisco said. Some specialty models filter out volatile organic compounds, a class of chemicals that includes benzene. Should I buy a gas detector? There are a number of methane monitors that are designed for consumers, priced from roughly $30 to $200. Some will tell you about the presence of a leak. Others are sensitive enough to detect specific concentrations of methane. You can also find indoor monitors that detect particulate matter for $200 to $300. It’s much harder to monitor for benzene or nitrogen dioxide. The types of instruments used by Lebel and Jackson cost tens of thousands of dollars and require users to undergo extensive training.   The South Coast Air Quality Management District, a regulatory agency in California, maintains a list of “low-cost” air quality sensors (less than $2,000) that can be used by citizen scientists and advocacy groups. These sensors can be used to detect particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds.   Lebel said it shouldn’t be up to individuals to solve a systemic issue. It seems problematic, he said, “to be asking citizens to be scientists and try and discover if their stove is leaking.”

Fossil-Fuel Power Plants May Be on Their Last Legs

This story was originally published by Inside Climate News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. The global energy transition has reached a pivot point, in which fossil fuels have likely peaked in their use for producing electricity and are about to enter a period of decline. This is the idea at the heart of a […]

This story was originally published by Inside Climate News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. The global energy transition has reached a pivot point, in which fossil fuels have likely peaked in their use for producing electricity and are about to enter a period of decline. This is the idea at the heart of a new report from RMI (Rocky Mountain Institute), a nonprofit that does research and advocacy about the transition. The lead author, energy analyst Kingsmill Bond, makes a case that wind and solar power are going through growth that looks almost exactly like the trend lines for the early stages of transformative products and industries, across technologies and eras, like automobiles and smartphones. The growth begins slowly, with high costs, and shifts into high gear as costs shrink and efficiency rises. The optimism in this outlook is almost jarring in its clarity, and in its contrast with the pessimism I see and feel every day as the threats of climate change become clearer. The report argues that the fossil fuel demand has peaked in the electricity market in part because the annual growth in global electricity demand—about 700 terawatt-hours—is less than the electricity generated in 2022 by newly built power plants that have zero emissions, most of which were wind and solar plants. The report cites forecasts for a continuing increase in wind and solar development that will outpace the growth in electricity demand, a dynamic that will squeeze out the most expensive and dirtiest energy sources. The use of fossil fuels for electricity shifted in 2018 from a long period of growth to a plateau in which there is no clear trend up or down as measured by the amount of electricity produced. The report says the plateau is likely to continue until about 2025, followed by a long-term decline. The report acknowledges some big obstacles, like political resistance from fossil fuel industries and the challenges of running a grid that uses mostly intermittent resources. But it says the obstacles are surmountable, although I think this portion of the report feels insubstantial at points, with statements like “Innovation has solved most of the barriers to change.” (Bond acknowledged this is fair criticism, and said that the part of the report about obstacles is brief because he and his co-authors are working on a companion report that focuses on this subject in detail.) The report isn’t an academic paper, but plenty of academic researchers have used similar concepts to come to similar conclusions. For example, I wrote last year about a paper from University of Oxford economists and mathematicians about the potential for vast cost savings from a rapid transition to renewable energy. Bond, who is based in the United Kingdom, spent decades as an equity analyst and strategist for Deutsche Bank and Citibank, among others. He shifted a few years ago to focus exclusively on economic ramifications of the transition to clean energy, working for the UK-based Carbon Tracker Initiative and now RMI. I spoke with him by video from his office, with follow-up via email. Here’s our discussion, edited for length and clarity: A lot of what you’re talking about feels like techno optimism, this idea that we can all relax because progress is going to solve everything. And that’s an idea that gets a lot of criticism, especially from environmental advocates. I hear what you’re saying that maybe we are understating the difficulties that we face. There’s nothing inevitable about change. We cannot relax for a moment. This is a battle between the forces trying to protect the fossil fuel status quo and those trying to change it. We have to go out there and drive the change we need. Change the policy, deploy the renewable technology, come up with solutions in the hard-to-solve sectors. There is nothing easy about this, but we still need hope and direction. As [Paul] Romer said, it’s the difference between complacent optimism and conditional optimism, the difference between a child wanting to be given toys and a child going and building a treehouse. How has the Ukraine war affected the trajectory of the energy transition? So the Ukraine war without any question has sped up change because it increased efficiency and sped up the deployment of renewables. The International Energy Agency, for example, put out two reports at the end of 2022, and one of them said that after a number of years of slow gains in energy efficiency, efficiency has increased this year to 2 percent, which is exactly what you would expect in the face of a supply shock. And that, of course, is just the beginning. So it’s increased the efficiency of our use of energy. And of course, the other thing that it’s done is it’s massively increased the deployment of renewable energy. So the IEA, for example, increased their renewable energy deployment forecast for the next five years by 30 percent. Meanwhile, solar deployment in 2022 increased by 50 percent to 270 GW, according to BloombergNEF, and EV sales rose by 60 percent. As so often, war has sped up change. So if I’m Vladimir Putin, this is pretty counterproductive in terms of my long-term global interests. As Talleyrand said, it was worse than a crime, it was a mistake. The situation was similar in the 1970s, when OPEC tried to achieve its own geopolitical aims by cutting off oil supply, and ended up setting the scene for two decades of significantly lower oil prices, which ultimately had very profound consequences, including contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Union. This time around, we see a similar story of petrostate overreach leading to a speeding up of change. It’s not an unreasonable framework for us to be thinking about the consequences of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, that it will actually achieve the exact opposite of what he wanted, that is to say, a speeding up of change. Back to the idea of optimism: We live in a world where there’s a lot of justified pessimism about climate change. Are you optimistic about the world that our children and grandchildren will be living in? The reason I’m very optimistic is because we can actually see right in front of our noses this pivot point where we go from constantly rising demand for fossil fuels, to a plateau, and then a decline.  Four factors underlie my optimism: learning curves, meaning the cost of renewables gets cheaper every year; exponential growth, meaning renewables get bigger every year; tipping points, because they are happening right now; and feedback loops, which make change happen faster once you get to the tipping point. That means that this is the decade of disruption, where the energy system starts its long process of change. And as the energy system changes, we can fight back against climate change.  One of the other reasons why I’m optimistic is if you look backwards 10 years, it really was incredibly bleak. And all these technologies were much more expensive. But here we are, and what will happen in another 10 years, how much more innovation and deployment can there be? So yeah, I guess that’s why I’m relatively optimistic. And I should also say I have two children who share this optimism; they’re going into this field, as engineers to build out this brave new world.

Can board games teach us about the climate crisis? Game creators say yes

Board games might be the best learning device to think creatively about impending climate disasterEurope is planting trees to offset its emissions but is swiftly hit with massive wildfires. The United States is investing in mining operations abroad to wean off its dependence on fossil fuels but harbors concerns about trading with an abusive government. Meanwhile, a coalition of countries from the global south must decide whether to accept construction loans from China or the United States.These are not conversations at another high-profile global summit, but rather scenarios envisioned by the board game Daybreak, which hits shelves this spring. Four players – the United States, China, Europe and the “Majority World”, encompassing the global south – cooperate to reach zero emissions before hitting 2 degrees of warming or putting too many communities in crisis. Continue reading...

Board games might be the best learning device to think creatively about impending climate disasterEurope is planting trees to offset its emissions but is swiftly hit with massive wildfires. The United States is investing in mining operations abroad to wean off its dependence on fossil fuels but harbors concerns about trading with an abusive government. Meanwhile, a coalition of countries from the global south must decide whether to accept construction loans from China or the United States.These are not conversations at another high-profile global summit, but rather scenarios envisioned by the board game Daybreak, which hits shelves this spring. Four players – the United States, China, Europe and the “Majority World”, encompassing the global south – cooperate to reach zero emissions before hitting 2 degrees of warming or putting too many communities in crisis. Continue reading...

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