Earth911 Reader: EV Savings, Cooling Clothing, Saving $50 Trillion Over 30 Years

In Sustainability

Buy An EV, Save up to $14,500 on Fuel

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently released a study of the economic benefits of driving an electric vehicle compared to an internal combustion vehicle. The research found that over 15 years, an EV owner will pay $14,500 less for energy than a gasoline vehicle driver. Of course, the environmental benefits of an EV depend largely on the source of local electric generation — coal-powered electricity in an EV is just as dirty as traditional transportation. The study also found that Americans pay between 8 cents per kilowatt-hour to 27 cents for electricity and an average of 15 cents across the country. It also shows that charging overnight at home, when power is cheapest, is the best strategy to lower EV costs. This is especially important to understand as energy companies continue to invest just 10 percent of their capital in renewables, putting the remaining 90% into fossil fuel production. Now is the time to switch to an EV to save and send a clear message to industry that combustion engines have reached the end of the line.

Modern Marshall Plan for Developing World Resilience Will Benefit All

Tim Palmer, writing in Nature Climate Change, explains how an investment in sustainable energy and industrial capacity “Marshall Plan” will pay dividends the world over in reduced extreme weather events and improved carbon sequestration. He estimates that for each dollar spent directly on achieving net-zero emissions another 25 cents, about $250 billion a year over the next 30 years ($7.5 trillion total), would cover the cost of a global-local resilience program. Currently, the UN’s Kyoto Protocol pledges have reached only $129 million this year, a hundred times less than what is needed. If these economies can skip the stage of development that relies on coal and fossil fuels, it would significantly reduce damages from climate change, which total about $1.9 trillion annually. The math: spend $7.5 trillion over the next three decades to avoid $57 trillion in damages, according to the National Resources Defense Council’s Cost of Climate Change Report.

Carbon Footprint Knowledge Needs To Improve

Ignorance and acts of “moral licensing,” the trade-offs people make between different actions that can reduce their carbon footprint, prevent most people from making real carbon footprint reductions, Phys.org reports. Individual actions do matter because they can change the behaviors of industries, such as when people decide to fly less or buy cars that get higher mileage (or forego internal combustion vehicles entirely). Business responds to customers’ preferences, however, researchers at the University of British Columbia who surveyed environmentally aware people discovered that few respondents selected the most impactful changes they could make to change their carbon footprint. Lack of familiarity with specific impacts, such as choosing driving by yourself over public transit, or the greater impact of voting for climate-protecting policies than simply driving less, accounts for a large part of the disconnections identified. But moral licensing, as when someone decides to fly more because they recycle enough to offset the extra air miles (which isn’t even close to an even trade), also plays an important role. The solution? Build-in feedback that tells people more about their decisions.

Wind Power Bird Deaths Cut by 70% With Simple Fix

One of the criticisms of wind power is that turbines can kill birds. The problem is small, as cats, cars, and people kill far more birds than turbines, despite President Trump’s complaints earlier in August that wind power kills “all the birds.” In fact, a Norwegian Institute for Nature Research controlled study found that painting one blade of a wind turbine black reduces bird deaths by 70% over 10 years of observation, Cleantechnica reports. A good fact to have in your pocket when confronted by horror stories about bird deaths due to wind power.

The Nation’s First Net-Zero School Is Thriving 10 Years Later

When the Hood River Middle School Music and Science Wing, a renovated historic school building in Hood River, Oregon, opened a decade ago, it was the first net-zero energy public school in the United States. Ten years after the launch, Alec Holser of Opsis Architecture writes, the school has continued to expand its facilities and improve its sustainability. Dedicated teachers and activist students inspired by the building’s design were critical to its success, Holser explains. Built with a 35 KWatt photovoltaic solar array, the building also takes advantage of geothermal loops to heat or cool water under a nearby sports field, well-sealed triple-pane windows, and radiant floor heating. It includes a greenhouse and rainwater capture system that serves the schools’ toilets, sinks, and gardens. A key lesson: “this type of building is, and should be, always a work in progress.” Green tech is advancing and, once an initial commitment is made to sustainability, there is always more progress that can be made.

Hydrogen Is Becoming a Viable Energy Alternative

Writing in Nature, Sonja van Renssen reports on the progress toward hydrogen fuels that could displace fossil fuels and help convert renewable energy from the sun into a new basis for transportation. Europe has taken the lead in hydrogen and aims to become carbon neutral by 2050 using hydrogen to store excess solar energy. Nature also wrote this week about hydrogen-powered cars can play an important role in a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Hydrogen can also be used to transport excess solar energy around the world as fuel while reducing the overall footprint for electricity generation. As Ad van Wijk of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands argues in the article: “a solar panel in the Sahara generates 2–3 times as much power as one in the Netherlands. If you convert that power to hydrogen, transport it here and turn it back into power via a fuel cell, you are left with more energy than if you install that solar panel on a Dutch roof. In a sustainable energy system, you calculate in terms of system costs, not efficiency.” The catch is that hydrogen must be produced — it is made by splitting hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water, an electricity-intensive process — using renewable energy sources.

U.S. Added 9 Gigawatts of Wind Generation Last Year

ArsTechnica reports that the United States put another nine gigawatts of wind-powered electricity generation into production during the past year, bringing the total capacity up to about 108 GW total. That is enough for renewables to surpass coal generation, which it has done for the past two months. Adding longer blades to 1,800 older turbines contributed to part of the increase, bringing the cost of wind generation down relative to earlier years. Wind-generated electricity now costs about $36 per MW-hour, less than natural gas generation used in “weaker” plants.

In Recycling

Recycling in Low-Income Areas Key to Raising Overall Recovery Rates

The Guardian reports on the poor recycling rates in low-income regions of Britain, where overall recovery rates trail better off neighborhoods. In some cases, poor neighborhoods recycling only a third as much as wealthier locales. The U.K. will not meet its 2035 goal of recycling 65% of municipal waste if it cannot change low-income recovery rates. Our Earth911 take: This raises an important issue because of the widespread unemployment caused by COVID-19 is an opportunity to help low-income areas self-organize recycling projects that can create jobs. Part of a green recovery could be focused on providing subsidies for small businesses that collect and process specific types of waste, such as aluminum, cardboard, and plastic bottles. This approach could create new jobs that keep modern society cleaner, and as a grassroots recycling system evolves radically increase recovery rates.

In Technology

A Self-Charging Thousand-Year Battery?

It sounds too good to be true but NDB Inc. makers of a nano diamond battery (NBD), announced a successful test of its new self-charging battery chip in late August. While some of the coverage was breathless — suggesting it could solve terrestrial power needs, which it cannot currently — the NDB battery has immediate applications in space technology because it can generate power from passing radio waves. The company says the battery chip, which can currently generate and store about 4 watts of power, was successfully tested at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The chip, which is made from a recovered nuclear waste, Carbon-14 (a non-toxic byproduct of nuclear reactions that occurs naturally in Earth’s atmosphere), could eventually have a lifespan of 28,000 years in home and personal technology like a phone. That is well in the future, but for now, the chips can achieve commercial viability with defense and aerospace applications. Remember, we have computers, the internet, and much more than originally was far too expensive for consumers but found applications that allowed prices to fall.

How Your Cool Shirt Could Be Sustainable and Comfortable

Susan Sokolowski, a researcher at the University of Oregon’s School of Art + Design, explains how cooling fabrics work and why organic material such as cotton demonstrates greater “effusively,” the capacity to transfer heat away from the skin. It’s an issue of athletes today but will be increasingly important for everyone as climate change progresses. She explored how different natural and synthetic materials perform and found that synthetics like recycled polyester are far less effective than a 95% cotton plus 5% spandex material. While you’re thinking clothing, check out Earth911’s guide to selecting the most sustainable natural fabrics.

 

In Business

Get To Know Blue Finance When Investing

EthicalCorp.com writes about the rise of “blue finance,” a strategy for investing in the oceans for sustainable sources of protein and plant-based foods. At $2.5 trillion in value harvested from the seas annually, the oceans produce enough to be the seventh-largest economy on the planet, yet humans spend little to preserve oceans. Blue finance can make a direct impact on the sea by reducing pollution, such as by reducing industrial run-off or dumping of pollutants offshore or it can be indirect, as in the case of reducing reliance on plastic packaging that too often ends up in the water. You can learn more about and invest in ocean-positive funds at the Blue Ocean Impact Fund and the Mirova Natural Capital Althelia Sustainable Ocean Fund websites. It is early days for these types of investments that support the planet’s oceans and the article will introduce you to a variety of options, including how traditional banks like Morgan Stanley invest to reduce plastic waste in the sea, as well as efforts to increase the sustainability of fisheries overall to increase profitability by billions of dollars a year.

Transparency Needed in Whole Grain Labeling

CivilEats.com reports on the misleading labeling used in foods identified as “whole grain.” For example, whole-grain pasta was found by one researcher to contain only 9% grains while “whole-grain flour” can be up to 40% other materials. Industrialization and concentration of production account for the poor state of grain-based food labeling. “Stone ground” no longer means anything, either, even though the use of stone mills adds trace minerals in baked goods and pasta. Consumers need real transparency and, in order to achieve greater sustainability, for grains to be processed closer to the farm and consumer.

Batteries Can Plug Rolling Blackout Gaps in California

The New York Times covers the emerging home and business solar-powered battery business and how it could be a better stop-gap electric grid backup than natural gas-powered “speaker” plants that turn on when energy demand exceeds immediate supply. Since it was first built, the U.S. power grid has focused on keeping supply and demand in balance with on-demand generation capability but rolling blackouts during the recent wildfires and heatwaves in California have shown the infrastructure remains too brittle for comfort. A new generation of electricity storage is already in place and could have provided more power than California needed to keep the lights on. The idea is simple: Place lots of batteries around the state and draw on them when needed. The batteries can be operated by a utility as well as by homeowners and businesses that install them to ensure they can store and use solar power generated on their roofs during the day, at night, or during blackouts. The technology adds resilience for individual homes and companies while making the whole grid more flexible. Sunrun, Tesla, and other companies are playing a big part. Also, check out our guide to comparing solar installation bids.

 

Action Your Can Take

Support Small Farms and Rural Communities Fighting Climate Change

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and a group of 2,130 farmers and ranchers are petitioning Congress to increase investments in farms and rural communities in response to climate change. Extreme heat, wildfires, and flooding are undermining the economic viability of small and medium-sized farms, which are essential to local and regional food supply resilience. You can learn more by watching the webinar the NSAC presented to members of Congress. Take action with the NSAC’s script for calling your representatives and draft letters you can send.

Plush Toys Made From Ocean Plastics

Want to show your kids you are serious about sustainability? Give them a Shore Buddies plush, a new toy brand, and explain that they are made from ocean plastics recovered and converted into polyester fabric. Each 12-inch plush sea animal contains six recycled plastic bottles. Additionally, $1 of each purchase is donated to ocean charities such as the Surfrider Foundation. We can’t think of a better way to spend $19.95 this weekend than on something your kids will treasure that teaches the value of recycling.

FinalStraw Reusable Straw on Sale Now

The FinalStraw could be the last straw you ever need. You may have heard of the company, which won funding on Shark Tank and also raised $1.8 million on Kickstarter. FinalStraw also just introduced BiggieStraw for milkshakes and bubble tea that require a bigger aperture to suck up the goodness in your drink. Made of platinum silicone, a material that resists shrinkage over time, the straws are available in a bundle with carrying cases for each size for only $29.99, an $8 savings, from Mashable.

Break the Planned Obsolescence Culture

Too many of the products we purchase today are designed to wear out long before we want to stop using them. Part of that is the culture of constant upgrades but it is the inability to repair a product without voiding the warranty that prevents many people from using a phone, television, or computer printer as long as they could. SustainableBrands explains the breadth and history of the Right To Repair movement, which is taking hold in tech, auto, and even clothing markets. A German study found that large appliances, such as washing machines, are failing more often — five-year defect rates rose from 3.5% in 2004 to 8.3% in 2013, yet many brands prohibit self-repairs by owners. Learn how to repair what you own or find local repair groups to help you keep what you buy serving you longer, and bring down the wasteful legacy of throwaway culture.

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