Earth911 Reader: Your Quick Dose Of This Week’s Sustainability, Business and Science News

The Earth911 team combs news and research for interesting ideas and stories about the challenges of creating a sustainable world. We call it the Earth911 Reader and we hope you find it useful.

IN SCIENCE

EU’s Green Deal Sends Environmental Impacts To Low-Income Nations

While the European Union is touted for its green policies, critics say it exports its environmental impacts to low-income nations, Nature reports. Because the continent imports so much of its food — more than any nation than China — the EU can enforce anti-GMO regulations, pesticide bans, and other policies that are not in force where its food is grown. It’s increasing appetite for wood and paper products, for example, have led to at least 11 million hectares (42,471 sq. miles) of deforestation in other regions. The EU added 13 million hectares of new forest at home, so it has a slight positive forestry balance. But this highlights the plight of low-income economies that want to grow their trade to support green policies at home. Often, their closest allies in the advanced economies are working against them.

Has The Great Methane Thaw Arrived?

The Guardian reports that a Russian research vessel in the Laptev Sea off Siberia discovered dramatic increases in methane levels in seawater there. It indicates that frozen methane hydrates are thawing. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is 80 times more impactful than CO2. For years, science has warned that methane hydrates in the deep ocean and permafrost could thaw and be released, amplifying global warming. Warm water has started to flow into the Arctic as Atlantic currents change, which accelerated methane thawing. While the current thawing does not represent an immediate threat, the researchers report seeing bubble jets of methane coming from the Laptev Sea floor. The world could be approaching a dangerous tipping point as ice in the region. The “main nursery of Arctic sea ice,” in The Guardian‘s words, has not developed as of late October, historically late.

Super-white Paint Could Cool Buildings Passively

A team at Purdue University has discovered a novel super-white paint that can cool buildings to about 3 degrees Fahrenheit below the temperature of the surrounding air, New Scientist reports. The super-white color is made with calcium carbonate and reflects 95.5% of solar energy that strikes it. The researchers suggest that “a typical U.S. home of 200 square meters (2,152 square feet) could save as much as $50 a month on cooling costs by using the paint.

Scientist Caution Policymakers Not To Fixate On Renewable Energy Targets

A blind rush toward decarbonization based on renewable energy targets (RETs) could result in many unintended and environmentally damaging consequences, a team of scientist writes in Nature Climate Change. RETs are big, concrete goals and, while difficult to achieve, could distract policymakers from unintended consequences. For example, as more land is dedicated to wind and solar generation, biodiversity and natural water cycles could be disrupted. For instance, more electronic devices, motors, and batteries will require vast amounts of rare earth ores that damage the planet. If these consequences are not studied and debated, decarbonization could result in lost species, social injustice, and deforestation. Rather than being a “windmills kill all the birds” argument, but a solemn warning that humanity face s a holistic challenge as it plans a sustainable future. As a related article suggests, “The climate crisis highlights just how connected the world is.”

couple laying on a natural green bed and smiling

 

IN SUSTAINABILITY

U.S. Military Moving Away From Fossil Fuels

The largest customer organization in the world is the U.S. Government. Triple Pundit reports that the U.S. Department of Defense is continuing its project to abandon fossil fuels in favor of renewables despite the Trump Administration’s hostility toward green energy. A 2018 report on the effects of climate change on U.S. Defense strategy and the National Defense Strategy call for creating a center for innovation. The Navy is experimenting with a technology to harvest CO2 and hydrogen from seawater, which would literally float U.S. ships on an ocean of fuel. BP, Shell, and 10 other global oil companies are reported to be investing in ocean ship-based carbon capture technology, according to GreenBiz.

Japan’s New Prime Minister Pledges Carbon Neutrality

Yoshihide Suga, who recently rose to become Prime Minister of Japan, told the country’s parliament in his first major address that “Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth,” according to The Guardian. He pledged that Japan will eliminate 80% of its emissions by 2050 and reach net-zero emissions early in the second half of the century. He called for “massively” increasing national investment in renewables, setting a target of generating half of Japanese power from renewables by 2030.

French EV Conversion Company Swaps Gas Engines For Electric In Hours

Transition One, an Orléans-based startup, offers French drivers a four-hour conversion of a select group of internal combustion engine vehicle to an electric motor with batteries. It costs about $8,500, CleanTechnica reports. After national subsidies that the company recently qualified to receive, the conversion could cost drivers as little as $5,500.

The New York Times Visualizes State Electric Generation Sources

One of the great challenges for people who care about their carbon footprint is understanding the energy sources they use. The mix of fossil fuels and renewable sources can vary from locality to locality. Reliable information about your power can only be had from your utility. Earth911 has provided fossil fuel generation percentages by state to help calculate the benefit of driving an EV. The New York Times offers useful visualizations of every state’s electric power sources that will help you assess the use of renewables where you live.

Clean Energy Jobs Pay 25% More Than National Median Wage

A new report from several clean energy organizations found that during 2019 clean energy jobs paid 25% higher wages than the national median wage and are more likely to provide benefits. On average, clean energy jobs paid $23.89 an hour compared to $19.14 across all jobs in the U.S., according to Environment + Energy Leader. It’s also interesting to note that clean energy wages in oil-dependent states, including Texas and Louisiana, saw significantly higher salaries, 27.6% and 24.9% higher than the national median wage.

Panera Introduces Climate Impact Labeling For Meals

In a first, Panera has launched a carbon impact label, called a “Cool Food” badge that explains how much CO2 is generated to make each meal. GreenBiz reports that the label was developed by the World Resources Institute based on the goal of reaching a footprint 38% lower than the average U.S. meal. This comparison is essential because purely volumetric labels that report the amount of CO2 generated with a basis for understanding its impact have not gained traction.

Yale Cautions That Barrett Confirmation Could Undercut U.S. Environmental Law

The nomination and confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court “could undermine not only specific health and environmental rules, but the very basis of government’s power to regulate,” according to Yale Environment 360, a journal of the Yale School of the Environment. Barrett’s pro-business tendencies and general hostility toward regulation may lead to successful challenges to the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, said Patrick Parenteau of the Vermont Law School.

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IN BUSINESS

COVID-19 Could Save 2.5 Years Worth of Emissions

BloombergNEF‘s New Energy Outlook 2020 reports that reduced energy demand has removed about two-and-a-half years worth of CO2 emissions between now and 2050. The lasting changes in energy use account for the surprisingly large impact COVID had on long-term emission. The report also found that global coal and oil use has peaked. However, China, India, and other emerging economies will not reach their peak fossil fuel usage until the end of this decade. The pace of renewable energy investment is also poised to accelerate. It could account for between $78 trillion and $130 trillion by 2050 as the world’s population makes its fastest transition from one primary energy source to another in history. Download and learn from the public version of the report.

BloombergNEF: Residential Solar Installations Are Soaring

As people spend more time at home, they are putting more money into making their homes sustainable. U.S. residential solar installations are up 21% for the first eight months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. In Germany, installations to date this year are already 22% higher than last year, and Australian solar installs are up 30%. U.S. solar incentives are far less consumer-friendly than in other nations. American businesses’ reliance on mass advertising also raises the selling costs by approximately 57% above the rest of the world. We spend so much on selling solar that it becomes unaffordable for many homeowners. “One reason for the relative consolidation of the U.S. market is that U.S. tax incentives favor solar being owned by investors who can fully monetize the tax benefits, rather than the homeowners or businesses that use the power,” BloombergNEF reports.

Impossible Milk Is Coming

Impossible Foods, maker of impossible beef, pork, and chicken substitutes made from plants, is working on plant-based milk that mimics dairy milk qualities, Singularity Hub reports. The company intends to make portions and fats that taste and feel like cow’s milk, something that nut- and pea-based milks have long been criticized for lacking. The project will take years to complete but could make a plant-based milkshake genuinely delicious if it does what the company’s meats have accomplished.

Bacardi To Introduce 100% Biodegradable Bottles By 2023

Rum distiller Bacardi will shift its bottled products from glass to 100% by 2023, Environment + Energy Leader reports. The company plans to be plastic-free by 2030. It will use a bioplastic made by Danimer Scientific called Nodax PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoates), made by fermenting natural seed oils. The new Bacardi bottles made with PHA will breakdown in compost piles, soil, or water within 18 months.

Gillette Will Reduce Virgin Plastic Use By 50%

Razor and shaving products maker Gillette will eliminate 50% of the virgin plastic it currently uses by 2030. The company has already reduced its energy use while cutting its CO2 emissions by 26% since 2010. BizGreen reports that Gillette this week released a new 2030 sustainability plan that sets out goals to use only renewable energy and switch to 100% recyclable packaging. It will also “provide 100 percent transparency” about its product ingredients to help customers choose sustainable, non-toxic options. And it has plans to reduce the need for water when shaving after it released a “‘waterless’ razor” designed for healthcare and personal service workers.

Whole Foods Adds Produce Grown In-Store

Two London Whole Foods locations have introduced in-store vertical farms that grow herbs and lettuce sold fresh to customers, Waste360 reports. The vertical farm system was developed by Infarm, an urban farming company founded in 2013. Infarm will have two other retail locations in London, at Selfridges and Marks & Spencer, and offer fresh produce through a delivery service partner, Farmdrop. The advent of vertical farming presents intriguing opportunities to augment but not replace traditional agriculture. For example, salads and berries currently imported from Equatorial and Southern Hemispheric countries could be grown locally.

 

ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE

Tell Your Climate Story

350.org, a sustainability organization dedicated to a rapid transition to renewable with just results for society, offers a digital storytelling toolkit to help you “build relationships and empathy between groups of people.” Making a story is something you can learn with 350.org’s help. They provide guidance about finding your story, how to tell it using digital tools, words, images, and video, then share it with the world. And, while you are there, consider donating to support their work.

Help Save Southern Resident Orca From Extinction

I remember seeing the Orca (killer whales) in Puget Sound when I was a child. Now, only 74 remain, and they are starving to death after steep declines in Chinook salmon populations. The Pacific Fishery Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service are considering providing food to the Orca to prevent their starving to death. Ocean preservation non-profit Oceana has launched a petition asking that the organizations establish a minimum salmon population and, if levels fall below the threshold, close the Southern Resident orca habitat off the coast of Washington and Oregon.

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