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environment

Environmental justice graphic

Carbon Offsetting for Environmental Justice

Environmental justice graphicIn the U.S. and globally, marginalized communities are often the first to bear the brunt of both climate change and air pollution. Corporate decarbonization strategies must address this fact by making equity a core part of their work toward climate solutions.

Reams of data validate the fact that air pollution and poor air quality—from power plants and other sources—are disproportionately borne by people and communities of colorBlack Americans in particular. This massive environmental injustice has been recently amplified and brought to the fore by the COVID-19 crisis: African Americans and other people of color are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 at much higher rates than white Americans. Air pollution and pollution-driven respiratory illness are a key part of the cause for this and many other health disparities.

Carbon offsets generated through afforestation or avoided tropical deforestation, for example, often do more for a company’s image than for climate mitigation. Some have proven actually harmful to the environments, lives, and livelihoods of host communities. Similarly, unbundled Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) can confer corporate green credentials without actually reducing GHG emissions or building new projects.

One of the most innovative conceptual approaches to carbon offsetting, however—an approach with environmental and climate justice at the very core of its concept—comes Nashville-based startup Clearloop, which generates carbon offsets by using corporate decarbonization investments to build new, clean-energy infrastructure in the dirtiest parts of the U.S. grid.

Clearloop is based in the heart of the U.S. Southeast, a fossil-fuel-heavy region that ranks as the sixth-largest global carbon emitter and lacks adequate renewable energy mandates. The company’s approach to climate and renewables innovation differs from legacy strategies because it’s anchored to the concept of emissionality.

Coined by the nonprofit WattTime, emissionality quantifies the precise amount of GHG emissions avoided through the addition of a unit of clean energy generation capacity. An emissionality approach to carbon offsetting is therefore an important improvement on “additionality”: It gives companies the ability to drive the addition of renewable capacity in dirtier parts of the U.S. electric grid—the ability to clean up those parts of the U.S. grid that are most reliant on coal and other fossil-fueled electricity generation.

With respect to energy justice, driving renewable capacity additions to dirty regions of the U.S. grid also promises to increase access to cleaner and more affordable energy for populations and communities who have had few avenues for such access to date.

You can read more about this on the Fast Company website here.

solarcte1

Waste Management Is an Environmental Justice Issue

solarcte1Environmental justice is having a moment. The term, which encompasses the many ways by which low-income people and communities of color suffer an unequal burden from pollution, contamination, and climate change, has seen a surge in use, largely due to the recent American political campaign and the protests across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s murder this summer. Those factors, as well as the patterns of infections and death due to COVID-19, focused attention on a number of systemic issues in the U.S., including unfair environmental impacts felt by Black and brown Americans.

Into that political and social moment comes the book Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, written by Catherine Coleman Flowers, an environmental health researcher, MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, and a founding director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice. (She’s also a 2017 Grist Fixer.) The book pulls the curtains back on how poor communities and communities of color in Lowndes County, Alabama — located between Selma and the state capital Montgomery — are reckoning with a lack of adequate sewage infrastructure and the health crises that accompany it.

Flowers says that she wanted readers to see the issues in her book as problems that can get much worse if governments in this country don’t invest in better infrastructure for basic necessities, like access to modern plumbing. She worries that future infectious diseases will spread even more as climate change scrambles weather patterns in the South.

“People that are impacted the most will be those living around raw sewage,” she told Grist. “We see this already with the death rates for people that don’t have [regular] access to water — they can’t wash their hands. We’re also seeing parasites that are living and thriving that we thought had been eliminated. And they’re going to be moving further north as the climate changes.”

You can read more at Grist.org here.

Arctic Drilling Photo

Sales of Drilling Leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Attract Few Bidders

Arctic Drilling PhotoIn a blow to the outgoing administration’s efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to fossil fuel development, only half of the oil and gas leases offered for sale Wednesday received bids, and all but two of those came from the state of Alaska itself.

Only two companies, neither of them major oil producers, made bids to acquire 10-year rights to explore and drill for oil on two tracts totaling about 75,000 acres. A state-owned economic development corporation, offering the minimum of $25 an acre, was the sole bidder on the other tracts, totaling about half a million acres. The rights to another 400,000 acres remained unsold.

Once billed as a potential windfall that, over time, could bring in close to a billion dollars for the federal Treasury, in all the sale netted less than $15 million, with half of that going to the state.

Both the financial results, and the lack of interest from major companies, are quite likely a disappointment to the administration, and to Alaska officials who have long favored oil development for the jobs and revenue it could bring.

You can read more on the NY Times website here.

Marsh with city

Scientists Recommend Rewilding to Mitigate Climate Change

Marsh with cityRestoring natural landscapes damaged by human exploitation can be one of the most effective and cheapest ways to combat the climate crisis while also boosting dwindling wildlife populations, a scientific study finds. If a third of the planet’s most degraded areas were restored, and protection was thrown around areas still in good condition, that would store carbon equating to half of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution.

The changes would prevent about 70 percent of predicted species extinctions, according to the research, which is published in the journal Nature.

Scientists from Brazil, Australia, and Europe identified scores of places around the world where such interventions would be most effective, from tropical forests to coastal wetlands and upland peat. Many of them were in developing countries, but there were hotspots on every continent.

You can read more about this on Grist.org here.