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Life in a 'degrowth' economy, and why you might actually enjoy it

The Conversation - October 1, 2014 - 3:46pm
Time to get off the economic growth train? Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

What does genuine economic progress look like? The orthodox answer is that a bigger economy is always better, but this idea is increasingly strained by the knowledge that, on a finite planet, the economy can’t grow for ever.

This week’s Addicted to Growth conference in Sydney is exploring how to move beyond growth economics and towards a “steady-state” economy.

But what is a steady-state economy? Why it is it desirable or necessary? And what would it be like to live in?

The global predicament

We used to live on a planet that was relatively empty of humans; today it is full to overflowing, with more people consuming more resources. We would need one and a half Earths to sustain the existing economy into the future. Every year this ecological overshoot continues, the foundations of our existence, and that of other species, are undermined.

At the same time, there are great multitudes around the world who are, by any humane standard, under-consuming, and the humanitarian challenge of eliminating global poverty is likely to increase the burden on ecosystems still further.

Meanwhile the population is set to hit 11 billion this century. Despite this, the richest nations still seek to grow their economies without apparent limit.

Like a snake eating its own tail, our growth-orientated civilisation suffers from the delusion that there are no environmental limits to growth. But rethinking growth in an age of limits cannot be avoided. The only question is whether it will be by design or disaster.

Degrowth to a steady-state economy

The idea of the steady-state economy presents us with an alternative. This term is somewhat misleading, however, because it suggests that we simply need to maintain the size of the existing economy and stop seeking further growth.

But given the extent of ecological overshoot – and bearing in mind that the poorest nations still need some room to develop their economies and allow the poorest billions to attain a dignified level of existence – the transition will require the richest nations to downscale radically their resource and energy demands.

This realisation has given rise to calls for economic “degrowth”. To be distinguished from recession, degrowth means a phase of planned and equitable economic contraction in the richest nations, eventually reaching a steady state that operates within Earth’s biophysical limits.

In a world of 7.2 billion and counting, we need to think hard about our fair share. Karpov Oleg/Shutterstock

At this point, mainstream economists will accuse degrowth advocates of misunderstanding the potential of technology, markets, and efficiency gains to “decouple” economic growth from environmental impact. But there is no misunderstanding here. Everyone knows that we could produce and consume more efficiently than we do today. The problem is that efficiency without sufficiency is lost.

Despite decades of extraordinary technological advancement and huge efficiency improvements, the energy and resource demands of the global economy are still increasing. This is because within a growth-orientated economy, efficiency gains tend to be reinvested in more consumption and more growth, rather than in reducing impact.

This is the defining, critical flaw in growth economics: the false assumption that all economies across the globe can continue growing while radically reducing environmental impact to a sustainable level. The extent of decoupling required is simply too great. As we try unsuccessfully to “green” capitalism, we see the face of Gaia vanishing.

The very lifestyles that were once considered the definition of success are now proving to be our greatest failure. Attempting to universalise affluence would be catastrophic. There is absolutely no way that today’s 7.2 billion people could live the Western way of life, let alone the 11 billion expected in the future. Genuine progress now lies beyond growth. Tinkering around the edges of capitalism will not cut it.

We need an alternative.

Enough for everyone, forever

When one first hears calls for degrowth, it is easy to think that this new economic vision must be about hardship and deprivation; that it means going back to the stone age, resigning ourselves to a stagnant culture, or being anti-progress. Not so.

Degrowth would liberate us from the burden of pursuing material excess. We simply don’t need so much stuff – certainly not if it comes at the cost of planetary health, social justice, and personal well-being. Consumerism is a gross failure of imagination, a debilitating addiction that degrades nature and doesn’t even satisfy the universal human craving for meaning.

Do we really need to buy all this stuff anyway? Radu Bercan/Shutterstock

Degrowth, by contrast, would involve embracing what has been termed the “simpler way” – producing and consuming less.

This would be a way of life based on modest material and energy needs but nevertheless rich in other dimensions – a life of frugal abundance. It is about creating an economy based on sufficiency, knowing how much is enough to live well, and discovering that enough is plenty.

The lifestyle implications of degrowth and sufficiency are far more radical than the “light green” forms of sustainable consumption that are widely discussed today. Turning off the lights, taking shorter showers, and recycling are all necessary parts of what sustainability will require of us, but these measures are far from enough.

But this does not mean we must live a life of painful sacrifice. Most of our basic needs can be met in quite simple and low-impact ways, while maintaining a high quality of life.

What would life be like in a degrowth society?

In a degrowth society we would aspire to localise our economies as far and as appropriately as possible. This would assist with reducing carbon-intensive global trade, while also building resilience in the face of an uncertain and turbulent future.

Through forms of direct or participatory democracy we would organise our economies to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met, and then redirect our energies away from economic expansion. This would be a relatively low-energy mode of living that ran primarily on renewable energy systems.

Renewable energy cannot sustain an energy-intensive global society of high-end consumers. A degrowth society embraces the necessity of “energy descent”, turning our energy crises into an opportunity for civilisational renewal.

We would tend to reduce our working hours in the formal economy in exchange for more home-production and leisure. We would have less income, but more freedom. Thus, in our simplicity, we would be rich.

Wherever possible, we would grow our own organic food, water our gardens with water tanks, and turn our neighbourhoods into edible landscapes as the Cubans have done in Havana. As my friend Adam Grubb so delightfully declares, we should “eat the suburbs”, while supplementing urban agriculture with food from local farmers’ markets.

Community gardens, like this one in San Francisco, can help achieve sufficiency. Kevin Krejci/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

We do not need to purchase so many new clothes. Let us mend or exchange the clothes we have, buy second-hand, or make our own. In a degrowth society, the fashion and marketing industries would quickly wither away. A new aesthetic of sufficiency would develop, where we creatively re-use and refashion the vast existing stock of clothing and materials, and explore less impactful ways of producing new clothes.

We would become radical recyclers and do-it-yourself experts. This would partly be driven by the fact that we would simply be living in an era of relative scarcity, with reduced discretionary income.

But human beings find creative projects fulfilling, and the challenge of building the new world within the shell of the old promises to be immensely meaningful, even if it will also entail times of trial. The apparent scarcity of goods can also be greatly reduced by scaling up the sharing economy, which would also enrich our communities.

One day, we might even live in cob houses that we build ourselves, but over the next few critical decades the fact is that most of us will be living within the poorly designed urban infrastructure that already exists. We are hardly going to knock it all down and start again. Instead, we must ‘retrofit the suburbs’, as leading permaculturalist David Holmgren argues. This would involve doing everything we can to make our homes more energy-efficient, more productive, and probably more densely inhabited.

This is not the eco-future that we are shown in glossy design magazines featuring million-dollar “green homes” that are prohibitively expensive.

Degrowth offers a more humble – and I would say more realistic – vision of a sustainable future.

Making the change

A degrowth transition to a steady-state economy could happen in a variety of ways. But the nature of this alternative vision suggests that the changes will need to be driven from the “bottom up”, rather than imposed from the “top down”.

What I have written above highlights a few of the personal and household aspects of a degrowth society based on sufficiency (for much more detail, see here and here). Meanwhile, the ‘transition towns’ movement shows how whole communities can engage with the idea.

But it is critical to acknowledge the social and structural constraints that currently make it much more difficult than it needs to be to adopt a lifestyle of sustainable consumption. For example, it is hard to drive less in the absence of safe bike lanes and good public transport; it is hard find a work-life balance if access to basic housing burdens us with excessive debt; and it is hard to re-imagine the good life if we are constantly bombarded with advertisements insisting that “nice stuff” is the key to happiness.

Actions at the personal and household levels will never be enough, on their own, to achieve a steady-state economy. We need to create new, post-capitalist structures and systems that promote, rather than inhibit, the simpler way of life. These wider changes will never emerge, however, until we have a culture that demands them. So first and foremost, the revolution that is needed is a revolution in consciousness.

I do not present these ideas under the illusion that they will be readily accepted. The ideology of growth clearly has a firm grip on our society and beyond. Rather, I hold up degrowth up as the most coherent framework for understanding the global predicament and signifying the only desirable way out of it.

The alternative is to consume ourselves to death under the false banner of “green growth”, which would not be smart economics.

Samuel Alexander does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Categories: International News

Stranded Walrus Are A ‘New Phenomenon’ And We Don’t Know How Bad It Will Get

Climate Progress - October 1, 2014 - 3:30pm

In this aerial photo taken on Sept. 23, 2014 and released by NOAA, some 1500 walrus are gather on the northwest coast of Alaska.

CREDIT: AP/NOAA

The gathering of 35,000 walrus on a beach in northwest Alaska this week after they couldn’t find their preferred resting grounds of summer sea ice was a notable occurrence in terms of its sheer size, but it wasn’t an isolated event.

Walrus have been gathering on Alaska’s shore in huge numbers almost every year since 2007, a relatively new phenomenon that has scientists working to determine how this change in resting grounds affects the walrus’ behavior, food supply, and health. Typically, Pacific walrus, which don’t have the stamina to swim indefinitely and depend on sea ice for places to rest periodically, follow sea ice in the Bering Sea as it recedes north in the summer, ending up in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska. This year — and every year since 2007 besides 2008, when there was just enough sea ice left for the walrus to make use of — all the summer sea ice disappeared, causing a record 35,000 walrus to convene on an Alaska beach.

This is a real change that we see thousands and tens of thousands of animals coming to shore and resting together

Tony Fischbach is a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who’s a member of the Walrus Research Program in Anchorage, Alaska. He told ThinkProgress that when summer sea ice is at normal levels, only a small number of walrus will come to shore in Alaska — numbers typically in the tens or sometimes low hundreds of animals. This mass convergence of walrus — most of whom are females and calves — is a new phenomenon, he said.

“Under historical conditions, there has always been sea ice over the Chukchi Sea over the summer,” he said. “This is a real change that we see thousands and tens of thousands of animals coming to shore and resting together in these large haul-outs.”

There are always concerns about disease transmission when large numbers of animals convene, Fischbach said, but in past years disease hasn’t caused problems. Trampling is also a concern in groups this large — in past years, more than 100 calves have died in Alaska due to trampling, and in Russia, more than 1,000 have died. Fischbach said he doesn’t foresee trampling being a major problem this year, however, despite the fact that some dead walruses have already been discovered.

But besides these immediate concerns on the lives and health of these creatures, the major haul-outs represent a change in behavior that leads to questions as to how walrus will adapt to shrinking sea ice levels.

“The massive concentration of walruses onshore — when they should be scattered broadly in ice-covered waters — is just one example of the impacts of climate change on the distribution of marine species in the Arctic,” Margaret Williams, managing director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic program, said.

Walrus wait until sea ice starts forming again to start their fall migration south. That usually puts the start of their fall migration around mid-September, but this year’s lack of sea ice — and the subsequent stopover of the walrus in Alaska — is delaying their migration, Fisbach said. That probably won’t result in any mismatches in food availability when they reach their destination, Fisbach said, since the mollusks and benthic creatures such as worms, crustaceans and sea cucumbers that they feed on are available year-round, but it’s still a break from the norm.

CREDIT: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Under normal conditions, during their fall migration, walrus rest briefly on sea ice before returning to the sea to forage for food and continue on their way South. But Fisbach said that these huge groups of walrus can remain on the Alaska shore for three to five weeks at a time, with individual walrus entering the sea to forage and returning to the beach to rest periodically. Fisbach said this behavior raises “lots of questions” about whether the walrus will run out of food in the surrounding area, due to the high numbers of walrus competing for food.

“Occupying these areas and foraging these areas concentrates tens of thousands of walruses in a smaller area that is already known to be less rich than their off-shore foraging ground, and there is a concern that they could deplete the resources,” he said. “We don’t have a good measure of that — these are simply hypotheses or concerns we have.”

Some of the 35,000 walrus have been taking long trips offshore to forage, Fisbach said, while others have been sticking close to shore. Journeying farther out to sea may grant the walrus access to better food supplies, but it could also mean that they’re expending more calories than they’re gaining, Fischbach said. He’s working on a project that involves attaching radio tracking devices to the walrus so that he can track their behavior in the group — where and how often they go to forage and how often they rest — and compare it to historical data on walrus behavior.

Fischbach also said that, despite the fact that the walrus have convened on the shores of Alaska and Russia for the past several ice-free summers, he isn’t certain that the walrus will continue to gather in large numbers in the same places.

“For us, it really appears that this is a new phenomenon for walruses. How they respond in the long term is an open question,” he said. “Will they continue to have this pattern of coming to shore [and] being aggregated in a large group in the future, or will they deplete the local forage areas and choose other areas to rest? We don’t know…they’re wild animals and they’re responding to many factors we aren’t able to perceive.”

Loss of sea ice in the Pacific walrus’ range has led to calls to put the species on the Endangered Species List. The current population of the species is estimated at more than 200,000 individuals, but as the earth continues to warm and sea ice continues to retreat, some are worried that walrus populations will take a hit.

The post Stranded Walrus Are A ‘New Phenomenon’ And We Don’t Know How Bad It Will Get appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

In Historic Visit To D.C., Obama Offers Indian Prime Minister $1 Billion In Financing For Clean Energy

Climate Progress - October 1, 2014 - 2:31pm

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

CREDIT: AP/ Evan Vucci

On Tuesday, the leader of one of the oldest democracies and the leader of the largest democracy discussed one of the world’s primary modern problems. President Obama and newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met for over an hour in the Oval Office. While they announced agreements on a number of issues, climate change and clean energy were two of the foremost.

The two leaders released a detailed statement committing to future cooperation on energy and climate issues. This comes during a key turning point in global climate change discussions, and gives a boost of momentum for the two countries after India displayed wavering commitment during September’s United Nations Climate Summit. Modi didn’t attend the summit and his environment minister said India would not offer a plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions ahead of a climate summit next year in Paris.

The minister, Prakash Javadekar, placed the responsibility for mitigating emissions on developed countries, saying that India’s main priorities were alleviating poverty and growing the economy. He said that while the country is preparing to take domestic actions to reduce emissions, it would be around 30 years before they actually started to trend downward.

The tone at this week’s meeting was quite different as the leaders toured the MLK monument and shared a White House dinner at which Modi, observing a religious holiday, fasted. While the new partnerships are not game-changing they offer the promise of cooperating between the world’s second and third largest GHG emitters.

Termed a “New Era of Cooperation” the joint statement pledges to expand the U.S.-India Partnership to advance clean energy, work together toward a successful outcome of U.N. climate negotiations in Paris in December 2015, and to expand bilateral cooperation on climate change. This includes the Obama administration allowing $1 billion in financing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to help India purchase American technology for clean energy projects.

The fact that the Obama administration announced a cool billion for solar projects in India speaks volumes for the direction Modi is heading.

“The fact that the Obama administration announced a cool billion for solar projects in India speaks volumes for the direction Modi, and India is heading,” Justin Guay, associate director for the Sierra Club’s International Climate Program, told ThinkProgress. “For all the hand wringing over Javadekar’s statements about emissions growth, the truth is India’s U.N. stance and its domestic actions are 100 percent divorced. And that’s a great thing.”

The governments will focus on bringing power to the 400 million Indians still without access to regular electricity by accelerating the deployment of solar technology and using policies and business models to make clean energy an appealing commercial opportunity for investors. Shortly after being elected in May, Modi announced that his government wants every home to be able to run at least one light bulb by 2019. As India pursues this goal, solar could play an important role, especially in reaching those off the grid. But coal fired-power plants are expected to make up the bulk of the power capacity increase, and the resulting emissions could make India the global GHG leader — ahead of the U.S. and China — in coming decades.

“The silver lining here is that for all of Modi’s efforts to squelch dissent at home over coal expansion, he really is all in on diversifying to clean energy,” said Guay. “More than anything it is his demand for investment in solar that elevated climate change, and clean energy investment, to a priority in this historic meeting.”

The other agreements focused on improving Indian air quality, strengthening climate resilience in the face of extreme weather like droughts and floods that have recently wreaked havoc on the subcontinent, and building energy security by reducing the country’s reliance on imports.

Prior to this visit, and before he won election in the spring, Modi hadn’t been allowed to visit the U.S. for around a decade because State Department officials held him accountable for failing to curtail deadly religious riots in 2002 in the Indian state of Gujarat, where he was in charge. With his landslide election, U.S. officials have had to put aside question marks relating to his human rights legacy in order to engage with the country on a number of other critical global issues, including security, peace, and economic growth.

“Modi’s effort to shrug off his troubling human rights legacy with a triumphant arrival in the U.S. was mixed,” said Guay. “He was greeted with a summons in a New York court and a New York Times Editorial Board piece questioning his controversial crackdown on civil society dissent, notably Greenpeace India, at home.”

In a joint op-ed for the Washington Post, Obama and Modi wrote that the “ties between the United States and India are rooted in the shared desire of our citizens for justice and equality:”

While our shared efforts will benefit our own people, our partnership aspires to be larger than merely the sum of its parts. As nations, as people, we aspire to a better future for all; one in which our strategic partnership also produces benefits for the world at large. While India benefits from the growth generated by U.S. investment and technical partnerships, the United States benefits from a stronger, more prosperous India.

One area that has been especially contentious is India’s reluctance to address the issue of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). A GHG that is up to 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide, HFCs came into broad use as chemical refrigerants for air conditioners and home appliances after CFCs were banned under the Montreal Protocol in 1987 for creating a hole in the ozone. While an updated global accord to address HFCs is yet to materialize, last year China and the United States reached an agreement to phase down HFC use. The Obama administration also recently announced domestic actions to significantly reduce the emissions of HFCs.

In meeting with Modi this week, the two leaders “recognized the need to use the institutions and expertise of the Montreal Protocol to reduce consumption and production of HFCs.” They pledged to arrange a meeting of their bilateral task force on HFCs prior to the next meeting of the Montreal Protocol to discuss the issues leading to the replacement of HFCs. India is the world’s fastest-growing producer of HFCs, though the U.S. and China are still far ahead.

The post In Historic Visit To D.C., Obama Offers Indian Prime Minister $1 Billion In Financing For Clean Energy appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Cotton production linked to images of the dried up Aral Sea basin

Guardian - October 1, 2014 - 1:34pm

The fashion industry is linked to the environmental devastation in the Central Asian inland sea once the worlds fourth largest lake, the Aral sea completely dried in August

What do the catwalks of Paris have to do with 25,000 miles of exposed sea bed thousands of miles to the east? While all eyes have been fixed on designer collections and members of the front row, the true cost of the fashion industry has been revealed in a shock announcement by NASA that the Aral Sea in Central Asia has now completely dried up.

The Aral Sea was once the worlds fourth largest lake, home to 24 species of fish and surrounded by fishing communities, lush forests and wetlands. While the lake was salt water, the rivers that fed it were fresh water. In the 1950s the Soviet Union began using the rivers to irrigate the surrounding agricultural area, a process that has been continued to this day by Uzbekistans brutal dictator Islam Karimov.

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Categories: International News

Could the 2C climate target be completely wrong?

Guardian - October 1, 2014 - 1:03pm

The global warming goal that nearly 200 governments have agreed on should be ditched, say scientists writing in Nature

In a nondescript conference centre five years ago, as temperatures fell to freezing outside in the streets of Copenhagen and protesters gathered, world leaders did something remarkable: they put a limit on how high temperatures should be allowed to rise as man-made global warming takes hold.

It was the first time the nearly 200 countries in the UN climate talks process had put a number on what constituted the limit for dangerous climate change (Germany had done it years before, followed by the EU). And with hindsight, is one of the signal agreements of a summit that was widely derided as a failure.

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Categories: International News

Canada switches on world's first carbon capture power plant

Guardian - October 1, 2014 - 12:53pm

Boundary Dam held up as first commercial-scale CCS plant and proof that coal-burning is compatible with cutting emissions

Canada has switched on the first large-scale coal-fired power plant fitted with a technology that proponents say enables the burning of fossil fuels without tipping the world into a climate catastrophe.

The project, the first commercial-scale plant equipped with carbon capture and storage technology, was held up by the coal industry as a real life example that it is possible to go on burning the dirtiest of fossil fuels while avoiding dangerous global warming.

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Categories: International News

Proposed EU climate chief under pressure ahead of grilling by MEPs

Guardian - October 1, 2014 - 12:16pm

New financial allegations and protests spell rough ride in hearings for former Spanish oil mogul, Miguel Arias Cañete

Street protests, petitions and a row over undeclared financial interests heralded the start of parliamentary hearings into the suitability of former oil mogul Miguel Arias Cañete to be the EUs next climate and energy commissioner.

Hundreds of protestors some dressed in Cañete face masks gathered outside the European Parliament, while the online activist group Avaaz, which has collected 300,000 signatures against Cañetes candidacy, claimed that thousands of angry constituents had been phoning in complaints to their MEPs.

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Categories: International News

Tampa Bay Utility Is Installing Region’s Largest Solar Array At Tampa International Airport

Climate Progress - October 1, 2014 - 12:04pm

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Tampa’s electric utility is installing the equivalent of more than five football fields of solar panels at the Tampa International Airport, a project that will be the largest solar array in the Tampa region.

Tampa Electric Co. is installing 280,000 square feet of solar panels on top of a parking garage at the airport, a 2-megawatt array that will provide enough energy to Tampa’s energy grid to power about 250 homes. As the Tampa Bay Times reports, the solar installation is the utility’s first major solar undertaking: it’s 66 times larger than Tampa Electric’s other solar installation, a 30-kilowatt array at Legoland in Winter Haven, FLA. In addition, more solar could be added to the array in the future if the project proves successful.

The airport project will be a “big investment for us in terms of learning,” Tampa Electric’s President Gordon Gillette said, and its success could spur more investments in solar — both from the utility and from other businesses in the Tampa Bay area. Right now, only 0.135 megawatts out of the 4,500 total megawatts of power Tampa Electric generates comes from solar, and Gillette said the lessons learned from the airport project will help the utility decide what kind of solar projects are best for investment.

“I think a lot of the outstanding questions with renewable energy going forward is, how is it going to be best to deploy it?” Gillette told Tampa Bay Times. “I think the numbers as we know them right now are telling us that it’ll be cheaper to install facilities like this.”

Tampa Electric is hoping construction will be finished by 2015, and the cost of the project is estimated at between $5 and $6 million.

Historically, Florida has been slow to take advantage of the energy opportunities its sunny weather provides — the state ranks third in the U.S. for solar potential, but 17th for cumulative installed solar capacity. Florida also doesn’t have a Renewable Portfolio Standard, even though it has one of the highest rates of household electricity consumption in the U.S., due to its high rates of air conditioning usage. Florida utilities have also pushed to scale back energy conservation programs that offer rebates for residents who install better insulation or more efficient windows and appliances.

But there are some in Florida who are fighting to make the state more solar-friendly. In September, three renewable energy groups based in the Southeast joined to create a new coalition that will push the state to pursue more solar-friendly policies.

“It’s a real injustice that the solar market in the Sunshine State is being held back,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy — one of the groups involved in the coalition. “It basically is the largest untapped market in the United States.”

The five Florida scientists who met with Gov. Rick Scott earlier this summer to discuss climate change are also calling on the governor to take solar seriously. They and 37 other Florida scientists sent a letter to Scott last month, asking him to attend a summit that will focus on finding solutions to climate change.

“We stand ready to discuss advances in clean energy options, such as energy efficiency, solar and wind power,” the scientists’ letter states. “These energy sources offer the best potential for meeting the carbon limits cost effectively and reducing the future impacts of climate change on Florida with the added benefit of creating jobs and keeping energy dollars in the state.”

It’s unclear whether Scott will heed the scientists’ call. In the meantime, though, the Tampa Bay solar array shows progress on solar energy in the state. Scott McIntyre from Florida-based Solar Energy Management told the Tampa Bay Times that the solar array could be important for the future of solar in the Tampa Bay area.

“I think it sort of raises the profile of solar,” McIntyre said. “If a utility is willing to invest in solar, then obviously the numbers work, both on a municipal scale and on a commercial scale.”

The post Tampa Bay Utility Is Installing Region’s Largest Solar Array At Tampa International Airport appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Colorado’s GOP Candidate For Governor Goes All In On Climate Change Denial

Climate Progress - October 1, 2014 - 10:04am

Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez.

CREDIT: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

In Colorado, a state with a recent history of severe drought, epic wildfires and historic floods, the Republican candidate for governor is not backing down from his stance denying the role of humans in driving climate change.

In a debate with incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper Tuesday night, GOP nominee Bob Beauprez was asked whether humans are contributing significantly to climate change and whether we can reverse it. No and No, answered Beauprez.

Five years after he characterized those who are concerned about climate change as religious zealots, Beauprez said “powers bigger than us” are in control of Earth’s fate.

“But are we going to end or alter the path that Earth’s evolution is going to take? I don’t think so,” Beauprez said in the debate hosted by the Denver Post. “I think the Earth’s already figured that out and powers bigger than us have figured that out.”

Hickenlooper, for his part, said humans are contributing to climate change that to reverse it will take “a concerted effort, not just on the part of the United States, but worldwide.” Of course, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activity is driving recent global warming.

Beauprez, a former congressman who was trounced in his last gubernatorial try in 2006, is locked in a tight race with his Democratic opponent, with some recent polls giving him a narrow lead. That, despite what the Denver Post’s conservative editorial page editor calls Beauprez’ “tendency in recent years to voice support for the fringe issue du jour on the right.”

In a book he wrote in 2009, Beauprez included a chapter titled “Let Science Guide Environmental Policy.” It included this less than scientific passage on climate change:

The hysteria surrounding the question of global warming has been something to behold. Mankind is certainly prone to following false prophets and jumping on the bandwagon du jour. It is not at all unfair to liken the global warming fervor to a religious revival or a spiritual experience, with the word being spread by the true believers with similar evangelical enthusiasm.

Beauprez has also protested against proposed new rules to limit carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. In late July, he attended a rally at the state capital protesting the EPA rules, saying they would devastate western Colorado communities.

“These rules would turn a town like Craig, a town like Delta into ghost towns,” Beauprez told the crowd.

Hickenlooper meanwhile has made Colorado the first state in the nation to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas drilling operations. The push to curb methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, is a key component of the state’s effort to tackle the increasingly visible pollution along the Colorado’s Front Range.

Voting by mail in Colorado begins in two weeks.

The post Colorado’s GOP Candidate For Governor Goes All In On Climate Change Denial appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Walrus mass on Alaska beach - in pictures

Guardian - October 1, 2014 - 9:49am

Pacific walrus unable to find sea ice on which to rest in Arctic waters are coming ashore in record numbers on a beach in north-west Alaska. Females give birth on sea ice and the animals use it as a diving platform to reach snails, clams and worms on the shallow continental shelf, but climate change means there is ever less available

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Categories: International News

60 Members Of Congress Urge EPA To Protect Pollinators

Climate Progress - October 1, 2014 - 9:31am

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach

Sixty members of the House of Representatives want the Environmental Protection Agency to get serious about protecting pollinators.

On Tuesday, the lawmakers sent a letter to EPA Head Gina McCarthy urging her agency to consider banning or restricting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on crops, due to scientific evidence that these pesticides have adverse effects on bees, butterflies and birds. The letter notes that the Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that it planned to phase out neonic use in National Wildlife Refuges by 2016, due to to the pesticides’ ability to potentially affect “a broad spectrum” of species in the refuges.

“We encourage you to follow the lead of FWS and respond to this troubling situation swiftly and effectively,” the lawmakers write in their letter.

Besides a call to restrict use of neonics on crops, the letter contains multiple policy recommendations for the EPA, including a request that the agency consider impacts on the more than 40 pollinator species listed as threatened or endangered by the federal government before registering new neonic pesticides. The lawmakers also say the EPA should restrict use of neonics in commercial pesticides, which can be applied by anyone, regardless of whether they have a pesticide licence or not.

“Protecting our pollinators is essential to the health and future of our environment and our species,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who was a signatory on the letter, said in a statement. “I’m going to keep hammering away on this issue until we can ensure that the products we are using in our backyards and on our farms are not killing pollinators.”

The letter highlighted an order signed this summer by President Obama, which created a national task force on pollinator health and also charged the EPA with assessing the impact pesticides have on pollinator health. As the EPA begins to comply with this directive, the letter states, it should bear in mind that recent research from the International Union for Conservation of Nature that found that pesticides like neonics are accumulating in soil and polluting waterways, and separate research that’s documented the steep decline in many species of pollinators.

One 2013 study found that three species of bumblebees experienced a “rapid and recent population collapse” from 1872 to 2011, and another study from 2011 found that four bumblebee species in the U.S. have “declined substantially” over the last 20 to 30 years. Butterflies, too, are under pressure: Monarch populations have declined by 90 percent over the last two decades, mostly as a result of deforestation, removal of the milkweed on which the butterflies depend and changing weather patterns.

Managed honeybees have also experienced major declines over the last few years, losses that have gotten widespread attention due to honeybees’ role as key pollinators of many U.S. crops. One of the main drivers of these losses, as the lawmakers’ letter conveys, is neonic pesticides, which have been linked to bee die-offs and other adverse health effects by at least 30 scientific studies.

The U.S. has stopped short of implementing a ban on neonics like the one the EU announced last year, but it is paying increasing attention to pollinator health. In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it was investing $3 million into a program that aims to boost bee numbers by paying farmers in five Midwestern states to make bee-friendly farming decisions like reseeding their fields with bee-friendly cover crops like clover and alfalfa. The USDA has also partnered with the Apiary Inspectors of America and the Bee Informed Partnership to survey winter honey bee colony losses.

In the eyes of the 60 lawmakers, though, the EPA is one agency that still needs to step up to address pollinator health.

“I urge Administrator McCarthy to take immediate action to address the neonicotinoid danger,” John Conyers (D-MI), another signatory of the letter, said in a statement. “The health of these bees and butterflies is essential to the health of our own human species. This is about more than environmental stewardship — it’s about humanity’s food supply.”

The post 60 Members Of Congress Urge EPA To Protect Pollinators appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

35,000 Walrus Converge On Alaska Beach As Sea Ice Retreats

Climate Progress - October 1, 2014 - 9:10am

In this aerial photo taken on Sept. 27, 2014, and provided by NOAA, some 35,000 walrus gather on shore near Point Lay, Alaska. Pacific walrus looking for places to rest in the absence of sea ice are coming to shore in record numbers on Alaska’s northwest coast.

CREDIT: AP/ NOAA

An estimated 35,000 walrus have come ashore in record numbers on a beach in northwest Alaska for lack of better ground. As climate change warms the atmosphere, summer sea ice in the Arctic is diminishing, likely stranding these walrus from their preferred sea ice outposts. Arctic sea ice reached its lowest point this year in mid-September, and NASA reported it to be the sixth-lowest recorded since 1978.

The mass gathering of walrus was spotted on Saturday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s arctic marine mammal aerial survey. Andrea Medeiros, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said walrus were first spotted on September 13 and have been moving on and off shore. Last week, around 50 walrus carcasses were spotted on the beach, the cause of death may have been a stampede. Unlike seals, walrus need breaks from swimming and tend to gather in groups.

“It’s another remarkable sign of the dramatic environmental conditions changing as the result of sea ice loss,” said Margaret Williams, managing director of the WWF’s Arctic program. “The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic, and that is that the Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly and it is time for the rest of the world to take notice and also to take action to address the root causes of climate change.”

In this aerial photo taken on Sept. 23, 2014 and released by NOAA, some 1500 walrus are gather on the northwest coast of Alaska.

CREDIT: AP/NOAA

The walrus are gathered at Point Lay, an Inupiat village 700 miles north-west of Anchorage on the Chukchi Sea. Walrus were first spotted in large numbers in the U.S. side of the Chukchi Sea in 2007, returning again in 2009, The Guardian reported. In 2011, it was estimated that 30,000 of the animals appeared along a nearby stretch of beach.

This year’s minimum Arctic sea ice was 622,000 square miles above the record low for the satellite era — since 1978 — which occurred in September 2012, according to data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It was 463,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average minimum.

The post 35,000 Walrus Converge On Alaska Beach As Sea Ice Retreats appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

August 2014: Greenland is the New Black

Climate Crocks - October 1, 2014 - 8:23am
Jason Box returned to Greenland for a few days late in August, and was able to shoot the video above. Newest observations show the lowest reflectivity on record for Greenland’s Upper elevations. And there’s this. NBC News: Spongy sediments under Greenland’s ice sheet may accelerate its flow into the sea — an effect that previous […]
Categories: International News

Energy efficient air conditioning is within sight

Guardian - October 1, 2014 - 8:20am

Demand for air conditioning will only increase, new materials offer hope of a breakthrough that could cut energy consumption by 90%

If we are going to get global consumption of power on to a much more efficient basis, one of the challenges is air conditioning. Could we find a breakthrough that would cut 90% of the electricity required for space cooling?

Air conditioners in use today work on the same principle as refrigerators, but instead of dumping the heat into the room (which is what happens at the back of a refrigerator) it is sent outdoors. Air conditioners use a lot of electricity because they involve repeated cycles of compressing a gas to a liquid, and that consumes power. In Singapore a small, hot, developed country about 30% of household power is used for air conditioning, and in commercial buildings it is 40%.

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Categories: International News

Renewable Energy Prices Drop Dramatically (again)

Climate Crocks - October 1, 2014 - 7:57am
I’ve been to several conferences in recent weeks tracking the rollout of renewable energy regionally and nationally. The interview above was recorded a few weeks ago in Traverse City, Michigan, and documents another small piece of the huge story that is the renewable energy revolution in the heartland.  Below, a leading conservative, establishment, financial firm, […]
Categories: International News

Put Up (Solar on) a Parking Lot?

Climate Crocks - October 1, 2014 - 7:54am
Don’t it always seem to go That you don’t know what you got till its gone.. In this case, maybe we’re waking up to what we have. Who knew that parking lot had so much value? The Daily Beast: A 2005 study by the Environmental Protection Administration estimated there were some 105.2 million parking spaces […]
Categories: International News

Transforming the Age of Extinction

Climate Crocks - October 1, 2014 - 7:53am
The Guardian: The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological […]
Categories: International News

Rivers Need a Thorough Health Exam

Post Carbon Institute - October 1, 2014 - 5:13am
By Sandra Postel, posted Oct 1, 2014:


A view of the Picote Dam, a hydroelectric installation in Tras Os Montes, Portugal, on the Douro River. Credit: VOLKMAR K. WENTZEL/National Geographic Creative

Rivers are the blue arteries of the Earth. Their flows deliver sediment and nutrients to floodplains, deltas and coastal zones, some of the most biologically productive ecosystems on the planet.  They connect and sustain the web of life.   So it might be surprising that globally we don’t systematically monitor their health.  Imagine damming and diverting the arteries in our bodies without taking care to monitor the consequences.  Our health would turn precarious, to say the least.   That rivers are suffering is not in doubt.   Today, 50,000 large dams block major rivers around the world, up from 5,000 in 1950.   That means on average we’ve been building two large dams a day for half a century – a massive change in the hydrological environment in what is geologically a twinkling of an eye.   Dams and their reservoirs now intercept about 35% of river flows as they head toward the sea, up from 5% in 1950.  They trap more than 100 billion tons of nutrient-rich sediment that would otherwise have replenished deltas and coastal zones.   A number of major rivers are so heavily dammed and diverted that they no longer reach the sea for all or part of the year, including the Colorado, the Indus and the Nile.   For aquatic life, there has been little time to adapt to these changes. Combined with pollution, habitat degradation has pushed many species to the brink of extinction, or beyond.  In North America, 40% of freshwater fish species are now to some degree at risk of extinction, and over the last two decades the number of listed species nearly doubled, to 700.   In light of these global trends, International Rivers, a non-profit river protection organization based in Berkeley, California, and with offices on three other continents, has developed an informative and engaging online tool called the State of the World’s Rivers that provides a health check-up for the world’s 50 largest river basins.   The tool groups indicators of river health into three categories – river fragmentation, biodiversity, and water quality.  Among the basins ranking highest in fragmentation and lowest in water quality – and therefore most in need of remediation – are the Danube, Indus, Mississippi, Godavari, Tigris-Euphrates, Volta and Yellow.   By contrast, river basins most important to preserve because of their high levels of biodiversity and water quality, and relatively low degree of fragmentation, include the Amazon, Congo, Mekong, Orinoco, Paraná, Tocantins, Yangtze and Zambezi.   The motivation for the project, explains Jason Rainey, executive director of International Rivers, was the growing “dam rush” in important river basins, especially in the Global South, where plans to double hydroelectric generation by 2050 could require 9,000 additional large dams.   The results of this first-round assessment lead the group to call for the convening of an international expert panel to undertake a more complete assessment of river health and to develop metrics that flag when rivers are in critical danger, much like thresholds for cholesterol or blood pressure.   Without question, dams have produced benefits.  They generate hydroelectricity, control floods, supply water for drinking and irrigation, and offer recreational opportunities.   But any serious analysis of dams must focus on the full range of benefits and costs – including not only an accurate rendering of economic costs but also of the ecological impacts and social harms done by the dam’s construction and operation.   In this regard, many dams fall very short of the mark.   Some 40-80 million people, mostly poor, have been displaced by large dams, often without compensation or adequate resettlement, and rarely reaping any of the direct benefits of the dam that displaced them, such as electricity.   In addition, a 2010 study I co-authored, published in the journal Water Alternatives, estimated that nearly half a billion people living downstream of dams have likely been negatively impacted as well – for example, by the loss of fisheries or riverside farming and grazing lands.  Rarely has there been any accounting of these social and economic costs, much less compensation for them.   Last month, Jacques Leslie, author of Deep Water: The Epic Struggle over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece that big dams are “Industrial Age artifacts that rarely deliver what they promise.”   He reported on a new study by Oxford University researchers who analyzed 245 large dams built between 1934 and 2007 and found long construction delays and huge cost-over-runs.  On average, actual dam expenses ran nearly double pre-construction cost estimates.   Dams are just one cause of rivers’ deteriorating health, but a crucially important one.   Spending a little time with the State of the World’s Rivers online platform quickly reveals how seriously rivers are in trouble – and how urgently the world needs to monitor and protect the blue arteries of the Earth.  

Originally published at National Geographic Newswatch.

Categories: International News

Sink or swim: designing for climate change in pictures

Guardian - October 1, 2014 - 5:02am

Architectural, fine art and news photographers shed light on contemporary and traditional solutions to the problem of climate change in densely populated coastal regions

  • Sink or Swim is at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles from December
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Categories: International News

India will be renewables superpower, says energy minister

Guardian - October 1, 2014 - 12:00am

$100bn investment likely in five years but coal power plants will also expand rapidly to provide electricity to every Indian village

India will be a renewables superpower according to its new energy minister, but its coal-fired electricity generation will also undergo very rapid expansion.

However, Piyush Goyal dismissed criticism of the impact of Indias coal rush on climate change , as western governments giving homilies and pontificating, having enjoyed themselves the fruits of ruining the environment over many years.

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Categories: International News

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