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April 14, 2021
Source: The Climate Crisis Newsletter
We’re reaching the endgame on the climate crisis, as news from both poles made clear this week. In the Antarctic, researchers reported first data from uncrewed submarine trips beneath the crucial Thwaites Glacier: “Our observations show warm water impinging from all sides on pinning points critical to ice-shelf stability, a scenario that may lead to unpinning and retreat.” (Thwaites was already known as the “doomsday glacier” because its collapse could raise global sea levels by as much as three feet.) Meanwhile, an analysis of satellite data suggests that, as Alaska and Siberia warm, summer lightning over the tundra could increase a hundred and fifty per cent by 2100, igniting fires in the vast peatlands. “Burning peat can release 2.5 to 3.5 kilograms (5.5 to 7.7 pounds) of carbon per square meter of ground,” a researcher told Inside Climate News. “That’s a lot, two or three times as much as from a fire in the savanna or the Mediterranean.” Translated from the scientific, these warnings mean that we’ve got no time left for half-measures. We’re in a desperate race against the destruction of the planet’s life-support systems. So nobody gets cut any slack.
For instance, it was a blow last week when the Army Corps of Engineers said that it would not seek to close down the Dakota Access Pipeline while a large-scale environmental review of the project continues. Having done the right thing on the Keystone Pipeline on Day One, the Biden Administration punted here—and so far it’s been silent on a similar fight over the Line 3 pipeline, in Minnesota. The announcement was the first sign of a lack of conviction from the White House on energy issues. Such reluctance is understandable: there’s a lot of money behind these projects. But one imagines that the warm currents eroding the Thwaites Glacier from beneath are unimpressed.
What’s true of government—that we need a full commitment from it—is true of business, too. Take the public-relations industry, increasingly the target of campaigners from groups such as Clean Creatives. (I’ve worked with its two principal members over the years.) As these groups have pushed, some ad agencies have decided to cut their ties with the fossil-fuel industry—last month, Forsman and Bodenfors, a major firm with offices in Sweden and New York, said that it was done working for oil and gas. “It’s about raising awareness in the broader creative community,” an executive told “The Energy Mix,” a newsletter. “So it becomes a topic in the same way tobacco became a topic. And now I don’t know a single person who would work on a tobacco account.”
Contrast that with the work of Edelman, one of the world’s storied public-relations firms (and the largest by revenue). The firm advised the company behind the Keystone Pipeline on similar projects, but in 2015—after four executives quit over the climate issue—the company said that it would no longer “accept client assignments that aim to deny climate change.” As BuzzFeed News reported last month, however, tax filings show that, in recent years, Edelman has taken in at least twelve million dollars for its efforts on behalf of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, “a major U.S. oil trade organization that even Shell and BP had recently dumped for its aggressive opposition to popular climate solutions.” (A.F.P.M. poured money into a campaign against a Washington State carbon tax and has links to the front group Energy4US, which argued for Donald Trump’s environmental rollbacks.)
Then, there is the work that Edelman has done for oil companies—which, on its face, seems innocuous, even charming. In 2017, on behalf of Shell, Edelman set up the South Pole Energy Challenge and outfitted the polar explorer Robert Swan with “renewable bio fuel” so that he could make a low-carbon dash to the bottom of the world. In the course of the journey, Edelman reported that it had produced “44 individual items of content,” including “humorous incidents such as trying to wash in -40ºC.” The purpose of this work was clear. As the firm explained on its Web site, “the company tasked Edelman with the job of giving millennials a reason to connect emotionally with Shell’s commitment to a sustainable future. We needed them to forget their prejudices about ‘big oil’ and think differently about Shell.” And the campaign succeeded, reaching six hundred million people “through earned media,” with “422 stories, all favorable and 92% of them including a mention of Shell,” which left audience members “31% more likely to believe Shell is committed to cleaner fuels.” Positive attitudes toward the brand, Edelman reported, increased by twelve per cent.
The problem here is that’s not an accurate representation of Shell. True, in a statement, the company said that it is accelerating a “drive for net-zero emissions with a customer-first strategy,” but added that “it is important to note that as of February 11, 2021, Shell’s operating plans and budgets do not reflect its Net-Zero Emissions targets. Shell’s aim is that, in the future, its operating plans and budgets will change to reflect this movement towards its new Net-Zero Emissions target. However, these plans and budgets need to be in step with the movement towards a Net Zero Emissions economy within society and among Shell’s customers.” In fact, Shell’s actual “plans and budgets” call for it to expand its liquid-natural-gas production capacity “by another 7m tonnes a year by the middle of the decade.” (Even the Wall Street Journal pointed out that this strategy was risky, both financially and reputationally. Contrast it with, say, BP’s pledge to cut oil and gas production by forty per cent by 2030.)
In that light, Edelman’s work to get millennials to “forget their prejudices” about Big Oil seems less charming. Swan did reach the South Pole on renewable biofuel, but the South Pole is under increasing attack from Shell’s main products. Repeated requests for a response from Edelman have failed. But, in 2015, after the four executives quit, a then top executive of the company explained that “when you are trying in some way to obfuscate the truth or use misinformation and half-truths that is what we would consider getting into the work of greenwashing, and that is something we would never propose or work we would support our client doing.” Experience would indicate there’s really no way to do that except to cut ties with Big Oil and its trade groups.
By Lisa FriedmanPublished April 13, 2021Updated April 14, 2021, 10:40 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is nearing agreements with Japan, South Korea and Canada to bolster carbon emission reduction targets in all four countries ahead of a closely watched summit of global leaders on Earth Day, April 22.
But in the latest sign of how difficult it will be for President Biden to make climate change a core part of his foreign policy, similar deals with China, India and Brazil, economic powerhouses that together produce more than a third of global emissions, remain elusive.
John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s global climate envoy, is preparing to make a last-minute trip to China and South Korea ahead of the summit, which Mr. Biden will be hosting. Mr. Kerry arrives on Wednesday, with multiple high-level meetings in Shanghai expected on Thursday. The cooperation of the world’s largest emitter of climate-changing pollution is vital to slowing down global warming, but Beijing is also Washington’s biggest rival on the world stage.
With Brazil, the Biden administration’s efforts to negotiate an Amazon rainforest protection plan with Brazil’s conservative president, Jair Bolsonaro, have bitterly divided environmental advocates, given the Bolsonaro administration’s dismal environmental record.
And in India, where Mr. Kerry recently wrapped up three days of negotiations that did not yield any specific promise to strengthen New Delhi’s climate ambition, the administration must weigh its need for cooperation with its concerns over human rights. Indian leaders, meantime, have been unsettled by pressure to deliver an announcement in time for Mr. Biden’s summit next week after spending the past four years working with a U.S. administration that abandoned the rest of the world’s efforts to tackle global warming.
“Maybe there’s a little bit of time lag that will go into building that trust and relationship back,” said Aarti Khosla, director of Climate Trends, a climate change nonprofit based in New Delhi.
The focal point of the Leaders’ Summit on Climate will be the Biden administration’s plan to cut American emissions by 2030, and how it can overcome fierce Republican opposition. The ambitions and practicality of that target could determine the Biden administration’s success in convincing other nations to do more than they have already pledged.
“Summitry is theater, and it can be extremely impactful if there is a big centerpiece,” said Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a climate adviser for the United Nations Secretary General. “That centerpiece is the U.S. plan.”
Corporate America’s Climate Letter to Biden Is Too Little, Too Late | The New Republic Kate Aronoff/April 13, 2021
On Tuesday, executives from more than 300 companies—including renewables firms and several gas and electric utilities—released a letter urging the Biden administration to pledge to cut emissions by 50 percent by 2030. “The private sector has purchased renewable energy at record rates and along with countless cities across the country, many have committed themselves to a net zero-emissions future,” the letter stated. “If you raise the bar on our national ambition, we will raise our own ambition to move the U.S. forward on this journey.” Noticeably absent from the list of signatories are fossil fuel producers, who are now coalescing around their own vague net-zero-by-2050 goals.
The letter’s organizers, speaking to The New York Times, portrayed it as indicating a “major shift” in how the corporate world approaches climate change. But there are several reasons not to celebrate corporate America’s pivot to climate rescue just yet.
Many of the companies on the list still make generous donations to politicians who are hell-bent on stopping anything called climate policy. Walmart—which, like many companies, gives evenly to Republicans and Democrats—had its political action committee contribute $10,000 this past cycle to the reelection campaign of Steve Scalise, who regularly regurgitates climate denier talking points. Eager to maintain Republican control of the Senate—a situation that makes passing meaningful climate policy virtually impossible—signatory General Electric’s PAC gave $9,000 to Mitch McConnell, $8,500 to David Purdue, and $8,000 to James Inhofe. The list goes on. Microsoft, too, has donated to McConnell despite its widely publicized corporate climate goals.
Calling for this 2030 target costs these companies little: It allows companies to collect some good P.R. and come out in support of something that sounds nice that can be announced through executive action, all while continuing to fund politicians who’ll ensure any such target lacks teeth.
Without enforcement mechanisms, 2030 targets aren’t worth much. A recent synthesis report on 2030 targets from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change itself found that existing 2030 pledges put forward as part of the Paris Agreement are woefully inadequate. Forty-eight of the updated Nationally Determined Contributions—the state-level pledges that make up the Paris Agreement, representing 75 of the 191 signatories to it—are now on track to decrease those countries’ emissions by just 0.5 percent below 2010 levels. As UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa put it: “We are collectively walking into a minefield blindfolded. The next step could be disaster.”
Whether a target is in place, then, is basically irrelevant if it’s delivering such meager results. Many of the companies that signed the letter to Biden would have little to lose even if a 2030 target were rigorously enforced by the administration. In fact, the space between top-line goals and substance could be big business for many of the companies signed on to the pledge. Especially with so few specifics about what changes to, say, the power sector should look like, a 2030 target could help greenlight generous amounts of new gas infrastructure that could stay online for decades to come. That would be great news for signatories like gas utility National Grid, or Microsoft, which has a lucrative business providing cloud-computing software for drillers. To give just one example of how targets and subsidies theoretically supporting them could stimulate business without limiting global warming in the slightest: The way they’re currently structured, incentives like the 45Q tax credit—for capturing carbon dioxide—are effectively subsidies for continued drilling via enhanced oil recovery.
That’s not to say such pledges are entirely meaningless. Setting an ambitious target can send a market signal for financial sector interest in green energy, which—especially combined with recent pledges from the European Union—will be a boon to both wind and solar companies as well as asset managers and investment banks, which stand to collect both user fees and returns from a new round of lucrative public-private partnerships for green infrastructure. But if investments in green energy aren’t paired with hard constraints on fossil fuel production, emissions will just keep ballooning alongside a green bubble.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s a good thing that companies now see a profitable upside in going green: There will need to be private sector investment to build up clean energy. The danger is in holding climate action hostage to whether executives can turn a profit off it and having the public sector play second fiddle to companies whose entire goal is to turn a profit—whatever it costs the planet.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has made some unfortunate gestures in that direction. He’s leaned heavily on the private sector to drive an energy transition, calling on Wall Street to form its own “net-zero banking alliance.” As he argued to the Institute of International Finance last month, “No government is going to solve this problem. The solution is going to come from the private sector, and what government needs to do is create the framework within which the private sector can do what it does best, which is allocate capital and innovate.”
The last time Democrats tried to bring in business support to pass climate policy was in 2009, and it failed spectacularly. When push came to shove, corporations weren’t remotely interested in supporting a bill that would actually limit their activities. Kerry, who was right in the middle of things as that cap-and-trade bill collapsed, should know better by now. And the rest of the public should keep that in mind while reading about corporations’ supposed commitment to climate action.
By Lisa FriedmanApril 13, 2021, 5:30 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON — More than 300 businesses, including Google, McDonalds and Walmart, are pushing the Biden administration to nearly double the United States’ target for cuts to planet-warming emissions ahead of an April 22 global summit on climate change.
In a letter to President Biden, expected to be released Tuesday morning, chief executive officers from some of the nation’s largest companies will call on the administration to set a new Paris Agreement goal of slashing the nation’s carbon dioxide, methane and other planet-warming emissions at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
That is roughly what most major environmental groups want, and the corporate executives called the target “ambitious and attainable.”
Former President Donald J. Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement, eradicating emissions reduction targets set by the Obama administration that many environmentalists had seen as too weak. President Obama had pledged to cut national emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
With Mr. Biden promising to tackle climate change intensely, climate change activists are watching to see how much more ambitious his targets will be than those set when he was vice president. Mr. Biden, who returned the United States to the Paris Agreement on Inauguration Day, has said the United States will announce fresh targets for the Paris Agreement on or before a virtual summit of world leaders he is hosting around Earth Day next week.
According to two administration officials familiar with the deliberations, the target is expected to be a range that will include a 50 percent reduction in emissions.
Organizers of the business letter said they hoped such a message coming from the private sector — including electric utilities like Exelon and Pacific Gas & Electric, as well as dozens of companies based in Republican districts — would resonate strongly with Congress. Other signators include Target, Verizon and Philip Morris, the tobacco giant once considered a firm ally of the Republican Party.
The effort also underscores the delicate path corporate leaders are treading in the post-Trump era. Their decisions to break with Republicans on issues like voting rights and racial justice have rankled their traditional allies in the G.O.P. Pressing the Biden administration to aggressively combat climate change could further alienate Republicans, who have long fought emissions regulations as “job killers” that would make American business less competitive.
“I think this signals a major shift in the corporate community’s understanding of the urgency of climate change as a systemic financial risk,” said Anne Kelly, vice president for government affairs at the sustainability nonprofit Ceres, which organized the letter.
Republican lawmakers have given no indication they are likely to be swayed, but they framed their opposition as a defense of consumers, not businesses.
“The Paris climate agreement will result in increased energy costs for Americans while Russia and China increase greenhouse gas emissions,” Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming said in a statement. He predicted whatever target Mr. Biden announces will be “punishing.”
Patrick Flynn, vice president of sustainability for Salesforce, which signed on to the letter, said he hopes businesses will lobby Congress to support the Biden administration’s target.
“We know it will create millions of jobs, we know it’s a good thing for the economy, and we know if we do it right we can do it in a way that leaves no one behind,” he said.
Planetary Hydrogen stores carbon while it generates hydrogen with renewable electricity.
Treehugger has often been skeptical of two “silver bullets” for the climate crisis: the hydrogen economy and carbon capture and storage (CCS). However, a company in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia called Planetary Hydrogen mashes the two together in a double-barrelled approach that makes a lot of sense.
In the pre-industrial natural carbon cycles, most atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) was absorbed by plants, but about a quarter of it was absorbed by the ocean in a process where CO2 in rainwater dissolves calcium and other minerals in rocks and washes into the ocean. This is converted by animals into calcium carbonate for their shells, which when pressed together over millions of years stores CO2 in limestone. Needless to say, such a process happens in geological time, millions of years, a very slow carbon cycle. However, now we are putting so much CO2 into the atmosphere – 7% of it by undoing this process by cooking limestone to get the CO2 back out of it and making cement – that the ocean can’t keep up and is acidifying.1
This is all a very slow process, and as Planetary Hydrogen CEO Mike Kelland notes, “we don’t have 100,000 years to fix this problem.” His company takes fossil-fuel-free electricity from wind, solar, or water power and uses an electrolyzer to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, building on the work of Dr. Greg Rau, who has written a number of papers on the subject going back to the 1990s.2 Planetary Hydrogen adds a little something to the mix, turning it into negative emissions hydrogen or NE H2.
“Our innovation is that by adding a mineral salt, we force the electrolysis cell to also create an atmosphere-scrubbing compound called mineral hydroxide as a waste product. That hydroxide actively binds with carbon dioxide, producing an “ocean antacid” very similar to baking soda. The net effect is the direct capture and storage of CO2 while producing valuable pure hydrogen. The system can consume as much as 40kg of CO2 and permanently stores it for every 1kg of hydrogen it produces.”
This is very different from the carbon capture and storage processes that we usually see, where one of the big problems is what to do with the CO2. Here, sodium hydroxide is produced in the electrolyzer, which combines with CO2 in seawater to produce sodium bicarbonate, It’s also literally just a drop in the ocean. Planetary Hydrogen continues:https://f961859e31425c3b1b5285ed92f6d373.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
“This system accelerates “The Earth’s Natural Thermostat” which is the geological process that removes excess CO2 from the atmosphere via rock weathering that is otherwise very slow and inefficient. Excess CO2 in the atmosphere acidifies rainwater that on contact with alkaline minerals (exposed on much of the Earth’s land surface), dissolves the rock and consumes CO2, forming dissolved mineral bicarbonate which is washed into the ocean. This process is the reason that some 90% of the Earth’s surface carbon is in this form as seawater bicarbonate.”
Producing hydrogen through electrolysis is not very efficient, and a report from S&P Global says it has to drop in cost by over 50% to be a viable alternative to hydrogen made from fossil fuels.3 That’s where Planetary Hydrogen comes into its own; its hydrogen is seriously carbon negative, which can generate valuable carbon credits. This is not just CO2 emissions avoided by using hydrogen, it’s CO2 that is seriously sequestered in the sea. In fact, Mike Kelland tells Treehugger that it is really more of a carbon storage business than a hydrogen business, using the Gillette analogy: “Hydrogen is the razor but carbon is the blade.”
In his study, The Global Potential for Converting Renewable Electricity to Negative-CO2-Emissions Hydrogen, Rau concludes:
“With the potential to utilize a broad range of renewable energy sources, NE H2 significantly expands global, negative-emissions energy generation potential, assuming greatly increased H2 and negative-emissions markets can be realized. It could also be useful in reducing the carbon footprint of conventional fuel and electricity production and of energy storage. It achieves these features by merging three separate technologies: renewable electricity, saline water electrolysis, and enhanced mineral weathering.” 4
That is why this is all so interesting. Whether or not one thinks there will ever be a hydrogen economy, vast quantities of the stuff are used for making ammonia and it could clean up steelmaking. The price of renewable energy is dropping so quickly that one of the proposed ways of dealing with intermittency is to overbuild the system, so there may well be lots of surplus renewable energy around, particularly in windy places like Nova Scotia. And of course, storing 40 kilograms of CO2 for every kilogram of hydrogen produced while deacidifying the ocean is pretty remarkable.
Next to growing trees, growing the stuff of seashells seems like a pretty good place to store carbon.
Kelland tells Treehugger that they have a long way to go before commercialization; that’s why they moved the company to Nova Scotia, where researchers at Dalhousie University can work with them to test its impact on the ocean and local sea life, But this is one to watch.
A new initiative seeks to tap into mothers’ concern for the world their children are inheriting.
Three years ago, I had a baby. I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that she is extremely cute, and I enjoy being her mother. A few months after her birth, I was scrolling on my phone, and I came across news of a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It described a future world that will have experienced 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. In this world, the oceans are acidifying, and most coral reefs have been bleached to death; hundreds of millions of people face severe drought, and even more face deadly heat waves. The kicker? This planet—the 1.5-degree-warmer one—was the best-case scenario. Scientists were using the report to argue that we should try to shoot for that. The Paris climate accord aims to limit the global-temperature increase to “below 2 degrees Celsius.” At present, both goals seem like a stretch. According to the U.N., all of the world’s current pledges would only cut carbon emissions by one per cent—a far cry from the nearly fifty per cent needed this decade in order to meet our goals. So, 1.5 degrees is coming. According to some researchers, we could get there around 2030, when my daughter will be entering middle school.
I did some further Googling: What will the world look like when she’s middle-aged? When her children are middle-aged? I found a Web site that lets you plot major events in your child’s life against the projected global-temperature increase. Even the “optimistic” scenarios show the world warming two degrees during her lifetime. The more realistic scenarios—the ones based on what countries are actually doing to reduce emissions, not what they’ve pledged—show it heating up to three degrees. There is a universe of difference between those numbers, but they are both awful, bringing rising seas, heat waves, food and water shortages, wildfires, droughts, and hurricanes, not to mention the loss of biodiversity. Naturally, this line of research prompted a nervous breakdown. I had always understood, intellectually, that climate change was an existential threat, but it was only after my daughter’s birth that it became real to me.
I’m not alone. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications, twenty-six per cent of Americans report feeling “alarmed” about climate change, up from less than half that number six years ago. About the same number of people describe themselves as “concerned”—which seems like the way you should feel about your child’s “Animal Crossing” addiction, not the fact that the Thwaites Glacier could slide into the ocean during his lifetime, flooding coastal cities.
“It’s pretty bad,” a marketing executive named John Marshall told me, in reference to the public-opinion data. “If you were an alien looking at the planet, you’d ask, ‘Why are they not more worried about this?’ ” Marshall runs a nonprofit called the Potential Energy Coalition, which aims to boost awareness about climate change. The group recently conducted a series of randomized control tests to figure out who is most receptive to its messaging. They found that, for the most part, it’s women. Mothers and Hispanic women are especially persuadable. “Men are basically useless,” he said. This past January, the group launched a ten-million-dollar initiative called Science Moms. It consists of a Web site with bullet-point-length climate facts, and also an ad campaign that’s running in swing states. In the ads, which appear both on television and online, climate scientists—who are also moms—talk about their worries for their children. So far, the results have been promising. “What we’re most excited about is the engagement rate,” Marshall said, referring to the number of people who have been clicking and sharing.