If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5°C goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach. And that would be catastrophe. This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction. — UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Our climate crisis
Christiana Figueres, a former UN climate chief and co-author of The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, says that we’re caught between joy and despair. We can be grateful that pledges by countries to reduce emissions made since the Paris agreement could keep global warming within 2°C. That is a huge improvement on where we’d be headed without these efforts but it doesn’t even come close to the 1.5°C goal and will lead to a world that will not be livable for vast swaths of humanity. Christiana comments, “So we are caught between two truths, and two deep feelings in our bones: outrage and optimism. Both are valid responses and both are necessary.”
South Asia is at the forefront of places in the world where climate change could make life become unbearable before the end of the century. Temperatures have recently soared to dangerously high levels in India and Pakistan. While this part of the world is no stranger to extreme heat, scientists say that recent heat waves have been worsened by climate change. The high temperatures are increasing the danger of fires, contributing to the predicted 20% decrease in the regional wheat harvest, and the danger of river flooding caused by rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayas.
A scientific study at Princeton University finds that marine life will be decimated by 2300 at the current pace of global warming. That would be on par with the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. On the other hand, if we can rein in emissions to keep within the upper limit of the Paris climate agreement, it would reduce ocean extinction risks by more than 70 percent.
Rising ground water levels and intensifying rains, exacerbated by climate change, are creating overflowing septic tanks and back-yard drain fields. This causes smelly, unhealthy wastewater to collect in yards and back up into homes, creating vexing problems for homeowners and local governments. The problem is especially pronounced in the coastal middle peninsula of Virginia, which local people refer to as suffering from a “soggy socks” problem. In a related story, National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed colonial Jamestown on a list of the country’s most endangered historical places because it is losing its battle with rising water levels caused by climate change.
Politics and policy
Maryland just passed one of the most aggressive climate laws in the US. It mandates reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state to 60 percent below 2006 levels by 2031 and sets a 2045 deadline for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the state’s economy. Central to that effort will be reducing energy use in buildings, which are responsible for about 40 percent of Maryland’s carbon emissions.
California recently announced its plan to phase out all new gas-powered cars by 2035. Under the proposed plan the state will require 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold in 2026 to be powered by batteries or hydrogen before making it mandatory for all passenger vehicles less than a decade later. If enacted, the plan will mark a big clean energy transition as 12.4% of new vehicles sold in California are currently zero-emissions.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a proponent of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), praised the recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval of the MVP plan to bore under streams and wetlands at 120 locations in West Virginia and Virginia after the original plan to cross these areas by open trenching had been rejected. The approval is, however, contingent on the success of other permitting processes that are being held up in court.
In another development, Sen. Manchin and Republican lawmakers have publicly denounced FERC for adopting rules requiring energy regulators to consider new gas pipelines’ effects on climate change and environmental justice. In response to the political pressure from Manchin and Republicans, FERC backtracked and voted to recategorize the policies as mere drafts that wouldn’t apply to new gas projects. Part of the reason for the new rules had been court rulings that FERC had ignored climate change and environmental justice in its approval of projects.
In an even more recent development, Sen. Manchin and several of his colleagues in Congress have begun talks to gauge bipartisan interest in a climate deal. One policy that has been repeatedly mentioned in these talks is some form of carbon pricing legislation.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality recently rolled out several major changes to the management of stormwater runoff from solar farms, saying prior policies may have underestimated the impact of stormwater runoff. The solar industry worries that the policy shift could dampen efforts to build renewable energy, but some local officials and environmental groups say it could help to better account for how precipitation, which is increasing in both frequency and intensity due to climate change, interacts with solar farms.
As part of President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, Virginia will receive $31.8M this fiscal year to fund projects to cut down on carbon emissions. Executive Director of VA Clean Cities, Alleyn Harned says it’s a step in the right direction because “transportation is our leading source of greenhouse gases in the commonwealth and in the country and in Harrisonburg. And for us to be able to see some light at the end of the tunnel with a valued federal program like this really presents a lot of great opportunities.”
The sales of electric vehicles have been rising in the first quarter of this year while just about every other category is falling. This surge was enough to double EVs’ share of the market to 5.2 percent, up from 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2021.
Virginia generated more electricity from the sun than from coal in 2021. This is a first for our state, which ranked number four in the country in solar installation last year.
A Virginia legislative bill that creates a property tax exemption for residential and mixed-use solar energy systems up to 25 kilowatts was signed into law by Gov. Glen Youngkin. The bill expands clean energy choice for consumers and promotes the local solar industry. It attracts businesses and creates jobs in our state. For some unknown reason, local state house delegates Tony Wilt and Chris Runion both voted against the bill.
In a move that runs counter to his top priority of lowering Virginian’s cost-of-living, Gov. Glen Youngkin vetoed an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill aimed at lowering the electric consumption of veterans, low-income, elderly and disabled ratepayers. The bill targets energy savings by focusing energy efficiency projects on those homes that are the most dilapidated and difficult to weatherize.
In a bid to show that it is working to increase the domestic oil supply as prices surge in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration announced plans to resume selling leases for new oil and gas drilling on public lands. This violates a signature campaign pledge made by Mr. Biden to climate activists when he was running for office.
Low-income households in the US spent an average of 8.1 percent of their income on energy costs, compared to 2.3 percent for wealthier households. That’s why poor families often need to pull back on other expenses, like medicine, groceries, or childcare to cover their energy bills. One consistently overlooked aspect of our nation’s affordable housing crisis is the staggering number of homes occupied by poor families that require substantial repairs before they are eligible for federal weatherization funds. To address this, a bipartisan group of Pennsylvania state legislators is putting forward the Whole-Home Repairs Act, providing a legislative solution to the problem. It will do so by providing eligible residents with grants up to $50,000 to make needed home repairs. Small landlords could apply for the same amount in forgivable loans.
In an effort to bring down the price of gasoline, President Biden recently visited Iowa to announce his plan to accelerate the production of ethanol from corn. This is at a time when poor people around the world are suffering because the price of food grains around the world are skyrocketing because of the war in Ukraine. The amount of corn it takes to fill an SUV with ethanol could feed a person for a year.
Environmental activist Bill McKibben is stepping away from some of his other involvements to help launch a new organization, called Third Act, aimed at engaging activists over age 60. He is in that age bracket himself and said that “he’s become convinced that his generation should more actively join the climate movement, following in the footsteps of a galvanized youth. He noted that Americans his age and older have a large share of the country’s financial assets and a tendency to vote in high numbers, giving them political power.”
Using commercial solar installations as pastureland for sheep is proving beneficial for farmers and solar operators, while sequestering carbon and improving soil health. Still in its infancy, such combined use of solar sites makes sense on various levels. Flocks of sheep are already grazing contentedly under and around solar panels in Virginia and other states.
Levels of methane in the atmosphere have been increasing steadily over the past 15 years. Last year they rose by a record amount over the year before for the second year in a row. Most methane spews from oil and natural gas operations, sometimes through unintentional leaks. Other sources of methane include livestock, landfills, and the natural decay of organic material in wetlands. While it is less abundant and not as long-lasting as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it has more potent near-term effects. That makes quickly cutting down methane emissions crucial to combatting global warming.
Your household can cut down on its carbon emissions by switching from your old gas range to a new super-efficient induction electric range. You’ll be surprised by how quickly and precisely it heats—beating a gas range on both counts. It also eliminates the indoor pollution of a gas range. Click here to learn more about cooking with an induction range. Or you can ask me about how I like our induction range.
Compiled by Earl Zimmerman, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley Steering Committee