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Living Off the Grid: The New Normal

More and more people worldwide are living off the grid. That’s grid as in power grid, as in getting electricity from public utilities that draw on regional transmission systems. As consumers, extricating ourselves from utility companies and getting electricity from sustainable sources has always been the stuff of self-reliant rogues. But that trend is changing quickly. Since public utilities produce energy with fossil fuels, not using their electricity reduces the carbon footprint.  In Waltham, Vermont, the rooftops in a new low-income development brandish shiny, solar panels, taking in the sun’s rays that feed energy to backup batteries in basements. And this isn’t a development of single homeowners or a community. It’s an innovative program from an electric company. A recent story in the New York Times is about that electric company, Green Mountain Power, whose program lets their Vermont customers disconnect from the grid and turn their homes into mini power plants. This is a clear break from business as usual and Green Mountain is realizing both environmental and financial advantages. The less electricity Green Mountain Power gets from the regional transmission system, the less fees it pays. If homeowners are producing their own electricity, Green Mountain Power can remotely draw from customer’s batteries the excess energy they are producing to use elsewhere.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/29/business/energy-environment/vermont-green-mountain-power-grid.html?mwrsm=amp-email

For a few decades, the trend of living off the grid has been by individual efforts or in various communities across the United States. As of 2013, current estimates are that 1.7 billion people in the world live off the grid. According to Home Power Magazine, at least 180,000 families are living off the grid in the United States and that number increases each year. Some sustainable communities can be found here. Places that have been established as places for off-the-grid homeowners are:  Central Oregon, Three Rivers Recreation Area: 625 homeowners are off-the-grid using solar-powered electricity for high-speed internet and satellite television; the Greater World Community in Taos, N.M: home to the world’s first “Earthship” subdivision of sustainable homes and solar-powered buildings made of eco-friendly materials; Breitenbush, an Oregon community with approximately 60 permanent residents; Earthaven, just outside of Asheville, North Carolina, a planned community of 60 residents in homes powered by solar power and hydropower; Dancing Rabbit is an ecovillage in northeast Missouri, home to 45 residents living sustainably.

But back in Waltham, Vermont, Green Mountain has offered their customers a chance to live off the grid, but also to access Tesla’s Powerwall home battery system, which was released in 2015. According to the New York Times, Green Mountain is starting a new program offering the Tesla battery to as many as 2,000 customers for $15 a month over 10 years, or a one-time payment of $1,500.  Green Mountain is a leading example of the transformation the utility sector is undergoing. The paradigm is shifting. No longer is the model to have one big distant, air-polluting, CO2-emitting power plant delivering electricity over a massive, aging grid to many customers at a fixed, regulated price. Vermont is nimbly embracing a modern system with multiple power sources including solar farms and rooftop solar panels, wind turbines, coupled with batteries. These sources have lower production and transmission costs, fewer emissions, and variable pricing keyed to demand. Bravo Green Mountain! Bravo, Vermont!

 
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OUR TAKE: Cooling Down the Earth

The Guardian recently ran a story by reporter Oliver Milman entitled “Planet has just 5% chance of reaching Paris climate goal, study says.” The headline is stark, and says it all: we have only a 5% chance to keep global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100. The study referenced was published in Nature Climate Change and was entitled “Less than 2 °C warming by 2100 unlikely.” What was painfully clear was that “global trends in the economy, emissions and population growth make it extremely unlikely that the planet will remain below the 2C threshold set out in the Paris climate agreement in 2015.”

https://markatcop21.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/climate-change-numbers-for-cop21-in-paris/

We here at ClimateYou believe that keeping temperatures from rising by 4°, 6°, 8°, or even more (7.2°F, 10.8°F, 14.4°F) is imperative but achievable. If temperatures did rise that much, it would be catastrophic.  Polar ice caps would melt rapidly, causing sea level to rise resulting in widespread coastal flooding, disruption, and displacement; crop failures would sow hunger, starvation, and political unrest; air pollution would mean early deaths for millions, and the oceans will become uninhabitable for many marine species upon which billions of humans depend for survival. Hotter temperatures would mean high heat and humidity levels would exceed human’s natural cooling capacity so millions will die of heat stroke. To avoid these dire consequences we must do quickly what has to be done: price carbon, burn less carbon (drive and fly less), eat less meat (cattle have huge carbon footprints), consume less and recycle more, have fewer kids (they’ll have carbon footprints too, all their lives), stop cutting or burning down forests, and support research to develop ways to remove CO2 from the air (carbon capture and storage – CCS). And while we’re at it, let’s take cloth bags or totes to the grocery so we use fewer plastic bags, and get ourselves a reusable bottle for our water. Finally, let’s resolve not to vote for any climate skeptics or deniers. If we all do what we can as individuals, if we support responsible companies and organizations, and if we elect responsible politicians who enact and enforce responsible policies, we and our children, and theirs, can learn to accommodate ourselves to a warmer but still habitable Earth.

 
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OUR TAKE: Deforestation, Climate Change: There Still is No Planet B

A recent article by Bobby Magill of Climate Central looks at massive deforestation and how it contributes to the rising carbon emissions that impact global warming. The article tells of a study by Global Forest Watch  revealing how the world lost 47 percent more forested land in 2015 than it did 16 years ago and how in 2015 about 49 million acres of forest disappeared worldwide, equivalent to the size of Nebraska.

The truth is that deforestation is a growing contributor to climate change. Cutting down forests hurts two ways. First by losing trees’ capacity to remove CO2 from the air and store it in their leaves and wood. Second when trees are burned or rot, by releasing the stored CO2 back into the air. This is not a small problem. We’re talking about cutting down forests the size of Nebraska. We’re talking about cutting down 70% of the trees in Indonesia, to clear the land to grow palm oil trees. We’re talking about Brazil cutting down vast areas of rain forest for logging and agriculture.

http://paulsonsciences.weebly.com/

How much does deforestation contribute to global warming? The scientists aren’t sure, but they’re working on it. For now all they will say is that if we collectively don’t slow the rate of deforestation, we have little chance of meeting the Paris Agreement target of limiting the global temperature rise to 2°C.

So, add less deforestation to the list of must dos: have fewer kids, burn less carbon, drive and fly less, eat less meat, recycle more, capture and store lots of carbon. If we don’t do these essential cut backs, we will be forced to take bigger, more dangerous, unknown risks. We’re not talking about seeding a cloud or two, we’re talking big weather changing experiments with big risks and unknown, unforeseeable consequences such as geoengineering, harnessing the earth’s reflectivity. We should realize however, that at some point, we may have no choice but to take those risks to avoid disaster or a doomsday scenario.

Pray we never reach that point. There is still no Planet B.

 
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OUR TAKE: Nuclear Autumn Means Climate Change Disaster

It’s been just a few days since North Korea tested a ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States. The U.S. reacted by conducting a missile defense test in the Pacific Ocean, adding to the escalating threats and provocations between North Korea and the US. Both sides need to cool it. Nuclear aftermath is not an option especially in light of a new report on potential consequences of a nuclear strike and the effects on global climate patterns. A team from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln published its report in the journal Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, expanding on previous nuclear war simulations where more than 5 million metric tons of black carbon particles would disperse into the stratosphere. According to the online publication New Atlas, “the simulations predict not so much the catastrophic “nuclear winter” that the 20th century Cold War panic taught us, but rather a more moderate “nuclear autumn” scenario.”

Nuclear autumn is almost as bad as nuclear winter, and a lot easier to spark. One big nuke could do it, or a couple of smaller ones. Sobering. Frightening. According to New Atlas, China’s most powerful nuclear weapon, a 5-megaton beast, could single-handedly send the world into “nuclear autumn” with just one detonation. China has 20 of these weapons.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00139157.2017.1325300

The study forecasts that blasting 5 million metric tons of black carbon into the stratosphere would dramatically decrease global rainfall anywhere from 20 to 80 percent depending on the specific area. The life threatening domino effect would be on the earth’s total volume of agricultural production because the growing seasons would be reduced by between 10 and 40 days per year for up to five years, resulting in famine. This and other cataclysmic climate effects could kill up to a billion people, mainly in developing “food insecure” countries.

Diplomacy is the playing card here because there are no good military options. Tell the President, your Senators, and your Congressmen/women. Even one nuke could be catastrophic. The least bad option is to start talking again with North Korea. Chastizing China is not likely to help. Nor will bombers buzzing Pyongyang, nor holding more joint military exercises with South Korea. Trump should invite Kim to the White House, or offer to go to Pyongyang. Make a deal, President Dealmaker.

 
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OUR TAKE: The Climate Change Coverup is Over for Fossil Fuel Industries

A recent article on HuffingtonPost by Alexander Kaufman exposed how fossil fuel utilities knew about climate change as far back as 1968. The information was revealed in a newly published report by the Energy and Policy Institute, “Utilities Knew: Documenting Electric Utilities’ Early Knowledge and Ongoing Deception on Climate Change From 1968-2017.” We all know, or should, that because the fossil fuel industry has known about climate change for so long, it stands to reason that in battling the science, it has spent millions of dollars to lobby against any government action to regulate the emission of so-called greenhouse gases generated by burning coal, oil, and natural gas, which nearly all climate scientists agree is the main reason why temperatures are rising globally. The industry not only torpedoed proposed legislation and regulations to control emissions, it sponsored research by captive “scientists” to counter and impugn the conclusions of real scientists, thereby confusing, misleading, and sowing doubt among the general populace. Multi-million dollar advertising campaigns promoted the American way of life, which included of course lots of driving around in big, gas guzzling, fast cars. Lately the ads have stressed that America needs all forms of energy, they’re all good. The industry’s efforts have successfully produced a nation, and especially a Republican Party, of climate skeptics and deniers.

The utility industry has constantly engaged in the same well-funded multi-year, multi-faceted effort to shape a government and a public opposed to, or at least indifferent to or ignorant of, the growing threat that climate change posed to the industry, the country, and the Earth as did the fossil fuel industry.

The separate but similar efforts of the fossil fuel and electric utility industries succeeded for many years, but they are beginning to founder, for the simple reason that the threat of climate change has become a reality. The transition of the world’s energy system from high-carbon to low-carbon is well under way; it is now irreversible, inevitable. Renewables like wind and solar are now cheaper in most places than coal, oil, and natural gas. Utilities are also beginning to face disruption as the long-time industry model of one-to-many, from electricity-generating plant through the grid to many subscribers devolves into one in which many sites generate power, wind turbines and solar farms, including end-users who generate their own power from rooftop solar panels, and provide their surplus to the grid. The intermittency issue of wind and solar is being addressed with bigger and better batteries.

Navajo Generating Station is a 2250 megawatt coal-fired power plant located on leased land in the Navajo Indian Reservation, near Page, Arizona. This plant provides electrical power to customers in Arizona, Nevada, and California and is operated by Salt River Project (SRP).

Both fossil fuel and utility industries are huge, they will be around for many years, but both face transformation by mid-century. Neither will disappear, but it’s a safe bet that your kids, and theirs, will know a very different energy system from the one we’ve known all our lives. It’s also a safe bet that changes to the energy system will reverberate throughout every aspect of life. The economies of many countries depend on oil; Venezuela provides an example of the destabilization that can result from a prolonged decline in the price of oil. Even Saudi Arabia is looking to diversify its economy. How will Iran react when its big earner fizzles? Or Russia? The world’s banks have many billions invested in energy and utility companies; how much of that investment can they write off without jeopardizing their own continued viability? The values — and the share prices — of the oil majors are underpinned by vast reserves of untapped oil they carry on their books. As oil becomes less and less an essential commodity, its price will fall, rendering more and more of those reserves uneconomic to exploit. If it doesn’t pay to pump it out of the ground, its value plummets to near zero, and the stock price falls too. State-owned oil companies don’t have to worry about their stock prices, but the states do count on their foreign exchange earnings for a large part of their budgets. Without that income, their hold on power first wavers, then topples.

Add to this upheaval in the energy sector other expected climate-related impacts: droughts, heatwaves, floods, storm surges, extreme weather, rising seas, crop failures, hunger, social unrest, political instability, refugees, migrations, conflicts, wars. It’s also a safe bet unfortunately, that chaos looms, probably by mid-century, certainly by century-end. How bad the chaos will be depends in large part on how much and how quickly we can cut carbon emissions. Secondarily it depends on how soon we can develop and implement large scale carbon capture and storage technologies. If we act quickly and decisively, we can still avoid catastrophe. But if we don’t, the planet may well become uninhabitable. Our choice.

 
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