Industrial Agriculture and the Environment

What comes to mind when you think about farming? Amber waves of grain? Rolling hills and people seated on tractors? The smell of manure? What about pollution?

to pollution, most people don’t think of agriculture. In fact, in order for agriculture to continue, farmers must take good care of the environments of their land and animals.

However, there is a difference between farming and industrial agriculture. While family farms are often maintained over several generations, industrial agriculture is an entirely different thing, and it can contribute to pollution in some significant ways.

We’re going to give you the what, why, and how of industrial agriculture pollution.

What is Agricultural Pollution?

Farmed areas – both on land and in the water – provide vital habitats for thousands of wild animals and plant species. Farming operations that are managed with good sustainability practices help restore and preserve critical habitats, protect watersheds, and improve soil strength and water quality.

However, when practiced carelessly, farming is a great threat to species and ecosystems. Negative environmental impacts from unsustainable farming practices include land conversion, habitat loss, wasteful water consumption, soil erosion and degradation, pollution, climate change, and genetic erosion.

Perhaps even worse is the practice of factory farming. Scientific research has found that factory farming methods – such as confining and overcrowding animals in warehouse-like conditions before slaughter and meat production – create unacceptable levels of risk to public health and irreparable damage to the surrounding environment.

Although factory farms produce an enormous amount of waste and pollution, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, they are largely exempt from standard air and water pollution regulations. This means that factory farms – which produce more annual waste than the entire population of the United States – can dump their waste as they see fit.

Additionally, as factory farms tasked with raising thousands of animals to meet consumer demand continue to produce tons of waste, our water supply is at risk of contamination. As waterways become polluted with agricultural waste, they lose their ability to sustain marine ecosystems. Populations of marine life are adversely affected, and the food supply becomes contaminated.

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The Energy Of The Future Is Solar Power

Smart Energy in ArizonaNot so long ago, solar power was something of a dream for those who were ahead of the curve in the environmental movement. It appeared to be an option for the wealthy and for those who had committed themselves to environmentalism.

The idea that we could heat our homes and generate electricity from little more than sunshine seemed like a utopian ideal.

However, as the real and immediate effects of global warming are felt around the world in everything from droughts to mega-hurricanes, the implementation of solar power is now a feature of global policy and economics; it’s part of a combination of renewable energy sources which eliminate the use of fossil fuels that drive global warming.

Solar power has been steadily on the rise around the world, and as fossil fuels become increasingly scarce, we can expect to see solar power increasingly adopted.

Solar Power On The Rise

The surge in interest across the globe in solar power has largely been in response to the problem of carbon emissions and global warming. Solar power and other renewable sources of energy are the best ways to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases.

As a direct result, global use and implementation of solar technology has been on a steady rise since the early 2000s. Solar is now the fastest rising source of renewable energy in the world, reaching about 1% of the total energy produced globally.

In fact, solar energy production now rivals nuclear power globally. Solar energy reached a capacity of about 350 GW (gigawatts) globally in 2015, compared to nuclear energy which topped out at 391 GW in the same year. In addition, it is predicted that at the current rate of conversion to solar energy, it will overtake the use of fossil fuels by 2050, with most of the globe running on energy produced by the sun.

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Fact-Checking Trump’s Antiquities Act Order

“San Juan County is now the epicenter of a brutal battle over public lands,” Orrin Hatch, the senior senator from Utah, said as he stood before the Senate on April 24 and railed against former President Barack Obama’s end-of-term designation of the Bears Ears National Monument.

Hatch spoke in anticipation of President Donald Trump’s order to “review” all national monuments designated since 1996, announced Wednesday, starting with Bears Ears, located in rural San Juan County, Utah. The review will also include dozens of other monuments established over the last 21 years. As he signed the executive order on Wednesday, Trump praised the Utah senator and parroted some of Hatch’s points.

Some of the national monuments under review include Bears Ears (top), Basin and Range, Cascade-Siskiyou, Canyons of the Ancients and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
Brooke Warren, BLM

Hatch’s own speech was peppered with the type of Sagebrush Rebellion rhetoric that Utah politicians have spouted since Cal Black, the late San Juan County commissioner, threatened three decades ago to blow up ruins, bridges and trucks to retaliate against purported overreach by federal land managers. But in making his argument for abolishing the new monument, Hatch also relied on outright falsehoods or, in the nomenclature of the current administration, “alternative facts.”

Here, we fact-check the main arguments made by opponents of the monument, including Trump and Hatch.

Hatch: “As evidence of his disdain, President Obama issued this declaration with no open debate, no public hearing, and no vote in Congress.”

Fact check: The notion that Obama sprung this “midnight monument” on the locals without warning or consultation is one of the main arguments against the designation. It’s also false.

Read more by Jonathan Thompson at High Country News

“Drawdown” – Global Warming’s New Math

by Joel Makower at GreenBiz Group

An ambitious new book was recently published with the audacious goal of showing how to reverse the warming of the planet through a myriad of innovations, many of them led by business for profit.

“Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” (Penguin Books), was edited by the author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken along with a self-described “coalition” of research fellows, writers and advisors. (Full disclosure: I played a very small unpaid role in reviewing parts of the manuscript, and am included among the 120 or so advisors listed in the book.)

The book contains 80 solutions — “techniques and practices” — that are ready today, and 20 additional “coming attractions” — innovations just over the horizon — that collectively can draw down atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in order to solve, not just slow, climate change by avoiding emissions or sequestering carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.

Hawken is quick to point out that the book’s seemingly brash subtitle is a bit tongue in cheek: this is the only “comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming,” he said. But the larger point is not lost. The book, along with an accompanying website, may be the first to provide the insight and inspiration, backed by empirical research and data, that could enable companies, governments and citizens to attack the climate problem in a holistic and aggressive way. Moreover, many, if not most, of the solutions can be undertaken with little or no new laws or policy, and can be financed profitably by companies and capital markets.

At minimum, “Drawdown” is likely the most hopeful thing you’ll ever read about our ability to take on global warming.

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Crazy Utility Bookkeeping

Okay, here’s the thing. All over the USA, badly managed utilities with strong, well-financed political clout are doing their best to kill solar and other distributed energy systems. They claim that non-solar customers have to foot the bill for maintaining the grid that solar customers use at very little cost. Of course, this is completely false and ignores the financial benefits to utilities of grid-tied solar installations.

For example, I have a grid-tied 4.2 kW system on my roof. I received no subsides from anyone to install it. It’s my investment. As the “net metering” program now stands in Arizona, I’m saving around $600/year with my system. That nets me between 5 and 6% on my investment. That’s a good thing.

My little system also provides most of its electricity to the grid during peak energy demands – from 10 -4 each day. During that time, we use very little electricity, so most of it is flowing to the APS grid. There they can resell that electricity for anywhere between 6 cents to 26 cents per kilowatt hour for the time of use customers. That gives them a healthy profit because I’m giving them the electricity essentially for free. At the end of the year, if I’ve put more electricity into the grid, APS credits my account at less than 3 cents per kWh.

So, if I’m not paying the $20/month for the grid, APS is making more than that by selling the peak electricity I provide to them…free. Also, we residential and commercial solar owners help APS avoid the huge costs of increasing their power generation by building new plants to meet peak demands. That’s worth a lot to a utility. Of course, they do not share this with the utility commissions when they complain about the “costs of solar.”

Here’s an article about what’s going on in Nevada. You can bet that Arizona utilities are learning lessons from the anti-solar wins in their neighboring state.

Read Who Owns the Sun.

Here’s an overview about solar in Arizona.

The Twisted Economics of the Dakota Assess Pipeline

Given the bizarre and possibly corrupt decisions being made in the White House these days, I thought this excellent article was worth posting.

As the weather gets colder, the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline is heating up, in rather ugly ways. Just days before Thanksgiving, law enforcement officers tried to blast the protesters away with water cannons in 25-degree weather and employed other “less than lethal,” though still harmful, dispersal methods. One protester may lose her arm as a result of injuries suffered during the violence. And to top it off, the Army Corps of Engineers plans to close one of the camps of “water protectors” next week, which may embolden law enforcement to take a more forceful approach.

High Country News has reported what’s at stake for the Standing Rock Sioux tribal members and their allies trying to stop or re-route the project: Tribal sovereignty, water, environmental justice, holy lands, treaty-rights and antiquities. Add to that the prospect of more carbon spewing into the atmosphere, and one can see why activists are risking so much to stand in the pipeline’s way.

Less clear is what the $3.78 billion, 1,172-mile-long crude oil pipeline offers in return if and when construction is completed and it goes into operation. Energy Transfer Partners, the project’s main proponent, says that the pipeline will offer jobs, economic relief to a struggling region and, by spurring production of North Dakota Crude, it will take the U.S. closer to the lofty ideal of energy independence.

Construction on the pipeline is about 85 percent complete and it has, indeed, put people to work. Yet it is not clear how many new jobs have been created since the jobs are spread out over 1,000 miles. Rural towns along the pipeline’s corridor have reported a boost in hotel and campground occupancy rates as the contractors move through. That, in turn, generates sales and lodging tax revenues for the local governments. The boost, however, won’t last. In a few months, when (and if) construction is complete, the workers and their spending money will depart. The finished pipeline will require just 40 permanent maintenance and operational jobs along its entire stretch.

Once oil is flowing, property tax revenues — an estimated total of $55 million annually — will kick in. While it’s a big chunk of change, the impacts will be diffused, shared by four states. North and South Dakota are expected to receive about $13 million each, divided between several counties, a drop in the budget bucket (Colorado generates nearly $20 million per month from taxes and fees on marijuana). That said, it might be enough to buy the county sheriffs some more military gear from the Pentagon in order to squelch the next pipeline protest. It will not, however, cover the costs of such squelching: The current law enforcement effort has reportedly cost $15 million so far.

The fact is, pipelines, like transmission lines, don’t have a major economic impact except when they’re built. They otherwise go mostly unnoticed until they spill, burst or explode.

Read more by Jonathan Thompson at High Country News

Energy Efficiency Saves Billions in Maryland

Baltimore, MD—Maryland electric customers will save more than $4 billion due to energy efficiency improvements made at homes and businesses through a successful Maryland program, according to a first-of-its-kind study from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The study, co-authored by a former Maryland Public Service Commission energy analyst, highlights how the first phase of EmPOWER Maryland has yielded substantial economic growth and environmental benefits across the state.

EmPOWER Maryland, enacted in 2008, created energy efficiency programs that are offered through the state’s five largest electric utilities. The program helps homeowners and businesses save energy, partly by offering incentives and technical assistance for adding insulation, sealing air leaks, and installing more efficient appliances. It also facilitates efficient commercial lighting and other improvements at industrial facilities.

ACEEE’s study reveals that EmPOWER Maryland has produced significant benefits, including:

  • More than $4 billion in savings in total customer bills over the life of the improvements, which were made between 2008 and 2015;
  • $1.81 in benefits for every dollar spent on energy efficiency measures as a result of lower wholesale prices for energy, savings from reduced need to build new power plants and power lines, reduced air pollution, and reduced need for electricity production;
  • Total lifetime energy savings of more than 51 million megawatt hours, equivalent to the electricity used by 850,000 residential customers over five years;
  • Reduced emissions of nearly 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, more than 34 million pounds of nitrogen oxides, and nearly 78 million pounds of sulfur dioxide over the lifetime of the programs.

The full study can be viewed at: http://aceee.org/research-report/u1701

“EmPOWER Maryland is an unqualified success story for the state,” said Brendon Baatz, study co-author and utilities policy manager at ACEEE. Yet despite its achievements, Baatz believes the program’s future is not guaranteed: “With Phase One of the program complete, Maryland regulators must now renew their support for EmPOWER Maryland so that consumers and businesses can continue to reap the benefits of lower utility bills and cleaner air.”

“EmPOWER has proven critical for helping us improve the energy efficiency of our affordable multifamily properties, which lowers utility costs and provides healthy homes for our residents” said Trisha Miller, sustainability director for WISHROCK. “At Windsor Valley Apartments, EmPOWER helped fund efficiency improvements that are expected to reduce utility bills by as much as 20% per year. Without EmPOWER, the upfront costs of making these upgrades can be prohibitive in the affordable housing industry.”

The first phase EmPOWER Maryland aimed to reduce per capita electricity usage 10% and peak electricity demand 15% by 2015. The Maryland Public Service Commission, in its annual report to the legislature in 2015, concluded that state utilities achieved 99% of the per capita consumption goal and 100% of the per capita demand reduction goal.

Due in part to the EmPOWER Maryland program, Maryland now ranks as the ninth most energy-efficient state in the nation, according to ACEEE.

How the World Passed a Carbon Threshold…Eek!

Last year will go down in history as the year when the planet’s atmosphere broke a startling record: 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. The last time the planet’s air was so rich in CO2 was millions of years ago, back before early predecessors to humans were likely wielding stone tools; the world was a few degrees hotter back then, and melted ice put sea levels tens of meters higher.

“We’re in a new era,” says Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s CO2 Program in San Diego. “And it’s going fast. We’re going to touch up against 410 pretty soon.”

There’s nothing particularly magic about the number 400. But for environmental scientists and advocates grappling with the invisible, intangible threat of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, this symbolic target has served as a clear red line into a danger zone of climate change.

When scientists (specifically, Ralph Keeling’s father) first started measuring atmospheric CO2 consistently in 1958, at the pristine Mauna Loa mountaintop observatory in Hawaii, the CO2 level stood at 316 parts per million (ppm), just a little higher than the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm. 400 was simply the next big, round number looming in our future.

But as humans kept digging up carbon out of the ground and burning it for fuel, CO2 levels sped faster and faster toward that target. In May 2013, at the time of the usual annual maximum of CO2, the air briefly tipped over the 400 ppm mark for the first time in several million years. In 2014, it stayed above 400 ppm for the whole month of April. By 2015, the annual average was above 400 ppm. And in September 2016, the usual annual low skimmed above 400 ppm for the first time, keeping air concentrations above that symbolic red line all year.

Read more here…

An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump on Clean Energy

Smart Solar EnergyDear President-Elect Trump,

For nearly two decades, we’ve been tracking and chronicling the transition to a clean-energy economy. While we know that we don’t see eye-to-eye with you on all of the issues, we wanted to send you the following “open letter” to update you on the clean-energy business opportunity, and what you might do as president to enable a massive infrastructure build out which supports American jobs and home-grown energy.

First, let us lay out some of the significant facts and figures regarding the transition to clean energy that’s taking place in the U.S. and across the globe:

  • Global investments in clean energy have grown from $62 billion in 2004 to $329 billion last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
  • In the U.S., clean energy, in the form of solar and wind power, now represents the largest share of new additions to electricity capacity. In 2015, wind, solar, and geothermal sources represented nearly 63% of all electricity capacity additions across the country, outpacing natural gas at 34%.
  • Many of the largest, most iconic U.S. corporations, such as General Motors, Google, Nike, and Walmart, are now working to achieve 100% renewable electricity in all of their U.S. and/or global operations. Companies that have reached at least one of these goals include Apple, Kohl’s, and Microsoft.
  • Five states now have mandates and target years to get 50% or more of their electricity from renewable sources. And clean energy deployment crosses the red state/blue state divide. In fact, among the top 10 states last year for percentage of clean-electricity generation, six voted for you in the 2016 presidential election (Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Idaho), and four for your opponent.
  • Americans of all political stripes resoundingly support clean energy. In the latest poll from Pew Research released last month, 89% of Americans favored expanding solar power, and 83% supported expanding wind farms. Backing this up, on Election Day pro-solar policies passed in Nevada, where voters moved forward a constitutional amendment that could break up utility NV Energy’s monopoly, and Florida, where voters rejected a measure that would have prevented third-party ownership of solar.

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What Does the Election Mean for Energy Efficiency

Now that the hard-fought 2016 election is over, I think it is useful to consider its impact on energy efficiency policy. No doubt, a lot of uncertainty remains because of President-elect Donald Trump’s lack of specificity on many issues. Yet given the bi-partisan, good-for-business appeal of energy efficiency, I see potential paths forward and work to be done. Of course, we also need to be ready to defend against legislative or administrative attempts to roll back current energy efficiency policies, programs, and funding, which could wipe out the major energy bill savings, job growth, and health benefits that we have achieved.

President-elect Trump has said very little about energy efficiency, so what happens in a Trump administration is likely to depend on his senior appointments, such as the new secretary of energy and the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump has spoken a bit about climate change, which he called a “hoax” created by the Chinese to suppress the U.S. economy (although he’s tempered these comments more recently).  He’s pledged to end the Clean Power Plan and to withdraw from the Paris climate change treaty. To change either of these could well require a multiyear process but he could also not do much to follow through on either of these and let them be essentially unimplemented. And years ago, he said green buildings have not been perfected yet and that it takes 40 years to get your money back (see here).

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