Business & Innovation
Five Questions For Jerry Brown
On the West Coast Climate Pact
California Governor Jerry Brown was one of the moving forces behind a new agreement among three Western states and British Columbia to align their policies to combat climate change. Under the pact, signed on Oct.
28 by Brown and the governors of Oregon and Washington, the states and the province agreed to a series of actions, including putting a price on carbon and adopting a low-carbon fuels standard. Yale Environment 360
spoke with Brown and asked him five questions about the pact and overall efforts to tackle climate change.
05 Dec 2013:
Urban Car Use Declines
As Biking and Public Transit Rise in the U.S.
Americans in urban areas are driving less, biking more, owning fewer cars, and using public transportation more frequently, according to new research by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group
(U.S. PIRG). The number of people driving to work fell in 99 of 100 major urban areas between 2006 and 2011, and the number of miles driven by car fell in three-quarters of the cities studied over that time, the PIRG study showed. The proportion of people biking to work increased in 85 of 100 cities, while the number of miles traveled on public transit increased in 60 of 98 cities. Meanwhile, the number of people working from home grew in all 100 cities, the report said. From 2004 to 2012, the average number of vehicle-miles driven per person decreased by 7.6 percent nationwide. "There is a shift away from driving,” said Phineas Baxandall, an analyst for the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. "Instead of expanding new highways, our government leaders should focus on investing in public transit and biking for the future."
27 Nov 2013:
China Set to Open
World's Second Largest Carbon Market
China is in the midst of launching seven carbon markets, the largest of which will open next month in Guangdong
, the country's most populous province. The carbon markets are a key element of China's plan to cut carbon emissions by up to 45 percent per unit of GDP by 2020. The Guangdong carbon permitting scheme will cap 2013 emissions at 350 tons for 202 companies in the heavily industrialized province. Twenty-nine million permits will be auctioned in the market this year and next, which will be the world's second largest carbon market after the European Union's, dwarfing carbon markets in Australia and California. In 2015 the number of permits auctioned will more than triple, officials said. Shanghai's carbon market launched yesterday and a similar market, about a quarter of the size of Guangdong's, is set to open in Beijing tomorrow. China's seven carbon markets together will regulate roughly 700 to 800 million tons of CO2 annually, roughly equal to the annual emissions of Germany.
Fish 2.0: A Contest Seeks to Foster
A More Sustainable Seafood Industry
Twenty pioneers in the sustainable seafood business climbed a stage at Stanford University in November in an effort to woo the judges at the Fish 2.0 contest
Click to Enlarge
HM Terry Co.
The winning project connects fishermen directly to customers.
with proposals on how to change the way the U.S. catches, distributes, and markets fish. A business competition at heart, Fish 2.0 brought together entrepreneurs and investors to spur innovation in the tradition-bound seafood industry. Competitors's proposals ranged from converting waste at fish processing plants to expanding a Hawaiian network of aquaponic growers, who raise fish and vegetables together in tanks, into the developing world. One proposal aimed to create a data system to track catches in real time, enabling fisheries managers to hold the line on harvests. Contestants headed home with more than $75,000 in prize money. Read more.
20 Nov 2013:
Low-Income Solar Project
Is Recognized at U.N. Climate Talks
An Australia-based solar start-up company was recognized at the U.N. climate change talks in Warsaw for its work replacing highly polluting kerosene lamps with solar lighting in low-income regions of India. The company, Pollinate Energy, trains members of local communities to install household solar-powered lights in India's slums, where families often rely on kerosene for lighting. So far the project has installed solar-powered lighting systems for 10,000 people in 250 of Bangalore’s slum communities, in turn saving 40,000 liters of kerosene and 100,000 kilograms of carbon emissions, RenewEconomy reports
. The solar lighting systems are cheaper to operate than kerosene lamps and are less polluting and dangerous than kerosene, which can cause house fires and severe burns. The nonprofit project started in Bangalore — home to some of India's worst slums — as a way for children to do schoolwork after sunset. Pollinate Energy trains local installers to distribute and install the lighting systems as micro-entrepreneurs, which they call "pollinators."
Interview: How Big Agriculture
Has Thwarted Factory Farm Reforms
In 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a landmark report
that condemned the way the U.S. raised its cattle, pigs, and
chickens and made a sweeping series of recommendations on how to reduce the severe environmental and public health problems created by the current system. Last month, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future released a study
analyzing the fate of these reforms and reached a stark conclusion: The power of the industrial agriculture lobby had blunted nearly all attempts at change. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Robert Martin, co-author of the Johns Hopkins report, discusses what went wrong and how reforms can proceed. One hopeful sign, says Martin, is "there are more and more people who are concerned about where their food comes from and how it’s produced."Read the interview.
07 Nov 2013:
Grand Canyon 'Zombie'
Uranium Mine on Hold for Financial Reasons
The reopening of a major uranium mine near the Grand Canyon has been put on hold until December 2014 or whenever a federal court rules on the proposed revival of the mine, the Guardian reports
. The owner of Canyon
Grand Canyon's South Rim
Mine, Energy Fuels Resources, cited falling uranium prices, which have reached a near five-year low, and litigation costs as reasons for the decision. In April the Canyon Mine and other so-called "zombie mines"
were given federal approval to reopen based on their rights at the time they closed, despite an Obama administration ban on new hard-rock mines in areas larger than 1 million acres. Grand Canyon National Park officials say reopening the Canyon Mine, located six miles from the popular South Rim entrance, and other uranium mines could affect scarce water sources in the area. Environmental groups and the Havasupai Indian tribe sued the U.S. government in 2012, contending the environmental review of the mine's impacts was outdated.
05 Nov 2013:
Beijing To Limit New Cars
By 40 Percent in Anti-Pollution Drive
In an effort to reduce severe air pollution in the Chinese capital, Beijing will limit by 40 percent the number of new cars sold annually for the next four years, cutting license plate allocations from 240,000 to 150,000 each
Chang'an avenue in Beijing
year. The cap, which should also help ease the capital's worsening traffic congestion, means Beijing will license only 600,000 new cars between 2014 and 2017 — fewer than in 2010 alone, Reuters reports
. By 2017, 40 percent of those licenses, which drivers vie for in auctions and lotteries, will be reserved for hybrid and electric cars. New car sales in China are currently capped in four cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Guiyang — and the government plans to limit sales in eight additional cities, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said.
04 Nov 2013:
Treaties May Not Be The
Key to Global Sustainable Development
Sweeping international treaties are no longer the key for charting the planet’s path to sustainable development, according to international leaders gathered at the “Rio+20 to 2015” conference last week. Instead, they said, partnerships among governments, businesses, and NGOs hold the most promise for measurable progress on sustainability issues, including climate change. "There’s been an enormous focus on treaties," Hans Hoogeveen, director general of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, told the conference at Yale University. "Lawyers and diplomats think they can rule the world, govern the world, from New York, Nairobi, or Rome. I think we have to learn that this not reality anymore." The United Nations convened a summit in Rio in 2012 to secure sustainability commitments from private businesses, societal groups, and leaders at all levels of government. Last week’s conference sought to develop recommendations for producing timely, measurable results from those commitments before international talks planned for Paris in 2015.Read more
28 Oct 2013:
Underground Heat From
Cities Could Help Power Them, Study Says
The heat generated by urban areas and their buildings, factories, sewers, and transportation systems could be used to power those cities, according to a new study by German and Swiss researchers
. Thermal energy produced by the so-called "urban heat island effect" warms shallow aquifers lying below cities, and geothermal and groundwater heat pumps could tap into those warm reservoirs to heat and cool buildings, the scientists say. In the southwest German city of Karlsruhe, the researchers found that the city of 300,000 generated 1 petajoule of heat per year — enough to heat 18,000 households. Karlsruhe's underground heat production increased by about 10 percent over the past three decades, the team reported in Environmental Science and Technology
. The biggest contributors to the city's underground heat flux were its densely populated residential areas and surface temperature increases associated with paving. Sewage pipes, underground district heating networks, and thermal waste water discharges also contribute to warming shallow aquifers, the study found.
Above a Whole Foods Market,
A Greenhouse Grows in Brooklyn
By the end of this year, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, will witness the completion of a cutting-edge partnership in urban agriculture and retail — a 20,000-square-foot rooftop greenhouse built on a Whole Foods
Gotham Greens' existing greenhouse in Brooklyn.
supermarket. Atop this newly constructed store in Gowanus, Brooklyn, Gotham Greens
, a New York company that grows greenhouse vegetables, plans to grow leafy vegetables and tomatoes, which will be sold at the store below and at other Whole Food markets. Scheduled for completion in December, Gotham Greens says the new facility will be capable of producing 150 tons of produce each year, a significant increase over the capacity of the company’s existing 100-ton-per-year solar-powered rooftop greenhouse in nearby Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Read more.
25 Oct 2013:
Major Pension Funds Question
Long-Term Outlook for Fossil Fuel Profits
Leaders from some of the largest pension funds in the U.S. and the world are concerned about the future profitability of fossil fuel companies, and they have asked those companies to report on their plans for managing a long-term shift
toward renewable energy. Managers of 70 major pension funds, which together control about $3 trillion in investments, asked 45 of the world's largest coal, oil, gas, and electric power companies to complete the profitability studies by spring. The pension funds are concerned that, because large investments in fossil fuel exploration take decades to recoup, future legislation could limit production or regulate expensive pollution controls that will significantly cut profitability. "The scientific trajectory that we're on is clearly in conflict" with the business strategy of the companies
, Jack Ehnes, the head of the California's State Teachers' Retirement System, told the AP. "We've been pleasantly surprised by the seriousness" of some of the fossil fuel companies, who are "not just blowing us off," a spokesman for the coalition that is coordinating the efforts told the AP.
24 Oct 2013:
Electric Vehicle Sales
On the Rise in 2013, New Analysis Shows
By the end of August, 59,000 electric vehicles had been sold in the U.S. this year — more than during all of 2012, a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)
shows. Over the past three years,
Americans purchased more than 140,000 electric vehicles (EVs), which have saved more than 40 million gallons of gas each year, the report notes. California is the leader, with 29 percent of all U.S. plug-in vehicle purchases made this year. EV sales rates have more than doubled in that state over the past year, according to the report. Although East and West coast cities continue to be hotspots for EV sales, purchases are picking up in cities like Denver, St. Louis, and Dallas, the report says
21 Oct 2013:
French Utility Company
Agrees to Build Major Nuclear Plant in U.K.
The British government and the French state-controlled utility company, EDF Group, have agreed to build the U.K.'s first nuclear power plant in a generation. The new plant, to be built at Hinkley Point in southwest England, is part of the British government's ongoing efforts to cut carbon emissions in half by the mid-2020s. To meet that goal, the U.K. plans to renew some of its existing nuclear plants and build several new plants to replace aging ones, the New York Times reports
. Once completed, the Hinkley Point nuclear power station will supply 7 percent of the country's electricity — enough to power 6 million homes. Consumers and taxpayers will cover most of the projected £16 ($26 billion) overall cost, but the proposed project is expected to face opposition since EDF will be guaranteed a price of roughly £90 ($145) per megawatt hour for 35 years, a rate that is considerably higher than current electricity costs.
18 Oct 2013:
Austrian Team Wins U.S.
Department of Energy Solar Competition
Employing creative ventilation and natural wood, a team from Austria won the 2013 Solar Decathlon
, a biennial competition for solar houses sponsored by U.S.
Department of Energy. The winning design features large living spaces with natural ventilation that helps the house maintain comfortable temperature and humidity levels, and is 96 percent wood. "It was important to us to use wood, because we have a lot of forests in Austria," team member Philipp Klebert told Fast Co.Exist
. "We wanted to make a statement about sustainability in that respect." Floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall sliding-glass doors, combined with an open floor plan, cool the house quickly and with minimal energy consumption. Among other guidelines, all Solar Decathlon entries must produce as much solar energy as they consume, and houses are scored in 10 categories
ranging from affordability to home entertainment. One of the team's sponsors is planning to market the design, perhaps as a self-assembly kit, Fast Co.Exist reports.
10 Oct 2013:
Carbon Capture and Storage
Projects Lagging Worldwide, Study Finds
Major projects aiming at capturing and burying carbon dioxide underground have slowed worldwide, according to a study by the Global CCS Institute in Australia
. Despite the common view among experts that carbon
Otway CCS project, Victoria, Australia
capture and storage (CCS) technologies could play a crucial role in slowing the atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases, the number of major CCS projects fell from 75 to 65 over the past year. Although the U.S. currently leads the world in CCS projects, most of them involve pumping carbon into old oil wells to stimulate additional oil production. China, the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide, seems poised to become the new leader in CCS, with 12 projects in the works, the study noted. A major hurdle for the growth of CCS has been the lack of investments in projects based on new technologies, the analysts said. CCS technology has so far not proven to be commercially viable, The New York Times
30 Sep 2013:
Ikea to Sell Home Solar Panels
In All British Stores Within a Year
The Swedish furniture retailer Ikea will begin selling residential solar panels in its 17 UK stores within the next 10 months. The basic package's $9,500 price tag will include 18 panels, installation, maintenance,
design consultation, and energy monitoring. With energy savings and current green energy subsidies in the UK, consumers should typically earn as much as $1,244 per year and break even in about seven years, Ikea said. Great Britain's heavily subsidized green energy market is smaller than other European countries', but it has shown steady growth, rising 25 percent in the last year, the Guardian reports
. The decision by the world's largest furniture retailer comes after a successful test run at a store outside London, where solar panel sales averaged one unit per day. Ikea has not announced plans to sell units in the U.S., where some utility companies have sought an end to public subsidies of
residential solar installations.
17 Sep 2013:
Major Company Backs Out
Of Pebble Mine Project in Alaska
A major mining company has withdrawn its participation in Alaska's Pebble Mine project, dimming the controversial project's prospects of moving forward, the Anchorage Daily News reports
. The British Mining giant, Anglo American, said it was pulling out of the project to focus on lower-risk mining ventures — a tacit acknowledgment that opposition among fishermen,
Bristol Bay watershed
indigenous groups, and environmentalists was making it increasingly unlikely that the Pebble Mine would receive the necessary state and federal approvals. The opposition is focused on concerns that the massive gold and copper mine would threaten Bristol Bay and endanger the world's richest wild salmon fishery
. Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian company, continues to back the project, but a company official said the firm would have trouble moving forward without a partner.
10 Sep 2013:
New Prize is Created to
Improve Measurements of Ocean Acidity
Philanthropist Wendy Schmidt is offering $2 million in prize money
to inventors who can develop inexpensive and easily deployable sensors to measure ocean acidification. The Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X Prize
is offering $1 million to the team that invents the most accurate sensors to measure the ocean’s acidity and $1 million to the team that devises the most affordable and easy-to-use sensors. Biologist Paul Bunje, a senior executive for oceans at the X-Prize Foundation, said that because current ocean acidity sensors can cost more than $5,000, very little is known about the pace of ocean acidification in various regions and depths. The goal, said Bunje, is to deploy many thousands of sensors worldwide. Rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide mean that more CO2 is being dissolved in the oceans, steadily making them more acidic.
How High Tech Is Helping
Bring Clean Water to Rural India
Social entrepreneur Anand Shah runs Sarvajal, a company that seeks to bring clean water to remote villages in India by deploying solar-powered “water
ATMs,” which dispense water to residents with the swipe of a prepaid smart card. Sarvajal, launched in 2008, currently serves more than 110,000 rural customers and is now is moving into India’s urban slums, where people often spend hours a day waiting for trucks to deliver clean water. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Shah talks about the challenges of expanding access to clean water in India and the lessons his company has learned from its first five years of operation. “The solutions came from what we actually saw in the field, rather than being invented elsewhere,” he says, “and that’s what makes it work.”
Read the interview.
16 Aug 2013:
Ecuador Abandons Moratorium
On Oil Drilling in Biodiverse Yasuni Park
The Ecuadorian government has abandoned its moratorium on oil drilling in Yasuni National Park
as a proposal to protect the park with the help of international donations fell apart. In a nationally televised speech, President Rafael Correa blamed the failure of the ambitious conservation plan on a lack of funds, saying that a UN-administered trust fund had raised only $13 million of the $3.6 billion target. Located in eastern Ecuador, where the Amazon basin ascends into the Andes, Yasuni is home to an unprecedented number of animal and plant species
. According to a 2010 study
, one section of the park held at least 200 species of mammals, 247 amphibian and reptile species, and 550 species of birds. But Yasuni also sits atop an estimated 1 billion barrels of oil. Correa had said Ecuador would forego oil income and protect the park if foreign donors would contribute billions of dollars to compensate for the loss of oil revenue.
08 Aug 2013:
Conventional Hybrids Better
For Climate than EVs in Most U.S. States
Conventional gas-powered hybrid vehicles are still better for the climate than all-electric cars in most U.S. states, in part because these states still rely heavily on fossil fuels to produce electricity, according to a new report
. In 39 states, high-efficiency hybrids, such as the
Toyota Prius, produce fewer carbon emissions during their lifecycle than the least-polluting electric cars, an analysis by Climate Central found. Although an increased reliance on cleaner energy sources in some parts of the country doubled the number of states (32) where driving electric cars would be more environmentally friendly, that advantage disappeared when analysts also considered the high emissions associated with building the batteries and other components for the EVs. In 11 states, the best all-electric cars are better for the environment than gas-powered hybrids, even when manufacturing is taken into account. In 26 states, plug-in hybrid cars are the most climate-friendly vehicles, the analysis found.
07 Aug 2013:
Mimicking Cactus Design,
Scientists Devise Oil Spill Cleanup Method
Chinese researchers have developed a method of removing oil from polluted water using tiny barbed spikes that mimic the natural design of a cactus
The cactus opuntia microdasys
Writing in the journal Nature Communications
, the Beijing-based researchers describe how arrays of tiny copper spikes, similar to the cone-shaped spikes of a type of cactus known as Opuntia microdasys
, are able to collect micron-sized oil droplets that might otherwise be difficult to remove from water. The copper spikes are extremely thin at their point but get wider as they get closer to the base, creating a pressure difference that pulls droplets of oil toward the artificial skin-like surface. The oil then coalesces at the base of the cone, which can then be removed from the water. “Each conical needle in the array is a little oil collection device,” said Lei Jiang, lead author of the report. In tests, the researchers found that the needle arrays were able to remove about 99 percent of oil content from water, suggesting that the design could lead to new methods of cleaning up oil spills.
06 Aug 2013:
Timelapse Map Illustrates
Steep Growth of U.S. Wind Energy
The U.S. installed more than 13 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity in 2012, nearly doubling the amount of wind power installations added in 2011 and pushing the
total capacity connected to the grid nationally to 60 gigawatts, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy
(DOE). That capacity represents enough electricity to power 15 million homes annually, officials say, adding that for the first time wind energy has become the top source of new electricity generation in the U.S. To coincide with the report, the DOE published an interactive map
illustrating the steep growth in wind projects nationwide, particularly in the last decade. The map shows that until the mid-1990s, only a few dozen wind projects existed, all in California. But by 2000, projects started appearing in states nationwide, particularly in Texas and Iowa. In the past two decades the number of wind energy projects has increased from 49 to 815, the DOE said.
05 Aug 2013:
New Deep-Rooted Rice
Shows Greater Resistance to Drought
Japanese scientists say they have developed a rice plant with deeper roots
that could yield a more drought-resistant variety of rice. Writing in the journal Nature Genetics
, a team of scientists describes the discovery of gene that causes a rice strain known as Kinandang Patong, grown in the dry upland of the Philippines, to send longer roots into the soil, allowing the plant to extract water from deeper soil layers. After splicing the gene with a commonly grown rice strain, called IR64, the scientists found that the maximum root depths were more than twice those of the typical plants. After exposing both strains to moderate and severe drought conditions, the researchers found that yields of the standard variety fell significantly in moderate drought conditions and collapsed altogether in severe drought, while the modified strains were not affected by moderate drought and yields declined only 30 percent in severe drought.
31 Jul 2013:
Desert Tree Plantings
Could Lower Atmospheric CO2 Levels
The large-scale planting of jatropha trees in the world’s arid regions could help reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide
, a new study says. Using computer models and data from plantations in Egypt, India, and
Madagascar, a team of German scientists calculated that plantations of the durable, scrubby jatropha — which can also be used as a biofuel — could capture 17 to 25 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare annually. Jatropha is particularly suited for so-called “carbon farming” because it can grow in hot, dry regions where the soil is unsuitable for food crops, according to the study, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics
. In addition, the researchers estimate that there are about 1 billion hectares of “unused and marginal” land suitable for cultivating such tree plantations. Since jatropha trees do require some water, the authors suggest they should be planted near coastal regions where desalinated seawater could be accessible.
In Vermont Boat Project, A New
Model for Carbon-Free Shipping
A new sailing barge was launched last month that its backers hope will soon be in the vanguard of a new carbon-neutral shipping alternative. The Vermont Sail Freight Project
hopes to prove that carbon-neutral boats
Vermont Sail Freight Project
The Ceres will haul produce to New York.
can be a viable shipping method for the 21st century, connecting small-scale farmers in Vermont and upstate New York with customers along the Hudson River south to New York City — all while reducing the substantial greenhouse gas emissions that come from conventional shipping of produce by trucks. If all goes as planned, the 39-foot Ceres sailing vessel will this fall begin its 300-mile voyage to New York, delivering pre-ordered produce to customers along the route. This project is one of a growing number of efforts to revive sail-powered transport in connection with sustainable agriculture in the U.S. and Europe. Read more
25 Jul 2013:
Mapping of Oil Palm Genome
Could Boost Productivity of Key Crop
Scientists say they have identified the gene responsible for the yield of oil palm crops, a discovery that could boost the productivity of the world’s top source of
vegetable oil and help reduce the size of oil palm plantations in the world’s tropical regions. Writing in the journal Nature
, Malaysian and U.S. researchers describe the mapping of the genome of the oil palm, whose products are used in everything from food to cosmetics to biofuels. According to the scientists, the so-called “shell gene” controls “how the thickness of its shell correlates to fruit size and oil yield
.” The fruit of the African palm oil tree comes in three varieties
: a thick-shelled dura, a shell-less pisifera, and a thin-shelled tenera, which produces a greater oil yield. According to scientists, the shell gene plays a key role in a mutation that produces the more commercially productive tenera variety.
22 Jul 2013:
‘Demand Response’ Programs
Saved Crucial Electricity During Heat Wave
As electricity producers struggled to supply power during last week’s heat wave along the U.S. East Coast, so-called “demand response” programs — which enable utilities to remotely reduce power usage in participating businesses and homes — were vital in avoiding blackouts
, utility officials said. The Wall Street Journal
reports that as electricity usage in New York state set a record on Friday, demand response programs produced energy savings equivalent to the output of two large power plants, just as the state was running dangerously low on power. Demand response programs enable utilities to dim lights, turn down air conditioners, and delay freezer-defrost cycles in the freezer cases of stores. Participating businesses and individuals get credits on their utility bills. Numerous states have demand response programs, and federal officials say these programs are capable of cutting peak U.S. electricity demand by 72,000 megawatts, or 9.2 percent.
12 Jul 2013:
Europe’s Offshore Wind Sector
Is Growing, But Troubles Lie Ahead
European nations installed a record number of offshore wind turbines
during the first half of 2013, adding more than twice the capacity installed during the same period in 2012, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), an industry group. A total of 277 new turbines in seven wind farms were fully connected to the grid during the six-month period, adding 1,045 megawatts of capacity, with another 130 turbines installed but awaiting connection, the group says in a new report
. Although the new turbines bumped Europe’s total offshore wind energy capacity to 6,040 megawatts, officials say the sector’s growth is already slowing as a result of regulatory uncertainty in key countries. While European nations such as Germany and the UK have relied on large-scale wind projects to achieve renewable energy targets by 2020, the lack of a binding target for 2030 will cause growth to stall, said Justin Wilkes, EWEA’s policy director. “Financing of new projects has slowed down with only one project reaching financial close so far this year,” he said.