Forum: What the Pope Should
Say in His Upcoming UN Address
In his June encyclical, Pope Francis issued a call for robust individual action and a sweeping transformation of global economic and
political systems to deal with the dual threats of climate change and environmental degradation. On Sept. 25, he will bring aspects of that message to the United Nations. Yale Environment 360
asked leading thinkers on the environment and religion what they would like the pope to say before the U.N. While many said the pope’s encyclical was a potentially transformative moment for stewardship of the planet, others would like Pope Francis to speak out about issues he overlooked or dismissed, including the role of population growth in environmental problems and the vital part that the private sector must play in combating global warming.
14 Sep 2015:
Global Solar Panel Production
Rate Slowed in Recent Years, Analysis Finds
Solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing has been growing at a slower rate in recent years, increasing by only 4 percent
Solar panel manufacturing facility
annually from 2011 to 2013, compared to an average annual growth of 78 percent from 2006 to 2011, says a U.S. Energy Information Administration
analysis. Globally, solar PV production facilities are producing far fewer solar panels than their maximum capacity allows, the report says. The peak for that metric occurred in 2011, at 70 percent, when 36.6 gigawatts of solar PV modules were produced globally, while the maximum capacity was 52 gigawatts. The slowdown may be explained by complaints of unfair trade practices originating in China, the EIA says. An investigation found that Chinese solar PV modules were being dumped below cost on the U.S. market, and the U.S. Department of Commerce recently enacted anti-dumping measures on Chinese PV modules. The market is reacting to the slow growth by downsizing workforces and consolidating solar PV manufacturing companies, the analysis says.
09 Sep 2015:
Natural Gas Pipeline Updates
Can Cut Greenhouse Gas Leaks by 90 Percent
Pipeline replacement programs in cities can cut natural gas leaks by 90 percent, curbing the release of the powerful greenhouse gas
Detecting natural gas leaks in Times Square, NYC.
methane and boosting public safety, according to a study
published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters
. Researchers drove cars equipped with sensitive methane-mapping instruments through thousands of miles of city streets in Manhattan, Boston, Cincinnati, Durham, and Washington, D.C. They discovered that Durham and Cincinnati, where public-private partnerships have replaced outdated pipelines, have 90 percent fewer gas leaks per mile than Manhattan, Boston, and Washington, D.C., where hundreds of miles of corroded natural gas pipes date back to the 1800s. Researchers estimate that, in the U.S. alone, $2 billion worth of natural gas was lost to leaks last year.
02 Sep 2015:
Alaskan Wind Power Capacity
Increased 20 Fold since 2007, Report Says
Alaska’s wind power capacity increased 20 fold between 2007 and 2014, from 3 megawatts to 60 megawatts, according to an
Pillar Mountain wind farm on Alaska's Kodiak Island
by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The state, which is known for its vast oil reserves, increased wind power capacity with a blend of utility-scale and distributed, or small-scale, projects. The marked increase is especially notable because Alaska's immense area and sparse population make expanding the grid and adapting it to renewables costly, and the rugged terrain poses unique challenges for installing utility-scale wind farms. In the most remote areas, the cost of building transmission lines is prohibitively high, and in those regions, small-scale and household wind projects bring renewable energy to consumers who once relied on diesel generators. But despite wind power's strong growth, Alaska drew only 3 percent of its energy from wind in 2014.
31 Aug 2015:
Researchers Develop Artificial
Leaf That Efficiently Mimics Photosynthesis
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have developed an artificial leaf that can produce hydrogen fuel through
Artificial leaf device
a process similar to photosynthesis, according to findings
published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science
. The system is the first complete, efficient, and safe solar-driven device for splitting water to create hydrogen fuels, say the researchers, who have been seeking a cost-effective method for producing energy using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. The new system consists of two electrodes that produce oxygen and hydrogen gases, along with a specialized membrane that keeps the gases separate to prevent the possibility of an explosion. The artificial leaf converts 10 percent of the energy in sunlight into hydrogen fuel and can operate for more than 40 hours continuously, the study says.
27 Aug 2015:
NASA Study Quantifies Plants'
Role in Mitigating Urban Heat Island Effect
The presence or scarcity of vegetation is an essential factor in determining how much urban areas heat up, according to a NASA study
Using data from multiple satellites, the researchers found that areas covered in part by impervious surfaces such as asphalt, concrete, and steel had an average summer temperature 3.4 degrees F higher than nearby rural areas. The highest U.S. urban temperatures compared to surrounding areas were along the Interstate-95 corridor from Boston to Washington and around Atlanta and the I-85 corridor in the Southeast. In desert cities such as Phoenix, the urban area was actually cooler because irrigated lawns and trees provide cooling that dry, rocky areas do not, the researchers explain. The urban heat island effect occurs primarily during the day, when impervious surfaces in cities absorb more sunlight than surrounding vegetated areas.
26 Aug 2015:
U.S. Shale Gas Production
Expected to Fall for First Time, Report Says
Natural gas production from all seven major shale formations in the U.S. is projected to drop next month for the first time since
Monthly change in shale gas production
the shale gas boom began in earnest roughly a decade ago, according to an analysis
from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Major shale regions produced gas at a record-high rate of 45.6 billion cubic feet per day in May, but that rate is expected to drop to 44.9 billion cubic feet per day in September, the report says. It attributes the decline to existing, legacy wells becoming significantly less productive and a substantial drop in the number of drilling rigs in each of the seven major shale regions since September 2014. New wells are being established, the EIA notes, but they are not producing enough natural gas to offset expected declines from legacy wells.
21 Aug 2015:
Retiring Nuclear Power Plants
Undermines Clean Power Plan, Report Says
If U.S. nuclear power plants are retired early or phased out completely, greenhouse gas emissions could revert back
Salem Nuclear Power Plant in southern New Jersey
to 2005 levels and undermine nearly all progress the power sector has made over the last decade in lowering carbon emissions, according to an analysis
by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Third Way. The group found that retired nuclear plants would predominantly be replaced with natural gas power plants, not renewable energy sources, because renewables would not be able to keep pace with lost nuclear capacity. In fact, retiring any of the nation's 99 nuclear power plants would make it extremely difficult to meet the EPA Clean Power Plan's emissions reductions targets of a 32 percent cut below 2005 levels, the group found. Nuclear power currently provides 20 percent of U.S. electricity and 63 percent of its emissions-free power.
Solar Decathlon: The Search for
The Best Carbon-Neutral House
What’s the latest in well-designed, energy-efficient solar homes? The U.S. Department of Energy has invited 15 teams from colleges across the country to design and build affordable, energy-efficient, and attractive solar-powered houses for the 2015 Solar Decathlon. In addition to functioning as comfortable homes, the houses in the competition must produce at least as much energy as they consume. Here, e360
takes a look at some of this year's entries, which will be on display in Irvine, California, this October. These houses have been engineered to not only embrace energy efficiency and sustainable design, but also to meet the diverse needs of their future inhabitants, from food production to storm protection and disaster relief.
View the houses.
19 Aug 2015:
Muslim Scholars Issue Call
To End Fossil Fuel Use and Protect Climate
Prominent Muslim scholars have urged world leaders to end the use of fossil fuels and have asked the planet's 1.6 billion Muslims to consider it their religious duty to slow global warming. The declaration was presented
this week during the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul. It says that governments of wealthy nations, including oil-producing countries, should be "phasing out their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible and no later than the middle of the century." The declaration includes harsh criticism of developed nations, which the scholars blame for delaying a comprehensive, global agreement on climate change. “Their reluctance to share in the burden they have imposed on the rest of the human community by their own profligacy is noted with great concern,” the document says. Earlier this year, Pope Francis also issued a major statement calling on world leaders and the 1.2 billion Catholics to take better care of the planet.
17 Aug 2015:
Cost of Distributed Solar Power
Fell for Fifth Straight Year, Report Says
Prices for both residential and non-residential solar energy systems fell in 2014, marking the fifth consecutive year of declining
costs for solar photovoltaic systems, according to
an analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Residential rooftop solar panels in the U.S. cost 40 cents per watt less than the same systems in 2013, and prices for non-residential systems fell by 70 cents per watt. In the first half of this year, costs in a number of large markets fell by an additional 20 to 50 cents per watt, the report says. Photovoltaic equipment costs have remained relatively stable since 2012, so the lower prices are primarily due to reductions in "soft" costs such as marketing, labor, permits, and inspections, analysts say.
14 Aug 2015:
Climate Impact of Wasted Meat
Much Larger Than Other Foods, Study Finds
Researchers analyzing food waste
at university cafeterias found that, although discarded meats accounted for less waste
than fruits and vegetables, they made up the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions associated with food waste. After monitoring four all-you-care-to-eat dining facilities at the University of Missouri, the researchers found
that grain products were thrown away most often, followed by fruits, vegetables, beef, and poultry. Diners wasted roughly twice as much bread and cereal by weight than they did meat and eggs; but because protein production is very carbon-intensive, the carbon footprint of wasted meat and eggs was about three times larger than that of all other wasted foods combined. Overall, 16 percent of the cafeterias' food was wasted, leading to roughly 67 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Of those emissions, discarded beef alone accounted for slightly more than half, the analysis found.
11 Aug 2015:
Cost of Producing Wind Power
Reached a New Low in the U.S. Last Year
The cost of generating wind power in the U.S. fell to its lowest level ever last year, according to a report
from the Department of Energy. Utility companies purchased wind power for 2.35 cents per kilowatt-hour on average last year, making the price of wind energy competitive with conventional power sources in many parts of the country. Wind power now meets on average 4.9 percent of the nation's electricity demand, the DOE analysis found, and nine states used wind to produce more than 12 percent of their electricity. Iowa and South Dakota produced more than a quarter of their electricity from wind, Kansas generated roughly 22 percent from wind, and Texas remained the leading state for wind installations
in 2014. With a total installed capacity of 66 gigawatts, the U.S. now ranks second only to China in wind power capacity.
07 Aug 2015:
New Zealand Will Shutter Last
Remaining Coal Power Plants, Officials Say
New Zealand will close its last remaining coal plants and rely even more heavily on renewable sources for its electricity needs,
Buller Coalfield, South Island, New Zealand
the country's energy minister announced
Thursday. New Zealand already has the fourth-largest share of renewable electricity generation in the world, with roughly 80 percent of its energy needs met by renewables. The final two coal-fired power plants will shut down by December 2018, according to the utility company running the plants, which cited changing market conditions that have made coal power unnecessary in New Zealand. The nation has been using coal to fill gaps in dry years, when hydropower could not meet the grid's demand. But recent investments in wind and, particularly, geothermal energy have made that stopgap measure unnecessary, the energy minister said. The country has pledged ahead of the Paris climate summit to cut emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
06 Aug 2015:
Mimicking Butterfly Wings Can
Improve Efficiency of Solar Energy Systems
Solar-concentrating photovoltaic systems can produce nearly 50 percent more power by mimicking the V-shaped wing
Cabbage white butterfly
formation certain butterflies exhibit before take-off, say researchers at the University of Exeter. The cabbage white butterfly warms its muscles before flight by placing its wings in the shape of a "V" to maximize the concentration of solar energy onto its thorax. This behavior, known as reflectance basking, increases the butterfly's thorax temperature by roughly 13 degrees F compared to flat wings, the researchers found. When reflective panels are arranged around a concentrating photovoltaic system in the same way, this wing-like configuration increases the power-to-weight ratio of the solar energy system by 17-fold, making it vastly more efficient, the researchers explain in the journal Scientific Reports
. The team showed that replicating the single layer of highly reflective scale cells found in the butterfly wings could also improve power-to-weight ratios of solar concentrators.
05 Aug 2015:
Emissions From U.S. Power
Plants Reached 27-Year Low, Report Says
Electric power plants in the U.S. emitted less carbon dioxide in April than they have in any month since April 1988 — a 27-year low — according to an analysis by the Energy Information Administration
. The report said the electric power sector has made major strides in improving efficiency and lowering its carbon footprint, producing significantly more electricity while lowering CO2 emissions. Renewable energy production has more than doubled since 1988, the use of natural gas to produce electricity has more than tripled, and coal consumption has decreased by 17 percent, the EIA report says. Natural gas plants are now about 25 to 30 percent more efficient than coal plants in terms of power generation, and they emit 71 to 79 percent less carbon dioxide than coal plants.
24 Jul 2015:
European Union Is Increasingly
Turning to Wind Power, Analysis Finds
The European Union met 8 percent of its electricity demand with wind power last year, up from roughly 7 percent in 2012,
Wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands
according to a report
by the Joint Research Center, the European Commission's in-house science service. That's equal to the combined total electricity consumption of Belgium, Ireland, Greece, and the Netherlands, the report notes, and it is a heartening sign for the E.U. wind power sector, which had seen turbine installations decline in 2013. Denmark generated enough wind power to meet 40 percent of its electricity demand, and in Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, wind's share made up between 19 and 25 percent of final consumption. Fifteen other E.U. nations generated 4 percent or more of their electricity from wind. By 2020, wind energy will provide at least 12 percent of Europe's electricity, the analysis says. Globally, wind power has grown dramatically over the last two decades, soaring from 3.5 gigawatts in 1994 to roughly 370 gigawatts by the end of 2014.
21 Jul 2015:
California Almonds Have
Smaller Climate Impact Than Many Foods
California almonds could become carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative if growers were to make full use of practices such
Almonds growing in an orchard
as shell, hull, and biomass recycling, according to new research in the Journal of Industrial Ecology
. Eighty percent of the world's almonds come from the drought-stricken state, and production operations there have drawn much ire since studies showed
that almonds are a particularly water-intensive crop. However, the new research shows that the energy and greenhouse gas footprints of almonds can be lessened by, for example, using shells, hulls, and orchard biomass to generate electricity or feed dairy cows. "Our research shows 1 kilogram of California almonds typically results in less than 1 kilogram of CO2 emissions," said author Alissa Kendall, which is "a lower carbon footprint than many other nutrient- and energy-dense foods."
20 Jul 2015:
Nuclear Rush Will Make China
Third-Largest Nuclear Generator by 2020
With dozens of nuclear power plants planned or under construction, China will soon surpass South Korea, Russia, and Japan in
Nuclear generating capacities
nuclear generating capacity, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports
. Nuclear power currently makes up slightly more than 2 percent of the country's total power generation, but the Chinese government has a goal of generating at least 15 percent of the nation's energy using non-fossil fuel sources by 2020. To help achieve this target, China plans to increase nuclear capacity to 58 gigawatts — more than doubling its current 23-gigawatt capacity — and to have an additional 30 gigawatts under construction by 2020. By the end of 2015, China is expected to surpass South Korea and Russia in nuclear generating capacity, and by 2020, it will generate more nuclear power than all nations except the U.S. and France. All of China's nuclear plants are located along the east coast and in southern parts of the country, near the country's most populous areas, but China has increasingly considered constructing reactors farther inland following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
16 Jul 2015:
Most States Have Curbed
Power Plant Emissions Ahead of EPA Rule
A large majority of U.S. states — 42 of 50 — have already cut power plant carbon emissions ahead of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, whose rules will be finalized next month, according to
an analysis published this week. The plan requires each state to limit emissions from its power plants; to do this, many states have closed coal-fired plants and replaced them with natural gas power plants, which release less carbon dioxide. In fact, the report found, the 42 states that have already lowered power plant carbon emissions did so by an average of 19 percent between 2008 and 2013. The report was conducted by the sustainability advocacy group Ceres, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Bank of America, and four large utilities. “Most parts of the country are firmly on the path toward a clean energy future, but some states and utilities have a longer way to go, and overall the carbon emissions curve is not bending fast enough,” Ceres’ president, Mindy Lubber, said.
13 Jul 2015:
Australian Government Curbs
Investments in Wind and Solar Energy
The Australian Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), a government-funded organization that invests in renewable energy, will no
Rooftop solar panels in Western Australia
longer invest in wind technology and small-scale solar projects, the government announced Sunday
. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that the CEFC should invest in new and emerging technologies, and that wind and small-scale solar projects
should instead be supported by the free market. Currently, one-third of CEFC funding, which totals roughly $10 billion, goes to solar projects, the majority of which are small-scale. The funding ban could increase prices for small-scale solar projects such as rooftop photovoltaic panel installations, especially for low-income households, renters, and public housing tenants. The ban on these investments is the latest in a series of actions by the Abbott government to make cuts in environmental initiatives, including two failed attempts to abolish the CEFC.
09 Jul 2015:
Bird Fatalities at Wind Facilities
Can Be Prevented With New Model, Study Says
The U.S. Geological Survey has developed a new model that it says can help predict and prevent bird fatalities at wind facilities before
they are even built. The model
takes into account three parameters, all of which can be measured before construction: the total footprint of the turbines, avian traffic near the facility, and collision probability. The model used golden eagles as a case study because their soaring and hunting behaviors make them susceptible to turbine collisions. Golden eagles also are long-lived and reproduce relatively late in life, which means wind farm fatalities could have particularly severe population impacts. For two years, the model successfully estimated eagle collisions at a newly constructed wind facility in Wyoming, the researchers say. The model's simplicity "allows wind facility developers to consider ways to reduce bird fatalities without having to collect a complicated set of data," said Leslie New, a researcher at Washington State University, who led the project.
08 Jul 2015:
Mountaintop Removal Coal
Mining Has Slowed Significantly, Data Show
Coal production from mountaintop removal mines
in the U.S. has declined 62 percent since 2008 — a much steeper drop than the downward
trend in overall coal production, the U.S. Energy Information Administration
reports. Mountaintop removal (MTR) mines have recently been subjected to additional stringent regulations. For example, MTR operations planning to discard excess rock and soil in streams must now secure extra permits from the Environmental Protection Agency. Tennessee is considering banning some types of MTR mining altogether, and a federal stream protection rule expected to be proposed this summer could place additional limits on the practice. Lower demand for U.S. coal in general can be attributed to competitive natural gas prices, renewable energy growth, flat electricity demand, and environmental regulations, the EIA says.
07 Jul 2015:
Self-Driving Taxis Could Spur
Major Cuts in Carbon Emissions, Study Says
By 2030, self-driving electric taxis could cut greenhouse gas emissions from car travel in the U.S. by up to 94 percent, if they were
Prototype of a small, self-driving electric taxi
to replace conventional personal vehicles, according to
an analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Autonomous taxis are projected to cut carbon emissions primarily through a process known as "right-sizing," or deploying a car that is specifically tailored to match occupancy needs of each particular trip. Right-sizing is cost-effective for both the fleet owner and for passengers, the researchers say, and companies and research groups are currently exploring how to efficiently manufacture small one- and two-seat vehicles. Optimal routing, smoother acceleration and braking, and a cleaner electric grid in 2030 would also contribute to lower carbon emissions. Autonomous taxis are projected to reduce emissions by 63 to 82 percent compared to hybrid cars likely to be on the road in 2030, and by 94 percent over a 2014 gasoline-powered model, the study found.
02 Jul 2015:
Water Usage for Fracking
Has Increased Dramatically, Study Shows
Oil and natural gas fracking requires 28 times more water now than it did 15 years ago, according to a study
by the U.S.
Water use in fracking operations in the U.S.
Geological Survey. The increased water demand is attributed to the development of new, water-intensive technologies that target fossil fuels in complicated geological formations, the researchers say. The amount of water used varies greatly
with location, the study found. A fracking operation in southern Illinois, for example, can use as little as 2,600 gallons of water each time an oil or gas well is fracked. That figure jumps to more than 9 million gallons in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and south and eastern Texas. Fracking is often concentrated in arid regions and could exacerbate existing water shortages, especially as water requirements for fracking continue to increase. Most of the water used for fracking is disposed deep underground, removing it from the water cycle.
01 Jul 2015:
Church of England Divests from
Oil Firm Exploring Virunga National Park
The Church of England has divested its holdings
in the British oil and gas company Soco International, citing ethical concerns over Soco's attempts to
Mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park
drill for oil in Congo's Virunga National Park. The national park, Africa's oldest, is home to the largest surviving populations of endangered mountain gorillas and hippos
. The Church of England's investment fund is valued at roughly $10.5 billion, and $2.5 million of that had been invested in Soco International. The move marks only the third time in recent years that the church has divested from a company on ethical grounds. In 2012 it sold its holdings in News Corporation to protest the phone-hacking scandal, and in 2010 it divested from a mining corporation over human rights violations associated with its operations in India.
30 Jun 2015:
Residential Solar Panels Are
Net Win for Utility Companies, Analysis Says
Households and businesses with solar panels deliver greater benefits to utility companies than they receive through programs
Installing rooftop solar panels
like net metering, according to an analysis
of 11 case studies from across the U.S. by the advocacy group Environment New York. Net metering programs credit solar panel owners at a fixed rate — equal to or less than the retail price of electricity — for providing the excess power they generate to the grid. Utility companies have been fighting those credits in recent years, saying that solar panel owners don't pay a fair share of grid maintenance and other overhead costs. However, all 11 studies showed that solar panel owners provide net benefits to their respective utility systems, Environment New York says, including reduced capital investment costs, lower energy costs, and reduced environmental compliance costs. The median value of solar power across all 11 studies was roughly 17 cents per unit, compared to the nation’s average retail electricity rate of about 12 cents.
26 Jun 2015:
Fuels from Canadian Oil Sands
Have Larger Carbon Footprint, Analysis Says
Gasoline and diesel refined from Canadian oil sands have a significantly larger carbon footprint and climate impact than
Oil sands extraction in Alberta, Canada
fuels from conventional crude sources, according to an analysis
by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. Oil sands-derived fuels will release on average 20 percent more carbon into the atmosphere over their lifetime — and possibly up to 24 percent more — depending on how they are extracted and refined, the study says. Methane emissions from tailing ponds and carbon emissions from land disturbance and field operations also contribute to the higher carbon footprint. "This is important information about the greenhouse gas impact of this oil source, and this is the first time it has been made available at this level of fidelity," said Hao Cai, the Argonne researcher who led the study. Roughly 9 percent of the total crude processed in U.S. refineries in 2013 came from the Canadian oil sands, and that percentage is projected to rise to 14 percent by 2020.
22 Jun 2015:
Researchers Look to Design of
Owl Wings to Make Quieter Wind Turbines
A new type of coating for wind turbines inspired by the shape of owl wings may dramatically cut noise associated with onshore
Australian masked owl in flight
wind farms, according to
research from the University of Cambridge. The scientists found that an owl's flight feathers have a microscopic down-like covering and numerous other intricate design details that smooth the passage of air over the wing, scattering sound as the owl flies. To replicate the structure, the researchers looked at designing a covering that would scatter the sound generated by a turbine blade in the same way. Early tests of their prototype material, a 3D-printed plastic coating, demonstrated that it could significantly quiet wind turbines without any appreciable impact on aerodynamics. Since wind turbines are heavily braked in order to minimize noise, the new technology could mean that turbines could spin at much higher speeds, producing more energy while making less noise.
18 Jun 2015:
Pope Calls for Global Action on
Climate Change and Environmental Problems
Pope Francis released today
his highly anticipated encyclical, which is largely focused on halting climate change and
environmental degradation and emphasizes the importance of protecting impoverished communities from the worst effects. This is the first such letter from a leader of the Catholic Church to address environmental issues, analysts say. “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political,” Pope Francis wrote. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” Industrialized countries are responsible for most of the damage, he said, and are obligated to help developing nations cope with the looming crisis. Within the document, he delves deeply
into both climate science and economic development policies, and chides climate change skeptics for their "denial."