Earth Matters: Will Biden have clout at Glasgow summit? 900,000 U.S. solar workers needed by 2035

Earth Matters: Will Biden have clout at Glasgow summit? 900,000 U.S. solar workers needed by 2035

AS the CLIMATE SUMMIT APPROACHES, U.S. ACTIONS YET TO MATCH WORDS

While the search continues to uncover just how small a fraction of the Biden administration’s proposed climate funding Sen. Joe Manchin III is willing to vote to include in the Democratic reconciliation bill, there is much wondering around the planet about what exactly the United States will bring to the COP26 climate summit that begins in Glasgow, Scotland, less than two weeks from now.

If all 50 Democratic senators had chosen to back the $3.5 trillion originally proposed in the bill, which contains massive funding for soft infrastructure and addressing climate change, Biden’s team would arrive in Scotland with a head of green-generated steam and the moral clout to nudge Russia, China, India, and Brazil to do more than they have so far pledged to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that are rapidly warming the Earth. Instead, the administration will arrive the day after Halloween with a weaker negotiating posture than should have been the case. And that is assuming some amount for at least some climate programs will have been approved by then, which is no sure thing.

Jean Chemnick reports:

Bill Hare, the Australia-based CEO of Climate Analytics, said uncertainty about the U.S. climate target has permeated pre-COP discussions, especially among major developing countries.

The question, he said, has been: “Will the U.S. as a political system be able to deliver on the commitments, and if they don’t, where does it leave the rest of us?”

Where, indeed? While critics justifiably complain about China’s continuing heavy use of coal and its still-rising emissions, Beijing is also on a path to add 1,200 gigawatts of renewables generating capacity between now and 2030, the same year President Xi has vowed China’s emissions will peak and begin a steep downward turn. For comparison, currently the total U.S. generating capacity from all sources is just over 1,100 gigawatts; 59% of that capacity is fired by coal and natural gas. While U.S. solar and wind installations had a record year in 2020 despite the pandemic, this transformation is moving far too slowly to meet Biden’s 2035 goal of a power sector with zero greenhouse gas emissions.

However, autocrat Xi and his party can do things that Biden and his cannot. Even at this late date, more than half of the Republicans in the Senate and House are still outright climate science deniers and they, plus a few Democratic enablers, are doing their worst to gum up the works. As long as the fossil fuel campaign cash keeps flowing, they apparently don’t care what kind of world they will leave to  their children and grandchildren—to our children and grandchildren.

COP26 climate summit has corporate sponsors

You would think that a conference as crucial as the climate talks in Glasgow that start on Halloween and run for two weeks wouldn’t need any corporate sponsors. That’s not how the British host organizers saw things. They were at least savvy enough not to allow Exxon or Shell or other fossil fuel giants to buy sponsorships, so thank goodness for small favors.

The 11 corporations who signed up include Microsoft, Unilever, and Hitachi. A second, less expensive sponsorship was taken on by Jaguar LandRover and IKEA.

Glasgow’s Scottish Event Campus, which will host the COP26 climate summit beginning Oct. 31.

What “unique benefits” do sponsors get? It was apparently promised that U.K. government ministers would show up at sponsors’ events and they would be given space to pitch their brands in the “green zone,” the public exhibition area at the Glasgow Science Centre. For example, Unilever, which is among the top five largest producers of polluting plastics, according to a 2019 report, will screen its own film about “action towards a nature positive, net zero world,” says the COP26 schedule.

Samanth Subramanian at Quartz writes:

This transaction seems to have misled companies to believe that COP26 is a trade fair or a branding exercise rather than an inter-governmental convention. On Sunday (Oct. 17), the Guardian revealed that the sponsors have complained about the “last-minute” way the summit is being organized. […]

Some companies with especially vast carbon footprints and emissions records managed to get on the agenda of a mid-October event in Edinburgh designed carefully to be COP26-adjacent. The event was organized by TED, the conference of “ideas” that, in its roster of celebrities, CEOs, and tech gurus all offering neat, market-driven solutions to global problems, has long been the handmaiden of corporate capitalism. That event’s schedule featured a cement company, an oil giant, and at least one leading venture capitalist. One panel, titled “Decarbonizing fossil fuels,” hosted the CEO of Shell, a company currently lobbying to develop a new oilfield off the UK’s Shetland Islands. His fellow speaker, an activist, accused him of “sitting here giving us this greenwashing” before storming off the stage. It was perhaps the most dramatic signal possible of the kinds of frictions that lie ahead at COP26.

Survey shows U.S. will need much bigger solar workforce by 2035 

Back in May when most of the nation’s attention was focused on what appeared to be light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, the Solar Foundation published its 11th annual census of jobs in the solar field during 2020. Because of the pandemic, the solar workforce fell by 6.7% to 231,474 workers last year. Despite this, the industry installed a record 19.2 gigawatts of electricity capacity last year. As Democrats continue to debate the climate-related elements of their soft infrastructure bill, the potential for solar as a driver of good jobs ought to be shouted from the rooftops by every Democratic lawmaker. An analysis by the Solar Energy Industries Association shows that getting to 100% clean energy in the power sector by 2035—as President Biden has vowed—will require 900,000 workers.

For a more readable chart, scroll to page 17 of the pdf linked in the headline of this short take.

But won’t the effort be too expensive? On the contrary. A new study by the World Resources Institute, International Trade Union Confederation, and New Climate Economy found that every million dollars the U.S. government invests in solar generates more than 2.7 times as many jobs as fossil fuel investments, wind generates 2.8 times more jobs, and retrofitting buildings to be more energy-efficient generates three times as many jobs.

two dozen Fossil fuel PROJECTS UNDER CONSIDERATION WOULD BOOST U.S. EMISSIONS BY 20%

According to Oil Change International, emissions from these projects would be larger than those from all current U.S. coal power plants combined unless President Biden makes moves to stop  them:

This total is equal to the average annual emissions from 404 U.S. coal-fired power plants, larger than all 294 coal plants operating in the continental United States. The vast majority of these potential emissions — equivalent to 17% of 2019 U.S.emissions, or 316 coal power plants — are associated with projects that have not received full federal approval, not started construction, or not finished construction. The Biden Administration, through its various agencies — including the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, and White House Office of Climate Policy — will make decisions on these and additional projects in the next three years. Stopping these fossil fuel infrastructure projects would prevent a drastic increase in GHG pollution at a time when it is imperative to decrease GHG emissions to adhere to domestic and international climate goals and commitments, including the Paris Agreement that President Biden rejoined.

Stopping these projects would cut 1.6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Included are the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to Wisconsin, the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in the Virginias, and liquefied natural gas export terminals in six states. 

SHORT TAKES

More Lead-Tainted Water in Michigan Draws Attention to Nation’s Aging Pipes. The crises in Benton Harbor and Flint expose broader failures as a congressional push to address the country’s troubled water system stalls:

Residents of Benton Harbor see parallels between their plight and the water crisis that unfolded less than three hours up the highway in Flint, also a majority-Black city, where a change in the water source in 2014 led to residents drinking contaminated water despite repeated assurances that it was safe. In Benton Harbor, where thousands of homes are connected to the water system by lead pipes, efforts to bring down problematic lead readings by using corrosion controls have so far failed, and officials have recently grown concerned that lead-removing filters given to residents since 2019 might not work.

Here’s a Democracy Now! interview with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Flint-based pediatrician whose 2015 study revealed Flint’s children had high levels of lead in their blood, and the Rev. Edward Pinkney, president of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council and executive director of the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization.

Is there really a need for 25,000 people at COP26 in Glasgow? Given the immense carbon footprint of all this travel for the climate summit, a BBC environment reporter looks into why, what with the continuing pandemic, the conference isn’t virtual. In fact, this was tried during a three-week COP26 preparatory meeting in June. “Unfortunately,” wrote Matt McGrath, “it didn’t go well—time-zone and technology challenges made it almost impossible for countries with limited resources, progress was limited and decisions were put off. As a result, many developing nations have insisted on having an in-person COP. They feel that it is far easier for their voices to be ignored on a dodgy Zoom connection.”

First five winners of new environmental prize get $1.4 million apiece. At ceremonies Sunday in London, Costa Rica and the city of Milan each received a $1.4 million prizes for, respectively, paying people to plant trees and creating “food waste hubs” to gather perfectly good food being trashed and give it to people in need. Among several celebrities on stage for the event was the band Coldplay, whose performance was electrically powered by some 60 cyclists. Called into being by Britain’s Prince William, the environmental Earthshot Prize provides funding to winners for scaling up production of solutions they have developed in five areas: nature conservation, waste management, ocean revival, air quality, and climate change. Over the next decade, 50 Earthshot Prizes will be awarded. The other three winners announced at the ceremony were Takachar, a social enterprise dedicated to ending the unhealthy burning of crop residues in India; Coral Vita, which has developed a method of restoring damaged reefs by growing coral on land, which is 50 times faster than traditional methods; and Enapter for its AEM electrolyzer that converts electricity into green hydrogen. 

WEEKLY ECO-VIDEO

Simon Clark discusses how, despite foot-dragging on the climate crisis, Earthlings can unite and take restorative action. That’s exactly what we did with the Montreal Protocol, which was designed to save the ozone layer from chemical erosion caused by chlorofluorocarbons used for refrigeration and aerosol sprays. Not only has the protocol led to a slow repair of the ozone “hole” in the atmosphere, but it may have saved the planet.

A HALF DOZEN OTHER THINGS TO READ

How to prevent the worst case extinction scenario, by Margaret Renkl: “It’s far, far too soon to say what will become of all the species the planet stands to lose in the coming years if human beings cannot halt the rate at which our climate is heating and our habitats are fragmenting and our whole planet is being poisoned. It’s entirely possible that we will lose them all. But it’s also not unthinkable that we will yet find a way to work together to prevent the worst calamities from unfolding.”

Joe Manchin’s ugly new demands expose the absurdity of arbitrary centrism, by Greg Sargent: Manchin is very worried about the cost of passing President Biden’s agenda. But what about the cost of not passing it?

Architect Kate Orff

Why Ecology Is the Infrastructure of the Future, by Laura Flanders: In an interview, landscape architect Kate Orff says we must restore and harness natural systems to protect ourselves from the worsening climate crisis.

Report: Corporations are tanking America’s best shot at fighting climate change, by Joseph Winters and Zoya Teirstein: “Climate positive” companies say they want climate action. Their lobbying activity often says otherwise.

Building Bridges from Intersectional Ecosocialism to Radical Climate Justice and Systemic Transformation, by John Foran: “The best example of an intersectional orientation to radical social change centered on the climate crisis may be the evolution of the global climate justice movement itself. Radical climate justice movements today, then, taken as full-fledged projects for social justice battling the many crises that beset us, connecting the dots between them, and proceeding with due care for the whole person, may be the closest glimpses we have of a world and a way through the disasters that are written into our futures.”

Arguments favoring nuclear power as a climate “solution” are fundamentally misframed, by Amory B. Lovins: ”The climate argument for using nuclear power assumes that since nuclear power generation directly releases no CO2, it can be an effective climate solution. It can’t, because new (or even existing) nuclear generation costs more per [kilowatt-hour] than carbon-free competitors—efficient use and renewable power—and thus displaces less carbon per dollar (or, by separate analysis, per year): less not by a small margin but by about an order of magnitude (factor of roughly ten).”

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