with Michael Gerrard
On June 30, 2022, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision on the case “EPA v. West Virginia,” ruling in a 6-3 vote that the EPA exceeded its statutory authority by setting greenhouse gas emissions standards that would effectively require utilities to shift away from fossil fuel-sourced power generation to renewables.
At the time of the decision, it was met with a raft of alarmist headlines, forecasting that it would be a disaster for climate change mitigation, and that it threatens the future regulatory authority of all federal agencies. Is it really that bad?
In this episode, Michael Gerrard, professor of professional practice in climate change law and policy at Columbia University, helps us understand exactly what the EPA v. West Virginia decision said, and what its impact is likely to be.
In 2017, the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant expansion – meant to hail the renaissance of nuclear power in the US – came screeching to a halt. The project, to build two new reactors at an existing South Carolina facility, was canceled after being delayed more than a year, costing $9 billion USD, and still being only 40% complete. Now, the only new nuclear project in the works in the U.S. is the Vogtle Plant expansion in Georgia; a project also more than a year behind schedule, and billions of dollars over budget. Still, nuclear projects remain a focus of government and think tank decarbonization strategies. Why?
Dr. Amory Lovins, adjunct professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, and international authority on the clean energy transition, joins Climate Now to explain why he thinks nuclear should no longer be considered as a source of energy. For Amory, it’s not just the chance of environmental catastrophe or nuclear proliferation that make it a non-starter, it’s the economics.
Heating, cooling and electrifying buildings produces nearly one fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, but by employing existing energy efficient technologies and switching to renewables, we could cut 87% of building-related emissions by 2050. So, how do we get there?
Climate Now speaks with two companies working to eliminate the barriers to decarbonizing buildings. Andy Frank, founder of Sealed, explains how Sealed makes it easier for homeowners to implement energy efficiency improvements by reducing upfront costs and managing the improvement project. Jeff Hendler and Zhora Roy of Logical Buildings share how their company empowers real estate managers and building owners with the data they need to optimize their energy usage.
00:00 – Andy Frank, Sealed
15:58 – Jeff Hendler and Zohra Roy, Logical Buildings
Using carbon dioxide removal (CDR) strategies to mitigate climate change is a land-intensive endeavor. To capture one gigatonne of CO2 through direct air capture requires a facility & energy production footprint of at least hundreds, but potentially tens of thousands of square kilometers. To capture one gigatonne of CO2 via reforestation requires about 862,000 square kilometers of arable land (nearly the size of the Kalahari Desert). We currently release about 40 gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, so…do the math.
And land that is allocated for CDR must compete with other land use claims: for urbanization, agriculture, biodiversity, and renewable energy technologies.
But what if our perspective was slightly… more aqueous?
Oceans, which make up 70% of the Earth’s surface, already absorb more than 10 billion tonnes of CO2 annually. Would it be more effective to sequester CO2 in the oceans, rather than on land? If so, how would we facilitate increased ocean CO2 uptake safely? What processes and technologies exist today, and how well do we understand them?
with George Peridas, Jonathan Kusel, and Joshuah Stolaroff
In the international carbon offset market, the average price of removing one tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere is still below $15 USD, nowhere near enough to cover the costs of carbon capture and storage (CCS). As Dr. Sheila Olmstead (University of Texas, Austin) explained in a recent Climate Now podcast episode, this is why CCS is one of the few climate technologies not experiencing exponential growth. “Unless there’s a market for captured CO2, then it doesn’t make economic sense… to adopt these carbon capture technologies.”
But what if, instead of making captured CO2 the only marketable product, the capture is accomplished while also producing other goods and services?
Climate Now spoke with three pioneers developing startup programs in California that plan to use biowaste (that is, agricultural residues or vegetation cleared from forests to increase their resiliency to drought, fire or infestation) to produce hydrogen fuel and CO2. The technique is called ‘bioenergy and carbon capture and storage,’ or BECCS. The hydrogen can be sold and the CO2 captured and stored underground. Join us for our discussion with George Peridas of Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Jonathan Kusel of the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment, and Josh Stolaroff of Mote, to hear how this approach could make CCS economically feasible, perhaps even profitable, while also providing a benefit to local communities already experiencing the worst impacts of climate change, and an essential service for the well-being of our planet.
with Rebecca Dell
Each year, we produce about 30 billion tonnes of concrete globally. That’s nearly 10,000 pounds, or more than 2 entire cars-worth of concrete, per person, per year. We produce enough steel to build more than 2700 Empire State Buildings annually. We produce more than 100 pounds of plastic per person, each year. And with all of this material production, we also produce a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.
Nearly one-third of global GHG emissions come from industry, with steel, concrete, and chemical manufacturing (i.e. plastics) being the largest contributors. These industries are tough to decarbonize because they require performing chemical reactions at high temperatures, not easily achieved through electrification, and because they emit greenhouse gasses as a by-product.
Climate Now sat down with Dr. Rebecca Dell of the ClimateWorks Foundation, the largest philanthropic program in the world dedicated to reducing and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions that come from the material economy. Dr. Dell shares how these industries are approaching decarbonization, and what kind of technological, policy and market innovations will be needed to reduce the industrial carbon footprint.
with Roger Aines and Amory Lovins
Are we underestimating the potential of increased efficiency? It wouldn’t be the first time.
In 2021, the International Energy Agency and the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasted a 50% increase in global energy demand by 2050. Such forecasts have echoes of the 1970’s, when – in the middle of a global energy crisis – forecasters were anticipating as much as a 300% increase in energy demand over the next 3 decades. Those forecasters missed the mark by about 250%, because they didn’t count on the significant efficiency improvements in home appliances, vehicle fuel economy, industry and home energy demands that kickstarted in the 1980’s.
In this episode, featuring Dr. Amory Lovins of RMI and Dr. Roger Aines of Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL), we explore whether energy forecasters are missing the mark again: projecting only incremental efficiency gains in the next 30 years, despite the fact that we already have the technologies and smart design approaches that would allow global energy demand to decrease by more than 70%, while still providing the same services of today.
Joined by a group of LLNL scientists, Amory, Roger and host James Lawler discuss the potential of smart and integrative design approaches that can provide savings in both energy emissions and costs, as well as the obstacles that are keeping us from taking full advantage of these approaches. Listen wherever you like to get your podcasts, or listen with the transcript here on climatenow.com
with Marilyn Waite, Climate Finance Fund
In the 2019/2020 fiscal year, the global climate finance sector reached a record 632 billion US dollars. Unfortunately – that is a little short of the more than $3 trillion US dollars needed each year to keep warming under 2 degrees C, according to the IPCC. The Climate Finance Fund (CFF) is a philanthropic organization whose mandate is to close that gap by mobilizing capital towards climate solutions.
How do they do that? CFF focuses on bringing creative climate solutions to market with early investing, and supporting industry-led initiatives and regulatory changes that encourage financial institutions to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean technology. Managing Director Marilyn Waite joined Climate Now to share the changes CFF’s projects have already brought about, who the big disruptors are in climate finance, and how to get the world’s biggest banks and lenders to take note that it is time to go green.
with EJ Baik, Stanford University
Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Princeton University, and the IPCC have all published proposed climate mitigation pathways: strategies for economically reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century for California, the U.S., and the world, respectively. And they are not alone (for example: here and here and here). Any given pathway to net-zero emissions offers some combination of efficiency improvements, expansion of renewable energy sources, and some amount of so-called “negative emissions,” using technologies and natural processes that capture and store carbon. But what determines the ratio of these three decarbonization methods? What determines which particular ratio will produce the lowest-cost and most feasible pathway for society?
Climate Now sat down with Dr. EJ Baik, to discuss her research on the least-cost pathway for decarbonizing California’s electrical grid by 2045. EJ explains how major decarbonization pathways are modeled, the assumptions behind those models, and why sometimes the most economical way to reach net-zero is not what you’d expect.
with Dr. Doyne Farmer
The recent working paper by Rupert Way, Matthew Ives, Penny Mealy, and Doyne Farmer, Empirically grounded technology forecasts and the energy transition, suggests that the high estimates of the expense to transition to renewable energy have been inflated, and that it may in fact be cheaper to transition to renewables than to stay on fossil fuels, regardless of the costs of the changing climate. Using probabilistic cost forecasting methods, the authors of the paper project that because of the exponentially decreasing cost curve of renewables like wind and solar, fossil fuels will become nearly obsolete in just 25 years.
Climate Now spoke with co-author of the paper, Dr. Doyne Farmer, to better understand their model and predictions.
Electric vs Gas-Powered Emissions
Adopting green transportation and transitioning to a 100% electric fleet requires a momentous cultural, technological, and infrastructure overhaul of the entire global automotive industry. If we are going to undertake such a task, we have to know that it will bring significant results in reducing emissions. So what is the real impact of going electric?
As part of our decarbonizing transportation series, we sat down and did the math. We looked at the net carbon dioxide emissions of an EV over its lifecycle versus lifecycle emissions of a gas-powered vehicle to find out just what the climate benefit of going electric could be.
with Amory Lovins, Co-founder and Chairman Emeritus at RMI
Among the top importers of Russian oil are the EU, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, and France. The EU accounted for 71% of oil imports from Russia 2 months after the war in Ukraine began. But cutting off oil and gas imports from Russia completely can pose great challenges. The EU is attempting to wean off of Russian oil dependence in response to the invasion of Ukraine by hastening renewable energy adoption.
The 1970’s oil crises led to a flattening of the exponential demand growth for oil globally. It never recovered thanks to improvements in efficiency. What lessons can we learn from the past as we face the current oil and gas crisis brought on by Putin’s war? Climate Now spoke with Amory Lovins, co-author of a recent RMI article assessing the geopolitical dynamics driving a pivot away from fossil fuels.
with Dr. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Professor of Soil Biogeochemistry, University of California, Merced
Soil – that mixture of degraded bedrock, decomposing organic matter, and microorganisms that nourishes the root systems of plants and trees – already holds twice as much CO2 as the earth’s atmosphere and vegetation, combined. And by changing how we manage our soils, we can increase the rate of CO2 trapping from the atmosphere into that soil carbon bank, and in some cases simultaneously enhance the agricultural productivity of a region.
Dr. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Professor of Soil Biogeochemistry and Falasco Chair in Earth Sciences at University of California, Merced, is a global leader in the carbon storage potential of soils. She sat down with Climate Now to explain why soils are so good at trapping carbon, how much they could hold, and what we can do to increase soil carbon storage.
with Nir Kaissar, Bloomberg Opinion
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission wants to standardize climate risk reporting. What does that mean?
On March 21, 2022 the SEC released a proposal for a new rule: that publicly traded companies will have to provide disclosures about how the changing climate will affect their business, and how their business is affecting climate.
This move would formalize a reporting system for climate related-disclosures that investors are increasingly clamoring for. Climate Now sat down with Nir Kaissar, a market economics columnist for Bloomberg Opinion and portfolio manager, to understand what these proposed disclosure requirements entail, how they fit into the scope of the SEC’s mandate, and what the impact of their adoption will be for businesses, investors, policymakers and the public.
In order to reach global net-zero emissions by the middle of the century, modeled pathways project that wind energy will need to be a primary source of electricity, accounting for 19-43% of global electricity production.
Today, though, wind produces only 6% of the world’s electricity.
So, what needs to happen to make this level of growth achievable? How can the design, location, and technology of wind turbines be optimized so that wind power reaches its full capacity and costs remain low?
Climate Now spoke with Dr. Simon Watson, Director of the Wind Energy Institute at TU Delft, to understand how we might scale wind power to the degree necessary to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.