w/ Bill Mckibben
On April 22, 1970, 20 million people across the U.S. marched, attended speeches and sat in teach-ins, marking the first Earth Day, and spurring on the enactment of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the founding of the EPA, all of which occurred later that year. Then and now, activism has been critical to enacting environmental and climate policy, and in shifting attitudes of the general public to the urgency of mitigating climate change, but why is activism so important, and how can it be done effectively?
Climate Now sat down with Bill McKibben, author, journalist and environmental activist who has led protest movements against development of the Keystone Pipeline Project (which aimed to pipe oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to Nebraska where it could link with other pipelines heading to the refineries of Texas), and for the global divestment from fossil fuels (currently amounting to $40 trillion of lost capital for fossil fuel companies, and counting). Bill joined us to discuss why activism is so important to enacting climate policy, how the biggest movements come together, and the work that needs to be done next.
- What is the role of activism in the fight against climate change?
- What are the key ingredients to building a successful protest movement?
- What lessons have can be taken from prior activist campaigns, such as against the Keystone Pipeline and for fossil fuel divestment, that inform the next steps in the climate movement?
w/ Neil Chatterjee
In 2021, U.S. President Biden signed an executive order with the directive to achieve 100% carbon-pollution free electricity in the United States by 2030. The goal is certainly achievable: currently wind and solar are the cheapest forms of electricity generation, the installed capacity of utility-scale solar and wind has increased more than 2000% in the last 15 years, and there are already 1.3 terawatts (TW) of clean energy generation + storage projects seeking to connect to the grid, roughly enough for the grid to reach 80% zero-carbon electricity. But it is one thing to plan clean energy generation facilities, and another to build and connect those facilities into the national power grid, which is done with the oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
FERC is required to regulate the interstate transmission of natural gas, oil, an electricity, which means they work to ensure that a hypothetical wind project in Iowa transmitting electricity to Chicago, Illinois follows all federal and state permitting requirements along its entire path. That gets complicated, and currently those 1.3 TW of clean energy projects are sitting in a backlog that is taking several years to process. Neil Chatterjee, Chairman of FERC in 2017 and again from 2018-2020, joined Climate Now to explain why getting new clean power connected to the grid is so difficult, how the process can be streamlined, and why that is so critical to reaching the U.S.’s climate goals. Stay tuned!
- There are more than 1.4 terawatts of energy generation and storage projects (mostly renewable energy) waiting for federal approval – why the backlog?
- What is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) planning to do to address the backlog?
- How will new clean energy projects be able to more smoothly connect to national energy grids in the future?
w/ Peter Reinhardt
The agricultural sector produces about a tenth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and while most of that comes from livestock (about 2/3), emissions from crop production still total about 2.2 billion metric tons of CO2-equivalent. Interestingly, we only actually use about half of what we grow: this is not because of food waste (its own issue), but because more than half of any crop is residue: the stems, shells, husks and anything else left behind at the end of a crop harvest.
Charm Industrial is a new company with a plan to convert those crop residues (~ half a billion tons in the US alone) from a source of greenhouse gas emissions to a sink. Crop residues are usually left on harvested fields to decompose (or are burned), partially restoring the soils, and partially returning all the CO2 they absorbed during the growing season to the atmosphere. Charm plans to harvest those residues and convert them into bio-oil and biochar. The biochar returns to the soils for restoration; the bio-oil can be buried for CO2 sequestration or replace fossil-derived fuels. Climate Now sat down with Charm CEO and Co-founder Peter Reinhardt, to discuss how their technology works, and why interest is growing in this approach to carbon removal.
- Is there a market for Charm’s technology, which converts plant waste to bio-oil and then buries it?
- How does Charm’s method of carbon removal work, and how would it scale up?
- How does this approach for carbon removal compare to other approaches, like direct air capture or reforestation?
w/ Kate Gordon
“We’ve built an entire industrial economy around a set of energy sources, and we’re now thinking about diversifying way beyond that. And that’s a big set of changes.” What will it take to diversify our energy economy, and how do we actually do it? That is the remit of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), according to Kate Gordon, senior advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Energy.
In this week’s podcast, Ms. Gordon joins us to discuss how the DOE is structured today; how they’re working with states, local governments, and tribes to reduce energy consumption and support an equitable clean energy economy and the new industries that come with it – like hydrogen and carbon removal; and what major pieces of legislation are driving the DOE’s energy transition work – and how.
- What role does the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) play, historically and today?
- How is the DOE supporting deployment of clean energy technologies?
- How are the climate mitigation objectives in recent US legislation (the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act) getting implemented, and what is their real-world benefit?
w/ Ke Wang and Laura Wittig
The carbon footprint of stuff
For the last two centuries, continuous economic growth (the increase in the quantity and quality of the economic goods and services that a society produces, per capita) has been recognized as the critical driver in the drastic global decrease in extreme poverty.
The problem is, an ever-increasing “quantity and quality of economic goods and services” – in the current economy at least – requires ever increasing consumption of raw materials: minerals, water, energy, trees, soil. And consumption has its own price. In addition to myriad environmental and biodiversity impacts, an estimated 45% of global greenhouse emissions come from the extraction of raw materials and the production of goods: the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the products we use.
So is it possible to break the link between decreasing poverty and increasing consumption? Climate Now sat down with two experts on ‘the circular economy’ – an idea that hinges on eliminating waste from the production process, circulating products and materials instead of disposing of them at their end of life, and engaging in practices that preserve or regenerate natural resources. Dr. Ke Wang, project leader for the World Resource Institutes’ Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), and Laura Wittig, Founder and CEO of Brightly, a consumer services company with a mission of scaling sustainable consumerism, joined us to explain what needs to happen to create a more circular economy – from the scale of global economies all the way down to the individual consumer.
- How can we be more sustainable in what we produce and how we use goods and materials?
- Can waste be recycled or repurposed to generate a near closed-loop system?
- How can consumers make a difference in their daily lives?
w/ Annie Kritcher
Last week, LLNL’s National Ignition Facility successfully ‘ignited’ a nuclear fusion reaction equivalent to what takes place in the sun: the conversion of hydrogen to helium + energy. In a first, the experiment produced more energy than was needed to initiate the reaction. While the experiment lasted only fractions of a second, it proved what had been hypothesized since the 1960’s: that lasers can be used to induce energy-generating fusion in a laboratory setting. The enormity of this achievement is that it brings the possibility of cheap, clean and safe nuclear fusion energy one step closer to reality. Joined by guest hosts Julio Friedman and Darren Hau, Climate Now sat down with Dr. Annie Kritcher, the principal designer for the successful fusion experiment, to discuss what they have accomplished, why it was so significant, and what the National Ignition Facility will be focusing on next in their work to make nuclear fusion a viable energy source.
- What was the experiment that was performed, and why was it’s success so significant?
- What are the next set of challenges to address in developing nuclear fusion as a clean energy source?
w/ Kathy Hannun
Can Earth’s geothermal heat warm – and cool – your home?
The hottest day ever recorded on Earth was on July 10, 1913. Thermometers in California’s Death Valley measured 134 degrees F. The coldest day ever recorded on land (not on an Antarctic ice sheet) was in the tiny Siberian settlement of Oymyakon, which got as cold as -90 degrees F on February 6, 1933. But anyone standing in either of these locations, on these days of extreme hot and cold, were a mere 30 feet away from much more reasonable temperatures – about 50-60 degrees F. They only needed to dig down. Bedrock is not a very good conductor of heat, and as such – even when atmospheric temperatures fluctuate wildly, geothermal temperatures – the temperature of the subsurface – remains relatively constant.
Climate Now sat down with Kathy Hannun, co-founder and president of Dandelion Energy to learn how geothermal heat pumps take advantage of stable subsurface temperatures to produce highly efficient and low-cost heating and cooling systems for buildings. Stay tuned to find out how these systems work, why they are likely the most efficient way of controlling indoor climates, what obstacles are slowing the wholesale conversion of furnaces and air conditioning units to geothermal heat pumps, and how those obstacles can be addressed.
w/ Cecilia Klauber
A micro-grid is a local grid. That means that energy generation occurs locally (no giant transmission lines) to support local energy demand, and it has the option to operate independently from a traditional regional power grid. These kinds of grids are attractive because they can take advantage of growing renewable energy infrastructure like rooftop solar, and they can create resiliency against regional grid failures, which are becoming increasingly frequent with the climate change-related uptick of extreme weather events.
But wouldn’t utility companies, whose revenue is generated from conventional grid use, and who control more than 99% of the nation’s electricity supply, use their enormous lobbying weight to prevent the proliferation of microgrids?
Not necessarily, according to Cecilia Klauber, an engineer working on the security and resilience of power system infrastructure at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Cecilia provides a business case for why regional utility companies might want to invest in microgrid infrastructure, and explains how the growing microgrid network across the US will provide energy resiliency and reliability for both energy providers and users. Stay tuned!
w/ Nate Blair
Renewable energy sources – wind and solar – have become the cheapest and fastest growing form of electricity generation. But the industry has not yet escaped the perennial criticism that keeps many from believing that the world could run entirely on renewable energy: what happens when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing? To date, batteries have not been a particularly convincing answer, due both to their cost and their limited ability to store industrial scale electricity for more than a few hours at a time.
But that might be changing. After more then three decades of remarkable innovation, the price of lithium batteries has dropped 97%, and the power storage potential of a battery has increased 3.4-fold. Nate Blair, who manages the Distributed Systems and Storage Analysis Group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), joined Climate Now to discuss where we are today in developing grid-scale energy storage systems. Stay tuned to find out what role batteries will play in the transition to clean electricity, why lithium batteries are currently leading the way in grid battery storage, and what other technologies we might expect in grid storage portfolio in the next 10-30 years.
featuring LLNL's Carbon Capture Lab
Since its founding in 1952, the mission of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has been to meet urgent national security needs through scientific and technological innovation. Expanding from its focus on nuclear weapons science at the height of the Cold War, LLNL has become a national research leader in counterterrorism, intelligence, defense, and energy, with its emphasis in the latter being to advance national energy security while also reducing its impact. Critical to reducing the environmental impact of the national energy sector is determining how to remove historical greenhouse gas emissions (what has already been released) from the atmosphere in parallel with ongoing global decarbonization efforts.
Climate Now’s James Lawler was invited to tour LLNL’s Carbon Capture Lab, home to a team of scientists working to reduce the cost and bottlenecks of implementing large-scale carbon capture facilities, to learn how this research is developed, where the state-of-the-art is in carbon capture technology, and where we could go next (Direct Air Capture skyscrapers?).
Staff Scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Elwin Hunter Sellers
Staff Scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Lab
Energy Program Chief Scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Group Leader for the Materials for Energy and Climate Security group, LLNL
Direct Air Capture Pillar Lead at Lawrence Livermore National Lab
In 2021, 40 billion tonnes of manmade CO2 were released globally. But global greenhouse gas emissions for that year are described as 55 billion tonnes in CO2-equivalent (or CO2e). What’s the difference?
CO2 represents around 75% of greenhouse gases emitted by human activities, by weight. But by warming potential, it is much less. Other greenhouse gases (primarily methane, nitrous oxides and fluorinated gases) have much stronger warming effects in the atmosphere, and also remain in the atmosphere for vastly different periods of time. So how can we compare the warming impact of different emissions? By using CO2e.
w/ Melissa Ho
How many crises can we address at once?
In October of this year, headlines broke that the global animal population in 2018 is 69% smaller than it was a half century ago, in 1970. It is the latest bad news in a string of studies on biodiversity loss, which is happening at a rate not seen on this planet since the last mass extinction. It also follows on the heels of an analysis from the U.N. World Food Program, estimating that due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, a record 345 million people are at risk of starvation this year, and that it is likely that by the end of this decade, the cumulative progress made in reaching the U.N.’s 2015 goal of eradicating hunger by 2030 will be 0%.
Conservation of natural lands and freshwater ecosystems are critical to biodiversity preservation efforts, but how do you feed the world without agricultural development, and how do you stem the impact of climate change without developing land-intensive clean energy solutions like wind and solar? It turns out, solutions to these issues do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Melissa Ho, Senior Vice President of the World Wildlife Fund, joined Climate Now to discuss how WWF addresses the competing priorities for humanity and the natural world, and why a holistic valuation of the services healthy ecosystems provide can help us develop co-beneficial solutions to all of these crises.
w/ Katie McGinty and Ian Harris
The side benefit of reducing building emissions? Increasing quality of life.
Building operations (heating, cooling and electrification) account for 27% of global CO2 emissions, but represent some of the lowest-hanging fruit in the challenge of global decarbonization. With efficient design and transitioning to cleanly-sourced electricity, like solar panels, building-related emissions could be decreased by as much as 80%.
Katy McGinty, vice president and chief sustainability officer of Johnson Controls and Ian Harris, business development manager at BlocPower, joined Climate Now to discuss how implementing smart control technologies, more insulated building envelopes, and clean-energy technologies like solar power and heat pumps, aren’t just critical to reaching global net-zero goals, they also make homes and buildings safer, more comfortable, and more affordable to live and work in. And with smart business approaches and community buy-in, building decarbonization can be a tool for environmental justice as much as climate mitigation, by engaging low-income communities, underserved communities and communities of color in the fight against climate change.
w/ Alisha Fredriksson
The global shipping industry emits ~1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, about as much as the sixth highest emitting nation in the world. In hopes of changing course, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has mandated that starting in 2023, most commercial vessels will have to document their CO2 emissions, and demonstrate progress towards reaching the IMO objective of an industry-wide 40% reduction in emissions by 2030.
But that is easier said than done. As we learned in earlier conversations on maritime shipping (here and here), low-emission alternatives to the cheap and extremely dirty bunker fuels that ships currently use are far from ready to deploy at scale. So what can ship owners do to start cutting their emissions as soon as next year?
We spoke with Co-founder and CEO of the start-up Seabound, Alisha Fredriksson, about her teams’ proposed solution: equipping ships with carbon capture devices that trap and store CO2 from fuel exhaust. The CO2 can be brought to port and either sold for CO2 utilization projects, or permanently stored underground. Learn more about how their technology works and their business case for why it is a good idea to get onboard with carbon capture.
w/ Adam Rauwerdink and Rebecca Dell
For some sectors of our economy, electrification as a decarbonization strategy is a whole lot easier said than done. Take the steel industry – which is responsible for 11% of global CO2 emissions. A large part of those emissions come from the ‘coking’ process – where coal-fired furnaces burning at up to 1,100 degrees Celsius (2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) are used to break the bonds between iron and oxygen in the ore materials used to make steel. Driving this reaction with electricity, instead of a coal furnace, is an enormous challenge – but one that Boston Metals are taking the lead on.
Climate Now sat down with Adam Rauwerdink, senior vice president of Boston Metals, to better understand the landscape of developing clean steel technologies, and why the electrification process they are developing – “molten oxide electrolysis” – could be the decarbonization solution that the steel industry needs.
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.