The POW Dispatch: Our take on climate news, February 5, 2021
WORDS & HEADER IMAGE: DONNY O’NEILL
Welcome to The Dispatch, Protect Our Winters’ weekly wrap-up of climate news, complete with our take on each topic and how that impacts our ongoing efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.
The CORE Act is back, baby! Leading this week’s POW Dispatch is the news that the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act has been reintroduced into both the House and the Senate. This piece of legislation can be a major step toward making the protection of public lands part of the solution to climate change. Additionally, United States cities are struggling to accurately keep tabs on their carbon emissions, coal has lost its grip on the American Southwest and electrified snowmobiles could soon be a viable way to score the goods in the backcountry. Read more in this week’s POW Dispatch.
Gunnison Country Times
Mount Wilson, near Telluride, Colorado.
Photo: Donny O’Neill
“As we reintroduce both the House and the Senate legislation today, I’m just so excited about its progress, and I have no doubt that this is the year we make the CORE Act reality.” — Congressman Joe Neguse, D-Colorado
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act was reintroduced in both the House and Senate this week. This is like waking up to a fresh foot of snow when the forecast predicted a dusting. The CORE Act passed through the House of Representatives in 2019, thanks to the help of the Outdoor State, but hit a dead-end in the Senate in 2020.
As a reminder of the specifics of the CORE Act: The legislation will protect 400,000 acres of public land, establish new wilderness areas, protect existing outdoor recreation opportunities and designate a first-ever National Historic Landscape for the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale. As if that wasn’t enough, the bill takes 200,000 acres off the table for future oil and gas development and creates a program to reuse methane (a potent greenhouse gas) waste. Not only is this huge climate action for the state of Colorado, but for the country as a whole, as protecting our nation’s public lands from oil and gas extraction is imperative in the ongoing effort to reduce carbon emissions. Since over 20 percent of the nation’s emissions come from public lands, protecting those areas from oil and gas development should be part of the climate solution.
Congressman Neguse has twice guided the CORE Act through the House of Representatives, and we’re confident he can prevail once again. In the Senate, newly appointed Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper will join Senator Michael Bennet (who introduced the bill with Neguse in 2019), in advocating for the CORE Act. Hickenlooper included the CORE Act in his campaign objectives and sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, meaning his influence could push the legislation to passage this year.
Passing the CORE Act would be a huge win for climate action. No matter what state you’re from, the CORE Act can help set a precedent for public lands protection and climate action. Join Protect Our Winters in asking your members of Congress to support this landmark legislation.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Image: Jenny Nuss/Berkeley Lab
“The decarbonization of the U.S. energy system is fundamentally an infrastructure transformation. It means that by 2050 we need to build many gigawatts of wind and solar power plants, new transmission lines, a fleet of electric cars and light trucks, millions of heat pumps to replace conventional furnaces and water heaters, and more energy-efficient buildings – while continuing to research and innovate new technologies.”— Berkeley Lab senior scientist Margaret Torn
We probably sound like a broken record at this point, but the evidence is clear! The shift to a clean energy infrastructure is the quickest way to reduce carbon emissions and protect our outdoor spaces from the effects of climate change. It’s completely doable and within reach, like the final summit push on a long hike. It will be a bumpy journey, of course, but the Outdoor State is accustomed to accomplishing feats they didn’t even think were possible. Pivoting to renewable energy, electrifying transit and stopping fossil fuel extraction from public lands are great first steps toward the ultimate summit.
New research published by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of San Francisco paints a detailed picture of how the United States can reach zero net emissions by 2050. The research, published in the American Geophysical Union Advances journal, outlines eight steps needed by 2030 to achieve this goal:
- Increase solar and wind capacity 3.5 times, to 500 gigawatts
- Eliminate electricity generation from coal
- Maintain current natural gas generating capacity for reliability
- Increase zero-emission vehicle sales share to 50 percent
- Increase sales share of building heat pumps to 50%
- All new building and appliances must meet strict energy efficiency goals
- Elevated research and development for carbon capture, sequestration and carbon-neutral fuels
- Build electricity transmission and pipelines for carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas
Among these steps, increasing renewable energy capacity, eliminating coal and increasing zero-emission vehicle sales all fit into Protect Our Winters’ (POW) policies. Combined with ridding our public lands of oil and gas extraction (where over 20 percent of the country’s emissions can be traced back to), these infrastructure changes can drastically reduce the United States’ carbon output and, in turn, protect our outdoor places and lifestyles from the harmful effects of ongoing climate change.
The New York Times
Photo: Donny O’Neill
“We haven’t had a systematic regulatory approach to controlling greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. A crucial step toward any sort of policy has to be, ‘What are our emissions, where are they, how much are they and what’s making them happen?” – Kevin R. Gurney, a professor at Northern Arizona University’s School of Informatics, Computing and Cyber Systems
A study published in the journal, Nature Communications, revealed that, on average, American cities are undercounting their greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 20 percent. Twenty percent is the difference between a 100-inch snowpack and 80 inches, for reference. According to the study, nearly three-quarters of the countries greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to cities. Perhaps they should consider using our cost of carbon tool?
Cities in the United States, and around the world, have stepped up and set ambitious targets to lower emissions, however, there’s not a consistent way to measure the amount of carbon dioxide they’re emitting. It’s like how some ski areas report a foot of new snow while their neighbors post a mere few inches. There’s no consensus on the reporting!
Since taking office, the Biden administration has made huge strides in its climate plans, rejoining the Paris agreement, temporarily halting new oil and gas leasing on public lands and putting climate change at the center of foreign policy. While these national moves and targets will establish the United States as a leader on climate, much of the emissions reductions will fall into the hands of local communities and the constituents that hold them accountable… that’s you.
The under-reporting on the part of cities is due in large part to a lack of tools and measurement know-how to properly track carbon emissions. This underscores the importance of a continued focus on the reduction of carbon emissions from federal, state and local governments, as well as the reliance on scientific expertise in monitoring these emissions.
The paper concluded that with scientists providing the measurement expertise to cities, urban officials “can devote time and resources to the activity they have the greatest knowledge and political influence over: the best mitigation strategies.”
A group of over 135 investors, including pension funds, faith-based investors and money managers, representing over $2 trillion in investments, are forming a coalition to urge ExxonMobil towards focusing on energy transition.
The embrace of renewable energy by large oil and gas companies would mark a huge step in the world’s actions on climate. Technological and financial solutions and a cultural shift in our nation’s attitude about climate change are both pillars of POW’s Theory of Change. If large oil companies can get on board with the shift in mindset and put their money towards new energy sources and technological advancements in energy sourcing, it can make all the difference in combating climate change.
Now, ExxonMobile had no comment regarding the new coalition of investors and their push for a focus on energy transition, but the fact that large stakeholders in the company are demanding change is a step in the right direction. With $2 trillion in investments hanging in the balance with this coalition, it underscores the point that the best way to sprint away from fossil fuels is to pull funding. More money funding dirty energy equals more problems.
For more information on who is funding fossil fuels and how to pull the plug, check out our work on the Stop The Money Pipeline campaign.
High Country News
“The Big Breakdown also opens up space for hope and opportunity, for a rethinking and refashioning of energy systems and economies.’ — Jonathan Thompson, contributing editor at High Country News
The smokestacks of the Navajo Generating Station dominated the sandstone horizon of the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona for nearly 50 years. They were a symbol of the United States’ reliance on coal as an energy source. In December 2019, the plant shut down and in December 2020, the smokestacks were demolished, and with it, the power and influence of coal.
The rise of coal in the Southwest beginning in the 1960s is dubbed the Big Buildup, but the power plants that came out of the buildup are crashing down. The Mojave Power Station, Reid-Gardner Generating Station and Navajo Generating Station have all shuttered, the San Juan Generating Station will close next year and the Four Corners Power Plant isn’t expected to operate past 2031. Since 2007, domestic coal consumption is down 65 percent.
While leaving coal behind is imperative to reducing emissions that cause climate change, coal-dependent economies and communities must receive a just transition in a clean energy economy. Indigenous communities such as the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation, as well as coal towns like Farmington, New Mexico, and Gillette, Wyoming, have all suffered from the pivot from coal. However, the transition to a clean energy economy opens the door for job creation surrounding new energy systems. Job creation is a large component of President Joe Biden’s climate plan.
“A key plank of our Build Back Better Recovery Plan is building a modern, resilient climate infrastructure and clean energy future that will create millions of good-paying union jobs—not seven, eight, 10, 12 dollars an hour, but prevailing wage and benefits,” said Biden, prior to signing executive orders last week.
A viable clean energy future is much closer than it was just a few months ago, and ensuring American workers are a part of that transition is crucial.
Is an electric snowmobile revolution in our future?
Image courtesy of BRP, Inc.
“It’s not a question of if electrification will happen in powersports, it’s a question of when.” — Jose Boisjoli, CEO of BRP, Inc.
Let’s be honest. Ripping a snowmobile miles into the snowy mountains to escape the crowds, cut down on touring distance and ski tasty lines is amazing. But, it does nothing to help a guilty conscience. Traditional snowmobiles are fossil fuel guzzlers and aren’t friendly to skiers both looking for untracked pow and to limit their carbon footprints. Plus, they always leave your ski kit smelling like an auto body shop.
Electrified transit isn’t limited to America’s highways, and the electrification of powersports, including snowmobiles, would provide a clean means for accessing the goods in the backcountry. After sustaining huge growth during the pandemic, Canadian powersports manufacturer BRP, Inc., makers of Ski-Doo sleds, is hoping a focus on green products will help sustain that growth. The company is planning on developing a new fleet of electric-powered products over the next three years—a strategy POW can get behind.
For more on developing a better electric vehicle infrastructure, click here.
Local Climate News
While national climate topics often dominate the news cycle, there’s still plenty going on surrounding renewables, electrified transit, public lands and more in states and local communities across the nation. Take a look at what’s going on locally via the news blurbs below.