Afleveringen

  • Why Community?

    It’s easy to feel despair about climate change and environmental destruction. But despair can make it hard to forge connections and take action. According to emotion researchers, hope means believing that you have the power to improve problems, rather than ignoring them. One possible source of hope? Community building events, where diverse groups of activists can find common ground.

    What is Bioneers?

    Climate Break spoke with Teo Grossman, Senior Director of Programs and Research for the longstanding environmental conference Bioneers, about how community building events like the Bioneers conference foster hope and catalyze action. Now in its 34th year, Bioneers is an interdisciplinary environmental organization whose annual conference brings together environmental advocates and innovators from a wide variety of disciplines to share stories and brainstorm solutions. Grossman joined Bioneers in 2014 but first spoke there while still a college student in the early 2000s. He says his time at Bioneers has convinced him that community events and storytelling are powerful tools for change.

    Bioneers’s History

    Throughout its history, Bioneers has been home to new ways of thinking about environmental activism.The annual conference helped spawn major climate organizations like 350.org and inspired some of Michael Pollan’s early work on the food system. Grossman also highlights its role in advancing the Rights of Nature legal movement. Rights of Nature seeks to recognize nature itself – like bodies of water and endangered species – as having legal rights. In 2008, Bolivia became the first country to include explicit rights for nature in their constitution. Other countries have since followed suit.

    Bioneers Today

    Bioneers has expanded since its inception, and now includes year round media and educational programming in addition to its annual conference. Grossman says they’re especially proud of their Native-led Indigeneity Program, which includes youth leadership scholarships and forums.

    This year's conference includes speakers from throughout the world of climate and environmental justice, including political scientist Leah Stokes, clean-tech entrepreneur Danny Kennedy, and One Fair Wage President Saru Jayaraman. Also on the agenda? Conversations about the role fiction writing and narrative can play in restoring hope to the environmental movement, hosted by science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson and essayist Rebecca Solnit. Bioneers is holding its annual conference April 6-8 in Berkeley. You can learn more about the conference on their website.

    Other Resources for Finding Community

    In addition to Bioneers, there are plenty of other ways to find hope and connect with the environmental movement. Interested in making decarbonization your job? Resources like Climatebase and Work on Climate offer centralized job listings and career support. You can also seek workshops and seminars to hear new perspectives on environmental issues. International organizations like Resources for the Future host lectures and workshops to highlight ongoing research, while in the Bay Area, local groups like the SF Federal Reserve and the Commonwealth Club’s Climate One host lectures both in person and online.

    Looking for ways to take direct action? Databases like the CA Climate Action Portal map climate action by local government. Research the climate action – or inaction – your local government is doing to find ways to get involved. You may be able to attend public meetings for your energy providers, where you can meet other constituents and advocate for just and renewable energy. For example, San Francisco CCA Clean Power SF holds regular meetings over zoom that are welcome to the public. To go even bigger, attend public meetings by statewide regulatory agencies like the CPUC, which oversees the rates and investments of California utilities like PG&E.

    About the Guest

    Teo Grossman is Senior Director of Programs and Research for Bioneers, where he helps lead both conference development and Bioneers’s year-round media production. He studied environmental science and management as a Doris Duke Conservation Fellow at UC Santa Barbara and first began working with Bioneers as a Program Manager in the early 2000s.

    For a transcript, please visit https://climatebreak.org/community-as-antidote-to-climate-despair-with-teo-grossman/

  • The Vital Role of Wetlands

    Wetlands are critical ecosystems that play a fundamental role in maintaining the stability and well-being of both local and global environments. Coastal salt marshes, flooded and drained by tides, and often composed of deep mud and peat, provide a wide range of ecosystem services that contribute to biodiversity, water quality, carbon storage, and climate regulation.

    Biodiversity and Habitat Connectivity

    Salt marshes are incredibly diverse habitats and serve as breeding grounds, nurseries, and foraging areas for a wide range of aquatic and terrestrial species. This biodiversity helps maintain ecosystem resilience and adaptability in the face of environmental changes. Wetlands also provide essential habitat connectivity by serving as corridors for the movement of species between different ecosystems and supporting genetic diversity and species’ adaptation to changing environmental conditions.

    Natural Water Regulation

    Salt marshes act as natural water regulators, storing excess water during periods of heavy rainfall, reducing the risk of floods in downstream areas. During dry periods, wetlands slowly release stored water, helping to maintain steady streamflow and prevent water shortages. Wetlands are natural filters that improve water quality by trapping sediment, nutrients, and pollutants from runoff and wastewater. Further, coastal wetlands act as natural buffers against sea-level rise and storm surges. They stabilize shorelines, protect coastal communities from erosion, and reduce the impacts of extreme weather events.

    Greenhouse Gas Sequestration

    Salt marshes are among the most efficient ecosystems in terms of carbon sequestration. The plants in salt marshes, including grasses and other vegetation, absorb carbon dioxide and convert it into organic matter. This organic matter is then stored in the soil, where it can remain for long periods, effectively acting as a carbon sink. In fact, tidal marshes can sequester carbon at a rate 10 times higher than tropical rainforests.

    Salt marshes also play a role in regulating methane emissions. Some wetlands, known as "methane sinks," actively consume methane from the atmosphere through specialized microbial processes, effectively reducing its impact as a greenhouse gas. Methane gas has significant atmospheric heating qualities, and in turn excess emissions have negative environmental impacts. The carbon storage and methane regulation services provided by salt marshes have a direct impact on the global climate. “ Because methane is “both a powerful greenhouse gas and short-lived compared to carbon dioxide, achieving significant reductions would have a rapid and significant effect on atmospheric warming potential” the EPA states. By storing carbon and reducing methane emissions, wetlands help to mitigate the greenhouse effect.

    The Nitrogen Cycle and Coastal Waters

    Salt marshes are a key component in the nitrogen cycle as well. These ecosystems filter and process excess nutrients that can enter coastal waters. Excess nitrogen runoff from agricultural activities and urban areas can lead to harmful algal blooms and dead zones in coastal waters. Salt marshes act as natural filters, trapping and transforming nutrients, which helps maintain water quality and support marine ecosystems. Conserving and restoring these ecosystems is crucial for both mitigating the impacts of climate change and maintaining the overall health of coastal and marine environments.

    Human Benefits

    Salt marshes and tidal wetlands provide critical services to humans as well, including protection of infrastructure from coastal hazards, and habitat protection for economically important species. A large majority of U.S. wetlands today have been lost or degraded due to human activities, primarily related to development of coastal wetlands. NASA scientists conducted an analysis of salt marsh ecosystems changes and degradation from 2000 to 2019, and they found the loss of these ecosystems resulted in an “estimated net global emissions of 16.3 Teragrams of carbon dioxide across the study period, an annual equivalent of emissions from approximately 3.5 million motor vehicles.” Feedback and interactions among natural and anthropogenic drivers have altered the stability and persistence of coastal wetlands, and continue to accelerate carbon emissions and atmospheric warming.

    Restoration Efforts and Challenges

    Dr. Kroeger and his team’s latest salt marsh restoration project occurred at Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS), which encompasses a diverse range of ecosystems, including coastal dunes, salt marshes, woodlands, and freshwater ponds. Salt marsh restoration efforts within CCNS focus on restoring tidal flow to marshes that have been affected by human alterations. This involves removing or modifying structures that impede natural water movement, allowing marshes to recover and thrive. The CCNS ecosystem restoration project also used numerous tools such as prescribed fire and construction of new culverts constructed in Hatches Harbor to allow for greater tidal exchange. To date, twenty culverts have been replaced, restoring natural tidal exchange to more than 300 acres of coastal wetland habitat. Currently, plans are underway for additional tidal restoration throughout Cape Cod, including the Herring River Restoration Project in Wellfleet. Involving almost 1,000 acres of former salt marsh, the Herring River is the most ambitious and largest tidal restoration project in New England.

    Wetland restoration faces many challenges including sediment starvation by dams and dikes, land subsidence from oil drilling and river channelization. River sediments often dumped into gulfs instead of marshes deteriorating the foundations of these wetlands. Excessive agricultural run-off containing high quantities of nitrogen are also damaging these ecosystems by crippling root growth and causing algae blooms and dead zones. Increased frequency and force of natural disasters, such as hurricanes and sea level rise, due to climate change exacerbate restoration efforts too. Another barrier is the high costs associated with restoration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates restoring and preserving wetlands costs between $170-$6,100 per acre, with lower costs in rural midwestern areas and higher costs in populated coastal regions.

    Who is our Guest?

    Dr. Kevin Kroeger has studied coastal ecosystems since 1990, with focus on a range of topics including fluxes and biogeochemistry of nitrogen in groundwater discharge to estuaries and wetlands, estuarine water quality, and carbon and greenhouse gas cycling and fluxes in coastal wetlands. Dr. Kroeger is currently the lead of the Biogeochemical Processes group at Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center in Massachusetts. Dr. Kroeger also received his PhD in Biogeochemistry from Boston University’s marine program, an M.S. in Marine Sciences from the University of Connecticut, and a B.A. in ecology from the University of Tennessee.

    For a transcript of this episode, please visit https://climatebreak.org/salt-marshes-ecosystem-powerhouses-in-climate-regulation-and-biodiversity/

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  • What are “Resilience Hotspots”?

    Technology and high-tech solutions are not the only responses to climate change. Nature can also be a powerful form of climate resilience. Resilience hotspots are small pockets of nature that, when restored and maintained, act as barriers to climate impacts. For instance, wetlands can insulate shores from storm surges and trees can provide shade in urban heat islands. In this way, climate adaptation can go hand-in-hand with integrating nature into our cities.

    The Science of Nature-Based Solutions

    While many natural areas can have climate benefits, wetlands and urban green spaces are particularly significant ecosystems in terms of climate adaptation. How do these natural protections from climate change work in the first place?

    Wetlands are areas where the soil is saturated with water either seasonally or year-round. They often provide crucial protection from the heavy rainfall and storms, which are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change. Acting as a sort of sponge, wetlands have the ability to absorb and temporarily store the excess water from these events. When a storm hits, wetlands are a “speed bump” to floodwaters, slowing and holding back storm surge and flooding that otherwise causes damage to nearby cities and towns. According to NOAA, such protection by wetlands saves US coastal communities a whopping $23 billion a year. In many areas of the US, wetlands have been degraded by nearby urbanization or drained for development, leaving these areas more vulnerable to storm surge and flooding. As a result, restoring wetlands has become a priority as a strategy to increase climate resilience in these areas.

    Urban green spaces protect against a different climate impact: extreme heat. Because urban surfaces tend to be densely covered in heat-absorbing materials like asphalt or concrete, cities absorb a greater proportion of heat from the sun’s rays. This, combined with greater concentrations of greenhouse gasses in cities, leads to a situation where cities can be up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than nearby green spaces, a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. With the temperature increases associated with climate change, the heat island effect poses great risks for heat-related illness and death. Urban green spaces break up the dense cover of manmade material with parks, green roofs, and shade-providing trees, creating natural areas that reflect sunlight, take up greenhouse gas emissions and provide aesthetic and mental health benefits.

    How to Build Resilience Hotspots

    So how can we implement these nature-based climate solutions into our cities? The resilience hotspots approach uses a patchwork of crucial sites integrated into towns and communities. By focusing on places with great potential to mitigate climate damage, this approach promotes the benefits of nature-based solutions while working with the existing urban infrastructure.

    In the San Francisco Bay Area of California, for example, existing wetlands have the potential to store water and reduce storm surge during storm events if they are enhanced, thereby protecting a great number of low-lying urban places. Greenbelt Alliance has identified eighteen key areas across the Bay Area that have great natural potential to mitigate climate damages and are located in or near communities that will bear greater impacts from climate change. Working with community partners, they plan and implement restoration projects that enhance the ecosystem and increase resilience.

    Equity also plays an important role in designing resilience hotspots. A process that involves community organizations in the restoration of their environment integrates local expertise and insights and can promote equitable outcomes. By combining science and equity, restoration, equity and resilience can operate collectively. Resilience hotspots can be a natural tool for mitigating climate damages and for advancing climate justice.

    About our Guest

    Sadie Wilson is the Director of Planning and Research at Greenbelt Alliance, where she manages resilience hotspots work and advocates for climate smart planning and policy. During her Masters in City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley, she contributed to research at many Bay-Area focused institutions including the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, The Center for Cities and Schools, and The Terner Center.

    For a full transcript of this episode, please visit https://climatebreak.org/resilience-hotspots-natures-role-in-urban-climate-adaptation/

  • What is “Green Ammonia”?

    Ammonia is a vital chemical that sustains half of all food production around the world (through the creation of agricultural fertilizer), but the process we use to make it results in significant greenhouse gas emissions. Ammonia, which is made up of nitrogen and hydrogen, requires extreme heat and pressure and large amounts of energy (usually from fossil fuels) in order to synthesize. “Green ammonia” production reduces this reliance on emission-intensive energy by using cleaner hydrogen inputs and processes that require less energy.

    Green ammonia, while easier on the planet, is a much harder task to accomplish than mainstream methods. In the Haber-Bosch process, the standard industrial procedure used today, high pressure steam is shot at methane or coal, breaking up the components to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This process requires fossil fuels as an input and releases greenhouse gasses during production, making it a significant contributor to climate change. Once the hydrogen is produced, the Haber-Bosch process synthesizes the hydrogen and nitrogen and separates out ammonia using high temperatures and extreme pressure swings, conditions that require large energy input. The Haber-Bosch process is so energy intensive that this chemical reaction alone accounts for about 1% of global annual CO2 emissions!

    The Chemical with the Biggest Footprint

    Green Ammonia aims to reduce reliance on fossil fuels in multiple stages of this procedure through different approaches. Areas of research include creating reactors that convert sunlight and air into hydrogen, binding together the hydrogen and nitrogen under less pressure than nearly 200 atmospheres, and using less pressure to separate the finished ammonia from other residual gasses at the end of the procedure.

    The Ammonia Separation Challenge

    While the Haber-Bosh process uses a large pressure change to liquefy ammonia gas, this method, and many current separation techniques, are carbon intensive and not fully compatible with cleaner hydrogen sources. Creating technology that can more efficiently capture ammonia at lower temperatures and pressures would reduce the energy costs of producing ammonia significantly. An added bonus? Downscaled reactors require lower temperatures and pressures, potentially enabling small-scale ammonia production on farms themselves.

    About Benjamin Snyder

    Benjamin Snyder is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois, where he conducts research combining inorganic, physical, and materials chemistry. He led green ammonia research as an Arnold O. Beckman Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley, focusing on alternative methods to separate ammonia.

    For a transcript of this episode, please visit https://climatebreak.org/green-ammonia-pioneering-a-sustainable-future-in-food-production/

  • What is CRISPR?

    DNA contains the fundamental information about an organism, and is used as an instruction manual to guide organism structure and function. Until CRISPR (short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) technology was developed by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, editing DNA sequences was very difficult. Here’s the short version of the CRISPR process. First, a CRISPR enzyme is guided by an RNA strand to a DNA strand researchers want to edit. The RNA strand guides the enzyme to a specific point, and the enzyme cuts the DNA molecule. This CRISPR process can be used to eliminate DNA strands, as well as to replace DNA strands using other “repair” enzymes. It is a direct way for human beings to alter the planet’s biological blueprint, and, accordingly, its impact can be a strong force for change, positive or negative.

    How can CRISPR be used to fight climate change?

    CRISPR can be used to edit the genetic sequences of plants so that they capture more carbon during photosynthesis, and store it in the ground long-term. Since around a third of the Earth’s land is cropland, CRISPR-modified agriculture could potentially sequester billions of tons of carbon each year. Professor Kris Niyogi at UC Berkeley studies how CRISPR can be used to increase the efficiency of sunlight utilization in plants during photosynthesis. Photosynthesis captures carbon dioxide, and requires sunlight to do so. By not letting any sunlight go to waste, the plant can capture more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. CRISPR can also be used to create plants with deeper roots, enabling carbon to be stored deeper in the ground. UC Berkeley Professor Peggy Lamaux studies sorghum plants, searching for the genes responsible for sorghum’s deep roots. Related genes in rice and wheat could be altered to have deeper roots, like the sorghum plant. And UC Berkeley Professor Jill Banfield studies how plant-microbe interactions can be altered by CRISPR to store more carbon in soil. Soil microbes secrete sticky biopolymers, which can take soil humic substances and lock them with minerals to create long-lasting associations (potentially up to 100 years) that hold carbon. The Banfield lab aims to CRISPR-modify plants so that they chemically “talk” to microbes, emitting chemicals that encourage the microbes to create more “sticky” carbon, rather than carbon that would be emitted into the atmosphere.

    Who is Kris Niyogi?

    Kris Niyogi is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, a professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a faculty scientist in the Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The Niyogi Lab studies photosynthetic energy conversion and its regulation in algae and plants. The lab's long-term research goals are to understand how photosynthesis operates, how it is regulated, and how it might be improved to help meet the world's needs for food and fuel. Dr. Niyogi earned his biology PhD from MIT.

    Further Reading

    In 10 years, CRISPR transformed medicine. Can it now help us deal with climate change? | University of California

    This scientist thinks she has the key to curb climate change: super plants

    Supercharging Plants and Soils to Remove Carbon from the Atmosphere

    CRISPR-Cas Can Help Reduce Climate Change

    Can we hack DNA in plants to help fight climate change?

    For a transcript, please visit https://climatebreak.org/using-crispr-to-fight-climate-change-with-professor-kris-niyogi/

  • What is Geothermal Energy?

    Geothermal energy is heat generated in the earth. It is a renewable source of energy, and it is extracted from the inner earth for energy use. Typically, geothermal energy is harnessed through holes that are drilled allowing hot water or steam to be extracted. These resources then drive a turbine to generate electricity and energy. Harnessed in this way, geothermal energy has significantly fewer environmental impacts than fossil fuels.

    The Pros and Cons of Geothermal Energy

    Geothermal energy can provide base load power—available 24/7—which is generally not the case for wind and solar. Wind and solar are intermittent resources, requiring energy storage to be able to match energy demand during times when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining. Second, deriving energy from geothermal sources can be done highly efficiently, with less energy than from other sources. Dependability and cost make geothermal energy an appealing option under the right conditions.

    However, like other forms of energy, geothermal energy also comes with drawbacks. Geothermal resources may be finite, as they can cool over time. Additionally, there is a high upfront investment cost for geothermal energy. Considering both the positives and negatives of geothermal energy is crucial for understanding future feasibility of this energy source.

    What’s Next for Geothermal Development?

    The US is currently the leader in geothermal energy, and policies and development of the resource may be expanding. Colorado has launched “The Heat Beneath Our Feet” initiative, which supports the development of geothermal energy generation. Additionally, the US Department of the Interior has voiced its support in favor of geothermal energy, for it believes that the expansion of geothermal energy carries many benefits.

    The United States also produces the most geothermal energy, with California producing the second most geothermal energy after Nevada. As a result of new research and technology, we may only be tapping the surface (so to speak) of available geothermal energy. By some estimates, the United States is using less than 1% of the available geothermal energy. With developing technology, there is hope that this untapped energy can be accessed more broadly and in a cost effective manner.

    About our guest

    Pat Dobson is a staff scientist leading the geothermal assistance program at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. He has many years of research experience, and focuses on volcanic rock and the effects of water-rock interaction. This has been the focus of much of his research and publications, and he is currently working on field and coupled process modeling studies of The Geysers with Lawrence Labs and Sanford Underground Research Facility.

    Further ReadingsNational Geographic, Encyclopedia entry: Geothermal Energy (2022)GreenMatch (UK), Advantages and Disadvantages of Geothermal Energy – The Source of Renewable Heat (2023)National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Full Steam Ahead: Unearthing the Power of GeothermalU.S. Department of Interior, Geothermal Energy Development, Statement of Tim Spisak (2019)Western Governors’ Association, The Heat Beneath Our FeetCenter for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan, Geothermal Fact Sheet (2022)

    For a transcript, please visit https://climatebreak.org/geothermal-power-tapping-earths-heat-for-a-carbon-free-future/

  • Zero-Emissions Public Transportation: Demand and Supply

    Globally, transportation accounts for approximately one quarter of all CO2 emissions and grew by 3% in 2022. “Buses and other heavy-duty vehicles are responsible for a disproportionate share of the carbon and air pollution emissions from the transportation sector.” As a result, many governments are focusing policies and financial assistance on transitioning heavy-duty vehicles from diesel to zero-emissions vehicles. In the United States, the Federal Transit Administration received $7.5 billion through 2026 for battery-electric buses from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. As public awareness of climate change and the risks associated with climate pollution grow, demand for zero emissions public transportation options is also rising. “Nearly 5,500 new full-size zero-emission transit buses were on the road, on order or funded in the U.S. in 2022, a 66% increase over the previous year.”

    This public demand requires bus operators to purchase zero-emissions buses and to build or acquire the needed infrastructure for those buses. For larger metropolitan areas, this can pose a significant financial obstacle. For example, the transit authority in Washington, DC, will “buy about 100 electric buses and refurbish a depot to charge and maintain them,” at a cost of $104 million. Thus, the public demand for zero emissions public transportation options translates to local government need for federal grants to respond to that demand. While in the US, much of this money will be coming from the federal government, Scotland’s transportation agency is taking a different approach.

    Scotland’s Bus Decarbonisation Taskforce

    Transport Scotland–the national transport agency for Scotland–has ambitious emissions reductions targets for vehicles of all categories, including heavy-duty vehicles, and hopes to achieve those targets through programs like the Mission Zero for Transport initiative, “a mission-led approach” that includes a pledge to “ensure that people and places benefit fairly from the shift to sustainable, zero emission mobility.”

    Scotland’s Low Carbon Economy Directorate facilitates the development of solutions that leverage the expertise and experiences of participating communities. The Bus Decarbonisation Taskforce is a good example of this.

    The taskforce developed rounds of bidding for financial and technical assistance from the government, as well as peer-to-peer learning and support opportunities. Initially, small- and medium-sized operators, while frequently interested in transitioning to zero-emissions vehicles, did not have the staffing capacity to develop the bid applications or to seek needed infrastructure improvements, leading to fewer small- and medium-sized operators being able to take advantage of the taskforce’s programs. As a result, the taskforce changed aspects of the second round of bidding to benefit small and medium-sized operators.

    Benefits of a holistic approach to governance

    In convening and collaborating so closely with the transportation sector, Transport Scotland learned more about the internal dynamics of the industry and how market share facilitates or hampers a transition to zero-emission vehicles.

    The taskforce also incentivized bidders to collaborate with other sectors, such as bus depots operators that might open their spaces to other operators such as EV charging, potentially accelerating the spread of zero emissions adoption to sectors beyond buses.

    Finally, the hope is that by developing the skills, abilities, and awareness that will strengthen the market for zero-emission public transportation, eventually the type of support offered by the government will no longer be needed.

    Time and money

    There are, of course, drawbacks to such an approach. Financing can be difficult for the private sector. While studies show that total operating costs of running zero emissions buses will be equal to or less than diesel engines, investment in new buses and infrastructure requires significant capital at the start. The transport sector often runs on very small margins, making such capital outlays a precarious option.

    Additionally, the collaborative and iterative approach takes time, which was particularly true during the covid-19 pandemic. Transform Scotland, a national alliance for sustainable transport, released a report in September 2022 indicating that the Scottish government would not reach their ambitious target of removing the majority of diesel buses from public transport by the end of 2023. In fact, Transform Scotland noted that only about 16% of the fleet would be decarbonized by that time. In a BBC article, the author of the Transform Scotland report, Marie Ferdelman, noted that the group “observed no or only slow progress on the majority of sustainable transport commitments” and that “[t]he climate emergency and the cost of living crisis require urgent action … on delivering sustainable transport commitments.”

    Technology, contextualized

    Having zero emissions public transportation is great, but is less effective if everyone is driving cars. Large scale technological shifts do not occur in a vacuum, so support of the technological shift must be accompanied by, for example, easier access to public transportation.

    About our guest

    Ed Thomson is the Head of Zero Emission Foresight and International Engagement in the Low Carbon Economy Directorate of Transport Scotland, a government agency. He joined Transport Scotland in 2018 as Head of Low Emission Vehicle Policy, leading a team that focuses on the options, challenges and opportunities posed by the transition to low carbon forms of transport, including the implications for the economy and workforce.

    ResourcesSierra Club, Electric VehiclesUN Sustainable Transport Conference, Fact Sheet (2021)IEA, Transport (2023)The US’ billion-dollar EV bus program can’t keep up with demand, Canary Media (2023)Utility Dive, Transit agencies’ zero-emission bus adoption increased in 2022 (2023)Mission Zero for Transport (Scotland)Bus Decarbonisation Taskforce (Scotland)Transportation Decarbonisation AllianceBBC, Scotland to miss target on ditching most diesel buses (2022)Transport Scotland, Stuck in Traffic: Meeting the Programme for Government Commitments on Sustainable Transport (2022)

    For a transcript of this episode, please visit https://climatebreak.org/matching-demand-for-zero-emissions-public-transportation

  • Carbon-Free Trucks

    The European Green Deal, passed in 2020, sets policy initiatives approved by the European Commission to boost efficient use of resources to green, clean, circular economy and stop climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Reducing emissions from the transportation sector is an important part of the EU’s 2050 zero-emission goal, as the transportation sector accounts for 25% of emissions in the EU.

    New carbon emission reduction targets approved by the European Commission set an emissions reduction goal of 90%, compared to 2019 levels, for new trucks by 2040. The reduction pathway includes a series of five year incremental targets, starting with a 4% reduction by 2030. This will require the majority of heavy-duty vehicles to switch to electric power, while allowing some to continue using combustion power. Currently, there are 6.2 million trucks in the EU and 99% of them are powered by fossil fuels, with an average lifespan of 14 years. The commission also estimates 70% of newly sold trucks by 2030 will be diesel powered.

    Challenges and Push Backs to the New Targets

    These new targets face numerous challenges and considerable pushback from the fossil fuel and traditional trucking industries. Because some European regions will be hard to electrify, some parts of Europe may be excluded from the regulation. Other concerns include range insecurity for long-distance trucking, the lack of sufficient EV charging infrastructure, high electricity prices and tariffs, electricity grid congestion which limits installation of charging points, and uneven distribution of charging stations (half of all public EV charging points in the EU are located in the Netherlands and Germany). To combat this problem the EU adopted the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation requiring electric charging infrastructure with a minimum output of 350 kW every 60 km along the TEN-T core network, and charging points every 100 km on the larger TEN-T comprehensive network starting in 2025, and aiming for complete network coverage by 2030. This regulation also requires charging points to be installed in urban areas for delivery vehicles and in safe and secure parking areas for overnight recharging.

    While truck manufacturers have argued that the transition is happening too quickly, the European Commission considered but did not adopt a 100% emissions reduction target. Environmentalists also raised concerns with the regulations as new carbon emitting trucks built in 2040, will still be on the road in 2050 inhibiting the ability for the EU to reach net zero targets for 2050. One manufacturing company leading the way, is the Swedish truck manufacturer AB Volvo which began producing a series of electric trucks in 2022, and aims for half of its global truck deliveries to be electric by 2030.

    About Our Guest

    Sofie Defour is the freight director at Transport and Environment, an international secretariat and European advisory agency based in Brussels with a vision for a zero-emission mobility system. Defour leads the road freight team and acts as the clean trucks director. Defour also worked as policy coordinator for climate, energy and environment at the Flemish socialist party and holds a master degree in international politics. Defour sits on the board of the Flemish just transition NGO (Reset.Vlaanderen), as well as on the Sounding Board of the Belgian network for companies with Science Based Targets (Belgian Alliance for Climate Action).

    Resources

    European Commission, A European Green New Deal

    Reuters, Sweden's AB Volvo starts series production of heavy electric trucks (2022)

    Reuters, EU proposes 90% CO2 emissions cut by 2040 for trucks (2023)

    Chemistry Views, EU Emission Reduction for New Trucks and City Buses: Zero Emissions Target for New City Buses by 2030 And 90 % Emissions Reduction for New Trucks by 2040 (2023)

    KPMG, Charging ahead: Addressing EV charging infrastructure challenges in Europe

    Transport and Environment, E-truck charging infrastructure

    For a transcript of this episode, please visit https://climatebreak.org/carbon-free-trucks-on-the-road-to-zero-emissions/

  • Lithium Batteries

    While the use of lithium to power electric vehicle batteries has been around for close to a decade, and while car manufacturers and scientists have been on the hunt for a more efficient battery, today most manufacturers rely on lithium batteries as their primary go-to for power. This leads to a higher demand for lithium mining. Traditional alkaline batteries cannot be repeatedly recharged, while lithium batteries can be reused and recharged efficiently. Another traditional battery—lead-acid—while cheaper to manufacture than lithium batteries has a comparatively lower energy density, which results in a shorter battery life.

    History of Lithium Mining

    When lithium was first discovered, it was retrieved through open-pit mining, a more energy- and resource-intensive method of extraction. In the late 1990s, companies began to extract lithium from brines drawn up from deep underground. The salt-filled groundwater brine is filled with lithium byproducts, and once the water evaporates, lithium salts can be extracted. The brine is screened and filtered, and the drying process itself can take upwards of a year. Large pools of brine are left to sit and evaporate after being pumped up from underground.

    In particular, the Salton Sea, located in Southern California, has been found to contain large amounts of lithium that can be extracted from the salts. If developers and scientists can secure a more efficient way of unearthing the lithium from that source, the Salton Sea could prove to be a major site for lithium production for the US. Currently, companies are focusing their efforts on developing new technology and chemical procedures to extract lithium from the deposits in a more sustainable manner.

    Pros and Cons of Lithium Mining

    While lithium itself provides a more sustainable, cleaner energy source, the process of acquiring lithium through mining has severe environmental impacts. Lithium mining is very disruptive to ecosystems, requiring large land areas for extraction and evaporation. This often leads to impacts on habit and even food production depending on the location of the mine. Lithium mining can also impact the natural composition of the soil in which sites are located. The extraction process is also one that is extremely water-intensive; water is crucial in dissolving the brine and flushing out the lithium. Once extracted and integrated into batteries, lithium has proved to be reliable, efficient, and essential for powering several different renewable energy sources, namely solar and wind, as well as electric vehicles.

    About the guest

    Patrick F. Dobson is the head staff scientist of the Geothermal Systems Program at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is heavily involved in research surrounding geological and geochemical processes, more specifically his work focuses on the volcanic rocks and the reaction shared between water-rock relations. Dobson’s current work at the lab focuses on exploring methods to extract lithium from deposits deep in the Salton Sea. He and his team are devoted to understanding more about the rock composition at the Salton Sea and how establishing geothermal systems in the area could affect lithium production. Dobson has an extensive background in laboratory research and scholarly publications, much of which has largely focused on using geochemistry to record changes in rocks located at geothermal sites. His learnings have significantly contributed to a better understanding of geothermal systems as well as helped in deciding optimal sites for geothermal drilling.

    Resources & Further ReadingUtilizing supercritical geothermal systems: a review of past ventures and ongoing research activitiesSalton Sea lithium deposits could help EV transition, support economically devastated areaGeochemistryThe Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles

    For a transcript of this episode, please visit https://climatebreak.org/lithium-mining-in-salton-sea-geothermal-system/

  • Editorial Note

    The interview for this episode was recorded in June 2021. The basic point of the episode remains relevant, but the mentioned campaign is no longer active. ClimateVoice’s current campaign is Escape the Chamber, which calls on companies to leave the US Chamber of Commerce and to speak up and lead on climate policy at local, state, and federal levels.

    What is Corporate Lobbying for Climate Action?

    While lobbying—and corporate lobbying in particular—can often have negative connotations, it can be an effective tool to promote legislation to fight climate change. ClimateVoice takes a unique approach to corporate lobbying by incorporating the entire workforce into the process as opposed to just the executive team. ClimateVoice aims to get companies to lobby for policies that provide solutions to climate change. To that end, it reaches out to, engages with, and educates a company’s workforce on climate change issues and solutions. ClimateVoice’s founder, Bill Weihl, notes that a 2021 report showed that “Big Tech has diverted about four percent of their lobbying activity at the U.S federal level to climate-related policies. Big Oil has devoted about 38% of theirs.” ClimateVoice works to bridge this gap between Big Tech and Big Oil.

    ClimateVoice isn’t the only organization working towards encouraging corporations to lobby for climate change solutions. In 2006, a group of NGOs formed the U.S Climate Action Partnership to advocate for pro-climate policies. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, despite the efforts of the Climate Action Partnership, the “Waxman-Markey Cap-and-Trade Climate Bill failed in the U.S. Senate in 2009, and climate policy entered the wilderness for years.” In recent years, however, environmental organizations such as ClimateVoice have advocated for renewed corporate lobbying to help solve climate change. In 2019, as a result of these efforts, several environmental organizations including The Nature Conservatory, World Wildlife Federation, and Environmental Defense Fund took out a full-page ad in The New York Times calling for businesses to work towards policies that are consistent with climate science.

    Challenges

    Corporate lobbying for climate action faces some challenges. First, it is difficult to mobilize workers and management, and get them to agree on an environmental policy to lobby for. In addition, lobbying itself is not always successful. The process can be long and tedious without producing noticeable results for some time. Lastly, powerful and dedicated corporate interests lobby the government to stop climate action. Nonetheless, the presence of corporate voices lobbying for climate science-informed policy remains a viable way to implement climate change solutions at the legislative level.

    Who is Bill Weihl?

    Bill Weihl is the executive director of ClimateVoice. He started his career as an associate professor of computer science at MIT. In 2006, he transitioned to a career in climate action and led Google’s clean energy work. He then spent six years at Facebook as Director of Sustainability. Now at ClimateVoice, he works to use corporate influence to drive climate legislation.

    Further Reading

    Corporate Action on Climate Change Has to Include Lobbying, Harvard Business Review

    How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy, The Atlantic

    A Closer Look At How Corporations Influence Congress, NPR

    The challenging politics of climate change, Brookings

    Climate Insights 2020: Policies and Politics, Resources for the Future

    Glossary: Policy cycle | Monitoring Guide, Right to Education

    About Us, ClimateVoice

    For a transcript of this episode, please visit https://climatebreak.org/corporate-lobbying-as-an-ally/

  • What is the “30 by 30” Movement?

    The 30 by 30 movement is a global initiative aimed at conserving 30 percent of the Earth’s land by the year 2030. In October 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed executive order N-82-20, which committed California to this movement. The state aims to protect 30 percent of its lands and coastal areas by 2030. With an investment of $11 billion, California is among the first jurisdictions to implement a comprehensive 30 by 30 strategy.

    As of 2020, California had already protected 24 percent of its lands and 16 percent of its coastal waters.To reach the 30 percent target, an additional six million acres of land will need to be conserved.

    The 30 by 30 Initiative in California

    One of the primary objectives of 30 by 30 in California is protecting biodiversity. The initiative focuses on preserving ecosystems, supporting biodiversity services, and mitigating climate change impacts.Natural lands serve as significant carbon sinks, helping remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Locally driven conservation is also a critical part of the state’s conservation vision as it hopes to increase access to nature for everyone.

    The initiative strives to promote more resilient ecosystems, including healthier forests and wetlands, which can help to combat climate change. Efforts also include river conservation, floodplain management, and protecting coastal wetlands from rising sea levels. The State is collaborating with federal agencies, tribes, and local communities to achieve these goals. Within state government, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is part of the California Natural Resources Agency, is working to identify areas with high concentrations of biodiversity and rare species.

    Another key pillar of the 30 by 30 initiative in California is advancing tribal partnerships. The State is working to co-manage land with tribal partners, return land to tribes when possible, and increase tribal access to culturally significant lands and waters.As part of this effort, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife consulted with seventy tribes on conservation matters. Information gleaned during those meetings helped the Department identify priority lands for conservation. In July 2023, the Natural Resources Agency received a $101 million dollar grant to support tribal conservation initiatives and funding for the reacquisition of the indigenous communities’ ancestral lands. Jennifer Norris, Deputy Secretary for Biodiversity and Habitat at the Natural Resources Agency, said that “tribes want the opportunity to get back to their lands, to manage the lands that are part of their history and their legacy.” The Natural Resource Department aims to provide tribes with the technical support to achieve these goals.

    California’s 30 by 30 initiative also relies on citizen-driven conservation efforts. Citizens can help achieve the initiative’s goals by planting native plants in their gardens to increase biodiversity, reducing pesticide use, and supporting biodiversity-enhancing efforts.

    California’s Natural Resources Agency is spearheading California’s 30 by 30 initiative and conservation goals. The agency consists of twenty-six distinct departments, conservancies, and commissions; its work affects state parks, wilderness areas, working cattle ranches, and sustainably managed forests, among other areas.

    30 by 30 Initiative Challenges

    A primary challenge of the 30 by 30 initiative is the potential conflict between conservation efforts and other land uses. Striking a balance between conserving land and allowing for economic activities can be difficult, especially if conservation efforts lead to land use restrictions. A significant portion of California’s land is privately owned, and private landowners and ranching communities have voiced concern about the initiative. Convincing private landowners to participate in conservation efforts can be challenging due to concerns about property rights, economic impacts, and limitations on land use.

    While the 30 by 30 initiative aims to mitigate the impacts of climate change, it also needs to consider the changing climate itself. Climate change can lead to shifts in ecosystems, which might impact the effectiveness of conservation efforts. Adaptive management strategies will be necessary to ensure that conserved lands remain resilient in the face of changing climate conditions.

    Who is Jennifer Norris?

    Jennifer Norris is the Deputy Secretary for Biodiversity and Habitat at the California Natural Resources Agency. Jennifer and her team developed the strategic vision for the 30 by 30 initiative in California. She also leads the “Green Cutting Tape” project, which supports large-scale habitat creation. Jennifer has held numerous positions in federal and state government including most recently as supervisor of the Sacramento office of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. She has extensive experience in conservation policy, endangered species protection, and ecosystem management. She holds a B.S. in Resource Policy and Planning from Cornell University, an M.S. in Conservation Biology from the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of New Mexico. When she is not at work, she can be found exploring wild beaches, forests, and deserts with her family.

    For a transcript, please visit https://climatebreak.org/the-30-by-30-conservation-movement-with-jennifer-norris/

  • What are the problems with current beer production methods?

    Beer is primarily composed of water—making up about 90 percent of its content. Annually, over 100 billion gallons of beer are produced and shipped, meaning nearly 90 billion gallons of water are being transported in the form of beer. This is significant because approximately 20 percent of a beer’s carbon footprint is attributed to transportation. In response, Sustainable Beverage Technologies (SBT) has proposed a new type of beer that can reduce transportation costs, material use, and overall emissions.

    A Sustainable Solution

    SBT’s approach allows beer to travel through the supply chain as a concentrated liquid, reducing its water content to one-sixth that of conventional beer. In practical terms, one 13-pound bag of concentrated beer can yield the equivalent of 48 pints of fully hydrated beer. The condensed form of the beer significantly decreases the weight and physical size of the beer as it moves through the supply chain, which in turn reduces between 450 and 500 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions for every 48 pints produced.

    Additionally, the only packaging that is not recyclable is the bag of beer itself. All of the boxes used in transportation are recyclable, which significantly reduces the waste from beer production and transportation. Current partnerships allow SBT to ship this concentrated beer formula to various vendors, who then rehydrate the beer before selling it to consumers. SBT is actively working to expand these partnerships to further reduce emissions in the beer industry.

    Effect on Consumers

    This new beer will have minimal effect on the end consumer and will mainly influence partners and suppliers. SBT’s beer requires rehydration at its final destination; SBT is developing specialized technology to facilitate this. This beer allows consumers to keep enjoying their drinks while knowing they are contributing to a sustainable solution.

    About Gary Tickle

    Gary Tickle serves as the CEO of Sustainable Beverage Technologies.Alongside his partner, the original founder, he leads a team of innovators focused on crafting sustainable solutions for the beer industry while maintaining the beer flavor and feel.

    For a transcript of this episode, please visit: https://climatebreak.org/raising-the-bar-brewing-a-greener-future-with-concentrated-beer-with-gary-tickle/

  • Educating Girls is a Climate Solution

    Today, an estimated 80 percent of people displaced by climate disasters are women and girls, and women living below the poverty line are as much as 14 times more likely to die in a climate disaster. An already more at-risk population, women and girls are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, particularly if they live in economically disadvantaged communities. Low-income countries tend to be “young” countries with a large under-15 population. Climate change is a youth-centered problem – it will have a greater impact on children and future generations. Girls in these countries often have lower access to education compared to their male counterparts.

    But education, and especially education about climate change and climate policy, can contribute to climate resilience for girls. Involving girls in climate education, action, and leadership gives girls a “seat at the table” in climate policy discussions, and resilience against climate disaster can keep more girls (and all children) in school. Girls in low-income countries are the least responsible for climate change yet often bear the brunt of its effects. By equipping girls with tools to combat the climate crisis, and centering women’s rights in climate discussions, countries can reduce the negative impacts of climate change for girls and the rest of society.

    Who is Christina Kwauk?

    Christina Kwauk is an education consultant and policy analyst who specializes in the intersections between gender, education, and climate change. She is currently the Research Director at Unbounded Associates, a woman-owned small business that works with a broad network of non-governmental organizations, multilateral agencies, governments, and researchers to improve the global education space. Christina is also the founder and director of her own practice, Kwauk & Associates. Previously a fellow in the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, she researched and developed expertise in girls’ education and climate change in developing countries, publishing numerous articles and reports on the subject. Christina holds a Ph.D. in Comparative and International Development Education from the University of Minnesota, an M.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, and a B.S. in Psychology from The University of the South.

    Learn More

    Education is key to addressing climate change | United Nations

    Girls’ education in climate strategies | UNGEI

    Gender transformative education | UNGEI

    Plan International USA

    For a transcript of this episode, please visit: https://climatebreak.org/educating-girls-to-address-gendered-impacts-of-climate-change/

  • Background on Luxembourg

    Luxembourg is a tiny country in Western Europe wedged between Belgium, France, and Germany. It has one of the highest vehicle densities in the EU, with nine out of ten people relying on personal vehicles. The country is currently facing rapid population growth, stressing its mobility infrastructure and complicating efforts to meet emission goals in line with the European Green New Deal. Luxembourg’s green mobility goals include increasing the number of EVs on the road, expanding public transit, and decarbonizing air travel.

    Electric Vehicle Subsidies

    Luxembourg is taking a more European-style top-down approach to its electric vehicle problem. The government is first creating a market for electric vehicles through subsidizing EV purchases and financing charging networks. Free market action follows government subsidies, accelerating the development of more affordable and desirable EVs. The United States recently moved in this direction with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, though the federal government still lags far behind most European governments on climate action.

    Public Transit

    Key to Luxembourg’s approach to green mobility is reducing the large number of cars on its roads. Since 2020, public transit has been completely free in Luxembourg. This has had mixed results; the Covid-19 pandemic discouraged public transport riding. Luxembourg has also developed an app/GPS service integrating different transit options onto one platform and allowing for easy comparison of different mobility options.

    Aviation

    Luxembourg invests in green aviation, holding shares in Norsk e-Fuel– a Norwegian industry consortium focused on the production of what is known as SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel). Eventually, Luxembourg envisions planes running purely on green hydrogen, but this is a dream that will likely take years to come true. For now, “synthetic aviation fuel”, which uses captured carbon along with green hydrogen, is a low-carbon solution. Luxembourg is working with its Norwegian partners to build a green-hydrogen factory, necessary for any kind of SAF.

    Who is Minister François Bausch?

    Minister Bausch is the Second Deputy Prime Minister of Luxembourg and Minister of Mobility and Public Works. He is the leader of the Green Party in Luxembourg. Prior to his political career, Minister Bausch was an officer with Luxembourg National Railways, and has seen the rapid expansion of railway transport throughout his tenure in government.

    Learn More About Luxembourg and Green Mobility

    European Parliament Briefing – Climate Action in Luxembourg

    The Luxembourg Government (Press Release) – Luxembourg In Transition–Towards a zero-carbon, resilient and sustainable territory

    Sustainability Journal – Characterizing the Theory of Energy Transition in Luxembourg

    IEA – Luxembourg climate resilience policy indicator

    For a transcript, please visit https://climatebreak.org/learning-from-luxembourgs-approach-to-evs-with-minister-of-mobility-francois-bausch/

  • Youth-Led Climate Litigation

    Worldwide, litigants are turning to the courts as a forum for fighting climate change, filing lawsuits against governments in an attempt to force climate action. Plaintiffs in these lawsuits are often children and young adults, who represent those most affected by government climate inaction. A notable early example of youth-led litigation related to climate change was in the Philippines in the 1990s, where forty-three students sued the Philippine government to protect their village’s forest. Though the case was initially dismissed in lower courts on the ground that the students were children and did not have legal standing to sue, the students ultimately won their case and deforestation was halted.

    In the United States in 2015, twenty-one young people, the organization Earth Guardians, and climate scientist James Hansen (collectively, “plaintiffs”), represented by lawyers from the organization Our Children’s Trust, sued the U.S. government in a case called Juliana v. United States of America. The plaintiffs alleged that the U.S. government, in not taking sufficient action to fight climate change, knowingly violated their Fifth Amendment due process rights to life, liberty and property, and knowingly violated its commitment to protect public lands. In 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case on the ground that the legislative and executive branches have the power to address climate change, not the judicial system. Still, despite the ruling, Juliana v. United States catalyzed a climate litigation movement across the country and world, and a documentary film about the case increased its impact. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling did not end the case, which was sent back to the district court for further proceedings. In June 2023, the district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for leave to amend their complaint. Plaintiffs are hoping to survive additional motions to dismiss so that the case can proceed to trial.

    Our Children’s Trust has sued state governments on behalf of young people in all fifty states. Although most of those cases have been dismissed, the first of these cases to go to trial was Held v. Montana in June 2023. Additionally, in September 2023, Navahine F. v. Hawaii Department of Transportation is set to go to trial. These trials are the first in the United States involving youth-led constitutional climate cases, with the plaintiffs both using language from Montana’s and Hawaii’s constitutions to make their case.

    Is Climate Change a Question for the Courts?

    This is an ongoing debate. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Juliana v. United States case in 2020, with the majority opinion concluding that climate change is an issue for Congress and the Executive Branch to handle, rather than the judicial system. But Hawaii’s First Circuit Judge Jeffrey Crabtree argued, in response to lawyers for the Hawaii Department of Transportation who made a similar argument, that Navahine F. v. Hawaii Department of Transportation should be allowed to go to trial. Judge Crabtree wrote that “the courts unequivocally have an important and long-recognized role in interpreting and defending constitutional guarantees.” A separate and difficult legal question concerns the nature and extent of the public trust doctrine and what duty might apply to the government. The courts will need to wrestle with that set of issues if the cases reach the trial stage.

    Who is Julia Olson?

    Julia Olson is Executive Director and Chief Legal Counsel of Our Children’s Trust, the organization representing the youth plaintiffs in the climate change litigation discussed in this article. She earned her law degree (JD) from the University of California College of Law, San Francisco (then known as UC Hastings) in 1997 and began her legal career representing grassroots conservation groups working to protect the environment, organic agriculture, and human health. Since becoming a mother, Julia has focused her advocacy on youth climate action and founded Our Children’s Trust to further this mission.

    Further Reading

    Watch Youth v Gov | Netflix

    Meet the Youth Plaintiffs, Our Children’s Trust

    Juliana v. United States, Harvard Law Review (2021)

    It’s Kids vs. the World in a Landmark Climate Complaint, Gizmodo (2019)

    Trump admin again asks Supreme Court to stop youth climate lawsuit, The Hill (2018)

    For a transcript, please visit https://climatebreak.org/climate-change-litigation-on-behalf-of-young-people-with-julia-olson/

  • What is plastic?

    Plastic is a material derived primarily from carbon-based sources like natural gas, oil, and even plants. It is created by treating these organic materials with heat and catalysts to form various polymers. Producing plastic is energy-intensive, often relying on the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, both for power and as a primary source.

    As a product of fossil fuels, plastic itself is unsustainable because of its fundamental connection to nonrenewable energy. Since its introduction in the early 1900s, plastic has become omnipresent due to its cost-effectiveness and versatility. However, the environmental toll of our extensive plastic consumption — impacting oceans, wildlife, and contributing to climate change — is undeniable.

    Unlike natural organisms, plastic decomposes at a very slow rate due to its polymer structure. Though some recently identified microorganisms, like the Rhodococcus ruber strain studied by PhD student Maaike Goudriaan, show promise in digesting plastic faster, the research remains preliminary.

    Types of Plastic

    Most plastics we use, like bags and bottles, originate from oil and natural gas. Their widespread use has led to significant environmental contamination. On the other hand, there are bio-based plastics derived from sources like food waste, starch, or plants. Not all of these are biodegradable, and even these can harm the environment when they break down into tiny fragments consumed by wildlife.

    Addressing the Plastic Issue

    While completely eliminating plastic use seems unlikely, there are dedicated efforts to reduce its consumption. Grassroots organizations, like the Berkeley Ecology Center led by Martin Bourque, emphasize local community engagement and education. They advocate for sustainable practices such as using reusable bags, ditching plastic utensils, and employing minimal plastic in packaging. Initiatives like Berkeley's Single Use Disposable Ordinance have been instrumental in cutting down disposable food ware waste, like the clamshell packaging found in the produce section of grocery stores. Prioritizing bio-based plastics and managing our plastic consumption are essential steps towards a sustainable future.

    Who is Martin Bourque?

    Martin Bourque is the Executive Director of the Berkeley Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing community well-being and the environment. The Center's initiatives range from incentivizing farmer's markets to championing community-based policies. Outside of the Ecology Center, Bourque has also served on numerous state and national boards to help build the organic farming movement.

    Bourque earned his Bachelor of Arts in Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior from UC San Diego and his Master of Arts in Latin American Studies and Environmental Policy from UC Berkeley.

    For a transcript, please visit https://climatebreak.org/tackling-the-plastic-crisis-with-martin-bourque/

  • The Carbon Cost of Aviation

    Transportation is a leading contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, with air travel playing a significant role. In the United States, the transportation sector accounted for 29 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2021. Commercial airplanes and large business jets contributed ten percent of U.S. transportation emissions, and three percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. EPA. Despite reduced travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, air travel demand has rebounded and is expected to continue growing.

    Hydrogen’s Potential to Power Aviation

    Hydrogen offers three times more energy per kilogram than jet fuel and emits no toxic fumes when combusted. Its higher energy density and capacity for consistent electrical power make it a promising potential energy source for aircraft.

    Compared to aircraft powered by fossil fuels, there are many potential advantages to aircraft powered by hydrogen: zero emissions, increased efficiency, greater power, a longer operational lifespan, and benign byproducts (water and heat). For heavy transport in particular, hydrogen may be a promising option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions where the lower energy density (and accompanying lower range), high initial costs, and slow recharging performance of batteries are disadvantages.

    While promising, hydrogen fuel cells are a relatively new technology. Current tests by companies like ZeroAvia suggest that commercial viability of hydrogen powered aircraft is years away. Because hydrogen fuel is difficult to transport, major infrastructure changes, including on-site hydrogen production at airports, are needed to make this technology practical and scalable; significant funding is needed to bolster research to support this transition. Moreover, the production of hydrogen fuel can itself be a carbon intensive process because it takes energy to produce hydrogen fuel. When that energy comes from fossil fuels, the hydrogen production process can result in significant carbon emissions. But when that energy comes from renewable sources, the process can be emission free.

    About Val Miftakhov

    Val Miftakhov, founder and CEO of ZeroAvia, started the company in 2018 with the goal of making the future of aviation more sustainable. Prior to ZeroAvia, Miftakhov founded eMotorWerks, an electric vehicle infrastructure company, where one of his many projects was creating high-tech EV charging models. He earned his PhD in physics at Princeton University.

    Further Reading

    ZeroAvia and Absolut Hydrogen Partner to Develop Liquid Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure for Aircraft Operations, ZeroAvia

    The Growth in Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Commercial Aviation, Environmental and Energy Study Institute

    Working to Build a Net-Zero Sustainable Aviation System by 2050, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration

    Aviation and global climate change in the 21st century, Atmos Environ

    Airplane Pollution, Transport & Environment

    Clean Energy 101: The Colors of Hydrogen, RMI

    For a transcript, please visit https://climatebreak.org/hydrogen-fuels-potential-to-decarbonize-aviation/

  • What’s the state of air quality in Ghana?

    Over the last century, environmental pollution and air quality have been worsening in Africa. An estimated 28,000 deaths in Ghana and 780,000 deaths across the continent each year are associated with poor air quality. The World Health Organization found air pollution in 2020 to be the second highest risk factor for premature death in Ghana. Vehicle emissions, industrial waste, slash-and-burn farming methods, industrial pollution, and biomass burning are the leading contributors to air pollution in the region.

    The role of air quality monitoring in public awareness

    Limited air quality monitoring has also exacerbated the problem, as much of air pollution research in Africa is based on modeled data and estimates rather than data collected on-site. One reason for this is the high initial, maintenance, and operating costs of reference-grade air quality monitors. Poor communication of air quality levels also intensifies this situation by leading to a lack of public understanding of the existence, extent, and damages of air pollution. Limited expertise, lack of political will, and economic resistance to change polluting behaviors have also contributed to the current situation.

    Why low-cost environmental sensors?

    One solution to improve air quality monitoring in the region is the emergence and utility of low-cost environmental sensing tools. Today over 30 Purpleair PA-II sensors are deployed throughout Africa, and data from these sensors can be accessed through PurpleAir map or OpenAQ platform. PurpleAir specializes in low-cost air quality monitoring sensors that connect to Wifi to map and share the data on an app. Clean Air One Atmosphere has also helped increase public awareness of air quality by making this data available through the Yakokoe app. However, limited expertise in testing and deploying sensors, analyzing data, and interpreting the results still remains a challenge. A lack of robust infrastructure, reliable internet access, and staff to manage the data are also obstacles. Inequality within access to the data is also a problem, as many of the monitoring stations are located near the capital and urban areas.

    Benefits of increasing public awareness of poor air quality

    Increased awareness of the importance of air quality monitoring in Ghana has improved in recent years. In 2021, a collaboration between the World Bank’s Pollution Management and Environmental Health Program, the Environmental Protection Agency of Ghana, and the United States installed three new state-of-the-art air quality monitoring systems. These systems were installed at the University of Ghana in Legon, St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Basic School in Adabraka, and on grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Accra. They measure particulate matter, black carbon, and weather data. Monitoring concentrations of black carbon is vital as it is a short-lived climate pollutant. Although the atmospheric lifetime of black carbon is only four to twelve days, its warming impact on the atmosphere is 460-1,500 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

    The U.S. Embassy also publishes data from its station online to increase public accessibility. The goal of this project was also to utilize the data to formulate strategies, policies, and decisions to reduce air pollution. However, air pollution still remains a high concern as the national government does not have nationwide air quality policies or targets. Ghana does have some sector-specific policies and clean air initiatives in Accra, but air pollution remains a growing problem as the country is facing rapid urbanization. Increased air quality monitoring in the country will hopefully increase awareness of air pollution and create policy changes and pollution reductions that will not only benefit Ghanaians, but help the global fight against climate change.

    About our guest

    Dr. Collins Gameli Hodoli is an environmental scientist, researcher, and activist with a Ph.D. in Environmental and Agri-Food from Cranfield University, UK. The goal of his work is to “engage, educate and empower African citizens on the health-damaging impacts of air pollution.” Holodi is also the founder and director of Clean Air One Atmosphere (CAOA). Over the past three years, CAOA has leveraged international collaboration and the utility of open-source air quality (AQ) data to create awareness of air pollution and associated health risks, meaningfully communicating near-real-time air quality levels and corresponding health effects via locally built first-ever mobile application Yakokoe across Africa. CAOA is the first organization in Africa working to provide such data to better inform public health surveillance, support air pollution health effect studies, and educate civilians.

    Further reading

    Green Living Chats podcast, Tackling air pollution in Ghana (Africa) – what you should know (Hodoli)Addressing the air pollution challenge in Africa – a cocktail approach (Hodoli, 2021)Desert Dust, Industrialization, and Agricultural Fires: Health Impacts of Outdoor Air Pollution in Africa, Journal of Geophysical Research (Bauer et al., 2019)Catalyzing Change: The Push for Open Air Quality Data in West Africa, OpenAQ (2020).U.S. and Ghana Commission Air Quality Monitoring Stations, U.S. Embassy in Ghana (2021).PurpleAirClean Air Fund, Country Profile: GhanaClean Air Coalition, Black CarbonClean Air One Atmosphere

    For a transcript, please visit https://climatebreak.org/using-mobile-apps-to-improve-air-quality-awareness-in-ghana-with-dr-collins-gameli-hodoli/

  • What are Paleo Valleys?

    Paleo Valleys were created at the end of the last ice age by melting glaciers that carved into the sediments deposited in the Central Valley. When the glaciers receded, high-velocity meltwater carried sediments and grain material into the valley. These sediments are extremely porous, and the permeability means they can absorb 60 times more water than surrounding clay. Because of this, they provide a pathway that can draw surface water hundreds of meters down to aquifers, which also hold water in soil.

    Using Paleo Valleys

    Paleo valleys can greatly benefit aquifer recharge. Because of the high permeability, paleo valleys can hold large quantities of water and provide a direct route for water to the aquifers. As the result of drought and pumping from aquifers, California groundwater is significantly depleted. Paleo valleys can help replenish the groundwater. In addition, paleo valleys can store excess water during storms, which can then help replenish groundwater. Thus, identifying and enhancing paleo valleys could increase our capacity to hold and store water below ground in California.

    Challenges in Locating Valleys

    In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, each of the major rivers draining watersheds are likely to have associated paleo valleys. However, locating these paleo valleys has proved challenging for scientists and researchers. Finding the valleys requires substantial soil testing, and it has taken scientists longer than anticipated to uncover just a few of the paleo valleys suspected to exist.

    That is where airborne electromagnetic imaging (AEM) comes in. This technology uses electromagnetic pulses and responses (usually from airplane overflights) to distinguish the soil types in these regions. This method has been used to visualize and more easily identify paleo valleys in the Sierras and the Central Valley. Rosemary Knight and her team have been using this technique to map out optimal locations where the subsurface provides a good storage capacity. These results have helped Knight create a three-dimensional map showing the makeup of the land, essential to identifying paleo valleys.

    About Our Guest

    Dr. Rosemary Knight is a geophysics professor at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. Her research focuses on developing geophysical methods for imaging. She specifically uses electromagnetic methods to explore how the movement of water in the subsurface is distributed, and what processes cause this. She has conducted many studies and published multiple papers on modeling these land characteristics, and her developments have revolutionized the ability to identify subsurfaces.

    Further ReadingAirborne geophysical method images fast paths for managed recharge of California's groundwater (Knight et al. 2022).How CA's ancient hidden waterways could be key to recharging state's depleted groundwaterCapturing the Flood in California’s Ancient Underground WaterwaysWhat is Airborne Electromagnetics?

    For a transcript, please visit https://climatebreak.org/using-paleo-valleys-to-recharge-aquifers-with-dr-rosemary-knight/

  • What are motorcycle taxis?

    Motorcycle taxis are indispensable in East Africa and other developing countries. In large cities experiencing unplanned growth, agile moto-taxis can navigate congestion while transporting millions of people. In Rwanda, more than half of all vehicles on the road at any moment are motorcycle taxis. But gasoline-powered motorcycles are not cheap: fuel is expensive, maintenance can be expensive, and the motorcycles can cause serious air pollution and emit greenhouse gasses.

    What is Ampersand?

    Ampersand makes affordable electric vehicles and charging systems for the five million motorcycle taxi drivers in East Africa, who are known locally as ‘motars’. Headquartered in Kigali, Rwanda, Ampersand grew from a tiny garage project into Africa's leading electric vehicle company, with a team of more than two hundred people based in Kenya and Germany. Since launching in May 2019 with twenty electric motorcycles (known as “e-motos”), the company has put hundreds of e-motos on roads across East Africa. With gas-powered motorcycles, many drivers spend over $11 daily on fuel and vehicle costs, but make as little as $1.60 each day. Going electric can double a driver’s income by reducing fuel costs and drive Africa towards a zero-carbon future.

    Ampersand advertises its motorcycles as vehicles that have excellent driving performance, need minimal customer behavior change, emit 75 percent less carbon than gas-powered motorcycles, have zero tailpipe emissions, and save drivers over $500 USD a year—significant savings for a family of three in Rwanda.

    How does Ampersand work?

    The Ampersand system works as follows:

    A motorcycle driver purchases or leases an Ampersand e-moto.When the battery is low, the driver comes to an Ampersand swap station.Ampersand switches depleted battery for a new battery, while driver pays for the energy used by the depleted battery.The driver continues their drive, swapping for another new battery when needed.

    Through this model, drivers do not incur the risk of buying a lithium battery pack or waiting for batteries to recharge, losing time and customers in the process. Each battery is high-range and so requires stopping at Ampersand stations less often than drivers would need to do if refueling with gasoline.

    Ampersand e-motos cost less than gas-powered motorcycles to lease or buy, and half as much to power. Using electricity from a fossil-fuel-powered grid, the e-motos produce 75 percent fewer lifecycle greenhouse emissions than gas-powered motorbikes. Using electricity generated from renewable energy sources, they produce 98 percent fewer lifecycle greenhouse emissions than gas-powered motorcycles. Ampersand batteries are assembled locally in Rwanda.

    Who is Alp Tilev?

    Alp Tilev is the Chief Technical Officer at Ampersand Motorcycles. He first came to Rwanda to join Great Lakes Energy, where he worked on remote monitoring for solar energy systems of health centers in off-grid areas. He worked for many years as a computer scientist at Microsoft, helping to make Microsoft relevant for hackers and startups in the New York City community. Tilev started his career in natural language processing and machine learning for Fast Search, a Norwegian software startup. Alp holds a BA computer science from the University of Aarhus and Istanbul Bilgi University.

    Further Reading

    Rwanda’s Electric Motorbike Revolution Speeds Ahead, World Economic Forum

    Rwandan Electric Motorcycle Startup Ampersand Secures $9m Debt Facility, Disrupt Africa

    East Africa’s Transition to Electric Vehicles, Local Source

    The Love-Hate Relationship Between East Africa and Boda Boda Two-Wheeled Taxis, Bloomberg

    Rwanda Goes Electric with Locally Made Motorbikes, BBC News

    For a transcript, please visit https://climatebreak.org/electrifying-motorcycle-taxis-in-africa-to-reduce-emissions-and-save-drivers-money/