Thursday, August 13, 2020



Carbon sequestration is an important part of the equation for reducing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere in accordance with the Paris Agreement. One aspect of this agreement has just been addressed by California Governor Gavin Newsom. One of the main causes of global climate change is the destruction of natural ecosystems — for example, deforestation and unsustainable land conversion for agriculture. Deforestation destroys 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of forest every year — an area the size of North Carolina — adding more carbon to the atmosphere than the sum total of all the cars and trucks in the world.

California and the U.S. Forest Service have established a shared long-term strategy to manage forests and rangelands, Office of the Governor Reports. This agreement will improve coordination to reduce wildfire risks on federal and state lands. Funding is included in the federal Great American Outdoors Act recently signed on August 4 by the President of the United States. A summary is here.

The press release is as follows:

A historical transition toward unnaturally dense forests, a century of fire suppression and climate change resulting in warmer, hotter and drier conditions have left the majority of California’s forestland highly vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire and in need of active, science-based management. Since the federal government owns nearly 58 percent of California’s 33 million acres of forestlands, while the state owns 3 percent, joint state-federal management is crucial to California’s overall forest health and wildfire resilience.

Improved coordination also is key since nearly half of the state dollars invested in fuels management in recent years was spent on federal land. 

“Wildfires don’t stop at jurisdictional boundaries. As we respond to wildfires in real-time this summer, improving coordination between the major stewards of California’s forested land will help us protect communities and restore forest health across California,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “We are grateful to secure the U.S. Forest Service’s commitment to help us more effectively address the scale of California’s current wildfire crisis.”

“Collaboration between state and federal agencies on issues of forest health and resiliency is critical,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. “The Forest Service is fortunate to collaborate on restoration projects across the state and share science and research to address issues to help care for the land and serve people. We are excited to expand our partnership with California to enhance our collaboration though this Shared Stewardship agreement with California.”

The Shared Stewardship Agreement builds on existing coordination between state and federal agencies, and outlines six core principles and nine specific actions that will drive improved state-federal collaboration.

“In a key step to improve stewardship of California’s forests, the Newsom Administration and the U.S. Forest Service today announced a new joint state-federal initiative to reduce wildfire risks, restore watersheds, protect habitat and biological diversity, and help the state meet its climate objectives.  The Agreement for Shared Stewardship of California’s Forest and Rangelands includes a commitment by the federal government to match California’s goal of reducing wildfire risks on 500,000 acres of forest land per year. To protect public safety and ecology, experts agree that at least one million acres of California forest and wildlands must be treated annually across jurisdictions.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Energy Flows

Online expanded view of this chart that tracks energy from its source to its consumption. Further discussion and breakdown is here.

It's not hard to drive fossil fuels out of the US economy, quickly. The US has everything it needs to decarbonize by 2035. A World War II mobilization will be necessary for the US to decarbonize its economy fast enough to avert the worst of climate change. To do its part in limiting global temperature rise to between 1.5° and 2° Celsius, the US must reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. Despite the titanic effort it would take to decarbonize, the US doesn’t need any new technologies and it doesn’t require any grand national sacrifice. All it needs, in this view, is a serious commitment to building the necessary machines and creating a regulatory and policy environment that supports their rapid deployment. A key component of this strategy is the electrification of the power grid and integration of this energy supply with the existing grid. Solar power and wind power are the prime sources of energy, especially with the continuing improvement of battery storage technologies that are part of a more advanced distributed power model. 

 The time for climate discussion has passed. Architects are taking action. The American Institue of Architects (AIA) has developed a landmark initiative to take on climate action for all. From advocating for public policy, to supporting renewable energy use in buildings, from reducing carbon emissions through building design and informed product selection, to spurring energy efficient renovations and designing for natural hazard risk – America’s architects have a leading role to play in humanity’s collective call to climate action.

The kickoff event for this nationwide push to decarbonize the construction sector was held in Los Angeles last March, and the efforts to educate the profession are underway by the AIA. In the very near future, building codes will be adopted that are based upon the ZERO code template for structures, since the AIA is interfacing with the various code agencies. 

Architecture 2030 has worked with the U.S. House of Representatives and sent them the ZERO Code and talked to them about existing buildings point of sale and emissions reduction mandates. They were given quite a bit of building sector information. Adopting a zero carbon building code today, but no later than 2030, made it into the policy recommendations, and more importantly into the 2021 IECC code as an Appendix, which means it can be used with any year of the IECC code. The availability of the IECC Appendix, and national and international ZERO Code, means that any city or jurisdiction in the world can implement policies to ensure that all new buildings are designed and built to zero carbon standards. The AIA was incredibly influential and helpful with these developments. Anica Landreneau of HOK and Carl Elefante, past president of the AIA, both testified in the House. Anika was on the IECC code committee and strongly supported the adoption of the Zero Code. The AIA is reorienting their organization’s resources to address climate change.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Pandemic Carbon Timeline

The Ted Talk Countdown on Climate series is underway with Al Gore's video presentation,  hosted by Chris Anderson.

The coronavirus brought much of the world to a standstill, dropping carbon emissions by five percent. Al Gore says keeping those rates down is now up to us. In this illuminating interview, he discusses how the steadily declining cost of wind and solar energy will transform manufacturing, transportation and agriculture, offer a cheaper alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear energy and create millions of new jobs. Stay tuned for a lively debate about geoengineering and hear Gore's thoughts about how humanity can create a clean, prosperous future through a focused global effort and a generation of young people committed to change. (This virtual conversation, hosted by head of TED Chris Anderson, was recorded June 23, 2020.)

Update 7/8/20: Netting Zero. A virtual event series on climate change from the NY Times

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Eye of the Needle

The coronavirus pandemic is reshaping our world. An article by William Rees points out that "clearing skies and cleaner waters should inspire hopeful ingenuity. If we wish to thrive on a finite planet, we have little choice but to see the COVID-19 pandemic as preview and our response as dress rehearsal for the bigger play. Again, the challenge is to engineer a safe, smooth, controlled contraction of the human enterprise. Surely it is within our collective imagination to socially construct a system of globally networked but self-reliant national economies that better serve the needs of a smaller human family. The ultimate goal of economic planning everywhere must now turn to ensuring that humanity can thrive indefinitely and more equitably within the biophysical means of nature."

This is impacting the schedule of the World Climate Foundation summit, as well as the COP26 date. "In 2020, climate action must take on a new format to ensure global momentum is maintained. Short and long-term objectives should aim to overcome the socio-economic disruptions of COVID-19 and kickstart the global economy through resilient and ambitious green agendas, prioritizing net-zero commitments and low carbon investments now and throughout the next ten years.

With the postponement of the COP26 to 2021, World Climate Foundation is equally postponing its annual World Climate Summit to 2021, and now offers an exciting new series of digital, regional World Climate Forums. At these Forums, governments can transform climate ambitions into successful markets for climate business and market players in major regions of the world and instigate collaboration on policy, innovation, and investments."For decades, scientists have been demanding that climate crisis be taken this seriously. But despite numerous international agreements, governments have been slow to take action to reduce carbon emissions."

The coronavirus pandemic may have one silver lining: the potential collapse of big oil. "As Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, recently pointed out,  the drop in oil prices also offers an opportunity for countries around the world to lower or remove subsidies for fossil fuel consumption,  which disproportionally line the pockets of wealthy individuals and  corporations with money that could go to education, health care or clean  energy projects."

Optimists are encouraged by people such as the director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, who last April called the crisis an “historic opportunity today to steer [energy] investments onto a more sustainable path.” With G20 governments already pledging around $5 trillion to stimulate their economies in the wake of the shutdown, Birol called on them to “put clean energy at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis.” Birol said he had urged political and global financial leaders to design “sustainable stimulus packages” that focus on investing in clean energy technologies and accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. In its latest short-term projections, the US EIA says that it expects the biggest hit to oil demand in the second quarter of 2020, but that the reduction will only “gradually dissipat[e] over the course of the next 18 months”

The Rocky Mountain Institute is issuing a series of stimulus white papers to respond to the climate crisis, the economic shifts and provide guidance to governments and industry for rapid decarbonization."As the effects of the COVID-19 crisis ripple across the globe, strategic stimulus and recovery investments can get world economies back on track now and help us build back in a way that ensures greater resilience to the disruptions and crises we will inevitably face in the future. The current pandemic shows many parallels to, and interconnections with, a looming climate crisis. A response that addresses both crises at once will advance a low-carbon economy that is more resilient and helps mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, while improving the economy, the environment, and our health and communities."

In response to the impact of the pandemic, the RMI's recommended programs aim to catalyze industries, technologies, and practices shown to improve public health, decrease costs, create enduring job opportunities, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The four programs are:
  • Build Back Better Buildings: A building retrofit program to catalyze residential and commercial building improvements at an unprecedented scale.
  • Enhance Access and Electrify Mobility: Investment to prioritize pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit over the automobile, while also supporting the growth of the electric vehicle market.
  • Debt Forgiveness for a Sustainable Recovery: A financial incentive program to provide companies with debt relief based on verifiable emissions reductions.
  • Economic Recovery Facility for Financing Low- and Zero-Carbon Activities: A federal entity dedicated to facilitating the financing of clean energy and infrastructure projects.
A simple debt forgiveness approach can help industries and workers feeling economic pain now and build toward a more sustainable, low-emissions future.

Update 6/26/20: Degrowth: A Call for Radical Abundance

Update 7/23/20: Tom Steyer - Clean Energy as a job generator

Update 7/30/20:  Some Earth system tipping points may be linked together

Update 8/9/20: Observing recovery through a climate 'magnifying glass'

Update 8/16/20: Exponential growth bias: why most people don't understand the risk of runaway climate change.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Earth Day 50th

It's discouraging to look back at 50 years of environmental activism (an entire lifetime!) and see how little has been accomplished in spite of the overwhelming emergency that we're faced with in ecological destruction. The result of endless growth vectors in human culture and economics carried out in trade, the industrial carbon emissions over the last 200 years has finally impacted our planet in devastating ways. With no constraints on growth, a violation of natural processes and structures, human civilization has overrun the natural checks and balances that kept the planetary cycles in balance. But in the end there's always a reckoning because, well, physics.

Sierra Club recaps these issues in an interview with Dennis Hayes. "Fifty years later, we have different environmental challenges, some much larger, most notably global climate change. Despite the existential threat of climate change, today countries are rolling back environmental protections, failing to live up to the Paris Agreement and dragging their feet on climate action. Meanwhile, the environmental movement has gained momentum, thanks in no small part to an infusion of energy and outrage from the youth climate movement."

As described in Nature magazine, a new synthesis shows what a wasted decade means for the climate pact made in Paris. "In global climate projections, no single model can predict the future, and such analyses by necessity exclude the most recent developments. Nevertheless, it is clear that, collectively, current policies will not limit global warming to well below 2 °C, let alone 1.5 °C, as agreed in Paris. Clearly, the annual audit of the emissions gap has not altered poor performance. The gap concept has nonetheless proved useful. The reports and numbers have continuously informed the UN climate summits and the emissions gap was noted as a serious concern when parties were adopting the Paris agreement." This article includes a chart demonstrating the impact of this process.

Aubrey Meyer of GCI has continually emphasized that the global rate of the rise of temperature & CO2 concentrations is determined by the global contraction rate/weight/date of the future global CO2 emissions budget. An international carbon-sharing strategy is essential for UNFCCC-compliance if we are seriously risk-averse. "A lot of valuable time has been completely wasted over the last 25 years when total annual CO2 output was around 7Gt C/year. As it is now ~14 Gt C & temperature looks likely to be taken over the 2° C threshold, the situation is now obviously urgent." Insufficient climate action during the past decade means that transformational development pathways are now required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on time to meet the 1.5C Paris target.

Strategies for addressing this have been put forth. For example, Rocky Mountain Institute has proposed Decarbonization and Debt Forgiveness: A Path Forward. "A simple debt forgiveness approach can help industries and workers feeling economic pain now and build toward a more sustainable, low-emissions future."

Important legal precedents are being set in UK and US courts. The recent UK decision against allowing another runway to be constructed at Heathrow is a moment of truth. "That’s why the ruling sets such a powerful precedent, both in the UK and beyond. The message has gone out loud and clear that governments can no longer do what they’ve been doing for decades: claiming to be serious about tackling the climate crisis while marching us headlong towards disaster."

The recent impact of the coronavirus pandemic as well as a trade war in oil has produced an enormous shock to the fossil fuel industry. It has completely changed future projections for the industry, and has had had an immediate impact on its viability as an investment vehicle, as outlined in the article, The Beginning of the End for Oil?

It appears that the entire global population is facing a pivot point in which the need for serious, drastic climate action is clear to most people and governments now. One can only hope that this opportunity is not wasted as well.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Paean to Earth

Easter Sunday April 12, 2020
Andrea Bocelli solo: #MusicforHope
The great Duomo Cathedral of Milan - empty except for the performance. The blind singer spreads hope to a damaged world.

Over 2.5 million listened to the live stream broadcast in an eerily empty and quiet Italy - her gift to the planet suffering the viral pandemic

Track list:
Panis Angelicus (from “Messe Solennelle” Op. 12, FWV 61) César Franck

Ave Maria, CG 89a (arr. from Johann Sebastian Bach, “Prelude” no. 1, BWV 846)
Charles-François Gounod

Sancta Maria (arr. from “Cavalleria Rusticana”, Intermezzo)
Pietro Mascagni

Domine Deus (from “Petite Messe Solennelle”)
Gioachino Antonio Rossini

A Capella: Amazing Grace from the entry stairs, empty cities worldwide
"Was blind but now I see"

Sunday, March 22, 2020

AIA Carbon Positive Report

The American Institute of Architects, in cooperation with Architecture 2030, put on a very important conference in Los Angeles on March 2 - 4, 2020. Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030 was a great keynote at the conference kickoff, and his slide presentation is here. An additional video of a 2010 presentation of his is here. The sessions are presented as a very, very urgent timeline for the building profession to engage and get to net zero by 2030. This is based upon the adoption of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report, Global Warming of 1.5°C, promoted by Mazria's organization.

UN | Report of the Secretary-General  Dec. 2019:

September’s Climate Action Summit delivered important new actions, a surge in climate momentum, and a clear destination: 45% emissions cuts by 2030 on the way to a carbon neutral world by 2050. The Secretary-General’s report on the outcomes of the Summit highlights the way forward in 2020, and outlines ten priority areas of action. We are seeing unprecedented changes in the earth’s environmental and physical processes. Climate change, air pollution, reduced availability of clean water, and persistent toxic chemicals threaten human, animal, and environmental health and well-being.

A special guest presentation was made by Farhana Yamin, who is an internationally renowned environmental lawyer and Extinction Rebellion activist with more than two decades of experience advising nations and NGOs on climate change and development policy. An interview with her is here. As well as authoring numerous books and IPCC reports, she has played a key role in drawing up international treaties, including the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015. Farhana is also an associate fellow at Chatham House and visiting professor at UCL. In April she glued herself to Shell's London headquarters in protest at the oil firm's climate impact.

This has resulted in a formal challenge to the profession which was presented to the architects attending the conference. Some conference notes are here from Michael Malinowski. Ed Mazria provides further background from the conference in his message to AIA: "The numbers may be abstract, but the implications are firm: we must reduce global CO2 emissions 50% to 65% by 2030, and reach full decarbonization by 2040." A little more of the story is here on how this conference came to be through Mazria's efforts over the decades.

The targets, roadmap and vision for the systemic change needed to address climate change are clear. They were recently discussed at CarbonPositive’20, with a video library here. At this milestone event, current actions and opportunities were presented, the latest tools, technologies and advanced materials were exhibited, experiences and expertise were shared, and the future was imagined. CarbonPositive’20 focused on the actions necessary to avert dangerous climate change and limit planetary warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Additional resources shared at the conference:
Climate Positive Design Challenge
Design with Climate: form follows performance explained with a psychrometric chart analysis.

Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) present transparent, verified and comparable information about the life-cycle environmental impact of products.

Beyond Net Zero

ARUP BioBuild is the world’s first self-supporting façade panel for building construction made of biocomposite materials.

Living Algae Buildings  Australia

World Green Building Council  Net Zero

International Living Future Institute  Zero Carbon Certification

Skanska Embodied Carbon Calculation Tool

Update 4/7/20: The AIA 2030 Commitment to transform the practice of architecture has resources for professionals.

Update 4/8/20: Architect Magazine has provided climate action resources to the profession.

Update 4/23/20: Buildings are responsible for 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.