Friday, December 18, 2020

A Twelfth Year - Bone Dry


Typically Southern California's wet winter weather sets in during the month of November. This year, there has been NO RAIN. It's an ugly portent for our future, with an ominous potential for even worse wildfires than we have seen this past year. Visions of water rationing and massive rate increases are now in the offing.

It's imperative for global cooperation to happen right now for potentially getting to zero carbon emissions. ""This decade is a moment of choice unlike any we have ever lived," says  Christiana Figueres, the architect of the historic 2015 Paris Agreement.  The daughter of Costa Rica's beloved President José Figueres Ferrer,  she shares how her father's unwillingness to lose the country he loved  taught her how stubborn optimism can catalyze action and change. With an  unshakeable determination to fight for the generations that will come  after us, Figueres describes what stubborn optimism is (and isn't) --  and urges everyone to envision and work for the future they want for  humanity."

The United Nations, United Kingdom and France were proud to co-host the Climate Ambition Summit 2020 on Nov. 1 - 12, in partnership with Chile and Italy. This is a monumental step on the road to the UK-hosted COP26 next November in Glasgow. The COP26 summit brought parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The COP26 Presidency will demonstrate the urgency and the opportunities of the journey towards a zero carbon economy and the power of international cooperation to address the gravest challenges the world faces.

Many countries are also still pouring money into high-CO2 activities as they strive to recover from the coronavirus crisis and recession. Guterres noted that G20 countries were spending 50% more in their stimulus packages on fossil fuels and CO2-intensive sectors than they were on low-CO2 energy.

The UK will stop funding overseas fossil fuel projects.“This is unacceptable,” Guterres told the online Climate Ambition Summit, co-hosted by the UN, the UK and France. “The trillions of dollars needed for Covid recovery is money that we are borrowing from future generations. This is a moral test. We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a broken planet.”

More than 70 world leaders, civil society activists, business chiefs and city mayors attended the Climate Ambition Summit, which marks five years since the landmark Paris climate agreement.

The US awaits the re-entry to the Paris Climate Agreement in January, when the Biden administration plans to officially align its climate policies with the global agreement. Although California is not waiting for federal policy to take effect. It has positioned itself for leadership in climate policy. Other states are beginning to implement different aspects of getting off of fossil fuels. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced that over the next five years, the state’s $226 billion employee pension fund would divest fossil fuel stocks and shares of other companies that do not meet the fund’s new target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. This is a huge win in the divestment space.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Gloaming



It's time now to prepare for and remember the year-ago promise of Advent with the knowing that forces are coalescing around the globe and in the US which are countermanding the denial and obstruction we see at the highest levels of global climate interaction. Groundwork has been laid, players identified, and industries have begun mobilization.

A year ago, John Kerry, the former senator and secretary of state, formed a new bipartisan coalition of world leaders, military brass and Hollywood celebrities to push for public action to combat climate change.The name, World War Zero, is supposed to evoke both the national security threat posed by the earth’s warming and the type of wartime mobilization that Mr. Kerry argued would be needed to stop the rise in carbon emissions before 2050. The star-studded group is supposed to win over those skeptical of the policies that would be needed to accomplish that. Now, under the nascent Biden administration cabinet, these policies are stirring to life with the appointment of Kerry as special presidential envoy for climate.

This clears the way for the US to rejoin the Paris Agreement of COP21 and establish leadership on building a future of zero carbon with the worldwide community of nations. The number of commitments to reach net zero emissions has doubled in less than a year, with many in the Race to Zero by 2050. According to a report by the Data-Driven EnviroLab and the NewClimate Institute, published during Climate Week NYC, that includes cities and regions covering more than the combined GDP of Japan, India and the UK, and companies with a combined revenue of over $11.4 trillion (equivalent to more than half of the US GDP). This shows that climate action has continued unimpeded by Covid-19. This joins with work in place and underway by the private foundations of Michael Bloomberg, Al Gore and Bill Gates, among many others, that have been focused on seeding efforts to implement carbon neutrality in time to avoid the worst of the impacts of climate change, which is set at a maximum of 1.5C by the Paris Agreement.

The architecture profession, along with the construction industry in the US, has risen to the challenge of implementing the requirements of carbon net zero in its construction practices. The American Institute of Architects (AIA), in concert with Architecture 2030, has incorporated tools and strategies for the industry to begin moving ahead with immediate carbon reduction in its construction materials and practices as well as significant carbon sequestration. The basis for this work is the 2017 Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), Volume I, a comprehensive, multi-year scientific analysis under the auspices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Very specifically, this work done by the AIA involves the evolution of its Committee on the Environment (COTE) into an overarching Framework for Design Excellence which guides the design and construction of resilient and carbon neutral projects. This goes beyond the operational carbon reduction used by the US Green Building criteria (LEED) and encompasses embodied carbon as well as water re-use and building electrification. The site and its landscaping are also contributors to carbon absorption.

The goals are that these strategies, as well as a calculation for embodied carbon in a project will bring the construction industry into closer compliance with global carbon emissions requirements. The EC3 tool is the first free tool that allows for supply chain specific analysis of embodied carbon data, utilizing the first searchable and sortable database of all United States and Canadian Environmental Product Declarations for concrete, steel, wood, glass, aluminum, insulation, gypsum, carpet and ceiling tiles.

Because the building sector is currently responsible for 39% of global energy related carbon emissions: 28% from operational emissions, from energy needed to heat, cool and power them, and the remaining 11% from materials and construction, the World Green Building Council has a call to action with the new requirements:

  • By 2030, all new buildings, infrastructure and renovations will have at least 40% less embodied carbon with significant upfront carbon reduction, and all new buildings are net zero operational carbon.
  • By 2050, new buildings, infrastructure and renovations will have net zero embodied carbon, and all buildings, including existing buildings must be net zero operational carbon. 

So we embark on a new course together with the world community to put actual practices in place for the reduction of carbon emissions to zero and a new sensibility for the value of the natural world no longer at the mercy of GDP economics.


Friday, October 30, 2020

Dead Reckoning


The determination of the the lethal turning point on carbon emissions has become fraught with the recent admission by the IPCC that existing models have not accounted for the feedback effects from nature as the planet warms. The speed with which the carbon emissions are ramping up, and the "drift" from this has made it abundantly clear that we are experiencing a climate emergency that current models didn't predict. In order to have any impact on future solutions the course correction involved makes it necessary to head for zero carbon by 2036.

Rolling Stone has authored a special issue featuring a biography of Greta Thunberg, the young girl who has famously made it her mission to force her elders to actually do something about the carbon emissions, the lack of a carbon framework not withstanding. The image above is their magazine cover.

The Guardian's view on the climate catastrophe facing Earth - an editorial - echoes the critique of our current situation:

"The scientists had been charged by the IPCC, which had been set up two years earlier, with establishing whether climate change was a real prospect and, if it was, to look at the main drivers of that threat. They concluded, in a report released in August 1990, that the menace was real and that coal, gas and oil would be the principal causes of global heating. Unless controls were imposed on their consumption, temperature rises of 0.3C a decade would be occurring in the 21st century, bringing havoc in their wake.

Three decades later, it is clear that we have recklessly ignored that warning. Fossil fuels still supply 80% of the world’s energy, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere continue to rise and global temperatures are still increasing. According to Met Office statistics, there was a 0.14C increase in global temperatures in the decade that followed publication of the first assessment report. This was then followed by a 0.2C increase in each of the following two decades. The world could easily heat by 3C by the end of the century at this rate, warn scientists."

James Hansen calls out the still-increasing carbon emissions which currently have not decreased at all, despite his advocacy for over 30 years while he was with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. Our planet is in deep peril, after complete inaction after his June 23, 1988 white paper that raised the alarm about carbon emissions. The subsequent Kyoto Protocol was finally amended in 1997 and was signed by President Clinton, only to have George W. Bush withdraw the United States from the Kyoto Protocol in Mar. 2001 due to Senate opposition.

The climate policy push is at risk of stalling on a national level as well. The U.K. scaled back plans to put environment at the center of its budget in April. Spain, which has made climate change a central part of its political agenda, halted all legislative activity for at least two weeks and declared a  state of emergency in early March due to COVID-19. Despite the temporary setbacks, European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen said in March that the European Union remains committed to its Green Deal, a moonshot plan to make the bloc carbon neutral by 2050.

Per Scientific American, leaders in the U.S. must shift their mindset from one focused on an end goal of “decarbonizing ourselves by 2050 and pressuring other countries to do the same” to one of “scaling up every necessary clean system (by much sooner than 2050, so each has time to roll out fully around the world once cheap enough) to make decarbonization affordable worldwide.”


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.