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EarthTalk®

by Doug Moss and Roddy Scheer


EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: How did the Global Climate Action Summit coming up later this year in San Francisco come about and what do organizers hope to accomplish? -- Jamie Smith, San Jose, CA

The purpose of the forthcoming 2018 Global Climate Action Summit—scheduled to take place September 12-14, 2018 in San Francisco, California—is to showcase the actions that state and local leaders, businesses, investors, scientists, students, non-profits and other so-called “sub-national actors” have taken to reduce their emissions already. Organizers hope to secure bold commitments from them to do even more, thus showing that decarbonization and economic growth go hand-in-hand and galvanizing a global movement for climate action that leaves no one behind.

This new international meeting is the brainchild of California’s 79-year-old outgoing governor Jerry Brown, one of the country’s great crusaders for cutting carbon emissions despite lack of federal interest in solving the climate crisis. According to Brown, subnational actors are a critical part of the climate solution and can help push the world’s leaders to go further, faster. These leaders will join citizens from around the world to showcase examples of major climate action initiatives already taking place without the aid of the federal government. They hope to inspire deeper commitments from each other and from national governments in support of the Paris Agreement.

Brown has tapped three leaders as summit co-chairs: Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, an Indian conglomerate that recently committed to meet its Paris climate agreement commitments; and Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and founder/CEO of Bloomberg LP who is a vigorous campaigner for and generous donor to environmental causes. These three are primarily responsible for shaping the event’s purpose, format and overall curation and leveraging their voices and network for the cause.

Why now? According to Brown, 2018 is a turning point: Countries and all of us must step up the commitments that were made in Paris and do more. “The momentum we generate this year must lead to a climate turning point by 2020 in order to prevent the worst effects of climate change,” says Brown. “It must be the beginning of a new phase of action and ambition on climate change.”

Participants are expected to go beyond just sharing what they have achieved to date and announce stepped-up commitments to usher in what organizers are hoping will be “a new era of decarbonization and prosperity.” The culmination of the meeting will be a call to action to nations to step up their ambition under the Paris Agreement and cut emissions on a science-based trajectory that limits warming to well below two degrees Celsius.

“The Summit seeks to change the climate conversation, broaden and depoliticize the issue, and activate everyone to call for change to preserve our future,” Brown concludes. The governor’s actions in steering California to be one of the world’s most fuel efficient large economies is even more inspiring than his words. Given that Brown won’t be able to run again for governor due to term limits, the Summit may represent the last hurrah of his storied political career.

CONTACT: Global Climate Action Summit, globalclimateactionsummit.org.

Dear EarthTalk: What’s the deal with some restaurants no longer offering straws to their customers? What’s so bad about sipping your drink through a straw anyway?

— Jeffrey Edwards, Seattle, WA

Americans use 500 million plastic straws—or 1.6 per person on average—every day. Based on this, a typical American will use more than 38,000 plastic straws over the course of a lifetime. While drinking through a single-use plastic straw seems innocent enough, don’t fool yourself: many of these straws find their way into our oceans, polluting underwater ecosystems and harming marine wildlife.

Researchers warn that if we don’t clean up our act, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Plastics don’t biodegrade, but instead break into tiny pieces which are scooped up by marine organisms unable to digest them — or end up in huge mid-ocean gyres too clogged for ships to pass through. Cutting way back on or eliminating single-use plastic straws won’t completely solve our ocean waste problem, but it will go a long way toward cutting back on plastic in the ocean as well as raising public awareness of the issue in general.

Last September the city of Seattle went strawless in solidarity with the Lonely Whale Foundation’s Strawless Ocean campaign (look for #StopSucking on Twitter), a global initiative to remove 500 million plastic straws from the U.S. waste stream in 2017. Some 2.3 million plastic straws were permanently removed from the city’s restaurants, cafes, bars and other businesses—and in July 2018 an official ban on plastic straws will go into effect there. Lonely Whale hopes that other cities will follow in Seattle’s forward-thinking footsteps.

For those who still love using straws, there are a growing number of reusable alternatives to plastic now available. Bambu Home’s handmade reusable bamboo straws come with a cleaning brush and can be used hundreds of times. Eco at Heart sells reusable steel straws that are durable, easy to clean and portable, so you can bring them into the car, work or anywhere. Steelys reusable steel straws come in a wide variety of sizes, including versions with bent tips. Aardvark’s paper straws are flexible, customizable and durable—and biodegrade on their own within 90 days.

Meanwhile, another eco-friendly option is glass, such as those made by Hummingbird Straws. And perhaps even greener are Harvest Straws, which are grown, harvested and cut by hand in Southern California from heritage, non-GMO grain grown without irrigation, using no chemicals in any part of the process. And reusable water bottles with built-in straws—such as steel and silicone models from Klean Kanteen or glass and metal varieties from Simply Straws—are also a good alternative to plastic straws. You can shop for these and other alternatives to plastic via the strawslessocean.org website.

Using disposable paper straws or opting out from using a straw at a restaurant or drive through are much better options than the conventional plastic straws that will end up as pollution in our oceans or in marine animals’ bodies. It may require a bit of extra work but using reusable straws or alternatives can make a big difference for wildlife and for ourselves.

CONTACTS: Strawless in Seattle, www.strawlessocean.org/seattle; Lonely Whale Foundation, www.lonelywhale.org; Bambu Home, www.bambuhome.com; Harvest Straws, www.harveststraws.com; Aarvark Straws, www.aardvarkstraws.com; Simply Straws, www.simplystraws.com; Klean Kanteen, www.kleankanteen.com.

Dear EarthTalk: Now Trump is going to allow the importing of elephant “trophies” after all! Where do things stand overall now in the fight to protect endangered species, especially as wildlife now also face threats from climate change? -- Mark Harrison, Sumter, SC

In what some see as another capitulation to the National Rifle Association (NRA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) undid an earlier ban on importing elephant parts from Africa, now allowing hunters to get permits on “a case-by-case basis.”

News like this makes the whole wildlife situation seem grim—and it is. But many scientists and activists are working hard to try to secure protections for threatened species and wildlife habitat in the face of many assaults by the pro-development Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress.

Back in mid-2016, candidate Trump’s talk of reneging on the Paris climate accord didn’t bode well for wildlife facing increasing threats due to global warming. After all, many of the 340 species added to the nation’s endangered species list during President Obama’s watch got there due to climate-related threats.

Last Fall the White House denied petitions to add some 25 threatened wildlife species—including the Pacific walrus, Florida Keys mole skink, and eastern boreal toad—to the nation’s endangered species list. Officials from USFWS cited “uncertainty” over the future effects of climate change as a rationale.

“You couldn’t ask for a clearer sign that the Trump administration puts corporate profits ahead of protecting endangered species,” says Noah Greenwald of the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “Denying protection for these 25 species despite the imminent threat of climate change and ongoing habitat destruction is typical of the Trump administration’s head-in-the-sand approach.”

The appointment of Ryan Zinke to head the Department of Interior was further proof that President Trump values resource extraction on public lands over conservation of wildlife.

And the story only gets worse. This past January, USFWS initiated proceedings to take the Canadian lynx off the threatened list altogether and downgrade a number of other species from endangered to threatened.

CBD has led the charge in filing several concurrent lawsuits against these moves by the Trump administration. Most recently, the group filed suit in federal court to overturn the White House decision to deny threatened protection for the Pacific walrus. “We’re confident the court will see this…as a politically driven decision that completely ignores the agency’s legal obligations to protect imperiled wildlife,” says CBD attorney Emily Jeffers.

Meanwhile, the legislative branch isn’t helping wildlife or its advocates much either. Congress’ 2018 budget bill is chock full of “riders” aimed to cut endangered species protections for wolves in Wyoming and the Midwest, the greater sage grouse of the Southwest and other iconic American wildlife species, not to mention cuts to funding to bolster states’ endangered species protection programs.

Wildlife lovers everywhere can keep their fingers crossed that upcoming mid-term elections will at least be a step in the right direction — as long as Democrats can gain seats in the House and Senate — when it comes to saving the wildlife that helped make America great in the first place.

CONTACT: CBD, biologicaldiversity.org; USFWS, www.fws.gov.

Dear EarthTalk: I need to get my roof replaced as a result of storm damage (thanks global warming!). Is Tesla’s solar roof a good deal and do other companies offer similar products—with the photovoltaic cells integrated into the roofing material? -- Kenny S., Vero Beach, FL

It would be a stretch to call Tesla’s new Solar Roof a “good deal” given that it costs more than just about any other rooftop solar option, but there are some scenarios where it might make sense anyway. For instance, some housing developments or homeowners’ associations don’t allow traditional photovoltaic panels to muck up roof sightlines for aesthetic or other reasons, so solar collectors integrated into a traditional looking roof may be worth the extra expense.

According to EnergySage, a solar information clearinghouse and matchmaker for 500-plus pre-screened solar installers, replacing a roof on a 3,000 square foot home in Southern California with another regular roof and then adding photovoltaic panels on top would run around $34,000 in gross costs all told ($8,000 for a new asphalt or slate roof and $26,000 for the photovoltaic equipment and installation). Of course, some solar installers will lease the panels to you, so you would just pay a smaller monthly fee akin to your old electricity bill.

Meanwhile, gross costs for putting in a full Tesla Solar Roof top out over $50,000, a 33 percent price premium for the sleeker look and added cool factor. But given all the turbulence in the solar industry in recent years, Tesla customers are also happy to pay a premium for the peace of mind of knowing they are dealing with a company that won’t be going out of business anytime soon. Tesla is already the dominant force in the sector given its 2016 acquisition of leading residential solar installer SolarCity and vertical integration with electric cars and lithium-ion battery arrays. They also have pretty deep pockets: Tesla went public in 2010 and has been a darling of tech investors ever since. The first Tesla Solar Roofs have already started going up in California, with a roll out to other states planned by the end of 2018.

But Tesla is far from the only game in town when it comes to so-called “building integrated” photovoltaics (BIPV). Forward Labs, a venture capital backed Silicon Valley start-up, has started installing its own integrated solar roofing systems around the San Francisco Bay Area and plans to expand beyond California in 2019. Unlike Tesla’s tiled roof design, Forward Labs’ “single-surface” look—more akin in style to a metal roof—features layers of solar cells and tempered glass that can take on any color the customer chooses. The start-up claims its solar roofing technology can produce almost double the energy output of Tesla’s tiles while costing 33 percent less. While we know less about the technical details, the Japanese company Solar Frontier plans to roll out its own solar roof technology across Japan in 2019.

Yet with all the hype about solar roofs, we can’t forget about the technology’s forebear, solar shingles. While not technically integrated into the roof, solar shingles lay flat on existing roofing, keeping a low-profile and requiring less installation time than traditional photovoltaic panels or fully-integrated solar roofs. RGS Energy’s PowerHouse and CertainTeed’s Apollo have been around since 2011 and can achieve efficiencies similar to traditional photovoltaic panels at a price point far below fully integrated solar roofing.

CONTACTS: EnergySage, energysage.com; Tesla Solar Roof, tesla.com/solarroof; Forward Labs, www.forwardlabs.com; RGS PowerHouse, rgspowerhouse.com; CertainTeed Apollo, certainteed.com/solar/products/.

EarthTalk® is a weekly syndicated column produced by Doug Moss and Roddy Scheer for the non-profit EarthTalk. To find out more, submit a question, or make a donation, visit us at www.EarthTalk.org.



 


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