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by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss

Dear EarthTalk: How will California’s recent decision to require all new car sales to be electric vehicles (EVs) beginning in 2035 affect other states’ timelines for adopting similarly stringent measures? -- M. Sergis, Tampa, FL

In late August 2022, California governor Gavin Newsom and the California Air Resources Board announced the approval of the Advanced Clean Cars II rule. This act serves as a 15-year plan to put California on the road to have all car sales be for ZEV (zero emissions vehicle) by 2035. ZEVs are considered to be either EVs (electric vehicles), PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles), or hydrogen fuel cell. Gas vehicle sales will slowly be phased out, with the first checkpoint being that 35 percent of new cars sold must be a ZEV by 2026.

This piece of legislation represents an important step in actively working against the negative impacts of climate change. Reducing the number of gas-powered vehicles on the road will help cut smog producing pollution, therefore reducing the amount of health issues related to vehicle pollution. Air emission improvements will benefit all residents of the state, particularly low income and minority communities that often live near roadways. The approval of this law will increase the accessibility of ZEV to all California residents as it includes the development of investment programs for low-income residents to be able to purchase ZEVs. Furthermore, consumers will be able to save more money by switching to ZEVs as the pressure to purchase gasoline would be removed.

California is pioneering this movement, but it’s likely many other states will soon follow once the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally approves California’s law. As of now, Washington, Virginia and Massachusetts are expected to be the next three states to adopt similar mandates after approval of the rule in California. Governors in New York, Rhode Island, Oregon, Maryland and New Jersey are also considering similar legislation. These states are among the 17 other states that follow California’s greenhouse gas regulations. Car manufacturers have few concerns about their ability to generate ZEVs, but better ZEV infrastructure nationwide (i.e., more vehicle charging stations) is needed.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA gave California the ability to enforce more stringent emissions standards than the federal government. Past evidence shows that states have followed California’s example when it comes to emission standards, and experts believe that a similar trend will occur with the Advanced Clean Cars Rule. Such a movement will put unprecedented pressure on car makers to generate ZEVs, which will generate a huge and long-awaited shift in the automotive industry.

Non-California residents may be thinking of ways to support this legislation and push for its approval in their own states. Getting in touch with local Congress members, petitioning and being aware of candidates in support of legislation to reduce emissions are some of the best ways to get involved. Once legislation is passed in other states, aiming to buy a ZEV is the best way to reduce emissions while upholding the guidelines outlined in the legislation.
CONTACTS: California Air Resources Board, ww2.arb.ca.gov; Alternative Fuel Data Center, afdc.energy.gov/laws/recent.

Dear EarthTalk: How are populations of sea turtles faring these days? -- A.J., Los Angeles, CA

Swimming alongside a sea turtle in coastal waters is certainly a thrilling sensation, but the experience is becoming increasingly harder to come by. Declines in sea turtle populations around the world and in U.S. waters over recent decades is a sad reminder of all the environmental offenses that contribute to making the world’s oceans less hospitable to these majestic, iconic reptiles.

Researchers estimate that since the dawn of the Industrial Age in the early 20th century, global sea turtle populations have decreased by as much as two-thirds overall. These days only about 6.5 million sea turtles roam the world’s subtropical and tropical coastlines. Indeed, sea turtle populations are on the ropes: Three out of the world’s seven sea turtle species are considered “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN); green sea turtle numbers have fallen by some 90 percent while Leatherbacks have lost 40 percent of their population. Strict conservation measures are needed if we are to save these species outright.

But why even care about the turtles? They might seem like any other sea creature, but they are actually vital to maintaining a balanced environment. Turtle’s graze on seagrass meadows to regulate their growth and prevent them from suffocating. Unhatched eggs are also a vital source of nutrients to sand dunes, which allow vegetation to grow. So, if our turtle populations become too low, it will cause a chain reaction within the whole shoreline ecosystem.

Unfortunately, populations of sea turtles face myriad threats. For starters, sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite delicacies. But this plastic can get stuck in the turtle’s stomach, imitating their sensation of being full which causes them to not eat any actual food. Researchers estimate some 52 percent of turtles have eaten some type of plastic.

With sea level rises, many beaches and even smaller barrier islands are disappearing. Turtles therefore become confused as to where to lay their eggs, potentially making it so that they don’t lay any. In addition, as reptiles, the gender of their hatchlings relies on temperature. Higher equals females, and lower equals males. With global warming, beaches are warming up, drastically altering the male/female balance. This could potentially affect the breeding success of turtles, and contribute to the decline as well.

The federal Endangered Species Act already protects turtles by making it illegal to harm them in any way, and provides resources to combat endangerment. Environmentalists have also created new programs like the State of the World’s Sea Turtles and the IUCN Turtle Specialist group which examine risk factors, data and potential conservation efforts.

Additionally, many volunteers come together during nesting and hatching season to protect and guide turtles. And their efforts have not gone to waste; Leatherback turtle nests in and around U.S. waters are up from 27 in 1989 to 614 in 2014 thanks to protections enacted under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, 3,960 nests have been counted on the Georgia Coast, a record for the state. By continuing to fund conservation efforts and with the help of volunteers, sea turtles can continue to thrive in the wild.

CONTACTS: The State of the World’s Sea Turtles, https://www.seaturtlestatus.org/; IUCN Turtle Specialist Group, https://iucn-tftsg.org/.

Dear EarthTalk: What is the Biden administration doing to fight climate change? -- W., Seattle, WA

Joe Biden hopes to go down as the greenest president in U.S. history, and he may well achieve that distinction if his plans pay off. Within the first week of his inauguration, Biden put his best foot forward in the fight against climate change by rejoining the Paris Agreement that Trump had abandoned, and established two executive orders: “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” and “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.”

Since then, the administration has worked on several specific promises related to climate change. In an extensive overview by the World Resources Institute of the administration’s climate action thus far, 10 major promises were chosen for scrutiny, however only five were shown to have the most progress:

Biden promised to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030. They have also promised to require all new passenger vehicles sold after 2035 produce zero emissions; to deal with super pollutants; and to scale up carbon dioxide (CO2) removal systems.

With regard to greenhouse gas emissions, the Biden administration has committed to a 50 percent reduction with their formalized Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement. There have also been recent agreements made upon the Build Back Better bill, a bill that, among other initiatives, may allocate as much as $369 billion toward energy and climate change programs.

As for the zero-emissions target, President Biden signed an executive order demanding that all agencies achieve a 100-percent electric fleet by 2027. Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule to reduce GHG emissions from vehicle models 2023 to 2026.

To combat super-pollutants, the EPA also issued regulations that will phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons, a significant contributor to GHG emissions. Moreover, President Biden assisted in the launching of the Global Methane pledge at the Glasgow Climate Summit, which has committed more than 100 countries to a 30-percent methane emissions reduction by 2030.

Finally, with respect to scaling up their carbon-dioxide removal systems, the Biden administration has included substantial investments in wildfire risk reduction and ecosystem restoration within their Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. These investments are intended to promote natural carbon removal.

As exciting as this progress has been, Biden may have faced the greatest threat yet to climate action with the Supreme Court’s decision in June 2022 to restrict the EPA’s ability to limit CO2 from power plants. In an article by The New York Times, David G. Victor, an expert in Climate Policy at the University of California, said, “At this point I don’t see any way to hit the kind of targets they laid out.”

Despite this, Biden’s team is hopeful. In a Washington Post article, Biden’s National Climate Adviser, Gina McCarthy, stated “There are many ways in which we can achieve the goals that the president has set out.” adding further, “No matter what the Supreme Court decides, we’re going to have a plan.”
CONTACTS: Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, whitehouse.gov/bipartisan-infrastructure-law/; The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice, https://joebiden.com/climate-plan.

Dear EarthTalk: Why are coyote sightings so much more common in urban areas these days? Should I be worried about kids and pets outside? Is this a bad sign for the environment at large and is there a humane way to deter these carnivores from residential areas? -- Max B., Norwalk, CT

Coyotes, known as the Song Dogs of North America, are the sole canid predator endemic to North America. They can be found as far north as Canada and Alaska, and as far south as Central America, but are most prevalent in the Great Plains, where they began their outward migration 100 years ago. Since the 1950s, they’ve managed to expand their territory by 40 percent, and can now be found anywhere from remote plains to bustling urban parks.

As many experts agree, the coyote is an incredibly adaptive animal. This evolutionary advantage has kept the species not only surviving, but thriving in response to human expansion. This is one of the reasons the coyote has prevailed where other species have faltered, and why their sightings have only increased along with urbanization. Coyotes are flexible creatures on many counts: their time of activity, their preferred habitat, even their diet. When they aren't eating rabbits or small rodents, coyotes can be seen eating small fruits like berries and apples, and even vegetables like carrots to maintain their daily caloric needs.

Coyotes also have flexible temperaments. They are aggressive enough to hunt small prey, but skittish enough to avoid deadly human contact. Indeed, coyotes are relatively harmless to humans (but they will definitely eat a small pet!). A 2021 study from Madison, Wisconsin discovered that most human-coyote interactions were benign, lacking any aggression by the coyotes whatsoever. When participants in the study were asked to pick a number from zero (calm) to five (aggressive), 90 percent chose zero.

That being said, they are not completely harmless to humans and should always be approached with caution. Last year, four people were injured by a coyote in San Francisco, including a four-year-old.

Counterintuitively, of all the factors influencing coyote population increases, one of the greatest may be population control. According to multiple studies conducted since the 1970s, the indiscriminate killing of coyotes, which has occurred for decades across all of North America, causes what is known as pack disruption, whereby normally “sterile” females become sexually active in a pack when an alpha male or female is killed. This phenomenon inevitably led to a positive feedback loop, where the encouragement of hunting reduced coyote population levels in the short-term, but increased them in the long-term.

Coyotes are considered a keystone species, meaning their presence or absence significantly influences an ecosystem. This also means their overabundance can lead to ecosystem disruption.

If you’re looking to humanely deal with a coyote, hazing—waving your arms and yelling—is often considered the best method of deterrence. Keeping pets inside and livestock penned securely is also encouraged, as is the removal of any garbage or pet food that you may have outside.
CONTACTS: Evaluating human–coyote encounters in an urban landscape using citizen science,
academic.oup.com/jue/article/7/1/juaa032/6055886; Preliminary Interpretations of Coyote Population Mechanics with Some Management Implications, jstor.org/stable/3799066.

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that a shortage of batteries is slowing down the development of solar and wind power here in the U.S.? If so, what are we doing to ramp up battery production if anything? -- J. Wilson, Chicago, IL

As the climate crisis worsens and public outcry can no longer be ignored, policymakers are tasked with ramping up the production of renewable energy. The Biden Administration has announced its desire to de-carbonize the grid by 2035. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States electricity production emits 25 percent of total greenhouse gas pollution, just behind transportation at 27 percent of the country’s emissions. Renewable alternatives are starting to garner more support for both electricity production and manufacturing of zero-emission electric vehicles. With these potential solutions to the climate crisis, a new problem arises: Both rely on lithium batteries to store energy.

For the renewable energy industry to grow and ultimately take prominence, energy storage will be a critical piece to the puzzle. As critics point out, without an effective method to store energy, renewables like solar and wind are only good when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. The most common way that energy is stored now is through the use of lithium batteries. Fluence, a global leader in energy storage technology, says that the cost of a lithium battery has begun to soar up to 20 percent higher than last year. This cost increase can be attributed to the increased price of the lithium and nickel needed to make the batteries, as well as bottlenecks in transport and labor.

Renewable energy projects are also reporting difficulties procuring lithium and nickel due to having to compete against the electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers. EV companies have proven to be a formidable competitor in the market due to their consistency and predictable ordering patterns which make them a favorite for battery manufacturers to work with.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is left to piece together a solution other than lithium batteries to achieve their lofty goals. One route they may take to avoid competition with EV producers is to use an alternative method of energy storage altogether. A Finnish company, Polar Night Energy, has developed a sand “battery” that is able to store heat in sand tanks up to 500 degrees Celsius, allowing that heat energy to be used later on. This is not to say that the future of American energy is sand, however it is a valuable example of how investing in innovative ideas can pay off in the form of creative solutions for the nation.

While we wait for the next big innovations, the DOE has identified a need for the U.S. to develop a domestic supply chain for energy storage and aims to put an emphasis on recycling lithium batteries. Presently only five percent of lithium batteries are being recycled globally; if the DOE is able to mandate battery recycling, then they hope that will bolster the domestic supply of lithium batteries while putting less stress on harvesting raw materials which will in turn bring the prices down.

CONTACTS: “How a battery shortage is hampering the U.S. switch to wind, solar power,” reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/how-battery-shortage-is-hampering-us-switch-wind-solar-power-2022-06-09/; “Could sand replace lithium for renewable energy tech?”, freemalaysiatoday.com/category/leisure/2022/07/13/could-sand-replace-lithium-for-renewable-energy-tech/; “The U.S. wants to fix its broken lithium battery supply chain,” theverge.com/2021/6/8/22524663/us-lithium-battery-supply-chain-broken.

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at https://emagazine.com. To donate, visit https://earthtalk.org . Send questions to: question@earthtalk.org .


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