In short: Very green. But plug-in cars still have environmental effects. Here’s a guide to the main issues and how they might be addressed.
In short: Very green. But plug-in cars still have environmental effects. Here’s a guide to the main issues and how they might be addressed.
Will the crisis in Texas become the new normal? David Wallace-Wells and Leah Stokes discuss.
Royal Dutch Shell Group, one of the largest publicly traded oil producers in the world, just laid out its plan for how the company will survive in a zero-emission, climate conscious world.
It’s a plan that rests on five main pillars that include the massive rollout of electric vehicle charging stations; a greater emphasis on lubricants, chemicals, and biofuels; the development of a significantly larger renewable energy generation portfolio and carbon offset plan; and the continued development of hydrogen and natural gas assets while slashing oil production by 1% to 2% per year and investing heavily in carbon capture and storage.
These four large categories cut across the company’s business operations and represent one of the most comprehensive (if high level) plans from a major oil company on how to keep their industry from becoming the next victim of the transition to low emission (and eventually) zero emission energy and power sources (I’m looking at you, coal industry).
“Our accelerated strategy will drive down carbon emissions and will deliver value for our shareholders, our customers and wider society,” said Royal Dutch Shell Chief Executive Officer, Ben van Beurden, in a statement.
To keep those shareholders from abandoning ship, the company also committed to slashing costs and boosting its dividend per share by around 4% per year. That means giving money back to investors that might have been spent on expensive oil and gas exploration operations. The company also committed too pay down its debt and make its payouts to shareholders 20% to 30% of its cash flow from operations. That’s… very generous.
Shell is a massive business with more than 1 million commercial and industrial customers and about 30 million customers coming to its 46,000 retail service stations daily, according to the company’s own estimates. The company organized its thinking around what it sees as growth opportunities, energy transition opportunities, and then the gradual obsolescence of its upstream drilling and petroleum production operations.
In what it sees as areas for growth, Shell intends to invest around $5 billion to $6 billion to its initiatives including the development of 500,000 electric vehicle charging locations by 2025 (up from 60,000 today) and an attendant boost in retail and service locations to facilitate charging.
The company also said it would be investing heavily in the expansion of biofuels and renewable energy generation and carbon offsets. The company wants to generate 560 terawatt hours a year by 2030, which is double the amount of electricity it generates today. Expect to see Shell operate as an independent power producer that will provide renewable energy generation as a service to an expected 15 million retail and commercial customers.
Finally the company sees the hydrogen economy as another area where it can grow.
In places where Shell already has assets that can be transitioned to the low carbon economy, the company’s going to be doubling down on its bets. That means zero emission natural gas production and a trebling down on chemicals manufacturing (watch out Dow and BASF). That means more recycling as well, as the company intends to process 1 million tons of plastic waste to produce circular chemicals.
Upstream, which was the heart of the oil and gas business for years, the company said it would “focus on value over volume” in a statement. What that means in practice is looking for easier, low cost wells to drill (something that points to the continued importance of the Middle East in the oil economy for the foreseeable future). The company expects to reduce its oil production by around 1% to 2% per year. And the company’s going to be investing in carbon capture and storage to the tune of 25 million tons per year through projects like the Quest CCS development in Canada, Norway’s Northern Lights project, and the Porthos project n the Netherlands.
“We must give our customers the products and services they want and need – products that have the lowest environmental impact,” van Beurden said in a statement.”At the same time, we will use our established strengths to build on our competitive portfolio as we make the transition to be a net-zero emissions business in step with society.”
For the company to survive in a world where revenues from its main business are cut, it’s also going to be keeping operating expenses down and will be looking to sell off big chunks of the business that no longer make sense.
That means expenses of no more than $35 billion per year and sales of around $4 billion per year to keep those dividends and cash to investors flowing.
“Over time the balance of capital spending will shift towards the businesses in the Growth pillar, attracting around half of the additional capital spend,” the company said. “Cash flow will follow the same trend and in the long term will become less exposed to oil and gas prices, with a stronger link to broader economic growth.”
Shell set targets for reducing its carbon intensity as part of the pay that’s going to all of the company’s staff and those targets are… eye opening. It’s looking at reductions in carbon intensity of 6-8% by 2023, 20% by 2030, 45% by 2035 and 100% by 2050, using a baseline of 2016 as its benchmark.
The company said that its own carbon emissions peaked in 2018 at 1.7 giga-tons per year and its oil production peaked in 2019.
Shell’s not taking these steps because it wants to, necessarily. The writing is on the wall that unless something dramatic is done to stop fossil fuel pollution and climate change, the world faces serious consequences.
A study released earlier this week indicated that air pollution from fossil fuels killed 18% of the world’s population. That means burning fossil fuels is almost as deadly as cancer, according to the study from researchers led by Harvard University.
Beyond the human toll directly tied to fossil fuels, there’s the huge cost of climate change, which the U.S. estimated could cost $500 billion per year by 2090 unless steps are taken to reverse course.
Air quality is improving in one of the continent’s fastest-growing regions, researchers have found. If the trend can be sustained, it would be good news for human health and climate change.
No matter where you live or how high your socioeconomic status, climate change can endanger your health, both physical and mental, now and in the future.
The Transportation Department, which holds sway over planes, trains and automobiles, faces limits on how it spends money. Still, here are five possible steps.
Toyota’s $180 million settlement with the federal government follows a series of emissions-related scandals in the auto industry.
Zack Parisa and Max Nova, the co-founders of the carbon offset company SilviaTerra, have spent the last decade working on a way to democratize access to revenue generating carbon offsets.
As forestry credits become a big, booming business on the back of multi-billion dollar commitments from some of the world’s biggest companies to decarbonize their businesses, the kinds of technologies that the two founders have dedicated ten years of their lives to building are only going to become more valuable.
That’s why their company, already a profitable business, has raised $4.4 million in outside funding led by Union Square Ventures and Version One Ventures, along with Salesforce founder and the driving force between the 1 trillion trees initiative, Marc Benioff .
“Key to addressing the climate crisis is changing the balance in the so-called carbon cycle. At present, every year we are adding roughly 5 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere. Since atmospheric carbon acts as a greenhouse gas this increases the energy that’s retained rather than radiated back into space which causes the earth to heat up,” writes Union Square Ventures managing partner Albert Wenger in a blog post. “There will be many ways such drawdown occurs and we will write about different approaches in the coming weeks (such as direct air capture and growing kelp in the oceans). One way that we understand well today and can act upon immediately are forests. The world’s forests today absorb a bit more than one gigatons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere and turn it into biomass. We need to stop cutting and burning down existing forests (including preventing large scale forest fires) and we have to start planting more new trees. If we do that, the total potential for forests is around 4 to 5 gigatons per year (with some estimates as high as 9 gigatons).”
For the two founders, the new funding is the latest step in a long journey that began in the woods of Northern Alabama, where Parisa grew up.
After attending Mississippi State for forestry, Parisa went to graduate school at Yale, where he met Louisville, Kentucky native Max Nova, a computer science student who joined with Parisa to set up the company that would become SiliviaTerra.
The two men developed a way to combine satellite imagery with field measurements to determine the size and species of trees in every acre of forest.
While the first step was to create a map of every forest in the U.S. the ultimate goal for both men was to find a way to put a carbon market on equal footing with the timber industry. Instead of cutting trees for cash, potentially landowners could find out how much it would be worth to maintain their forestland. As the company notes, forest management had previously been driven by the economics of timber harvesting, with over $10 billion spent in the US each year.
The founders at SilviaTerra thought that the carbon market could be equally as large, but it’s hard for moset landowners to access. Carbon offset projects can cost as much as $200,000 to put together, which is more than the value of the smaller offset projects for landowners like Parisa’s own family and the 40 acres they own in the Alabama forests.
There had to be a better way for smaller landowners to benefit from carbon markets too, Parisa and Nova thought.
To create this carbon economy, there needed to be a single source of record for every tree in the U.S. and while SilviaTerra had the technology to make that map, they lacked the compute power, machine learning capabilities and resources to build the map.
That’s where Microsoft’s AI for Earth program came in.
Working with AI for Earth, SilviaTierra created their first product, Basemap, to process terabytes ofsatellite imagery to determine the sizes and species of trees on every acre of America’s forestland. The company also worked with the US Forestry Service to access their data, which was used in creating this holistic view of the forest assets in the U.S.
With the data from Basemap in hand, the company has created what it calls the Natural Capital Exchange. This program uses SilviaTerra’s unparalleled access to information about local forests, and the knowledge of how those forests are currently used to supply projects that actually represent land that would have been forested were it not for the offset money coming in.
Currently, many forestry projects are being passed off to offset buyers as legitimate offsets on land that would never have been forested in the first place — rendering the project meaningless and useless in any real way as an offset for carbon dioxide emissions.
“It’s a bloodbath out there,” said Nova of the scale of the problem with fraudulent offsets in the industry. “We’re not repackaging existing forest carbon projects and try to connect the demand side with projects that already exist. Use technology to unlock a new supply of forest carbon offset.”
The first Natural Capital Exchange project was actually launched and funded by Microsoft back in 2019. In it, 20 Western Pennsylvania land owners originated forest carbon credits through the program, showing that the offsets could work for landowners with 40 acres, or, as the company said, 40,000.
“We’re just trying to get inside every landowners annual economic planning cycle,” said Nova. “There’s a whole field of timber economics… and we’re helping answer the question of given the price of timber, given the price of carbon does it make sense to reduce your planned timber harvests?”
Ultimately, the two founders believe that they’ve found a way to pay for the total land value through the creation of data around the potential carbon offset value of these forests.
It’s more than just carbon markets, as well. The tools that SilviaTerra have created can be used for wildfire mitigation as well. “We’re at the right place at the right time with the right data and the right tools,” said Nova. “It’s about connecting that data to the decision and the economics of all this.”
The launch of the SilviaTerra exchange gives large buyers a vetted source to offset carbon. In some ways its an enterprise corollary to the work being done by startups like Wren, another Union Square Ventures investment, that focuses on offsetting the carbon footprint of everyday consumers. It’s also a competitor to companies like Pachama, which are trying to provide similar forest offsets at scale, or 3Degrees Inc. or South Pole.
Under a Biden administration there’s even more of an opportunity for these offset companies, the founders said, given discussions underway to establish a Carbon Bank. Established through the existing Commodity Credit Corp. run by the Department of Agriculture, the Carbon Bank would pay farmers and landowners across the U.S. for forestry and agricultural carbon offset projects.
“Everybody knows that there’s more value in these systems than just the product that we harvest off of it,” said Parisa. “Until we put those benefits in the same footing as the things we cut off and send to market…. As the value of these things goes up… absolutely it is going to influence these decisions and it is a cash crop… It’s a money pump from coastal America into middle America to create these things that they need.”
After a year when climate-related disasters seemed to become the norm, the team will be monitoring a 2021 that is pivotal for the world.
From orbit, satellites send tragic evidence of climate change’s destructive power. This film covers 10 days, Sept. 7-16, 2020, a period of intense fires activity in North and South America.
The idea was simple: compare the difference in exposure to unclean air among wealthy and poor families by tracking two kids for a day. Pulling it off was trickier.
Legal and environmental experts hailed a coroner’s ruling that, for the first time in Britain, directly linked a specific person’s death to air pollution.
Today, the acute asthma attack of primary school-aged girl in February 2013 was ruled by a UK court to be due to air pollution. It is thought to be the first ruling of its kind in the world. Only a year after Ella Kissi-Debrah died, another mother also became concerned about the effects of air quality on her daughter’s asthma and decided to do something about it.
Today, Yodit Stanton has secured $4m in seed funding for her air monitoring startup OpenSensors, in a Seed round led by Crane Venture Partners and other unnamed investors. The startup previously bootstrapped the company prior to the round, supported by customer revenues.
OpenSensors, uses sensors to monitor air quality and light intensity, but it’s the data platform that is the real ‘special source’. The startup’s technology works to reveal workplace and workforce conditions and patterns. It competes with companies like Condecco and Workplace Fabric, but takes a more ‘360 degree’ approach.
It now has more than 30 customers with complex real estate operations across North America, Ireland, UK and Europe, in industries such as Insurance, Finance, Tech and more.
Building costs are the 2nd highest expense for organizations, with office costs over £20bn per year in the UK, but even in normal, pre-pandemic times, half of that office space is unused at any point during the day and only reaches 55% peak utilization. Buildings also represent 36% of global energy usage & 39% of CO2 emissions. OpenSensors tracks humidity, CO2 levels, and more to guide on the optimal capacity to reduce viral transmission, thus enabling companies to return their workforces to offices safely.
Stanton commented: “How we work and live are changing faster than we could have ever anticipated. There is a real opportunity for humanity to rethink how we use the physical world with sustainability in mind as well as making the design of workplaces better for people using them.”
Scott Sage, Partner at Crane Venture Partners said: “With data insights, real-world usage and known customer references, OpenSensors has all the ingredients to become a trusted advisor and solutions provider throughout COVID-19 and the immediate recovery, as well as supporting the shift towards more flexible working that COVID-19 has accelerated.”
Speaking exclusively to TechCrunch, Stanton, who also founded and runs the UK’s Women In Data event, said: “Initially it just started as a fun hobby project. I was playing around with IoT as in my daughter has asthma, so I was monitoring air quality up in our neighborhood to try to see if I can correlate the particulates spikes and so forth with her asthma attacks. I released it as a project for my community to monitor air quality. But it became, I guess a real thing when people asked if I could manage their buildings.”
She said that low humidity encourages virus transmission: “So you really have to aim for around 40% humidity within an indoor environment and dry air also affects your immune system as an individual.”
This means that monitoring air quality has become a huge issue for companies. So it unsurprising that VCs are now backing air-quality startups like OpenSensors.
Ms. McCarthy will serve as a senior adviser to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., coordinating climate change policy throughout the government.
By lowering the value of pollution controls in health and safety calculations, the Trump administration appears to be moving to safeguard its deregulation efforts in court.
Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s choice to run the Department of Health and Human Services is the first state attorney general to create an environmental justice bureau.
Many have burned their fields in defiance of antipollution laws. Some say that has worsened New Delhi’s air as the capital deals with a third coronavirus wave.
A new report presented climate change as an immediate public health danger and urged lawmakers to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
I remember the first time someone rolled coal on me. It was 2006, and I was driving to work at the University of Kentucky. It was a bright, sunny day in Lexington, and I had the roof down and was stopped in traffic behind a large pickup truck with decidedly non-standard exhaust pipes exiting straight up behind the cab. Whoever was driving the pickup evidently noticed the Miata in his mirror and enveloped me in a thick cloud of soot when the lights changed.
As automotive subcultures go, intentionally modifying your truck’s diesel engine to make extra pollution is one of the more antisocial ones out there. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, diesel trucks with disabled emissions controls are far more widespread than you might think and emit more pollution than the diesel engines that got Volkswagen such hefty fines.
In 2016, Volkswagen agreed to a pair of court settlements totaling nearly $16 billion after it was caught selling diesel vehicles fitted with emissions defeat devices. In total, the VW scandal affected more than half a million cars and SUVs sold in the US, which produced up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides (NOx) when in daily operation.
It’s discomforting to realize that air pollution can be coming from inside your home. Here’s how to identify and rid yourself of the risks.
As President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency rushes to complete its regulatory rollbacks, agency staff, emboldened by the Biden victory, moves to stand in the way.
An E.P.A. investigation has found that the owners of more than half a million diesel pickup trucks have installed devices to defeat emissions controls and boost pollution.
Tonight, people in Great Britain will celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with bonfires and elaborate fireworks displays across the country, which is why it’s also known as Bonfire Night. The downside of the festivities is that the combination temporarily pours a lot of extra particulates into the air. This is known to have an adverse effect on visibility, but scientists also suspected that elevated levels of soot that accumulates from the annual bonfires could contribute to creating ice in clouds. According to a new paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmosphere, this doesn’t seem to be the case.
For those not familiar with this British celebration, Guy Fawkes was a member of the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605, whose Catholic members conspired to blow up the British House of Lords in an attempt to assassinate the Protestant King James I. Fawkes was caught guarding the cache of explosives, and the public celebrated the king’s survival by lighting bonfires. Fawkes and his fellow conspirators were executed the following January. Just days before the executions, Parliament passed the Observance of 5th November Act (aka the “Thanksgiving Act”), making the day an annual celebration.
Originally marked by extreme anti-Catholic sentiment, the nature of the celebrations evolved over the centuries. It eventually became common practice to burn Guy Fawkes in effigy—a practice memorably depicted in the climax of a season 3 episode of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes series (“The Empty Hearse“), in which Holmes and Watson foil a modern-day plot to finish what the Gunpowder Plot had started.
A scandal led to a $2.9 billion trust fund for states to put cleaner vehicles on their roads. A lot of the money has gone to more diesel vehicles.
Canada’s oil patch has nearly 100,000 suspended wells, neither active nor capped, and they’re a worrying source of planet-warming methane.
With the president’s re-election in doubt, cabinet departments are scrambling to finish dozens of new rules affecting millions of Americans.
Every fall, air pollution spikes in India. Doctors worry what it will mean for coronavirus patients with breathing problems.
The Trump administration’s moves to decouple the two economies means less leverage over Beijing’s green policies.
We love air! But boiling herbs and buying more plants will not improve your indoor air quality. Find out what will.
What do you do when your world is burning? In mundane and harrowing ways, you figure out how to survive.
There’s a huge fire debt in the West that must be paid off, experts say, either through controlled burns or out-of-control blazes. Either way, that means smoke.
Fast or slow? Is there a time limit? Can we bring the dog along? Expert advice for working out when the smoke gets in your eyes — and lungs.
Even if flames are far away, smoke can travel and threaten kids’ health. But staying inside has trade-offs too.
The wildfires blazing in the West could hinder developing lungs, worsen asthma and even lead to the condition in those who don’t have it but are genetically disposed to it.
The wildfires will force us to recognize the steep costs of incompetent, neglectful, uncaring government.
The president visited California after weeks of silence on its wildfires and blamed the crisis only on poor forest management, not climate change. “I don’t think science knows” what is happening, he said.
Residents retreated indoors after smoke from wildfires in the U.S. descended on Vancouver and other communities in British Columbia.
A president who has mocked climate change and pushed policies that accelerate it is set to be briefed on the scorched earth and ash-filled skies that experts say are the predictable result.
Smoke spreads misery, including health problems, far beyond fire zones. We have key facts and tips.
Across Northern California, huge plumes of smoke from a fire that blasted through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada billowed high into the atmosphere, turning day into an eerie twilight.
A high-tech sensor network brought me closer to the natural cycles of my environment.
Here’s what you need to know about reading daily pollution levels.
Common arguments about how electric vehicles cause more emissions than traditional vehicles when the electric grid is coal-powered are actually wrong. Still, it’s certainly true that a cleaner grid is needed to fully realize the benefits for climate change. Beyond the climate, part of the appeal of EVs is also the improved air quality, of course, and here the grid can be even more important. In the wrong situation, switching to an EV just moves the air pollution from the street to the power plant.
A team led by Northwestern’s Daniel Peters decided to have a particularly detailed look at this issue, examining several scenarios of grid generation and EV adoption in the US. The results show that even with today’s grid, switching to EVs produces significant benefits.
The researchers used simulated hourly air pollution data from vehicles around the country, along with emissions data for power plants. This went into a model of weather over the course of a year (2014, as it happens), which also simulated important chemical reactions and natural emissions of compounds that interact with pollutants. The resulting air quality simulations were applied to an EPA population health model to show the expected impact on human health.
On Tuesday, five automakers signed agreements with California’s Air Resources Board to implement cleaner emissions standards over the next few years. BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen Group, and Volvo will reduce vehicle emissions between model years 2021 and 2026.
Unlike Europe’s rules, which fine automakers if they exceed a blanket fleet average for the amount of CO2 emitted per km, CARB has different targets for cars and light trucks based on their relative footprint. But each of the five OEMs has agreed to cut the amount of CO2 its vehicles produce per mile by about 17 percent by MY2026. The new agreement is broadly similar to one announced last year, although with a revised timeline that now runs through 2026.
Specifically, CO2 emissions from small cars would drop from 157g/mile in 2021 to 130g/mile in 2026, large cars from 215g/mile to 178g/mile, small light trucks from 195g/mile to 162g/mile, and large light trucks from 335g/mile to 278g/mile, with a formula to adjust vehicles that fall in between the small and large footprint areas. For context, the EU’s new fleet-wide average, which came into effect in 2020, heavily fines any automaker whose fleet average exceeds 152g/mile (95g/km).
Climate change leaders said the choice of Harris signaled that Democrats will try to ensure that communities burdened by pollution would benefit from a transition to clean energy.
Given the radical changes people have undertaken to limit the spread of COVID-19 (hello month six of quarantine-except-for-groceries), many have naturally wondered what impact this has had on pollution, including greenhouse gases and climate change. Some short-lived pollutants dropped noticeably during the strong lockdowns of April, as businesses shuttered and travel was reduced. But CO2 levels don’t fluctuate based on short-term events like that, so the long-term effect on climate change was expected to be trivially small—assuming economies rebounded fairly quickly.
A new study led by the University of Leeds’ Piers Forster (and his daughter Harriet) takes advantage of phone location data to re-examine the first six months of the year, tracking more than just CO2. While they ultimately find that the impact has been small, their results also highlight that the way economies choose to rebound could have a much bigger effect over the long term.
The work relies on mobility data made public by Google and Apple, covering 114 countries. Using that along with energy and emissions datasets, the researchers converted behavior changes into pollution changes. The phone data record changes in transportation use quite well, although purported changes in activity between residential, commercial, and industrial settings are harder to relate to energy. The researchers compared the changes they saw in their phone data to a May study that estimated April emissions using things like utility data. They found their phone-based estimate of home energy use probably overestimates the real change.
As climate change raises sea levels, storm surges and high tides will push farther inland, a team of researchers says.
African-Americans are 75 percent more likely than others to live near facilities that produce hazardous waste. Can a grass-roots environmental-justice movement make a difference?
Expectant mothers who lived near flaring sites had higher odds of giving birth prematurely than those who did not, researchers found. The adverse outcomes fell entirely on Hispanic women.
New research has sharply narrowed the range of outcomes.