Posted in clean renewable energy, climate, decarbonization, electrify everything, no fossil fuels, solutions, transit

Understanding the climate crisis — with Al Gore

Late last August, I traveled to Los Angeles for a 3 day training with The Climate Reality Project. Many may not have heard of this non-profit anchored by Vice-President Al Gore. The training is free, but one needs to apply and get accepted to participate. We are also expected to pay for our travel and lodging expenses. 

la-training
Climate Reality Training, Los Angeles, August 2019. Photo credit: Meenal Raval

We were told this was the largest Climate Reality training to date, with over 2,200 people from all over the world. About 25% came from Southern California, another 25% came from the State of California, the remaining 49 states brought in 25%. The rest were from outside the US. Tweets from the training have the hashtag #LeadOnClimate. An example: 

  • 25% from LA, 25% from CA, 25% from rest of US, 25% from rest of world, all 2000 trainees ready to #LeadOnClimate

We were grouped by geographic proximity so I mostly interacted with people from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I ran into people I already knew plus some new ones, notably Tim Mahony (a science professor at Millersville University), Shweta Arya (an environmental educator from Delaware County), Dave Walbert (a grad student at Drexel) and Ankit Agarwal (a Center City Philadelphia resident). 

The 3 days with Mr Gore was interspersed with many notables, some very new to me.

There was Amanda Gorman, a young poet laureate, who was amazing. Her poem Earthrise brought us all to tears, find her @amandascgorman, see some quotes below. 

So I tell you this not to scare you,
But to prepare you, to dare you
To dream a different reality

And while this is a training,
in sustaining the future of our planet,
There is no rehearsal. The time is
Now
Now
Now,
Because the reversal of harm,
And protection of a future so universal
Should be anything but controversial.

So, earth, pale blue dot
We will fail you not.

Because an environmental movement of this size
Is simply another form of an earthrise.


Mr Gore led a question and answer session about “The Climate Crisis & It’s Solutions” with Dr Veerabhadran Ramanathan. Some tidbits from that session:

  • The climate crisis is inter-generational, thus the realm of religion and morals. It’s something he can’t bring to scientific discussions
  • He sees the cliff, and the shift in colleagues, all wanting to talk about shifting to solutions – working with 25 university collaboration – with demo projects – then bringing in community partners – He’s got no pushback when presenting because all scientists concur that this is an existential threat. This phrase was repeated by many of the presenters.
  • no massive public support
  • most important message from Dr Ramafor the climate crisis: It’s happening now, there’s an urgency, and we know how to solve it
  • Foreign Affairs magazine article referenced here
    • The climate crisis will affect the rich as much as the poor
    • The climate crisis will get worse if we do nothing
    • He is one of the advisors to the Vatican, which included best health experts
    • He doesn’t see how CA ag could survive 30 years out
    • Future generations don’t deserve what we’re doing to them
    • Referred to a climate solutions course at undergrad level, for all UC students – then at community college, to replicate across US, and also at K-12 level, working with DiCaprio Fdn, to build environmental literacy.
    • This 73 year old man says… we won’t solve this in his lifetime, but wants to leave by offering solutions to those in their 20s
    • The climate crisis is a human tragedy
    • Sees 2 degree warming in 7-8 years due to oceans warming
    • Reduced oxygen in oceans – due to GHG absorption, also fertilizer runoff – causing dead zone – sustainable ag imp to protect oceans
    • transpo sector has BIGGEST emissions
    • 40% of food thrown away – bio-digestor – regenerative ag to sequester more carbon in soil (also plants) – put a price, reward farmers – upcoming soil carbon conference in TN
    • V. Ramanathan shares $1.33M sustainable development prize with fellow climate science pioneer
  • black carbon from diesel – more potent than CO2 – the panel discussion on transportation repeated this message; see below. Must stop diesel combustion, esp in urban areas.
  • We must take CO2 out of the air

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti joined Mr Gore for a discussion on “Inspiring Global Action thru Local Leadership”. 

  • how to lobby our mayor? – quote from movie ‘lost city of Z’ on Amazon – “reach should always be greater than grasp” – beyond what we think is possible – confront the reality
  • ask 4 questions of  local leaders
    • How do you and stuff get around? how do consumables get to you?
    • How do you stay comfortable? physical built environment? heat, cool and power buildings
    • How do you turn on the lights? What is the source of electricity? Then push people like him to get it done.
  • And then:
    • Be ready: Know your stuff better than people sitting with;
    • Be specific – green building ordinance;
    • Be flexible – get victory, bang it, and move forward. Learn to tie victories, one at a time
    • Be inclusive – desegregate, all engaged, labor, women, hunting, too important to get divided
    • Be proactive – stop playing defense – the power that you hold – exercise it
  • Layout a plan, desegregate sustainability – each of the 37 departments he manages, all have a sustainability component – eg police dept reports on reduced crime, as well as reduced paper usage
  • He has a 100 page plan – read it – replicate it – I think this is THE PLAN that he’s referring to. 
  • LA reduced emissions 11% in a year
  • Brother is Mayor of nearby Long Beach, a major port. Their emissions reduction at the ports is 5 years ahead of schedule – clean air standards
  • Mayor Garcetti co-founded Climate Mayors w Houston & Philadelphia Mayors when Trump pulled out of Paris, which brought in 100 cities, now 400 cities. If he’s out, we’re in!
  • Global network of Mayors – C40 – the mega cities – playbook includes bus electrification – local communities setting agenda for big countries!
  • Cannot be paralyzed by magnitude we face – we’re in the post NOW era – the post carbon era is now – the post ICE (internal combustion engine) is now – picture this – will realize the power we have – truth wins out
  • I wish I were a mirror – so you could see what I see – your power – we’re the writers of history – let us make history together! Really revved us up!! (and I rarely use double exclamation points)

Though we were excited, energized and exhausted, Mr Gore kept going. Next up was a conversation with Hal Harvey on “Getting Real about Rapid Decarbonization”. This is Hal Harvey of energyinnovation.org – has an upcoming book  – see Climate: How to Win – spoke of the 4 zeros for rapid decarbonization: 

  • Zero-carbon grid
  • Zero-emission vehicles
  • Zero-net energy buildings
  • Zero-waste manufacturing

Zero-carbon grid – electric utilities are biggest emitters on planet – 80% of our problem is from energy sys – solar and wind cheaper than operating capital of plant – who chooses whether we get brown or green electricity? small number of policies and small number of people – In the US, the PUC decides – 50 states x 5 commissioners = 250 people. If we exclude smaller states, and 3-2 vote is enough, only need to convince 90 people. We were promised an analysis of all 50 PUCs so we could pressure ours. Was told Advanced Energy Economy has research on each PUC, that we need to work with multi local corps (versus multi—national corps) – to show util how to make money, and they’ll come along – 2/3 of all wind and solar in US is in red states – TX, WY, IA – story about NV flipped PUC

Zero-carbon vehicles – zero grid enables others – Americans keep cars for 14 years – keep pressure on both clean cars and EVs

Zero-net energy buildings – Santa Monica zoning – insulated well, almost zero – CA has best building code – CA split to 16 weather zones – if tech pays for itself within 7 years, it’s in the code – written by Governor Brown in 1978. We expect seat belts to work, we expect air bags to work, why don’t we expect buildings to work? utils don’t make money selling electricity – they make money building power plants, then passing the cost to base rates – change incentive – performance based regulation – people want affordable, safe, reliable, clean electricity – give util 5 years, thy’ll get…?

Zero-waste manufacturing – China 70% of emissions from industry – substitute design for material – example of 3D printing to reduce concrete used in new construction – lets unleash our minds – hi value jobs – rethinking materials – SOlivia – carbon? DOE 90% of budget for nuclear – list 5 to 10 most energy intensive industries – study them – circular economy – bottle bill on steroids – manufacturer buy back

Mr Harvey’s advice? Be precise when we speak; we can’t afford to be fuzzy. He ended with a sermon on our levels of consumption. The we need to triage – ethos, pathos, logos – the ethics, the stories, the logic. 

There was a California specific discussion titled “California’s Roadmap for Climate Leadership“. Again, with Mr Gore moderating.

  • Al Gore’s quotes from this session
    • We must electrify the transportation sector
    • 100% committed campaigns, re-educators (an organized effort) leads to advocacy
    • Kept asking – Must we? Can we? Will we change?
  • We learned of monthly coordination amongst the many agencies within California. A collaboration on people working on air quality, electricity generation, with the Community Choice Aggregation team working together with the Investor Owned Utility.

A discussion titled “Fighting for Healthy Communities” was led by groups local to Los Angeles. The PSR-LA (Physicians for Social Responsibility chapter in Los Angeles) team spoke of capturing vapor and VOC (volatile organic compounds) when tankers were unloaded. The California Environmental Justice Alliance, Communities for a Better Environment wanted to get 1 million EV’s on the road. They spoke of SB350, a bill to get to 50% renewables by 2040. They brought young people in yellow shirts, saying these urban youth were the canaries in our current coal mines — the drilling within the City of Los Angeles. Their demand – Stop Drilling Where We’re Living, and asked why their human rights were not valued. These groups together asked that the city’s land use policy must be tied to proximity to fossil fuel infrastructure.

Dr Ramanathan was brought back for a discussion on “The Climate Crisis & It’s Solution” with with Al Gore and Don Henry. Some notes:

  • We need to wake people up, and also give them hope. 
  • There’s been noisy denial. During the last 3 presidential campaigns, there was not one  question about the climate crisis.
  • We need to develop innovative partnerships
  • Mr Gore working in collaboration with William Barber.
  • Most effective messengers are us – willingness to shoulder the burden – topic complicated – communicate to neighbors – once we reveal what’s right and wrong – there’s the opportunity to do right – massive GOTV (get out the vote) effort. 
  • Legacy businesses want to extend their business  plans & manipulating the system, tamping down concerns. 
  • For climate justice, we need to move from transactional to transitional movement. I remember Judy Wicks saying much the same thing years ago when talking about building the local living economy. 
  • We need to be multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and cross religions
  • University of California intends to be carbon neutral in 10-15 years
  • Mr Gore spoke of the necessity for a Sustainable Revolution, one with the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution and the speed of the Digital Revolution.
  • An example of speed – Google has largest server farm in world; leading artificial intelligence company (Deep Mind’s Mustafa Saleyman) analyze and within 30 minutes had a recommendation for 40% electricity reduction; with a reiteration of the algorithm, they achieved a 56% reduction. Just with smarter management. Stories like this are our Call to Arms!
  • There was a question about CCS (carbon capture and sequestration), nuclear, and methane (also known as natural gas) in helping solve the climate crisis. The advice?
    • NO CCS – It’s expensive, 30% of current generation would be needed to run CCS.
    • NO nuclear – no engineering firm in US would even design a nuclear plant now.
    • NO methane –
      • It’s 86 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over 20 years
      • 34 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over 100 years
      • and has 50% less CO2 emissions than coal
      • It’s NOT our bridge to the  future

Since wildfires were raging throughout California last summer, Mr Gore brought local experts to talk about “Facing Reality: Firefighters on the Climate Frontlines“. Some notes:

  • Ken Pimlot, Director of CA Dept of Forestry & Fire Protection said
    • things are different now
      • they’ve never seen a fire last as long as 13 days.
      • 100,000 acre fire was rare, now common
      • They’re experiencing fires of 2700 degrees F!
      • They’re experiencing a year-round fire season, even in December with weeks and months of deployment, away from home. The life of firefighters is much like soldiers, facing greater risk than they ever stepped up for.
    • Asked us to talk to the politicians!
  • Martha Karsten of Chief Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade said
    • The whole state of CA is a tinderbox
    • Their fire station used to run 6 months, now 9 months
  • Ken Thompson, Former Deputy Fire Chief, New South Wale in Australia said
    • It’s exactly the same in Australia.
    • In Melbourne, 1st responders to fire – gonna be 1st responders to global warming!
    • new level of fire code: catastrophic
    • it really is a tinderbox out there
  • Each of them said – Name them – call out the politicians

On a session on “Clean Transportation: Moving Beyond Carbon”, Mr Gore led discussions with people from LA Clean Tech Incubator, CARB (the California Air Resources Board), Proterra and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

We learned from Ryan Popple of Proterra Buses that a diesel bus uses 10,000 gallons annually. This is our tax dollars.

The NRDC speaker shared that diesel accounts for more than 70% of  carcinogenic effect of emissions. That diesel for transportation is like coal for electricity generation. We need community based policy. There was a belief that consumers will do the right thing when given options. One out of 12 Americans live in Southern California. Don’t underestimate the purchasing power of a City or County. Not a dollar more for fossil fuels. 

In a discussion about the Paris agreement, there was an excited discussion about we are still in, even if President Trump has walked away.

Being in Los Angeles and proximity to Hollywood, there was a discussion about “Climate Crisis on camera” with Alan Horn. We learned that Alan is also on the NRDC board, with wife Cindy Horn on the Climate Reality board. This one couple paid for the venue for over 2200 people.

In closing, some take-away quotes from Mr Gore: 

  • Climate change is not a political issue, it’s a personal issue
  • “95% of time spent persuading people to do something when they damn well knew they should do it in their own self interest” – Al Gore quoting President Harry Truman
  • We’re an army of activists that won’t go away
  • Each month less than 1 American hears about climate change from a trusted source. We need to present to family, schools, civics
  • Policy doesn’t match public opinion – amplify voices of others
  • 65% population get urgent need to act on climate, yet the climate crisis doesn’t make list of top 10 issues in US. In Germany, the climate crisis is #1, terrorism is #2.
  • important to change light bulbs, more important to change the laws and policy
  • we’re working with 3 budgets
    • time budget – complete presentation in allotted time
    • complexity budget – don’t overtax people
    • hope budget – this is a problem from hell, leave the audience with hope
  • Politicians see uncertainly as an opportunity to delay.
  • CA decision by cities and towns to go 100% RE – things change when you make commitment – yeah!
  • Georgetown TX example – red state, mayor was CPA and numbers made sense  
  • Colorado State – student pressure
  • GDP up, population up, emissions down – Both CA and Sweden show that economy can be decoupled from fossil fuel emissions
  • In response to a question about energy storage other than Lithium Ion, there’s compressed gas storage, flywheels, flo batteries (?), and… 90% of storage in world is pumped hydro. 
  • Paris agreement agreed not only on voluntary targets, but also transparency on the info. Our governments are obligated to review and ratchet commitments. My translation – we can demand more transparency from PHL.
my-pin
Pin awarded to each person completing the Climate Reality training. Photo: Meenal Raval

The Climate Reality Project has focused on training presenters. In 2017, they tried forming chapters, many across the globe. Of note is that the Pittsburgh chapter has 500 members. And a Mayor who is on-board with the transition. The Southeastern PA chapter, which would include Philadelphia, is gearing up. 

See this post from another attendee: THREE MOVING MOMENTS FROM CLIMATE REALITY’S TRAINING IN LOS ANGELES.

I’m now a member of the Climate Reality Corps, able to give presentations on climate science, and able to customize for audience and geography.

 

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Posted in ban plastics, electrify everything, no fossil fuels, solar, transit

We can do it!

Testimony at State of the Environment hearing held by Philadelphia Council’s Committee on the Environment, led by Council member Blondell Reynolds Brown, November 29 2018 by Meenal Raval / meenal.raval [at] gmail.com / @meenal19119. Video recording of the entire hearing found here, starting at 1:14:00


What is the most pressing environmental issue facing us? Some seem to think it’s litter. Or storm water. Or air quality. These are all symptoms of the global climate crisis and our addiction to fossil fuels. And, it seems, we have only 10-12 years to kick our habit!

Some say we, the public, haven’t shown enough outrage about the IPCC report, the report that alerts us to this 10-12 year timeline. Some say we, the environmental groups, are too polite and rational. So I’d like to state that we are indeed enraged, outraged, and yes, fearful, for all our futures; that people come to us, asking what we should be doing. So those of us leading the climate movement in Philadelphia, people like me, know we’re in this for the long haul. And that we need to remain calm and help solve the crisis we’ve gotten ourselves info. So…

Meenal offering testimony on 11/29/18

What are fossil fuels? Coal, Oil and Gas. I’d also like to list their derivatives — gasoline, diesel, and plastics.

How do we use fossil fuels? Most visible are our cars, trucks & buses — combusting gasoline and diesel. Not as visible is the equipment in our basements – the boilers, furnaces and water heaters. Also invisible are the distant power plants burning coal, oil and gas to generate electricity.

So, how do we get off fossil fuels? We decide to stop spending on anything that uses fossil fuels. We do this each time we make a decision, which is what you all do on a daily basis!

This means planning for every new car, truck & bus to be electric, starting today.

It means when the boiler goes out on that cold morning, everyone knows that that oil or gas boiler will be replaced with an electric option — whether for our homes, our schools, or our workplaces. The homeowner, the contractor, the utility — all of us need to be aware of, and repeat, this same message. Currently, contractors are insisting on gas options even when the decision maker asks about electric option.

And when the hot water tank springs a leak in the basement; the same. Opt for an electric option, whether it’s got a tank or an on-demand feature.

And when there’s talk of subsidizing a limping refinery or partnering to liquify natural gas, the decision is simple. We just say no.

It means planning for our municipally owned utility, PGW, to transition away from selling gas (another fossil fuel) to doing something else. Like what?  It could be installing geothermal projects. It could be air sealing and insulating all our buildings. It could be replacing all gas appliances with electric ones. We’ll find a way, together. Otherwise we’ll all be in deep water. Yup… a little climate humor.

Next up — Plastics. Though not directly contributing to our greenhouse gas emissions, most of the plastic we use and dispose of ends up in our air (most trash gets incinerated) or our water ways. From the Wissahickon Creek to the Schuylkill River to the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll find plastic choking off all life.

Though very useful for things like eyeglasses, we need to curtail the use-once and throw-away plastics — items like forks and spoons, take out containers, plastic bags, and yes, disposable water bottles. I hear Councilman Squilla wants to enact a plastic bag ban; so I’ll be working with him on that! 

You may ask how we’d fund this rapid scale effort? Each day I get alerts about another institution divesting — shifting funds invested in fossil fuel companies to clean energy companies. To issuing green bonds. To setting up a public bank. We can do all this in Philly~ 

This sounds like an insurmountable task, I realize. But I’m living proof that it can be done. I live in an all-electric house, with an electric bike and an electric car, all charged by the soon-to-be-installed-solar panels on my roof. All emitting zero greenhouse gases, so all emissions free. If only the bus I rode to get here was also electric…

Perhaps we need to create a new committee, say, the Committee on the Climate Crisis. This could parallel the House Select Committee at the Federal Level being led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the Green New Deal.

Who wants to step up to this, the Committee on the Climate Crisis? We could work on one climate-related policy each week, to deliberate over and implement.

The physicians say we need to act. The scientists say we need to act. Yesterday, I was at a workshop with the Bar Association, and learned that even the lawyers say we need to act. Let’s focus on the task at hand. We can do it!


 

Posted in energy efficiency, transit, transition, transport

Many ways to leave your car

There are many ways to leave your car. It’s a damaging relationship and it’s time we thought about it differently.

This article about a friend’s car-sharing experience, about how She’s saving Money and the Environment by car-sharing, got to me thinking teutschhow freeing it is to realize you don’t need to have a car waiting to serve you 24×7.

That many of us have partners, neighbors, a car-sharing system with a car parked in walking distance, bus and trains also with stops in walking distance, and yes, a walkable neighborhood – privileges enough to only occasionally warrant needing your own car.

A privileged perspective? Yes. But also paradigm shifting.