Day: October 26, 2021

3M agrees to pay $98 mln to resolve suits over ‘forever’ chemicals

Read the full story from Reuters.

Industrial conglomerate 3M Co on Tuesday said it had agreed to pay about $98.4 million to settle claims that it contaminated the Tennessee River with toxic chemicals.

3M agreed to resolve a lawsuit by environmental group Tennessee Riverkeeper and a separate class action by residents of Alabama’s Morgan County. It also negotiated a private settlement with Morgan County, the city of Decatur, where 3M’s local facility is based, and Decatur’s utility provider.

Democrats weigh carbon tax after Manchin rejects key climate provision

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Some House and Senate Democrats, smarting from a move by Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, to kill a major element of President Biden’s climate plan, are switching to Plan B: a tax on carbon dioxide pollution.

A carbon tax, in which polluting industries would pay a fee for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit, is seen by economists as the most effective way to cut the fossil fuel emissions that are heating the planet.

Public Support for International Climate Action: September 2021

Download the document.

Summary: The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will take place in Glasgow Scotland (UK) beginning on October 31, 2021. The two-week conference “will bring [nearly all the countries in the world] together to accelerate action towards the goals of the [2015] Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

As context for the conference, this report describes how registered voters in the United States view a variety of policies related to international climate action. This survey was fielded from September 10 – 20, 2021, drawing on a representative sample of the U.S. population (n = 1,006; including the 898 registered voters whose data are included in this report). This report is a follow-up to our March 2021 report, which included most of the same survey items as the current report, and was released just prior to President Biden’s Earth-Day Leaders Summit on Climate. This executive summary reports the results from all registered voters, while the report breaks the results down by political party and ideology.

  • 66% of registered voters think the United States should be doing more to address global warming.
  • 66% think the United States should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of what other countries do, an increase of 5 percentage points since our survey in March 2021.
  • 73% support the U.S. government’s pledge to reduce the nation’s carbon pollution by 50% by the year 2030.
  • 66% support providing financial aid and technical support to developing countries to limit their greenhouse gas emissions (+8 percentage points since March 2021)
  • 61% support providing financial aid and technical support to developing countries to help them prepare for the impacts of global warming (+6 percentage points).
  • 78% support the United States pressuring other countries to reduce their carbon pollution.
  • 74% think other industrialized countries (such as England, Germany, and Japan) should be doing more to address global warming.
  • 81% think developing countries (such as China, India, and Brazil) should be doing more to address global warming.

Webinar: Three Years in the Making: Calibrated, Validated and Publicly Available End Use Load Profiles for the U.S. Building Stock

Oct 28, 2021 11 am CDT
Register here.

End-use load profiles describe how and when energy is used and are critically important to utilities, public utility commissions, state energy offices and other stakeholders for a variety of purposes such as valuing energy efficiency, demand response, and distributed energy resources. The U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Lab and Berkeley Lab present a free webinar on October 28, 2021 to provide an overview of the project, options to access the end-use load profiles and share information on two forthcoming reports documenting the project, “End-Use Load Profiles for the U.S. Building Stock: Methodology and Results of Model Calibration, Validation, and Uncertainty Quantification” and “End-Use Load Profiles for the U.S. Building Stock: Applications and Opportunities”.

Efficiency improvements and renewables reduce emissions—but also trick people into using more energy

Read the full story in Fast Company. The original study appears in Global Environmental Change.

Making investments toward reducing emissions has economy-wide benefits, but in the residential sector can lead to a “rebound effect,” where people use more energy than they did before when they know it’s cleaner and cheaper.

California teens expose the chemicals in household cleaners that are putting their community at risk

Read the full story from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Their research aims to inform Latinas—who make up a significant proportion of the domestic workforce—about how to choose safer cleaning products.

UK completes largest ever inaugural sovereign green bond offering

Read the full story at ESG Today.

The UK government announced this week the completion of its first “Green Gilt” offering, raising £10 billion for projects aimed at helping the country meet its net zero and other environmental goals, in the largest ever inaugural sovereign green bond issuance.

USDA funds ‘agrivoltaics’ project led by iSEE, University of Illinois researchers

Read the full story from the University of Illinois.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced funding for a new project led by iSEE Interim Director Madhu Khanna to optimize design for “agrivoltaic” systems — fields with both crops and solar panels — that will maintain crop production, produce renewable energy, and increase farm profitability.

This $10 million, four-year project, funded through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Sustainable Agriculture Systems program with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as the lead institution, will study agrivoltaics in a variety of land types and climate scenarios (Illinois, Colorado, Arizona).

Ancient groundwater: Why the water you’re drinking may be thousands of years old

Some of North America’s groundwater is so old, it fell as rain before humans arrived here thousands of years ago. Maria Fuchs via Getty Images

by Marissa Grunes, Harvard University; Alan Seltzer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Kevin M. Befus, University of Arkansas

Communities that rely on the Colorado River are facing a water crisis. Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir, has fallen to levels not seen since it was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam roughly a century ago. Arizona and Nevada are facing their first-ever mandated water cuts, while water is being released from other reservoirs to keep the Colorado River’s hydropower plants running.

If even the mighty Colorado and its reservoirs are not immune to the heat and drought worsened by climate change, where will the West get its water?

There’s one hidden answer: underground.

As rising temperatures and drought dry up rivers and melt mountain glaciers, people are increasingly dependent on the water under their feet. Groundwater resources currently supply drinking water to nearly half the world’s population and roughly 40% of water used for irrigation globally.

What many people don’t realize is how old – and how vulnerable – much of that water is.

Most water stored underground has been there for decades, and much of it has sat for hundreds, thousands or even millions of years. Older groundwater tends to reside deep underground, where it is less easily affected by surface conditions such as drought and pollution.

As shallower wells dry out under the pressure of urban development, population growth and climate change, old groundwater is becoming increasingly important.

Drinking ancient groundwater

If you bit into a piece of bread that was 1,000 years old, you’d probably notice.

Water that has been underground for a thousand years can taste different, too. It leaches natural chemicals from the surrounding rock, changing its mineral content. Some natural contaminants linked to groundwater agelike mood-boosting lithium – can have positive effects. Other contaminants, like iron and manganese, can be troublesome.

Older groundwater is also sometimes too salty to drink without expensive treatment. This problem can be worse near the coasts: Overpumping creates space that can draw seawater into aquifers and contaminate drinking supplies.

Illustration of layers of groundwater below the surface
Flow timescales of groundwater through different layers. USGS

Ancient groundwater can take thousands of years to replenish naturally. And, as California saw during its 2011-2017 drought, natural underground storage spaces compress as they empty, so they can’t refill to their previous capacity. This compaction in turn causes the land above to crack, buckle and sink.

Yet people today are drilling deeper wells in the West as droughts deplete surface water and farms rely more heavily on groundwater.

What does it mean for water to be ‘old’?

Let’s imagine a rainstorm over central California 15,000 years ago. As the storm rolls over what’s now San Francisco, most of the rain falls into the Pacific Ocean, where it will eventually evaporate back into the atmosphere. However, some rain also falls into rivers and lakes and over dry land. As that rain seeps through layers of soil, it enters slowly trickling “flowpaths” of underground water.

Some of these paths lead deeper and deeper, where water collects in crevices within the bedrock hundreds of meters underground. The water gathered in these underground reserves is in a sense cut off from the active water cycle – at least on timescales relevant to human life.

In California’s arid Central Valley, much of the accessible ancient water has been pumped out of the earth, mostly for agriculture. Where the natural replenishment timescale would be on the order of millennia, agricultural seepage has partially refilled some aquifers with newer – too often polluted – water. In fact, places like Fresno now actively refill aquifers with clean water (such as treated wastewater or stormwater) in a process known as “managed aquifer recharge.”

Map showing longest turnover times are in the West and Great Plains
Average turnover times for groundwater in the U.S. Alan Seltzer, based on data from Befus et al 2017, CC BY-ND

In 2014, midway through their worst drought in modern memory, California became the last western state to pass a law requiring local groundwater sustainability plans. Groundwater may be resilient to heat waves and climate change, but if you use it all, you’re in trouble.

One response to water demand? Drill deeper. Yet that answer isn’t sustainable.

First, it’s expensive: Large agricultural companies and lithium mining firms tend to be the sort of investors who can afford to drill deep enough, while small rural communities can’t.

Chart showing how nitrates enter water as more groundwater is pumped out
Pumping accelerates groundwater flow to a well, delivering dissolved chemicals. USGS

Second, once you pump ancient groundwater, aquifers need time to refill. Flowpaths may be disrupted, choking off a natural water supply to springs, wetlands and rivers. Meanwhile, the change in pressure underground can destabilize the earth, causing land to sink and even leading to earthquakes.

Third is contamination: While deep, mineral-rich ancient groundwater is often cleaner and safer to drink than younger, shallower groundwater, overpumping can change that. As water-strapped regions rely more heavily on deep groundwater, overpumping lowers the water table and draws down polluted modern water that can mix with the older water. This mixing causes the water quality to deteriorate, leading to demand for ever-deeper wells.

Reading climate history in ancient groundwater

There are other reasons to care about ancient groundwater. Like actual fossils, extremely old “fossil groundwater” can teach us about the past.

Envision our prehistoric rainstorm again: 15,000 years ago, the climate was quite different from today. Chemicals that dissolved in ancient groundwater are detectable today, opening windows into a past world. Certain dissolved chemicals act as clocks, telling scientists the groundwater’s age. For example, we know how fast dissolved carbon-14 and krypton-18 decay, so we can measure them to calculate when the water last interacted with air.

Younger groundwater that disappeared underground after the 1950s has a unique, man-made chemical signature: high levels of tritium from atomic bomb testing.

Illustration of water flowing among rocks, close up and at a distance.
The various components and properties of an unconfined aquifer. USGS

Other dissolved chemicals behave like tiny thermometers. Noble gases like argon and xenon, for instance, dissolve more in cold water than in warm water, along a precisely known temperature curve. Once groundwater is isolated from air, dissolved noble gases don’t do much. As a result, they preserve information about environmental conditions at the time the water first seeped into the subsurface.

The concentrations of noble gases in fossil groundwater have provided some of our most reliable estimates of temperature on land during the last ice age. Such findings provide insight into modern climates, including how sensitive Earth’s average temperature is to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These methods support a recent study that found 3.4 degrees Celsius of warming with each doubling of carbon dioxide.

Groundwater’s past and future

People in some regions, like New England, have been drinking ancient groundwater for years with little danger of exhausting usable supplies. Regular rainfall and varied water sources – including surface water in lakes, rivers and snowpack – provide alternatives to groundwater and also refill aquifers with new water. If aquifers can keep up with the demand, the water can be used sustainably.

Out West, though, over a century of unmanaged and exorbitant water use means that some of the places most dependent on groundwater – arid regions vulnerable to drought – have squandered the ancient water resources that once existed underground.

Cross section of California showing rivers, groundwater and wells, including recharge wells
How water use and recharge fit into the hydrological cycle. State of California

A famous precedent for this problem is in the Great Plains. There, the ancient water of the Ogallala Aquifer supplies drinking water and irrigation for millions of people and farms from South Dakota to Texas. If people were to pump this aquifer dry, it would take thousands of years to refill naturally. It is a vital buffer against drought, yet irrigation and water-intensive farming are lowering its water levels at unsustainable rates.

As the planet warms, ancient groundwater is becoming increasingly important – whether flowing from your kitchen tap, irrigating food crops, or offering warnings about Earth’s past that can help us prepare for an uncertain future.

Marissa Grunes, Environmental Fellow, Harvard University; Alan Seltzer, Assistant Scientist in Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Kevin M. Befus, Assistant Professor of Hydrogeology, University of Arkansas

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Down to Earth

Read the full story at Waste Today.

Zach Brooks’ second act as owner of the Arizona Worm Farm has him promoting the benefits of vermicomposting for waste reduction, sustainability.

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