Can a deluge compensate for losses in productivity and carbon uptake during a drought?

Read the full story from the Agricultural Research Service.

USDA, Agricultural Research Service scientists at the Rangeland Resources & Systems Research in Ft. Collins, CO, are using rain shelters to experimentally examine the impacts of deluge during a drought on forage production and carbon cycling (release and intake of carbon) in a semi-arid grassland in eastern Colorado…

In a study recently published in Global Change Biology, researchers measured the combined effects of two opposite extremes, a deluge during an extended drought, on green-up, end-of-season plant productivity, and carbon cycling using chambers to measure carbon fluxes.

Intel to construct large chip plant in Ohio using sustainable building practices

Read the full story at Environment + Energy Leader.

Intel has announced plans for an initial investment of more than $20 billion to construct two chip factories in Ohio, which will be built with green building principles and use all renewable electricity.

Updating Michigan energy rules on new homes faces pushback from builders

Read the full story at Bridge Michigan.

Updating Michigan standards last addressed in 2015, state officials are to consider a new, more energy-efficient home construction code this year ─ likely sparking a battle between home builders and environmentalists who back stronger energy mandates.

‘Inflection point.’ Biden faces 2 tests that could remake solar

Read the full story at E&E News.

President Biden’s clean energy and jobs agenda is facing a critical test as the White House weighs several decisions on U.S. solar policy, with pressure mounting on multiple fronts.

While the entire solar industry wants to see more panels and cells built in the U.S., there are differing views on how to get there. The current debate hinges largely on two questions: What should happen to Trump’s solar tariffs, and should Biden’s “Buy American” policy be changed?

New federal wildfire plan is ambitious – but the Forest Service needs more money and people to fight the growing risks

Forest thinning and prescribed burns leave less fuel to burn. Escaflowne via Getty Images

by Ryan E. Tompkins, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Susan Kocher, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

People living in the western U.S. have been concerned about wildfires for a long time, but the past two years have left many of them fearful and questioning whether any solutions to the fire crisis truly exist.

The Dixie Fire in the Sierra Nevada burned nearly 1 million acres in 2021, including almost the entire community of Greenville, California. Then strong winds near Lake Tahoe sent the Caldor Fire racing toward homes, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people – including one of us. They followed destructive wildfires in 2020 in California, and Colorado and Oregon also saw devastating fires in the past two years.

As foresters who have been working on wildfire and forest restoration issues in the Sierra Nevada for over a quarter of a century, the main lesson we gather from how these fires have burned is that fuels reduction and forest restoration projects are our best tools for mitigating wildfire impacts amid a changing climate, and not nearly enough of them are being done.

A new 10-year plan announced by the U.S. Forest Service in early 2022 aims to change that. It outlines an ambitious strategy, but Congress will now have to follow through with enough funding to carry it out.

Fuels reduction projects can work

The Dixie and Caldor fires provided evidence that forest fuels reduction projects can work.

The fires spread quickly over vast areas, but both burned less severely in areas with proactive forest restoration and fuels management projects, including near South Lake Tahoe and near Quincy.

Fuels reduction projects include thinning out trees, burning off woody debris and reducing “ladder fuels” like small trees and brush that can allow fire to reach the tree canopy. Forest restoration projects focus on forest structure, density and composition as well as reducing fuels.

A forest with space among the trees.
Thinned areas like this one in California’s Genesee Valley were more resistant to 2021’s Dixie Fire. Ryan Tompkins, CC BY-ND

These projects create more open forests that are less likely to fuel severe megafires. They also create strategic areas where firefighters can more easily fight future blazes. And because fires burn less intensely in thinned forests, these projects leave more intact forest after a fire for regenerating new trees and sequestering carbon.

A new 10-year plan

The Forest Service’s new 10-year plan sets a goal to treat as much as 50 million additional acres across the West over 10 years, just under 80,000 square miles. For comparison, the Forest Service treats around 2 million to 3 million acres a year now.

The first priorities in the plan are high-risk areas where communities have been threatened by out-of-control fires, including in the Sierra Nevada in California, the eastern side of the Rockies in Colorado and parts of the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest.

The Forest Service already has a “shared stewardship” agreement with California, reached in 2020, aiming to treat 1 million acres annually by 2025. Though, research indicates that current levels of treatment are closer to 30% of that million-acre goal. Remember that 1 million acres is about how much the Dixie Fire burned.

A lingering question is how the 10-year plan will be paid for, considering that it will require a workforce larger than the U.S. has seen in decades.

A few walls are standing, but most of the town is burned and melted rubble.
Little remained of downtown Greenville after the Dixie Fire. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

So far, Congress has approved additional funding through the 2021 infrastructure bill, which included about $655 million a year for fire management for five years. That’s in addition to the Forest Service’s annual funding for this work, which was about $260 million this fiscal year.

But in California alone, a group of scientists, land managers and former government leaders has recommended spending $5 billion a year on proactive management, roughly equivalent to what was spent to suppress fires in the state in 2020. Known as “The Venado Declaration,” this proposal, championed by former Gov. Jerry Brown and former Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott, calls for addressing forest resiliency on every acre and acknowledges that more than just funding is needed. It also discusses building infrastructure and a workforce and reevaluating regulatory barriers.

Four key steps

To manage fires in an era of climate change, when drier, hotter weather creates ideal conditions for burning, experts estimate that the area treated for fuels reduction needs to increase by at least an order of magnitude. We believe government needs to accomplish these four things to succeed:

1) Drastically increase funding and staff for agencies’ fuels reduction projects, as well as outreach, cost-sharing and technical assistance for private forestland owners. The new plan is a good start. Funding more federal and state agency positions would add forest restoration capacity for the long term. The Biden administration’s proposal for a Civilian Climate Corps could also bring in more young workers.

During the Dixie Fire, firefighters used an area that had been strategically thinned to set backfires to prevent the wildfire from reaching Quincy. Ryan Tompkins, CC BY-ND

2) Reduce regulations on forest and fuels management efforts for both public and private land. While California and the federal government have made recent strides to streamline regulations, land management agencies need to acknowledge the biggest risk is doing nothing. Agencies need to plan larger restoration projects and drastically cut the time needed to implement them.

3) Invest in communities’ capacity to carry out local forest restoration work by providing long-term support to local organizations that provide outreach, technical assistance and project coordination services. Funding restoration through competitive grants makes development of long-term community capacity challenging at best. The new plan’s inclusion of state, tribal and private lands is an opportunity for partnerships.

4) Provide funds and financial incentives for at-risk communities to retrofit homes to withstand wildfires and reduce fuels around homes, communities and infrastructure.

Amid a changing climate, we will have to learn to coexist with wildfires in the U.S. West. This will require concerted action and a cultural shift in how we view and manage our forests and communities to be resilient.

This is an updated version of an article first published on Oct. 13, 2021.

Ryan E. Tompkins, Cooperative Extension Forester and Natural Resources Advisor, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Susan Kocher, Cooperative Extension Forester and Natural Resources Advisor, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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

Wind turbines: Where do they cluster around the Great Lakes?

Read the full story at Great Lakes Now.

In 2016, the United States Geological Survey began tracking wind turbines. In 2018, it published a database with wind turbine records that it keeps regularly updated. To date, there are 70,808 turbines covering 44 states and territories, which includes Guam and Puerto Rico.

In Canada, the Canadian Wind Turbine Database is maintained by Natural Resources Canada. The Canadian database is not as frequently updated as the U.S. database but reflects all wind turbines installed up through 2020.

Out with the old and in with the… old!

Read the full story from Ecogeneration.

A solar panel recycling crisis is looming and the industry is now rushing to clean up its act. The Circular PV Alliance (CPVA) is one such industry-led initiative set up to help stop panels going to waste. The group’s cofounders share their story.

Who is willing to participate in non-violent civil disobedience for the climate?

Read the full story from the Center for Climate Change Communication.

Social movements (e.g., anti-war, civil rights, labor, environmental) and leaders (e.g., the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks) have historically used non-violent civil disobedience (e.g., sit-ins, blockades) as a powerful tool to build political power and motivate corporate or government action. In recent years, groups like Extinction Rebellion have advocated for the use of non-violent civil disobedience to promote climate action.

In September 2021, we asked Americans about their willingness to support an organization engaging in non-violent civil disobedience against corporate or government activities that make global warming worse and about their willingness to personally engage in such non-violent civil disobedience themselves. Here we examine how this willingness varies across different groups including Global Warming’s Six Americas, generations, and the three largest racial/ethnic groups in the United States.

Offshore wind farms could help capture carbon from air and store it long-term – using energy that would otherwise go to waste

The U.S. had seven operating offshore wind turbines with 42 megawatts of capacity in 2021. The Biden administration’s goal is 30,000 megawatts by 2030. AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

by David Goldberg, Columbia University

Off the Massachusetts and New York coasts, developers are preparing to build the United States’ first federally approved utility-scale offshore wind farms – 74 turbines in all that could power 470,000 homes. More than a dozen other offshore wind projects are awaiting approval along the Eastern Seaboard.

By 2030, the Biden administration’s goal is to have 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy flowing, enough to power more than 10 million homes.

Replacing fossil fuel-based energy with clean energy like wind power is essential to holding off the worsening effects of climate change. But that transition isn’t happening fast enough to stop global warming. Human activities have pumped so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that we will also have to remove carbon dioxide from the air and lock it away permanently.

Offshore wind farms are uniquely positioned to do both – and save money.

Map of coasts showing lease areas offshore
Most renewable energy lease areas off the Atlantic Coast are near the Mid-Atlantic states and Massachusetts. About 480,000 acres of the New York Bight is scheduled to be auctioned for wind farms in February 2022. BOEM

As a marine geophysicist, I have been exploring the potential for pairing wind turbines with technology that captures carbon dioxide directly from the air and stores it in natural reservoirs under the ocean. Built together, these technologies could reduce the energy costs of carbon capture and minimize the need for onshore pipelines, reducing impacts on the environment.

Capturing CO2 from the air

Several research groups and tech startups are testing direct air capture devices that can pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. The technology works, but the early projects so far are expensive and energy intensive.

The systems use filters or liquid solutions that capture CO2 from air blown across them. Once the filters are full, electricity and heat are needed to release the carbon dioxide and restart the capture cycle.

For the process to achieve net negative emissions, the energy source must be carbon-free.

The world’s largest active direct air capture plant operating today does this by using waste heat and renewable energy. The plant, in Iceland, then pumps its captured carbon dioxide into the underlying basalt rock, where the CO2 reacts with the basalt and calcifies, turning to solid mineral.

A similar process could be created with offshore wind turbines.

If direct air capture systems were built alongside offshore wind turbines, they would have an immediate source of clean energy from excess wind power and could pipe captured carbon dioxide directly to storage beneath the sea floor below, reducing the need for extensive pipeline systems.

Two men stand beneath a large structure with fans
Climeworks, a Swiss company, has 15 direct air capture plants removing carbon dioxide from the air. Climeworks

Researchers are currently studying how these systems function under marine conditions. Direct air capture is only beginning to be deployed on land, and the technology likely would have to be modified for the harsh ocean environment. But planning should start now so wind power projects are positioned to take advantage of carbon storage sites and designed so the platforms, sub-sea infrastructure and cabled networks can be shared.

Using excess wind power when it isn’t needed

By nature, wind energy is intermittent. Demand for energy also varies. When the wind can produce more power than is needed, production is curtailed and electricity that could be used is lost.

That unused power could instead be used to remove carbon from the air and lock it away.

For example, New York State’s goal is to have 9 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2035. Those 9 gigawatts would be expected to deliver 27.5 terawatt-hours of electricity per year.

Based on historical wind curtailment rates in the U.S., a surplus of 825 megawatt-hours of electrical energy per year may be expected as offshore wind farms expand to meet this goal. Assuming direct air capture’s efficiency continues to improve and reaches commercial targets, this surplus energy could be used to capture and store upwards of 0.5 million tons of CO2 per year.

That’s if the system only used surplus energy that would have gone to waste. If it used more wind power, its carbon capture and storage potential would increase.

A map showing undersea storage options in the vicinity of offshore wind farm lease areas.
Several Mid-Atlantic areas being leased for offshore wind farms also have potential for carbon storage beneath the seafloor. The capacity is measured in millions of metric tons of CO2 per square kilometer. The U.S. produces about 4.5 billion metric tons of CO2 from energy per year. U.S. Department of Energy and Battelle

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected that 100 to 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide will have to be removed from the atmosphere over the century to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels.

Researchers have estimated that sub-seafloor geological formations adjacent to the offshore wind developments planned on the U.S. East Coast have the capacity to store more than 500 gigatons of CO2. Basalt rocks are likely to exist in a string of buried basins across this area too, adding even more storage capacity and enabling CO2 to react with the basalt and solidify over time, though geotechnical surveys have not yet tested these deposits.

Planning both at once saves time and cost

New wind farms built with direct air capture could deliver renewable power to the grid and provide surplus power for carbon capture and storage, optimizing this massive investment for a direct climate benefit.

But it will require planning that starts well in advance of construction. Launching the marine geophysical surveys, environmental monitoring requirements and approval processes for both wind power and storage together can save time, avoid conflicts and improve environmental stewardship.

David Goldberg, Lamont Research Professor, Columbia University

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

Study: Small gardens are just as crucial for bee conservation as big ones

Read the full story at Treehugger.

Whether it’s leaving hollow plant stems as nesting sites or making a watering hole for native bees, Treehugger is not short of tips and tricks for more pollinator-friendly gardening practices. Yet if you have only a small, urban garden to tend, it can sometimes be tempting to wish for a lot more space with which to help our furry, flying friends. It turns out, however, that size doesn’t matter all that much. 

At least, that’s the findings of a paper, titled “Turnover in floral composition explains species diversity and temporal stability in the nectar supply of urban residential gardens,” recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Nicholas E. Tew of the University of Bristol and his team found—based on a survey of 59 urban gardens in Bristol, England—that while the amount of nectar produced by urban gardens varies widely, the variation has little to do with the size of a garden. Instead, factors like gardening practices and, interestingly, the relative wealth of a neighborhood were much more closely correlated.