After years of neglect, President Biden promised to reinvigorate the EPA as part of his push to tackle climate change and ease the pollution burden placed on poor and minority communities. But the agency’s budgetary woes are preventing the nation’s top pollution regulator from doing its job, in ways large and small.
The agency’s funding has remained stagnant since his inauguration. Its work is hamstrung by low staffing levels not seen since Ronald Reagan left office.
The lack of resources and workers has undercut its ability to inspect facilities, measure contamination, punish violators and write new rules to stem pollution and climate change at a time when scientists say the world needs to act faster to stop runaway global warming.
At the beginning of his term, Biden asked Congress for a big boost to the EPA’s budget, from $9.2 billion to $11.2 billion. But the agency ended up getting only a fifth of that additional $2 billion requested by Biden, an increase that does not keep pace with the rapid rate of inflation.
That means the EPA actually has less spending power since Democrats took full control of the executive and legislative branches, even as its responsibilities grow.
The push to support adoption of emerging carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques got a big nudge forward this week with the launch of new purchasing pledges by big corporate buyers.
The explicit announcements include a $500 million commitment by Alphabet, Microsoft and Salesforce to support CO2 removal projects, along with the launch of a new program that aims to facilitate the purchase of more than 1 million metric tons of verified carbon dioxide removal offsets by 2025.
The developments were catalyzed by the First Movers Coalition, launched in November by the World Economic Forum along with U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry. The first phase of the coalition’s mission centered on providing corporate procurement signals for companies developing low-carbon approaches and technologies for steel, cement, aluminum, chemicals, shipping, aviation and trucking. At that time, the group promised to support the commercialization of direct air capture and other advanced carbon removal approaches. Now, with more than 50 corporate partners on board, First Movers is starting to deliver on that promise, with a major expansion announced at the forum’s gathering in Davos: center on supporting carbon dioxide removal and near-zero emissions aluminum production.
If a snowstorm is coming, we check the forecast to learn how much snow we will get and when it will start. Many of us even consult multiple weather apps in pursuit of the most accurate information, only to despair when we find varying predictions.
Utility companies and grid operators face the same uncertainty when trying to figure out how much solar power could be generated on a given day. Forecasts vary, and some can predict only one to three hours ahead with accuracy. The industry needs a better way to look at forecasts to plan for available solar power.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) awarded $1 million to the University of Arizona (UArizona) to tackle this challenge. The resulting Solar Forecast Arbiter (SFA) is a first-of-its-kind platform that analyzes solar forecasts, comparing them against a standard so grid operators can better manage the amount of solar energy on the grid.
UArizona and its partners developed the SFA to help utilities and grid operators compare and evaluate the accuracy of solar power production forecasts from different providers so they can make better decisions about their energy mix. UArizona has operated the SFA on behalf of utilities and grid operators; now the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) will manage its operations.
While the energy reaching solar panels is predictable under clear skies, it is difficult to calculate how much energy will make it to the ground surface when there are clouds. When a cloud passes over a solar panel, the amount of electricity the panel generates fluctuates. How much it changes depends on the cloud’s size, thickness, and shape, and other atmospheric factors. The SFA enables users to assess the reliability of solar generation estimates over the next 24–48 hours and the likelihoods of the predicted power outputs.
Before DOE funded this project, there was no transparent and uniform way to compare forecasting methods or tools. UArizona designed the SFA as an open-source platform so anyone in the field can access benchmark data and unbiased metrics to evaluate forecast models. The software can help forecast vendors improve the accuracy of their forecasts, too.
Recently, teams competing in the American-Made Solar Forecasting Prize submitted day-ahead solar forecasts to the SFA every day for four weeks. The SFA calculated the models’ performance against a benchmark forecast that the platform generated. The prize administrator, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, used the SFA results to evaluate each team. SETO expects the competition will raise awareness and increase adoption of the SFA.
As UArizona concludes its DOE-funded project in the next few weeks, EPRI will take over stewardship of the SFA, offering a tiered user subscription. While anyone can access the platform and its code at no cost (after signing a user agreement), premium SFA subscribers will have access to hands-on support and training, the ability to create reference forecasts, and a professional network.
EPRI researchers will work to expand the SFA to support wind energy and power demand forecast evaluation, and plan to use the tool to support forecasting trials. When this feature is ready, the renamed Forecast Arbiter will have a comprehensive multi-technology evaluation platform that can better predict and integrate clean energy into the U.S. electricity grid.
Twenty-five years ago, when I was a young anthropologist working in northern Siberia, the Indigenous hunters, fishers and trappers I lived with would often stop and solemnly offer something to the tundra. It was usually small, such as coins, buttons or unlit matches. But it was considered essential. Before departing on a hunting or fishing trip, I’d be asked if I had some change in my outer coat. If I didn’t, someone would get me some so it was handy. We left other gifts, too, such as fat from wild reindeer to be fed to the fire.
I was intrigued. Why do these things? Their answers were usually along the lines of, “We are the children of the tundra,” or “we make these sacrifices so that tundra will give us more animals to hunt next year.”
These practices are part of what I and other anthropologists call “traditional ecological knowledge.” Beliefs and traditions about the natural world are central in many Indigenous cultures around the world, bringing together what industrialized cultures think of as science, medicine, philosophy and religion.
However, recent studies have underscored that conservationists can learn a lot from TEK about successful resource management. Some experts argue that traditional knowledge needs a role in global climate planning, because it fosters strategies that are “cost-effective, participatory and sustainable.”
Part of TEK’s success stems from how it fosters trust. This comes in many different forms: trust between community members, between people and nature, and between generations.
Looking more closely at the components of TEK, the first, “tradition,” is something learned from ancestors. It’s handed down.
“Ecological” refers to relationships between living organisms and their environment. It comes from the ancient Greek word for “house,” or “dwelling.”
Finally, the earliest uses of the term “knowledge” in English refer to acknowledging or owning something, confessing something and sometimes recognizing a person’s position or title. These now-obsolete meanings emphasize relationships – an important aspect of knowledge that modern usage often overlooks but that is especially important in the context of tradition and ecology.
Combining these three definitions helps to generate a framework to understand Indigenous TEK: a strategy that encourages deference for ancestral ways of dwelling. It is not necessarily strict “laws” or “doctrine,” or simply observation of the environment.
TEK is a way of looking at the world that can help people connect the land they live on, their behavior and the behavior of the people they are connected to. Indigenous land practices are based on generations of careful and insightful observations about the environment and help define and promote “virtuous” behavior in it.
As an American suburbanite living in a remote community in Siberia, I was always learning about what was “proper” or “improper.” Numerous times people would tell me that what I or someone else had just done was a “sin” in respect to TEK. When someone’s aunt died one year, for example, community members said it happened because their nephew had killed too many wolves the previous winter.
Similarly, after stopping to assess the freshness of some reindeer tracks on the tundra, one hunter told me, “We let these local wild reindeer roam in midwinter so they will return next year and for future generations.” Here, TEK spells out the potential environmental impacts of greed – which, in this case, would mean overhunting.
These examples illustrate how TEK is a set of systems that promote trust through encouraging deference for ancestral ways of dwelling in the world.
Moderation of self-interested behaviors requires such trust. And confidence that the environment will provide – caribou to hunt, say, or ptarmigan birds to trap – depends on the idea that people will treat the environment in a respectful manner.
Previously, I’ve studied prosociality – behavior that benefits others – in northern Siberian practices of food-sharing, child care and use of hunting lands.
These aspects of life depend on the idea that the “real” owners of the natural resources are ancestors and that they punish and reward the behaviors of the living. Such ideas are encouraged by elders and leaders, who commend virtuous and prosocial behavior while connecting negative outcomes with selfishness.
Trust is an essential component of reciprocity – exchange for mutual benefit – and prosociality. Without trust, it does not make sense to take risks in our dealings with other people. Without trust we cannot cooperate or behave in nonexploitative ways, such as protecting the environment. This is why it is advantageous for societies to monitor and punish noncooperators.
One idea societies can adopt as they combat climate change is the importance of trust – which can feel hard to come by these days. Young activist Greta Thunberg’s “Fridays for Future” initiative, for example, highlights the ethical issues of trust and responsibility between generations.
Many outdoor enthusiasts and sustainability organizations emphasize “leaving no trace.” In fact, people always leave traces, no matter how small – a fact recognized in Siberian TEK. Even footsteps compact the soil and affect plant and animal life, no matter how careful we are.
A more TEK-like – and accurate – maxim might say, “Be accountable to your descendants for the traces you leave behind.”
It’s no secret that our world has gone through rapid and significant transformation in the last few years. The environment is dramatically changing and it’s evident. With recent floods and bushfires, environmental catastrophe can make us feel hopeless. However, it’s important for businesses to understand the significant role that they can play to help create meaningful environmental change.
In the context of the construction industry, the circular economy approach is one of the simplest and most effective ways that companies can go about environmental transformation.
Global F&B giant PepsiCo is on the hunt for novel sustainability technology in the food and beverage sector to complement its business within the Middle Eastern region, with plans to look at other markets including Asia Pacific in the future as well.
For years, bats have gotten a bad rap as the creepy creatures lurking in the dark. But for just as long, agricultural producers have known that the winged wonder is actually the hero of the story, not the villain.
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