Rank #1: Carbon Offsets 101: How they work and how to get the biggest bang for your buck
Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in New York this week after completing an emissions-free voyage by boat across the Atlantic. She traveled to take part in a United Nations climate summit, and to draw attention to the amount of carbon travelers emit when they hop on a plane.
Estimates vary, but plane travel represents a significant portion of carbon emissions each year.
So what do you do if you can’t set sail like Thunberg? One option is carbon offsets.
“A carbon offset is really just a purchasable greenhouse gas emissions reduction,” said Maggie Lund, a manager with Center for Research Solutions Green-e certification program. “So as a consumer, you can go out and buy a carbon offset to negate your carbon emissions.”
Lund said that could look like paying $5 to $7 to help block deforestation after a flight across the country. Your flight emitted a lot of carbon, but your offset saved trees that will continue to suck carbon from the air into perpetuity.
“One of the core principals of carbon offsetting is that without the revenue from the carbon offset or the carbon credit, the emissions reduction would have never happened,” Lund said. “So your investment as a consumer into that carbon offset is driving the emissions reduction to happen in the first place.”
Aug 29 2019
Rank #2: The climate crisis is changing consumer demand — and corporate investments
Oil giant Chevron recently wrote down over $10 billion in fossil fuel assets — things like natural gas projects and oil fields that are losing value. Some analysts suggest a glut of natural gas supply is driving the move, but many observers see a deeper climate change connection: the need to cut emissions is changing consumer demand.
“Investors are quite concerned that companies like Chevron that are producing fossil fuels will continually be caught with assets that they can't sell. If utilities can buy solar at a cheaper rate than natural gas, that will impact Chevron,” said Danielle Fugere, president and chief counsel of shareholder advocacy group As You Sow.
Dec 26 2019
Rank #3: What indigenous communities can teach about climate change solutions
Climate change often impacts disenfranchised communities more directly, and that includes indigenous communities. But these communities can also teach us a lot about how to move forward.
That was the topic of a talk by Chiefs of Ontario Environmental Director Kathleen Padulo at the University of Minnesota this week. Padulo also stopped by the MPR News studios to talk with meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner.
Oct 24 2019
Rank #4: Hydrogen power, modular nuclear and the other technology Xcel Energy has its eyes on
Xcel Energy says it should have no problem reaching its goal to cut carbon by 80 percent by 2030. It’s that last 20 percent that will require some still-nascent technology, Xcel CEO Ben Fowke told MPR chief meteorologist Paul Huttner in this week’s Climate Cast.
“If we start to nurture these kinds of technology, I think they’ll be there when we need it by 2050,” he said.
One technology Fowke is keeping his eye on is modular nuclear reactors. He said they would bring the same carbon-free power existing nuclear power plants do, but without some of the problems.
“They’re smaller, so they’re not these massively big power plants that cost billions and billions of dollars,” Fowke said. “And the reason they’re called modular is because they’re developed in the factory and not designed on the fly, as the history of what our nuclear industry has been.
“So the promise is [they’ll be] much more predictable; they have passive safety systems, which means they automatically shut down without the need for cooling, in the event they need to be shut down; and they’re better at integrating renewable energy, so they move up and down with load better than the existing technology,” he said.
Fowke also said he’s excited about the potential of hydrogen power.
“I would have laughed 10 years ago if I thought we could move to a hydrogen economy,” he said.
Through a process called electrolysis, Fowke said, utilities can use renewable energy to extract hydrogen from water. That hydrogen is then able to be stored, which means developing batteries that can store renewable energy long term becomes less of an imperative.
Xcel’s plan has been celebrated, but also critiqued because it requires the utility to rely more heavily on legacy natural gas and nuclear power plants to offset the closure of Xcel’s coal plants. Much of the country’s natural gas now comes from fracking, which takes a heavy toll on the environment. Natural gas also emits methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas emission.
Fowke said Xcel and other utilities recognize the downsides of natural gas and are pressuring the natural gas industry to be as sustainable as possible.
“Our industry, the electric utility industry, is going to make a push to say, if you want us to use your product, you gotta help us make it worthwhile to use,” he said.
Oct 03 2019
Rank #5: Regenerative farms 'producing more, opening new markets' while fighting climate change
A United Nations report released this summer warns the world must drastically change the way it produces food in order to meet emissions reduction goals. Some Minnesota farmers have already heeded that warning by adopting regenerative farming practices.
Mike Bredeson is an agroecologist with the Ecdysis Foundation. The agricultural research foundation is working with those farmers and large food companies to study and lift up regenerative techniques.
Bredeson told MPR chief meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner the approach is more of a mindset than a prescriptive set of rules.
“When you think of terms such as organic farming, it’s easy to point to a designated list of characteristics [and] say, ‘This farm is certified organic and it meets these criteria,’” he said. “Regenerative farming, instead of a certain bar to be reached, they’re on this pathway of always improving the land that they’re managing. They know that if they’re using two pesticide applications right now, their goal is to reduce that to one application and eventually eliminate that application totally.”
The approach also includes planting cover crops, which take the place of commodity crops such as corn and soybeans during the off-season. Plants capture carbon when they photosynthesize, so cover crops put the land to work fighting climate change when it typically wouldn’t. They also help keep the soil intact, which also stores carbon.
Bredeson said regenerative agriculture pays off for both the environment and the farmer. Land farmed with regenerative practices does a better job of capturing rain water and holding on to nutrients, meaning less cost for the farmer.
“They’re not only producing as much or more, they’re seeing that by producing and using cover crops, they’re opening up more markets,” Bredeson said.
Nov 01 2019
Rank #6: Tech to pull existing carbon out of atmosphere is closer, more important than you might think
Technology to draw existing carbon out of the atmosphere to combat climate change may seem far off, but a project that would capture a million tons of carbon a year is scheduled to open in Texas in 2022.
Carbon Engineering and Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, announced the project earlier this year.
Brian Crabtree, vice president of carbon management at the Great Plains Institute, an energy-focused nonprofit, said several models for reaching the United Nations climate goals rely on direct carbon capture, as well as carbon capture technology for power, steel and other industrial plants.
“To the extent that we want steel and cement in the modern world, we have to be capturing the CO2 from those processes,” Crabtree told MPR chief meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner. “In steel production, over half of the emissions are a result of the chemistry of the steel production process. The same is true with manufacturing Portland cement.”
Nov 14 2019
Rank #7: Damage related to climate change will only grow — who's liable?
Climate change liability. It’s a term you’ll be hearing in the coming years, as damages attributed to climate change continue to grow. But how will lawyers and the courts assess liability in this new territory?
“In some ways, these are new lawsuits but they are sort of in a long line of other lawsuits that deal with these types of harm,” said Alexandra Klass, who teaches environmental and property law at the University of Minnesota Law School.
She said state and local jurisdictions who are suing fossil fuel companies for damages related to climate change — think hurricane and wildfire recovery, or updating storm water and transportation systems — are using the same sections of law Minnesota and Lake Elmo used in lawsuits against tobacco companies and 3M.
“Public nuisance is an old common law theory. It basically says that if someone has engaged in conduct that harms the public, it’s either a state or local government, for the most part, who then brings action on behalf of the public,” Klass said.
While the public has used an benefited from gas and oil, the lawsuits rest on the fact that fossil fuel companies knew the impacts their products would have on the climate and sought to hide it.
“[The defendants] will say that fossil fuels have been used by the public and by the same state and local governments to power the economy and drive our cars. They’ll also say they’re not responsible for damages,” Klass said. “They are also arguing that the way to deal with this is through legislation, not litigation, and that we should provide a carbon tax and sort of move forward.”
How these cases, particularly a Rhode Island case against Chevron, play out will help lay the groundwork for sorting out liability in the future, Klass said. But she expects most litigation will remain at the hand of governments.
“It’s very difficult for individuals to have the ability to bring lawsuits, whether it’s against the power companies or oil and gas companies, which I think it why state and local governments have stepped in here.”
Oct 17 2019
Rank #8: Minnesota, other states pledged to meet Paris climate goals. Can they after U.S. withdraws?
The United States moved to officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement this week. The 2015 United Nations agreement commits nearly 200 countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a rate that will keep the global temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. For the U.S., that requires reducing emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
Many states, including Minnesota, pledged to continue the work when President Donald Trump signaled earlier in his presidency that he would pull the U.S. out of the agreement. But are their efforts enough to counter the president’s move?
- Climate Curious: What's your question about climate change?
- 2017: What's the impact of pulling out of Paris agreement?
“What I think is more significant are this suite of actions that the administration has taken in the last two to three years,” said Julie Cerqueira, the executive director of the U.S. Climate Alliance. “The withdrawal from Paris is significant in that it is sending a signal internationally that the U.S. federal government doesn't believe climate change is a priority. But what we're looking at domestically is an unraveling of all of our major national climate policies.
“That, to me, is much scarier,” she said.
The U.S. Climate Alliance is a coalition of 25 governors who have committed their states to meeting their share of the U.S. greenhouse gas reduction target. Minnesota joined the alliance in 2017 under former Gov. Mark Dayton.
Cerqueira said the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era clean power rules and of federal car emissions standards, as well as its attack on California’s own, stricter emissions standards, is limiting states’ abilities to make good on their climate promise.
“What we've seen when we look at the states that are part of our coalition is that has had a significant impact on their ability to meet both their own targets, but also the commitment they made to meet their share of the U.S. national greenhouse gas target,” she said.
- As Trump fights CA in court, Walz proposes 'clean car' rules
- MN to EPA: Reconsider rollback of car emission standards
- 2017: Minnesota on track to hit Paris climate goals
While there is still hope for meeting the Paris agreement’s target, Cerqueira said Trump administration policies are more than a speed bump.
“So the thing to keep in mind is, even if today you put back in place all of those regulations, it still takes several years for those to enter into effect, several more years before industry has picked that up and started implementing the solutions, and you actually start to see those reductions,” she said. “And so to some degree, we have already baked in the future emissions because of three years of a lack of framework.”
Cerqueira and the alliance are in the process of pinpointing just how much progress their member states have made. That report is expected to come out in December.
To hear more of Cerqueira’s conversation with CLimate Cast host and MPR Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner, hit play on the audio player above.
Nov 08 2019
Rank #9: Chemical fingerprints point to fracking as culprit behind new methane emissions
Methane is more than 100 times more potent that carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas emission, and it’s been on the rise for about a decade. Scientists have been debating what’s behind the spike — wetlands, cows and landfills all emit methane. But a recent study by Robert Howarth, an ecology and environmental biology professor at Cornell University, in the journal Biogeosciences ties much of that increase to shale gas released through fracking.
Howarth found his culprit by lifting chemical fingerprints from methane in the atmosphere. The emission’s chemical makeup varies slightly depending on the source, and Howarth found at least a third of new methane has a lower proportion of carbon-13 in relation to carbon-12 , suggesting it came from shale gas.
“Shale gas is the methane that’s been trapped over geological time in the shale, and it’s released only when we use high-volume hydraulic fracturing — technology that’s only been in widespread commercial use for the last decade or so,” Howarth said. “Conventional natural gas is methane which broke free from shale, migrated through semi-porous rock materials like sandstone over periods of tens to hundreds of millions of years until trapped inside some sort of a cavity. That migration … results in a loss of the lighter carbon-12 isotope.
“So the conventional natural gas that we’ve been harvesting in the 20th century ends up having more carbon-13 than shale gas from fracturing,” he said.
Shale gas is released rapidly, so it hasn’t lost carbon-12.
Howarth said his paper underscores the importance of reducing use of natural gas.
“Reducing methane emissions offers us a real chance — the only chance, I would say — of reaching the UN COP21 target of trying to keep our planet well below 2 degrees Celsius from the pre-industrial baseline,” he said. “I think the way to go is to move as quickly as we can away from all fossil fuels. We need to do so anyway to get rid of the carbon dioxide, but a lot of times people say let’s focus on coal and come back and worry about natural gas later. We have to go after both.”
Aug 22 2019