Use of Coal Power to Shrink Regardless of Politics

Coal producers can’t keep up. Coal used to be the cheapest form of energy, but that was before cheap renewable technology and more efficient gas plants came along. What’s more is that there are social, health, and environmental costs to using coal that makes it hard to argue for.

The future of coal is not looking good, which means that the future health of our planet is looking good. Despite the subsidies coal industries get around the world the end of their profits is nigh. Renewable energy is here to stay and it’s only getting more competitive.

But even without the CPP, coal already can’t compete with other energy sources in most of the country when it comes to building new power plants, suggests a new computer model from researchers at the University of Texas (UT) in Austin.

The work is part of a broader initiative at the institute, aimed at tallying all the costs that come with keeping the lights on, from environmental impacts to building transmission lines or responding to regulations. Snazzy online calculators and mapping tools that accompany the new model enable users to tweak a number of variables, including gas prices and environmental costs, and see how the nation’s energy future might change, at the level of individual counties.

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Thanks to Stephanie!

Busting Urban Planning Myths

urban

There’s a lot of misconceptions about how to make cities a better place to live that need to be cleared up. A popular belief is that adding more lanes for cars will help curb traffic jams – when the opposite it true. Some backwards-looking individuals think that adding bike lanes is bad for business when multiple studies have proven otherwise. These myths have bothered a columnist over at Metro paper enough that they wrote an article focussed on busting these urban planning myths that hold back better cities.

A common political argument is that bike and transit riders should “pay their own way.” A study in Vancouver however suggested that for every dollar we individually spend on walking, society pays just 1 cent. For biking, it’s eight cents, and for bus-riding, $1.50. But for every personal dollar spent driving, society pays a whopping $9.20! Such math makes clear where the big subsidies are, without even starting to count the broader environmental, economic, spatial and quality-of-life consequences of our movement choices. The less people need to drive in our cities, the less we all pay, in more ways than one.

Want more examples? There’s math showing that replacing on-street parking with safe, separated bike-lanes is good for street-fronting businesses. That crime goes down as density goes up. That providing housing for the homeless actually saves public money. That you can move more people on a street when car lanes are replaced by well-designed space for walking, biking and transit.

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Trees are Great for Cities

Cleaning the air and keeping areas cool are what trees do best. A new study has looked into how best to use trees from a purely utilitarian standpoint. Essentially they drilled down to what trees do best and where they can thrive. The researchers cataloged the best places to plant trees based on factors like removing particulate matter from the air and where they can have the greatest impact on local temperatures. As a result their research outlines the most efficient use of money when deciding where to plant more trees.

As always, the best time to plant a tree is today.

There is one catch, though: The tree-planting campaign has to be well-targeted. And that gets a bit complex.

Trees only improve air quality in their immediate vicinity, about 100 feet or so. That means cities need to figure out which neighborhoods benefit most from new trees (typically the densest areas, but also areas around hospitals and schools). They also have to plant species that are most effective at trapping pollution (typically those with large leaves).

Officials also need to account for things like wind patterns and tree spacing and figure out whether they’ll be able to maintain their trees. Plus, if water is scarce, they’ll want to consider drought-tolerant varieties. And they may want to steer clear of trees that increase pollen and allergies.

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Obama and Canada Bans New Coastal Oil and Gas Drilling

ocean shore

Obama is leaving office and he’s clearly worried that the next president will ignore climate change and its effects on humanity. In order to stymie any damage that president Trump can do, Obama has passed a law that effectively bans ocean-based drilling for oil and gas in some areas. In support, Canada has passed a similar law that will ban arctic drilling. With fossil fuels becoming less profitable and alternative source energies getting cheaper the need to drill in precarious places become less tenable.

The ban affects 115 million acres (46.5 million hectares) of federal waters off Alaska in the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea and 3.8 million acres (1.5 million hectares) in the Atlantic from New England to Chesapeake Bay.

The White House and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jointly announced their move to launch “actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem.”

Obama said in a statement that the joint actions “reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.”

Canada will designate all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing, to be reviewed every five years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment.

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Economy Continues to Grow Despite Decrease in Emissions

carbon output

Economists used to measure progress using emission rates correlated to GDP, now that comparison is ridiculous. A few years ago we looked at how carbon output is shrinking while economies grow and that is continuing to be the case. Earlier this year it was predicted that the global economy will continue to see a separation of economic progress and an increase in carbon output. This year it looks like we have been able to stall carbon output again (so now I’m hoping it will start going down).

What makes the three-year trend most remarkable is the fact that the global economy grew at more than 3% per year during this time. Previously, falling emissions were driven by stagnant or shrinking economies, such as during the global financial crisis of 2008.

Developed countries, together, showed a strong declining trend in emissions, cutting them by 1.7% in 2015. This decline was despite emissions growth of 1.4% in the European Union after more than a decade of declining emissions.

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Thanks to Delaney!