Briefly

Stuff that matters


More Like Coal Yeller

The number of coal-fired power plants under development saw a big hit in the first half of 2016.

According to a new report from CoalSwarm’s Global Coal Plant Tracker, the total amount of coal-fired generating capacity in pre-construction planning dropped from 1,090 gigawatts (GW) in January 2016 to 932 GW in July. That’s a reduction approximately the size of the entire coal-generating capacity of the E.U.

The largest decreases come from from India and China, whose governments announced they would be (slowly) moving away from coal in the aftermath of last December’s climate talks in Paris. In June, India said that no coal plant construction would be needed for at least three years; and in April, China announced restrictions on new coal-fired power plants in 13 provinces.

“The facts on the ground are changing in power markets across the world,” says Ben Caldecott, Director of the Sustainable Finance Programme at the University of Oxford Smith School. “Competition from renewables, concerns about air pollution and water stress, and the fact that new coal is incompatible with climate change, mean that companies and their investors have to respond to these material risks by canceling planned projects.”

The news comes just after the U.S. and China ratified the Paris Agreement at the G20 summit in Chengdu over the weekend. India joined the agreement in April.

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Direct hit

Hurricane Maria has crushed Puerto Rican farmers.

The devastation wiped out 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s agricultural production, according to Puerto Rico’s agriculture secretary, Carlos Flores Ortega. The New York Times visited farmer José A. Rivera after the winds flattened his plantain, yam, and pepper fields.

“There will be no food in Puerto Rico,” Rivera, told the Times. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.”

Food prices will surely rise on the island, although the loss of crops will not necessarily mean people will starve. Puerto Rico imports about 85 percent of its food. Even so, the storm damaged the infrastructure used to distribute imported food, like ports, roads, and stores.

On CNN, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló pleaded for aid from Congress. “We need to prevent a humanitarian crisis occurring in America,” he said. FEMA and the Coast Guard are working in the territory.

Flores, the agriculture secretary, appeared to be looking for a silver lining. This may be a chance to rebuild the island’s agriculture so that it is more efficient and sustainable, he told the Times.

As climate change accelerates, we can expect the rate of disasters like this to accelerate as well.


get the memo?

EPA employees eagerly leak documents from their mandatory anti-leaking class.

This week, workers at the federal agency attended a one-hour training course on how to prevent leaks to the press.

In response, they disclosed memos and slideshows from the course to multiple outlets, including The Hill, Reuters, and the Associated Press. Politico received a leaked memo about the class before it even took place.

The training was part of a wider White House crackdown on leaks across federal agencies. Though most EPA staff don’t handle classified files, agency officials wanted to prevent workers from sharing what they called “controlled unclassified information,” citing national security concerns.

Numerous leaks have come out of the EPA this year, beginning with the Trump team’s plan for the agency back in January. Since then, the media has obtained government reports on climate science, Trump’s proposed budget cuts for the agency, and more.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned last month that anyone who leaked sensitive government information would be investigated and potentially prosecuted.

And yet, here we are. “It’s ironic that we have an anti-leaking story that is rooted from a leaked memo,” EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox told the Hill.


peak avocado

Here’s how the avocado-toast bubble will burst.

Avocado prices are shooting through the stratosphere. They’re so expensive that a real-estate mogul in Australia has blamed city-dwellers’ struggles with high housing costs on the millennial love affair with avocado toast. Avocados are about as trendy as a fruit can get (witness the avocado bar in Brooklyn).

Demand is high (the average American now eats seven pounds of avocados a year) and supply is low. A trend toward drier climate in growing regions, and Trumpian trade wars could make avocados still more precious. But there’s hope in form of basic economics.

Agricultural economist Marc Bellemare points out that when prices skyrocket farmers plant more avocado trees. It takes three years after planting for trees to produce fruit. During this lag time, prices keep climbing, and other farmers will decide to get in on the game. When the new orchards start pumping out avocados, prices could slump.

So help is on the way. In a few years, you still won’t be able to afford rent in a trendy part of town, but maybe your avocado smoothie will be cheaper.


hold the phone (and dial it)

Not enough states are taking climate action. Time to make some calls!

It’s Climate Week in New York!!! A host of CEOs and government officials — including Washington Governor Jay Inslee, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, and California’s Jerry Brown — have descended on New York City to discuss what the United States can do to compensate for the federal lack of action on climate change.

The U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of businesses and 14 states plus Puerto Rico, is still on track to make important reductions in keeping with the Paris Agreement. However, despite major commitments from states such as California and New York, it looks like we aren’t going to meet the national reductions promised by the agreement, reports Bloomberg News.

The U.S. is on track to reduce emissions by 15–19 percent by 2025. The goal was 26–28 percent.

But it’s not too late for more states to join in on the fun! Pennsylvania is the third-largest emitter of CO2 in the national energy sector, so I called Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania to ask him if he’d sign on to the U.S. Climate Alliance. He said, “OF COURSE! Why didn’t you ask before?”

No! Actually, he’s kind of touchy about climate action. But I did leave a message with his aide, just to confirm that you can do it, too. Call your governor.


green markets

Climate solutions need cold, hard cash. This group aims to make those investments easier.

“If you just look at the energy sector, we need about a trillion a year,” Barbara Buchner says about the gap between between our climate goals and the amount of investment in developing solutions.

To spur those needed investments, Buchner’s group, The Lab, just launched a new crop of projects aimed at making it easier for investors to put money into green investments. Projects include partnerships between hydropower operators and land conservation and restoration efforts and “climate smart” cattle ranching initiatives in Brazil, as well as more esoteric exploits in private equity and cleantech development.

There are three main barriers that keep investors away from innovative projects, Buchner says: lack of knowledge of new projects, perception of higher risk, and an unwillingness to go in alone on unproven projects.

Breaking down these barriers is important because that climate investment gap can’t be closed by government spending alone.

“It’s the backbone, it’s the engine behind overall climate finance,” Buchner says of these early, targeted projects by governments and non-governmental organizations. “But the private sector [investors] really are the ones that make the difference.”


maria

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico with record-breaking rains.

The most powerful hurricane to hit the island in nearly a century brought ravaging winds and rainfall on Wednesday, destroying homes, knocking out all of the power, and snapping concrete poles in half. Maria wrecked many repairs that had just been completed after Irma swiped at Puerto Rico two weeks ago.

The National Hurricane Center reports that the island could receive an additional 4–8 inches of rain through Saturday. Puerto Rico remains under a watch for life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Grist contributing writer Eric Holthaus pointed out some surprising stats regarding Maria’s rainfall on Twitter:

  • In one day, parts of Puerto Rico received 24–36 inches of rain. Compare that to Houston, which received 32 inches in three days during Harvey.
  • In Caguas, a city in the mountains of eastern Puerto Rico, rain gauges measured more than 14 inches in one hour — apparently a candidate for a new world record.
  • For reference, Caguas got more rain in a single day (nearly 40 inches) than Seattle does in an average year (37 inches).

After Puerto Rico, Maria headed toward the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Southeast Bahamas — bringing debilitating rain with it.

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