Author: Radhika Goyal

  1. Energy
  2. Energy and Environment
  3. Planet
  4. Science

How it works

  • When microorganisms (e.g.bacteria) break down organic matter like manure and food waste anaerobically (without oxygen), biogas is released. Bio gas consists primarily of carbon dioxide and methane - one of the primary components of natural gas.
  • Farmers place animal manure, food waste and agricultural waste in an anaerobic digester with a pipe to extract the gas.
  • The solid byproduct is used as livestock bedding, soil amendments or in biodegradable planting pots, and the liquid byproduct is a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Benefits of Biogas-based Energy

  1. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Biodigesters divert carbon dioxide and methane that would normally be released into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gas emissions from a dairy farm can be reduced by 35% when biogas-based electricity replaces grid-based electricity.
  2. Cost savings. On-site biodigesters help farmers save on electricity bills and fertilizer. A farmer told The Washington Post that he saved anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000 a year on electricity, heating, fertilizer, and animal bedding with a biodigester.
  3. Renewable. Biogas is generally considered renewable as it is produced by animal and plant waste and the source is not limited in quantity like coal or natural gas.

Bottom Line

  • Biogas generation is becoming increasingly popular. From 2000 to 2020, the number of operational anaerobic digesters in the United States has grown from 24 to 255.
  • Biogas is a popular mode of energy production in India and China, which have 4.54 million and 27 million biogas plants respectively.
  • As the world divests from fossil fuels, new and varied energy sources will be necessary to satisfy the energy needs of the world and biogas can help. Biogas just goes to show you that not all waste is useless. One cow’s waste is another man’s treasure.

Dig deeper → 4 min

  1. Better Business
  2. Business
  3. Profit

How it stands

  • Companies frequently implement corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs (which include sustainability initiatives) in order to improve their image in the eyes of investors and customers, which in turn boosts profits.
  • But it is unclear if CSR programs actually make the world a better place
  • Most of the information about a company’s environmental footprint is only available through the company itself, presenting an obstacle to objective evaluation.

Examples

  • Coca-Cola claims to have reduced the water footprint of their drinks. But their calculations do not include the water used in the supply chain that provides the ingredients and packaging for the final product.
  • CSR programs (like Coca-Cola’s) often use offsets which instead of conserving limited resources lead to increased consumption.
  • Unilever claims to use a scientific approach to sustainability, trying to reduce their own emissions instead of investing in offsets for carbon neutrality.
  • More recently, Unilever announced the addition of carbon footprint labels on all products to increase transparency.

Bottom line

  • While the effectiveness of corporate sustainability programs is mixed, the fact that sustainability is on their radar and part of their marketing strategy is a big step forward. 
  • Don’t take everything you hear at face value. Take a deep dive into a company’s sustainability practices and decide for yourself.

Dig deeper → 5 min

  1. Cities and Communities
  2. Federal
  3. People
  4. Politics and Policy

The Scoop Two new cases in Minnesota and Washington, D.C. add to the growing body of lawsuits trying to hold Big Oil accountable for deliberately concealing their role in harming environmental and human health. 

Breaking down the lawsuits

  • Minnesota’s Attorney General (AG) is suing Exxon Mobil Corporation, Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute for violating Minnesota laws against consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, and false advertising. The lawsuit claims that oil and gas companies were aware of the environmental and health effects of their products as far back as the 1970s and 80s, but launched a “campaign of deception.”
  • Washington D.C.’s AG similarly is suing ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell for “systematically and intentionally misl[eading] consumers in Washington, D.C. about the central role their products play in causing climate change.” in violation of Washington D.C.’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act.

Why it matters By charging Big Oil with consumer fraud, Minnesota and Washington D.C.’s cases closely resemble lawsuits against Big Tobacco in the 1990s which charged Big Tobacco with suppressing evidence for the dangers of smoking and misleading the public. With the clear similarities between these cases, there is hope for similar verdicts; including, heavy penalties (up to $6.5 billion) that could fund climate change resiliency programs.

Dig deeper → 5 min

  1. Federal
  2. People
  3. Politics and Policy

The scoop In June 2020, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis unveiled a 547-page, sweeping climate plan that aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and net-negative emissions thereafter. 

Why it matters The plan seeks to uplift Americans and support front-line and low-income communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Driven by science and economics, it also centers around environmental justice, with an opening paragraph alluding to the passing of George Floyd.

Bottom line The report is the most ambitious proposal to combat climate change we've seen from Democrats. Energy Innovation, an independent policy modeling company, projects that the plan would achieve a 37% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2048. If implemented, it would also save 62,000 lives annually by 2050 and $8 trillion in health and climate costs.

Dig deeper → 5 min

  1. Better Markets
  2. Energy
  3. Energy and Environment
  4. Planet

The scoop The price of crude oil plummeted following the outbreak of the novel COVID-19. As 2020 began, Brent crude oil - the global oil benchmark - cost $64/barrel. By April 21st, 2020, the price had dropped to $17/barrel. What happened? 

Future of Oil

  • The volatility and steep decline in oil prices may lead some producers to shut down operations. Shale oil extraction pioneer Chesapeake Energy recently declared bankruptcy. Many oil giants are delaying expansion projects.
  • Investors are now less inclined to invest in oil & gas --  lower prices = greater risk, less profit. Energy was the worst performing sector in the S&P 500 index for four out of the last six years.

Environmental impact Climate awareness already poses a threat to Big Oil. With this economic crisis, investors might turn to renewable energy. Renewables are more price stable, cheap, and cost-competitive, even during low prices of oil.

Bottom line It’s impossible to predict the future. Big Oil will certainly survive the pandemic, but its century-long domination of energy may soon end. One thing’s for sure -- clean technology has a strong outlook, and can certainly give oil and gas companies a run for their money. Not only from its greenness, but also in its economics.

Dig deeper → 3 min

  1. Doing
  2. Lifestyle
  3. People
  4. Thinking

How it stands

  • An estimated 45-70% of clothing donated in Western countries (US, UK, Germany) enters the global used clothing trade.
  • Clothing is sold to traders in Sub-Saharan Africa (Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda) and ends up in used clothing markets in cities, towns and villages.

Background

  • Starting in 1980, economic liberalization (i.e. reforms to open their borders to international trade) in Sub-Saharan Africa caused domestic manufacturing to decline and increased demand for imported, cheap, used clothing to the region. 
  • The used clothing trade is a lucrative profession for those with limited job prospects. A used clothing trader in Nairobi can make up to 1000 shillings a day ($9 USD), 10 times the prevailing wage.
  • In 2016, the East Africa Community (EAC)  - an intergovernmental organization of six East African countries - decided to ban all imports of used clothing by 2019 to boost local manufacturing and create employment opportunities. The effects of this ban are unclear.

What can we do

  • The problems plaguing the Sub-Saharan African textile industry are complicated to say the least. Limiting the used clothing trade is not enough to reinvigorate manufacturing.
  • Dominant trends like fast fashion encourage consumers to buy new and improved products and discard the old ones at the expense of manufacturing economies in developing nations. Next time you go to donate those old T-shirts, carefully consider the downstream impacts. Out of sight does not mean out of mind.

Dig deeper → 3 min

  1. Cities and Communities
  2. Federal
  3. People
  4. Politics and Policy

The global spread of the coronavirus has caused layoff after layoff in the United States, forcing over 40 million Americans to file for unemployment in less than three months. How can America put its citizens back to work while fighting climate change?

What to know

  • FDR kickstarted the economy in the Great Depression by creating the Civilian Conservation Corps to restore America’s infrastructure while employing jobless workers – similar programs could help unemployed workers during COVID-19
  • Other countries are already doing it – Pakistan has employed 63,000 people in its 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Programme
  • Governments control more than 70% of energy investments globally, so they can steer recovery in a positive direction for the climate and their people
  • With an additional $15 trillion in a global COVID-19 recovery plan, we can increase our global GDP by 2.4% and add tens of millions of jobs in energy and infrastructure

Bottom line

  • Implementing a green stimulus is necessary to effectively combat climate change as we emerge from the grips of COVID-19
  • Many communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus are also disproportionately affected by climate change, so we must target a dualistic recovery

→ Dig deeper 5 min

  1. Lifestyle
  2. People
  3. Thinking

What to know

  • Wealthy countries are perpetuating climate issues, but the strongest impact is felt in poorer nations. 
  • Between 1850 and 2011, developed countries accounted for 79% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Developing countries in South Asia, Africa, The Caribbean and Latin America are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as hurricanes, floods, and heatwaves but have limited resources to recover or avert these crises,leading to poverty and conflict.
  • By 2050, there could be 140 million climate change migrants.

Why it Matters

  • Climate change and social justice are inextricably linked
  • As we work towards a more sustainable planet, we need to focus on solutions that also address global inequality as a contributing factor.

Dig deeper —> (2 min)

  1. Doing
  2. Lifestyle
  3. People

How environmental policy works

  • Congress enacts laws that enable federal agencies to create environmental regulations
  • Under the President’s guidance, the EPA Administrator sets national standards
  • State and local governments create and implement the actual policies
  • State-level policies can support investment in green energy.
  • Local officials set water policy to provide residents access to clean water.

Why your vote matters

  • By electing city council members, state congresspeople and representatives who champion environmental policies, voters can make their environmental concerns heard.

The bottom line

  • If voters prioritize climate change, politicians will too.
  • Though you may feel your vote doesn’t matter in elections, it does.

→ Dig deeper 4 min

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