Category: Environment

Local Effort Backs Carbon Emission Fee With Monthly Rebate to All Households

The most efficient way to combat climate change is to make fossil fuel use more expensive, an International Monetary Fund study found last October. The IMF also said sending the money from a tax or fee on coal and oil straight to citizens would blunt the economic disruption of that strategy. Read more.

McClintock, Hammett, Others Set for Feb. 8 Event on Climate Solutions

McClintock, Hammett, Others Set for Feb. 8 Event on Climate Solutions

A Feb. 8 event at the McWane Science Center on how to deal with the changing climate is scheduled to draw participants from multiple points of view, including energy industry heavyweight Seth Hammett, UAB polar researcher James McClintock and atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University.

“Faith Meets Business: Climate Solutions for the Common Good” is billed as a community dialogue and will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It is sponsored by the nonprofit Citizens’ Climate Education-Birmingham. Read more.

Caught Off Guard: The American Southeast Struggles With Climate Change

Reporters from Southeastern newsrooms hold leaders in their communities accountable for reducing carbon emissions and preparing for climate change-related emergencies.

Like hundreds of other cities, Louisville, Kentucky, is searching for a path to address climate change.

Mayor Greg Fischer has declared a climate emergency, proposed a climate action plan and set a goal of reducing citywide carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

To get there, however, Fischer needs the cooperation of the region’s electric utility, Louisville Gas and Electric Co., which depends on coal and, with its related companies, has committed only to cutting carbon emissions 70 percent from 2010 levels by 2050.

Even that more modest commitment, though, is now in doubt, based on recent comments by LG&E’s chief operating officer, Lonnie Bellar, at an energy conference last fall, dominated by coal interests. In discussing his company’s own carbon reduction plan, Bellar declined to make any promises about a clean energy future.

At the fall meeting of the Southern States Energy Board, an organization of Southern governors and lawmakers, Bellar said his company was planning for different carbon reduction options, “free of commitments.”

”We want to continue to provide energy to our customers at a low reasonable cost,” he said. “If that means coal it means coal. If that means some other resource, it means some other resource.”

Louisville illustrates a fairly common obstacle: communities with little control over the monopoly electric utilities that serve them.
Today, in Caught Off Guard, InsideClimate News and nine newsrooms across seven Southeastern states are publishing stories on the progress and problems their communities face in relation to climate change. The region lags behind others in renewable electricity and faces some of the biggest global warming threats in the nation.

In reporting their stories, the journalists found communities struggling with funding, or with a lack of political will, and the need for technological breakthroughs to meet climate change head on. Read more.

In West Alabama, Life Is Hard. Warmer Weather Forecasts Worse Problems. How Bad Could It Get and What Can Be Done?

The Black Belt already has more than its own share of problems, and warming temperatures aren’t making things easier for the residents.

Disease-causing organisms thrive in standing water during warmer weather, and in the Black Belt there’s plenty of that. The area’s soil doesn’t drain well because of the heavy clay, and the region has been beset with more extreme weather, flooding and sewer system overflows.

Scientists now are even predicting that the weather in the Black Belt, and in much of the state, will be too hot for the state bird — the Northern Flicker, or yellowhammer — to continue living here during the hottest months of the year.

The wood pellet factory trend is coming to the Black Belt, with promises of supplying much-needed jobs and helping to stabilize emissions of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide, but there are questions about whether either of those benefits will come to pass.

Farmers are taking many steps to make their operations consume fewer resources and create fewer environmental problems, but even many of them fear their efforts are too little too late.

BirminghamWatch recently probed problems caused in the Black Belt by the warming weather patterns and efforts to work on those problems. Read the full series:

In West Alabama, Life Is Hard. Warmer Weather Forecasts Worse Problems
Audubon Study Finds Warming Climate May Be Inhospitable to Alabama State Bird
Wood Pellet Plants in Job-Hungry Southern Towns Prompt Environmentalists’ Warnings
Cattle, Catfish and Cover Crops: Alabama Farms Play Role in Slowing Climate Change

Despite Pledges, Birmingham Barely Out of Gate on Energy Efficiency, Renewables, Sustainability

This story was written as part of a collaboration among InsideClimate News and nine media outlets in the Southeast.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin promised in December to pivot toward prioritizing sustainability during the remaining two years of his term in office, moving toward fulfilling a pledge he made during his 2017 campaign.

“We’ve got a whole lot more environmental justice and sustainability issues to address within the next two years,” he said, “but we’ve laid the groundwork and foundation to address these environmental issues in our city.”

But for some, Woodfin’s administration — and Birmingham’s municipal government as a whole — has been frustratingly inert when it comes to environmental issues.

“The bottom line is, the city doesn’t have a strategy for addressing sustainability or environmental justice or climate change or anything related to those issues,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of Gasp, a Birmingham-based nonprofit focused on environmental justice advocacy. “The mayor campaigned on all of those issues, and several of the councilors talk about them from the daïs, but they don’t ever actually do anything about them.”

Birmingham’s lack of a clear sustainability plan has placed the city at a disadvantage compared to other cities nationwide. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s 2019 city clean energy scorecard, for instance, ranked Birmingham as 72nd among 75 major cities in terms of sustainability efforts, saying the city “has substantial room to improve across the board” and should push toward codifying goals for clean and renewable energy “to jump-start its efforts.” Read more.

Caught Off Guard: The American Southeast Struggles With Climate Change

InsideClimate News

Reporters from Southeastern newsrooms hold leaders in their communities accountable for reducing carbon emissions and preparing for climate change-related emergencies. Read more.

Environmental Groups Protest New Waters of the US Rule

Environmental groups in Alabama and elsewhere say they will fight to delay or stop a new federal rule that would remove the 1972 Clean Water Act’s oversight of half the nation’s wetlands and many small streams. The new rule greatly narrows the Obama-era definition of what constitutes waters of the U.S., commonly called WOTUS.

The rule — called the Navigable Waters Protection Rule — was announced today by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler at a homebuilders meeting in Las Vegas. Real estate and farm interests have been major proponents of replacing WOTUS, which the Trump Administration repealed last fall. The new rule is scheduled to be implemented in 60 days, following publication in the Federal Register. Read more.

Cattle, Catfish and Cover Crops: Alabama Farms Play Role in Slowing Climate Change

This is the last in a series of four stories about how changing weather patterns are and will affect the Black Belt.

Once a swath of tall-grass prairie of unparalleled fertility and diversity, the Alabama Black Belt’s rich land was depleted by the practice of farming one or two crops, initially cotton and later corn and soybeans, on a large scale.

But more beneficial farming and ranching practices are taking hold in Alabama, and some in the state’s western Black Belt region are taking leadership roles.

A family in Pickens County uses no-till row farming, combined with regular rotation of crops and use of cover crops, to help rebuild once-rich prairie soil. A farm in Perry County enhances those practices by using primarily compost and organic fertilizers and by rotating different animal species through its pastures.

Progressive agricultural practices already are helping feed the planet’s increasing population. Now new ways of treating the land are seen as an important piece of a complex effort to slow the impact of accelerating climate change, as described in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on Climate Change and the Land.

Most climate change emphasis has been on displacing fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy. But emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases continue to rise in the face of pledges from the Paris and Spain climate summits, according to other United Nations reports. It’s become increasingly evident that strategy will take too long to avoid major consequences of higher temperatures responsible for more severe storms, intense rainfall and flooding, as well as longer periods of drought.

2019 was the second-warmest year since the temperatures began to be recorded, in 1850, according to the research group Berkeley Earth.

Technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere have not fully emerged, and it’s not clear they can be scaled up enough to make a difference, either. Read more.

More stories in the series:
Sunday: In West Alabama, Life Is Hard. Warmer Weather Forecasts Worse Problems
Monday:Audubon Study Finds Warming Climate May Be Inhospitable to Alabama State Bird
Tuesday:Wood Pellet Plants in Job-Hungry Southern Towns Prompt Environmentalists’ Warnings

Wood Pellet Plants in Job-Hungry Southern Towns Prompt Environmentalists’ Warnings

The tiny West Alabama town of Epes, population 172, is set to play a role in the international climate-change battle. The initiative that has reached Epes is spreading across the state and much of the South and is prompting debate about whether it is progress or problem.

Maryland-based Enviva is building a $175 million facility at Epes to produce wood pellets from forests, sawmills and other sources and to load them on barges at the nearby port on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway bound for the United Kingdom, Europe and potentially Asia.

The pellets will be burned for electric power in plants formerly fueled by coal.

In 2009, the European Commission directed its member countries to use renewable sources of power for at least 20% of its electricity production in order to reduce carbon emissions and meet climate change goals. The commission categorized wood as a carbon-neutral alternative to coal on the belief trees would be replaced one-to-one with seedlings that eventually would grow and absorb the carbon dioxide released in creating power.

Wood instead of coal – a good thing for the world, right?

Not so fast. Most environmental and clean-energy advocates, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, say the carbon-neutral assessments are based on faulty initial assumptions, are not the clean power source as touted by industry, and shouldn’t be grouped with solar, wind and nuclear power as ways to replace fossil fuels and drastically reduce the world’s carbon emissions.

It’s much better, they say, to keep carbon sequestered in trees than to burn them for fuel. Read more.

More stories in the series:
Sunday: In West Alabama, Life Is Hard. Warmer Weather Forecasts Worse Problems
Monday:Audubon Study Finds Warming Climate May Be Inhospitable to Alabama State Bird
Thursday: Cattle, Catfish, and Cover Crops. Alabama Farms Play Role in Slowing Climate Change

Audubon Study Finds Warming Climate May Be Inhospitable to Alabama State Bird

This is the first in a series of four stories about how changing weather patterns are and will affect the Black Belt.

Let us travel to the West Alabama Black Belt and consider our state bird.

We like to call it the yellowhammer. It is part of the “Rammer Jammer” song that University of Alabama fans sing after a Tide victory.

This bird’s more formal name is the Northern Flicker, and like all woodpeckers we see here, it is a striking combination of colors. The male is brown, with a bunch of dots on its underbelly, a black “whisker” extending from the base of its bill, a black bib just below its neck, a white rump, yellow shafts on its tail and flight feathers, and a red streak looping around the back of its neck.

These days, you can spot the yellowhammer year ‘round in The Heart of Dixie. But not long from now, it could be too hot for the official state bird to live here in the summertime, especially in areas such as the Black Belt, known for the intensity of the heat in July, August and September.

That’s one of the findings reported in Survival By Degrees, a recently released Aububon Society study on the impact of warming global temperatures on various species of birds.

“It’s hard to imagine our state bird being just a winter bird,” said Alabama Audubon Executive Director Ansel Payne. Read more.

More stories in the series:
Sunday: In West Alabama, Life Is Hard. Warmer Weather Forecasts Worse Problems
Tuesday: Wood Pellet Plants in Job-Hungry Southern Towns Prompt Environmentalists’ Warnings
Wednesday: Cattle, Catfish, and Cover Crops. Alabama Farms Play Role in Slowing Climate Change

In West Alabama, Life Is Hard. Warmer Weather Forecasts Worse Problems

This is the first in a series of four stories about how changing weather patterns are and will affect the Black Belt.

Much of West Alabama’s rural Black Belt is beset with long-standing poverty, poor health, deteriorating infrastructure, suspect water quality and the mental and physical stresses that accompany those conditions.

Climate change is making those problems worse – or at least harder to overcome – and that effect is projected to increase in the coming decades. Increasingly higher temperatures year-round are bringing more extreme and violent storms, heavier rainfall and extended periods of drought.

The threats are clear, scientists almost universally agree. Disease-causing organisms thrive in warmer weather. Increased flooding causes already inadequate sewage treatment systems to fail as well as damaging streams and rivers with greater sediment and fertilizer run-off. Stronger tornadoes tear up the landscape and homes and terrorize the population.

What made the Black Belt different?

Almost two centuries ago, plows overturned the rich earth of the diverse, tall-grass prairies in the Alabama Black Belt to create the plantation culture based on a single crop, cotton. The act, together with the import of slaves from Africa and the Caribbean, transformed the region into an economic powerhouse for the next 150 years – until the soil was depleted and eroded. Since then the land in many cases has been given over to pine trees, cattle ranches, catfish ponds and a patchwork quilt of soy and corn fields. Read more.