Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.
On November 30, world leaders will flock to Paris to hammer out an international agreement to slow global warming. The agreement is likely to give a boost to the clean energy industry, as countries around the world pour money into wind and solar projects as a way to cut their greenhouse gas footprints.
In the United States clean energy is already a booming business. Solar is the fastest-growing energy source in the country, and in 2015 total investment in renewable energy projects here reached nearly $40 billion. Here's some more good news: Big corporations are signing up for a record amount of clean energy for their offices, data centers, warehouses, and other facilities, according to a new analysis by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit environmental research outfit.
"This trend is going to be difficult to stop," says Hervé Touati of the Rocky Mountain Institute.
RMI tracked publicly announced contracts between corporations and large-scale wind and solar farms and found that in 2015 the total reached 2,100 megawatts, roughly equal to 525,000 home rooftop solar systems. That's 75 percent higher than what RMI measured last year, and it includes more than a dozen companies with new contracts. New contracts this year include Dow Chemical, General Motors, Walmart, and Kaiser Permanente. It's also a big win for the climate: Electricity accounts for one-third of US greenhouse gas emissions, and more than one-third of electricity goes to commercial users. So if big companies are clamoring for clean energy, that can have a significant, near-term impact on reducing the nation's greenhouse gas footprint.
"The pressure is mounting [for corporate executives] to take action" on climate change, said Hervé Touati, RMI's managing director. "What they realize is that signing these large deals is the best way to say you are addressing your sustainability agenda."
In most cases, the contracts are "power purchase agreements," where the company agrees to buy a certain amount of power from a wind or solar farm at a fixed price for 10 to 20 years. These contracts are mutually beneficial, Touati explained: They give renewable energy developers the guaranteed revenue they need to finance big new projects, and give the companies long-term certainty about one of their biggest expenses, electricity.
Tech companies such as Google and Facebook were early adopters of large-scale clean energy, thanks to the sky-high electricity consumption at data centers. Last year, Apple announced that 94 percent of its operations are powered by clean energy, including a massive solar array outside its data center in North Carolina. Now, Touati said, a more diverse mix of corporations is getting in on the act, including hospitals, hotels, and shipping companies.
That trend is driven by a confluence of factors that have made clean energy contracts seem like low-hanging fruit to top corporate financial officers. The cost of clean energy is continuing to plummet—solar power could soon be cheaper than conventional grid electricity in all 50 states. Meanwhile, customers and investors are increasingly conscientious about companies' impact on the environment. A recent survey by the World Resources Institute found that half of all Fortune 500 companies have implemented specific goals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewables.
The only losers in this arrangement, Touati said, are traditional electric utilities, which more cling to fossil fuel-fired power plants. For those power companies, the loss of big corporate customers is harder to brush off than losing a few homes to rooftop solar. That could motivate them to clean up their act more quickly.
"When we come with Google and Facebook and those big names and we tell [electric utilities] that these big corporations want this, then they start to listen," he said. "This trend is going to be difficult to stop."
It's pretty hard to be funny about climate change. Not just because the subject tends to be grim, but also because the solutions tend to be technical, wonky, and interesting mostly just to nerds.
The video above, released today by Funny or Die in affiliation with the League of Conservation Voters, makes a valiant effort. It features Jeff Goldblum explaining the Obama administration's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a boardroom full of cartoonishly evil fossil fuel executives. I won't spoil what he says, since it's the punchline (such as it is). Suffice to say the execs don't like it…and something about Miami Vice star Don Johnson.
I also won't go on record vouching for the jokes in this. I chuckled a few times. I will say that Goldblum—or rather his character, the mysterious "Fixer"—nails his description of the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from the power sector by about a third by 2030, and which will form the backbone of Obama's contribution to the upcoming global climate talks in Paris. The framing of the video is also spot-on: The plan is indeed facing stiff opposition from coal companies and the industry's allies in statehouses and in Congress.
The Clean Power Plan is admittedly kind of boring to most people, despite being a groundbreaking policy achievement and an important step toward saving the planet from global warming. So if it takes Jeff Goldblum to get people interested, I've got no problem with that. Enjoy!
With a major global climate summit in Paris less than two weeks away, the Obama administration's top environmental official is saying climate change is a major threat to US national security.
"There are a variety of impacts that we're feeling from a changing climate, and we need to stop those impacts from escalating by failing to take action—one of those is instability," said Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, in an interview Tuesday with Climate Desk. McCarthy pointed to drought and wildfires in California as examples of climate impacts that can displace people from their homes, and she noted that many of the same things are happening in less stable parts of the world. You can watch portions of the interview above.
"We can see that underlying issues in many countries that lead to animosity, and then can lead to conflict," she said. "So it is a national security issue for us, as well as an issue that's incredibly important for our local communities."
"It is a national security issue for us, as well as an issue that's incredibly important for our local communities."
McCarthy's comments join a growing chorus of experts who see a direct link between global warming and national security. The debate over that theory seems likely to intensify over the next few weeks, in part because the Paris climate negotiations follow closely on the heels of Friday's terrorist attacks that left 129 people dead in the French capital.
Just days before the Paris attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech in which he called climate change "a threat to the security of the United States." On Saturday, Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders said "climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism." President Barack Obama has made a similar point several times, as have numerous security experts and defense officials. (Donald Trump is skeptical.)
After the attacks, French officials were quick to confirm that the climate summit—which is meant to yield a groundbreaking international agreement to slow climate change—would go on, albeit with scaled-back public events and heightened security. Obama is expected to attend, along with White House negotiators. McCarthy has not yet said whether she will be there, and while her agency isn't responsible for conducting the core negotiations, she still has a vital role to play in convincing other countries that the United States is serious about climate action.
The US negotiating position—Obama has promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025—hinges largely on the Clean Power Plan, a new set of EPA regulations on emissions from power plants that was largely crafted under McCarthy. The plan itself cites national security as a justification for taking action on global warming. "Impacts of climate change on public welfare also include threats to social and ecosystem services…these impacts are global and may exacerbate problems outside the US that raise humanitarian, trade, and national security issues for the US," it states.
McCarthy said she is "very confident" the plan will survive all these challenges. But since it forms the legal basis for the US commitment in Paris, McCarthy said her staff has been in contact with their counterparts in other countries in an effort to assure them that they can count on the United States to follow through.
"We're moving forward, and we try to make people understand that," McCarthy said. The Clean Power Plan is "a signal of the seriousness of the United States and this president, and the fact that we are going to be driving reductions down that other countries can count on, so they can come to the table and also contribute."
Security was heightened across Paris following Friday's deadly attacks. A major international climate summit is due to start there in two weeks.
On Saturday, just a day after terrorist attacks in Paris left at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured, the French government vowed to forge ahead with a long-scheduled international summit on climate change.
The summit, which is scheduled to start in just two weeks, will take place at an airport in the northern suburbs of Paris, not far from the stadium that was the site of multiple bombings on Friday. There, world leaders plan to hash out final details of the most wide-reaching international agreement ever to combat climate change. White House officials confirmed to Politico that President Barack Obama still intends to attend the talks, as scheduled prior to the attacks. Dozens of other heads of state are expected to be there as well.
"[The summit] will go ahead with reinforced security measures," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. "This is an absolutely necessary step in the battle against climate change and of course it will take place."
Christiana Figueres, who chairs the UN agency overseeing the talks, released a similar statement on Twitter:
Of course #COP21 proceeds as planned. Even more so now. #COP21 = respecting our differences & same time acting together collaboratively.
Even prior to the attacks, 30,000 French police officers were scheduled to secure the event, according to Radio France International. More than 10,000 diplomats, non-governmental organization employees, and journalists are expected to attend the summit. Specific new security measures have not yet been made public, but Politico quoted an unnamed French official who said participants should expect "extremely tightened security" following the attacks.
Paul Bledsoe, a former climate advisor to President Bill Clinton, also told Politico that the attacks could actually improve the odds that the talks reach a successful outcome.
"The resolve of world leaders is going to be redoubled to gain an agreement and show that they can deliver for populations around the world. The likelihood for a successful agreement has only increased because of these attacks," Bledsoe said.
On Thursday, just a day before the attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to butt heads with his French counterpart over what the exact legal status of the agreement will be. Other questions remain as well, such as how wealthy, heavily polluting countries such as the United States will help developing nations pay for climate change adaptation. But overall, the Paris talks are expected to yield a better outcome than the last major climate summit, in Copenhagen in 2009, which failed to produce any meaningful action to curb greenhouse gas emissions or prepare for the impacts of global warming.
Meanwhile, on Monday French officials said they would block a series of rallies and side events that were scheduled to take place outside the main negotiations. Environmental groups are scrambling to work out how to change their plans following the attack. Several groups involved in organizing protests and rallies that were intended to coicide with the Paris talks confirmed to Mother Jones that a hastily arranged meeting to hash out a plan will take place on Monday evening, Paris time. Will Davies, a spokesman for Avaaz, one of the main advocacy groups involved, said that despite the flurry of activity, plans for global marches in cities other than Paris were still going ahead as scheduled.
One of the cruel ironies of climate change is that its impacts tend to fall hardest on the countries least equipped to manage them.
When drought or sea level rise strike the United States, communities at least have access to federal aid, top scientific expertise, public investment in expensive climate-ready infrastructure, and the like. But some of the most extreme effects of global warming are headed for developing countries—drought wiping out crops in East Africa, or catastrophic hurricanes pounding Southeast Asia—that don't have access to those resources.
New research from Maplecroft, a UK-based risk consultancy, paints a pictures of where vulnerability to climate change is most pressing. Their analysis drew on three criteria: exposure to extreme events, based on the latest meteorological science; sensitivity to impacts (i.e., does a country have other sources of income and food supply if agriculture takes a hit?); and adaptive capacity—are the country's government and social institutions prepared to work under adverse climate conditions and help citizens adapt to them?
Unsurprisingly, Africa and Southeast Asia ranked the lowest, while Scandinavian countries ranked the highest. (While definitely at risk from sea level rise, countries such as Norway and Sweden have rich, highly functional governments to manage adaptation.) The major global climate talks in Paris are coming up in just a couple weeks; the chart above makes it clear why it's so important for big players like the US and China to work closely with delegations from developing countries on solutions that will provide immediate support and relief.