Good for Women, Good for Mother Nature

by Andrew Grandahl

In one of the first of many controversial executive orders signed by President Trump upon taking office, the president reinstated an archaic policy championed by Republican presidents for decades known as the “global gag rule”. The policy prohibits American funding for family-planning at clinics that also provide information on abortions to women. More disturbingly, the President has not just threatened to revoke funding to NGOs involved in family planning, but also to those involved in any health care, such as those combatting malaria or AIDs, should they make any utterance of abortion. It is a shocking measure, and one that impacts not just women’s lives, but our fight against climate change as well.

Global warming is a tricky beast, yet often is portrayed as a relatively simple problem: greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere leads to global temperature rise. If you lower greenhouse gas emissions, the rate of rising temperature in the future would decrease compared to taking no action at all. However, we often forget how many different sources greenhouse gas pollution comes from, and the complex forces that lead to varying atmospheric conditions.

One intersection lacking adequate attention in the global climate conversation is access to family-planning for women, specifically in the global south. In two studies done by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and The Futures Group, health education and family planning options were shown to give women greater ability to control the size and timing of their families. This in turn has an effect on global population growth, and with it greenhouse gas emissions. The impacts of family planning facilities would reduce emissions anywhere from 8% to 15% according to recent research from the Aspen Institute. To put that in perspective, this reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of stopping all deforestation worldwide, today. It is important to recognize that supporting family planning facilities across the global south will not solve climate change alone. The majority of global carbon emissions are produced by developed countries, not the areas typically impacted by this policy change. The relationship between access to reproductive services and carbon emissions is significant, though, and should be considered by policy makers.

There is a potentially heartening connection. Empowering women to have greater control regarding decisions about their bodies could not only improve individual and family quality of life, but also help to protect the environment we all share. Population control is no doubt a big piece of the puzzle. It is always important to recognize, though, the much larger elephant in the room that the developed world often chooses to overlook: the complementary relationship between over-population and over-consumption.

Fred Pearce of Yale Environment 360 has done great work to expose this behemoth of a problem. The statistics are quite blunt, not matter how you put it. The wealthiest 500 million inhabitants of our planet are responsible for half of the carbon we emit. In contrast, the poorest 3.5 billion are responsible for only 7% of emissions. While the fight for family-planning is a crucial piece of the puzzle, there are other major awarenesses and movements that must also accompany it. Trump’s reinstated gag-rule will be extremely harmful to millions of people globally, as it will dismantle planned parenthood funding in the U.S. and on an international level as well. We must fight for women’s rights at home and worldwide. But as we do so, let’s remember to do our part as well and lower individual consumption, heighten political involvement and reduce our personal carbon footprint. Mother nature and mothers worldwide both benefit from funding for family planning.

Andrew Grandahl is a guest blogger for eesi. You can reach him at andrewgrandahl@gmail.com

Pragmatism Over Politics

by Andrew Grandahl

Australian Energy Resource Assessment

Australian Energy Resource Assessment

South Australia has a serious electric power problem: the effects of extreme weather events are battering the country’s power grid and Australia's outdated energy infrastructure is struggling to keep up. In late September 2016, South Australia endured a “once-in-50-year” storm, and current climatological trends seem to be increasing the likelihood of such events. The super storm damaged energy infrastructure, knocked down transmission lines and cut off the interconnectors that link much of the state’s grid. It took several days to restore power to over 200,000 homes. This multi-day power outage occurred again in December (affecting 155,000 homes) and in the past month, 90,000 homes lost power during an extreme heatwave. It is all too clear that Australia is struggling to adapt.

Much like the United States, the majority of Australia’s electricity sector is powered using fossil fuels, specifically coal. Both countries have powerful fossil fuel lobbies which push their interests. These groups influence politicians and have managed to sway citizens through a relentless climate-change disinformation media campaign. They downplay the necessity of renewable energy, even in the face of failing energy infrastructure. To make things worse, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull placed the blame of the recent blackouts on South Australia’s ambitious solar energy program, despite officially being advised that the torrential storms were indeed the cause. Ignoring evidence in favor of political gamesmanship? To Americans, this sounds all too familiar.

Thankfully, amidst the turmoil and misinformation, a hero seems to have emerged with a mission larger than just providing South Australians with reliable power. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is currently proving that renewables are the single most effective, sustainable way to power the planet. With Tesla’s battery gigafactory nearing completion, an important barrier to mass-deployment of renewable energy might soon be overcome.

Unlike most fossil fuels where energy can be produced from fuels as needed, solar or wind energy is generated when the sun shines and the wind blows. This has presented a problem for energy utilization efficiency and storage, because the energy cannot be produced at will. Given the intermittent nature of sun and wind, renewables have traditionally been dismissed as too inconsistent to reliably power large-scale energy grids due to inadequate storage abilities, specifically during demand spikes. What utility companies need to meet consumer demands is load-leveling, which stores power during low demand periods and delivers power during high demand periods. Tesla contends that regardless of energy source, their new battery packs can bridge this storage and efficiency gap. For example, the island of Ta’u in the American Samoa uses 60 Tesla Powerpacks to store 6 MWh solar energy harnessed using solar panels. These Powerpack battery storage units allows the island to dispense energy based on demand, regardless of whether or not the sun is shining.

In light of this tangible success of renewable grid storage, Musk and his company are clearly looking forward. Tesla’s vice-president of energy products Lyndon Rive (who is also Musk’s cousin) recently stated that Tesla could install the 100-300 megawatt hours of battery storage in South Australia to prevent the power shortage failures of the state. Australian tech-billionaire Michael Cannon-Brookes tweeted at Musk asking him how serious he was about this bet. Musks’ response: “@mcannonbrookes Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free. That serious enough for you?” The money is on the line and Australian politicians are already biting. The success of this potential project would signify a new era of grid-storage and with it, the undeniable superiority of renewables to fossil fuels. Something tells me that for Musk, and all of us, this bet will pay off.

Andrew Grandahl is a guest blogger for eesi. You can reach him at andrewgrandahl@gmail.com

Moving Forward when Politics goes Backward

by Andrew Grandahl

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With each passing hearing for president Trump’s cabinet nominees, it is difficult to not feel helpless, overwhelmed, and, well, like hiding under your blankets and never coming back out again. Particularly troubling is Trump’s appointee for Secretary of State, former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson. His appointment to one of the most powerful positions in the world poses very real threats to our environment, our national security, and the progress made over the last eight years within international politics. His conflicts of interest as an oil executive should be obvious: Exxon Mobil worked for decades to deny the science behind our understanding of humanity’s role in climate change. One’s mind is automatically brought back to the regressive, oil-obsessed agenda of the Bush administration, and all of the entrapments and folly that accompany such thinking.

This time is different though, we are not witnessing the long-term revival of such mindsets. What we are witnessing are the death-throes of neoconservatism.

Why do I think this? Because often, people need to be shocked into action. Whether it’s the election of a reality TV star to the office of the president, a climate-denier to head up the EPA, or congressional Republicans attempting to remove the healthcare of tens of millions of Americans, these actions all have one thing in common: they are extreme. And extreme actions, in this case, are a sign of desperation. The thinking of the Reagan-Bush era is not just antiquated, but extremely harmful. People know this, people are outraged, they are assembling, and they are speaking out, demanding change. As frustrating as it may be, these political shocks are what drive us out of complacency, and fuel bold initiatives to drive progress towards a better world. Sometimes, you have to go backwards to truly go forwards.

This is not to say that the Trump administration’s four-year reign will not do a great deal of harm. It’s simply that we are in a new era of how we access and spread information, how quickly we can assemble regardless of geographic distance, and how progressive ideologies are really beginning to come into the mainstream and be championed by millions. Trump’s election was, in a way, the revenge of the American conservative. Liberal America’s “revenge” is already gathering momentum, is already taking to the streets and political venues, and will not go quietly into the night. As much as we may fear what the next four years hold, let’s be even more excited for what the response will be. We are in uncharted waters politically, and sometimes, that can be a good thing.

On January 9, President Barack Obama had an article published in the peer-reviewed journal Science. It was entitled “The irreversible momentum of clean energy”. Our former President goes in depth as to why the clean energy revolution is unstoppable, backed up by irrefutable evidence that fossil fuel emissions and economic growth have finally been decoupled. Just a few days after the publication of that article, China announced it will be cancelling plans to build 103 coal plants, a stark about face from its stance on dirty energy just a few years ago. Last November, over 360 major U.S. companies including DuPont, Starbucks, General Mills, HP, Nike, Hilton and Unilever, signed an open letter asking Trump to adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement stating it would be hugely beneficial to economic growth and job creation. Let’s hope he listens. And in the meantime, be encouraged by the remarkable progress made in the public and private sectors in the past few years. As the evidence shows, it won’t be slowing down.

Andrew Grandahl is a guest blogger for eesi. You can reach him at andrewgrandahl@gmail.com