What’s New In Climate & Sustainability This Month: Feb 2021 Edition

What’s New In Climate & Sustainability This Month: Feb 2021 Edition

This is part of our ongoing series, called DTL (that stands for Down to Learn), where we take deep dives into the odd, nuanced and mysterious world of sustainability. Each article in our series should give you a good icebreaker for your next Zoom, or perhaps even inspire you. This piece is penned by Planet G contributor Jacqueline Parisi.


Here at the Goldune HQ, we’re preeeeetty much obsessed with all things climate, so we thought...why not share the latest and greatest right here in our corner of the world wide web? ‘Cause let’s be real — there’s so, so much news on policy, science, and innovation that it’s near impossible to stay on top of everything. That’s where we come in! 

So without further ado...

  1. Evergreen Action and Data for Progress are making the case for a federal Clean Electricity Standard (CES)  

With the Biden administration vowing to clean up America’s electricity system by 2035, Evergreen Action and Data for Progress have joined forces to release a report outlining how, exactly Congress can get this done. But first, a bit of context. 

The roadmap focuses on 100% clean electricity, which experts predict will directly cut more than a quarter of US carbon pollution, in addition to enabling parts of our transportation and industrial sectors to run on clean power. The implications of carbon-free electricity would be significant, allowing the US to cut emissions by upwards of 80%. As it stands now, 170 cities across 30 states have policies in place to work towards clean electricity. What’s missing is a federal policy to ensure all states are transitioning at an accelerated, necessary pace.    

“Clean electricity standards are proven, practical, and popular,” writes Leah Stokes and Sam Ricketts of Evergreen Action, in an article on Vox. “Without a national CES, we know that utilities will not move fast enough — their own plans show that they won’t. This policy must be at the top of Congress’s to-do list this year.”  

So how is Congress going to do it? These are three viable options, according to the report. 

Create a system of federally-tracked ZECs

  • “Zero emissions electricity credits” (ZECs, for short) are state-administered credits that power companies receive when they produce clean power. Stokes and Ricketts propose shifting this program from the state to the federal level in order to track ZECs in the federal budget. 

Allow the federal government to purchase ZECs from power companies

  • This would allow companies to submit bids for how much they’d like to be paid for clean energy. The federal government would then purchase, via auction, a quantity of ZECs until their goals are fulfilled. 

Re-think how clean energy credits are administered

  • Instead of earning clean energy credits for every megawatt-hour of clean electricity that a utilities company delivers, it would instead earn credits for every ton of carbon pollution reduced. 

    1. Facebook is cracking down on climate myths

    In September 2019, Facebook launched a Climate Science Information Center in the US, UK, France, and Germany. The goal? Connect people with credible, science-backed news, information, and resources from leading climate change organizations. Earlier this month, the social network announced a new feature designed to debunk common climate myths. Developed in partnership with experts at the University of Cambridge, George Mason University, and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, the tool will also add informational labels on certain, potentially misleading climate change posts in order to mitigate the spread of misinformation (similar to alerts on election misinformation). In addition to the new feature, Facebook also announced that they’d be expanding the tool to Belgium, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Spain, South Africa, and Taiwan. 

    Facebook’s not the only social platform fighting climate myths — Twitter’s also struggling with misinformation, spread primarily by bots.   

    1. It’s official: The US has rejoined the Paris Agreement on climate change 

    Just hours after taking office, President Biden signed an executive order kick-starting a 30-day process to re-enter the Paris Agreement. As of February 19, the US is officially back in after four years. The landmark accord, which has been signed by nearly 200 nations, marks a commitment to limit greenhouse gas emissions in a coordinated, unified effort to stem global warming. The goal is to ensure that temperatures don’t rise above 2 degrees Celcius compared to pre-industrial averages. 

    And now comes the hard part. The US, for the past four years, has not been a part of the agreement, which means there’s a fair amount of catching up to do. The charge will be led by John Kerry, Former Secretary of State and Biden’s special envoy for climate. 

    “...as momentous as our joining the Agreement was in 2016 — and as momentous as our rejoining is today — what we do in the coming weeks, months, and years is even more important,” said Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in a statement. “We are reengaging the world on all fronts, including at the President’s April 22nd Leaders’ Climate Summit. And further out, we very much look forward to working with the United Kingdom and other nations around the world to make COP26 a success.” 

    1. A new global satellite survey shows just how fast the world’s ice is melting (spoiler alert: it’s faster than we think) 

    According to the survey, which was published in the European Geophysical Union’s journal, the Earth lost 28 trillion (with a t!) metric tons of ice due to rising temperatures between 1994 and 2017 — representing a 57% faster “melt rate” compared to three decades ago. To put it in context, this is roughly equivalent to an 100-meter-thick sheet of ice covering the UK in its entirety, or the state of Michigan. 

    “It’s such a huge amount [that] it’s hard to imagine it,” said Thomas Slater, research fellow at the University of Leeds Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling. “Ice plays a crucial role in regulating the global climate, and losses will increase the frequency of extreme weather events such as flooding, fires, storm surges, and heatwaves.” 

    1. NASA is gearing up to support and accelerate climate research 

    As NASA awaits the Biden administration’s space priorities and 2022 fiscal budget, they’re deep in “preparatory work” for a renewed climate push.

    According to NASA’s active administrator Steve Jurczyk, one program that could be reprioritized is the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory Pathfinder mission, which is designed to more accurately measure sunlight reflected by the Earth and moon in order to render climate models five to ten times more accurate than those from existing sensors. 

    “Higher accuracy means greater certainty in our measurements, which makes it possible to detect Earth’s subtle climate change trends decades sooner than otherwise possible,” cites NASA officials, “and provides the knowledge needed to make informed decisions in response.” 

    This news comes on the heels of the announcement that NASA has named its first-ever climate advisor, Gavin Schmidt, an expert in climate modeling. 

    This is a short n sweet version of all that February held. Looking for more? We highly recommend Emily Atkin's newsletter, Heated, along with the Climate Nexus newsletter for daily or weekly updates that you can read with just a few minutes a day. We'll be back at the end of March for a monthly update!

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