The next frontier for climate action is the great indoors

“what happens inside doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Furnaces and water heaters have to vent their emissions directly outdoors, for example (stoves and ovens face no such requirements), and that pollution doesn’t just disappear. The consequences are exacerbated in communities of color, where homes tend to run on less efficient appliances and communities already bear the burden of greater outdoor particulate matter. One analysis by RMI found that Black Americans are 55 percent more likely to die prematurely from the impacts of fossil fuel appliance pollution compared to white Americans. Another study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, found residential gas combustion and commercial cooking to be the largest drivers of the racial disparity in pollution exposure for people of color compared to white people.”

“As the grid is getting cleaner, buildings hooked up to electricity will also have a dwindling footprint and, hopefully, use less energy overall with more energy-efficient machines. But a building that runs on gas will always burn a fossil fuel for its heat. And today that footprint is considerably large: 13 percent of the nation’s climate pollution comes directly from these gas-burning machines.”

Joe Biden just signed an international climate treaty. And Mitch McConnell voted for it.

“President Joe Biden signed a bona fide international climate treaty…one that was ratified in the Senate with bipartisan support in a 69-27 vote. Twenty-one Republicans supported ratification in September, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.”

“If fully implemented, the measure would avert upward of 0.5 degrees Celsius — almost 1 degree Fahrenheit — of warming by the end of the century. Keeping in mind that the Paris climate agreement aims to hold the rise in global average temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, the Kigali Amendment would take a big step toward that goal. And it builds on one of the most successful efforts to prevent an environmental disaster in history.”

“Countries around the world convened to try to solve the problem, and in 1987, developed the Montreal Protocol. It was the first treaty to be ratified by every country in the world. Countries began to phase out CFCs entirely. And it worked. The ozone layer is on track to heal entirely. By 2065, the Montreal Protocol is estimated to have prevented 443 million skin cancer cases, 2.3 million skin cancer deaths, and more than 63 million cases of cataracts in the United States alone, according to the State Department.”

“There was an unanticipated problem as well. CFCs were replaced with another class of chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in many applications. While HFCs aren’t as damaging to the ozone layer, they are powerful greenhouse gases. The Kigali Amendment, drafted in 2016, aims to zero out HFCs as well.”

“why did so many Republicans back Kigali when they’ve criticized just about every other major international environmental agreement? Recall that many Republican lawmakers cheered when then-President Trump began the process of withdrawing the US from the Paris climate accord.
Part of the reason for Kigali’s success may be that conservative stalwarts Margaret Thatcher, a former chemist, and Ronald Reagan, a skin cancer survivor, were framers of the initial Montreal Protocol.

Another is that the amendment comes packaged with solutions. There are already climate-friendly refrigerants on the market, and appliance manufacturers are eager to deploy them. Some lawmakers see this as an opportunity to play to the US’s strengths.

“This amendment will give American manufacturers the ability to continue exporting sustainable coolants and the products that depend on them,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) in a statement. “Not only does this create tens of thousands of jobs here at home, it protects our markets from becoming a dumping ground for China’s outdated products.””

The flooding in Pakistan is a climate catastrophe with political roots

“In April, cricket-star-turned-pseudo-populist Prime Minister Imran Khan sparked a constitutional crisis when he tried to stave off a vote of no-confidence by dissolving the Pakistani parliament. Eventually, the country’s supreme court ruled that he had acted unconstitutionally, the uproarious no-confidence vote proceeded, and he lost the prime ministership.
Since then, opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif became prime minister and has been presiding over a country hard hit by economic malaise — rising debt, a foreign currency shortage, and record inflation — deepened by the wide-ranging knock-on effects for energy and food insecurity presented by the Ukraine-Russia war.

All the while, the former prime minister has continued to hold political rallies that reinforce his street power. In turn, the government has launched a crackdown on Khan. Most recently, the police issued terrorism charges against him over a speech he delivered earlier this month. The next general election will be held in 2023, but Khan has been calling for early elections. Taken all together, it threatens to send Pakistan into an even more dangerous political phase.”

The search for an AC that doesn’t destroy the planet

“The IEA predicts that within the next three decades, two-thirds of the world’s homes could have air conditioners. About half of these units will be installed in just three countries: India, China, and Indonesia. The extent to which these new air conditioners will exacerbate climate change hinges on replacing the cooling tech we currently use with something better. Right now, ideas range from retrofitting our windows to more far-out concepts, like rooftop panels that reflect sunlight and emit heat into space. To succeed, however, the world will need to boost the efficiency of the appliances we already have — as quickly as possible — and invest in new tech that could avoid some of AC’s primary problems.

The AC’s noxious environmental impact stems from its core technology: vapor compression. This tech involves several components, but it generally works by converting a refrigerant that’s stored inside an AC from a liquid to a gas, which allows it to absorb heat, removing it from a room. Vapor compression uses an immense amount of electricity on the hottest days, and there are growing concerns that the technology might eventually overwhelm the grid’s capacity to provide power. And hydrofluorocarbons, the chemical refrigerants that many ACs use to soak up heat, are greenhouse gases that trap lots of heat in our atmosphere when leaked into the air. The challenge is that, for now, vapor compression ACs are still a critical tool during deadly heat waves, especially for high-risk populations, young children, older adults, and people with certain health conditions.

Technology to build cleaner, more efficient air conditioners does exist. Two major AC manufacturers, Daikin and Gree Electric Appliances, shared the top award at last year’s Global Cooling Prize, an international competition focused on designing climate-friendly AC tech. Both companies created ACs with higher internal performance that used less environmentally damaging refrigerants; the new units could reduce their impact on the climate by five times. These models aren’t yet on the market — Gree plans to start selling its prototype in 2025, and Daikin told Recode that it hopes to use the new technology in future products — but the IEA estimates that using more efficient ACs could cut cooling’s environmental impact by half.

Another strategy is to double down on heat pumps, which are air conditioners that also work in reverse, using vapor compression to absorb and move heat into a home, instead of releasing it outside. Heat pumps usually cost several thousand dollars”

“heat pumps are not the easiest appliance to install, especially for renters, who don’t necessarily have the money or ability to invest in bulky HVAC systems.”

“While many of these technological breakthroughs are promising, the movement to revolutionize air conditioning still faces some major challenges. Right now, AC manufacturers primarily focus on meeting minimum performance standards, rather than competing for higher levels of efficiency. Consumers also tend to buy air conditioners based on their sticker price, not an AC’s overall impact on their energy bills. And even though there are a growing number of AC-focused startups, the industry is still dominated by a small handful of large companies, all of which primarily focus on far-from-ideal vapor compression tech.”

“if better, more affordable AC doesn’t come to market fast enough — especially for the vast number of people in developing countries who will buy these appliances in the coming decades — significantly worse air conditioners will take their place, warming the planet even faster.”

The Inflation Reduction Act, explained

“The policies overall aim to push American consumers and industry away from reliance on fossil fuels. The biggest share of the funding goes to tax credits and rebates for a host of renewable technologies — solar panels, wind turbines, heat pumps, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles. It includes incentives for companies to manufacture more of that technology in the United States. The law will also put funding into energy efficiency at industrial sites that can help lower the sector’s hefty carbon footprint, while dedicating some funds to forest and coastal restoration.
The IRA also breaks new ground on other problematic areas of the climate crisis. It sets the first methane fee that penalizes fossil fuel companies for excess emissions of the especially powerful climate pollutant. Another substantial part of the funding helps disadvantaged communities with monitoring and cleaning up pollution, and builds their resilience to climate impacts.

Beyond cutting climate pollution, the clean energy investments could also make a dent in inflation. According to Robbie Orvis, senior director at Energy Innovation, rising energy prices have driven roughly a third of the 9 percent rise in the overall Consumer Price Index this past year. By helping Americans become less reliant on fossil fuels, the spending helps ease the global oil crunch and cut consumer bills.”

“The agreement also includes a 15 percent minimum tax on corporations with profits over $1 billion. Senate Democrats note that while the current corporate tax rate is 21 percent, dozens of major companies, including AT&T, Amazon, and ExxonMobil, pay much less than that. Originally, the provision was expected to raise $313 billion, though new carveouts were added to win Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-AZ) vote, which give manufacturers and private equity firms more leeway when it comes to the new minimum tax rate. Those changes are likely to reduce the revenue this measure will bring in.

There is also a 1 percent excise tax on corporations’ stock buybacks, which are currently not subject to any taxes at all. That excise tax is estimated to raise roughly $73 billion in revenue.”

What could the Inflation Reduction Act mean for you?

“One big question is whether a bill called the Inflation Reduction Act will lower the decades-high inflation numbers that consumers are feeling at the grocery store and the gas pump.
As economists told Vox’s Li Zhou, the average American likely won’t feel the impact immediately or particularly significantly — its effect will be in a longer-term and macroeconomic sense.

“For the most part, this isn’t a bill about 2022,” Marc Goldwein, the senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told Vox. “This is about 2023, 2024, 2025. It’s about helping the Federal Reserve to fight against persistent inflation. It’s not gonna be bringing down the inflation rate in the month of September.””

“the bill will allow Medicare to negotiate for cheaper prescription drug prices for certain very expensive medications and cap out-of-pocket prescription costs for Medicare beneficiaries at $2,000 per year. That unprecedented measure will lower the cost for consumers. A further measure requires pharmaceutical companies to pay a rebate to Medicare if they raise drug prices faster than inflation increases, NPR reported — presumably disincentivizing those companies from repeated price increases.”

“In addition to cementing Medicare’s new negotiating power, the bill also holds insurance subsidies for the Affordable Care Act through 2025, making health insurance more affordable for the millions of people who are insured through the health care marketplace. The initial subsidies were supposed to end this year, which would have meant increased premiums for the millions of people who qualified for free health insurance when Congress eliminated the income cap to qualify for federal assistance paying premiums.

The IRA also includes the largest-ever investments in climate change mitigation efforts, clean energy production, and climate justice programs, all designed to mitigate harmful effects of climate change in underserved areas.”

“While much of the financial incentives for pursuing clean energy and climate change mitigation are geared toward companies, there are rebates and tax credits available for people buying clean energy sources like heat pumps and rooftop solar panels. Those measures are aimed at making clean energy more available to more people, although solar panels, for example, cost about $11,000 in 2021 for a household setup.

The legislation also offers a $4,000 tax credit for low- and middle-income drivers to buy a used electric vehicle, and up to $7,500 for a new electric vehicle. Additionally, a study by the Rhodium Group estimates that the bill’s provisions will save households an average of $1,025 per year by 2030.”

“Even though all of these measures are in place, there is no question that the environmental actions and funding aren’t enough. The bill provides far less than what’s actually needed: a total system overhaul. It will be years before these programs will be implemented and pay off in the form of lower greenhouse gas emissions, better health outcomes for low-income communities, and improved clean energy infrastructure. However, it’s hard to deny that the IRA provides a glimmer of hope that it’s possible to start addressing some of the most pressing problems — including overwhelming health care costs and climate change.”

Hidden inside the Inflation Reduction Act: $20 billion to help fix our farms

“Farms cover roughly 40 percent of the country, and they’ve replaced countless ecosystems with vast fields of soybeans, corn, and cattle. Agriculture also accounts for about 11 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions.”

“The biggest chunk of money — roughly $8.5 billion — goes toward a program run by the US Department of Agriculture called the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. It pays for projects that restore the ecosystem or reduce emissions on farmland.
Farmers often use the money to buy and plant cover crops. These are plants, such as clover, radishes, or rye, that are rooted in fields that might otherwise be fallow to improve the health of the soil and prevent erosion. The idea is that the ground is always “covered” with something.

Cover crops also have a range of other superpowers, said Rob Myers, director of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at the University of Missouri. During a drought, for example, they can lock moisture in the soil; during a flood, meanwhile, they help water more easily penetrate the ground.”

The US finally has a law to tackle climate change

“The IRA uses tax credits to incentivize consumers to buy electric cars, electric HVAC systems, and other forms of cleaner technology, leading to less emissions from cars and electricity generation, and includes incentives for companies to manufacture that technology in the United States. It also includes money for a host of other climate priorities, like investing in forest and coastal restoration and in resilient agriculture.
These investments, spread out over the next decade, are likely to cut pollution by around 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, according to three separate analyses by economic modelers at Rhodium Group, Energy Innovation, and Princeton University. The legislation helps move the US a little closer to its stated goal of cutting pollution in half within the decade.

The main climate change components of the Inflation Reduction Act look surprisingly similar to the version the House passed last fall, a measure widely celebrated by climate activists — although it’s smaller than the $2 trillion the Biden administration once envisioned. To win Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) support, Democrats added provisions that clear permitting roadblocks for some fossil fuel projects and force the Department of Interior to hold more offshore oil lease sales.”

“There is plenty the act does that is not about climate change. There’s funding for the Affordable Care Act, the IRS, and prescription drug reform. It also sets a corporate minimum tax — one of the ways the law helps tackle inflation. But this is arguably a climate law, as climate initiatives make up the biggest portion of the act’s investments.

The deal retains most of the key programs of the House’s Build Back Better Act, including consumer tax credits for solar panels and electric vehicles, and funding for domestic clean energy manufacturing.”