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How the climate crisis will crash the economy




The chickens are coming home to roost.

Even before the western United States became a regional inferno, even before the Midwest U.S. became a summertime flood zone, even before an annual hurricane season so bad that the government is running out of names to attach to them, even before Colorado saw a 100 degrees Fahrenheit heatwave swan dive into a 12-inch snowstorm within 48 hours.

Even before all that, we’d been watching the real-world risks of climate change looming and growing across the United States and around the world. And the costs, financially and otherwise, are quickly becoming untenable.

Lately, a steady march of searing heat, ruinous floods, horrific wildfires, unbreathable air, devastating hurricanes and other climate-related calamities has been traversing our screens and wreaking havoc to national and local budgets. And we’re only at 1C of increased global temperature rise. Just imagine what 2C or 3C or 4C will look like, and how much it will cost.

We may not have to wait terribly long to find out.

It’s natural to follow the people affected by all this: the local residents, usually in poorer neighborhoods, whose homes and livelihoods are being lost; the farmers and ranchers whose crops and livestock are withering and dying; the stranded travelers and the evacuees seeking shelter amid the chaos. And, of course the heroic responders to all these events, not to mention an entire generation of youth who fear their future is being stolen before their eyes, marching in the streets. So many people and stories.

But lately, I’ve been following the money.

The financial climate, it seems, has been as unforgiving as the atmospheric one. Some of it has been masked by the pandemic and ensuing recession, but for those paying attention, the indicators are hiding in plain sight. And what we’re seeing now are merely the opening acts of what could be a long-running global financial drama. The economic impact on companies is, to date, uncertain and likely incalculable.

The financial climate, it seems, has been as unforgiving as the atmospheric one.

Last week, a subcommittee of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued a report addressing climate risks to the U.S. financial system. That it did so is, in itself, remarkable, given the political climes.

But the report didn’t pussyfoot around the issues: “Climate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy,” it stated, adding:

Climate change is already impacting or is anticipated to impact nearly every facet of the economy, including infrastructure, agriculture, residential and commercial property, as well as human health and labor productivity. Over time, if significant action is not taken to check rising global average temperatures, climate change impacts could impair the productive capacity of the economy and undermine its ability to generate employment, income and opportunity.

Among the “complex risks for the U.S. financial system,” the authors said, are “disorderly price adjustments in various asset classes, with possible spillovers into different parts of the financial system, as well as potential disruption of the proper functioning of financial markets.”

In other words: We’re heading into uncharted economic territory.

Climate change, said the report’s authors, is expected to affect “multiple sectors, geographies and assets in the United States, sometimes simultaneously and within a relatively short timeframe.” Those impacts could “disrupt multiple parts of the financial system simultaneously.” For example: “A sudden revision of market perceptions about climate risk could lead to a disorderly repricing of assets, which could in turn have cascading effects on portfolios and balance sheets and therefore systemic implications for financial stability.”

Sub-systemic shocks

And then there are “sub-systemic” shocks, more localized climate-related impacts that “can undermine the financial health of community banks, agricultural banks or local insurance markets, leaving small businesses, farmers and households without access to critical financial services.” This, said the authors, is particularly damaging in areas that already are underserved by the financial system, which includes low-to-moderate income communities and historically marginalized communities.

As always, those least able to least afford the impacts may get hit the hardest.

This was hardly the first expression of concern about the potentially devastating economic impacts of climate change on companies, markets, nations and the global economy. For example:

  • Two years ago, the Fourth National Climate Assessment noted that continued warming “is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century, especially in the absence of increased adaptation efforts.” It placed the price tag at up to 10.5 percent of GDP by 2100.
  • Last month, scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said that while previous research suggested that a 1C hotter year reduces economic output by about 1 percent, “the new analysis points to output losses of up to three times that much in warm regions.”
  • Another report last month, by the Environmental Defense Fund, detailed how the financial impacts of fires, tropical storms, floods, droughts and crop freezes have quadrupled since 1980. “Researchers are only now beginning to anticipate the indirect impacts in the form of lower asset values, weakened future economic growth and uncertainty-induced instability in financial markets,” it said.

And if you really want a sleepless night or two, read this story about “The Biblical Flood That Will Drown California,” published recently in Mother Jones magazine. Even if you don’t have a home, business or operations in the Golden State, your suppliers and customers likely do, not to mention the provenance of the food on your dinner plate.

Down to business

The CTFC report did not overlook the role of companies in all this. It noted that “disclosure by corporations of information on material, climate-related financial risks is an essential building block to ensure that climate risks are measured and managed effectively,” enabling enables financial regulators and market participants to better understand climate change’s impacts on financial markets and institutions.

However, it warned, “The existing disclosure regime has not resulted in disclosures of a scope, breadth and quality to be sufficiently useful to market participants and regulators.”

An analysis by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure found that large companies are increasingly disclosing some climate-related information, but significant variations remain in the information disclosed by each company, making it difficult for investors and others to fully understand exposure and manage climate risks.

The macroeconomic forecasts, however gloomy, likely seem academic inside boardrooms. And while that may be myopic — after all, the nature of the economy could begin to shift dramatically before the current decade is out, roiling customers and markets — it likely has little to do with profits and productivity over the short time frames within which most companies operate. Nonetheless, companies with a slightly longer view already are considering the viability of their products and services in a warming world.

Consider the recommendations of the aforementioned CFTC report, of which there are 20. Among them:

  • “The United States should establish a price on carbon.”
  • “All relevant federal financial regulatory agencies should incorporate climate-related risks into their mandates and develop a strategy for integrating these risks in their work.”
  • “Regulators should require listed companies to disclose Scope 1 and 2 emissions. As reliable transition risk metrics and consistent methodologies for Scope 3 emissions are developed, financial regulators should require their disclosure, to the extent they are material.”
  • The Financial Stability Oversight Council “should incorporate climate-related financial risks into its existing oversight function, including its annual reports and other reporting to Congress.”
  • “Financial supervisors should require bank and nonbank financial firms to address climate-related financial risks through their existing risk management frameworks in a way that is appropriately governed by corporate management.”

None of these things is likely to happen until there’s a new legislature and presidential administration in Washington, D.C., but history has shown that many of these can become de facto regulations if enough private-sector and nongovernmental players can adapt and pressure (or incentivize) companies to adopt and hew to the appropriate frameworks.

Finally, there is collaboration among the leading nongovernmental organizations focusing on sustainability reporting and accountability.

And there’s some news on that front: Last week, five NGOs whose frameworks, standards and platforms guide the majority of sustainability and integrated reporting, announced “a shared vision of what is needed for progress towards comprehensive corporate reporting — and the intent to work together to achieve it.”

CDP, the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, the Global Reporting Initiative, the International Integrated Reporting Council and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board have co-published a shared vision of the elements necessary for more comprehensive corporate reporting, and a joint statement of intent to drive towards this goal. They say they will work collaboratively with one another and with the International Organization of Securities Commissions, the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation, the European Commission and the World Economic Forum’s International Business Council.

Lots of names and acronyms in the above paragraph, but you get the idea: Finally, there is collaboration among the leading nongovernmental organizations focusing on sustainability reporting and accountability. To the extent they manage to harmonize their respective standards and frameworks, and should a future U.S. administration adopt those standards the way previous ones did the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, we could see a rapid scale-up of corporate reporting on these matters.

Increased reporting won’t by itself mitigate the anticipated macroeconomic challenges, but to the extent it puts climate risks on an equal footing with other corporate risks — along with a meaningful price on carbon that will help companies attach dollar signs to those risks — it will help advance a decarbonized economy.

Slowly — much too slowly — but amid an unstable climate and economy we’ll take whatever progress we can get.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter, subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter, GreenBuzz, and listen to GreenBiz 350, my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy.

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Congress’s Chance to Protect Our Coasts




Courtesy of NRDC.
By Valerie Cleland, Lauren Kubiak

Congress holds hearings this week on offshore drilling in both the House and the Senate. Offshore oil and gas leasing poses a threat to our coastal economies and the health of our ocean. Citizens, local communities, and elected officials from both parties recognize this danger and have been vocal in their opposition to new leasing off their coasts. The Biden Administration placed a one-year moratorium on new oil and gas lease sales because it recognizes that continuing to sell off our public lands and waters for fossil fuel development is incompatible with our goal of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.

The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers, gushed millions of barrels of toxic crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, threw tens of thousands of fishermen, oystermen, shrimpers, and others out of work, led to widespread health problems, and killed large numbers of birds, marine mammals, and other animals. Federal safety measures put in place in the wake of the disaster were rolled back in the previous administration and a disaster of this scale could easily happen again if we continue drilling offshore.

Image: this oil-stained sand in Naples, FL, comes from the Deep Water Horizon disaster that occurred 11 years ago. Photo courtesy of Frank Semmens, taken around 2 days before Earth Day 2021.

Here’s what we can expect:

In the House:

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing called Protecting Coastal Communities and Ocean Resources from Offshore Drilling in the subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, chaired by Rep. Lowenthal of California. The House has traditionally led on offshore drilling and continues to do so with discussion of the following six bills:

  • Rep. McEachin’s Offshore Accountability Act H.R. 570 requires offshore drilling operators to report failures of critical safety systems directly to the Secretary of the Interior among other things;
  • Rep. Brownley’s Offshore Pipeline Safety Act H.R. 2643 addresses the lack of proper oversight of active and decommissioned offshore oil and gas pipelines to ensure the decommissioned pipelines are cleaned up properly;
  • Rep. Castor’s Florida Coastal Protection Act H.R. 2836  would ban oil and gas leasing off the Florida coast and in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico;
  • Rep Pallone’s COAST Anti-Drilling Act H.R. 3116 would ban oil and gas leasing and pre-leasing in the Atlantic;
  • Rep. Levin’s American Coasts and Oceans Protection Act H.R. 3053 would ban oil and gas leasing and pre-leasing off of Southern California; and
  • Rep. Huffman’s North Pacific Ocean Protection Act H.R. 3048 would ban oil and gas leasing and pre-leasing off of Central California, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.

We expect to hear from scientists, Gulf of Mexico communities, local municipalities, along with surfing and other business stakeholders about the importance of protecting our coasts for health, climate, social, and economic reasons. This diverse panel has the opportunity to speak to the myriad of reasons so many communities are against new offshore drilling.

Now is the time to act on climate, listen to coastal communities, and protect our coasts. Congress is taking action with these bills, but we can’t stop here. We have to protect the Arctic from drilling and begin an offshore oil and gas production ramp down and just transition in the Gulf toward a cleaner energy future. We’re excited to work with Congress and the Biden Administration to act boldly and work toward eliminating all new leasing.

We strongly support this slate of legislation on offshore drilling as an important first step in protecting our coasts. We also want to acknowledge that these representatives’ very ability to work on legislation like this is an essential feature of our democracy. And yet certain cosponsors participated in an unprecedented attack on our democratic process. Until those members take responsibility for that anti-democratic vote, we believe their legislative work will always come with an asterisk.

In the Senate:

The Senate will take up offshore energy in its own hearing in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to examine offshore energy development, including testimony from Director Amanda Lefton of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the agency charged with administering the offshore leasing program. We anticipate learning more about her agency’s role in fixing our federal leasing program in accordance with the Biden Administration’s recent moves to address the climate crisis, ensure equitable access to our public resources, and protect local communities.

The House has typically played a larger role in the fight against offshore drilling in past years. We hope that this congress, the Senate recognizes its new opportunity to step up and meet the moment by addressing the issues ahead of us: the climate crisis and the risks offshore drilling pose to communities. With overwhelming bipartisan support for protecting our coasts from offshore drilling, now is the time to end new offshore leasing.

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Line 5 Pipeline Continues Operation, Violating Michigan Order




Enbridge continued operating its Line 5 oil pipeline through the environmentally ultra-sensitive Straits of Mackinac, defying an order by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to shut down the pipeline. The Canadian pipeline company’s defiance of the order is a dramatic development in a long-running showdown between it and Michigan. Enbridge, which is also seeking to build the controversial Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, said it would halt operations if a court told it to do so. Whitmer’s office said the continued operation of the pipeline constitutes “intentional trespass” and that the state of Michigan will seize all profits Enbridge makes from operating the pipeline after the May 12 deadline.

Earlier this week, Bay Mills Indian Community tribal council voted to banish Enbridge’s Line 5 pipelines from the reservation, citing the Treaty of 1836, which they say guarantees them the permanent right to hunt and fish in the territory.

The Line 5 pipeline (actually two pipelines, both 20 inches in diameter and nearly 20 years beyond their intended 50-year lifespan) moves about 23 million gallons of crude oil per day from western Canada to refineries in the U.S. and Ontario and lays beneath a major shipping lane where it is vulnerable to anchor strikes that could devastate the entire Great Lakes system. In addition to the environmental risks posed by the Line 5 pipeline, Whitmer’s office said the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline “shows the danger of relying on a single energy supply” and emphasized expanding the state’s renewable energy resources.

Sources: Detroit Free Press, Earther, AP, Michigan Live, Detroit News, The Guardian, WXYZ, OilPrice, UP Matters, 9and10 News; Political and international implications: New York Times $, E&E $; Bay Mills banishment: Indian Country Today; Canadian press: The Globe and Mail, CBC, CTV News

Originally published by Nexus Media.

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Autonomous Electric Tractors From ZTractor Launching In 2021




Largely due to the leadership, presence, and success of Tesla, electric vehicles have achieved a much more prominent position in the automotive industry than they have ever enjoyed. They have also been featured in far more media than they were just ten years ago. This year, quite a few non-Tesla electric vehicles are coming on the scene as well.

There are also some intriguing possibilities for electric vehicles outside of personal transportation, such as electric tractors for the agricultural industry. Electric tractors present some tantalizing opportunities — mostly by not utilizing fossil fuels and loud diesel engines that generate a great deal of noxious air pollution.

Electric tractors are in the first phase of commercial development: one might say the most exciting stage because of all the technological and environmental possibilities. Bakur Kvezereli, Ztractor‘s founder, agreed to answer some questions about their new models for CleanTechnica.

Who is the target audience for an all-electric autonomous tractor?

Globally, our primary users are farmers who are growing vegetables, pulses, berries, and grapes. In the US we suspect to find our early-adopters in California, Oregon, Washington, and Missouri, due largely to their commitment to sustainable farming and agriculture workforce crisis. Additionally, we have very loyal prospect buyers in Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany who are waiting for their own Ztractor for several months.

Local and regional government organizations, especially air quality and agriculture boards, are also good targets for us because members see the value in automating and decarbonizing agriculture to benefit their communities. Additionally, we are looking at European dealers as a target for downstream sales.

Worldwide, we are working with third parties who are investing in emission reduction in agriculture including Central Coast Community Energy, who provides grants to customers and are dedicated to electrifying their tractors, and Mitacs, a Canadian organization dedicated to solving business problems with innovation.

Are there multiple models and what are the prices or price range?

Ztractor has three unique models in the manufacturing pipeline to service a variety of farms. 

The Bearcub 24 tractor is the smallest and most compact of Ztractor’s offerings, and the model is geared toward smaller organic farms. It can work with at least 130 crops, the most popular being vegetables, berries, and grapes. The Bearcub works with 75 implements like the disc harrow, vegetable seeder, mulch layer, and precision sprayer, to name a few. Additionally, the tractor comes equipped with an adjustable chassis system and a 3-point hitch, travels up to 10 mph, and has a PTO that supports all category-1 implements. This model excels in working in vineyards and orchards, because of the ability it has to spray the grapes unmanned, limiting unnecessary chemical exposure. 

Image credit: Stefan Marji

The Mars 45 tractor is a great fit for all size farms, and can be used nationwide on at least 250 crops, such as beans, root vegetables, and potatoes. It is more heavy-duty than the Bearcub model and can work with 150 various tractor implements like a rotary tiller, moldboard plow, and chisel.

The SuperPilot 125 is our largest and most heavy-duty tractor and is made specifically for large acre farms. The tractor works with 50 implements, including a cultivator, disc bedder, and 12-row planter, to name a few. The tractor has the ability to work 80 crops, including wheat, corn, soy, and rice.

The BearCub model will sell averaging at $42,000 (price subject to change)  including data processing, computer vision features, any other software products or narrow niches for different tasks. However, Ztractor is currently conducting ongoing research to determine the most competitive market price for the farming communities and there is not a set cost in place yet for any of the models.

Would an owner/operator run an electric autonomous tractor remotely on a laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone?

Farmers can use either a tablet or computer to set field boundaries and operate the all-electric tractor without physically driving, but operators must stay within five miles or less of the site. Farmers can set field boundaries, directions, and implement instructions by utilizing Ztractor’s maps network, and all tractors have Level 2 autonomy capabilities. The advanced safety features with 67 sensors, six cameras, and GPS, the 100% electric Bearcub-24 model collects real-time ag data while operating in the field. Its IoT framework and machine learning algorithm interprets the data, which leads to higher efficiency and increased yield.

How long can one of the company’s electric tractors operate on a full charge and how long does it take to recharge?

Early model Ztractors charged in about four hours. However, we are in the process of upgrading our battery to shorten charging time by half. Because the batteries differ in size in each tractor model, the operation period differs as well. Our smallest tractor, the Bearcub, typically uses a 24 kWh battery and typically can offer about 8 hours of usage on one charge. Our medium-sized model, the Mars, can typically farm for 10 hours, depending on the soil type and implement. Lastly, the SuperPilot offers 12 hours on one charge. We expect to adjust battery sizes as technology improves and prices come down.

Does each tractor have onboard sensors and software to make sure it does not run into or over anything?

Yes, each tractor has optics and sensors to prevent collisions. With 67 sensors, six cameras, and GPS, at an average operation speed of 3 mph it is extremely safe to operate Ztractors in off-road farm areas. 

Do any of the electric tractors have AI so they learn as they work in the fields?

The tractors are equipped with seven core features that make up a machine learning functionality that allows the tractor to learn from the data it retrieves. Unlike other autonomous technologies, the tractor learns from normal operations instead of specifically driving tractors for data collection before or after filed operations. We program it to learn the space and prevent itself from running into anything, making it smarter. There is also a human filter to this learning as well. Farmers set up zones and choose the trajectories in which they want their tractor to work using satellites and aerial photos of fields.

All models collect real-time agricultural data feeds into our application software. This application uses an IoT framework and a machine-learning algorithm to help farmers gain better insight into their crops and save time and money. 

Eventually, could they be fully automated so they could operate without constant human supervision and guidance?

Ztractors run at level 2 autonomy or partial driving automation. Because of this, the operator must be present within five miles of the tractor. Though we cannot make any promises on this aspect of technology today, we are optimistic that as we deploy more tractors and build upon the machine learning and data collection components, the level of autonomy will increase.

What is the use life of an electric tractor and its batteries?

We can confidently say the Ztractors could last 15+ years with the right care and maintenance.This is especially true if owners replace the batteries after their 8-year lifespan.

Are repair costs lower for an electric tractor because their technology is simpler than a gas or diesel-powered tractor?

Not only are maintenance and repair costs lower but farmers also save considerably on insurance, fuel, and labor costs. 

Are any of the company’s tractors available for purchase now or are any being used in agriculture at the moment?

Ztractors will be distributed worldwide this year and will be available in both the US and Europe. The company is also working to generate buzz in farming communities in the US. The recent billboard campaign near the University of Missouri has generated extensive consumer and farmers community interest. 

Ztractor is also doing extensive field research and testing in local farms in California, where the company is headquartered. Some testing sites include orchard nurseries and vegetable farms. Ztractors have performed well in these pilot programs. 

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The Sky’s Limit — CO2 Pollution Shrinking The Stratosphere




Humans’ combustion of fossil fuels is shrinking the stratosphere — the layer of air above the troposphere, in which we all live — illustrating the expansive nature of human impact on the planet and potentially affecting satellites and radio communications, new research shows.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, found increased carbon dioxide in the troposphere (0–20 km above sea level) has squeezed the stratosphere (20–60 km above sea level) by 400 meters, essentially 1%, since at least the 1980s when satellite data was first gathered.

Without major emissions cuts, the researchers found, the stratosphere could be reduced by an additional kilometer in just 60 years. “It is shocking,” Juan Añel, a member of the research team from the University of Vigo, Ourense in Spain, told the Guardian. “This proves we are messing with the atmosphere up to 60 kilometres.”

Source: The Guardian

Originally published by Nexus Media

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