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Will glow-in-the-dark materials someday light our cities?

Will glow-in-the-dark materials someday light our cities?

Photoluminescent substances could be applied to sidewalks, streets, and buildings.

Around the year 1603, Italian shoemaker and amateur alchemist Vincenzo Casciarolo tried smelting some especially dense stone he had found on the slopes of Mount Paderno, near Bologna. No gold, silver, or other precious metals resulted as he had hoped. But after the stone had cooled, Casciarolo discovered something interesting: if he exposed the material to sunlight and then took it into a dark room, the stone would glow.

That “Bologna Stone” was the first artificially prepared, persistently luminescent substance. Many more were to follow—and today, persistent luminescent materials are used for decorations, emergency lighting, pavement markings, and medical imaging.

Someday they might give us glowing cities that stay cooler and use less electricity.

new generation of luminescent materials has the potential to cool cities by re-emitting light that would otherwise be converted into heat. They might also cut down on energy use, since luminescent sidewalks, glowing road markers, or even glowing buildings could replace some street lighting. Already, some cities in Europe have installed glowing bicycle lanes, and some researchers have studied using glowing paint for road markings.

The Van Gogh bike path in Eindhoven is inspired by the artist’s painting The Starry Night. Similar glow-in-the-dark paths and roads could eventually save energy for lighting while cooling cities.

“It’s better for the environment,” says Paul Berdahl, an environmental physicist now retired from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. “If the technology can be improved, we can use less energy… It’s a worthwhile thing to do.”

The Bologna Stone, a form of the mineral baryte, fascinated natural philosophers at the time,] but was never especially useful. But in the 1990s, chemists developed new types of persistent photoluminescent materials, such as strontium aluminate, that maintained a strong glow for hours after exposure to light. Most of these new materials give off a blue or green glow, although a few glow yellow, red, or orange.

Such photoluminescent materials work by “trapping” the energy of a photon and then re-emitting that energy as lower-wavelength light. Sometimes the light is emitted immediately, such as in a fluorescent light bulb. Other materials, which are called persistently luminescent, store the energy longer and emit it more slowly.

More than 250 kinds of luminescent materials have been identified. Above they are grouped by a) the trace materials that act as the luminescent center; b) the host compound; and c) the color the material emits.
More than 250 kinds of luminescent materials have been identified. Above they are grouped by a) the trace materials that act as the luminescent center; b) the host compound; and c) the color the material emits.

These materials that glow strongly for hours open possibilities, such as “glow-in-the-dark” cities lighted by luminescent pavements and buildings. Since 19 percent of all global energy use is for lighting, and in Europe about 1.6 percent specifically for street lighting, the potential energy savings are large, write building engineer Anna Laura Pisello and colleagues in the 2021 Annual Review of Materials Research.

One problem with the approach is that most luminescent material won’t glow all the way through the night. Better materials could help solve that problem, says Pisello, of the University of Perugia, who studies energy-efficient building materials. In the meantime, existing materials could be combined with electric lighting that would come on long enough to recharge the road markings before switching off again.

Luminescent paint could also provide outdoor area lighting. Pisello’s lab developed such a glow-in-the-dark paint and, in a 2019 report, simulated what would happen if they painted a public path near a railway station with it. By glowing throughout the night, the paint would reduce energy needed for lighting by about 27 percent in the immediate area, the scientists found.

If this conjures worries of entire cities glaring throughout the night and adding to harmful light pollution, Pisello says that is unlikely. Luminescent materials would likely only replace existing lighting, not add to it. The color of the glowing materials could be chosen to avoid the blue frequencies that have been found especially harmful to wildlife.

Luminescent materials could also help fight what is known as the urban heat island effect. Rooftops and pavements absorb energy from the Sun and emit it as heat, driving city summer temperatures an average of 7.7 degrees Celsius higher than in the surrounding countryside. The high temperatures are a potential health hazard and also result in more energy being used to cool buildings.

One increasingly common solution is to use “cool” materials that reflect light, such as white paint and light-colored asphalt. It turns out that adding luminescent materials can help even more.

Anna Laura Pisello and colleagues at the University of Perugia are trying to create practical pavements that glow in the dark. They are experimenting with different luminescent substances and testing how to add them to pavement material to get the best performance and durability. Above are samples of luminescent materials and a paving stone in which they have been embedded.
Anna Laura Pisello and colleagues at the University of Perugia are trying to create practical pavements that glow in the dark. They are experimenting with different luminescent substances and testing how to add them to pavement material to get the best performance and durability. Above are samples of luminescent materials and a paving stone in which they have been embedded.Anna Laura Pisello

At the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Berdahl and his team experimented with synthetic ruby, a material that is luminescent while in sunlight, to make colored coatings that stayed cool. In an early experiment, they reported that a ruby-pigmented surface stayed cooler in the Sun than a similarly colored material without the special pigment.

Pisello’s lab went one step further and added several persistently luminescent materials—ones that stored light energy and gave it off slowly—to concrete. Compared with non-luminescent surfaces of the same color, the best of them lowered the surrounding air temperature on sunny days by up to 3.3° C.

“You can make [a surface] as reflective as possible. But can you go beyond that? The idea is that maybe you can go a little bit beyond that using persistent luminescence as another way to transfer energy out… It is interesting,” says Patrick E. Phelan, a mechanical engineer at Arizona State University who co-authored a paper on the urban heat island effect in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources.

There are 250 known luminescent materials, many of them not yet studied for practical applications. Pisello says there is a potential for glowing paints and pavements that last longer and shine brighter in more colors.

“In the short term, the best and easiest solution is to improve what we already have,” she says. That includes tweaking materials so that they give out light longer, more strongly, or in different colors, and making sure they continue to work in real-world environments.

In the longer term, she adds, new classes of engineered materials could work even better. For instance, one could turn to “quantum dots”—tiny semiconducting particles that can be made to glow and that are already used in biological imaging—or perovskites, materials used in solar cells that are also being studied for their luminescent properties.


Kurt Kleiner at Knowable Magazine

Portugal’s power production goes coal-free long before deadline

Portugal’s power production goes coal-free long before deadline

Portugal shut down its last remaining coal plant over the weekend, ending the use of the polluting material for electricity generation and becoming the fourth country in the European Union to do so.

Environmental group Zero said in a statement the Pego plant in central Portugal had been the country’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, adding that “freeing ourselves from the biggest source of greenhouse gases was a momentous day for Portugal”.

The move comes nine years before Portugal’s targeted end of the use of the fossil fuel by 2030.

Belgium, Austria and Sweden are the other three European countries to have already stopped using coal for power generation.

Although a hefty 60%-70% of its electricity comes from renewable sources, Portugal still relies heavily on imported fossil fuels to meet overall energy needs.

There are concerns the Pego plant, run by the privately held group Tejo Energia, might now be converted to burn wood pellets.

“The challenge now is to ensure utilities do not make the mistake of replacing coal with fossil gas, or unsustainable biomass,” said Kathrin Gutmann, campaign director at Europe Beyond Coal.

“Ditching coal only to switch to the next worst fuel is clearly not an answer,” said Zero’s president Francisco Ferreira. “Instead, the focus should be on rapidly upscaling our renewable energy capacity in wind and solar.”

A draft document seen by Reuters in June showed the EU was considering tightening rules on whether wood-burning energy could be classified as renewable. read more


Catarina Demony via Reuters

Satellites discover huge amounts of undeclared methane emissions

Satellites discover huge amounts of undeclared methane emissions

“These are large emissions, and we see quite a lot of them on the global scale, much more than we had expected.”

Huge amounts of uncounted emissions of highly warming greenhouse gas methane are being released by “super-emitters” all over the world, satellite observations reveal. 

Scientists have only recently worked out how to detect methane emissions from space, but what they have seen since has taken them by surprise. The greenhouse gas, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is leaking from gas pipelines, oil wells, fossil fuel processing plants and landfills all over the world. It is frequently released through negligence and improper operations; the emissions, in many cases, are not accounted for in mandatory greenhouse gas inventories. 

“We see quite a lot of those super-emitters,” Ilse Aben, senior scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) told Space.com. These are large emissions, and we see a lot of them on the global scale — much more than we had expected.”

Aben heads a team of experts working with data from an instrument called Tropomi (for TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument) that flies on the European Sentinel 5P satellite, which is part of the Earth-observing constellation Copernicus.

Sentinel 5P launched in October 2017, and Tropomi started providing data a few months later. In the years since, scientists have slowly learned how to reliably interpret its measurements. 

“We measure methane concentrations in the total column from the top of the atmosphere down to the surface,” Aben said. “What we are looking for is the little bit of extra signal that suggests something is being released on the ground.”

Tropomi pinpoints emission sources with a rather crude resolution of 3.4 by 4.3 miles (5.5 by 7 kilometers), an area about the size of a smaller city. But the Tropomi team collaborates with Canadian company GHGSat, which currently flies three methane-detecting satellites, the first of which launched in 2016. GHGSat provides a much more detailed resolution of 66 feet (20 meters), which enables the company to do finer detective work. 

“With Tropomi, we look for these hotspots on a global scale,” said Aben. “We measure methane across the globe every day, and then we provide these locations to GHGSat and they can zoom in and pinpoint the exact facility that is leaking those emissions.”

Plumes of potent greenhouse gas methane leaking from a gas pipeline in Kazakhstan can be seen in this image captured by the European Sentinel 2 and Sentinel 5P satellites. (Image credit: Copernicus)

The oil industry’s dirty secrets

The collaboration has proved fruitful. In data gathered over the first two years of Tropomi’s operations, scientists discovered major leaks of methane in the oil and gas fields of Turkmenistan, most of which were completely preventable.

Oil and gas fields must build flare installations that prevent methane from leaking into the atmosphere, and Aben said that these leaks suggest those installations are not being used properly.

“These emissions actually relate to flare installations that are not being flared in the oil and gas industry,” said Aben. “Flaring is meant to get rid of the methane gases by burning them. It would obviously be better to capture the gas, but they are not even burning it. It’s just methane pouring out, and that is not normal operations.”

The Tropomi measurements revealed thousands of kilograms (in some cases even tens of thousands of kilograms) of methane leaking from 29 plants every hour. 

And the problem is not limited to Turkmenistan. A separate analysis of Sentinel 5P data released by French analytics company Kayrros in March this year found frequent methane leaks on three major pipelines supplying natural gas from Russia to Europe. Most of these events happened during maintenance work. Surprisingly, Kayrros detected 40% more leaks in the pandemic year 2020 compared to 2019, in spite of the overall reduction in gas imports from Russia to Europe, which was reported by the International Energy Agency. 

The U.S. is not blameless either. American scientists, using the Tropomi data, detected huge amounts of methane leaking from abandoned uncapped gas wells in Pennsylvania, and quantified massive leaks from several gas well blowouts that spouted methane for weeks. 

Yasjka Meijer, the mission scientist of Europe’s planned greenhouse gas monitoring mission CO2M, told Space.com that combined, all these leaks might account for much more than the emissions that natural gas companies report. These hidden emissions could, in fact, undermine the effectiveness of the shift away from the burning of coal toward the burning of gas for electricity generation, Meijer said. Many countries rely on gas as a temporary measure to decrease greenhouse gas emissions while developing fully renewable energy resources.

“A lot of oil and gas producers say that their average leakage is about 3 to 4%,” said Meijer. “It turns out to be much more. But burning gas in a power plant outperforms coal in terms of the carbon footprint only if the leakage is not more than about 8%. With the numbers now, we actually have doubts, because it might be perhaps 10 or 15% and then the global climate impact would be much larger.”

But it’s not just the fossil fuel industry that has its dirty emission secrets. Aben said the team was almost shocked at the extent of methane plumes leaking from landfills.

“Before we saw the first one, I had never thought we would be able to see landfill emissions from space,” said Aben. “That certainly gave us a ‘wow’ moment when we saw it for the first time. And now there’s a whole bunch of them that we have detected.”

The  Copernicus Carbon Dioxide Monitoring mission (CO2M) will be able to spot individual sources of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide. (Image credit: ESA)

Early stages 

Thorsten Fehr, head of the atmospheric section at the European Space Agency (ESA), which is developing the CO2M mission and operating Sentinel 5P for Copernicus, cautions that monitoring greenhouse gas emissions from space is still in its early stages. But the space industry is ready to take the technology another step further and effectively start policing emitters from space. Such a capability will be crucial to keep the world on track to meeting its emission reductions targets in order to keep global warming close to the 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degree Celsius) limit set out in the Paris Agreement negotiated at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris.

Currently, nations self-report their emissions based on the amount of fossil fuels the various sectors of their economy burn. However, countries often release these numbers on a five-year delay, and experts question their accuracy.

“The Paris Agreement asks for a transparency framework,” Fehr told Space.com. “To basically show what people are doing, and that’s exactly what we are trying to do now.”

There are currently a plethora of space missions being readied to tackle methane emissions. In addition to GHGSat, Sentinel 5P and CO2M, a U.S. company called MethaneSAT, a spin-off from the nonprofit organization Environmental Defense Fund, plans to launch a new methane-monitoring spacecraft in October 2022. Earth-observation company Planet, together with a range of research institutions including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, are developing an entirely new constellation of methane-monitoring satellites as part of a public-private partnership. 

This sneaky greenhouse gas is a focus of an international pledge that was introduced at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow on Nov. 3. Over 100 nations have signed the document, promising to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. According to a European Commission’s statement, this reduction alone could reduce the atmospheric warming projected by 2050 by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.28 degrees Celsius).

Scientists call methane emissions a “low-hanging fruit” and hope that the reductions should be relatively easy to achieve. 

“It’s in nobody’s interest to release this methane,” said Meijer. “It should be easier to regulate than carbon dioxide, because for carbon dioxide, you would have to tell people to stop burning the fossil fuels.”

The carbon dioxide challenge

To similarly monitor carbon dioxide emissions is much more complicated. But Fehr says ESA is ready for the challenge, and with the CO2M mission plans to provide the first of its kind tool capable of distinguishing individual anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide from space.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, launched in 2014, currently provides data on the regional distribution of carbon dioxide sources and natural sinks, reflecting global trends and seasonal changes. Its sister instrument, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, is attached to the International Space Station, taking measurements since 2019. But the resolution of these two instruments is nowhere near detailed enough to spot individual emitters.

“There’s a big difference between monitoring carbon dioxide and methane,” said Meijer. “The [natural] amount of methane in the air is much lower than the amount of carbon dioxide. Plus what is being emitted from sources is much higher than the background so it’s much easier to distinguish it from space. For carbon dioxide it’s the opposite. There’s already a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere naturally and the addition of individual sources is relatively small, you’re talking about a quarter of a percent.”

There are currently nearly 420 parts of carbon dioxide in a million parts of air, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the 1700s, before humankind started burning fossil fuels, the value was about 280, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The CO2M mission, expected to launch by 2026, hopes to measure the concentrations with an accuracy of 0.25%, which, according to Meijer, is still a technical challenge. 

Making the world to cooperate 

Aben hopes satellite observations will help keep the world on track to tackle climate change. The scale of the methane leaks surprised scientists, she said, but now that the previously hidden gas pipeline leaks and polluting landfills can finally be seen, fixing the problem is, at least, possible.

“I think that these satellite observations will certainly stir up and change the way we will be reporting emissions,” she said. “We are seeing things that I think are not visible at the moment in some of the reporting. Not all of the reporting is wrong, but this certainly adds a category of emissions that we might have missed.”

Meijer, however, cautions that it might still take a considerable effort to get the whole world on board. “This is the first time that you can actually put a finger on it,” he said. “But the problem is, how are you going to communicate with a country somewhere in Africa that there is too much methane leaking out of their facilities.”

At the recently concluded COP26 conference, nations strengthened their commitments to the goals of the Paris Agreement, agreeing to speed up the elimination of coal from the energy mix and increase their emission reduction efforts across the board. 

With the new pledges, the world might be on track to keeping the global temperature rise within 3.2 degrees F (1.8 degrees C). That value is still above the preferred limit of 27 degrees F (1.5 degrees C), but considerably better than the 4.8 degrees F (2.7 degrees C) trajectory predicted under previous plans. The battle is by far not yet won.


Tereza Pultarova at Space.com

Protesters break into Australian coal loading facility despite Police Commissioner’s jail warning

Protesters break into Australian coal loading facility despite Police Commissioner’s jail warning

NSW Police Commissioner has warned of 25 year jail sentences under the Crimes Act

Protesters have disrupted coal train movements for a ninth consecutive day

Police have arrested 19 people in the past ten days

Police have warned that coal activists disrupting train movements in the NSW Hunter Valley could face up to 25 years behind bars, with 19 arrests made since protests began early this month.

The group Blockade Australia returned to the Port of Newcastle this morning, halting operations for a ninth consecutive day, taking a stance against Australia’s climate policy.

NSW Police say two Victorian women, aged 24 and 28, have been charged with “intent to kill or injure person on railway, cause obstruction to railway locomotive or rolling stock and endanger safety of person on railway”, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years’ jail.

Police say a 40-year-old Newcastle man is likely to be charged with the same offence today.

Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce estimated the ongoing protests had disrupted $60 million in coal exports.

A Blockade Australia protester took to social media from inside the coal loading facility this morning where he said he pushed an emergency stop button before crossing his fingers.

“My plan is to go and hide somewhere in those big aisles, there’s four of those aisles and they run for two kilometres each so I’m just going to go and get lost down there,” he said.

“Hopefully what will happen is that the hundreds and hundreds of people that work here will come out and do a little search and … when they find me, they’ll call the policeman and the policeman will take me into custody and the law will take over from there.”

Adrian filmed himself from inside the facility, telling social media he will likely be taken into custody and “the law will take over from there”.(Supplied: Blockade Australia)

Nineteen people have been arrested from the same group since November 5.

Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said protests would not be tolerated.

“The ongoing protests are placing public safety at risk and endangering the lives of all those who use the rail network.”

“I have sought further legal advice today and am warning anyone who intends on behaving in the manner we’ve seen over the past week, that they could be charged with offences under Section 211 of the Crimes Act 1900, which carry a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.

“This is in addition to the various trespass and rail disruption offences numerous protesters have been charged with since Friday, November 5.”

PolAir and the Public Order and Riot Squad have joined local police in surveillance today under the new Strike Force Tuohy.

“[They] stand ready to target anyone engaging in this dangerous and criminal behaviour, and will not hesitate to take the appropriate action,” Mr Fuller said.

‘Draconian overreach of police’ 

Blockade Australia said the threat was an “overreach of police power” and committed to continue disrupting coal exports.

“Blockade Australia uses nonviolent blockading tactics to disrupt a system that is causing a climate and ecological crisis that threatens all life on Earth.

“Threatening protesters with 25-year prison sentences for blocking coal trains without causing physical harm to anyone is a draconian overreach of police power.

“Blockade Australia will continue to take sustained and disruptive action in response to Australia’s leading role in the climate and ecological crisis for as long as necessary.”


Amelia Bernasconi at ABC News

Cop26 reveals limits of Biden’s promise to ‘lead by example’ on climate crisis

Cop26 reveals limits of Biden’s promise to ‘lead by example’ on climate crisis

US declined to join promise to end coal mining and to compensate poor countries for climate damage. Critics ask, is that leadership?

The crucial UN climate talks in Scotland have produced landmark commitments to phase out coalmining, to call time on the internal combustion engines and to compensate poorer countries for damage caused by the climate crisis.

The United States, which has trumpeted its regained climate leadership at the summit, has not joined any these pledges as the talks draw to a close.

This disconnect has provided the world with a muddled sense of America’s willingness to confront the unfolding climate catastrophe, with the fate of historic legislation to lower planet-heating emissions still uncertain ahead of an expected vote in Congress next week.

Joe Biden arrived in Glasgow vowing the US will “lead by example” on climate change and avoid disastrous global heating beyond 1.5C, dispatching his entire cabinet to the Cop26 talks and making widely praised new promises to cut methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and to end deforestation.

Two dozen Democratic lawmakers wearing congressional lapel pins have swept the conference venue this week, all expressing confidence that the vast $1.75tn spending bill will pass back home.

“This is the most ambitious climate legislation of all time,” Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, told the summit. “America is back and is ready to lead,” added Kathy Castor, chair of the House select committee on the climate crisis. “Once we pass this historic package, finally, it will help keep 1.5C alive.”

We have to actually deliver the action in order to get the respect intentionally. It’s that simple

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

But the US is bedeviled by its recent past and – many delegates of other countries fear – its potential future, following Donald Trump’s embrace of climate science denialism and American isolationism. “We have not recovered our moral authority,” admitted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive New York representative, when asked about the specter of the former president. “I believe we are making steps, but we have to actually deliver the action in order to get the respect internationally. It’s that simple.”

There is also mounting criticism that Biden’s actions have not matched his words and that the US president’s negotiators haven’t pushed hard enough for an ambitious deal in Glasgow to secure the deep emissions cuts needed to avoid disastrous warming that will spur ever-worsening floods, heatwaves and wildfires.

More than 40 countries announced at Cop26 a promise to end the mining of coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels, although the US was conspicuously absent from the list. “It’s very disappointing because the science is quite clear that we have to turn sharply away from coal this decade if we are going to meet our climate goals,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“We need very clear signals that orientate the US towards clean energy,” she added. “The climate crisis is too dire to just wait for coal to fall out. It’s just another signal of the sway the fossil fuel industry still has over US politics.”

Despite its attempts to expand the rollout of electric vehicles, the Biden administration has also declined to set an end date for the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars, unlike the UK, European Union, Canada, India and a slew of other countries at Cop26.

Its delegation in Glasgow is similarly wary of a push to provide “loss and damage” payments to countries vulnerable to climate impacts and has sought to shift criticism towards the inaction of China and Russiaalthough the US and China did unveil an unexpected plan to work together on cutting emissions, despite the enmity between the two countries.

This reticence, critics claim, undermines Biden’s credibility on climate. Others say the dysfunctional nature of Congress, where sweeping climate legislation to expand renewable energy and wind down fossil fuels is effectively in the hands of a senator who derives most of his income from investments in coal, is to blame.

“There is a handful of members of Congress who represent coal-intensive parts of the country who see [climate action] as a threat to their region,” Sean Casten, a Democratic representative, told the Guardian. “It’s kept the president from doing all that he’d like to do.”

Pete Buttigieg, the US transport secretary, told the Guardian that the Biden administration aims to give Americans better public transit options, as well as electric vehicle rebates and infrastructure, but that “each country is on its own path” to ending the age of fossil fuel-powered cars.

“What we are talking about is a race to the ambitious targets the president has set,” Buttigieg said, adding that the goal of half of all car sales being electric by 2030 will be in itself a “massive lift”.

Biden will face further scrutiny almost immediately after some sort of deal is struck in Glasgow, not only over the fate of the Build Back Better bill but also his issuance of permits for oil and gas drilling.

An auction of 80m acres of the Gulf of Mexico seabed, an area larger than the UK, will be offered to fossil fuel companies next week, while a new report has warned that the oil and gas that will be burned in the Permian Basin, a geological formation in the south-west US, by 2050 will release nearly 40bn tons of carbon dioxide, nearly a tenth of the remaining global “carbon budget” to stay under 1.5C.

“If the Biden administration wants to be serious about its promise to demonstrate US climate leadership, it must first clean up its own back yard,” said Steven Feit, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law.

“The Permian Basin is the single largest fracking basin globally, and the continued reckless pursuit of oil extraction from New Mexico to the Gulf coast is the ultimate display of hypocrisy.


Oliver Milman at The Guardian

‘Must-Read’ Analysis Reveals Massive Global Gap Between Declared and Actual Emissions

‘Must-Read’ Analysis Reveals Massive Global Gap Between Declared and Actual Emissions

The new investigation from the Washington Post reveals as much as 13.3 billion tons of under-reported emissions.

A major new investigation from the Washington Post has found “a giant gap” between the greenhouse gas emissions nations are reporting to the United Nations and what their planet-heating emissions actually are.  

Published Sunday, the investigation is being heralded as “a must-read story” based on “amazing” and “incredibly helpful” reporting.

The Post team assessed 196 countries’ emissions data for 2019, plugging in information for the 45 countries that submitted reports to the U.N. that year and making projections for the others.

Comparing that data with independent global emissions measurements, the Post found there was at least 8.4 billion tons and as much as 13.3 billion tons in underreported emissions. Carbon dioxide made up the majority of the gap, with methane following. Nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, sometimes known as f-gases, accounted for smaller portions of the gap.

Pointing to the ongoing COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the reporting notes that “the numbers they are using to help guide the world’s effort to curb greenhouse gases represent a flawed road map” and that the challenge of reigning in emissions “is even larger than world leaders have acknowledged.”

Flaws in the emissions reporting methods have been previously acknowledged, the Post noted, attributing the gap to “questionably drawn rules, incomplete reporting in some countries, and apparently willful mistakes in others—and the fact that in some cases, humanity’s full impacts on the planet are not even required to be reported.”

A key factor in the under-reporting, according to the investigation, are nations’ dodgy figures on CO2 emissions from land use, like doubtful numbers on how much carbon forests are able to absorb, and thus how much countries can subtract from their reported emissions.

As a prime example, the Post used the palm oil industry in Malaysia, a country that most recently submitted its emissions figures in 2016. In a likely exaggeration, the country claimed its forests were sinking over 243 million tons of carbon, “slashing 73 percent of emissions from its bottom line.”

In a Monday tweet sharing the Post‘s investigation, the Washington, D.C. branch of climate group Extinction Rebellion accused politicians of “fudg[ing] the numbers.”

“When will the lying, the deception, the false promises stop?” the group tweeted. “Only systemic change at a scale and speed unprecedented in human history can get us out of this mess.”


Andrea Germanos at Common Dreams

Toxic fracking waste is leaking into California groundwater

Toxic fracking waste is leaking into California groundwater

The research leaves little doubt: California is facing massive groundwater contamination.

Chevron has long dominated oil production in Lost Hills, a massive fossil fuel reserve in Central California that was accidentally discovered by water drillers more than a century ago. The company routinely pumps hundreds of thousands of gallons of water mixed with a special concoction of chemicals into the ground at high pressure to shake up shale deposits and release oil and gas. The process — called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — produces thousands of barrels of oil every day. But it also leaves the company saddled with millions of gallons of wastewater laced with toxic chemicals, salts, and heavy metals. 

Between the late 1950s and 2008, Chevron disposed much of the slurry produced in Lost Hills in eight cavernous impoundments at its Section 29 facility. Euphemistically called “ponds,” the impoundments have a combined surface area of 26 acres and do not have synthetic liners to prevent leaking. That meant that over time, salts and chemicals in the wastewater could leak into the ground and nearby water sources like the California Aqueduct, a network of canals that delivers water to farms in the Central Valley and cities like Los Angeles.

And that’s exactly what happened, according to new research published in the academic journal Environmental Science & Technology this month. Carcinogenic chemicals like benzene and toluene as well as other hydrocarbons have been detected within a half a kilometer of the facility. About 1.7 kilometers northwest of the facility, chloride and salt levels are more than six times and four times greater than background levels, respectively. The research leaves little doubt: The contaminants are migrating toward the aqueduct. 

“Clearly, there’s impact to groundwater resources there,” said Dominic DiGiulio, lead author of the paper and a researcher at the nonprofit Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy. “At the section 29 facility, you have to go 1.8 kilometers away from the facility to find background water quality. That’s pretty far.”

The facility shuttered in 2008, and it no longer accepts wastewater. Chevron has continued to monitor the contaminant plume and submits yearly water quality reports to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, a local groundwater quality regulator. In a 2019 report, the company claimed it would cost more $800,000 to monitor the plume and report to the regulator for the next 30 years. 

Jonathan Harshman, a spokesperson for Chevron, said the company was reviewing the study and that it “has complied and will continue to comply with” the Central Valley Water Board’s requirements for maintaining and monitoring leaks at the Section 29 facility.

The Section 29 facility isn’t an isolated case. Between 1977 and 2017, over 16 billion barrels of oilfield wastewater was disposed in unlined ponds in California. The vast majority of these are located outside of Bakersfield in the state’s Central Valley: According to DiGiulio’s research, there are at least 1,850 wastewater ponds in the San Joaquin Valley’s Tulare Basin. Of those, 85 percent are unlined and about one-fourth are active, like the Section 29 facility. However, despite not being operational, many of them may be leaking into the ground. Wells that monitor groundwater quality are few and far between, so it’s difficult to know the exact scope of the pollution. But DiGiulio warns that the ponds constitute “a potential wide-scale legacy groundwater contamination issue.”

This month’s study is the first to quantify the number of unlined pits in California and analyze their effects on groundwater. The findings bolster 2015 research by California Council on Science & Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which concluded that unlined wastewater pits posed a threat to groundwater sources and called for investigations into whether contaminants have leaked from disposal ponds. Research conducted by the United States Geological Survey for the Central Valley Water Board has also found evidence of oil and gas wastewater contaminating groundwater.

Disposal of oil and gas wastewater is a national problem. Companies use anywhere between 1.5 million and 16 million gallons of water to frack a single well, and they have struggled to find economical and environmentally safe ways to dispose of the toxic fluid. The vast majority of the wastewater — both in California and nationally — is injected underground into porous rock formations, but companies also recycle and reuse the water to grow crops, de-ice roads, and suppress dust. California appears to be the only state that permits operators to store the waste in unlined pits, according to DiGiulio. 

Residents of the town of Hinkley, California, alleged that PG&E knowingly dumped wastewater contaminated with chromium-6, a known carcinogen since 1925, into the region’s groundwater. 2018-04-09

Patrick Pulupa, an executive officer with the Central Valley water board, defended the practice and noted that the wastewater ponds are only allowed in areas where the groundwater has been deemed too salty for irrigation or household use. In cases where the contamination has threatened usable water, he said, the Board has cracked down with cease-and-desist and investigative orders. “Board staff continue to look in detail at whether additional produced water discharges are a threat to usable groundwater and will continue to issue enforcement orders where appropriate,” he added.    

The definition of groundwater that is “too salty” for use varies across California. Federal regulations consider water with less than 10,000 milligrams of dissolved solids per liter of water as protected for potential irrigation, industrial, and household use. As a result, companies are typically not allowed to dispose of wastewater in underground formations if it threatens groundwater that is below the 10,000 mg/L threshold — unless they secure an exemption from the state

For unlined wastewater pits, however, that threshold has been set at 3,000 mg/L. The inconsistency allows oil and gas companies to pollute potential sources of groundwater, according to DiGiulio, and “appears to be the major driver for this continued disposal practice.”

Related post:


Conviction of Steven Donziger, said one critic, “perfectly encapsulates how corporate power has twisted the U.S. justice system to protect corporate interests and punish their enemies.”

“The fundamental problem is that the condition under which California groundwater is to be protected is not sufficiently stringent,” he said, adding that the state water board has the authority to increase the threshold to better protect groundwater near wastewater pits and should do so. 

From Pulupa’s perspective, the 3,000 mg/L threshold is not dissimilar to the standard for disposal into underground formations in practice. Though federal regulations set the limit at 10,000 mg/L, companies are routinely granted exemptions if they can demonstrate that the groundwater is not expected to be used as a source of drinking water. The exemptions apply if the water has a dissolved solids concentration between 3,000 and 10,000 mg/L, and the controversial practice has allowed oil and gas companies to pump wastewater into hundreds of aquifers across the country. As a result, the “protective standards are relatively similar,” and the Central Valley Water Board is “unaware of any effort” to modify the definition of protected groundwater near wastewater pits, he said.


Naveena Sadasivam at Grist

Proposed mine tests UK climate efforts ahead of UN meeting

Proposed mine tests UK climate efforts ahead of UN meeting

In the patchwork of hills, lakes and sea that makes up England’s northwest corner, most people see beauty. Dave Cradduck sees broken dreams.

The coal mine where Cradduck once worked has long closed. The chemical factory that employed thousands is gone. The nuclear power plant is being decommissioned.

For the 74-year-old Cradduck, a plan for a new coal mine that could bring hundreds of jobs is cause for hope.

But environmentalists view it with horror. They say it sends a disastrous message as the United Kingdom welcomes world leaders, advocates, diplomats and scientists to Glasgow, Scotland, for a United Nations climate conference that starts Oct. 31. The two-week COP26 meeting is considered a last chance to nail down carbon-cutting promises that can keep global warming within manageable limits.

“The U.K. sets itself out as a leader, but it’s building a coal mine, which is the most polluting thing that you can do,” said Rebecca Willis, professor of energy and climate governance at Lancaster University. “It sends a signal to the rest of the world that the U.K. isn’t actually serious.”

But Cradduck sees the mine as a sign that “at least someone’s interested in the area.” He says it “will provide jobs for people who have got mining in their blood.”


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Former miner Dave Cradduck who worked at Haig Colliery between 1964 and 1984 poses for a picture at the Haig Colliery Mining Museum close to the site of a proposed new coal mine near the Cumbrian town of Whitehaven in northwest England, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. For the 74-year-old Cradduck, a plan for a new coal mine that could bring hundreds of jobs is cause for hope. But environmentalists view it with horror. They say it sends a disastrous message as the United Kingdom welcomes world leaders, advocates, diplomats and scientists to Glasgow, Scotland, for a United Nations climate conference that starts Oct. 31. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

The proposed new mine symbolizes the dilemma facing the British government: It aims to generate all of the U.K.’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2035, and to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also pledged to boost prosperity in England’s neglected north with new factories, roads, railways and other infrastructure that environmentalists say is at odds with the government’s green agenda.

West Cumbria Mining, the company hoping to build Britain’s first deep coal mine in three decades, wants to extract coking coal — a type used to make steel rather than for fuel — from under the Irish Sea. It plans to process the coal on the site of a shuttered chemical plant in Whitehaven, 340 miles (550 kilometers) northwest of London.

The company says this is a new kind of mine, far removed from the dirty, dangerous behemoths whose brick and steel skeletons dot the region’s landscape. Designs show curved modern buildings that blend in with the surrounding hills, and the company says it will be the world’s first net-zero coal mine, with all of its carbon emissions reduced or offset by credits to the Gold Standard Foundation, an environmental organization.

Alexander Greaves, a lawyer for the mining company, said while opening a new coal mine might look bad at first glance, this project aims to be different.

“Showing these mines can be made by law … to capture greenhouse gas emissions and required to offset any residual impact … is true environmental leadership,” he said.

Environmentalists scoff at that idea.


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Members of a public inquiry into the feasibility of a proposed new coal mine make a visit to the site near the town of Whitehaven in northwest England, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

“It’s blindingly obvious that the quickest way to stop these carbon emissions and to make radical changes — which we have to do in the next 10 years — is to stop opening any new coal mines,” said Maggie Mason, a local opponent of the mine. “The same is true for oil wells and gas wells.”

Nature and industry have long vied for supremacy in this part of England. Whitehaven sits on the edge of the Lake District National Park, an area whose beauty inspired William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. But the area once was home to industries that offered hard, dirty jobs in factories and mines. Now, though, wind turbines spin beside the sea — a sign of Britain’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, which last year produced almost half of the country’s electricity.

That share shrank this year — partly due to a lack of wind — and with the cost of imported natural gas soaring and plans for new nuclear plants moving at a crawl, the U.K. government is still considering new fossil-fuel projects.

Elsewhere, there’s the Cambo oilfield in the North Atlantic, west of the Shetland islands, where Shell and Siccar Point Energy plan to extract 170 million barrels of oil. Environmental groups are trying to force the British government to stop the drilling, but Johnson’s administration is reluctant to intervene, saying “sources like Cambo are still required” to meet Britain’s energy needs as it shifts to a low-carbon economy.

“We need to transition our existing oil and gas sector to a decarbonized platform,” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said last month in the House of Commons, accusing Cambo opponents of wanting “a complete eclipse” of the oil and gas industries “with 250,000 jobs vanishing overnight.”

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Poland will have to pay a €500,000 ($586,000) fine for each day it continues extracting coal at an open-pit mine near the Czech and German borders, Europe’s top court ruled Monday, 20 September.

In West Cumbria, the local authority approved the mine a year ago. The area’s Conservative mayor, Mike Starkie, says it will be “transformational.”

The British government, under pressure from opponents and its own environmental commitments, intervened in March and ordered an inquiry by a planning inspector. He says he will make a recommendation around the end of the year. Then the U.K. government will make a final decision — well after COP26 has ended.

Local supporters of the mine believe they are the silent majority, at risk of being drowned out by environmental activists. Some rallied at the site this month, holding signs that read “Part of the answer, not part of the problem” and “Cumbria coke is the real thing.”

“It’s been very simplified in the press that it’s jobs against the climate,” said John Greasley, who helps run a Facebook page in support of the mine. “And, of course, the climate is going to win every time. But it’s deeper than that.”


Jo Kearney & Jill Lawless via Associated Press

Science Museum chooses fossil fuel company as new climate show sponsor

Science Museum chooses fossil fuel company as new climate show sponsor

Campaigners say museum ‘doubling down’ on ‘reckless’ choices of funder with backing from arm of coal giant Adani

The UK’s Science Museum has “doubled down” on its sponsorship of climate exhibitions by fossil fuel companies, campaigners say, by taking funding from a subsidiary of the Adani Group.

Adani is a conglomerate with major holdings in coal, the most polluting fossil fuel. The Energy Revolution gallery, opening in 2023, will be sponsored by Adani’s Green Energy arm.

The museum said the gallery “will explore the latest climate science and the energy revolution needed to cut global dependence on fossil fuels”. Dame Mary Archer, chair of the Science Museum Group, said: “This gallery will take a truly global perspective on the world’s most urgent challenge. We’re hugely grateful to Adani Green Energy for the significant financial support.”

Campaigners called the decision “astonishing” and “reckless”. The Science Museum has attracted heavy criticism over sponsorship deals with oil and gas giants Shell, BP and Equinor. The Shell deal included a contract clause committing the museum not to “damage the goodwill or reputation” of the oil company.

Science Museum chooses fossil fuel company as new climate show sponsor

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LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2021/05/31: An Extinction Rebellion activist stands outside the Science Museum in London during the anti-Shell protest.The activists gathered outside the museum in South Kensington once again as part of their ongoing protest against Shell's sponsorship of the Our Future Planet climate change exhibition. (Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The museum’s former director, climate scientist Prof Chris Rapley, resigned from its advisory board on 2 October over the issue. The museum is hosting the government’s Global Investment Summit on Tuesday, part of the preparations for the crucial Cop26 climate summit at the end of the month in Glasgow.

Adani has said it wants to be the largest renewable energy company in the world by 2030. But it is facing opposition in India and Australia over plans to expand its coal operations. Gautam Adani, group chair, said: “The new gallery will explore how we can power the future through low carbon technologies.”

Jess Worth, from Culture Unstained, said: “Astonishingly, the museum’s management have doubled down and signed up Adani – a coal conglomerate – to sponsor a gallery about the energy transition. Their enthusiasm for fossil fuel partnerships has turned controversy into a crisis of credibility, and they must be held to account for their reckless decisions.”

Adrian Burragubba, an Indigenous traditional owner of land targeted by Adani for a huge coal mine in Australia, said: “By putting this company on a pedestal, the Science Museum is complicit in Adani’s violation of our human rights and destruction of our ancestral lands.”

Sir Ian Blatchford, chief executive of the Science Museum, said: “Adani Green Energy already has one of the world’s largest renewable portfolios and plans to invest $20bn in clean energy over the next 10 years. And be in no doubt, such massive investments are needed to move India from high-carbon to low-carbon energy whilst still meeting their growing energy needs.”

Shell’s sponsorship of the museum’s current climate exhibition, Our Future Planet, has been criticised by scientists, exhibition contributors and Greta Thunberg. On Sunday protesters delivered a huge pile of bin bags to the museum to protest against links to coal.


Damian Carrington at The Guardian

Six-Month Sentence for Lawyer Who Took on Chevron Denounced as ‘International Outrage’

Six-Month Sentence for Lawyer Who Took on Chevron Denounced as ‘International Outrage’

Conviction of Steven Donziger, said one critic, “perfectly encapsulates how corporate power has twisted the U.S. justice system to protect corporate interests and punish their enemies.”

Environmental justice advocates and other progressives on Friday condemned a federal judge’s decision Friday to sentence human rights lawyer Steven Donziger to six months in prison—following more than two years of house arrest related to a lawsuit he filed decades ago against oil giant Chevron.

The sentence, delivered by U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska in New York City, represents “an international outrage,” tweeted journalist Emma Vigeland following its announcement.

Donziger’s sentence came a day after the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said it was “appalled” by the U.S. legal system’s treatment of the former environmental lawyer and demanded the U.S. government “remedy the situation of Mr. Steven Donziger without delay and bring it in conformity with the relevant international norms” by immediately releasing him.

Donziger represented a group of farmers and Indigenous people in the Lago Agrio region of Ecuador in the 1990s in a lawsuit against Texaco—since acquired by Chevron—in which the company was accused of contaminating soil and water with its “deliberate dumping of billions of gallons of cancer-causing waste into the Amazon.”

“Chevron caused a mass industrial poisoning in the Amazon that crushed the lives of Indigenous peoples. Six courts and 28 appellate judges found the company guilty. Fight on.”

Steven Donziger

An Ecuadorian court awarded the plaintiffs a $9.5 billion judgment in 2011—a decision upheld by multiple courts in Ecuador—only to have a U.S. judge reject the ruling, accusing Donziger of bribery and evidence tampering. Chevron also countersued Donziger in 2011. 

In 2019, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York—a former corporate lawyer with investments in Chevron—held Donziger in contempt of court after he refused to disclose privileged information about his clients to the fossil fuel industry. Kaplan placed Donziger under house arrest, where he has remained under strict court monitoring for 787 days.

In addition to Kaplan’s own connections to Chevron, the judge appointed private attorneys to prosecute the case, including one who had worked for a firm that represented the oil giant.

Preska, who found Donziger guilty of the contempt charges in July, is a leader of the right-wing Federalist Society, which counts Chevron among its financial backers.

“As I face sentencing on Day 787 of house arrest, never forget what this case is really about,” tweeted Donziger on Friday morning, as he awaited the sentencing. “Chevron caused a mass industrial poisoning in the Amazon that crushed the lives of Indigenous peoples. Six courts and 28 appellate judges found the company guilty.”

Donziger indicated Friday afternoon that he plans to appeal the sentence.

“Stay strong,” he tweeted along with a photo from a rally attended by his supporters Friday.

350.org co-founder and author Bill McKibben said on social media that Donziger “deserves our thanks and support” for “daring to point out that Big Oil had poisoned the rainforest.”Rick Claypool, research director for Public Citizen, tweeted that Donziger’s case “perfectly encapsulates how corporate power has twisted the U.S. justice system to protect corporate interests and punish their enemies”—noting that as Donziger is ordered to prison for six months, members of the Sackler family recently won immunity from opioid lawsuits targeting their private company, Purdue Pharma.

“This ruling was done to deter ANYONE from crossing corporate special interests,” said progressive former congressional candidate Jen Perelman.


Julia Conley at Common Dreams