County health officials recommending that households shift to electric appliances

Nov 13, 2022 https://www.opb.org/article/2022/11/13/multnomah-county-report-recommends-replacing-gas-appliances-to-reduce-health-and-climate-change-impacts/ highlights below:

new report from Multnomah County health officials recommends households transition from gas appliances to electric because research shows gas stoves release pollutants that pose high risks to human health and contribute to climate change.

On Thursday, Multnomah County Health Department officials presented their findings to the board of commissioners and explained how gas stoves release air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter that get trapped indoors — even when the gas stove is not in use.

To protect public health and improve air quality, health officials are recommending households replace their gas stoves and other gas-burning appliances such as furnaces with electric alternatives if possible.

Breathing toxic pollutants can cause health effects including asthma, cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases, and even diabetes.

Multnomah County’s public health director Jessica Guernsey told commissioners indoor air pollution has consistently ranked among the top five environmental risks to public health and disproportionately impacts low-income households and communities of color.

She said while outdoor air pollution has been regulated for decades, there are still no federal standards or guidelines that regulate indoor air pollution.

“We’re broadening our awareness of the decades of research that are demonstrating now that gas appliances — especially for cooking — are potentially a health risk,” she said. “Gas stoves are a specific concern because they are a proximate source of indoor air pollution.”

According to the Multnomah County report, 77 cities in 10 states across the country are working on phasing out the use of natural gas. This year, Washington became the first state to require most newly constructed buildings to have electric heating and water systems. California may be on a similar track, as Los Angeles recently banned most gas appliances in new homes.

In Oregon, Eugene City Council recently voted to begin drafting rules that would ban natural gas lines in new residential buildings. If passed, it would make Eugene the first city in Oregon to do so.

Multnomah County report recommends replacing gas appliances to reduce health and climate change impacts (Oregon Public Broadcasting). Also see After slow start, Massachusetts sees more interest in incentives to mix solar with farming (Energy News Network). The big idea: Stopping climate change isn’t enough – we need to reverse it (The Guardian). Dying lands: Farmers fight to save the ‘skin of the Earth’ (Reuters)

With the world on course to exceed 1.5C warming, taking carbon out of the atmosphere, as well as lowering emissions, will become increasingly importantZeke HausfatherMon 14 Nov 2022 07.30 EST

The past year has seen an unending drumbeat of climate-driven disasters. And yet, the climate story of this past decade has been one of slow but steady progress. Global CO2 emissions have flattened, and countries representing 88% of global emissions have adopted or announced plans to get to net zero in the latter half of the 21st century.

Another reason to be hopeful is that clean energy became cheaper much faster than expected. The cost of both solar energy and batteries fell tenfold in the last 10 years and the cost of wind energy by two-thirds. Solar is the cheapest form of new electricity to build in much of the world today, and electric vehicles now represent 13% of new vehicle sales globally.

But this doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Far from it. We are still nowhere near where we need to be to meet our climate goals. In the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which I contributed to, we found that if we want to limit warming to 1.5C we can only emit 420bn more tons of CO2 – equal to around 10 years of current emissions. This means that even with the progress we’ve made, the increase in global temperatures is very likely to exceed 1.5C by the early 2030s.

So where does that leave us? The short answer is: “It’s complicated.”

To start with, it’s important to emphasise that climate change happens incrementally rather than in big jumps. There is no evidence that 1.5C represents a boundary between manageable and catastrophic impacts. But the further we push the climate beyond where it has been for the past few million years, the greater and more unpredictable the risks become. Large climate shifts in the Earth’s past, and potential future tipping points such as CO2 release from thawing permafrost, should give us pause: we can’t easily predict what might happen. Every tenth of a degree matters if we want to minimise the harm we inflict on ourselves and leave to future generations.

But equally, just because we pass 1.5C does not mean that there is no way back. We know that if we can get emissions down to zero the world will effectively stopwarming. And climate models show that if we remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than we are emitting it will actually cool the world back down. Removing CO2 from the atmosphere and oceans was highlighted in the recent IPCC report as an “essential element” of meeting our climate goals. Virtually all climate models suggest that we need to remove 6bn tons of CO2 per year by 2050 alongside rapid emissions reductions to bring temperatures back down to 1.5C by the end of the century.

Every tenth of a degree matters if we want to minimise the damage 

One form of carbon dioxide removal people are already familiar with comes in the form of trees and soil. The Earth’s living systems already sequester about a quarter of the CO2 we emit today (with another quarter absorbed by the oceans). There is real potential to enhance this “natural carbon sink” by protecting forests, planting more of them, and changing how we manage agricultural land and pasture to get more carbon into the soil. This is relatively low cost today, but it is also likely to prove temporary. Trees may be cut down, burn down, or die from beetle infestations, while soil may dry up due to drought or heat – and these risks will increase as a result of climate change. There are also limits to the land available to use. All in all, models suggest that trees and soil could provide only half of the carbon dioxide removal that we need.

There are other more reliable ways to take carbon out of the atmosphere over the long term. Such approaches are still at an early stage, but are being rapidly developed by hundreds of companies around the world. They include direct air capture, which sucks CO2 directly from the atmosphere; taking agricultural waste or wood and storing carbon from it deep underground; spreading minerals like basalt that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere on to agricultural fields; removing CO2 directly from ocean water; making ocean water less acidic so it absorbs more CO2; and sinking kelp or other plants into the deep ocean where the carbon they have absorbed will stay for millennia to come.

Illustration by Elia Barbieri.

These approaches are less likely to be reversed and are less limited by available land. But they tend to be much more expensive, at least at the moment. It follows that we should be focusing on making them cheaper, the way we did with renewable energy. This is the goal of Frontier, a $925m advance market commitment that Stripe, where I am climate research lead, has launched alongside Alphabet, Shopify, Meta and McKinsey. The idea is simple: by guaranteeing money up front, we’re sending a signal to entrepreneurs and researchers that if they build and scale those early-stage technologies, we will buy them. This approach was piloted a decade ago to accelerate the development of the pneumococcal vaccines in low-income countries, and saved an estimated 700,000 lives.

We have a saying in the climate science world – that CO2 is forever. It will take close to half a million years before a ton of CO2 emitted today from burning fossil fuels is completely removed from the atmosphere naturally. This means that when we try to neutralise or undo fossil fuel emissions – for example, with carbon offsets – those interventions should operate over a similar timeframe: a ton of emissions from cutting down trees can be neutralised by putting more carbon in trees or soils, but CO2 from fossil fuels needs to be balanced by more permanent carbon removal. This is the reason why the respected Science Based Targets initiative only allows measures that permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere to neutralise a company’s remaining fossil fuel emissions in their net-zero standard – and only alongside deep emissions reductions.

We should not oversell the role of carbon removal. The vast majority of the time it is cheaper to reduce emissions than to remove CO2 from the atmosphere after the fact. Models that limit warming to 1.5C show that we need to reduce global CO2 emissions by around 90%, while only using carbon removal for around 10%. But 10% of the solution to a problem as big as climate change is still something we cannot afford to ignore.

In 2021 the world spent a total of $755bn on reducing emissions. We should probably aim to spend about 1% of that money on carbon removal technologies. But we cannot simply sit back and assume that ways of removing billions of tons of CO2 per year will magically appear in the decades to come. By investing today, we can ensure that we are in a good position to make net-zero a reality, stop the world from continuing to heat up, and give ourselves the tools to ultimately reverse global warming in the future.

Further reading

Ending Fossil Fuels: Why Net Zero Is Not Enough by Holly Jean Buck (Verso, £9.99) Holly Buck argues that focusing on emissions draws our attention away from where we need to be looking: the point of production.

Under a White Sky: Can we save the natural world in time? by Elizabeth Kolbert (Vintage, £9.99)

Around the world, countries and companies are setting net-zero carbon emissions targets. But “net-zero” is a term that conveniently obscures multiple futures. There could be a version of net-zero where the fossil fuel industry is still spewing tens of billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, and has built a corresponding industry in sucking it back out again. Holly Buck argues that focusing on emissions draws our attention away from where we need to be looking: the point of production.

It is time to plan for the end of fossil fuel and the companies that profit from them. Fossil fuels still provide 80% of world energy and ceasing their use before there are ready alternatives brings risks of energy poverty. The fossil fuel industry provides jobs, as well as a source of revenue for some frontline communities. Conventional wisdom says that fossil fuels will be naturally priced out when cheaper, but this raises as many problems as it addresses. Ending Fossil Fuels tackles these problems seriously and also sets out a roadmap that offer opportunities for more liveable, inclusive future.

** https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/3462835-zero-then-negative-why-getting-to-net-zero-isnt-enough/

Reducing our emissions as quickly as possible is absolutely essential to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Over the past couple of years, “net-zero” emission has emerged as a climate target both in the private sector and from the federal government. This has included strong investments in renewable and low-carbon energy, electric vehicles, storage and other fundamental decarbonization pathways. 

Alone, however, it isn’t enough. Even if we stopped emitting today, it wouldn’t undo the last two centuries of human activity — we also need to remove carbon from the atmosphere and go beyond net-zero to reach negative emissions. 

To date, we have emitted billions of metric tons of CO2 — our legacy emissions — which are impacting people around the world. In particular, the most vulnerable communities in the U.S. and globally are being disproportionately harmed, exacerbating existing environmental injustices. Stopping our emissions is necessary, but insufficient. 

Luckily, we have carbon removal solutions, ranging from land-based pathways like improving soil carbon storage to technological pathways like direct air capture. Climate models show we will need to scale these solutions to eventually pull billions of tons of carbon from the air each year. Today, direct air capture (DAC) projects remove only about 10,000 tons of CO2 a year and soils are still largely an untapped solution. 

Just like federal action is needed to reach zero, it’s needed especially for negative emissions to scale responsibly and quickly. 

This isn’t just about climate, though. Carbon removal can create high-paying, union jobs and drive prosperity. Each megaton DAC project is expected to create around 3,000 direct jobs, relying on steel, cement and other products. “Carbontech” represents a $1 trillion total available market in the U.S. alone. And land pathways can improve local air and water quality and build resilience to extreme weather.

There’s been incredible federal support as of late. In 2020, Congress created the first-ever federal carbon removal research and development program while investing hundreds of millions of dollars in negative emissions pathways. This past November, the Department of Energy (DOE) launched their Carbon Negative Earthshot to align federal efforts around scaling durable carbon removal to less than $100 ton. And then at the end of last year, the bipartisan law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included $3.5 billion — yes, billion — for four regional Direct Air Capture Hubs that can capture 1 million tons of CO2 each, which represents not just the single largest investment from any government ever in DAC, but would also increase global DAC capacity about 400 fold.

This is just the beginning. As policymakers look at what’s needed next, there are a few places in particular they should prioritize:

First, develop policies that focus on drawing down legacy emissions with carbon removal, without delaying mitigation.

Second, ensure community engagement shapes carbon removal projects as they are sited and built, untethering the field as a whole from fossil fuels.The rules-based international order is ending. What will replace it?Integrated deterrence: An excuse to spend less on defense?

Third, soils can play a major role in removing carbon and building resilience for American farmers; in the upcoming farm bill, Congress should invest in foundational science and research to improve our ability to measure, report and verify how much carbon is in our soils.

The efforts we’re making today to reach net-zero are needed and carbon removal is a necessary complement to those efforts, not a replacement. 

Erin Burns is the executive director of think tank Carbon180, focused on equitably scaling carbon removal and addressing the climate crisis. She previously worked on energy, labor and coal worker transition issues in the Senate. Follow her on Twitter: @erinmburns