TBLI Weekly - May 23rd 2023


TBLI Weekly - May 23rd 2023

Your weekly guide to Sustainable Investment

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How solar farms took over the California desert: ‘An oasis has become a dead sea’


Residents feel trapped and choked by dust, while experts warn environmental damage is ‘solving one problem by creating others’

by in Desert Center, California

But something’s not quite right. Closer up, the water’s edge appears blocky and pixelated, with the look of a low-res computer rendering, while its surface is sculpted in orderly geometric ridges, like frozen waves.

“We had a guy pull in the other day towing a big boat,” says Don Sneddon, a local resident. “He asked us how to get to the launch ramp to the lake. I don’t think he realised he was looking at a lake of solar panels.”

Over the last few years, this swathe of desert has been steadily carpeted with one of the world’s largest concentrations of solar power plants, forming a sprawling photovoltaic sea. On the ground, the scale is almost incomprehensible. The Riverside East Solar Energy Zone – the ground zero of California’s solar energy boom – stretches for 150,000 acres, making it 10 times the size of Manhattan.

It is a crucial component of the United States’ green energy revolution. Solar makes up about 3% of the US electricity supply, but the Biden administration hopes it will reach 45% by 2050, primarily by building more huge plants like this across the country’s flat, empty plains.

But there’s one thing that the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – the agency tasked with facilitating these projects on public land – doesn’t seem to have fully taken into account: the desert isn’t quite as empty as it thought. It might look like a barren wilderness, but this stretch of the Mojave is a rich and fragile habitat for endangered species and home to thousand-year-old carbon-capturing woodlands, ancient Indigenous cultural sites – and hundreds of people’s homes.

Residents have watched ruefully for years as solar plants crept over the horizon, bringing noise and pollution that’s eroding a way of life in their desert refuge.

“We feel like we’ve been sacrificed,” says Mark Carrington, who, like Sneddon, lives in the Lake Tamarisk resort, a community for over-55s near Desert Center, which is increasingly surrounded by solar farms. “We’re a senior community, and half of us now have breathing difficulties because of all the dust churned up by the construction. I moved here for the clean air, but some days I have to go outside wearing goggles. What was an oasis has become a little island in a dead solar sea.”

Concerns have intensified following the recent news of a project, called Easley, that would see the panels come just 200 metres from their backyards. Residents claim that excessive water use by solar plants has contributed to the drying up of two local wells, while their property values have been hit hard, with several now struggling to sell their homes.

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Global heating will push billions outside ‘human climate niche’

World is on track for 2.7C and ‘phenomenal’ human suffering, scientists warn

Global heating will drive billions of people out of the “climate niche” in which humanity has flourished for millennia, a study has estimated, exposing them to unprecedented temperatures and extreme weather. The world is on track for 2.7C of heating with current action plans and this would mean 2 billion people experiencing average annual temperatures above 29C by 2030, a level at which very few communities have lived in the past. Up to 1 billion people could choose to migrate to cooler places, the scientists said, although those areas remaining within the climate niche would still experience more frequent heatwaves and droughts. However, urgent action to lower carbon emissions and keep global temperature rise to 1.5C would cut the number of people pushed outside the climate niche by 80%, to 400 million.

The analysis is the first of its kind and is able to treat every citizen equally, unlike previous economic assessments of the damage of the climate crisis, which have been skewed towards the rich. In countries with large populations and already warm climates most people will be pushed outside the human climate niche, with India and Nigeria facing the worst changes. India is already suffering from extreme heatwaves, and a recent study found that more than a third of heat-related deaths in summer from 1991-2018 occurred as a direct result of human-caused global heating.

Prof Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, UK, who led the new research, said: “The costs of global warming are often expressed in financial terms but our study highlights the phenomenal human cost of failing to tackle the climate emergency. “Economic estimates almost always value the rich more than the poor, because they have more assets to lose, and they tend to value those alive now over those living in the future. We’re considering all people as equal in this study.”

Prof Chi Xu, at Nanjing University in China, and also part of the research team, said: “Such high temperatures [outside the niche] have been linked to issues including increased mortality, decreased labour productivity, decreased cognitive performance, impaired learning, adverse pregnancy outcomes, decreased crop yield, increased conflict and infectious disease spread.” Prof Marten Scheffer at Wageningen University, the Netherlands, and a senior author of the study, said those pushed outside the climate niche might consider migrating to cooler places: “Not just migration of tens of millions of people but it might be a billion or so.”

The idea of climate niches for wild animals and plants is well established but the new study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, identified the climate conditions in which human societies have thrived. It found most people lived in places with mean annual temperatures spread around 13C or 25C. Conditions outside those are too hot, too cold or too dry and associated with higher death rates, lower food production and lower economic growth. “The climate niche describes where people flourish and have flourished for centuries, if not millennia in the past,” Lenton said. “When people are outside [the niche], they don’t flourish.”

Scheffer said: “We were surprised how sharply limited humans have remained when it comes to their distribution relative to climate – this is a fundamental thing we’ve put our finger on.”The scientists then used climate and population models to examine likely future changes in the number of people outside the climate niche, which they defined as above an annual average temperature of 29C.

US greenlights major transmission line for renewable energy in Western states


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. government is greenlighting a proposed multibillion-dollar transmission line that would send primarily wind-generated electricity from the rural plains of New Mexico to big cities in the West.

The Interior Department announced its record of decision for the SunZia project Thursday. It comes about a year after an environmental review was completed as part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to clear the way for major transmission projects as it looks to meet climate goals and shore up the nation’s power grid.

The SunZia transmission project in New Mexico has been more than a decade in the making. The U.S. Defense Department and others initially raised concerns about the path of the high-voltage lines, prompting the developer to submit a new application in 2021 to modify the route.

New Mexico’s renewable energy authority is among those invested in the SunZia project, which would include roughly 520 miles (836 kilometers) of transmission lines and a network of substations for getting wind and solar power to Arizona and California.

The anchor tenant is California-based Pattern Energy, which has been busy building massive wind farms in central New Mexico.
Federal land managers said they completed the latest review in less than two years.

“The Department of the Interior is committed to expanding clean energy development to address climate change, enhance America’s energy security and provide for good-paying union jobs,” Laura Daniel-Davis, principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said in a statement.

The Bureau of Land Management has approved nearly three dozen renewable energy and grid improvement projects since 2021. Included are solar and geothermal projects that officials said would be capable of producing enough electricity to power more than 2.6 million homes.

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Rome climate protesters turn Trevi fountain water black

Members of Ultima Generazione fossil fuel group climbed in and poured diluted charcoal into water

Seven activists protesting against climate change climbed into the Trevi fountain in Rome and poured diluted charcoal into the water to turn it black.

The protesters from the Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) group held up banners saying “We won’t pay for fossil [fuels]” and shouted “Our country is dying.”

Uniformed police waded into the water to take away the activists, with many tourists filming the stunt and a few of the onlookers shouting insults at the protesters, video footage showed.

In a statement, Ultima Generazione called for an end to public subsidies for fossil fuels and linked the protests to deadly floods in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna in recent days. The group said one in four houses in Italy were at risk from flooding.

Rome’s mayor, Roberto Gualtieri, condemned the protest, the latest in a series of acts targeting works of art in Italy. “Enough of these absurd attacks on our artistic heritage,” he wrote on Twitter.

The tradition is for visitors to toss coins into the famous 18th-century fountain to ensure that they will return to Rome one day.


Montana’s new anti-climate law may be the most aggressive in the nation


Montana Republican lawmakers have passed legislation that bars state agencies from considering climate change when permitting large projects that require environmental reviews, including coal mines and power plants. Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the bill last week, marking what could be considered the nation’s most aggressive anti-climate law.

Under House Bill 971, Amanda Eggert reports for the Montana Free Press, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and other state regulators can’t consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts when conducting environmental reviews for large projects. The move builds off a decade-old state law that already banned the state from considering “actual or potential impacts that are regional, national, or global in nature” in such reviews.

The law comes as a Montana judge weighs a case brought by 16 youth plaintiffs who are suing the state government for its pro-fossil fuel energy policies, which they argue violates their right to a “clean and healthful environment” as guaranteed by Montana’s 50-year-old constitution. The hearing for that case is set to begin next month.

Proponents of Montana’s new law, including its sponsor, Rep. Josh Kassmier, argued the legislation was necessary to restore authority over setting policy to state lawmakers after a district judge revoked a permit back in April for a proposed natural gas power plant that state regulators had already approved.

But the measure was met by fierce opposition from environmentalists, who accused the Republican-led Montana Legislature of “hiding its head in the sand” and argued that the majority of Montanans believe in human-caused climate change and want to take meaningful action to address it. A 2022 poll conducted by Colorado College found that nearly 60 percent of Montanans believe in climate change and want to address it, including by transitioning to renewable energy. Of the more than 1,000 comments submitted by local residents on House Bill 971, a whopping 95 percent opposed it.

“Our families are already suffering from an increase in the number of sweltering summer days, longer wildfire and smoke seasons, and historic drought,” Winona Bateman, executive director of Families for a Livable Climate, told the Montana Free Press. “I am not sure how Gov. Gianforte imagines we will do our part to address these growing impacts, or pay for them, if we’re not working to eliminate the root cause.”

Montana’s climate has changed notably over the past century, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, leading to snowpacks melting earlier in the year, more frequent heat waves and increased risk of wildfires. In fact, Montana’s own 2015 climate assessment found that the state’s annual average temperatures have increased between 2 and 3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1950 to 2015, with winter and spring temperatures rising upwards of 3.9 degrees. That report also found that between 1951 and 2010, the state’s average winter precipitation decreased by roughly an inch and the number of days exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit in any given year grew by an average of 11.


India's approach is focused on effective sustainable development: Fujitsu's Vivek Mahajan

Be it Software as a Service (SaaS), artificial intelligence, chatbots, blockchains, quantum computing or others, new technological developments are superseding the previous models rapidly. However, with this, threats of being cyberattacked, data breached and sustainability loom large. With India leading in the ICT sector globally, Japanese firm Fujitsu has opened its centre in the Silicon city Bengaluru and mulling to expand its base with it in the country and abroad. Fujitsu's Corporate Executive Officer Vivek Mahajan recently interacted with Mint and shared his views on how global firms see India as a leader in technological space.


1) With India leading in the digital services sector globally, what drove Fujitsu to open a R&D center in Bangalore? What sort of work is being done there?

India commands a leading position in the digital services sector on a global level and is also in an enviable position of being home to a rich pool of tech talent. The presence of governing bodies that promote innovation and foster growth. These were some of the driving factors for opening a Fujitsu R&D centre here in India.

The activities at Fujitsu Research of India Private Limited (FRIPL) are largely focused on the creation of cutting-edge technologies, innovations around AI, next generation processor development, network virtualization software for 5G and beyond and research on quantum computing.

2) As multiple ICT firms are operating globally and Indian firms are leading from the front, why should people choose a Japanese firm – Fujitsu?

There is no doubt that Indian IT firms compete on a global level with some at the very forefront. However, Fujitsu also comes with a history of innovating in the field of ICT since 1935. We work closely with organizations from all sectors to co-create digital solutions that overcome their business challenges.

Fujitsu’s R&D center in Bangalore, India, is also focusing on AI, next-gen processor, network software and quantum software. Fujitsu works for our global customers – including government and public sector – include location-based information systems, high-performance computing, and e-government solutions. Besides, we also offer a far wider and deeper set of solutions that can be deployed on a global level while creating a ‘cleantech’ image in India.

3) Speaking about sustainability, especially in technology development and services, how do you see India on a global platform?

Technology leadership is the primary gateway here to achieve sustainable development, which is what India is doing. India's approach to sustainability is focused on effective sustainable development. This encompasses a variety of development schemes in social, clean energy, clean water, and even sustainable agriculture. The Indian government has also committed itself to a bold goal of net zero emissions by 2070. Countries are also looking to India for ways to achieve their sustainability goals and reverse climate change.

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