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New Mexico Pivots Towards 100% Renewable Energy Mandate

Chris Kim

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solar panels

Just last month, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham made New Mexico the latest state to enact a 100% renewable energy mandate. That’s after California and Hawaii, of course. Under the Energy Transitions Act, state utilities must generate 50% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2030. Following up, these state utilities must generate 80% by 2040, and the goal of 100% by 2050. Ambitious goals for sure.

Renewable Energy Shows Promise

Supporters of the new bill claim that in addition to the mandate’s environmental benefits, there will be large economic benefits. New Mexico’s wind power industry has already generated 3,000 new jobs and $3 billion in private investments.

Based on renewable energy efforts in the past in other countries, most notably Germany, which has already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the last few decades into wind and solar energy, renewable energy shows a lot of promise.

Skeptics of Renewable Energy

Skeptics, however, claim that this energy mandate may end up hurting consumers and the economy in the long run. In fact, states with renewable energy mandates have energy prices 26% higher than that of states without them. With higher taxes and energy costs due to renewable energy, detractors claim that New Mexico’s previous energy mandate has already costed the state $405 million dollars in economic activity and 3000 jobs, contrary to claims that an extended renewable energy mandate would help the economy and increase employment.

Over the winter holidays of 2017, energy bills went negative. Essentially, utility companies paid consumers paid some $60 per megawatt-hour to use electricity. That’s crazy, but it’s also not unique.

When factories are closed or weather is temperate, the demand for heating or cooling often overtakes supply. Consequently, in these cases, energy prices often drop precipitously.

Conclusions

On the other side, this shows the degree of inconsistency that energy reliability has. While renewable energy could be productive to the point of being overabundant, there is a risk, with the degree of technology that we have today, that it could often underproduce. The effectiveness of solar and wind energy, which perhaps may be reliable in Germany, may not fit to generate the same amount of success in various parts of the US.

Nonetheless, the problems caused by non-renewable energy are undeniably large, and despite the potential drawbacks, a worldwide move towards renewable energy is absolutely essential.

Hopefully, New Mexico’s move towards renewable energy is the start of a new trend. Like the case with Puerto Rico, we’ll have to see where it goes.

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Sustainability

There’s Hope: Effective Forest Management Can Still Save Our Biodiversity If We Act Now

Brian D'Souza

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We know how critical forests are to life on Earth, yet, at large, our actions often don’t reflect that. Industries destroy forests constantly for their lumber and companies constantly clear land to make room for construction and agriculture.

It makes sense to treat trees as an easily renewable resource, but unfortunately, it is much harder to renew a true forest.

Unperturbed forests consist of a wide array of plants, trees, and animals of different species and ages, and if handled irresponsibly, this diverse balance can easily fall out of place.

Deforestation and wildfires in the Amazon and Australia have made it clear that we need better forest management. As we approach a critical tipping point, the time to act truly is now.

Here’s what you need to know about deforestation tipping points and how forest management can play a role in making sure we don’t lose our coveted biodiversity.

Forest Tipping Points

Several countries have strict laws governing how forests can be treated by industry. These laws set a strict precedent on how to replant and renew wildlife in order to maintain balance. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

The Amazon Rainforest, in particular, has lost 24,000 square miles over the past year due to environmentally regressive policy. It is estimated that 20% of the original forest has been cleared since 1970, meaning it is approaching a “tipping point”.

Scientists believe that the Amazon Rainforest is dangerously close to its tipping point.
Photo Credit: João Laet/AFP /Getty Images
Scientists believe that the Amazon Rainforest is dangerously close to its tipping point.
Photo Credit: João Laet/AFP /Getty Images

A recent study from the University of Cincinnati explained the concept of forest tipping points.

A team of ecologists and geographers surveyed every square mile of the Earth digitally year by year in order to understand the progression of deforestation.

Researchers divided the world into small “blocks” of land and studied how the blocks changed individually over time. The complex study uncovered a simple truth.

They found that “deforestation occurs comparatively slowly … until about half of the forest is gone. Then the remaining forest disappears very quickly.”

This is because wildlife wants to be one uniform biome, and as ecosystems fragment, it becomes harder to continue. 

Wildfires and the Amazon Rainforest’s Tipping Point

Understanding how deforestation impacts the environment can allow us to set preventative measures.

Politicians must understand the concept of deforestation tipping points and integrate it into political action.

Scientists have concluded that the Amazon Rainforest is dangerously close to its tipping point.

Carlos Nobre of Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo and Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University recently proclaimed that: 

“Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.” — Carlos Nobre And Thomas Lovejoy, Science Advances

Scholar Carlos Nobre emphasizes that the time to act is now.
Photo: Photo: Volvo Environment Prize 2016
Scholar Carlos Nobre emphasizes that the time to act is now.
Photo: Photo: Volvo Environment Prize 2016

In fact, the entire world is approaching its tipping point.

The same University of Cincinnati researchers discovered in an earlier study that “22 percent of the Earth’s habitable surface has been altered in measurable ways, primarily from forest to agriculture, between 1992 and 2015.”

Forests have shrunk, and so have the ice caps, and reefs. The rate of destruction of these delicate biomes has increased exponentially and will likely continue to do so.

The outlook does look bleak but it is certainly not hopeless.

The Importance of Forest Management

Australia gets flamed for its climate inaction
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, along with other political leaders, have been responsible for regressive environmental policy. Something needs to change.

The problem of environmental destruction needs to be responsibly and proactively managed. Environments in Alaska, Brazil, and Australia have deteriorated due to regressive politics.

On the other hand, reefs and forests have benefited greatly from technological advancement and active management.

Recently, researchers discovered that underwater speakers, among other measures, could counteract reef decay.

The solution is less clear for forests, but active forest management can certainly make a difference. 

It may seem rather unremarkable, but forest management is an incredibly effective tool.

Forest Management Could Have Been Beneficial to California and Australia

Wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk carries a singed koala from the smoldering remnants of gum forests on Kangaroo Island on January 7.
We continue to see that better forest management would have been incredibly helpful in reducing the damages associated with fires in Australia and California.

The increased occurrence of wildfires in areas like California and Australia directly correlates with a decrease in preventative forest management.

Controlled burns generally prevent a larger wildfire from occurring, and Australia had drastically cut the number of controlled burns it performs prior to the wildfire crisis.

California suffers from a similar problem and has elected to pursue preventative measures, specifically forest thinning, in order to create more stable forests.

Currently, the privately-owned Forest Resilience Board can be contracted to manage healthy forests, and a government-wide forest management board could certainly help states like California and countries like Australia. 

We Need To Vote Leaders Out If They Won’t Help With Forest Management

Trump and Congress agree to sign the PACT Act into law.
Environmental issues should not be partisan. We need to work together.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Unfortunately, the management of biomes cannot make a significant difference as long as politicians have no interest in the solutions.

Citizens are becoming more and more aware of climate issues and this has been reflected in voter priorities.

As our environment reaches a tipping point, we need to elect politicians who want to make a difference.

Only through doing so can we must pass the laws and preventative management necessary to ensure the usage of the Earth’s resources is sustainable for the years to come.

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Business

This Restaurant Giant Is Making An Ambitious Commitment To Sustainable Packaging

Avery Maloto

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With 12 Taco Party Packs and refreshing Baja Blasts, there is no question as to how Taco Bell attracts over 40 million customers each week in the United States. Unfortunately, each of these orders presents a more pressing issue: sustainable packaging. 

Each year, only 29% of all fast-food containers and packaging are recovered. The rest accumulates in landfills, unable to serve another purpose in their lifetime. Fortunately, Taco Bell wants to address the issue of sustainable packaging.

Kicking 2020 off with a bang, the fast-food giant recently released a plan promising a sustainable mindset. Here’s what its plan is all about.

Sustainable Packaging: Recyclable, Compostable, and Reusable Products Only

Last week, Taco Bell announced its goal to make all consumer-facing packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025 world wide. 

With 7,000 stores open across the globe, the company sits as one of the largest fast-food corporations in the world. However, with this comes great environmental responsibility. Fortunately, Mark King, Taco Bell’s CEO, is already preparing for the company’s future.

In his own words, “As Taco Bell expands its footprint, our responsibility to drive positive impact increases.”

Taco Bell CEO Mark King emphasizes his company's increased focus on sustainability. 
Credit: Washington Speakers Bureau
Taco Bell CEO Mark King emphasizes his company’s increased focus on sustainability.
Credit: Washington Speakers Bureau

King adds, “Our business growth in the last decade has positioned us to create change for good and implement creative solutions for our planet, our people and our food. We’re excited to shake things up and make 2020 even more about what matters most: our purpose”.

Fast-Food Giant Eliminates Chemicals and Adds In-Store Recycling Opportunities

In order to achieve its goal for sustainable packaging, Taco Bell is altering many of its products. 

Moving forward, several things such as fountain drink cups to paper bags will no longer have PFAS, Phthalates, and BPA. Despite being found in many food packaging, there is an unsettling link between these chemicals and multiple negative health effects.

For example, research suggests that BPA, or bisphenol A, may cause cancer and affect brain development in the womb.

By doing so, the brand strives to increase its products’ ability to be recycled, compostable, or reusable. Taco Bell did not release any information on what materials they will be using in its future packaging.

In addition to this, Taco Bell will also be offering sustainable in-store options in the near future. As of right now, these changes include implementing recycling and/or composting bins into all restaurants (where infrastructure permits).

However, there is a possibility that the restaurant will soon be supplying reusable food baskets for dine-in meals.

Taco Bell’s Previous Actions On Sustainable Packaging

In 2019, Taco Bell banned plastic straws from all of its locations in Romania and Moldova. Unfortunately, the company does not have any official commitments on bans involving plastic bags or foam containers.

Reducing Its Carbon Footprint

There is no doubt that Taco Bell is ringing in the new year with ambitious goals. However, this is not the first time that it has tried to implement sustainable goals. 

In 2019, the fast-food giant publicized 7 of its prioritized goals. Surprisingly, almost half of them can be attributed to reducing its carbon footprint.

For example, Taco Bell vowed to work to ensure that all its beef is sustainable, as well as to improve recycling efforts and include menu diversity for those leaning towards a plant-based diet

Although already having successfully launched new favorites like the Black Bean Crunchwrap, it seems like Taco Bell hopes to continue this momentum.

As another one of its 2020 goals, the company is currently striving to be the number one QSR for vegetarians.

Needless to say, environmental activists, vegetarians, and flexitarians around the globe are all happy for these announcements.

It’s Time For All Fast-Food Brands To Use Sustainable Packaging

With its efforts, Taco Bell is one of many fast-food restaurants to begin adopting a greener mindset. Working with similar ideas, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Subway have already made sustainable commitments. However, there is still room for improvement in this industry.

Although there are many options for companies to reduce their environmental footprint, there are a few ideas that should be implemented as soon as possible:

  1. Reduce packaging or use of plastic wherever possible.
  2. Ditch hard to recycle materials such as polystyrene.
  3. Like Taco Bell, offer in-store recycling opportunities.

By doing so, monumental change can quickly occur.

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Action

How Can YOU Help In The Fight Against The Australia Fires?

Maddie Blaauw

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Wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk carries a singed koala from the smoldering remnants of gum forests on Kangaroo Island on January 7.

Australia fires have burned an area twice the size of Maine in the past few months.

Authorities report that at least 25 people have died. Two thousand homes have been destroyed. Tens of thousands have been urged to leave their homes due to spreading flames and declining air quality. 

What’s even more alarming are estimations for affected animals. Some 600,000 different species are contained in the area burning, and many are completely unique to Australia. Based on calculations from Professor Christopher Dickman of the University of Sydney, 1 billion animals have died.

And Australia still has another month of fire season left.

So how can we help?

How to Help Affected Families of the Australia Fires

There are two main groups that are hurting because of the fires: people and animals. Some ways to help out the displaced people due to Australia fires include: 

1. The Australian Red Cross (for Communities)

Helping out with medical aid, food, and shelter, this organization has sent over 1,200 people to affected communities to help meet the increased need in their 70 evacuation and recovery centers. 

Australian actor Dacre Montgomery, who starred in “Stranger Things”, set up a GoFundMe page to gather funds for the Australian Red Cross.  Help reach the goal of raising $500,000 here.

2. Australia Wildlife Fund (to Increase Firefighting Efforts)

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Earth Alliance donates $3 million to help the people affected by the fires by funding firefighting efforts and supporting the damaged communities.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Earth Alliance donates $3 million to help the people affected by the fires by funding firefighting efforts and supporting the damaged communities.

This organization was started by a $3 million donation from Leonardo DiCaprio’s Earth Alliance. It first aims to help the people affected by the fires by funding firefighting efforts and supporting the damaged communities. The Australia Wildlife Fund will also dedicate funds to wildlife, both in the most urgent times and after the fires to restore ecosystems. Donate here

3. New South Wales Rural Fire Service (for Families of Firefighters Who Passed Away)

Battling the Australia fires is a dangerous job. Thousands of brave men and women are risking their lives to limit the damage of the fires. They don’t always come home; three have lost their lives so far in this wildfire season. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service is accepting donations for the families of those firefighters here. 

How to Help Impacted Animal Habitats

Wildlife affected by the fires need aid right now, but they will also need new habitats when the fire season is over. The organizations below have laid out plans to tackle one or both of these issues. 

1. WIRES (for Wildlife Rescue)

New South Wales Wildlife, Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. is the country’s largest wildlife rescue organization. WIRES volunteers carried out over 3,300 rescues in December alone. Donate here.

2. Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital (for Injured Animals)

Run in part by Steve Irwin’s daughter, this zoo has started the Wildlife Warriors program, which is raising money for new enclosures to house the influx of flying foxes and koalas injured in the fire. Help build these new facilities by donating here. 

3. World Wildlife Fund Australia (Planting Trees and Restoring Lost Habitats)

The WWF Australia has set a goal of planting 10,000 native trees.
The WWF Australia has set a goal of planting 10,000 native trees.

One of the organizations mainly focused on the repercussions of habitat loss, the WWF Australia has set a goal of planting 10,000 native trees in what were previously highly populated koala habitats.

Their action will begin at the conclusion of the fire season and are accepting donations here

Companies That Have Provided Support During the Australia Fires

Airbnb is offering temporary free housing to those in New South Wales and Melbourne. Photo Credit: Thomas Trutschel
Airbnb is offering temporary free housing to those in New South Wales and Melbourne.
Photo Credit: Thomas Trutschel

Another way to help Australia is to support companies who have helped the country fight the fires. Airbnb, for example, has offered temporary free housing to those in New South Wales and Melbourne, the places the fires’ effects have been the worst, who have been displaced.

Amazon contributed AU$1 million to aid fire relief efforts. Coca-Cola Amatil has given paid leave to workers volunteering with emergency services to fight the fires and provide relief, and 250,000 bottles of water to volunteers.

Additionally, several retail chains in Australia like Levi’s and The North Face pledged to donate 100% of profits from a day last week to the Australian Red Cross.

Beyond Donations: What Should Businesses and Government do About the Australia Fires

Donations now, or helping out however you can, is, of course, selfless and highly impactful. However, we also need to think about how these fires could look in the future if current environmental practices around the world continue.

Australia gets flamed for its climate inaction
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other political leaders have a role to play too.

While climate change may not have started the fires, the increased temperatures dry out plant material, essentially increasing kindling for the fires, making it easier for them to grow and spread.

In 2018, Australia’s national science agency and Bureau of Meteorology concluded that a 1 degree Celsius rise in temperatures has likely contributed to increased intensity in the Australia fires. 

Hopefully, these fires can help spur some changes in environmental policy worldwide. So even if donating is not possible at this time, help out Australia by pressuring businesses and governments to put in place more environmentally friendly practices.

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