Deep Decarbonization: The Next 50%

by Christine Skolnik

Last week Professor George Crabtree presented Deep Decarbonization, a talk about new and emerging energy technologies within the context of climate change.  The talk was organized by 350 Chicago and hosted by the DePaul University Institute for Nature & Culture.  George Crabtree is a Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research at Argonne National Laboratory.  The talk included a brief review of some vitally important points related to climate change, a discussion of various current technology issues, as well as research and development challenges for the future.  The talk is available on the 350 Chicago website here

I was particularly interested in Dr. Crabtree’s discussion of business and industrial challenges.  While most people, including knowledgeable activists, tend to focus on issues related to consumer uses of energy, Crabtree explained the real research and development challenges lay in business and industrial sectors.   [ . . . ]

An EPA inventory of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2017 described emissions by sector.  Each major sector emitted over a billion metric tons of “carbon dioxide equivalents” every year.  Transportation was responsible for 29% of emissions; electricity generation responsible for 28%; and industry was responsible for 22% of GHG emissions.  (The remaining sectors were agriculture, commercial, and residential.)

Unfortunately, the energy needs of commercial transportation and industrial manufacturing cannot be addressed by the same solutions we have developed for private transportation and residential energy consumption.  Amazon will introduce 100,000 electric vans for local deliveries between 2021 and 2024, but long-haul trucks are not yet electric due to current limitations in range and charging times.  Long haul trucks have to travel great distances, obviously, and such large batteries would take a great deal of time to charge.  Hydrogen fuel cells are a potential alternative to current battery technology for heavy, long-range trucks.  Hydrogen batteries are quite safe and create no GHG emissions.  However, it is still quite expensive to produce hydrogen as a fuel.  

Another transportation-related problem is commercial flights.  There are quite a few prototypes of small electric planes.  However, these have not yet been scaled up for commercial use.  Airbus is developing a large, hybrid plane with one electric engine (out of four), but this will not get us to 100% decarbonization by 2050.

The major alternative energy challenge in commercial flight lays primarily in getting planes up to a cruising altitude.  This seemed like a significant obstacle, but Dr. Crabtree observed the dramatic progress made by the airplane industry in the first half of the twentieth century. 

Industrial manufacturing was the other primary topic of discussion.  We know plastic is a problem before it enters and after it exists industrial processes, because it begins with fossil fuels and ends up in our oceans.  However, I was surprised to learn there is currently no method for producing steel with alternative energy sources.  Upon reflection this makes sense. We all know that steel is forged at extremely high temperatures (about 1000 degrees Celsius).  What I did not know is that high temperatures like this can only be produced by combustion.  Hydrogen is an alternative combustion fuel, but it is currently most efficiently produced from natural gas and coal gasification.  As an expert in materials science, Dr. Crabtree emphasized the need for research and development into alternative manufacturing processes and materials. [ . . . ]

The bottom line is this. To remain below a 2° increase in global warming, we have to invest a great deal of research and development into replacing “the last 50%” of dirty energy.  Crabtree said we have to brainpower, but insufficient funding.  He ended his talk by advocating for a carbon tax as a logical way of reducing carbon emissions and funding research. [ . . .]

See full article including an important note about recently announced breakthroughs in industrial energy technology at the 350 Chicago website here.

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Climate Strike: September 20th, 2019


“On September 20, three days before the UN Climate Summit in NYC, young people and adults will strike all across the US and world to demand transformative action be taken to address the climate crisis. Millions of us will take the streets to demand a right to a future, and we’re inviting you to #strikewithus

Find a strike near you to attend on September 20 on the map below. If you don’t see an event in your area, organize one! We’ll provide everything you need to get started in planning something in your community so no experience is necessary.

Whether you’re 7 or 777, you’re invited to join the movement.”

Chicago Youth Climate Strike:

Start: Friday, September 20, 2019 • 11:00 AM

Meet at Grant Park at the intersection of S Columbus Dr and E Roosevelt Rd. We will then march to Federal Plaza.• S Columbus Dr & E Roosevelt Rd, Chicago, IL 60540

Host Contact Info:

Find out about more local events here.

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Canada plans to ban ‘harmful’ single-use plastics by 2021

By Ben Westcott, CNN
Updated 9:05 PM ET, Mon June 10, 2019

(CNN) Canada will ban many single-use plastic items by 2021, including bags, straws, cutlery and stirring sticks, to cut harmful waste damaging the country’s ecosystems. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the measures Monday, describing “a problem we simply can’t ignore.” “Plastic waste ends up in our landfills and incinerators, litters our parks and beaches, and pollutes our rivers, lakes, and oceans, entangling and killing turtles, fish, and marine mammals,” the Canadian leader said in a statement.” Less than 10 per cent of plastic used in Canada gets recycled. Without a change in course, Canadians will throw away an estimated $11 billion worth of plastic materials each year by 2030.”

Continue reading here.

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Permafrost collapse is accelerating carbon release

The sudden collapse of thawing soils in the Arctic might double the warming from greenhouse gases released from tundra, warn Merritt R. Turetsky and colleagues.

A researcher in Fairbanks, Alaska, studies a site at which methane is collecting beneath the ice.Credit: Josh Haner/NYT/Redux/eyevine

PDF version

Published in Nature, “Comment,” 30 April 2019

This much is clear: the Arctic is warming fast, and frozen soils are starting to thaw, often for the first time in thousands of years. But how this happens is as murky as the mud that oozes from permafrost when ice melts. 

As the temperature of the ground rises above freezing, microorganisms break down organic matter in the soil. Greenhouse gases — including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — are released into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. Soils in the permafrost region hold twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does — almost 1,600 billion tonnes1.

What fraction of that will decompose? Will it be released suddenly, or seep out slowly? We need to find out. 

Current models of greenhouse-gas release and climate assume that permafrost thaws gradually from the surface downwards. Deeper layers of organic matter are exposed over decades or even centuries, and some models are beginning to track these slow changes.

But models are ignoring an even more troubling problem. Frozen soil doesn’t just lock up carbon — it physically holds the landscape together. Across the Arctic and Boreal regions, permafrost is collapsing suddenly as pockets of ice within it melt. Instead of a few centimetres of soil thawing each year, several metres of soil can become destabilized within days or weeks. The land can sink and be inundated by swelling lakes and wetlands.

Abrupt thawing of permafrost is dramatic to watch. Returning to field sites in Alaska, for example, we often find that lands that were forested a year ago are now covered with lakes2. Rivers that once ran clear are thick with sediment. Hillsides can liquefy, sometimes taking sensitive scientific equipment with them. 

This type of thawing is a serious problem for communities living around the Arctic (see ‘Arctic permafrost’). Roads buckle, houses become unstable. Access to traditional foods is changing, because it is becoming dangerous to travel across the land to hunt. Families cannot reach lines of game traps that have supported them for generations.

Continue reading here.

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Disruption. Discussion.

By Christine Esposito, The Ex.Change Project of Terracom

Photo by Katherine Moore Powell. Lakefront and Riverwalk Pavilion at Indiana Dunes National Park

Climate scientists tell us we need to start talking about climate change. Regular folk, like you and me. We need to start talking.  

According to climate scientist and communicator Katharine Hayhoe, research shows that about three-quarters of Americans hear someone talk about climate change only once or twice a year. “If we don’t talk about it, why would we care,” she asks? “If we don’t care, why would we act? So action begins with a conversation.”  


Conversation is at the heart of Third Coast Disrupted: Artists + Scientists on Climate.The project entails a sustained, yearlong conversation between 14 local artists and scientists centered on climate change impacts and actions happening here and now in the Chicago area. This two-way dialogue will inspire new artworks for an exhibition that will open at the Glass Curtain Gallery of Columbia College Chicago in September 2020. 

Through interdisciplinary reflection and artistic expression, Third Coast Disrupted aims to be an engaging way to spur public awareness of – and dialogue about – the impacts of climate change in the Chicago region. By also exploring local responses to climate change, it seeks to instill hope and be a gateway to citizen action. 

The artist-scientist conversation begins at a daylong retreat at Indiana Dunes National Park this September, where the participants will meet, learn about each other’s work and engage in on-the-ground field observations. Through the following year, a series of informal salons will continue the conversation, while the artists create their works. 

The process promises to be as rich as the outcome.


Third Coast Disrupted is a multi-layered collaboration. As well as that of the artists and scientists is the partnership of the team leading the project. DePaul University environmental science and studies professor, Liam Heneghan, Ph.D., is science curator. Lisa Roberts, Ph.D., expert in museum and unconventional education, and principal of Naturalia, is art curator. And longtime environmental communications professional Christine Esposito, founder of The Ex.Change Project and Terracom, is director and co-curator.

Join us on this journey to Third Coast Disrupted. Learn more about the project, and sign up to receive periodic updates as it unfolds.

The exhibition opens September 8, 2020. See you there!  

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Lumina Rue: a dream

Lumina Rue by Owen Carson

The “teahouse” wasn’t a restaurant or shop but a kind of library.  There was no one inside but there were signs prominently displayed throughout, in multiple languages, with just one word on them.  Free.  Gratis.  Libre.  I could hardly believe it.  The books looked antique and well-preserved.  What kind of anonymous benefactor would sponsor such a marvelous public resource?  Or was it the case that books, even rare ones, were now almost worthless?  

I unzipped my jacket and began to wander through the aisles.  Before ascending the stairs, however, I circled back to the bookshelves near the entrance. Only a few minutes passed from the time I entered the building until I found a book on Ahuramazda.  I was struck how the book seemed to fall into my hands.  Surely, I wasn’t the only visitor curious about the mysterious word above the door of the building.  Upon reflection I was almost certain the book was a facsimile and that the management secretly replaced it every evening, perhaps more often (posing as visitors, and pulling copies from beneath their coats).  I don’t know why I imagined this should be a clandestine operation, as foreign gods were no longer a menace. 

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Ahuramazdawas an ancient Persian God, and a little disappointed by what I read in the first few pages, standing at the bookshelf as I often did when I was a student. Though I appreciated that his name meant Lord of Wisdom, and associated that with both my knowledge of Kabbalah and a minor obsession with Hagia Sophia, here was no great mystery, and no great discovery.  

I was, however, intrigued that the symbol of the god, with a circular element and wings, resembled the Egyptian symbol of the winged sun associated with Ra.  It reminded me of the ancient city of Heliopolis, constructed to honor the sun.  I thought about the obelisks of Heliopolis distributed throughout the capital cities of Europe with a sense of hope, but then recalled that the symbol of the winged sun could be found at the base of the Washington Monument, so close to the seat of a government bent on destroying life through sheer ignorance of the cosmological order.  For a moment I prayed I’d never wake up from this vivid dream.  As is often the case, I felt I was born out of time, but for the first time in my life I desperately wanted to see the future. 

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Chicago -15 degrees F

New work from dylar addict:

randy photo

via Chicago -15 degrees F

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by | January 30, 2019 · 23:08