class 12 – False climate solutions

Class 12 – Monday, May 16, 2022 

  • False climate Solutions
  • Carbon pricing, net zero / carbon offsets, carbon sequestration and capture, biomass, nuclear, plastics

Required Readings

  1. NY Renews False Climate Solutions –
  3. Environmental Justice and Human Rights Organizations: Carbon Offsets Don’t Stop Climate Change | Amazon Watch

Optional Readings

  1. Why Nuclear Power Is Bad for Your Wallet and the Climate (
  8. The New Coal: Plastics and Climate Change,

3:40 Intro
– review of homework assignments
3:50 News

4;00 carbon pricing
4:10 Carbon offsets
4:20 Real Zero vs. Net Zero
4:30 Nuclear

4:45 Bio Energy

4:55 Carbon capture and sequestration

5:00 test

3:50 News

There is a 50:50 chance of average global temperature reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in the next five years, and the likelihood is increasing with time, according to a new report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), published on Tuesday in Geneva. In 2015 the chance was zero. our oceans will continue to become warmer and more acidic, sea ice and glaciers will continue to melt, sea level will continue to rise and our weather will become more extreme. Arctic warming is disproportionately high and what happens in the Arctic affects all of us,

The fossil fuel industry’s short-term expansion plans involve the start of oil and gas projects that will produce greenhouse gases equivalent to a decade of CO2 emissions from China, the world’s biggest polluter. These plans  include 195 carbon bombs, gigantic oil and gas projects that would each result in at least a billion tons of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes, in total equivalent to about 18 years of current global CO2 emissions. About 60% of these have already started pumping. The dozen biggest oil companies are on track to spend $103m a day for the rest of the decade exploiting new fields of oil and gas that cannot be burned if global heating is to be limited to well under 2C. The Middle East and Russia often attract the most attention in relation to future oil and gas production but the US, Canada and Australia are among the countries with the biggest expansion plans and the highest number of carbon bombs. The US, Canada and Australia also give some of the world’s biggest subsidies for fossil fuels per capita.

In the Philippines, a Landmark Finding Moves Fossil Fuel Companies’ Climate Liability into the Realm of Human Rights. While not binding, the findings of the report by the country’s Commission on Human Rights has broad implications for other cases, experts say. In a damning and lucidly-written report, the commission found that the world’s largest fossil fuel companies had “engaged in willful obfuscation and obstruction to prevent meaningful climate action.” The companies continue to deny climate science and try to slow a transition away from fossil fuels, the report said, driven “not by ignorance, but by greed.” As the first national human rights body to weigh in on fossil fuel companies’ role in driving climate change, the commission determined that corporations have obligations under human rights law and can be held liable if they neglect them.

Ukraine slowing done US Climate Action. The United States owes billions of dollars in climate funding to developing countries. But the war in Ukraine is delaying payments and slowing down U.S. progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and that has leaders in low-lying and less wealthy nations feeling frustrated and forgotten. The Biden administration has rolled back limits on domestic oil and gas drilling to cope with rising energy prices. This spring, Congress allocated less than one third of the international climate funding it pledged, even as it rushed billions of dollars in military assistance to Ukraine.

In West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Supreme Court is expected to decide how far the EPA may go in regulating greenhouse-gas emissions from coal-fired and gas-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act. The case arises under a specific provision of the act, section 111, which authorizes the EPA to set standards for stationary sources of air pollution. Potentially, however, the case will have far broader implications, not only for the Clean Air Act but also for other federal statutory frameworks that aim to protect public health and the environment. The conservative justices have summed up their approach in a single, deceptively benign sentence: “We expect Congress to speak clearly when authorizing an agency to exercise powers of vast economic and political significance.”

4:00 Carbon pricing

– carbon tax vs cap and trade

In a cap-and-trade system, the government sets an emissions cap and issues a quantity of emission allowances consistent with that cap. Emitters must hold allowances for every ton of greenhouse gas they emit. Companies may buy and sell allowances, and this market establishes an emissions price. Companies that can reduce their emissions at a lower cost may sell any excess allowances for companies facing higher costs to buy.

Problems – subject to market speculation and can allow pollution to continue in low-income communities. Has not worked very well in RGGI. No reduce emissions. Emission reduction goals tend to be too weak

Offsets in Cap and Trade – Can companies use verified emissions reductions generated outside the cap to comply? Offsets can lower the overall costs of meeting the cap. For instance, agricultural and forestry projects can often reduce emissions at lower cost than industrial facilities. To be effective, offset projects must undergo rigorous verification procedures to ensure that emissions are actually reduced, and that only one entity takes credit for the offset.

Carbon tax:

A carbon tax is an “upstream” tax on the carbon contents of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and biofuels. A carbon tax is the most efficient means to instill crucial price signals that spur carbon-reducing investment. A carbon tax raises the cost of using fossil fuels thus making renewables cheaper comparatively.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that the world governments provide fossil fuels with more than $5 trillion annually in tax breaks, mainly by allowing them to avoid taking financial responsibility for the social costs associated with burning fossil fuels (e.g., increased health care costs)

A carbon tax can also be used to recapture some of the costs pushed on to taxpayers and consumers from burning fossil fuels, such as the $30 billion added annual health costs in NYS to deal with air pollution and fossil fuels and the tens of billions of dollars of damage from climate change (e.g., severe weather)

Unlike cap-and-trade, carbon taxes don’t create complex and easily-gamed “carbon markets” with allowances, trading and offsets. An upstream carbon tax levies a tax according to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by each fossil fuel. The cost of the tax is then passed along to consumers and producers as fossil fuels and energy intensive goods and services become costlier. If the carbon tax is effective, goods and services which are less energy intensive will become more affordable than those which release larger quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

NY’s present cap and trade program (Regional Greenhouse Gas Emissions) only prices carbon at around $6 a ton. The Congressional Research office concluded that the price of RGGI has been too low to reduce carbon emissions.

Polls show a majority of Americans support making polluters pay for carbon emissions. The strongest support, especially among Republicans, is to use the revenues to promote renewable energy.

Why some climate groups oppose a carbon tax

Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “A carbon tax distracts from the urgent need to keep oil, coal and gas in the ground. It would be a tax scheme benefiting the polluters, that does not cut emissions at source at the level that is needed to get the world to 1.5º C. It will result in the continuation of environmental injustice displacing families, affecting Indigenous treaty rights and upending local economies.” The inclusion of a carbon tax would create an inequitable, discriminatory, ineffective and ultimately regressive proposal that gives a green light for the biggest climate scofflaws to pay to pollute and maintain a harmful status quo.

Fee and Dividend

Since low and moderate income folks spend a higher percentage on energy than more affluent households, energy taxes are regressive. Most carbon tax proposals include some level of rebate to some or all consumers to offset the regressive nature of a carbon tax.

Trading carbon regulation and climate liability for a carbon tax

The industry and senior GOP leaders have called for a carbon tax in exchange for stopping federal regulations of emissions and protecting fossil fuel companies and others from any civil liability for the damages they have caused via global warming. Some climate groups such as the Citizens Climate Lobby, the largest grassroots group promoting a carbon tax, have supported such trades. The CCL bill last year also provided a tax credit for the production of plastic (on the mistaken ground that turning fossil fuel waste into plastic is a way to sequester it). Overall, CCL promotes a fee and 100% dividend.

A key issue is how much to charge per ton for carbon. Most now advocate starting at $40 to $55 a ton and then increasing the cost annually.


The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounced “Reggie”) is the first mandatory market based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia to cap and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the power sector.[1] RGGI compliance obligations apply to fossil-fueled power plants 25MW and larger within the ten-state region.[2] RGGI establishes a regional cap on the amount of CO2 pollution that power plants can emit by issuing a limited number of tradable CO2 allowances. Each allowance represents an authorization for a regulated power plant to emit one short ton of CO2. Individual CO2 budget trading programs in each RGGI state together create a regional market for CO2 allowances.

4:10 Carbon Offsets

The fossil fuel industry, big utilities, big agriculture, big finance — and their political allies — are pushing carbon offset schemes to allow them to continue releasing the greenhouse gases driving the climate crisis, harming Indigenous, Black, and other already-marginalized communities, and undermining sustainable farming and forestry practices. By allowing pollution to continue in exchange for land grabs elsewhere, offsets often shift the burden of reducing emissions from the Global North to the Global South.

Offsets have in general not reduced emissions.

Offsets undermine sustainable farming and increase consolidation in agriculture. Corporations and large landowners are best-positioned to develop offset projects, which further entrenches the factory farm and corn/soybean monocultural model at the expense of small farmers, including Black and Indigenous farmers and Tribal Nations. Instead of allowing the industrial, extractive model of agriculture to further prosper by selling offsets to industrial polluters, policy makers should support traditional and ecologically regenerative agricultural practices.

4;25 Net Zero vs. Real Zero

Many politicians and corporations set net zero goals rather than real zero. Often the government has a goal of an actual reduction of 80 to 85%. They argue that certain industrial processes such as cement and aluminum don’t have alternatives that eliminate emissions (e.g., renewables don’t heat at hot enough temperatures for the reaction), so they propose other steps to offset the continued emissions

Net Zero pledges that cancel out emissions in the atmosphere rather than eliminating their causes are not enough.

Net Zero emissions targets disguise climate inaction and distract from the necessary and urgent work of phasing out fossil fuels at source and localizing sustainable food systems and economies. Polluters’ Net Zero schemes are based on multiple myths and are little more than public relations campaigns. They blithely rely on assumptions that carbon offsets, tree plantations, bioenergy, and dangerous distractions such as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage will somehow keep or take emissions out of the air after polluters have done their damage. Unproven technologies that have repeatedly failed, have yet to be realized, and remain non-viable at scale are being imagined as supposed solutions for continued emissions. From carbon capture and storage to direct air capture to burning plastic waste for fuel, these technologies extend and deepen the fossil economy that drives the climate crisis while imposing profound new risks on frontline communities around the world. Governments and industries are using the “net” in Net Zero to avoid responsibility for past, present, and future emissions and create a false sense of climate progress.

4:30 Nuclear

Mixed opinion among climate activists, starting with continued operation of existing nuclear plants most of which are at their life expectancy when initially built.

Former nuclear regulatory top administrators  from the United States, France, Germany and Great Britain issued a joint statement in January strenuously opposing any expansion of nuclear power as a strategy to combat climate change. Why? There is not a single good reason to build new nuclear plants. Too costly, too slow to build, not carbon free, not renewable, storage of radioactive wastes.

Nuclear is low carbon, not zero carbon. Significant carbon footprint from construction (mining) and from uranium production – footprint much less for existing nuclear plants. Half of independent studies found life cycle carbon foot print of nukes to be insignificant; half found significant but still on low side

Operate at a very high percentage of capacity.

Biggest disadvantage for new nukes is cost (always been an issue) and length of time to construct means that it will come on line too late to halt climate.

Overall still safety concerns and problems re extremely long storage of nuclear waste (100,000 years)

Don’t believe the spin on thorium being a greener nuclear option | Nuclear power | The Guardian,233%20reactors%2C%27%20says%20Karamoskos.

There is a significant sticking point to the promotion of thorium as the ‘great green hope’ of clean energy production: it remains unproven on a commercial scale. While it has been around since the 1950s (and an experimental 10MW LFTR did run for five years during the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US, though using uranium and plutonium as fuel) it is still a next generation nuclear technology – theoretical.

China did announce this year that it intended to develop a thorium MSR, but nuclear radiologist Peter Karamoskos, of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), says the world shouldn’t hold its breath.

‘Without exception, [thorium reactors] have never been commercially viable, nor do any of the intended new designs even remotely seem to be viable. Like all nuclear power production, they rely on extensive taxpayer subsidies; the only difference is that with thorium and other breeder reactors these are of an order of magnitude greater, which is why no government has ever continued their funding.’

4:45 Bioenergy

“Bioenergy”—energy extracted from organic matter and implicating specific land-uses— is at the heart of many of these false solutions. As a replacement for fossil fuels, bioenergy raises no less serious and troubling questions about how we are using natural resources for human needs. Bioenergy can divert land use from food to energy production, particularly for populations in the Global South. It may also deplete the earth’s power of carbon recycling, which is urgently needed to slow and reduce atmospheric warming. Producing these fuels also requires intensive water needs and use of pesticides, leading to further concerns about how we use our planet’s land and resources.

Biofuels—primarily liquid fuels used for transportation, derived from a variety of plant matter including grains, grasses, tree fiber, and vegetable oils. Biofuel uses include transportation, heating, and generating electricity. As with fossil fuels, biofuels are almost always combusted to release their energy. Some biofuels are more than nominally “cleaner” than fossil fuels in terms of raw carbon content; the most prevalent, such as ethanol, are not. But in other respects, such as cultivation of their feedstocks and related land-use changes, displacement of food production, soil and water contamination, carbon-intensive fuel processing methods, and non-GHG pollutants and local pollution, biofuels introduce new problems that only compound a climate crisis demanding more fundamental changes in the energy system and the economy it powers

Biomass—raw feedstocks of biofuels, primarily woody matter, which are burned directly for energy instead of being processed into liquid fuels. it is acutely disruptive of carbon neutrality, because carbon recycling from the atmosphere by regrowing trees takes decades even as wood burning for energy is copiously adding emissions today. Further, side by side studies of biomass plants and gas plants, drawing on actual air permit data, find dramatically higher rates of local pollution from biomass.

Biomethane, termed “renewable natural gas”—biogenic gas captured from breakdown of waste materials in landfills and livestock operations, and processed into nearly pure methane for blending with fossil gas.

This “renewable natural gas,” like fossil gas, is nearly pure methane; if produced and distributed into the existing gas network, it will add to methane leakage and related serious warming effects, as well as local environmental health harms. Promotion of renewable gas is also arguably—indeed self-identified as— a strategic bid to buffer the fossil gas industry from policy and market changes that threaten its very existence.

 Waste-to-Energy—Garbage incineration – incineration of biogenic municipal waste (food, paper, cloth, wood) to reduce waste volume and recover energy for electricity and/or heat.

4:45 Carbon capture technology – Direct Air Capture

The idea is to capture carbon and remove it, either before or after it goes into the atmosphere.

The reason that the oil and gas industry love carbon capture is simple: It extends the fossil fuel era instead of ending it.

The big problem is that is very expensive and has not worked, especially at scale. Carbon capture and storage allows for the continued burning of fossil fuels. A recent review of relevant research shows that due to the large amount of energy required to power carbon capture and the life cycle of fossil fuels, carbon capture in this country has actually put more CO2 into the atmosphere than it has removed. There are also other significant risks related to the disposal and storage of carbon

There is more support for the concept of direct air capture but it also suffers from cost and technical challenges. It makes sense to invest in the cheaper technology that does work and in natural solutions. Direct air capture being heavily promoted by the plastics industry.

We oppose providing state subsidies to false climate solutions (e.g., plastic production, “utilization” of CO2 to make new products; most forms of bio-energy) under the guise of “removing” carbon from the atmosphere, especially when such approaches will likely enable continued use of fossil fuels and its associated pollution, often in environmental justice communities.

Renewable energy combined with investments in energy efficiency, conservation, battery storage, mass transit, and electric vehicle rebates need to be the focus of our efforts to address the climate crisis right now, as does reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses that industries are allowed to release.  These proven, cost-effective measures need to be prioritized – especially since the U.S. has made minimal progress in reducing GHG emissions to date. There is not enough current funding to promote these approaches.

Natural carbon removal options (e.g., biological sequestration methods) are a better use of funds.  While carbon removal may ultimately be necessary in the transition to the 2050 net zero emissions goals presently included in the CLCPA, there are natural carbon removal options that NYS should prioritize incentivizing and subsidizing. These include regenerative agriculture practices that increase soil carbon content, such as composting, cover cropping, and improved grazing management; afforestation, reforestation and the restoration of coastal and marine habitats. While the current bill includes some of these as options, a main beneficiary of the funding is likely to be mechanical-chemical Direct Air Capture, an unproven approach that will bring with it hazards and dangers, ranging from pipeline ruptures to contamination of drinking water, which will inordinately affect frontline, low-income communities and communities of color.

Mechanical-chemical carbon removal requires hazardous storage.  Millions of tons of removed C02 must be stored beneath the ocean or in underground formations where it can lead to earthquakes or be accidentally released or leaked.  If released, concentrated  CO2 is toxic and can  cause catastrophic injury and result in mass casualty events. We do not support cleaning up one environmental mess by potentially causing others.

When carbon is removed directly from the air – or from gas/oil facilities smokestacks – it must be transported to where it can be “durably” stored.  In six midwestern states, 3,500 miles of CO2 pipelines are being planned to transport millions of tons of carbon, and there are plans for seizing private land by eminent domain to build them.

DAC is energy intensive, requiring fossil fuels to power the operation.  1) CO2 in the atmosphere is much more dilute than in, for example, flue gas from a power station or cement plant. 2) The chemical reaction required to capture CO2 in large Direct Air Capture operations only occurs at very high temperatures. 3) CO2 needs to be compressed under very high pressure to be transported and then injected into geological formations. This contributes to Direct Air Capture projects’ higher energy needs and cost relative to other CO2 capture technologies and applications.

According to a white paper published by Microsoft in 2021, the cost of direct air capture is more than 50 times the cost per metric ton of most biological carbon sequestration climate solutions.

4:45  Hydrogen

technically not a biofuel, hydrogen gas for energy is produced from methane gas or water and primarily used as a heat source in industrial processes.

Hydrogen’s main climate benefit with these applications is to reduce the carbonintensity of on-site industrial production processes, which require high temperature heat 40 typically generated by fossil fuels. More than one quarter of global emissions come from on-site industrial processes involving fossil fuels; thus, hydrogen is potentially an impactful source of emissions abatement. The problem is that hydrogen production itself is carbon intensive. Ninety-six percent of hydrogen gas currently available is produced with fossil fuels, and only 4 percent is produced with renewable energy.

Blue hydrogen is hydrogen produced from natural gas with a process of steam methane reforming, where natural gas is mixed with very hot steam and a catalyst. A chemical reaction occurs creating hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Water is added to that mixture, turning the carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and more hydrogen. If the carbon dioxide emissions are then captured and stored underground, the process is considered carbon-neutral, and the resulting hydrogen is called “blue hydrogen.”

But there’s some controversy over blue hydrogen because natural gas production inevitably results in methane emissions from so-called fugitive leaks, which are leaks of methane from the drilling, extraction and transportation process.

The Cornell and Stanford researchers found that the use of blue hydrogen is more harmful than once thought due to the high amounts of natural gas needed to fuel the process, combined with the escape of “fugitive” carbon dioxide and methane emissions produced from extraction.  When compared to the equivalent levels needed to produce the same heat, amounts of these “fugitive” emissions outweigh the emissions produced from burning gas and coal. The study found that blue hydrogen utilizes inefficient carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS).

The Sierra Club only supports the use of green hydrogen—hydrogen made through electrolysis that is powered by renewable energy. Even in the case of green hydrogen, other conditions must be met for its use to be a good idea:

  1. Green hydrogen is a promising solution only for uses that cannot otherwise directly rely on clean electricity, which is much more efficient.
  2. Green hydrogen should not be used to justify a buildout of facilities that otherwise increase pollution or fossil fuel use.
  3. If green hydrogen is being used, the goal should be to switch to 100 percent green hydrogen once the technology is available. We should not support projects that label themselves as “sustainable” because their fuel source includes a small fraction of hydrogen when the lion’s share of it is fracked gas.

Climate Change and Advocacy  APA 2187 – Final Test


Please choose 3 out of the 6 questions below. Your response for each question should be 1200 to 1500 words and includes references to facts to support your positions. You may use materials presented in class or do your own research to provide the answers. Please return the test to me ( by May 21 so I have time to review prior to our last class.

Also, please provide an update to your advocacy plan (see info below).

Essay Questions

  1. President Biden has set a goal of getting 100% of the nation’s electricity from renewable energy by 2035. How far along is the US in meeting such goals; what are the most important steps the Biden administration has taken to achieve such goals; and what are key steps Biden still needs to take?
  2. In Paris 6 years ago, the industrial nations acknowledged the need to provide financial and technical assistance to developing countries to deal with climate change. Why should the industrial countries do this; what has the progress been since Paris; and how much aid does the Global South need?
  3. According to scientists, how fast must the world reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid global warming of 1.5 degrees C? Is there sufficient time to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C and if not, what mitigation/resiliency steps should we take to help people cope?
  4. Climate advocates believe that the concepts of environmental justice and a Justice transition should center the efforts in the US to deal with climate change. How should this be accomplished and what would this look like?
  5. You have been hired by a climate group to get the state legislature in your home state to allocate a billion dollars a year for five years to subsidize the purchase of home air and ground air heat pumps for low and moderate income consumers. How would you organize a campaign to achieve this goal? Address how to draft the proposal; how to engage state legislators; how to build community support including grassroots organizing, social media, media, etc.; and how to convince consumers to actually purchase and install such systems.
  6. Many climate activists call approaches such as nuclear power, bioenergy, renewable natural gas, blue hydrogen and net zero goals false climate solutions. Do you agree or disagree and why? (You can also have different opinions on various issues)

Update to advocacy plan 

Please provide me with an update to your advocacy plan. This does not need to be a long but should include a final version of your advocacy plan, a review of the various activities you took on your advocacy plans, any insights you gain, and any ideas about how in hindsight you might have improved our efforts.