Why US Emissions Rose in 2018

The news isn’t good for 2018. US CO2 emissions are estimated to be up 3.4% from last year, from a new Rhodium report. The details of that report are really interesting.

Emissions per sector

Unpacking those in order, we’re doing a good job at electrifying everything, however where we get that electricity from isn’t keeping up with demand. In the past the building of new Natural Gas power generation basically was at the expense of Coal power. But, now we’re at the point where the bulk of new demand is being served by Natural Gas, as we can’t build zero carbon sources nearly fast enough to keep up with new demand (not even to mention retiring old sites). A carbon price would be really effective at changing this equation.

Transport is really interesting, because buried in the report is this really interesting graph:

Are we at peak car?

Even with all the growth, gas demand was down. This further supports the theory that we’re at peak car that’s been floated in a few other places. Transportation sector emissions are still growing though because shipping (via trucks) and air transport are still on a growth path.

Buildings were another area where things were problematic, and a big part of it was the polar vortex last winter. We had just converted over to geothermal, and the fleets of oil trucks running all over last winter were notable. The buildings sector really needs more performance standards/building codes, and pushes for enhanced insulation and heat pump conversions. Our conversion from fuel oil to geothermal last year took 7 metric tons of CO2 off the board, which was the single biggest change we could make as a family.

Industry was the last huge add. I do wonder if they will have deeper numbers on what actually was going on here. What gets in this bucket is not always what you’d expect:

What is industry anyway?

Close to 20% of it is petroleum refining, which means that a lot of this could be attributed to increased US exports of fossil fuels, and the push this administration has made there. It is one of those areas where we get a 2 for 1 if we reduce fossil fuel demand other places. A carbon price would help here quite a bit, and help more generally in the rest of the industrial sector as it would let each part of it figure out how to do what they are doing in a more carbon efficient way.

While the report is not good news, it’s at least helpful to see what actually was driving it to figure out what kinds of policies would help.

Sloop At the Factory

Having lived in the Hudson Valley for over 20 years, I now get to be one of those folks that says things like: “have you been to that new icecream place? It’s across from where that dumpling place used to be, that was a bbq place before it. You know the one in the old bank building.” Businesses and places leave a fossil record, and after 20 years you become aware of the fossil layers beneath the current facade.

But, there are times when the new facade plays so much tribute to the old, and the old was so familiar, that it’s notable in it’s own right. As with Sloop at the Factory, where we were last night.

Sloop Factory Entrance

Sloop is one of the older craft breweries in the area, I remember them with bottles at farmers markets close to 20 years ago. I had heard recently that they had opened a new brewing facility at an old IBM plant, but the way it was described to me at first it didn’t sink in where it was. Which is the old IBM East Fishkill 330C building. The building that was on the other side of the cafeteria from 330D where I first worked when I moved to the Hudson Valley.

The old IBM site is really a great place for a brewery. It’s got all kinds of infrastructure, as this used to be chip manufacturing. 20 years ago they put in a new water pipeline from City of Poughkeepsie to have high quality water for their lithography lines (tolerances for chip manufacturing are much stricter than drinking water standards). And it’s nice to see something using that space instead of it sitting empty.

Drinking water tap
I really have no idea what kind of monitor station this once was, but now it’s the water tap.

But where I truly applaud the Sloop folks is how much they embraced the bones they are built upon. They converted an old monitoring station to their water tap. They have plaques of various IBM invention accomplishments out along the walls. The whole place pays homage to an era that’s past, as they expand into the future. With over 60 breweries in the Hudson River Valley, it feels really appropriate to have one now in an old IBM site, spanning the industries between the generations.

Cozy up to the bar, or pick a table. There are stacks of board games and arcade cabinets around.

Sloop’s always had some great beer. But with all the space available to them in this place they also put in a kitchen (with a kids menu), and have a ton of low, high, and picnic tables through out it. There are stacks of board games, including an old copy of candy land that we played last night. As a parent of a 4 year old I really appreciate this new brewery ethos of being kid friendly (Kings Court is doing this right as well). I like good beer, and being able to bring the whole family along makes for a fun evening.

We’ll definitely be back. And I look forward to taking old friends that used to work in those buildings back as well to get a glimpse of the past and the future all at once.

Book Review: The Sixth Extinction

Over the holidays I finally got around to reading/listening to The Sixth Extinction. It was quite good, but the language was at a density level where I found listening to the audio book to be a lot easier than reading on my kindle. Fortunately for me, both copies were in our library, so after my ebook lend expired I switched to e-audiobook lend to finish it off.

The book uses the lens of a number of extinct or endangered species to look at humanity’s impact on the world. And each species provides an opportunity to dig into a different part of science or the history of science around them.

The chapter on the Mastadon was fascinating. I never realized that the Mastadon, first discovered not that far from here in the Hudson Valley, was the trigger for the idea of species extinction. Unlike the Mamouth, whose teeth can be confused for that of an elephant’s, the Mastadon has cone shaped teeth that can’t be. It was odd enough that Thomas Jefferson believed these beasts were roaming the west, and were part of the reason he sent survey teams out. Eventually it would trigger the idea that species could go extinct, and start the process of reconstructing our past. But it’s super cool this happened in our back yard.

I learned was that Ocean Acidification was kind of accidentally discovered to be a thing after picking through the remains of the failed Biosphere 2 project. It turns out their biosphere wasn’t so good, so CO2 levels got up north of 1000 ppm, which drove the pH of the water quite acidic.

I discovered that I had a closer relationship to bat white-node syndrome than I realized, as Al Hicks was one of the state ecologists that first found it in NY. I met Al last year through at the regional Citizens’ Climate Lobby conference, as he’s also the Albany chapter lead.

And I really liked some of the visuals around the idea of a “new pangea”. It’s interesting to think about how global trade has effectively eliminated all the island barriers that we once had.

Definitely a recommended read. Going to be digesting some of it for a while.