Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Green NGOs staffers launch action week into May

Hundreds of workers from some of the country’s biggest environmental nonprofits joined forces on Friday to launch a week of action leading up to May.

The union-represented workers will be fighting for fair working conditions and a greener, worker-led future, according to a news release from the groups.

“Earth Day to May Day” runs until May 1, International Workers’ Day, part of what the groups describe as “unprecedented momentum in the green labor movement.” 

Groups represented include Defenders of Wildlife, The Public Interest Network, Greenpeace USA, Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement, among others.

“There is undoubtedly a groundswell of unionization happening across the country, which is also taking a hold of workers at environmental organizations,” Zack Gerdes, president of the Progressive Workers Union and a Sierra Club employee, said in a statement. 

“We know, to build a just transition to a more green and peaceful future, we must also turn inwards and strengthen the systems and policies that guide our organizations,” Gerdes added. 

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. Subscribe here.

On this Earth Day, we’ll head to Europe, where officials are urging their citizens to take environmental action at home to reduce reliance on Russian energy. And in France, energy politics are playing a key role in an upcoming presidential election.  

EU: Citizens can reduce reliance on Russia

The European Union (EU) is encouraging its citizens to work from home, use public transportation and turn off heaters in an effort reduce the bloc’s reliance on Russian fuel.

If EU residents adopt a prescribed list of energy-saving steps, they can together “save enough oil to fill 120 super tankers and enough natural gas to heat almost 20 million homes,” according to an outline published by the European Commission and the International Energy Agency (IEA) on Thursday. 

Decrease dependence on Russia, greenhouse gases: The outline, called “Play my Part,” aims to slash the bloc’s reliance on Russian energy while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a news release accompanying the plan explained. 

“The Russian war in Ukraine is a human tragedy and a humanitarian disaster, and we’re all looking at what can we do ourselves — what can we do professionally and what can we do personally,” European Commission Director-General for Energy Ditte Juul Jørgensen said at a virtual summit on Thursday.

Taking personal responsibility: “The one thing that everyone can do — each of us can do, individually at home and at work — is to save energy,” Jørgensen added. 

Doing so, she explained, will enable Europeans to save on their energy bills, improve climate conditions as a whole and help Ukraine.

The EU imports about 150 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia per year. However, Jørgensen explained that the implementation of European Green Deal policy initiatives could cut about 100 billion cubic meters by 2030 by accelerating and scaling up renewable energy. 

“But the most effective measure, and the absolutely necessary measure, is energy savings,” Jørgensen said. “We can cut immediately.” 

Specific recommendations put forward by EU leaders: 

  • Turn down heating and use less air-conditioning
  • Adjust boilers to more efficient settings
  • Work from home
  • Use cars more economically
  • Reduce highway speed
  • Leave cars at home on Sundays in large cities
  • Walk or bike short trips instead of driving
  • Use public transport
  • Skip the plane, take the train


ADDING IT ALL UP

Turning down the thermostat by just 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) would save around 7 percent of the energy used for heating, according to the plan. 

Setting an air conditioner 1 degree C warmer, meanwhile, could decrease the amount of electricity used by up to 10 percent. 

Added benefits of staying home: With a typical one-way car commute in the EU amounting to about 15 kilometers (9 miles), working remotely for three days a week could cut monthly household fuel bills by about 35 euros ($38) — even when accounting for increased energy usage at home, the outline explained.

Highway drives can take a toll: The plan also estimates that reducing highway speeds by about 10 kilometers per hour could save drivers about 60 euros ($65) each year, according to the plan.

‘A big, big, big challenge’: “We are, in my view, in the first global energy crisis. It looks like that this crisis may be with us for some time to come,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said at the virtual summit.

Birol stressed that even if the EU’s liquefied natural gas import capacity was 100-percent working — which he described as “a big, big, big challenge” — the bloc would still need a substantial amount of additional gas to get through the next winter. 

Countries will therefore be left to choose between government rationing of consumer energy supplies or “we do it ourselves,” Birol said.

Practical steps for firm pushback: The steps presented in the plan, he explained, are actions consumers can take in “the most effective and practical way,” Birol said.

“You save money, you at the same time push Russia back and you are on the frontline with the Ukrainians against Russia,” he said. 

VIRTUAL EVENT INVITE

The Hill’s Sustainability Imperative—Wednesday, April 27 & Thursday, April 28—2:00 PM ET/11:00 AM PT daily

Sustainability is not optional—it’s imperative, and everyone has a role to play. On April 27 and 28, The Hill will host its second annual festival convening policy leaders and practitioners in the sustainability ecosystem, featuring interviews with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory, actress Sigourney Weaver and moreRSVP today to save your spot.

French politicians split on renewables, nuclear

Voters in the European Union’s second-largest economy head to the polls on Sunday to select their next president.  

The election has major implications for France’s energy sector, including the survival of its wind and solar sections as well as the shape of its nuclear industry.

Both right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen and centrist President Emmanuel Macron believe that France’s energy future demands a big investment in nuclear power.

It’s also, however, the only energy point on which they agree — even in broad strokes, the BBC reported. 

‘Skeptic’ v. ‘hypocrite’: In a fiery debate on Wednesday, Macron lambasted his rival for what he described as her “all-nuclear strategy.”  

“It is not possible,” he said, calling her a “climate skeptic,” according to Le Monde. 

“I’m absolutely not a climate skeptic, but you are a bit of a climate hypocrite,” retorted Le Pen. 

Le Pen argued dependence on goods manufactured far away —- rather than locally — “is responsible for a large part of greenhouse gas emissions,” BBC reported. 

This “localism” line may be an attempt by Le Pen to win over followers of her erstwhile far-left opponent, Jean-Luc Mélenchon — a staunch climate populist who didn’t make it to the runoff, and whose supporters are being courted by both sides, Reuters reported. 

Between frustration and despair: Le Pen has correctly diagnosed the climate left’s frustration with Macron, but many European environmental activists feel that she is a bigger threat, according to Le Monde.  

“Mr. Macron’s program, which is imprecise and incomplete, makes us stagnate, whereas Ms. Le Pen’s program, empty and dangerous, makes us go backwards,” Morgane Créach of the Climate Action Network, an alliance of 36 organizations, told Le Monde last week. 

AN END TO WIND POWER IN FRANCE? 

Both presidential candidates agree France’s base-load power must be met with a scaled-up nuclear program.

That perspective puts both at odds with neighboring Germany, where even a war-induced fossil fuel energy crunch isn’t leading Berlin to restart its nuclear program, as the Financial Times reported. 

But Le Pen wants 20 new large nuclear plants, which would start to come online by 2031, while Macron wants 14, beginning operation in 2035, Bloomberg reported. 

Is either possible? That’s doubtful. Although nuclear power is now considered a “green” energy source in Europe — opening up new potential for financing —  even Macron’s lesser target of 14 new reactors by 2050 would be difficult to achieve both due to funding and time constraints, according to S&P Global. 

But the power has to come from somewhere: And Le Pen has campaigned on a rollback of the country’s onshore wind and solar program, which currently represents 10 percent of France’s electricity generation, Bloomberg reported.  
 
Le Pen has gone so far as to describe wind turbines as “horrors that cost a fortune,” according to Reuters. She has also proposed cutting wind and solar subsidies, using the money saved to subsidize the price of gasoline and diesel, Bloomberg reported. 

What about Macron? The incumbent wants a tenfold increase in solar power and to double onshore wind, and to build 50 offshore farms by 2050, S&P Global reported earlier this month. 

While that’s an ambitious plan, it also represents a compromise to anti-wind sentiment — as Macron pushed back the target date from 2030 to 2050 following pressure from landowner groups, according to trade journal Recharge News. 

Such projects have been “systematically targeted” by rural French plaintiffs claiming health impacts, Recharge reported in November. 

Who is likely to win? Macron has a small but consistent lead, according to The Guardian. Nonetheless, his victory is far from guaranteed, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Tuesday, Reuters reported. 

“The game is not done and dusted,” Castex said. 

FOLLOW-UP FRIDAY

NASA shoots for the moon with public-private lunar program 

  • Tech company Lonestar submitted a proposal to establish a data center on the surface of the moon. That’s just one of the madcap initiatives funded by NASA’s $250 million Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, in which risk is part of the deal, Ars Technica reported. 

Maine airline orders a fleet of electric aircraft 

Surging food prices to affect the vulnerable 

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you Monday.

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