Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Solar panels to be sold at some IKEA stores this fall

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

A spatula, a shoe rack…and something for the roof

IKEA is getting into the consumer U.S. solar business.

The Swedish furniture manufacturer announced it will begin offering “home solar solutions” in some California markets through its Home Solar imprint by this fall.

IKEA is teaming up with California-based solar company SunPower to “allow more people to take greater control of their energy needs,” IKEA chief sustainability officer Javier Quiñones said in the statement Thursday.

If the pilot succeeds, IKEA plans to bring domestic solar options to more U.S. stores in the future, Quiñones said. 

IKEA already sells solar panels in nearly a dozen other global markets. The announcement also comes about a year after the company began selling renewable energy to homeowners in Sweden.

The U.S. venture will position IKEA in direct competition with Tesla Energy, a subsidiary of Elon Musk’s electric vehicle firm that designs and installs solar rooftop systems, Insider noted.

We can’t wait to see the instruction manuals.

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.

Today we’ll look at a wildfire that’s brought climate change-fueled destruction to one of Southern California’s ritziest neighborhoods. Then we’ll look at a Trump-fueled challenge to a Republican attempt to seize control of the climate narrative.  

Devastating blazes in California

Hundreds of people in coastal Orange County remained under evacuation orders on Friday, as a brush fire that has already destroyed 20 homes continued to blaze for a third consecutive day. 

With the flames just 15 percent contained as of Friday midday and higher-than-average temperatures expected to persist into early next week, meteorologists told CNN that the embers could spread further.

What has happened thus far? The blaze, dubbed the Coastal Fire, has devastated mansions along the hillside streets of Laguna Niguel — a city with some of the state’s wealthiest neighborhoods, according to CNN.  

Laguna Niguel is about 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles. 

The blaze has thus far destroyed 20 homes, damaged at least 11 others and scorched about 200 acres, CNN reported, citing Orange County officials.  

What was the source? The fire started with a flareup in the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, in Laguna Niguel, on Wednesday afternoon.   

The blaze began burning much earlier than usual for the region’s fire season, which tends to peak in the late summer and fall, according to CNN.  

‘An unlucky combination of factors’: Moderate winds, drought-ravaged vegetation and the area’s steep topography likely contributed “to an unlucky combination of factors” that led to the sudden eruption, the Los Angeles Times reported.  

“Within a few hours, multiple homes were ablaze and spewing hot embers as the Coastal fire chewed methodically through an upscale development overlooking the Pacific Ocean,” the Times noted.  

Many of these homes had been constructed before stricter, fire-protective building codes were in place, according to the newspaper. 

A ‘self-propagating force’: “That’s not atypical, for a fire to happen when those pieces start to align — not aligned in our favor but aligned against us,” Orange County Fire Authority spokesperson Sean Doran told the Times.  

“As they start to stack, it becomes a more self-propagating force,” Doran added. 

‘A FIRE SEASON THAT NEVER ENDS’

Amid the ongoing blaze, local experts are considering what the continued impacts of climate change and extreme drought will mean for year-round wildfire risk.

A ramp up, not a beginning: “Summer in California no longer means the beginning of fire season,” Bill Deverell, director of the Huntington-University of Southern California Institute on California and the West (ICW), said in a statement

“Rather, it means we are about to enter the roughest six or so months of a fire season that never ends,” added Deverell, who heads the ICW’s The West on Fire project.

What can be done? Deverell stressed the importance of fire management practices, such as prescribed burns that can help reduce the fuel to emerging fires.  

He warned, however, that such changes can take time to implement.  

“What we need is more fire on the brain: We have to talk about it more, we have to study it more, and we have to try to understand it better, even as the ‘fire regimes’ of the American West are changing year to year,” Deverell said. 

Dangers of smoke downwind: With a long-term surge in wildfires also comes increasing health impacts from smoke and particulate matter, Ed Avol, an expert on smoke toxicity at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, said in a statement

Smoke, he explained, can affect people hundreds of miles away from an active fire. Avol suggested that residents keep N95 masks ready at home and consider investing in home purifiers. 

Be prepared: “The resulting poor air quality can affect your physical, mental and psychological health, so plan in advance for what you might do in case an event occurs where you live or work,” Avol added. 

Trump v. the Climate Caucus

This year’s GOP primaries could help shape the future of conservative efforts to turn climate change from a marginal issue to a key selling point for Republican energy policies.

In a number of races, Trump-backed candidates are challenging incumbents that have been more open to talking about the issue of climate than many others in their party. 

Seats on the line include: Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.).

There is also a cohort of freshmen lawmakers from the Conservative Climate Caucus fighting to keep their seats. 

Implications: While Republicans are expected to make gains in the November midterms, the question of what politics a potential Republican majority might support remains up for grabs, Heather Reams, head of the conservative nonprofit group Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES), told Equilibrium.

A more conservative electorate might “change the dynamics of what flavor of Republicans come back” in November, said Reams, whose group lobbies GOP lawmakers.

An early loss: Tuesday’s defeat of Conservative Climate Caucus member Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) by Trump-endorsed Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) marks an early loss for that effort, potentially weakening the Republican caucus that supports the so-called “all of the above” energy strategy for the coming Congress. 

What is ‘all-of-the-above’? In McKinley’s case, it means unflagging support for coal and methane — which he wanted to mitigate by using still-emerging carbon capture technology to capture emissions. 

That’s one slim area of potential agreement: Last week, the Biden administration’s Department of Energy announced $2.3 billion in funding for carbon capture initiatives, ranging from “point-source” solutions for smokestacks to direct air capture to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

That funding came out of the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill which McKinley supported and Mooney opposed. Mooney’s victory also likely means one less Republican vote for any such future measure. 

FINDING ‘RELIGION’ ON CLEAN ENERGY

Climate issues still aren’t very important for most Republican voters, Republican strategist Doug Heye told Equilibrium. 

But the development of local clean energy industries — from solar panels to domestic battery supply chains to electric vehicles — has the potential to change that, he said. 

Jobs, not carbon: If members “can talk about jobs — especially if we’re talking manufacturing jobs — then they’re less concerned about what the widget that is being manufactured is,” Heye explained. 

Climate groups aren’t convinced: While progressive climate groups say there is some overlap with progressives on, for example, innovation in new forms of batteries or carbon capture, they say Republican overtures amount to little more than a “narrative solution” aimed at giving young conservative voters talking points. 

Distinction without difference: The difference between a member like McKinley and one like Mooney “largely does not matter,” argued Jamal Raad, of progressive climate group Evergreen Action. 

“There’s no real Republican congressional support for climate action, at any level, anything close to the level of the scale and the scope of the crisis,” Raad told Equilibrium. 

But things may be shifting: Like Heye, Raad believes this lack of support is slowly changing.  

“Given the growth of the renewable energy industry and jobs on rural communities and in their congressional districts, eventually Republicans will find religion on the clean energy transition, because it will be happening and building political power in their communities, and they will need to reflect” those trends, says GOP strategist Doug Heye

Raad acknowledged that some Republican solutions around measures like carbon capture “may actually turn into real things down the line,” adding, “But unfortunately, we don’t have enough time for that to happen.”

Read the full story here.

VIRTUAL EVENT INVITE

The Opioid Crisis & the Criminal Justice System, Wednesday, May 18 at 1 p.m. ET

According to SAMHSA, nearly 20 percent of incarcerated individuals have reported regular opioid use. Yet only a small percentage of them are receiving medication-assisted treatment in jails and prisons. How do we improve access to addiction treatment within the criminal justice system? What efforts are needed to ensure a safe and successful return to society and the workforce? The Hill hosts a discussion on improving addiction treatment and recovery across the criminal justice system with Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and more. RSVP now.

Follow-up Friday

In which we turn back to issues from the past week.

Environmentalists accuse Michigan police of ‘forever chemicals’ contamination

Coronavirus, combined with drought, threatens North Korean food supply

Hyundai plant brings 8,000 jobs to Georgia

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

VIEW THE FULL EDITION HERE

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