Discover more from Talking Climate with Katharine Hayhoe
Retire that coal plant!
Switching out coal for clean energy, more extreme weather, and decarbonizing your home
Coal isn’t just an inefficient, expensive, carbon-belching way to generate electricity – it’s also a huge source of pollution that directly impacts people’s health. Seven years ago, for example, a coal processing plant near Pittsburgh closed. This month, a new study finds that nearby residents’ ER visits for heart issues immediately fell by 42%; a huge drop that increased even further, to 61%, over the next few years.
That’s why it’s such great news that in South Africa, a coal plant that has been active for half a century is now retired — and being turned into a clean energy powerhouse! Instead of fossil fuels, the grounds of the Komati Power Station now generate solar and wind energy and serve as a battery storage system.
This encouraging new role for the coal plant is the result of a partnership between South Africa, the E.U., and the U.S. At the COP26 climate summit in 2021, they to deliver $8.5 billion in loans and grants to accelerate South Africa’s transition to renewable energy in a socially and economically just way. The country’s aging coal-fired power stations currently supply 86 percent of its electricity.
The South Africa agreement is the first of what’s called Just Energy Transition Partnerships, agreements that provide global financing for emerging economies that want to shift away from fossil fuels without leaving vulnerable communities behind. Since then, Indonesia and Vietnam have also signed JET agreements, and are currently developing their own plans.
This is the kind of creative climate solution I love to see, similar to the debt-for-nature deals I covered a few months ago in this edition of the newsletter. More please!
Last week was full of extreme weather, with wildfires sweeping across Canada’s Northwest Territories, a heat dome breaking temperature records across the central U.S., and a tropical storm making a rare landfall on the Southern California coastline, with another one threatening Florida this week.
The waters of the Pacific Ocean around northern Mexico are about 3-6F (1.7-3.3C) higher than average. The energy they provided enabled Hilary to power up from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane in just 24 hours. Though it weakened before making landfall, it still had enough strength to move northward into California as a tropical storm, where it dumped 10 months of rain in a single weekend in some areas, bringing flooding and mudslides to usually arid desert and mountain towns.
We tend to focus most on what’s happening near where we live – but these disasters are happening everywhere, these days. Wildfires are burning across Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece, heatwaves are scorching France, Switzerland, and Germany, over 100,000 people have been evacuated due to flooding in Pakistan, and dozens have died in floods in India’s Himalaya region.
As I’ve said before, heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and tropical storms are all naturally occurring disasters. But as the planet warms—and this year is likely to break the record for the warmest recorded to date—it’s making heatwaves more dangerous, heavy rainfall more frequent, and tropical storms and hurricanes stronger; and that puts us all at risk.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Electrifying your home is a great way to save money, improve indoor air quality by getting fossil (so-called “natural”) gas out of the house, and cut carbon emissions. In Rewiring America’s free handbook, “Electrify Everything in your Home,” they list 10 practical steps you can take, from buying renewable energy to replacing gas appliances with electric ones.
These tips apply to most places around the world. If you own a home in the U.S., though, now is an excellent time to look at decarbonizing your utilities and appliances because of the subsidies available through the Inflation Reduction Act. The San Francisco-based start-up QuitCarbon helps homeowners who want to electrify their homes to develop a plan and find experienced, vetted contractors to do the work.
If you live in Canada, you can apply for a Canada Greener Homes Initiative grant to reimburse some of the costs of retrofitting your home with clean energy. Italy has a new Superbonus tax credit for homeowners, the UK’s Green Deal can help you choose the best energy-saving improvements and find the best ways to pay for them, and Australia offers rebates and home energy support.
Do you live somewhere else? (You might, because this newsletter goes out to people in 58 different countries so far.) If so, see if you can find a program for your country or region, then share it with everyone you know!
Weds., Aug. 30th at 11am EDT - "Nature or tech solutions? How to build a carbon removal strategy" with Climeworks and JPMorgan Chase & Co. - webinar
Weds., Sept. 13th at 12:30pm EDT - "Connecting with Americans on Climate Change" with MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative - online
Mon., Sept. 18th at 4:30pm EDT - "This is Climate: Women Leading the Charge" with The Washington Post at Climate Week NYC - live-stream
Thurs., Sept. 28th at 7pm EDT - "New England’s Climate Future: City, Land and Sea" with GBH - in person in Brighton, Massachusetts
Weds., Oct. 4th at 7:30pm EDT- "Fall for the Book: SAVING US" with George Mason University in Fairfax, VA - in person
Sun., Oct. 29th at 4pm CDT - "If the Sky Were Orange: Art in the Time of Climate Change" a panel discussion at the exhibit at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, TX - in person