Equilibrium/Sustainability — Harnessing the Earth’s energy

A futuristic structure hidden in the hills of Croatia is offering some hope to those seeking solutions to Europe’s burgeoning energy crisis.

The Velika Ciglena plant, which somewhat resembles a flying saucer, is making use of Croatia’s unique geology by harnessing the energy stored deep within the Earth, The Washington Post reported.

Croatia and its neighboring countries are situated atop a unique topography where heat from the planet’s sub-surface can be accessible above ground, according to the Post.

This arrangement provides a high concentration of largely emissions-free geothermal energy that could become a round-the-clock foundation for a carbon-free grid, the Post reported.

“There is a huge potential to generate a lot of electricity out of this,” Marijan Krpan, the chief executive of the state-run Croatian Hydrocarbon Agency, told the Post.

Krpan expressed hopes that geothermal will eventually account for a third of Croatia’s power demand.

Advocates worldwide are increasingly voicing support for geothermal energy, as it has a relatively small footprint and generates more electricity per square foot than wind or solar, according to the Post.

Unlike those renewables, geothermal also provides the kind of predictable round-the-clock power generally provided by fossil fuels.

Skeptics, however, argue that solar and wind produce power more cheaply and that building geothermal facilities may not make sense from an economic perspective, the Post reported.

But Dragutin Domitrovic, a former construction manager at Velika Ciglena, touted the benefits of geothermal, which he described as “our own resource.”

“You don’t have to haggle about it with anybody,” he told the Post. “What’s better than having our own energy in our backyard?”

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Today we’ll see why President Biden is threatening to hit oil companies with higher taxes, followed by a look at the environmental implications of Brazil’s election outcome. Plus: Researchers call upon the Catholic Church to reinstate “meatless Fridays” as a climate-saving measure.

Biden threatens ‘higher tax’ on oil companies

President Biden has warned that oil companies could get a “higher tax” on excess profits if they don’t reinvest in raising production to reduce prices at the pump, our colleague Rachel Frazin reported.

Accountable to Americans: Petroleum producers “have a responsibility to act in the interest of their consumers, their community and their country, to invest in America by increasing production and refining capacity,” Biden said during a Monday afternoon speech.

“If they don’t, they’re going to pay a higher tax on their excess profits and face other restrictions,” he added.

‘Windfall of war’: Biden described the oil company profits as “a windfall of war” and ordered these firms “to stop war profiteering,” Reuters reported.

  • The president was referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has caused global oil prices to skyrocket.  

  • British lawmakers this summer approved a 25 percent “windfall tax” on oil and gas producers, and the White House has been considering similar such plans since.

Is Biden’s proposal possible? Sort of. Biden can’t unilaterally impose a tax on companies and would need a new law to pass in Congress, Frazin reported.

  • The president pledged to work with the legislature to assess his options. 

  • His comments occurred after ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell all reported high third-quarter earnings.

Pending midterm results: The proposal could be up against several obstacles in Congress, particularly if Republicans win majorities in one or both chambers in the midterms, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Meanwhile, Biden’s approval ratings have faced setbacks due to high energy prices ahead of the midterms, according to the Journal.

How did industry respond? Producers have shown some aversion to what they view as a potentially risky investment in new drilling, Frazin reported for The Hill.

  • The petroleum industry rejected Biden’s remarks, stressing that added taxes could discourage production.  

  • “American families and businesses are looking to lawmakers for solutions, not campaign rhetoric,” American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers said in a statement.

Raising the rhetoric: Biden has repeatedly sought to blame industry for the high prices, but he has increased this rhetoric in the wake of massive earnings, Frazin and our colleague Karl Evers-Hillstrom reported in a Tuesday analysis.

Although large portions of oil prices may be set by the global market rather than by individual firms, the visual “of massive profits while Americans struggle with inflation gives the administration something to cling to,” our colleagues added.

A qualified win for world’s largest forest

Brazil’s election of a left-wing leader on Sunday — and the ejection of right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro — is giving environmentalists hope for the future of the Amazon rainforest.

  • The Amazon — considered of major importance to combating climate change — faced increased logging under Bolsonaro, whose administration saw less enforcement of environmental laws.  

  • However, the hopes of these environmentalists are also complicated by the Bolsonaro movement’s continued power in Congress — and the former president’s reluctance to concede.

Regime change: On Sunday, Brazil elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known colloquially as “Lula,” to be its president.

  • Da Silva, who was also the country’s president from 2003 through 2010, has pledged to protect the Amazon, which saw significant deforestation under Bolsonaro.  

  • “Let’s fight for zero deforestation,” he said after winning the election, according to Euronews.

Battle plan: “Brazil will fight for a living Amazon,” da Silva continued, per Euronews.

“A standing tree is worth more than thousands of logs — that is why we will resume the surveillance of the entire Amazon and any illegal activity, and at the same time we will promote sustainable development,” he added.

Why that matters: Preserving the Amazon is important to fighting climate change because of the amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide that the massive forest can absorb.

  • The forest stores around 123 billion tons of carbon above and below ground according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  

  • The forest’s ability to store carbon is “absolutely necessary to fight the climate emergency,” Brazilian climate scientist Carlos Nobre told Equilibrium.

The Amazon is also home to hundreds of Indigenous groups and a myriad of animal and plant species.

RETURN OF A LEGACY 

Da Silva’s past legacy in controlling forest loss in the Amazon is a principal reason why his candidacy stirred hope among environmentalists both in and outside of Brazil.

  • During da Silva’s prior two terms between 2003 and 2010, his administration expanded the scope and number of protected areas, tackled illegal logging and funded new means of remote satellite surveillance to track deforestation, according to the charitable foundation Center for Public Impact. 

  • Da Silva and his successor Dilma Rousseff also targeted root causes of deforestation — like the easy credit available to agricultural interests clearing new lands.

Both left-leaning presidents incentivized new sustainable supply chains and investment into making Amazonian agriculture more productive, the Center for Public Impact found.

Those policies aimed at fostering economic growth through more intensive cultivation of existing parcels, rather than clearing new ones.

Return of reaction: But after a right-wing anti-corruption campaign saw Rousseff impeached and the still-popular da Silva imprisoned, Bolsonaro swept to power in 2018 on a platform that included scaling up development of the Amazon.

  • Under Bolsonaro, deforestation began trending sharply upward. The first half of 2022 saw record deforestation rates, according to Mongabay. Last month, INPE, Brazil’s space agency, found that deforestation was up nearly 50 percent from a year ago, as Reuters reported. 

  • A primary factor in this forest loss was the Bolsonaro government’s slashing of environmental funding, incentivizing land clearing for Amazon infrastructure projects and — particularly — fostering a lax attitude toward law enforcement in the forest, according to a March study in Environmental Research Letters.

Culture of lawlessness: “Bolsonaro’s administration did not prioritize [enforcing] the law, especially environmental law, in the Amazon,” Carolina Genin, climate director at World Resources Institute Brazil, told Equilibrium.

“The state can actually change things very quickly because actually it’s a question of will — of enforcing the law,” Genin said, while also noting that “it’s not a silver bullet, but it will solve an important part of the problem.”

Congressional handicap: But the new president faces a far more difficult challenge than in his first administrations — starting with the tight control that the Bolsonaro faction still maintains a commanding lead over both houses of Brazil’s Congress, Reuters reported.

Catholics could curb emissions via meat-free Fridays

If Pope Francis reinstated meatless Fridays for Catholics across the globe, such action could mitigate literally millions of tons of greenhouse gases annually, a new study has found.

Potential for major impact: Such a decision from Catholic bishops in the U.S. alone could produce environmental benefits up to 20 times greater than those in the U.K., according to the study, conducted by the University of Cambridge.

Role of civil society in combatting climate change: “The Catholic Church is very well placed to help mitigate climate change, with more than one billion followers around the world,” lead author Shaun Larcom, from Cambridge’s Department of Land Economy, said in a statement.

  • “Pope Francis has already highlighted the moral imperative for action on the climate emergency, and the important role of civil society in achieving sustainability through lifestyle change,” Larcom added.  

  • Meat, he continued, is one of the biggest drivers of greenhouse gas emissions.

Looking back: Larcom and his colleagues said they studied the dietary and social impacts of a 2011 call from Catholic bishops of England and Wales to forego meat on Fridays.

  • They observed that 28 percent of Catholics there adjusted their Friday diet following the announcement. 

  • Of that segment, 41 percent said they stopped eating meat on Friday and
    55 percent said they tried eating less meat that date.  

  • People in England and Wales eat an average of 100 grams of meat daily.

Setting precedent: Even when more than a quarter of Catholics changed their dietary habits, the authors observed significant impacts.

  • This shift saved more than 55,000 tons of carbon annually.

  • That’s equivalent to 82,000 fewer people taking a return trip from London to New York over the course of a year.

A little goes a long way: “If the Pope was to reinstate the obligation for meatless Fridays to all Catholics globally, it could be a major source of low-cost emissions reductions,” Larcom said.

The gains would be considerable “even if only a minority of Catholics choose to comply, as we find in our case study,” he added.

Tuesday Troubles

Rhinoceros horns are shrinking in size, asteroids threat looms in the far future and deliberate oil dumping threatens ocean health.

Scientists find that rhinoceros horns are shrinking 

  • Rhinoceros horns have gradually shrunk in size over time, researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered, by assessing horns of 80 rhinos photographed between 1886 and 2018. Their findings, published in People and Nature, suggest that hunting rhinos with the longest horns allowed smaller-horned survivors to become dominant over future generations.

Dangerous asteroid menaces future generations

  • Astronomers have discovered an asteroid —  2022 AP7 — that could pose a threat to the Earth generations from now, according to a study in The Astronomical Journal. While the asteroid doesn’t pose a threat for the foreseeable future, its slowly collapsing orbit means that “way down the line, in the next few thousand years, it could turn into a problem for our descendants,” an astronomer told The New York Times.

Intentional oil dumping rivals damage from major spills

  • Every three years ships deliberately dump more oil than the notorious Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon spills combined, according to Yahoo News. Much of this effluent comes from cruise ships, which illegally dump used engine oil at sea, Yahoo reported.

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

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