The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

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As demand for electric vehicles soars, several roadblocks have emerged

This article was originally published by The Revelator 

Manufacturers, governments and consumers are lining up behind electric vehicles — with sales rising 60% in 2022, and at least 17 states are considering a California-style ban on gas cars in the years ahead. Scientists say the trend is a key part of driving down the transportation sector’s carbon emissions, which could fall by as much as 80% by 2050 under aggressive policies. But while EVs are cleaner than gas cars in the long run, they still carry environmental and human-rights baggage, especially associated with mining.

“If you want a lot of EVs, you need to get minerals out of the ground,” says Ian Lange, director of the Energy and Economics Program at the Colorado School of Mines.

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MEMPHIS Area residents were invited to a film screening of “Keep the Lights On” and a panel discussion at the Memphis Rox climbing gym with community members, local advocates and policy experts. The event, which ran from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, coincided with Global Climbing Day, and professional rock climbers Nina Williams, Manoah Ainuu (who recently summited Everest), Olympic Silver Medalist Nathaniel Coleman, and Fred Campbell hosted and participated in community and climbing-oriented events prior to the film screening and conversation. 

The film follows Memphis Rox staff member and leader Jarmond Johnson, recounting his experiences with intermittent energy access growing up in South Memphis, his growth into a gang activist and mentorship role at Rox, and, ultimately, working with professional rock climber and environmental activist Alex Honnold (best known for the academy award-winning film, Free Solo) to bring solar energy to the gym. Following the screening, Jarmond and a panel of experts discussed takeaways from the film, and how equitable access to solar energy could help all Memphians keep their lights on. 

— Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

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UN Climate ChangeA rainbow pierces gray skies during the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. United Nations

Climate activists stress positives of Senate climate bill despite its shortcomings 

Amy Rawe is communications director for Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

KNOXVILLE — The U.S. Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), an estimated $430 billion bill, of which approximately $370 billion will be allocated to investments in clean energy and to address climate change.

It’s the single largest climate investment in U.S. history, and if it passes the House, will put the country on a path to be able to achieve roughly 40 percent emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2030, reestablishing our influence in meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

Published in News, Air, 13 Climate Action
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Supreme Court air-pollution ruling calls into stark context all that must be done

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

KNOXVILLE — The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling limiting the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions that cause climate change has renewed the spotlight on the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public utility and Tennessee’s primary source of electricity.

The case involved EPA efforts to implement a key provision of the Clean Air Act in a challenge brought by 15 Republican-led states. That provision, which never went into effect, would have required existing power plants to shift from dirty sources of energy — such as coal — to cleaner sources, including solar and wind, as part of an urgent effort to reduce global warming.

Published in News, Air
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COVER 1208 GatlinburgsInferno3Wild turkeys forage in charred hardwood forest soon after the 2016 Gatlinburg fires, which moved from the Smokies to developed areas in Sevier County. An ORNL model predicts wildfire threats will increase in the Southern Appalachians because of climate change. Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press via Knoxville Mercury

ORNL report: Local wildfire danger will likely loom larger because of climate change

OAK RIDGE — This cruel summer, the Southern Appalachian region is already baking in above-normal temperatures and basking in poor air quality. 

Air temperatures in Knoxville flirted with 100 degrees on July 6, which were well above average and prompted the National Weather Service to issue a heat advisory for much of the metropolitan area.

It’s hard to definitively link a heat wave to global warming, but one oft-cited consequence of climate change is the growing intensity of wildfires, even in the traditionally moisture-rich Appalachians. The range of climate change effects is difficult to pin down, but one constant in the study of climate change is an expected increase in overall temperatures, which can power wildfires via both fuel increases and volatility.

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methane leaksBloomberg reports that methane leaks from the natural gas sector may be far worse than estimated by the EPA. While replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas ones reduces air pollution it may not help at all with climate change because methane is 30 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2.  Image source: Kayrros SAS

Report: Many utilities are not reducing carbon emissions despite public assurances to the contrary

KNOXVILLE — Global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 and experience rapid and deep reductions to avoid a potentially catastrophic future, according to a new analysis by air-quality and climate advocates. Emissions must reach net zero by the early 2050s to limit warming to 1.5 degrees (C) in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

Many utilities and municipalities have acknowledged this dynamic, but the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy s fourth annual “Tracking Decarbonization in the Southeast" report highlights that current utility resource plans are not in line with this overarching target. Obstacles to getting utilities on track that are discussed in our report include: increasing reliance on fossil gas, underutilizing energy efficiency, and placing limitations on popular technologies such as rooftop solar. There’s still a lot of work to do before any Southeast utility is on track to decarbonize.

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Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's fourth annual “Tracking Decarbonization in the Southeast: Generation and Carbon Emissions” report will be released Wednesday, June 22

Amy Rawe is communications director for Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

KNOXVILLE — The report examines power-sector generation and emissions throughout the Southeast, which is home to some of the biggest utility systems in the nation, including Duke Energy, Southern Company, NextEra Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Many of these Southeastern utilities have been in the national spotlight for their professed commitment to decarbonization, but there are often inconsistencies between stated goals and resource plans.

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heat photoThomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

TVA sets record power day for June as region swelters and common sense degrades

This story was originally published by Hard Knox Wire.

KNOXVILLE — City residents this week joined scores of others around the world — from the Southwest United States to the Indian subcontinent — sweltering through late spring with eyes toward a summer that portends to be very hot.

Whether directly attributed to climate change or not, the heat waves are causing untold misery in locations across the Northern Hemisphere, straining power grids to the brink and causing a sharp rise in heat-related illnesses. 

Knoxville Utilities Board asked this week that consumers curtail their electricity use by setting their thermostats a little higher and holding off until night on energy-sucking tasks like doing laundry or running the dishwasher. That request was met in many cases with derision and unsubstantiated claims that charging electric vehicles had overburdened energy infrastructure.

So exactly how hot is it in East Tennessee and how bad is it going to get?

Published in News, Air, 13 Climate Action
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Indiana batThe endangered Indiana bat is among threatened and endangered species in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Southern Appalachians show red as a warning on new detailed biodiversity maps 

This story was originally published by the Sylva Herald.

SYLVA — Great Smoky Mountains National Park has long been known for its abundance of different species of flora and fauna.

Credit old mountains in a warm, sunny and wet region with varying types of climate, soil and stone for that large number.

“The park is almost certainly the most biodiverse national park in North America,” said Paul Super, national park science coordinator. “And certainly the most studied of any national park.”

A group of environmental organizations recently put together a series of maps illustrating the regions with the biggest threats to their biodiversity, and the area around Jackson County and the national park showed up in the red, showing risk. One such map, based on NatureServe data, is among the most detailed maps of endangered and threatened species ever produced.

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Brian SohnCarson-Newman University Professor Brian Sohn is hosting a climate-oriented webinar on March 30.  Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

Local installment of worldwide virtual Climate Teach-In is set for 2:30 p.m. March 30

JEFFERSON CITY — Brian Sohn had “the closest thing to a panic attack” when his second daughter was born.

He had long been alarmed by climate change and its potentially disastrous effects, but her arrival brought home the need to address the environmental challenges of a rapidly changing planet.

So now the Carson-Newman University education professor is putting some final touches on a virtual climate-related “teach-in” he’ll host from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 30.

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