EU tilts toward renewables as Russian oil ban talks bog down

Source: Evgenii Mitroshin / iStock via Getty Images

By David Callaway, Callaway Climate Insights

We’ve been waking up to rain all week here in Northern California, which after three months of unnatural winter dryness is very welcome, especially as we watch wildfire season begin to rage down in Arizona and New Mexico.

So far this year, 19,774 fires have burned 832,844 acres in the U.S., which is 30% more than the 10-year average of fires and acres burned by this date, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center.

Here in the West, as we celebrate the 52nd Earth Day Friday, it’s gearing up to be another big fire year. In Europe, though, the story this weekend is the upcoming ban on Russian oil and gas. In particular, how weak it’s shaping up to be.

While the European Union is still expected to issue a ban as soon as next week, last-minute, backroom compromising in Brussels is causing speculation it will be full of holes, as more countries join Germany and Hungary in voicing opposition to a rigid ban on Russian energy and look for loopholes.

Instead, the EU is doubling down on its commitments to raise renewable energy use, planning to more than double it by 2030. While that is all well and good, and eight years away, a collapse of unity on hitting Russia in its most vital economic interests now will send a terrible signal to Vladimir Putin as he pounds on in Mariupol, and hobble Europe’s transition for many Earth Days to come.

More insights below . . . .

Zeus: Climate change goes Hollywood

. . . . Despite the success of the recent movie Don’t Look Up, the apocalyptic nature of many climate-change films over the years has held screenwriters back from integrating the renewable energy transition into more scripts and streaming shows, according to a new report. David Callaway suggests the focus needs to be on the drama of finding global warming solutions, particularly around the people, the technologies and money going into them. He even takes a stab at a few new show ideas himself. . . .

Read the full Zeus column

EU notebook: Germany raises renewables commitment in electricity industry overhaul

. . . . No European country is more exposed to the energy effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than Germany, which gets 40% of its energy from Vladimir Putin. New efforts this week by the government of Olaf Scholz to increase renewables capacity to 80% by 2030 target sharp increases in wind and solar power usage, writes Alisha Houlihan from Dublin. But little was said about nuclear, which Germany has in years past been trying to eliminate. The new program will draw praise from Brussels but is expected to be challenged short-term by supply chain issues that have dramatically raised renewable technology prices. . . .

Read the full EU notebook

Thursday’s subscriber insights: Tesla’s solar supply woes dampen renewable forecasts

. . . . On the one hand, a top solar company exec is predicting solar will generate half the world’s power by 2050. On the other, Tesla’s solar installations have plummeted almost 50% because of supply chain issues. What gives? Will the road to solar supremacy get smoother? Read more here. . . .

. . . . No doubt about it — producing booze is bad for the environment. You have to heat up the mash of grains to produce the alcohol, whether it be for Scotch or gin, thus producing emissions. Same for brandy and other liquor store favorites. Now a vodka producer says he can make guilt-free hooch. Read more here. . . .

. . . . You’ve heard the jokes about the ridiculously long CVS receipts. But it’s no laughing matter, due to the environmental and health risks they pose, says Green America. But there have been some healthy changes at the point of sale. Read more here. . . .

. . . . If a tree burns in a forest and no one started the fire, does anyone take responsibility for its greenhouse gas emissions? It’s more than a thought experiment as countries account for emissions under the Paris Accord. Read more here. . . .

Editor’s picks: Arizona wildfires; Oregon’s not-so-secret coal secret

Arizona’s Tunnel Fire nears Flagstaff

Out-of-control wildfires have destroyed homes and hundreds more are threatened near Flagstaff, Ariz. The Tunnel Fire in northern Arizona’s Coconino County, which started Sunday,  had burned more than 20,000 acres as of Wednesday afternoon. The state’s wildfire season began early this year and is expected to be worse than previous years, according to state fire officials. Half a million acres burned in Arizona in 2021 and more than 900,000 acres in 2020. National fire officials say the southwest is the site of numerous wildfires fueled by high winds in areas such as Prescott, Ariz., and even Las Vegas.

Does ‘green’ Oregon have a dirty coal secret?

The State of Oregon has $5.3 billion invested in fossil fuel companies, according to environmental groups that want the state to divest. A report from The Associated Press says that although Oregon is generally considered a green state, due in part to it being among the first to commit to stop the use of coal-fired power, it has $1 billion invested in the coal industry alone. Citing Divest Oregon, the AP report says “the amount that Oregon has invested in oil, gas and coal companies — whose products are a leading cause of global warming — is probably far higher than $5.3 billion. That’s because the numbers that Divest Oregon obtained from the state treasury through a public records request do not include private equity investments, which are not subject to public disclosure.” The AP also noted that other states are eyeing their fossil fuel investments: New York’s State Common Retirement Fund will restrict investments in 21 shale oil and gas-producing companies that have failed to demonstrate they are prepared for the transition to a low-carbon economy. And a new law in Maryland requires “a fiduciary of the State Retirement and Pension System to consider the potential systemic risks of the impact of climate change on the system’s assets.”

Words to live by . . . .

“If we save Tuvalu, we save the world.” — Hilda Heine, educator, politician, and former president of the Marshall Islands.

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