Biomass Production

Fri, 2021-01-15 10:26
January 6, 2021

SEAS News

Biomass Production0

By Adam Zewe, SEAS Communications 

When people think of renewable energy, solar panels or windmills are often the first images that come to mind. Yet half of global renewable energy comes from sustainable bioenergy, according to energy policy think tank REN21.

More than 60 percent of that sustainable bioenergy is produced by burning wood pellets, but their potential as a renewable energy source remains limited. Pellets generated from vast, tropical eucalyptus forests are banned in many countries because burning them generates hazardous emissions.

To read the entire article, visit the SEAS Communications page

Research Areas: 

Categories: Green Homes

To Everything There Is a Season

Fri, 2021-01-15 10:20
January 8, 2021

The Harvard Gazette

To Everything There Is a Season0

By Sheryl L. White, Arnold Arboretum Communications

Seasonal exhibitions are not unusual at any art gallery, but at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum in Boston, interpretations of how the seasons transform its landscape provide a standard theme for photographers and fine artists. Currently, the Arboretum offers two unique exhibitions on its website: “Resilience: Art in the time of COVID-19” by Lois Cremmins and “If Winter Comes…The Promise of Each Year in the Paintings of Anthony Apesos.” 

Cremmins’ “Resilience” reflects the artist’s message and personal journey to find a positive, restorative way to move through each day of the COVID-19 health crisis. Visiting the Arboretum over a year of seasons, she was inspired to create exuberant works in watercolor and collage reflective of her experience of the landscape.

“As spring unfolded into summer,” she said, “I could sense that the plants and animals, sun and sky, were carrying on in spite of the pandemic. And I wanted to make artworks as triumphant and defiant in the face of COVID-19 as I felt the entire Arboretum was being.”

Lois Cremmins illustrates the seasons in her pieces “Sprouting With New Life” and “A Place in the Shade.”

As a fitting complement to Cremmins’ theme, her work and recent Arboretum focus came to the attention of staff through a COVID-19 initiative — the Arboretum’s goal to remain open for all and establish visitor information tents at a number of its gates. This welcome outreach beckoned and served many visitors over summer and autumn, including New York transplant Cremmins, and contributed a providential introduction to her art.

Also on view in the virtual realm is a seasonal show by Tony Apesos, a previous exhibitor at the Arboretum. Apesos’ oil paintings of winter invite viewers on a rich, almost spiritual adventure into the collections during this season of sparse, intense beauty. His portrayal of winter has been shaped by his close observations and decades of Arboretum walks. It captures New England with exhilarating moments of golden light or the quiet of blue-shadowed snow.

Apesos — artist, professor, scholar, and art historian ― titled his exhibition “If Winter Comes…The Promise of Each Year in the Paintings of Anthony Apesos.” The title is a paraphrase of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” — “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” As the fates would have it, this theme would resonate meaningfully as we came through 2020.

These exhibitions both provide glimpses of that winter, and perhaps the feeling of spring being within our grasp.

The exhibits can be viewed on the Arboretum website. Apesos’ work will be available through Feb. 7.

Research Areas: 

Categories: Green Homes

The Trump Administration Is Reversing Nearly 100 Environmental Rules

Tue, 2020-10-27 12:26
October 15, 2020

The New York Times

The Trump Administration Is Reversing Nearly 100 Environmental Rules0

By Nadja Popovich, Livia Albech-Ripka, and Kendra Pierre-Louis, The New York Times

Over four years in office, the Trump administration has dismantled major climate policies and rolled back many more rules governing clean air, water, wildlife and toxic chemicals.

While other administrations have emphasized cutting regulations, calling them burdensome to industries like coal, oil and gas, the scope of actions under Mr. Trump is “fundamentally different,” said Hana V. Vizcarra, a staff attorney at Harvard Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program.

In all, a New York Times analysis, based on research from Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School and other sources, counts more than 70 environmental rules and regulations officially reversed, revoked or otherwise rolled back under Mr. Trump. Another 26 rollbacks are still in progress.

Read full article on The New York Times >> 

Research Areas: 

Categories: Green Homes

The Art of the Climate Change War

Tue, 2020-10-27 12:19
September 29, 2020

The Regulatory Review

The Art of the Climate Change War0

By Joseph E. Aldy and Richard Zeckhauser, The Regulatory Review 

Humanity is its own enemy in the war against the warming of our planet. To our peril, policymakers have ignored a deep insight attributed to Sun Tzu, from the fifth century B.C. Chinese military treatise, The Art of War: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Environmental advocates, major international environmental agreements, and domestic policy programs have traditionally focused on a myopic one-prong tactic to fighting climate change. That prong is mitigation, the curbing of emissions. A better, well-crafted strategy to address the risks posed by climate change, however, would engage three prongs: continuing mitigation, while adding adaptation and amelioration to the armamentarium.

Were Sun Tzu writing on climate change today, he might describe the mitigation-only approach by invoking the metaphor of fighting a modern war relying solely on ground forces, while ignoring what air and naval forces could contribute. Consistent with his approach to war, he would likely support investments in adaptation and resilience to offset some of the damages associated with warmer temperatures. He would also advocate research into solar radiation management—such as injecting aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reflect back incoming solar energy—to lower the temperature for a given accumulation of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Sun Tzu might also observe that, even within existing mitigation efforts, current tactics are haphazard. Some mitigation measures require that stakeholders pay vast amounts to curb emissions, while more economical measures lay fallow.

For example, consider the German power sector in 2010. Electricity generators there faced an allowance price of about 14 euros per ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) under the European Union’s Emissions Trading System. But at that time, the German subsidies for wind and solar power had implicit carbon prices of 77 euros and 562 euros per ton of CO2, respectively.

Similarly, in the United States, allowance prices in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states have been less than $6 per ton of CO2, while allowance prices in the California Cap-and-Trade Program recently have exceeded $15 per ton of CO2—a fairly modest gap. But by contrast the implicit cost of reducing U.S. CO2 emissions through fuel economy standards exceeds $200 dollars per ton.

The inconsistencies in mitigation costs across nations, even for the same policy instrument, are enormous: The Indian carbon tax, the coal cess, is the equivalent of about $4 per ton of CO2, while the Swedish carbon tax is greater than $120 per ton.

Furthermore, nations have developed solutions to address the inconsistencies plaguing existing mitigation efforts. Many low- and middle-income countries have made clear that they do not bear the responsibility for climate change, nor do they have the resources to address it.

In principle, enacting strategic carbon taxes in high-income countries could prove effective. Carbon taxes could generate revenues that would allow high-income countries to offer side payments to lower-income countries. Alternatively, a global cap-and-trade scheme could allocate emission allowances in a manner such that trading in the pursuit of cost-minimization would transfer resources to lower-income countries.

In practice, however, countries have generally pursued carbon pricing well below the levels necessary to avoid a climate emergency, and they have shied away from making significant transfers to lower-income countries. As Bill Nordhaus recently noted, to limit warming to no more than 2°C over the next 100 years, global carbon prices would have to increase to more than $100 per ton of CO2. Yet the current global price, when averaged across all sources and policies, amounts to about $3 per ton—woefully far below what is necessary for attaining mitigation goals.

Any sensible strategy will also adjust course if it starts to fare poorly. The nations of the world should therefore act, learn, and then act again. Ever since the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, nations taking action have sought to control climate change solely by limiting greenhouse emissions. That approach is not working. The history of carbon dioxide emissions and atmospheric concentrations since 1959 is disheartening, as both the atmospheric concentration and the annual quantity of emissions have increased significantly despite the mitigation efforts of recent decades.

It comes as no surprise that global temperatures have also increased throughout this period, on average about 0.1°C of warming per decade, and that warming has accelerated in the 2000s. Even if emissions were miraculously cut by 50 percent by 2030, the Earth would be on track for additional temperature increases given that oceans—which absorb tremendous amounts of solar heat—have already warmed.

Lacking a spare planet to replace an over-heated Earth, surrender is not an option in the war against climate change. Instead, individual nations and international organizations need to adopt a strategy with a reasonable chance of success: a multi-pronged strategy, adding expensive adaptation and untested amelioration to emission mitigation. Rather than continuing to rely just on mitigation, climate policy should exploit all tactics that can cost-effectively reduce the public’s risk exposure.

Why has the fight against climate change adopted a near-singular focus on emissions mitigation? In part, this focus is due to the fact that this externality stretches across the globe and extends forward into future generations. A mitigation-only focus reflects the environmental community’s concern that promoting adaptation or geoengineering, such as solar radiation management, would reduce public support for mitigation. In short, there is a moral hazard concern that, given hopes about the gains to be made from adaptation and solar radiation management, pursuing other tactics would slow emission mitigation efforts.

The concern that adopting alternative strategies would discourage mitigation, however, should be weighed against the factors already discouraging emissions mitigation, including the strong incentives for free riding, or perhaps, more aptly, cheap riding. Persisting with the one-prong tactic implicitly accepts massive losses from climate change.

A three-prong strategy that embraces adaptation and solar radiation management at least offers hope. This strategy would pursue each prong—mitigating emissions, investing in adaptation, and implementing solar radiation management—to equate its overall marginal cost to the marginal benefit of the risk reduction. Aggressively advancing adaptation and solar radiation management, with whatever progress on emission mitigation can be achieved, will confront the severe, even catastrophic, impacts of climate change.

Effectively pursuing this more comprehensive approach to climate change will take time, as well as meaningful planning, research and development, institutional design—not to mention also a massive amount of resources. Building a coastal barrier to protect New York City, for example, will take years, if not decades, as the recent experience in Venice, Italy suggests. Developing the delivery vehicles for solar radiation management, as well as the research to assess and hopefully tame unintended consequences of solar radiation, is surely a decade’s project. Furthermore, mitigation technologies that could change the game—including large-scale battery storage and nuclear fusion—will be realized no more quickly.

Catastrophic climate change will be inevitable if national and international leaders, having neglected nature for decades, simply stay the course. Now is the time to add adaptation and amelioration to the world’s strategy for survival.

Research Areas: 

Categories: Green Homes

Covid-19 and the Climate Crisis are Part of the Same Battle

Tue, 2020-10-27 12:15
October 2, 2020

The Guardian

Covid-19 and the Climate Crisis are Part of the Same Battle0

By Jeffrey Frankel, The Guardian

From early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, a common refrain has been, “At least maybe now we will get serious about addressing climate change.” One can certainly see the logic behind this thinking. The terrible toll the pandemic has taken should remind us of the importance of three things that are also necessary to tackle global warming: science, public policy, and international cooperation.

We should therefore listen to the scientists who have been warning for decades that unchecked greenhouse-gas emissions would have severe environmental consequences. The fact that some of these consequences – including wildfires, cyclones, and even a plague of locusts in Africa – have dramatically appeared in the same year as COVID-19 would seem to reinforce the message.

But while the parallels between COVID-19 and climate change are logically sound, I fear that the inferred political connection may be a non sequitur. If some leaders and their followers in such countries as the United States, Brazil, Mexico, and even the once-sensible United Kingdom can downplay the pandemic’s significance and override scientists’ recommendations, they can do the same with climate change.

The pandemic should remind everybody that the facts of nature cannot be wished away, and that progress follows a scientific path. Conspiracy theories claiming that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China are no more valid than those alleging that COVID-19 is a Chinese plot.

Moreover, contagious disease and environmental damage are both classic examples of what economists call negative externalities: problems that markets cannot handle on their own because people who sneeze without a mask or who pollute the air do not bear the full consequences of their actions. The growing recognition of public policy’s essential role might lead the pendulum to swing away from small-government ideology. But government intervention should be designed intelligently and targeted to achieve its goals efficiently.

Even action by individual national governments will not be enough, because the pandemic and climate change are global externalities. They call for some degree of international cooperation, whether through the World Health Organization and the Paris climate agreement, or other avenues.

There are many other, more direct connections between global health and the global environment. Some of them offer grounds for hope that progress in one of the two areas could imply progress in the other.

For example, deforestation simultaneously adds to atmospheric carbon dioxide and forces bats and other animals that may be carrying disease into contact with humans, which was likely how this coronavirus originated. In the longer term, global warming is likely to bring such mosquito-borne tropical diseases as the West Nile virus, Zika, and malaria to more northerly latitudes.

The wildfires in western US states (and in parts of Australia, Siberia, and Europe) are largely a consequence of global warming. But they also contribute to it by sending many tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. And the particulate matter from the smoke can immediately damage the lungs of people already vulnerable to COVID-19.

Furthermore, the pandemic-induced recession has decreased demand for oil, driving its price down to where it was five years ago, at around $40/barrel. For developing countries (and especially oil exporters) that use subsidies to keep the domestic price of energy artificially low, now would be a good time to reform this policy and let markets determine the price. These subsidies harm the environment, undermine economic efficiency, and the budget. Eliminating them is a win-win-win reform, though always politically fraught.

Aside from the positive correlations between COVID-19 and climate change, some direct connections go the other way: some aspects of the pandemic work to slow global warming. As the 2007-09 recession already demonstrated, a reduction in economic activity means a reduction in CO2 emissions. This is particularly true of air travel, which has been hit hard by COVID-19.

The recession is presumably temporary, but the impact on air travel might persist. Tourism will bounce back. But for many of us, flying somewhere to watch PowerPoint presentations has lost some of its charms, relative to watching the same presentations at home. Rather than bailing out the entire airline industry to prevent bankruptcies, consolidation, or long-term shrinkage, government policies should aim to reduce emissions from airplanes to a comparable extent as automobiles.

It is difficult to predict whether the pandemic will galvanize support for more aggressive efforts to combat climate change. Some will argue that governments can’t afford to spend money on tackling global warming at a time of high unemployment and skyrocketing debt.

Perhaps the most immediate silver lining of the COVID-19 tragedy is the effect that US President Donald Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic has had on his re-election prospects. If the Democrats take back the White House and the Senate in November, respect for scientific expertise, well-designed public policy, and international cooperation will likely return. This should have wide-ranging payoffs, from stronger environmental protection and serious attempts to address inequality to the United States potentially rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, not to mention better leadership on public health.

What does sound public policy on climate change look like in today’s circumstances? Spend green today, tax green in the future, I wrote in the depths of the 2009 recession. The same prescription applies today. In the short run, we need a renewal of fiscal stimulus. So, policymakers should take advantage of the opportunity to “build back better,” as US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden says, in order to help the environment while also helping the economy.

But looking past the recession, there must be some notion of fiscal limits. This recognition distinguishes what a Biden administration would do on climate change from the Green New Deal introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at least if her proposed legislation is taken literally. A phased-in carbon tax would be a win-win-win solution, as both Democratic and Republican economists agree.

America’s upcoming election will take place against the backdrop of a dreadful pandemic and mounting climate threats. On both counts, US voters must choose whether to bring back respect for science and sensible public policy, and an awareness that we live in an interconnected world.

Categories: Green Homes

When It Hits 100 Degrees in Siberia …

Tue, 2020-10-27 07:53
September 30, 2020

The Harvard Gazette

When It Hits 100 Degrees in Siberia …0

By Juan Siliezar, The Harvard Gazette 

Extreme heat events have been registered across the world in recent months. It hit 100 degrees in a Siberian town above the Arctic Circle in June. Baghdad reached 125.2 degrees on July 28. California’s Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth, soared to a record 130 degrees in August. Many scientists expect events like these to continue and get worse, affecting ecosystems and setting the stage for disasters like the wildfires in the Western U.S. that were stoked, in part, by record heat and extremely dry conditions. Peter Huybers, a Harvard professor of earth and planetary sciences and environmental science and engineering, has been studying extreme temperatures for years. Recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 2009, Huybers co-authored recent papers on how climate change can influence yields of crops such as corn and whether higher summer temperatures will be associated with increases in temperature variability in mid-latitude continents. He spoke to the Gazette about what we can expect in the future.

Q&A with Peter Huybers

GAZETTE: What exactly is extreme heat and why are we seeing these events?

HUYBERS: It’s a relative term. Basically, extreme heat is when you’re expecting one temperature but get something much hotter. What you are expecting, of course, depends on time and place. In Cambridge what counts as extreme heat in January is different than in August. One way to get extreme temperatures is to wait long enough and, with enough samples, eventually one will be extreme. But we are seeing record high-temperature events occurring more often — and more frequently than record-low temperatures — because of global warming. Baseline temperature is going up so that natural excursions above that baseline bring us more readily into record-setting territory.

GAZETTE: What are the consequences of continual record-breaking temperatures?

HUYBERS: Just like extremes are relative, so are their consequences. If you’re a farmer, extreme heat may damage your crops. If you live in Arctic tundra, extreme heat might look like buildings and roads losing their footing. And if you live near a forest, it looks like increased fire risk. At the end of July, temperatures reached 125 degrees Fahrenheit in Baghdad, and if you didn’t have access to air conditioning, extreme heat posed a serious health risk. How climate change will play out depends on how prepared we are for the consequences, including with respect to how we manage the built environment, forests, and agricultural systems. We face some big questions. Are we able to generate new ways of living that are more tolerant of high heat and don’t contribute to further heating? Who of us will need to move because our environment becomes untenable, and where will we go? In fact, we are answering these questions in real time, but often poorly and at the last minute.

GAZETTE: Is this going to become the norm everywhere or just in certain places?

HUYBERS: As best we can tell, Earth’s surface has warmed everywhere over the last century. And, again, as baseline temperatures warm, natural excursions above that baseline will bring more record-setting events. We have not, however, seen systematic changes in the variability around the mean in summer temperatures, though such changes are possible going forward. If soils become drier, for example, both the mean temperature and its variance would generally increase.

At a more basic level, there is the famous effect formalized by [mathematician and meteorologist] Ed Lorenz whereby a butterfly flapping its wings influences a tornado half a world away some weeks later. Furthermore, with atmospheric CO2 levels now at 410 ppm [parts per million], up from a preindustrial value of 280 ppm, it’s not an isolated nudge but a sustained global push toward warmer surface temperatures. Our weather is already interconnected, and it’s being globally forced, so climate change is very much everywhere. Of course, our human systems are also globally linked. There is a case to be made, for example, that climate change contributed to the displacement of farmers in Syria, the outbreak of civil war in 2011, and the ongoing refugee crisis that war fomented.

GAZETTE: Could any places become uninhabitable?

HUYBERS: I think it depends how you want to live. There are places now where for certain parts of the day during certain times of the year, if you were to go outside and didn’t have access to cooling, you couldn’t survive. It’s uninhabitable in that regard, and the regions and intervals subjected to such conditions are growing. In some cases people can adapt, for example, by choosing when to go outside and by installing air conditioning. But not everyone can adapt equally. Let’s say you work on a farm or in construction and you’re facing a situation where it’s dangerous during the hottest parts of the day — is working at night or taking frequent cooling breaks a viable option?

GAZETTE: What does it all mean in terms of our future? 

HUYBERS: That’s a broad question. Normal is a shifting target. What we call extreme heat today will be more normal in the coming decades. Another thing is that we shouldn’t be talking only about temperature. Water resources, sea level, storms, and pollution are all important considerations in environmental change. Let me leave off by noting that, foremost, we need to stabilize and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in order to avert major future changes in climate. Insomuch as we don’t constrain greenhouse gas concentrations, we’ll be forced to remake how we live in a changed environment. Averting negative changes where possible and adapting where necessary demand forethought and innovation, and I hope that Harvard will contribute its share.

Research Areas: 

Categories: Green Homes

Joseph Aldy Shares his Thoughts on Incorporating Green Energy into an Economic Stimulus Package: Lessons Learned from the 2009 Recovery Act

Tue, 2020-10-27 07:42
October 19, 2020

Harvard Project on Climate Agreements

Joseph Aldy Shares his Thoughts on Incorporating Green Energy into an Economic Stimulus Package: Lessons Learned from the 2009 Recovery Act0

By Doug Gavel, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements 

As Congress and the Trump Administration continue discussions surrounding a second major COVID-19 economic relief bill, many observers are arguing that any eventual economic recovery package ought to include green energy initiatives to help the U.S. move along a path toward a zero-carbon emissions future. Drawing upon his White House experience, Joseph Aldy, professor of the practice of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School and formerly a Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Environment during the Obama Administration, shared his perspectives on Monday (Oct. 19) on lessons learned from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that policymakers can apply to future economic stimulus negotiations.

Aldy spoke during a virtual forum sponsored by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA), and hosted by Robert Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development at Harvard Kennedy School, and viewed by more than 120 people around the world. This series, HPCA Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy, features leading authorities on climate change policy, whether from academia, the private sector, NGOs, or government.

“There is clearly a growing interest in thinking about ways in which we can both tackle the COVID-19 recession, establish an economic recovery, and rebuild the economy, and do so in a way that addresses climate change,” Aldy remarked. To do so, he continued, a plan must be timely, targeted, and in some ways temporary, so as not to outlast its need and effectiveness. “At the end of the day you need something that is politically viable. You need something that is a bill that can then become a law. All of this should play into how we think about the design, crafting, and subsequent implementation of a recovery program.”

Aldy highlighted the successes of the 2009 Recovery Act, pointing to the 900,000 jobs it created through green energy investments, and the subsequent growth in renewable power, particularly solar and wind.

“I think what’s important is not just to think about what was the impact of having subsidies for two or three years during the Recovery Act period for wind and solar, but recognizing that pushing out those technologies in those early years helped drive down the cost over time to enable even more significant expansion in our capacity of wind and solar in the past half dozen years,” he said.

Aldy also pointed out the shortcomings of the Recovery Act, arguing that some elements, like the “Cash for Appliances” subsidy program, were poorly targeted, rewarding those who would have purchased the items even without government assistance. He also cited the fact that some green projects, like carbon capture and storage and high-speed rail, were nixed or downscaled when non-federal partners withdrew from their obligations and the federal government chose not to move forward on its own.

Targeting programs so that they reach underserved and lower-income populations is important, Aldy noted, but so is the simplicity of their design.

“Simplicity is really important, although I recognize there is a tension between wanting to be very thoughtful and how you target. Sometimes you might need to be a little less simple to be more effective in targeting, but you want to try to strike the right balance so that you don’t make the program so complicated that a lot of potential participants in the program shy away from its complexity, or delays the rollout of the program.”

Aldy took several questions from audience members, moderated by Stavins, including one that sought his insights into how a Biden Administration, if elected in November, would differ from the Trump Administration in its approach to advancing a green economic stimulus package.

“If Trump were to be re-elected, I don’t think there will be much that would be meaningful that would be focused on green energy in a recovery package,” he said. “For a President-elect Biden, I think that there could be considerable investment here. He has talked about…a significant ramping up of spending on the order of $2 trillion over four years, and a large fraction, about 40-percent, would try to target underserved communities.”

Regardless of who is elected, Aldy said, policymakers need to be cognizant of the politics of green energy investment, and design their programs accordingly to appeal to elected officials in red as well as blue states.

“They may not talk much about climate change, but if it means creating demand for new construction jobs in their district or in their state, that might be something that they find attractive,” he argued. “At the end of the day, there's a bit of the politics and the sausage making, if you will, in how you craft all the different kinds of components into a piece of legislation that effective leaders, people who know how to pass bills in Congress, know how to do that so they can then count the votes and get their bills passed in their chamber.”

The next HPCA Conversation on Climate Change and Energy Policy is scheduled for November 12 with guest Jason Bordoff, Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Please register in advance for this event on the HPCA website.

Research Areas: 

Categories: Green Homes

How Do You Get Environmentalists to Actually Vote?

Tue, 2020-10-27 07:37
October 16, 2020

Harvard Gazette

How Do You Get Environmentalists to Actually Vote?0

By Clea Simon, Harvard Gazette 

Enough Americans say they prioritize the environment to have a monumental effect on policy. The problem is they just don’t vote. Tackling that challenge  — from identifying to motivating environmental voters — was the focus of “Mobilizing the Environmental Vote: Report from the Front Lines,” an online discussion with Nathaniel Stinnett, founder and executive director of the Environmental Voter Project.

Moderator Sanjay Seth, M.P.A./M.U.P. ’19, co-president of Harvard Alumni for Climate and the Environment, introduced Stinnett, who opened with some eye-popping facts. The number of registered voters who say climate and the environment is their top priority is rising (from 2 percent in 2016 to 7 percent in 2018). They are, however, failing spectacularly at making themselves heard at the polls. Stinnett said that 10 million registered voters who named the environment as their top priority did not vote in the 2016 election.

“Environmentalists are awful voters,” said Stinnett during Wednesday’s discussion, which was sponsored by the Ash Center, Institute of Politics, Harvard Alumni for Climate and the Environment, and the Office for Sustainability.

While the reasons to vote should be obvious, the cost of failing to do so may be less clear. To illustrate, Stinnett drew a comparison between environmental voters and those who support the NRA, noting that gun rights advocates have political clout, while environmentalists don’t. “There are four times as many of us as there are NRA members,” he said. “But we just don’t vote.”

That inactivity, Stinnett explained, is why he founded the Environmental Voter Project five years ago. To further political action, he realized, he didn’t need to convince voters to become environmentalists. He simply had to convince those who already cared to vote. “The low-hanging fruit is not trying to change minds. We just need their behavior changed,” he said.

To achieve this, Stinnett outlined the project’s three-step plan: identifying voters, mobilizing them, and then reinforcing the habit to turn them into “super voters,” who can be relied upon to turn out for every election, including those for local and state positions.

The methods used to identify voters have grown increasingly sophisticated in recent years, he explained, thanks to data analytics and predictive modeling techniques adopted from the social sciences.

“It’s useful to go back to how campaigns used to target voters,” he said. Using public voter files — which record whether you voted, although how you voted remains private — campaigns used to make generalizations. “You’d hear about ‘NASCAR dads’ and ‘soccer moms,’” said Stinnett. However, using enormous but simple polls, campaigns can now crunch data for pinpoint accuracy. Factors such as whether a voter has retained a land line or what car she drives all play a role. “No single data point is ever predictive on its own,” he said. Combined, however, “All of that data allows us to get a really rich picture.”

Once non-voters have been identified, Stinnett said they take an approach that relies more on emotion and interpersonal connection than rational thought.

“Most people … deciding to take a particular action are not acting like rational beings,” he said. “We’re much more societal beings. We look at what our peers are doing, what our families are doing.” He cited beer commercials, which focus more on aspirational imagery than specifics like taste. “The way you get someone is to appeal to who they are and who they want to be.”

Key to turnout, he explained, is leveraging that sense of who we are in the community. Social media and one-on-one conversations have impact. Getting people to promise or share their plan to vote works too.

“One of the strongest societal norms we have is that most people want to be thought of as honest,” he explained. “If you’ve never voted, and I get you on Oct. 14 to sign a promise to vote, I have successfully trapped you,” he said. “That’s like a bear trap on your leg. Instead of me convincing you that your one vote matters, it’s now a question of whether you’re a trustworthy person or not.”

Sometimes, he added, simply letting people know that whether they voted is a matter of public record does the trick. “Pure juvenile peer pressure sends turnout through the roof,” he said.

Currently, the campaign is targeting 2 million environmentalists in 12 states who have registered but never voted. Although Stinnett warns that there are many factors influencing these numbers and that they are not predictive, these new voters appear to be turning out. Already, 73,423 of these self-identified environmental voters have voted early, he said. In Pennsylvania, where 4.7 percent of all registered voters have already cast ballots, 10 percent of Stinnett’s target group have. In Florida, 11.9 percent of those registered have, compared to 19.4 percent of the target group, and in North Carolina, where 6.8 percent have voted, 15.2 percent of environmentalists have.

These results are not only encouraging, they are self-sustaining, he says. Many first-time voters are pleasantly surprised to discover how easy the process is. Also, once registered voters are viewed — through their public records — as likely voters, other political campaigns focus on them. “Once we get someone to vote, then everybody else starts piling in on them, making sure they vote,” said Stinnett. Best of all, he noted, “politicians start responding to the issues that they care about.”

“In a very deep sense, most Americans are cynical about politics,” said Stinnett. His goal, he says, is to “take your cynicism one step further: it’s not that your vote doesn’t matter, it’s that your vote is the only thing that matters.  It’s so crucially important to be a voter,” he concluded.

“Remember,” Seth summed up Stinnett’s message, “real environmentalists vote.”

Research Areas: 

Categories: Green Homes

Profile of Cynthia Friend

Mon, 2020-10-26 13:51
October 9, 2020

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Profile of Cynthia Friend0

By Farooq Ahmed, Science Writer, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

In 2015, the United Nations released Sustainable Development Goals aimed at improving the environment and supporting vulnerable populations around the globe (1). Among the goals are those intended to reduce energy consumption and invest in clean energy, to encourage innovation in industry and develop efficient production methods, and to promote gender equality. Over the course of her career, Cynthia Friend, the Theodore Williams Richards professor of chemistry and professor of materials science at Harvard University, has engaged in efforts that directly address these goals and several others. The first female full professor of chemistry at Harvard, Friend studies the surface chemistry of heterogeneous catalysts. Her research could help increase the efficiency of many industrial processes while decreasing the production of wasteful and harmful byproducts. With nearly one-quarter of worldwide energy use attributed to the synthesis of chemicals and fuel, her work may have a lasting impact on humans’ ability to conserve the planet’s natural resources. In her Inaugural Article (2), Friend, who was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2019, describes the development of a highly selective catalyst that uses palladium and silver to promote hydrogenation, a key industrial reaction that typically occurs at extremely high temperatures.

Golf Lessons

The daughter of World War II veterans, Friend was born and raised in southern Nebraska. Her parents supported her curiosity, and her father, while working on the family’s cars and home, taught her basic electrical and mechanical engineering. Friend says this early training “turned out to be really important as I started my career in the physical sciences.” She credits the space race of the midtwentieth century, as well as her high school’s flexible scheduling, which allowed her to pursue an independent study project, with sustaining her interest in science.

Friend developed an early interest in golf, playing on a cow pasture together with her family—an experience that gave her some of her fondest memories. “Walking around, hitting golf balls, and seeing the cattle out there—it was fantastic,” she says. These days, Friend sometimes competes in golf tournaments. She says golf gives her an outlet from scientific research, boosts her confidence, and has taught her how to respond to failure.

After completing high school, Friend left for the West Coast, encouraged by a family friend, and studied chemistry at the University of California, Davis. Later, she attended the University of California, Berkeley, where her undergraduate advisor, physical chemist Peter Rock, had completed his doctorate. At the time, University of California, Berkeley “was a powerhouse in physical chemistry. It was absolutely my first choice,” she says.

Parallel Chemistry

At Berkeley, Friend was one of just four women in a class of around 100 chemistry graduate students. She studied with inorganic chemist Earl Muetterties, who greatly influenced her trajectory as a chemist.

“He was able to draw parallels between chemistry on the surfaces of metals and in organometallic compounds. That was very pivotal in my thinking, because one of the aspects of my work that’s a bit different from others is that I think in terms of localized bonding and coordination chemistry—and then I map that onto solids,” she explains. Coordination complexes contain metal atom centers bound to ligands that are often organic molecules, and Friend’s graduate research explored the coordination chemistry of nickel surfaces, among others (3).

Friend says her graduate advisor, Muetterties, helped her connect experimental work to theoretical chemistry. “At that time, it wasn’t possible to do powerful electronic structure calculations like you can now. But you could get qualitative information about bonding.” This led to a productive collaboration on hydrodesulfurization of cyclic sulfides with theoretical chemist Roald Hoffmann, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1981 (4). Friend’s work helped establish a model of how molecular structure affects the reaction mechanisms of different catalysts, focusing on commercially widespread molybdenum catalysts (5).

Changing Field

After graduating from Berkeley in 1981, Friend completed a brief postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University before joining Harvard as an assistant professor of chemistry.

When she started at Harvard, Friend was one of two female chemists in the department. In 1989, Friend became Harvard’s first female full professor of chemistry as well as the first assistant professor in chemistry to receive a promotion in two decades. Friend points out that small administrative changes can have large impacts on the career development and retention of junior faculty. It is partly why she feels strongly that professors should serve in administrative roles. “Leadership really matters,” she says.

Friend arrived in Cambridge, MA at the dawn of the personal computer era. She recalled receiving an early IBM computer with floppy drives and no hard drive. Access to computers made data collection easier, even if chemists had to write their own programs back then, and experimental tools like photoelectron spectroscopy began to reveal deeper molecular structural detail. Machine learning algorithms and X-ray scattering techniques have since taken over, and Friend says the combination of sophisticated electronic structure calculations with improved experimental methods has been a boon for physical chemistry and materials science. Spectroscopic advances, in particular, allowed Friend and colleagues to describe general mechanisms for a range of complex surface interactions, including alkyl oxidation and alcohol chemistry on metal surfaces (6).

This progress also helped Friend and collaborators develop and examine novel materials, such as titanium sulfide nanocrystals, which they deposited on a surface of gold (7). Because of its high electrical conductivity, titanium sulfide has been used as a solid electrolyte in rechargeable batteries, including solidstate lithium−ion batteries for electric vehicles.

In addition to molybdenum, the precious metals gold and silver have emerged as important elements in industrial catalysts. The key, Friend says, is that they are intrinsically unreactive across a range of temperatures and pressures. “You can control the density of their active sites and, thus, their selectivity.” Her work on methanol oxidation conducted on nanoporous gold surfaces demonstrated that the reaction can occur at low temperatures and ambient conditions. The work has implications for the sustainable synthesis of esters used in fragrances, flavorings, and insulation (8).

Additionally, one of the reactions she began studying while at Harvard was the removal of sulfur from organic compounds. Desulfurization is critical to many industries, including in petrochemical processes and environmental remediation, because sulfur can inactivate catalysts and can be toxic to the environment.

Sustainable Catalysts

To advance the study of catalysts, Friend helped found the Center for Integrated Mesoscale Architectures for Sustainable Catalysis in 2014 and serves as its director. Funded by the US Department of Energy, the center, she says, “brings together people with expertise at Harvard and six partner institutions from across the US to transform how catalysts are designed.”

Inspiration for the center was rooted in the long collaboration with her husband, chemical engineer Robert J. Madix, who was on the faculty at Stanford University until he joined Harvard in 2005. “We commuted between the two institutions for 17 years,” she says. In addition to experimental chemists, the center draws on expertise from multiple disciplines, including chemical engineers, theoreticians, nanotechnologists, physicists, and computer scientists.

Collaboration has been important to Friend, especially as her work has delved into the mechanisms of heterogeneous catalysis. Complex materials that interact with reactants in different phases, heterogeneous catalysts often restructure under reaction conditions. “We can take our fundamental understanding of a reaction mechanism and, based on that, we can actually predict catalytic behavior and fundamental chemical steps,” she explains.

In a recent review article, Friend and coworkers (9) described the many ways metallic gold catalyzes the oxygenation of alcohols and amides, with an emphasis on gas-phase and liquid-phase systems. The resultant products of these reactions have uses in the food industry, cosmetics, textiles, and pharmaceutical synthesis. Friend points out that almost 16% of medicinal chemistry reactions are acylations, used to produce amines and esters, making it the most common reaction in that field.

Although her research may have implications for industrial chemistry, she says, “Our dream would be to take our ideas and make a smaller-scale process from them—not something on a huge commodity scale.” Her laboratory is also working on fundamental photochemistry, which may aid in clean fuel efforts, as  well as an application that would aid in the destruction of chemical weapons at room temperature.

In her Inaugural Article (2), Friend reports using the metal palladium to drive the hydrogenation of silver, which can then be used for selective catalysis. Although widely used as a catalyst, silver deactivates after prolonged carbon exposure. By controlling the hydrogenation of silver with palladium, Friend has devised a way to extend the use of both metals and increase the efficiency of the reaction, which could lead to a decreased need to mine palladium and silver, among other benefits.

“Because it is not an energetically favorable mechanism, we had to create a dense phase of hydrogen on palladium to drive the migration to silver,” she says. The palladium−silver interface length controls the rate of hydrogen atom migration.

This kind of surface chemistry, Friend points out, is of tremendous importance to catalysis. “The energy efficiency of catalytic processes hinges on achieving high selectivity and activity,” she says. “With an increased urgency about sustainability, research on catalyst mechanics will help determine our carbon footprint and play a role in energy efficiency and also energy security.”

1 United Nations, The 17 Goals. https://sdgs.un.org/goals. Accessed 28 August 2020.

2 C. R. O’Connor et al., Facilitating hydrogen atom migration via a dense phase on palladium islands to a surrounding silver surface. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 117, 22657–22664 (2020).

3 C. M. Friend, J. Stein, E. L. Muetterties, Coordination chemistry of metal surfaces. 2. Chemistry of CH3CN and CH3NC on nickel surfaces. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 103, 767–772 (1981).

4 M. J. Calhorda, R. Hoffmann, C. M. Friend, Adsorption and reactions of cyclic sulfides on Mo(110). J. Am. Chem. Soc. 112, 50–61 (1990).

5 B. C. Wiegand, C. M. Friend, Model studies of the desulfurization reactions on metal surfaces and in organometallic complexes. Chem. Rev. 92, 491−504 (1992).

6 M. K. Weldon, C. M. Friend, Probing surface reaction mechanisms using chemical and vibrational methods: Alkyl oxidation and reactivity of alcohols on transitions metal surfaces. Chem. Rev. 96, 1391–1412 (1996).

7 M. M. Biener, J. Biener, C. M. Friend, Novel synthesis of two-dimensional TiS2 nanocrystallites on Au111. J. Chem. Phys. 122, 34706 (2005).

8 A. Wittstock, V. Zielasek, J. Biener, C. M. Friend, M. Bäumer, Nanoporous gold catalysts for selective gas-phase oxidative coupling of methanol at low temperature. Science 327, 319–322 (2010).

9 M. L. Personick, R. J. Madix, C. M. Friend, Selective oxygen-assisted reactions of alcohols and amines catalyzed by metallic gold: Paradigms for the design of catalytic processes. ACS Catal. 7, 965–985 (2017).

Categories: Green Homes
RMC facebook RMC twitter
Scroll to Top