Art and the Environment- Strip Mining

Lang Cover
Credit: Bernhard Lang  A 30 story bucket excavator  cuts out more coal.
Credit: Bernhard Lang
A 30 story bucket excavator cuts out more coal.

I came across a recent collection of photos by aerial photographer Bernhard Lang. This collection is that of an aerial shoot above the Hambach Mine in Germany. This lignite open pit mine is the deepest (in relation to sea-level) on the planet, being 931 feet below sea-level. Currently the mine is about 35 square kilometers large with a planned ending size of 85 square kilometers, roughly the size of Manhattan. All of this in a country that plans to be 80% renewable by 2050 and currently is the solar energy capital of the world. Some argue this is a result of the shutting down of nuclear facilities after Fukushima, as well as a result of the way emissions trading schemes are set up in the EU. The mine is still open and churning out coal everyday. Lang has done an excellent job of showcasing it, much in the way Balog has represented glacial melt and the impacts of anthropogenic global warming. This is not the first time Lang has been up in the air, attempting to capture the scale at which our society operates, much of his aerial work has taken on an environmental twist. As I find more artists looking to use their talents and passion to raise awareness and enact change, I wonder what else we might see in the coming decades.


Potential of Renewables


In the World Watch Report, Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030 there are several topics about renewable energy sources discussed including future US scenarios, future global scenarios, policies, ways forward, etc.. Another important area of focus is the huge potential of renewable energy sources in helping reduce levels of emissions. (Sawin and Moomaw) This brings to the table a significant debate over whether or not the best approach to stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations is through mitigation implemented by policy instruments such as cap and trade systems or carbon taxes or if the best approach is a global transition to renewable energy sources. The evidence of previously successful transitions to renewables is strong enough to support the idea of an entire energy transformation.

There is enormous potential for all sectors of the economy to improve by investing in renewable sources of energy such as wind, hydro, tidal, and solar among others. “No one benefits from the release of greenhouse gas emissions, but developed and developing nations alike will benefit in numerousways from the transition to an energy-efficient and renewable world”(Sawin and Moomaw) To ensure the largest emissions reductions, both improvements in energy efficiency and renewables will be required however, this essay will focus on renewables. Advanced technologies can already be seen in several success stories including Germany, Denmark, Sweden, among several others.

Germany, for example, went from using essentially no renewable sources of energy to being one of the world’s leaders in the transition within just a decade. In eight years the amount of the country’s electricity coming from renewables, has increased from 6% to over 15%, leaving them well on their way to achieving their aggressive national targets for 2020. Also in the last decade, their wind and solar industries have accelerated tremendously, and the contribution of renewables to the overall final energy demand has tripled. The benefits of this movement has been not only in heavy carbon emissions reductions, but also in jobs, industry saving from fuel imports, and less pollution in the environment. The example of Germany’s noble efforts is “proof that, with a clear sense of direction and effective policies, rapid change is possible” (Sawin and Moomaw) In 2008,Germany emitted about 748 million tons of CO2 from energy use, it is estimated that if not for renewable sources, total emissions might have been about 860 million tons or 15% higher.

Furthermore, illustrations can be seen Denmark, Sweden, China, Brazil, and Isreal. First, in Denmark, their “economy has grown 75%since 1980, while the share of energy from renewables increased from 3 percent to 17 percent by mid-2008. In 2007, the country generated 21 percent of its electricity with the wind (Sawin and Moomaw). The Danes have set a target of 30% of their energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. Next, a significant shift away from fossil fuels can be seen in the heating industry in Sweden. They are now using biomass and waste as alternatives, because of heavy energy and carbon taxes, accounting for over 61% of total district heat production.

Also in the forefront of renewable action is China, hopefully setting a strong example for other nations by leading in the use of solar water heating, small hydropower, production of solar cells and wind (explosive growth rates). “A 2007 national plan aims for renewables to meet 15 percent of China’s primary energy demand by 2020. The government has tripled its 2020 wind target,from 30 gigawatts to100GW, and recently pushed its 2020 solar target from 1.8 GW to 20 GW” (Sawin and Moonmaw). Other models include Brazil who is thriving by using ethanol as a non-diesel fuel in vehicles and Israel who is a world leader in solar water heating.

As all of these examples show, over the past several decades renewable technologies have seen significant cost reductions and a real ready helping to avoid energy-related CO2 emissions. Estimates such as this one, On a world wide basis, the Global Wind Energy Council estimates that wind power avoided 123 million tons of CO2 in 2007” (Sawin and Moomaw) among others should be reason enough to see the potential of pushing for a quick revolution to renewable sources. Examples of places such as Germany show the great potential that can be unlocked.

clean-energy-world-leaders-2012-570x382 Check out this chart of leading countries in the renewable revolution.

Works cited

Sawin & Moomaw, Renewable revolution: low-carbon energy by 2030, Worldwatch Institute, 2009.

A weekend with ExxonMobil


imagesThis past weekend I went to Lehigh University for a short course with ExxonMobil on basin analysis. I went to learn about ExxonMobil and how they go about finding hydrocarbons. While I barley scratched the surface of how our species has gone about extracting fuels from the ground, I learned a great deal about what geologic conditions are needed to produce oil and gas. It was fascinating to hear them talk about extracting resources to sell on the market.

While ExxonMobil is based in Texas, they talked about several markets they are currently pushing into; Russia, Kirgizstan, Brazil, Africa, and Mexico. They truly are a global energy exploration company when it comes to gas and oil. They seek business opportunities all over the world and employ the best geoscientists to find fossil fuels.

When asked about how they are going to be adapting as an industry to climate regulations, they strive for making their emissions less per BTU, that is to say they want to be more efficient with their fuels. In the 1970s ExxonMobil explored using renewable energies as a branch of operations, but they came to the quick conclusion that it was not what they are best at. They were not able to make renewable as economically successful, so they gave it up to do what they are best known for, oil and gas explorations and extraction.

When asked about how they would adapt to the world with carbon emissions limits, they spoke about carbon sequestration. They are currently working on a project in the Moxa Arch in Wyoming, read more about it here. This project would allow them to reduce the corporations overall emissions if they needed to under a scenario with carbon limiting legislation. While they are not currently injecting anthropogenic carbon dioxide, they are proving the concepts by injecting hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. If they are able to successful sequester the carbon, this could lead to the continuation of ExxonMobil as a fossil fuel exploration company under carbon restrictive legislation.

Here is an article about their policy stances towards climate change

Here is an article about how they are mitigating GHG emissions

Without Renewables, Climate Change Will Stunt Your Growth


Image From
Image From
Not In My Backyard by Joe Heller
Not In My Backyard by Joe Heller

Climate change does pose significant threats to prospects for sustainable development as it threatens the ability to sustain the development with causing territories being submerged by water, reducing food supplies, and increasing health threats to populations. Luckily, there are some methods of development which simultaneously promote climate change mitigation and development. If the world continued to develop “business-as-usual” than there is no way that that type of development could be sustainable. The massive amounts of fossil fuels necessary for continued development on our current trajectory would push the Earth beyond the levels of climate change “dangerous” to human civilization. Non-fossil fuel intensive development methods, if employed globally, could mitigate further climate change, thus protecting development efforts from more dangerous climate change. The fact that non-fossil fuel methods reduce the danger of climate change makes it better able to sustain continued development through climate change. One alternate development strategy looking more and more hopeful is that of using renewable energies.

A strong paper written in support of low-carbon development is Sawin and Moomaw’s Worldwatch report “Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030”. Sawin and Moomaw make the case that combining renewable energy utilization with better energy efficiency efforts could lead to a low-carbon energy sector by 2030 without hindering development in any way, and perhaps even helping it. Currently, most of the world’s power plants lose about 2/3 of the energy they produce as heat (Sawin and Moomaw 10). There is no way that losing over half of the fossil fuel energy going into the power plants is necessary for development. With efficiency efforts capturing the excess heat and steam and updating older power plants to be more efficient, power plants are better able to serve development needs with less carbon emissions. Furthermore, combined with the use of renewable energies instead of fossil fuels, the new global energy system could in fact lead to low-carbon energy by 2030 (Sawin and Moomaw 6-7). Sawin and Moomaw claim that all of the technology required to employ renewable energies on a global scale are ready; only policy is holding back implementation (Sawin and Moomaw 23). This means that there is the capacity to energize the world on mostly renewable energy and not fossil fuels, and developing countries’ development will not be hindered by such efforts.

In fact Sawin and Moomaw give reasons that switching to renewables could in fact improve developing countries’ efforts compared to the business-as-usual approach. For one, renewable energy sources are especially rich in developing areas, offering a possibility for exporting energy and enjoying job opportunities which accompany the birth of a new industry (Sawin and Moomaw 16). Also, renewable energy can offer options for development where current fossil-fuel methods are failing. For example, in Africa where current energy infrastructure is failing, especially in light of the booming population there, fossil fuels are inadequate to serve Africans’ energy needs in order to develop. Renewable sources, and especially wind, however offer and option for more sustainable energy that can support the continent’s development (Sawin and Moomaw 39). Developing countries will still need aid in building new infrastructure, so luckily the motions are already in place to get this through UNFCCC-created funds for climate change initiatives.

As Sawin and Moomaw argue, a low-carbon energy sector offers a road to development which does not simultaneously threaten the sustainability of the very societies which are developing. The trick is not making in improving technology; this has already happened. Instead, policies such as fossil fuel subsidies need to be terminated while other programs supporting renewable energies be created. And as we are getting closer and closer to Sawin and Moomaw’s 2030 goal, time for policy change is running out. If nations want to maintain their hard-earned development, the necessity of moving away from fossil fuels cannot be ignored.



Work Cited

Sawin, Janet and William Moomaw. “Renewable revolution: low-carbon energy by 2030.” Worldwatch Institute, 2009. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.


Proud of my Green State


Anyone who has interacted with me enough to discover where I am from, knows I am proud to be from the Golden State. I love the landscapes, the access to the outdoors, the food, the people.. in short I love my state. Part of this love comes from the role California has as a leader of environmental sustainability.  It is currently the nations top producer of solar energy (in 2013, 18% of our power came from solar), and is rated number one in clean technology (Bennett). None of this is to say that don’t have annoyance and anger towards the egregious environmental short comings of my state (don’t get me started on fracking, or almond production) but AB 32 reminds me of the environmental promise in California.

The the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) is one of the most comprehensive actions to mitigate climate change while living up to its promises of co-benefits. It takes a multitrack approach with, “Reductions in GHG emissions [that] will come from virtually all sectors of the economy and will be accomplished from a combination of policies, planning, direct regulations, market approaches, incentives and voluntary efforts” (“Assembly Bill 32 Overview.”). It will improve energy efficiency, expand renewable energy, improve public transportation, reduce emissions, waste and increase technology all while saving consumers money, and improving community health (“Assembly Bill 32 Overview.” and Alvord). According to the Union of Conserned Scientists, “A recent study found that California’s low carbon fuel standard and cap-and-trade programs will save $8.3 billion in health costs between now and 2025 by reducing asthma attacks, hospitalizations, and other health impacts associated with poor air quality” (Alvord). AB 32’s ultimate aim is to return California’s net emissions by to 1990 levels by 2020 and the more ambitious aim of reducing emission 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 (“Assembly Bill 32 Overview.”). 

Three cheers for my home state!


A picture of me and my sister backpacking in the Lost Coast in Northern California
A picture of me and my sister backpacking in the Lost Coast in Northern California


Work Cited:

Alvord, Adrienne. “Big Oil, Climate Change, and California’s AB32.” The Equation: Union of Concerned Scientists . N.p., 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 16 Oct. 2014. <>.

“Assembly Bill 32 Overview.” California Environmental Protection Agency., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2014. <

Bennett, Lisa. “Rays of Hope in California.”The Huffington Post., 2 Oct. 2014. Web. 16 Oct. 2014. <>.


REEEPing the Benefits of Transnational Networks

REEEP Structure
REEEP Structure

The Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) is an international non-profit based in Vienna, Austria that’s aim is to “accelerate the global market for sustainable energy with a primary focus on developing countries and emerging markets.”[1] Launched in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development by the United Kingdom and several other partners, REEEP has developed into a wide reaching NGO that has implemented over 180 projects in 58 countries. Membership is comprised of national and sub-national governments, international organizations, businesses, and other NGOs. REEEP operates as a public-private governance structure off of donor money and serves their mission by providing funding, information, and connector for clean energy solutions. A critique of transnational governance structures and groups such as REEEP is the overall effectiveness. An evaluation of REEEP’s place in global climate change governance and clean energy markets finds that REEEP is indeed effective.

Changjiang Buildings with Solar Thermal
Changjiang Buildings with Solar Thermal

REEEP’s existence is intrinsically linked to climate change, but also goes beyond just the need for energy that is not derived from carbon-intensive sources. REEEP’s support of clean energy markets is focused on three problem areas: (1) the water-energy nexus, (2) sustainable urban transport, (3) energy efficiency and buildings. Through these three areas they are able to provide services to not only increase the amount of clean energy employed in operations, but also to change the market system in the area in question. One service in particular is the portfolio system. REEEP looks for ventures in the clean energy market that they think will significantly alter the market system. They then invest donor funding into the venture. Their claim is that they “measure ROI not in money, but in markets changed.”[2] A claim not backed up by readily available evidence, but implies that REEEP is looking beyond monetary growth and interested in changing the way the market functions.

REEEP is heavily project based and to go into even a wide breadth of them would be a very large analysis. Though one big project known as Reegle is a shining example of the work REEEP does. Reegle is an informational portal for those interested in clean energy. It receives over 220,000 visitors per month and provides information from nation’s energy profile to a clean energy and climate change glossary. They also claim that many of the visitors are from developing nations. 220,000 visitors in a month is a lot. The information gathered in this portal, just for the energy profile, would take hours of work to gather otherwise. For this reason solely Reegle is a great tool. Another successful project was one in which REEEP funded a roadmap for increased renewable energy in China’s Changjiang River Basin (CJR). This project provided over €160,000 in funding to researchers that prepared a report on global and then implemented two technologies in CJR. The project provided hot water for apartment buildings in the region, as well as another example of successful implementation of a clean energy technology.

The question then is, is REEEP effective? Given the breadth of successful and ongoing projects, as well as continued funding I would judge to say yes. Financially speaking REEEP is in good standing and operating within their prerogatives, as judged by a recent Auditor’s Report.[3] An outside assessment of REEEP was conducted during a National Research Council workshop on “Enhancing the Effectiveness of Sustainability Partnerships.” The report, titled Assessing the Role and Relevance of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) in Global Sustainability Governance found that REEEP is “indeed addressing the goals that it declares.” One criticism was that REEEP focuses attention on the most important emerging renewable energy and energy efficiency markets and neglects the poorer nations, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa. The final judgment though is that given REEEP’s current scale and ability to implement these large projects, it could have “considerable impact in the area of sustainable energy policy.” Given this assessment by those within the NRC and the successful projects that have been implemented thus far, as well as the market impact that can be attributed to REEEP, it is safe to say that this group can be judged as effective.



[1] REEEP Mission,

[2] REEEP Portfolios,

[3] Auditor’s Report 2012-2013, REEEP

Works Cited

“Annual Report 2012/13.” REEEP.


“Auditor’s Report 2013.” PricewaterhouseCoopers.


Pattberg, Philipp, Kacper Szulecki, Sander Chan, and Aysem Mert. “Abstract: Assessing the Role and

Relevance of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) in Global

Sustainability Governance.” Enhancing the Effectiveness of Sustainability Partnerships (2009):



“Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership .” REEEP.