The Press Newspaper
Dear EarthTalk: What is the theme of this year’s Earth Day festivities? -- J. Worden, Austin, TX
Organizers from Earth Day Network (EDN), the non-profit group dedicated to diversifying and mobilizing the environmental movement through planning and coordinating Earth Day activities and events around the world, have chosen “The Face of Climate Change” as the theme for 2013’s celebration on April 22. According to the group, which works with 22,000 partners in 92 countries, more than a billion people will take part in Earth Day events this year.
Leading up to April 22, EDN is collecting images of people, animals and places directly affected or threatened by climate change, as well as images of people stepping up to do something about it. Anyone can upload a relevant picture for inclusion via EDN’s website. Then on and around Earth Day itself, an interactive digital display of all the images will be shown at thousands of events around the world—including next to federal government buildings in countries that produce the most carbon pollution. The resulting “global mosaic” display will also be available online—including an embedded live twitter feed.
The idea behind the theme is to personalize the challenge climate change presents by spreading the stories of those individuals, animals and places affected through imagery. Some of the images already part of the project include a man in the Maldives worried about relocating his family as sea levels rise, a polar bear in the melting arctic, a farmer in Kansas struggling to make ends meet as prolonged drought decimates crops, a tiger in India’s dwindling mangrove forests, a child in New Jersey who lost her home to Hurricane Sandy, an orangutan in Indonesian forests ravaged by bush fires and drought, and a woman in Bangladesh who can’t get fresh water due to more frequent flooding and cyclones.
EDN is also including many images of people doing their part to address climate change: green entrepreneurs, community activists, clean tech engineers, carbon-conscious policymakers and public officials, and Average Joes and Josephines committed to living sustainably.
“Together, we’ll highlight the solutions and showcase the collective power of individuals taking action across the world,” reports EDN. “In doing so, we hope to inspire our leaders to act and inspire ourselves to redouble our efforts in the fight against climate change.”
For those looking to organize an Earth Day event locally this year, Earth Day Network provides a wide range of useful resources—including basic guides for organizing events at schools and universities, in libraries and within faith communities, as well as posters, reading lists and so on. Teachers can also download Earth Day lesson plans and other curricula aids for their K-12 classrooms.
Beyond Earth Day itself, EDN runs the Billion Acts of Green campaign throughout the year with the goal of getting billions of people to take action on behalf of the environment, whether through encouraging policymakers to consider sustainability initiatives, recycling e-waste, planting trees, going solar, and much more. So far the group has tallied over a billion individual acts of green and is working on its second billion now. Anyone can register their own acts of green via the Earth Day Network website.
CONTACT: Earth Day Network, www.earthday.org.
Dear EarthTalk: What is the "Production Tax Credit" and why is it so important to developing alternative renewable energy? -- Sean Gallagher, Boston, MA
Environmentalists and wind energy boosters breathed a sigh of relief this past January when Congress voted to reinstate the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a federal tax incentive for companies that generate renewable energy from wind, geothermal or “closed-loop” biomass (dedicated energy crops) sources.
The credit, worth 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of energy produced, remains in effect for the first 10 years of a qualifying renewable energy facility’s operation. Other technologies such as “open-loop” biomass (using farm and forest wastes rather than dedicated energy crops), efficiency upgrades and capacity additions for existing hydro-electric, small irrigation, landfill gas and municipal solid waste systems qualify under the program for a lesser credit of 1.1 cents per kilowatt-hour produced. The PTC, which had expired at the end of 2012, can in effect get wind and other qualifying renewable energy technologies down into the price range of conventional energy sources.
Available off and on again in one form or another since 1992, the PTC has been key to helping many small utility-grade alternative energy providers get their businesses off the ground, which in turn has created hundreds of thousands of green jobs. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the PTC has helped the U.S. wind industry grow by leaps and bounds. Thanks to the subsidy, the industry has attracted some $15 billion in investment during each of the past five years. Today some 500 wind farms operate across 44 states, providing as much as three percent of U.S. electricity needs. The increase in supply and demand has meant that the cost of wind has fallen by some 90 percent since 1980.
But Congress has let the PTC expire without renewal four times previously, leaving high and dry the alternative energy producers who depend upon it to make ends meet. Some argue that the “here today, gone tomorrow” nature of the PTC has actually hurt small providers who have not been able to count on what amounts to a subsidy for helping push the country in the right direction energy-wise: “This ‘on-again/off-again’ status contributes to a boom-bust cycle of development that plagues the wind industry,” reports the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a non-profit which puts independent science to work to solve the planet’s most pressing problems. “In the years following expiration, installations dropped between 73 and 93 percent, with corresponding job losses.”
This time around Congress has once again only extended the PTC for one more year, leaving the future uncertain still for qualifying producers and reducing the security of any investments in U.S.-based wind, geothermal and biomass projects. “Short-term extensions of the PTC are insufficient for sustaining the long-term growth of renewable energy,” reports UCS, adding that the planning and permitting process for new wind facilities can take two years or more to complete. “As a result, many renewable energy developers that depend on the PTC to improve a facility’s cost effectiveness may hesitate to start a new project due to the uncertainty that the credit will still be available to them when the project is completed.”
The shame of it is that wind energy is one of America’s most promising alternatives. AWEA points out that wind farms can produce as much as 20 percent of the nation’s electricity needs—but only if Congress can commit long-term to supporting them via extending the PTC for more than a year.