Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London. Read MoreRead More
It’s a Big Week for Carbon Removal
On the Graphyte plant’s ribbon-cutting, greenwashing, and Taylor Swift’s emissions
Current conditions: Winter storm warnings are in effect across parts of the American Southwest • Huge waves washed jellyfish onto the streets of Havana • It’s snowy and cold in Tokyo, where Taylor Swift is kicking off the second leg of her Eras Tour.
THE TOP FIVE
1. ‘World’s largest carbon removal plant’ will soon be up and running
One to watch for this week: A Bill Gates-backed startup called Graphyte plans to begin operations at its Arkansas carbon removal plant by Friday, E&E Newsreported. The facility, which has been dubbed the “world’s largest carbon removal plant,” relies on biomass matter like sawdust and farming waste that, if left to decompose, would release a lot of carbon. Graphyte wants to stop the decomposition process by drying the waste out, shaping it into bricks, and burying the bricks underground for years and years, thus keeping the carbon from ever reaching the atmosphere.
Biomass bricks that sequester carbon. Graphyte
Last year Graphyte's CEO claimed the company's process keeps the cost of carbon removal below $100 per ton, a key benchmark for scalability. Graphyte hopes to remove 15,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the end of 2024 and continue scaling quickly from there.
2. Republicans play ‘Opposite Day’ during LNG hearings
Americans got a good preview yesterday of the Republican Party’s fossil fuel defense strategy, reported Heatmap’s Jeva Lange. In the first of two hearings this week concerning the White House’s pause on approving new permits for facilities to export liquified natural gas, Republicans on the House Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee raised traditionally liberal talking points to undermine the Biden administration’s order. “By their topsy-turvy logic,” Lange wrote, “the administration should not pause approving new export terminals because natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, and thus our best bet for fighting climate change — an argument that is still under considerable debate in the scientific community, and coming from these folks is especially weird.” At one point an argument broke out over the meaning of the words “pause” versus “ban.” Ranking member Diana DeGette of Colorado perhaps encapsulated the hearing best in her opening round of questioning. “I can’t help sitting here thinking that the silly season has begun,” she told her colleagues.
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3. UK watchdog bans ‘zero emissions’ from EV ads
Carmakers in the United Kingdom can no longer use the words “zero emissions” in ads to describe their electric vehicles. The U.K.’s advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), says the claim is misleading for consumers because it ignores emissions from manufacturing and charging. If carmakers want to use the term, they must find a way to explain this nuance. The precedent-setting move is part of a bigger crackdown on greenwashing – the ASA has also banned misleading ads from oil groups and airlines, the Financial Timesreported. But it comes at a time when carmakers are striving to increase their EV sales to avoid hefty fines: As of this year, fully-electric cars must make up at least 22% of new cars sales in the U.K. If a company misses that target, it will be fined £15,000 for every non-compliant vehicle. So the question is how much the words “zero emissions” really matter for sales. BMW, for example, uses the term in Google ads. But a quick look at Google Trends shows “EVs” (in red) is a far more popular search term than “zero emissions” (in blue), at least in the U.K.:
Google searches for “EVs” (red) compared to “zero emissions” (blue) in the U.K. over one yearGoogle Trends
As EV options flood the market, a much more reliable way to boost sales than touting emissions reductions is by introducing cutting edge smart features, like lidar sensors, according to Bloomberg. Chinese manufacturers “are deploying lidars in order to provide features that can help differentiate their offerings from competitors.”
4. EU power-sector emissions drop as renewables take over
The European Union’s power sector is undergoing a “monumental shift” away from fossil fuels before our eyes, according to a new report from energy think-tank Ember. In 2023, wind power generation in the bloc surpassed that of gas plants for the first time. Compared to 2022, fossil fuel power generation fell by almost 20% overall, with electricity from coal plants plummeting by 26% and gas down 15%. Greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector fell by 19% as a result, more than the huge reduction seen during the pandemic. Ember added that the EU’s power-sector emissions are now almost half their 2007 peak levels. “Fossil fuels are playing a smaller role than ever as a system with wind and solar as its backbone comes into view,” said Sarah Brown, Ember’s Europe program director.
5. Taylor Swift threatens legal action against man tracking her private jet emissions
Taylor Swift threatened to sue a 21-year-old college student that has been tracking her private jet activity and the resulting emissions, The Washington Post reported. Jack Sweeney uses publicly available FAA data to monitor celebrities’ flying habits and then posts about it on social media. Private jet use has been criticized by climate advocates – by one estimate, a private jet passenger emits 10 to 20 times as much carbon pollution as a commercial airline passenger. A 2022 analysis identified the globe-trotting Swift as the biggest offender among celebrities, but she insists her plane is often loaned out. Her attorneys say Sweeney’s posts have caused her to fear for her personal safety.
More than 7,000 yogis have backed a petition calling for Lululemon to convert its supply chain to 100% renewable energy.