Where Does Decarbonization Come From?

Nuclear, Hydro, and Economic Growth

We know the world is not decarbonizing fast enough to reach global climate targets. But it turns out that no single country, anywhere, ever, has even achieved emissions progress of the scale needed.

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The Problems with a Large-Scale Shift to Organic Farming

Questionable Assumptions in the Case for Organic

A new study, led by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, gives the impression that a large-scale shift to organic farming would largely bring environmental benefits. And indeed, that’s how the paper has been covered. But if we look under the hood, the findings are dependent on several pretty questionable assumptions about diets and production systems that, together, make the paper’s conclusions hard to take too seriously.

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Might Feedlots Be the Sustainable Option?

The Limited Carbon Sequestration Potential of Cattle Grazing

A new report provides further evidence that cattle grazing, even when purportedly low-impact practices are used, might not be carbon-neutral or reduce net greenhouse gas emissions. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking: experts have long known that cattle have disproportionately large environmental impacts, especially when they spend their entire lives on pasture. This report adds to our understanding by calculating that at a global scale, grazing systems cannot sequester more carbon than is produced over the life of the cattle. What it doesn’t do, however, is consider how the environmental impacts of different production systems square up.

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Potential Energy

Hopes for Hydropower in Africa

By Ted Nordhaus and Emma Brush

The extraordinarily ambitious Grand Inga project on the Congo River provides a potent symbol of the potential that hydropower holds in Africa. On a continent where vast numbers of people lack access to electricity and rely on biomass as their primary energy source—the ramifications of which range from local pollution to grave health outcomes to gender inequity, not to mention the severe limitations on energy consumption that any use of biofuels entails—the development and generation of clean, abundant, and affordable energy would be revolutionary. And indeed, this is not an idle possibility; while the towering aspirations of Grand Inga, slated to cost around $80 billion as the world’s largest hydroelectric project, may raise more questions than answers, it is nevertheless the case that hydropower stands as the lone clean energy source to rival coal and gas in cost on the continent.

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Rick Perry’s One Step Forward, Three Steps Back

A Pyrrhic Victory for US Nuclear

Last week, the Department of Energy received almost universal criticism over its new electricity market rule proposal, designed to keep US coal and nuclear power plants from shutting down. And this criticism was deserved: though the rule would protect existing nuclear power plants—an essential goal for long-term decarbonization—it would do so by marrying the fate of low-carbon nuclear to high-carbon (and increasingly uneconomic) coal-fired power.

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The Power of Progress

“To make a better future, you have to believe in a better future”

In his magisterial book The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, the economic historian Benjamin Friedman considered the historical relationship between economic growth and social values and identified a clear pattern. During periods of rising economic prosperity, people tend to be more tolerant, optimistic, and egalitarian. Periods of stagnation and recession, by contrast, have been characterized by pessimism, nostalgia, xenophobia, and violence. During times of scarcity, people are more likely to look for scapegoats than to pull together, more prone to zero-sum thinking, and more susceptible to the appeals of populists and demagogues.

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Stuck in the S-Curve?

Obstacles to Renewable Energy Integration Persist

Some have described the growth of solar electricity as “exponential,” and many expect solar power to provide the bulk of zero-carbon energy in the future. There’s reason for optimism. Solar panel costs have plummeted and solar deployment has skyrocketed. But as we at Breakthrough have warned for some time, cheaper panels do not guarantee sustained boom times for solar. We’re already seeing signs of the economic and technical roadblocks that solar enthusiasts shrug off at their peril.

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