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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Where’s the Fake Beef?

Eating Meatless Meat Is Safe for You and the Planet

The Impossible Burger—the meatless burger that bleeds—has recently been lambasted by some environmental activists for using genetic engineering to make the burger taste and look like meat. It’s a strange accusation, to say the least. The environmental impacts of meat production are large and complicated; reducing them will require modern tools and technologies. And few innovations have as large a potential as meatless meat to mitigate ecological impacts while meeting global demand. 

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Last Plant Standing

Is Southern Company's Innovation Strategy Enough to Save Nuclear Energy?

Last week, Southern Company announced that it would continue its project to build two AP1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia. The decision, which still awaits approval by the Georgia Public Service Commission, could leave Vogtle as the only commercial nuclear power plant under construction in North America. So it’s important to understand why Vogtle is moving forward while many other nuclear projects around the country have been canceled.

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Decoupled, Not Detached

How Making Nature Useless Can Help Us Love It More

In the months after the publication of the Ecomodernist Manifesto, a curious agglomeration of environmentalists attacked the manifesto for its call to decouple human societies from dependence upon nature. The idea seemed calculated, nature writer Michelle Nijhuis suggested in the New Yorker after interviewing a number of prominent conservationists, “to alienate.” Ecomodernism leaves “no room for enjoyment of hunting and fishing, botanizing and birdwatching,” Joshua Halpern, a chemistry professor and climate activist at Howard University, wrote in the Guardian. “No backyards to grill in and mow, but all must move into the megopolis. No place for wild pollinators.”

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Farming Better

A New Study Says Agricultural Efficiency Is the Key to Sustainably Feeding the World

How do we feed a growing population while minimizing environmental impacts? Contrary to popular belief, making the switch from conventional to organic farming is not the answer, or so find Michael Clark and David Tilman in a recent study published in Environmental Research Letters. Rather, the authors emphasize, we should be prioritizing research and adoption of practices that increase agricultural input efficiency—the amount of food produced per unit of agricultural input.

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