Research Dispatch

All the sustainability research posts.

Blue Carbon [Ocean Ecosystems that are Promising Carbon Sinks]

The Internet Needs to Go Green, Just Like Everything Else. [Digital Sustainability]

The UN Climate Meeting, COP26, was a Huge Step Up from Previous Years [just what it says]

Researching to Find My Place in the Climate Movement [Setting up my Sustainability Research Project]

How Can We Know We’re Buying Sustainable Products? [Supply Chain Transparency]

How Much Farther Do We Have to Go to Solve Climate Change? [Emissions Gap Report, Introductory Chapters]

Managing Methane Can Buy Us Time [Emissions Gap Report, Methane Chapter]

City Council Meetings: The Next Sustainability Skill I’m After

I’ve written recently about the various sustainability skills I’m trying to build: mostly writing and advocacy. The next skill is advocating for change at the city level. This is a project I’m still working on, so there won’t be a “Success! Huzzah!”-type of ending to this post.

As I wrote in my recent letter to the editor, cities need to set science-based targets to work toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. I think setting targets is the most basic step toward making any progress.

Redondo Beach, where I live, is a pretty forward thinking place, but they haven’t joined the Race to Zero initiative (which involves making a net-zero pledge and setting science-based targets), unlike several nearby cities. So I started by writing to my council member to ask if the city would consider it.

While waiting to hear back, I also used my city’s customer service portal to get some information. Redondo Beach adopted a climate action plan an few years ago, and I wondered if maybe they were way ahead of me, in terms of planning.

I read the plan itself, and it was pretty solid. Lots of good ideas of measures to look into, including encouraging electric vehicles, greening the city, and the typical measures recommended by the UN and other bodies.

So I asked the city how implementation was going. And…

It hasn’t been going anywhere. See the public comment I made on a City Council Meeting agenda for details:

Deepti Kannapan
Location:
Submitted At: 6:20pm 08-09-22
At the end of the 2017 Climate Action Plan (https://www.redondo.org/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=35593), the next steps were listed as setting up a Climate Action Team and designating an Implementation Coordinator.
Per some information I received via customer service request, the Community Development Department is not aware of a Climate Action Team having been formed, and the Community Development Director doesn’t believe any further action was taken other than adopting it. I am waiting for similar information from the City Manager’s office.
I wanted to ask how we can follow through on the good foundation set in 2017, and see the proposed measures come to fruition.

eComments page

So… the plan was made five years ago, and then no action taken on it. I’m hoping that will change soon.

These city council meetings are hybrid in-person/virtual, so I made an eComment and then Iurked on Zoom. I guess I could have spoken my comment if I wanted. They read my comment aloud during the meeting! You watch the video here (just the few seconds where they read it). And kudos for a reasonably good pronunciation of my name.

* * *

I’m pretty new at this advocacy thing, so I’m reaching out to local environmental groups for help.

Some suggestions if you’re curious about trying this:

  • Did you know cities had customer service portals? Mine turned out to be pretty responsive! You need to check your city’s official site (which may be clunky and old-fashioned).
  • Here’s an article I read before going, to learn about why going to council meetings is a good idea for being civically engaged in general.
  • I was hoping the meeting would be zany like in Gilmore Girls, but it was not.

More to come as I continue to pursue this!

Multiproject Update for Q3 2022

This is a late start to the quarter, since I gave myself an extra month to work on my Q2 goals. I spent today assessing where my projects were at and what they needed most. Without further ado, here is what I’d like to get done in the next couple of months!

Research Quest

Over the past two reading projects, I got the foundation of sustainability knowledge that I’d felt I was missing. There’s always more to learn, of course, but my focus is going to be on output – writing about what I’ve learned, and picking up any additional research I need as I go.

I still have a few blog posts pending from the first reading project, and books to read (that I’m looking forward to) from the second. And most recently, I’ve been experimenting with writing public comments and letters to the editor (LTE).

So my goals are:

  • Write the last few blog posts from reading project 1,
  • Read the books from reading project 2,
  • Continue to write public comments and LTE,
  • Try to get to the next sustainability skill: writing op-eds! I took a cool class by the OpEd Project last year about how to do it, and I’ve made one submission so far…

YA Fantasy Novel

I have a fairly consolidated draft that needs more detailed editing. I don’t think I can get done with a full edit in the next two months, so my goals are:

  • edit half the novel,
  • post regular writing updates and spoiler-free ‘concept art’ (I’m using drawing to help me visualize parts of the story) over on the Fiction page.

Art

I had such a blast doing a 10-day drawing challenge a few months ago that I definitely want to do another one. I have two ideas I just can’t choose between! Maybe I’ll leave it open, and decide when I’m ready. It’ll be a surprise, to me as much as anyone.

* * *

And that’s all! Setting goals after I’ve started – I guess that’s one way to do it.

Are you in the thick of your projects? Do you find it useful to re-evaluate in the middle of them?

New Sustainability Skill Unlocked

Writing Letters to the Editor

I wrote recently about how I’m practicing at writing public comments on environmental regulations, and that this is a key sustainability skill (along with advocacy more broadly). Now that I’ve done a couple more, it’s gotten easier.

The next skill in my sights was writing letters to the editor. This is like writing comments, but comes with the added complication that the editor has to pick your letter and choose to run it.

I’d tried it before without success. Not paper-your-wall-with-rejection-letters levels of trying, but enough for it to feel like a big deal when…

I got published this time! In two local newspapers: Easy Reader and Beach Reporter. You can check out the published versions, and I’ve also included my letter (about cities pledging net zero GHG emissions) at the end of this post.

This is how I feel right now…


LTEs are a relatively low-barrier-to-entry way to make a point.

Indivisible says:

The humble Letter to the Editor has stayed influential in politics even as social media platforms have come and (some) gone.

Indivisible post

The ACLU says:

 In addition to writing letters to your members of Congress, sending letters to the editor are important advocacy goals because they:
– reach a large audience
– are often monitored by elected officials
– can bring up information not addressed in a news article
– create an impression of widespread support for or opposition to an issue

ACLU post

Both of the posts linked above have great tips on how to write an LTE. Let me know if you try it!


Here’s the letter I wrote in full (before shortening it to meet the papers’ word limits):

The recent wildfires and extreme weather in California are an unmistakable signal that climate change has arrived. The time window for incremental improvements has ended, and bold action is required, now.

Our top priority should be to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and protect our ecosystems.

The most basic step toward taking these actions is to pledge our intentions. Our cities need to set science-based emissions targets that will set us on a trajectory to net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.

And yet, only six of the 88 cities in LA county have taken even this most foundational step by joining the UN Race to Zero initiative. These six are Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Glendale, Los Angeles, Lakewood, and Manhattan Beach.

The other 82 cities must step up.

Californians have watched the national developments in climate policy with bated breath, including the recent deal between Senators Schumer and Manchin on climate provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, and President Biden’s executive actions to invest in renewables. 

However, California, with our well-earned reputation for innovation and progress, must lead the nation by taking action in our own cities. We don’t need to wait for national policy or the least proactive among us to take action.

If you are concerned about the state of the planet we will leave for our children’s generation, you should contact your mayor’s office and demand they pledge emissions reduction targets by joining Cities Race to Zero, and follow through on this plan year over year.

Is your city committed to making the deep changes that this moment in history calls for?

Practicing to Get Good at Public Comment Letters

The White House got a lot of email from me today… sorry about that.

I wrote in my recent multiproject update that I wrote a public comment letter for the first time (about the SEC proposed climate disclosure rule):

I followed the guidelines from the Public Comment Project, and squeaked my email in just before their extended deadline of June 17th. I was worried I had bungled the submission because I didn’t see my comment on their public comments page, and I still might have, but according to this article it typically takes a month or two before the comments are posted. So I’ll be keeping my eye on that page to see if I did it right. I definitely want to keep doing these in the future, because it’s an effective way to influence climate policy. (If you want to read my comment, I’ve appended it at the end of [that] post!)

I wrote three more today. These were easier, because the advocacy newsletters I’m on sent me a form-letter to personalize. For each of them, I ended up mixing their talking points with some of my own that I’ve collected through my research quest. I’ve appended my three letters below.

I think advocating in writing is a great skill for an environmentalist to have! The first was kind of nerve-wracking, but hopefully by the 200th this will be a breeze.

If you want to start sending comment letters of your own, I’ve linked the three campaigns I wrote for below, and here are a couple of super-quick (US-centric) tips:

  • To find issues to write about, you can sign up for environmental email lists that will send them to you, complete with a form letter for you to modify. I favor League of Conservation VotersGreen New Deal Network350.org, and  Climate Hawks Vote. They may sometimes ask for donations, but I have found these particular organizations’ emails informative and infrequent.
  • If you’d rather not get emails, you can also go on mobilize.us and search for the keywords ‘climate’ and ‘letter’.
  • Check out the examples on the Public Comment Project (and generally that whole site) to get an idea of the tone to strike.
  • If you plan on modifying the templates (which I believe is optional, but I always do for self-expression reasons), you may want to make a master research document for yourself, so you can repurpose your personal set of talking points.

These are the three campaigns the letters were for:

  1. Letter for the Action Network letter campaign: Tell Biden and BLM to say no to the Willow Project!

    The Willow is a massive project that includes up to 250 new drilling wells, as well as hundreds of miles of roads, airstrips, and a new fossil fuel processing facility. All this in an area of the Arctic that is already warming at twice the rate of the rest of the country and is affected most by climate change.

    Not only would Willow break a promise Biden made not to expand fossil fuel drilling in the sensitive arctic, it would make it impossible for him to achieve his goals of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    Send a comment now and tell BLM and Biden that they cannot permit the Willow plan, or any fossil fuel project with this kind of impact on the climate or the Arctic.

    https://actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-biden-and-blm-to-say-no-to-the-willow-project?source=email&

  2. A campaign from the the League of Conservation Voters to prevent more oil drilling leases. “For years, we have fought (and won!) against attempts to expand offshore drilling. But a new round of drilling leases in our federal waters is now under consideration. We cannot hand our public waters over to private oil companies.

    If Big Polluters get their way, oil companies would be able to drill in new waters and lock us into decades of fossil fuel destruction and dependency. This puts our coastal communities, marine life, public health, and the climate at an unimaginable risk.

    To protect our climate, oceans, and communities, we must prevent these drilling leases from moving forward! Submit a comment to the Department of the Interior to keep Big Oil out of public waters!”

    https://actnow.lcv.org/afimpis

  3. Another from the League of Conservation Voters, urging the Biden admin to use their executive powers.

    “The White House and the Biden administration have significant power to cut pollution and curb the climate crisis — and they must use it boldly and swiftly.”

    https://actnow.lcv.org/TzX1s0G

* * *

Here are my letters. (Note that they are not entirely original; some passages are from the form letters. Feel free to borrow points from it as well.)

Letter 1: Against Willow Master Development Project.

I am writing to express my strong opposition to the Willow Master Development Plan Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

Willow is a massive project that includes up to 250 new drilling wells, as well as hundreds of miles of roads, airstrips, and a new fossil fuel processing facility. All this in an area of the Arctic that is already warming at twice the rate of the rest of the country and is affected most by climate change.

President Biden has already taken the admirable step of committing to a 50-52% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050 as a part of the US Nationally Determined Contribution, and issuing an Executive Order on January 27, 2021 to place the climate crisis at the forefront of this Nation’s foreign policy and national security planning.

Unfortunately, allowing the Willow Master Development Plan will certainly place the fulfillment of these promises out of reach.

The International Energy Agency issued a report (https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/deebef5d-0c34-4539-9d0c-10b13d840027/NetZeroby2050-ARoadmapfortheGlobalEnergySector_CORR.pdf) stating that pathways to net-zero by 2050 should include NO new investment in oil and gas. In contrast, the Willow project will lock in oil and gas production infrastructure for decades to come.

Additionally, this project will do nothing for decreasing gas prices. Rising gas prices are a real and burdensome problem for Americans, caused primarily by global markets and shameless price-gouging by producers.

As the administration is no doubt aware, global gas prices are based on too many factors to be controlled through domestic production, and this project will not add to the gas supply in the near term.

In contrast, investment in renewables will favorably affect gas prices by decreasing the demand for gas from power generation, as explained by the World Resources Institute (https://www.wri.org/insights/why-renewable-energy-solution-high-prices).

While the Biden administration has taken admirable steps in the promotion of renewables, they must not undercut their results by allowing needless expansion of oil and gas infrastructure, while also causing massive disruptions and hardships to Arctic communities and ecosystems, who are already under severe strain from the impacts of climate change.

President Biden, BLM staff, you MUST say no to the Willow project this summer.

Letter 2: Against New Offshore Drilling Leases.

I’m writing to urge you to prevent new offshore drilling leases.

President Biden has already taken the admirable step of committing to a 50-52% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050 as a part of the US Nationally Determined Contributions, and issuing an Executive Order on January 27, 2021 to place the climate crisis at the forefront of this Nation’s foreign policy and national security planning.

Any new oil leases will place the fulfillment of these promises out of reach.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a report (https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/deebef5d-0c34-4539-9d0c-10b13d840027/NetZeroby2050-ARoadmapfortheGlobalEnergySector_CORR.pdf) stating that pathways to net-zero by 2050 include NO new investment in oil and gas. New offshore drilling leases can lock-in long-term fossil fuel infrastructure that’s inconsistent with our efforts to solve climate change and pose huge risks to the health of communities, workers, and wildlife.

Additionally, new leases will do nothing for decreasing gas prices. Rising gas prices are a real and burdensome problem for families, caused primarily by global markets and shameless price-gouging by producers. The oil and gas industry is currently trying to exploit Russia’s unjust invasion of Ukraine by making a call for new drilling that they claim will lower prices.

But in reality, offshore drilling leases take years before they produce any oil, so they do nothing to bring down the price of gas at the pump today.

In contrast, investment in renewables CAN favorably affect gas prices by decreasing the demand for gas from power generation, as explained by the World Resources Institute (WRI, https://www.wri.org/insights/why-renewable-energy-solution-high-prices).

While the Biden administration has taken admirable steps in the promotion of renewables, they must not undercut their results by allowing needless expansion of oil and gas infrastructure, while also causing massive disruptions to vital coastal ecosystems, increasing the risk of dangerous oil spills, and negatively impacting Americans’ enjoyment of the ocean.

We constituents are counting on President Biden to seize the historic opportunity to lead the way to an equitable and just clean energy future by finalizing an offshore drilling plan that removes the lease sales in this draft plan and ultimately offers no new leases.

We must put in policies today that will help limit the warming of the earth for decades to come and center frontline and coastal communities who already bear the brunt of climate change burdens. We will continue to fight to ensure there is no new leasing in the final Five Year Plan in line with what science (as demonstrated by the IEA and WRI) and justice require.

Letter 3: In Favor of Using Executive Powers for Climate Action.

As your constituent and a supporter of the League of Conservation Voters, I want you to know that climate change is my top voting priority. Climate change is an unprecedented emergency, and must be treated as such. Conventional, incremental action will not do.

Our government must listen to the thousands of scientists and experts around the world — not to mention tens of millions of climate voters like me — and take immediate, transformational action to prevent widespread global destruction, displacement, and loss, using every possible lever within the Executive Branch.

President Biden has already taken the admirable step of committing to a 50-52% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050 as a part of the US Nationally Determined Contributions, and issuing an Executive Order on January 27, 2021 to place the climate crisis at the forefront of this Nation’s foreign policy and national security planning.

However, there is a narrowing window for the government to take action to keep the fulfillment of these promises within reach.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a report (https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/deebef5d-0c34-4539-9d0c-10b13d840027/NetZeroby2050-ARoadmapfortheGlobalEnergySector_CORR.pdf) stating that pathways to net-zero by 2050 include NO new investment in oil and gas. 

For this reason, I call on you to immediately take action to block ALL new onshore and offshore drilling leases, since these leases will lock in emissions for decades to come, with no appreciable benefits. (These leases will not alleviate the current high gas prices, which are primarily caused by shameless and opportunistic price-gouging by oil producers.)

Additional necessary measures are: to require carbon capture from power plants and other major emitters of climate pollution, place strict limits on air pollution to safeguard all communities, strengthen standards for cleaner cars and trucks, protect communities from methane, conserve our public lands and waters, and declare a climate emergency, among other actions.

Furthermore, investment in renewables WILL help in by bringing down gas prices for families, since it will decrease the demand for gas from power generation, as explained by the World Resources Institute (https://www.wri.org/insights/why-renewable-energy-solution-high-prices). 

While the Biden administration has taken admirable steps in the promotion of renewables, including in the Executive Actions of July 21, 2022 this one avenue of investment is not sufficient.

I’m looking to you, President Biden, to rise to this historic occasion and keep your pledge to cut planet-warming emissions in half by 2030 and move swiftly on all possible executive climate solutions. 

Multiproject Update: End of Q2 and Start of Q3 of 2022.

I last made a multiproject update post here, listing my goals for Q2. 

I gave myself two extra weeks after Q2 officially ended, because the end of the month was chaotic-good. I went to Portland for the WDS conference in late June, and I had a huge dip in productivity right before it (because I hadn’t traveled in a while and was stressed) and a huge boost in productivity right afterward (because Portland is awesome). When July rolled around, I was still in the thick of my projects and didn’t want to stop work abruptly. 

Now that my extended quarter has ended, here is the latest on my big projects:

Research Quest

My reading line up for the quarter included a few big reports:

  • The SEC’s proposed climate disclosure rule (March 2022)
  • New IPCC report AR6, from three working groups – 1, 2, and 3 (2021-2022). Especially prioritizing Working Group 3, which focuses on Mitigation.
  • October 2021 report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) about Curtailing Methane Emissions from Fossil Fuel Operations.
  • FTC 2012 Green Guide

Of these, I was able to skim all of them (excluding the working groups 1 and 2 of the IPCC report). 

I spent a bunch of time on the SEC climate disclosure because I wanted to write a public comment in support of the rule.

When government agencies propose new rule, they often open a public comment period when we, the public, can share our views on it. They post all the comments they receive publicly on their website.

I’d never done this before, so I followed the guidelines from the Public Comment Project, and squeaked my email in just before their extended deadline of June 17th. I was worried I had bungled the submission because I didn’t see my comment on their public comments page, and I still might have, but according to this article it typically takes a month or two before the comments are posted. So I’ll be keeping my eye on that page to see if I did it right. I definitely want to keep doing these in the future, because it’s an effective way to influence climate policy. (If you want to read my comment, I’ve appended it at the end of this post!)

For the other three reports, I’m mostly stashing them away as references for future blogging. I’m still formulating what I want to say about them. I’m sure the FTC Green Guide will feature heavily in a planned deep dive into the subject of greenwashing.

The rest of my research lineup consisted of:

  • UNEP Six Sector Solution
  • Inconspicuous Consumption by Tatiana Schlossberg
  • Speed and Scale by John Doerr
  • Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Web Survey (of useful websites for climate and sustainability data)

I mades some good headway into the first and last of these, and they will fit into a YouTube series I’m working on. So, once more, I’m stashing them away for when I need them. The middle three are books, and unfortunately, I didn’t get to them at all. I’m looking forward to some cozy reading time, so I’m rolling those into this quarter.

In the two research quests I’ve done so far, I organized the quest by the reports. I read each as thoroughly as I could and blogged about them. This was a pretty good way of working. I wanted to be thorough and feel like I knew what I was talking about. But it was also kind of a slow and lumbering process.

Going forward, I might shake up the research quest format a bit, so I can respond more quickly to current events. More on that soon.

YA fantasy novel

In the fiction world, I had two goals. One was to finish the ‘long draft’ of my YA fantasy novel by pasting into the main manuscript scenes that I’d written in various note-taking apps. I’m about halfway through this task, so I might give myself another couple of days to get this done before I set myself a new goal.

My second goal was to finish sharing my novel’s (real-world) backstory, so that you’d be all caught up when I started sharing real-time writing updates. I did manage to catch up to the start of this year by adding two new installments to the story. One more installment should get us to the present day.

Art and Painting

This is the one category where I crushed my goals, which were:

  1. To upload my recent watercolors and vector art into galleries in my Painting category.
  2. To make vector drawings of all the plants (and fruit and vegetables) in my house.

The Painting category of this blog is all the way up-to-date, and the vector drawings of plants are here, where you can download them in the form of a PDF booklet if you like. And you can watch the ‘making-of’ videos here, if you like drawing videos.

* * *

It’s been an intense quarter and a very, very mixed bag. I feel good about my progress, but also a need to adapt how I work, because there is a need for rapid action in preparation for the US midterm election.

 How about you? Did you have any projects planned for last quarter, and do you have any planned for this one?


The comment I submitted to the SEC (A few years ago, I used to sound this formal in my writing all the time! Can you imagine?):

To whom it may concern,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed rule The Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors.
I am Deepti Kannapan, an aerospace engineer with an Engineering Design background. I have a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

I strongly support this new rule, and welcome the prospect of clearer and more standardized climate-related information from companies whose disclosures have, thus far, been opaque and overly self-congratulatory.

I consider climate risk to be related to a measure of a registrant’s unused opportunities for GHG mitigation. For example, a company in a relatively easy-to-decarbonize industry that fails to take decarbonization efforts may face more customer backlash (and risk) than a company in a hard-to-decarbonize industry that makes use of best available practices. (Even though the latter company may have higher emissions overall.) 
I believe the proposed disclosures will provide useful information for making those comparisons. However, I have two comments:

1. Regarding the Request for Comment #111, I think GHG intensity should be specified per unit of production, broken out by product category.  I would consider a company with higher GHG intensity (than its peer companies) in a particular product category to have higher risk.

For example, for a company that produces both physical products and web services, I would compare its GHG intensity for physical products with other companies that produce those products, and compare its GHG intensity for web products with other web companies.

Comparing the aggregate GHG intensity across all product categories may not accurately reflect which company has more unused opportunities for GHG mitigation, since products and industries vary widely in their difficulty to decarbonize.

2. In addition to GHG intensity, I would like to know how dependent a registrant’s business model is on high sales volumes and wasteful design practices like planned obsolescence. A company that produces products with shorter life cycles and (resultant) higher sales volumes than its competition (such as ‘fast fashion’ or cheap electronic products) has more unused opportunities for GHG mitigation, even if its GHG intensity may be lower.

However, I would consider this company to have higher climate risk, since its business model may not be viable under future regulation or market pressure to pivot to more durable products. For this reason, I would suggest that a measure of product durability be added to the disclosure.
Please see below for relevant literature.
Thank you.
Sincerely,Deepti Kannapan

M.S. Mechanical Engineering, UC Santa Barbara,

B. Tech and M. Tech Engineering Design, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras

 * * *

Bibliography:– Rivera, Julio L., and Amrine Lallmahomed. “Environmental implications of planned obsolescence and product lifetime: a literature review.” International Journal of Sustainable Engineering 9.2 (2016): 119-129.
– Peters, Greg, Mengyu Li, and Manfred Lenzen. “The need to decelerate fast fashion in a hot climate-A global sustainability perspective on the garment industry.” Journal of cleaner production 295 (2021): 126390.