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California Brings Planet To Climate Change Fight — CleanTechnica Interview

If the policymakers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are serious about challenging California on climate change, they better upgrade their arsenal. Last week the Golden State set the Intertubes ablaze when it announced a new project that will unleash cutting edge satellites to track global greenhouse gas emissions with near-pinpoint resolution, and it has two heavy hitters on its side

If the policymakers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are serious about challenging California on climate change, they better upgrade their arsenal. Last week the Golden State set the Intertubes ablaze when it announced a new project that will unleash cutting edge satellites to track global greenhouse gas emissions with near-pinpoint resolution, and it has two heavy hitters on its side: Bloomberg Philanthropies and the leading earth-imaging firm Planet.

climate change satellites

New satellite initiative will identify sources of greenhouse gas emissions with near-pinpoint accuracy (satellite imagery courtesy of Planet).

Beyond Coal Was Just The Beginning

To put this satellite thing into perspective, keep in mind that Bloomberg Philanthropies is a major financial force behind the successful Beyond Coal initiative.

Spearheaded by the Sierra Club, Beyond Coal launched back in 2002 in response to forecasts that the US would need 200 new coal power plants to meet a growing demand for electricity. Yes, what happened to all those new coal power plants?

Well, for one thing, natural gas happened. More recently, low cost renewable energy has also been beating up on the last remaining fragments of coal power in the US (renewables are also giving natural gas a run for the money, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms).

All this is by way of saying that Bloomberg Philanthropies has proven that it can push the seemingly impossible into the realm of the possible, and climate change is the next item on the list.

Climate Change, Meet Satellites For Climate Action

With that in mind, take a look at the new Satellites for Climate Action initiative, announced jointly by Michael R. Bloomberg, California Governor Gavin Newsom, and Planet (not for nothing but Bloomberg is the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action, so there’s that).

The initiative involves using data already compiled by Planet, to take a closer look at emissions from coal power plants around the world. Additionally, Planet is deploying a “new generation of satellite technologies with enhanced capabilities” that will collect data relevant to forest conservation, coral reef preservation and other areas as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

CleanTechnica had a chance to sit down and talk about the new satellite program with Antha Williams, who heads the Environment program at Bloomberg Philanthropies, during last Wednesday’s Global Business Forum in New York City.

“We know that climate change is the problem, but there is a lot about the sources that we still don’t know,” said Williams. “For example, in many places it’s unclear if coal plants are operating or not. The new satellites will help us see the reality of what’s happening on the ground.”

Methane leakage is another area in which hard data is lacking. With improved data in hand, climate advocates can make a better bottom line case for renewable energy.

“It’s not always clear that renewable energy is cheapest,  and the new data will help clarify the actual cost of coal,” Williams explained.

To cite just one example, the new data would enable a city to distinguish between emissions from a coal power plant, a natural gas storage facility, and a shipping port with near-pinpoint accuracy. That knowledge would help set priorities and develop strategies.

Williams also discussed the critical link between changing policy and changing peoples’ behavior. Smokers in the US, for example, were once guaranteed a safe space to light up practically everywhere they went. More recently, smoking bans have become commonplace and the percentage of smokers in the US has declined.

“What we need to do is to change the policy, so that in the course of going with the flow you are also going in the right direction,” Williams said.

Don’t Mess With Cali, Climate Change Edition

Williams also enthused over the satellite initiative’s partners at Planet and in California. In particular, she noted that California Air Resources Board chairman Mary Nichols is “out there in hand to hand combat” with the Trump* administration.”

That put-up-your-dukes attitude is necessary because the administration is attempting to pull the rug out from under California’s longstanding privilege to impose stricter air quality standards than permitted by federal law.

Through the years, that privilege has impacted the entire US auto industry. That’s because the economy of California is larger than almost every other nation on Earth. It can move markets regardless of whatever shenanigans occur in other states.

Despite the administration’s latest attempt to hobble California, the Satellites for Climate Action initiative will have a powerful impact there and around the world.

Here’s the explainer from Bloomberg’s press release:

“California has one of the leading greenhouse gas reduction programs in the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 and a long history of finding innovative ways to reduce emissions while encouraging a thriving economy. California will work with its partners to use satellite data to ensure that expected emissions reductions are happening, enforce existing regulations, and to identify cheaper and faster ways to achieve further reductions.”

Got all that?

Bloomberg notes that Satellites for Climate Action builds on last year’s announcement between Planet and California, which was supported and by the High Tide Foundation and the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment.

But wait there’s more. CleanTechnica sat down with Will Marshall, co-founder and CEO of Planet, at the Global Business Forum, so stay tuned for more details about the company and its technology.

Follow me on Twitter.

*Developing story.

Photo: Energy and infrastructure satellite image courtesy of Planet.

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