From the Brakes Coffeehouse to The Brakes Project

In the winter of 2014, I, with the help of many friends and supporters, opened The Brakes Coffeehouse on Lark Street in downtown Albany, NY. It was a coffeehouse with a purpose: to serve sustainably-produced, low-carbon food and drink, and to serve as a community hub and meeting place for those concerned about the looming climate crisis.  Sadly, I had to close the coffeehouse after 16 months due to financial difficulties.  I regret the loss of the space — it was warm and inviting, with excellent food and a wonderful community.  But I am very excited that the transition has given me the time and space to start to build this site.  My hope is that The Brakes Project will serve as a resource for anyone concerned about climate change, especially those who want clear, concise information about what is happening and what we as individuals can do about it. I will provide summaries of the latest science, the current state of international agreements, and what it all means. I will also be creating a program to help individuals understand how their actions contribute to the wider global problem, to identify which changes will have the greatest impact on their carbon footprint, and to access the available tools and resources to make these changes.  Watch this space in the coming months as I work to build out the site. – Emily

Nations commit to eliminating HFCs

This is huge news. World leaders have just signed an amendment to the Montreal Protocol that will phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a major greenhouse gas used in air-conditioners and refrigerators. This is a legally-binding treaty, with consequences for non-compliance. The New York Times has the details:

While the Paris agreement included pledges by nearly every country to cut emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the fossil fuels that power vehicles, electric plants and factories, the new Kigali deal has a single target: chemical coolants called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, used in air-conditioners and refrigerators.


HFCs are just a small percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but they function as a sort of supercharged greenhouse gas, with 1,000 times the heat-trapping potency of carbon dioxide.

While the Paris pledges are broad, they are also voluntary, often vague and dependent on the political will of future world leaders. In contrast, the Kigali deal includes specific targets and timetables to replace HFCs with more planet-friendly alternatives, trade sanctions to punish scofflaws, and an agreement by rich countries to help finance the transition of poor countries to the costlier replacement products.

So, narrow as it is, the new accord may be more likely to yield climate-shielding actions by industry and governments, negotiators say. And given the heat-trapping power of HFCs, scientists say the Kigali accord will stave off an increase of atmospheric temperatures of nearly one degree Fahrenheit.

Which is all fantastic news.  But as Climate Interactive explains, this agreement merely locks in voluntary emission reductions pledges already made as part of the Paris Agreement.  In other words, the projected 1°F (0.5°C) reduction is already baked in to analyses of the impacts of the Paris pledges. We’ll have to look elsewhere to close the gap between the pledges made in Paris and what’s needed to limit warming to 1.5-2°C.

Further reading:

The Kigali Deal on HFCs Is Important but Won’t Save us Another Half a Degree
Banning the ‘super’ greenhouse gas

Put a price on carbon.

Try our brand-new carbon tax calculator, the Carbon Tax-inator!

Tired of waiting for the government to establish a carbon tax?  Start charging yourself!

The Carbon Tax-inator allows you to calculate an appropriate carbon tax for six of your most carbon-intensive purchases: electricity, heat, gasoline, air travel, beef, and cheese.  Save up your carbon taxes and use them to purchase offsets or fund energy efficiency improvements.

A mobile version is available through this link. It’s not all that pretty yet, but expect design improvements and native iOS and Android apps coming soon.

Give it a try and post your comments and suggestions below.  Thanks!

Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions

In his latest article, James Hansen argues that our current emissions trajectory assumes large-scale extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere in the latter half of this century. This is likely to present an incredibly difficult and expensive burden for our children and grandchildren. From the abstract:

Proposed methods of extraction such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) or air capture of CO2 imply minimal estimated costs of 104–570 trillion dollars this century, with large risks and uncertain feasibility. Continued high fossil fuel emissions unarguably sentences young people to either a massive, possibly implausible cleanup or growing deleterious climate impacts or both, scenarios that should provide both incentive and obligation for governments to alter energy policies without further delay.

Recalculating the Climate Math – Bill McKibben

In The New Republic, Bill McKibben lays out the implications of a recent study by Oil Change International calculating the quantity of existing fossil fuel reserves that can be exploited without triggering catastrophic warming:

If we’re serious about preventing catastrophic warming, the new study shows, we can’t dig any new coal mines, drill any new fields, build any more pipelines. Not a single one. We’re done expanding the fossil fuel frontier. Our only hope is a swift, managed decline in the production of all carbon-based energy from the fields we’ve already put in production.

Link to the full article:

And the study itself: