Author Archives: EDF Blogs

The Future of Fires

(This post was written by Derek Sylvan of  the Institute for Policy Integrity, and first appeared on The Cost of Carbon Pollution. The Cost of Carbon Project is a joint project of the Environmental Defense Fund, the Institute for Policy Integrity, and the Natural Resource Defense Council.)

 U.S. Forest Service photo by John Newman

The 2014 wildfire season is not yet over, but in some regions it is already one of the most destructive ever. Fires continue to rage in many parts of the country, threatening hundreds of homes, creating emergencies in National Parks and residential areas, and straining government budgets — Washington State’s wildfire season is already six times more damaging than average.

And we may be in for much worse in the near future if climate change is not contained, according to a new report from the Cost of Carbon Pollution project.

The newly released report, Flammable Planet: Wildfires and the Social Cost of Carbon, surveys the scientific and economic literature on wildfires and climate change, in order to project the costs of climate change-induced fires. Written by Dr. Peter Howard, an economics fellow at the Institute for Policy Integrity, the report offers the first-ever estimates of the economic damages from future wildfires.

The report quantifies the many types of damage wildfires cause: market damages (such as from lost timber, property, and tax revenue), non-market damages (such as health effects and loss of ecological services), and adaptation costs (for fire prevention, suppression, and rehabilitation). Citing dozens of past studies, the report estimates the costs of various damage categories, per 100 acres burned. Already today, these costs are significant — the United States currently faces annual costs of $20 billion to $125 billion. But climate change could take these damages to new heights.

Scientists will never be able to definitively claim that any specific wildfire is the result of climate change. But the consensus view among climate scientists is that increases in global average temperature will make wildfires more frequent and intense, and fire seasons will last longer. Additionally, more areas are expected to face fire risk, and climate models project an increase in fire sizes (in terms of area burned). Some studies predict a 50 to 100 percent increase in area burned in the United States by 2050, with the most severe changes occurring in Western states. The beginnings of this trend may already be visible in recent wildfire data, as seen below:

Using the established scientific projections, Flammable Planet catalogs the estimated costs of climate-change induced wildfires, for both the United States and the world. By 2050, climate change is expected to raise the costs of U.S. wildfires by $10 billion to $60 billion annually.

Tallying these enormous costs can help policymakers and the general public better understand the effects of climate change. Perhaps more importantly, the report can lead to action — it advocates for including these wildfire costs in the government’s social cost of carbon estimate. This figure, which is used to help evaluate carbon regulations, currently omits wildfires and many other significant damages.

As scientists and economists continue to increase our understanding of the damages we face from carbon pollution, the case for cutting this pollution is stronger than ever. President Obama has taken important steps, using his authority under the Clean Air Act to propose emission limits on both new and existing power plants. Additional, robust action now can help avoid an increasingly fiery future.

Posted in News| 1 Response

EPA’s State-by-State Carbon Limits Indicate Smart Policy, Not Arbitrary Rulemaking

By Kate Zerrenner

EDF_FB_renewableEnergy_solar (1)In June, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced – for the first time ever – standards to limit carbon emissions from U.S. power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Currently power plants emit 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, but under the proposed Clean Power Plan, the U.S. power sector will cut carbon pollution by 30 percent below 2005 levels.

Since this announcement, the usual suspects have attacked the CPP, calling its proposed state-by-state reduction standards arbitrary. Their claims couldn’t be further from reality. When EPA asked states for feedback on how to best craft this standard, states asked for two things: individual standards and flexibility. And that’s what they got. Anyone familiar with the proposed standards will know they are based on a consistent and objective methodology that takes into account each state’s unique energy portfolio and emissions, as well as built with maximum flexibility in mind.

At first glance, the climate-change-denying crowd dismissed the standards as arbitrary, because the limits vary from state to state. For example, Washington needs to reduce its emissions rate by 72 percent by 2030, while Kentucky only needs to cut its emissions rate by 18 percent over the same period. Texas lies somewhere in the middle with a 39 percent reduction required. So what gives?

How did EPA get those numbers?

Let’s unpack the methods that went into EPA’s carbon pollution limits. EPA’s vision for the plan was to give the states complete ownership and flexibility in reducing overall carbon emissions. EPA decided on a simple greenhouse gas performance metric for each state:

Total power plant emissions in one year ÷ Total electricity generation in one year
= Emissions reduction rate

The states have complete control and flexibility over how to meet the emissions reduction rate.

To figure out each state’s potential to reduce emissions, EPA analyzed the practical and affordable strategies that states and utilities are already using to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, such as energy efficiency, improving power plant operations, and using more renewable energy. By analyzing state-specific data, EPA calculated practical targets for each state. Their analysis formally considers four “building blocks” for cleaner power:

  1. Improving the efficiency of existing power plants,
  2. Increasing use of the most efficient natural gas plants,
  3. Using more renewable energy, and
  4. Expanding demand-side energy efficiency—the same low-hanging fruit for which experts have been advocating for years.

States are already on their way

If we look at each state’s proposed reductions individually, it’s clear that EPA’s limits will not crash the economy or tear down the power sector. In fact, in many states it will not be difficult to meet EPA’s limits ahead of schedule.

Washington, with its seemingly onerous 72 percent reduction mandate, had already ordered its largest coal plant to shut down by 2025. Closing that coal plant alone will reduce the state’s emissions by 70 percent, because much of Washington’s electricity comes from hydro power. And Kentucky leaders have already devised a strategy to meet the state’s 18 percent reduction goal.

In Texas – my home state – we’re well on our way to meeting the 39 percent reduction standard set by EPA by simply amplifying current trends, namely relying on more West Texas wind, widening the use of efficient natural gas electricity, and taking advantage of the state’s solar potential. Now Texas leaders should craft the best framework for the state – one that has the potential to bring in billions of dollars directly to our state economy, create more homegrown jobs, and lower Texans’ electricity bills. If state leaders make another “principled stance” against the EPA, like they did with the greenhouse gas permits, we can only expect for Texas to fall behind other states as they race toward the trillion dollar clean energy economy. Come January, EDF urges the Legislature to take the bull by the horns and show the nation how Texas will continue to be a leader in energy.

It’s clear that EPA’s limits were developed with a specific and pragmatic methodology. Variation in reduction goals from one state to another reflects variation in the circumstances of individual states, which EPA wisely took into account. Those who condemn the rules as arbitrary are ignoring the actual basis for the rule.

This post first appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy| 1 Response, comments now closed

Why Support the Clean Power Plan? Testimony from the EPA Hearings

By Dan Upham

Across the country this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held public hearings to solicit comments about its Clean Power Plan, which will put the first-ever national limits on the amount of climate pollution that can be emitted by power plants. EDF’s president, a senior attorney, and a clean energy specialist were among the hundreds of Americans who testified in support of the Plan. As these selections from EDF staff testimonies illustrate, the Plan offers moderate, flexible, and necessary measures to address climate change at the federal and state levels.

It’s necessary: The climate is changing across the U.S.

Image of the DC rally outside the EPA hearings. Source: Heather Shelby

“The stakes are high in Colorado as hotter temperatures, reduced winter snowpacks, and more frequent droughts are expected to decrease Colorado River streamflows.

Our treasured Rocky Mountain ecosystems are especially susceptible to climate change impacts, and high elevations have already experienced temperature increases at rates three times the global average.

Increased warming, drought, and insect outbreaks have increased wildfires and impacts to people and ecosystems throughout the West.” – Graham McCahan, a senior attorney with EDF’s U.S. Climate and Air legal team.

“The Southeast is the region expected to be the most affected by increasing temperatures. Extremely hot days – 95°F or above – could cause a decrease in labor productivity by 3.2% in the construction, mining, utilities, transportation, and agricultural sectors. Extreme heat also is projected to cause 11,000 to 36,000 more deaths each year.” – Greg Andeck, EDF’s North Carolina senior manager, Clean Energy.

“The bottom line is that we cannot continue down the path of unlimited pollution.” – Fred Krupp, EDF’s president.

It’s flexible: It can work well in different states

“Strong carbon pollution standards are consistent with a strong clean energy economy in Colorado.

Solar and wind resources are cheaper than ever before. In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost approximately one percent of what they did 35 years ago, and the cost of solar panels fell by 60 percent from 2011 to 2013. This past May, Xcel Energy [a Colorado utility] announced that it is now acquiring renewable energy at prices that out-compete fossil fuels.” – Graham McCahan

“The plan would allow North Carolina to get credit for steps it already has taken to grow clean energy and invest in energy efficiency. Here are some examples:

  • North Carolina’s solar industry is now ranked 4th in the country in installed solar capacity, thanks to policies that make it easier for investors to finance projects.
  • North Carolina has more than 1,000 clean energy and energy efficiency companies that can help the state meet the Clean Power Plan.

North Carolina demonstrates how a state can move to a clean energy economy in a thoughtful, measured and cost-effective manner.” – Greg Andeck

It’s moderate (and affordable): The cost of inaction is high

“We know that transition to clean energy is not only possible, it’s affordable. In fact, every time EPA has used the Clean Air Act to limit air pollution, it has ended up boosting our economy. Overall, the benefits have outweighed the costs by thirty to one. And every past rule has saved lives – tens of thousands of them.

Hiding from challenges is not what Americans do. And it is certainly the wrong path for us and the generations to come.” – Fred Krupp

It’s imperative: Millions stand to benefit  

“For the millions of kids who will have fewer asthma attacks in the future.

For the workers who will find jobs in new and growing industries.

For the rate payers, who will see their electricity bills go down.

For all of those who will be protected from the most damaging impacts of climate change.

And for our children and grandchildren, who will know that our generation cared enough to leave them a safer, healthier world.” – Fred Krupp

This post first appeared on EDF Voices

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Health, Jobs, Policy| 1 Response, comments now closed

The cheapest way to cut climate pollution? Energy efficiency

This blog post was co-authored by Lauren Navarro, California Senior Manager, Clean Energy and Kate Zerrenner, an EDF project manager and expert on energy efficiency and climate change.

On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a historic announcement that will change how we make, move and use electricity for generations to come.

For the first time in history, the government proposed limits on the amount of carbon pollution American fossil-fueled power plants are allowed to spew into the atmosphere.

There are two clear winners to comply with the plan while maintaining commitment to electric reliability and affordability: energy efficiency and demand response.

We’re already seeing pushback from some of our nation’s big polluter states, such as West Virginia and Texas. But the truth is that while the proposed limits on carbon are strong, they’re also flexible.

In fact, the EPA has laid out a whole menu of options in its Clean Power Plan – from power plant upgrades, to switching from coal to natural gas and adopting more renewable energy resources. States can choose from these and other strategies as they develop their own plans to meet the new standards.

That said, there are two clear winners on the EPA’s menu that offer low-cost options for states that seek to comply with the plan while maintaining their commitment to electric reliability and affordability: energy efficiency and demand response.

Energy efficiency our lowest-hanging fruit

Simply saving energy is the most cost-effective way to reduce demand and carbon pollution from power plants. The cheapest, cleanest and most reliable electricity, after all, is the electricity we don’t use.

The benefits of energy efficiency are vast. It helps people and businesses save money, it boosts job creation (as many as 274,000, one source estimates), and it reduces harmful power plant pollution.

From a utility perspective, energy efficiency improves the reliability of our electric grid and lowers costs for infrastructure maintenance.

Plus, in states such as Texas and California, which face extreme drought, energy efficiency can save scarce water sources. Remember that coal-fired power plants are thirstyand less water is consumed when these plants are used less (or not at all).

Half of the states already have mandatory energy-efficiency targets, so we have the knowledge and experience across the country to advance this undeniably beneficial resource.

Same as taking all cars off road

McKinsey & Co. estimates that by 2020, the United States could reduce its annual energy consumption by 23 percent by adopting energy-efficiency measures. This could save us more than $1 trillion dollars and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than a gigaton—the equivalent of taking the entire U.S. fleet of passenger vehicles and light trucks off the road.

That’s why Environmental Defense Fund is working with policymakers, investors and utilities throughout the country to understand the full benefits of energy efficiency, and to explore paths for implementation, for when they’re crafting state plans under EPA’s new Clean Power Plan.

Demand response: everyone wins

Demand response is another way to introduce greater efficiency into the nation's electricity system and help reduce carbon emissions. It’s an invaluable tool that can help conserve electricity when supplies run thin, and to bring more clean energy onto the grid.

On a hot summer day, for example, when electricity demand is high, utilities can ask permission of select customers to lower their thermostats a couple of degrees. In exchange, these customers receive credit on their next electricity bill.

It also helps utility companies better manage stress on the electric grid and it can help them integrate wind, solar and other renewables to replace aging coal-fired power plants.

Demand response relies on people, not power plants, to meet energy demand and reduce carbon pollution from our electricity sector.

Proven strategies

In Southern California, for example, they’re about to replace a large chunk of electric capacity – at least 550 megawatts – from the recently closed San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station with renewable energy, energy storage – and demand response. This will help minimize a need for gas-fired plants and other polluting facilities that might replace the nuclear plant.

Best of all, demand response is more affordable than building new power plants. In fact, if just 50 percent of Southern California Edison’s customers participated in time-of-use rates – a type of demand response program – energy demand would plummet so much that 66 percent of San Onofre’s former generating capacity would no longer be needed.

As a bonus, customers across the territory would also collectively see cost savings of $357 million, a 15-percent decrease.

As a result of smart decisions such as the one involving the San Onofre plant, California’s utility sector’s greenhouse gas emissions have and will continue to decline. This proves that demand response can and should be a core tenet in the nation’s push to diversify its energy mix and cut pollution in order to usher in a clean, sustainable and healthy future.

As EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy noted last week, these clean energy solutions are not new ideas. They’re based on proven technologies and approaches that "are already part of the ongoing story of energy progress in America."

"We're not doing cutting-edge work here, folks," she said. "We are just opening the door to cutting-edge.”

This post first appeared on EDF Voices

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| 3 Responses, comments now closed

Power plant rule a tipping point for clean energy economy

By Cheryl Roberto, Associate Vice President, Clean Energy Program

For those of us (and all of you) who’ve been urging the government to implement meaningful climate policy, the release yesterday of a plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants has been a long time coming. But it finally came.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon pollution rule for existing fossil-fueled power plants – also known as the Clean Power Plan – are a huge win for our climate.

We also think it could go down in history as the tipping point in our nation’s transition to a clean energy economy. Here’s why:

Old, dirty power plants will be retired

The nation’s fleet of coal-fired power plants is the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world. Placing carbon regulations on this source of electricity for the first time in history will transform our energy system.

Utilities have acknowledged that it doesn’t make economic sense to pour money into retrofitting and retaining older, less-reliable coal-fired power plants when they need to focus investments on newer and more reliable plants.

This means that many of the most highly-polluting coal-fired power plants that provide electricity to our homes and businesses today will be retired. It presents a unique opportunity for clean energy solutions to fill the gap in generating capacity.

It may be one of the largest market opportunities in history to drive…clean energy on a national level.

Increasing our use of homegrown, renewable power sources and investing in proven tools such as energy efficiency, smart grids and demand response (which compensates electricity customers for conserving energy) will help fill this gap while reducing our reliance on fossil fuels that pollute the environment and contribute to climate change.

States will lead the way

EPA’s approach provides clear guidance for what limits and metrics must be met, but leaves states the flexibility to design solutions to meet those requirements as they see fit. This will encourage all states (even those which do not embrace the climate challenge) to look at clean energy technology as an attractive option when they seek to comply with the law.

Federal limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants are exactly the clarity states need to lead us to clean, reliable and affordable energy for all Americans – now and in the future.

Entrepreneurs, investors ready to jump in

What’s more, the new EPA plan – once it's final – will give entrepreneurs, corporations and venture capitalists the market signal they need to go full steam ahead with low-carbon innovations. It may be one of the largest market opportunities in history to drive the development and implementation of clean energy on a national level.

At Environmental Defense Fund, we’re right in the middle of many of these promising solutions, working with state legislators and regulators to clear outdated rules that mire us in the past and discourages innovators.

Paving the way for a cleaner, healthier future

We’re working with financial institutions to develop new funding opportunities for clean energy investments that will help raise the estimated $10.5 trillion needed over the next two decades to transition our world to a clean energy economy.

We’re working with energy research pioneer Pecan Street Inc.in Austin, TX to test customer energy management solutions such as rooftop solar, home energy storage, learning thermostats and time-of-use energy pricing (which incentivizes people to use electricity during periods of low, or “off-peak” energy demand).

And we’re pushing to make energy efficiency a cornerstone of America’s energy policy.

It may not be as sexy as fuel cells and solar panels, butbuilding a more efficient energy system — from power plants to transmission lines to homes and buildings — is the most affordable and cleanest path forward.

The United States is expected to spend about $2 trillion over the next two decades to replace our outdated electric infrastructure. These new regulations are a step in the right direction toward ensuring that these investments are spent on our future and not entrenching us in our past.

EPA's proposed rule means good jobs, economic development and a healthier planet.

And as a pioneer at the forefront of this movement, EDF is determined to make sure we stay on track.

This blog first appeared on EDF Voices

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| 1 Response, comments now closed

Why you only get 25% of the electricity you pay for

By Ronny Sandoval

What would you say if I told you that about three-quarters of what you spend on electricity every month is wasted? Considering that Americans spend about $350 billion on electricity annually, I hope you’ll find this as shocking as I do.

From generation to delivery to consumption, inefficiencies at every step of electricity’s journey add up to a lot of waste. Fortunately, these same conditions present us with opportunities to substantially reduce inefficiencies and their associated economic, social, and environmental impacts.

Generation: Energy is wasted at the source

Today, the majority of the electricity produced in the United States originates from fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, these plants are only about 33 percent efficient, and “two-thirds of the energy in the fuel is lost — vented as heat — at most power plants in the United States.”

There are limits to what can be done to address this problem as this loss is largely due to the thermal process of large power plants, since heat is a by-product of this sort of generation and it has to be released somehow.

Some plants, however, achieve higher efficiencies by capturing wasted heat energy and putting it to meaningful work, raising the total efficiency to somewhere within the 60-80 percent (or greater) range.

One example of this kind of technology is combined heat and power, which burns a fossil-fuel like natural gas to make electricity, but reroutes the heat generated as a by-product (often vented out of the chimney stack) back to the customer’s premise and used to heat hot water or a space.

Today, this technology is mostly limited to large buildings or complexes, but it has proven to be very successful in places such as New York City, where these types of structures are prevalent.

Delivery: Energy is lost en route to homes and businesses

Adding to our energy loss, another seven percent of the electricity that’s ultimately generated is later lost in the delivery path to homes and businesses.

Available and emerging technologies show us it doesn’t have to be this way. “Voltage optimization’” technologies and strategies, for example, can lower the amount of energy lost in the delivery process while also reducing the associated environmental impacts.

Consumption: Old appliances, bad habits = a little more waste

Try to think of all the old and inefficient appliances and equipment that use more electricity than is necessary. For example, incandescent (traditional) light bulbs can use four times as much electricity as energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. Most of the energy these traditional bulbs use generates heat, not light.

Similarly, inefficient refrigerators can use 15 percent more electricity (or much more depending on the age) than efficient alternatives.

Now, also think of all the things that are simply left on or running that don’t have to be (lights, computers, TVs, phone chargers, etc.) and you really start to get a picture of the amount of inefficiency based on our ingrained habits of consumption.

Smart solutions

But don’t be discouraged! Abundant and cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities mean we can reduce this waste – and ultimately pollution. By simply improving the way we use energy at home and at work we can realize big energy savings across the whole electricity supply chain.

When an unused appliance is powered off, the electric system doesn’t just save on the energy the appliance would have used, it also avoids all the extra energy (and greenhouse gas emissions) the system would have generated to compensate for its inefficiencies.

Fortunately, more and more solutions (such as “smart’ thermostats” and “smart” power strips) are providing consumers with the tools to automate and maximize energy savings at home.

Commercial buildings can also benefit from these intelligent energy control devices by implementing operating schedules, occupancy sensors, and other forms of building automation to ensure that lighting or heating and cooling systems aren’t running when not needed.

Abundant and cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities mean we can reduce this waste.

Collectively, we can improve this part of the supply chain through an increasing variety of actions – such as using more efficient appliances, energy conservation, and the automation of energy use.

A rare opportunity

I think it’s safe to say that most Americans would like to see more bang for their electricity buck, but the argument for efficiency is not just a financial one. Energy efficiency has the added benefit of protecting our finite natural resources and reducing harmful, greenhouse gas emissions that affect our health.

Much of the inefficiencies in the electric system are a product of decisions made along the supply chain and the policies and incentives that drive them.

The U.S. is expected to spend about $2 trillion over the next two decades to replace our aging, inefficient and polluting energy infrastructure. This presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionize how we make, move, manage, and use electricity.

It's an opportunity we cannot afford to waste, the way we've been wasting so much electricity.

This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| 4 Responses, comments now closed

'Feeding 9 billion' requires facing up to climate change

This post was co-authored by Kritee, Senior Scientist, International Climate; Richie Ahuja, Regional Director, Asia; and Tal Lee Anderman, Tom Graff Fellow – India Low-Carbon Rural Development

National Geographic's May cover story, “Feeding 9 billion,” offers valuable insights into how to feed a growing global population while reducing agriculture’s environmental impacts. But it omits some key connections with a critical issue: climate change.

Drought in the U.S. causes withering of corn. (Photo credit: Ben Fertig, IAN, UMCES)

As the Food and Agriculture Organization recently documented in great detail, climate change is likely to fundamentally alter the structure of food systems around the globe. With about 43% of the world’s population employed in agriculture, it’s vital that farmers have the knowledge and tools they need both to adapt to climate change and to help mitigate it.

Author Jonathan Foley, who directs the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, lays out several steps for “Feeding 9 billion.” Though he starts by acknowledging that agriculture emits “more greenhouse gases than all our cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes combined,” he doesn’t explicitly mention how his plan relates to a changing climate.

The first of his steps – halting conversion of additional forests and grasslands to agriculture – is crucial to stopping climate change, given the vast quantities of greenhouse gases released in these conversions. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on mitigation noted, protecting forests and increasing carbon content of the soils can decrease global emissions by as much as 13 gigatons CO2eq/year by 2030 – more than a quarter of current annual global emissions.

Foley also highlights the need to reduce meat consumption, because only a very limited portion of calories consumed by animals yield edible food for humans, and to reduce food waste. According to the IPCC, these consumer-level steps have the potential to decease agricultural emissions by 60% below the current trajectory. While Foley didn’t acknowledge these mitigation potentials, we agree that these are important steps to feeding the world’s population and protecting our environment.

But it’s his steps calling for improving productivity – both by growing more food on existing farms, and by using fertilizer, water and energy more efficiently – where the interactions with climate are more complex and need special attention.

Climate adaptation and resilience in agriculture

Foley rightly points out that to feed the world’s future population, more food needs to grow on existing farms. However, he doesn’t note that some of the effects of climate change – droughts, floods and heat waves in many parts of the world – are already reducing crop yields, and these effects and their consequences are expected to worsen.

The IPCC’s recently published 5th Assessment Report on adaptation concludes that:

  • Climate change is already negatively affecting yields of crops and abundance of fish, and shifting the regions where crops grow and fish live
  • Future changes in climate will increase competitiveness of weeds, making it difficult and more expensive to control them
  • By 2050, changes in temperature and precipitation alone will raise global food prices by as much as 84% above food prices projected without these two climatic factors
  • Major grains like wheat, corn, and rice could see as much as a 40% decrease in yield from a 20C increase in local temperatures. That’s because of the changing rainfall frequency and intensity, unpredictability and irregularity of growing seasons, and higher ozone levels that often accompany high CO­2 levels

To deal with these consequences and ensure food security and livelihoods, adaptation to climate change is essential. Indeed, adopting carefully chosen adaptation and resilience measures could improve crop yields as much as 15-20%. The IPCC recommendations include:

  • Altering planting/harvesting dates to match the shifting growing seasons
  • Using seed varieties that might be more tolerant of changing climatic patterns
  • Better managing water and fertilizer use

A farmer training session, led by EDF’s partner NGO in India (Photo credit: Accion Fraterna)

Achieving high yields requires enabling farmers all over the world to adapt, build and restore the resilience of agricultural ecosystems in the face of continued climate change. Given that many farmers in developed countries have already reached what are currently maximum possible yields, it’s particularly urgent to work with farmers in the developing world.A vast majority of these farmers in developing countries own small-scale farms (less than two acres in size) and have limited resources, and as a result are on the frontline of experiencing the unfolding impacts of climate change. These farmers are already growing the majority of the world’s food – more than 90% of the world’s rice, over 65% of its wheat and 55% of its corn. Notably, as opposed to our recommendations for farmers in the developed countries, some of them might need to increase their fertilizer use to achieve better yields as opposed to decreasing it. Feeding a world of 9 billion thus requires facing the disproportionate effect that climate change has on the 2 billion people who depend on small-scale farms for their livelihood.

Barriers to climate adaptation & mitigation in agriculture

The latest IPCC report also noted that the “nature” of the agriculture sector means:

“There are many barriers to implementation of available mitigation options, including accessibility to … financing, … institutional, ecological, technological development, diffusion and transfer barriers.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Many farmers, especially small scale land-owners in developing parts of the world, lack access to reliable scientific information and technology. In some cases, relevant information has not even been generated.

An Indian peanut farm where EDF is monitoring yield and greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo credit: Richie Ahuja)

For example, small-scale rice farmers in Asia lack access to information enabling them to determine what amounts of water, organic and synthetic fertilizer will optimize yields while also minimizing release of the greenhouse gases methane (which is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is released), and nitrous oxide (which is nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide). EDF is working with the Fair Climate Network in India and with Can Tho University and other partners in Vietnam to help generate that information and facilitate its use by farmers.

More generally, agricultural institutions at all levels – international, regional, national and local – need to work closely with farmers to learn and promote evidence-based, locally appropriate agricultural adaptation and mitigation technologies and practices. Farmer access to finance can further help improve the adoption rate of these technologies. Larger investments in farming infrastructure and science from government and private sector also need to be channeled to promote food security through low-carbon farming.

Our food system cannot achieve high yields without building and restoring the resilience of agricultural ecosystems, and the system won’t be sustainable if agriculture doesn’t do its part to mitigate climate change.

To feed 9 billion people, we must overcome barriers to reducing climate change’s effects on agriculture, and agriculture’s effect on climate.

This post first appeared on EDF Talks Global Climate blog

Posted in International, Plants & Animals, Policy, Science| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Personal Car Sharing: Save the Environment without Moving a Muscle

Personal car sharing, a better way to get to the mountains without buying a new car. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Arthaey.

Across the country, car sharing has taken off. Programs like Zipcar, PhillyCarShare, Car2Go in Austin, Texas, City CarShare in San Francisco, as well as big name rental companies like Hertz and Enterprise, are helping people get around without owning a car. For many people who don't want the hassle of car ownership—insurance, trips to the DMV, high gas prices, and parking—this is an easy option for the times they need a car to get to the beach or reach a far flung place not accessible via transit or bike.

By sharing rather than owning, car share participants cut their average vehicle use, which means a cut in gasoline consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and smog-forming pollution. A UC Berkeley study done for San Francisco's City CarShare, found that 30% of City CarShare households sold one or more of their cars after joining the program and automobile travel among members dropped 47%. The study concluded that City CarShare members save 720 gallons of gas or 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions on a daily basis.

A new state bill, AB 1871, will be coming up for a vote on the Assembly floor next week. Introduced by California Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), AB 1871 would take car sharing one step further by removing some important barriers to car sharing. This has great potential for a range of arrangements that would ultimately lead to a reduction of vehicles in a given neighborhood.

Suppose, for instance, you'd  like to buy an SUV because you anticipate going skiing, or maybe you might want to buy a light-duty truck because every year you need it to haul your grandma's jams to the farmer’s market. If you knew you could easily share a neighbor's SUV or truck located just a block or two from your home, you might not feel compelled to buy the gas guzzler, and instead, opt for a smaller car for daily use.

In exchange for sharing his or her vehicle, under AB 1871, your neighbor with the truck would be reimbursed for the costs of operation by the car sharing company. This would help defray some of the truck's fixed expenses, such as parking costs, though AB 1871 caps the reimbursement so the vehicle doesn’t become a commercial enterprise for the owner.

While this makes sense on paper, what happens when someone scratches the handle or gets into a more serious accident while driving your car? The basic gist of AB 1871 is this insurance piece, which is a tricky one. Currently, if an individual opts to put his or her own car into a car sharing program, a typical insurance company would consider the vehicle to be a commercial vehicle and would invalidate the individual's personal insurance.

AB 1871 addresses this by clearly demarcating  liability. When a person's personal vehicle is in the car sharing program, the program assumes all liabilities, and when it is in the owner's possession, it goes back to being a personal vehicle covered by the owner’s own insurance.  This clear demarcation is helped through technology that records when the car is and isn’t under the car sharing program’s control.

These insurance fixes widen the scope of existing car sharing companies without putting more cars on the road. Carsharing programs are tough to get started in lower density areas as demand just isn't high enough, and the capital costs of purchasing new fleets often isn't worth it. With personal car sharing, these programs can begin to move out of urban areas, expanding transportation choices for more people.

The personal vehicle sharing company behind this legislation, Spride, is a Silicon Valley company started up by venture capitalist Sunil Paul. If AB 1871 is enacted, Spride aims to link up with San Francisco's CityCarshare to run a pilot program, using the web and social networking to pair people with cars, with pricing based on make and model.

Car share aficionados in other states—especially Massachusetts where RelayRides is working– are watching what happens with the California legislation. Personal car sharing presents an innovative transportation choice that is financially smart, reduces greenhouse gases, and improves air quality. People want a variety of mobility options, and personal car sharing is a really creative way to solve these needs.

Posted in Cars and Pollution| Comments closed

Mapping the Transit Funding Crisis

Transit cuts from coast to coast.

Today Transportation for America (T4) released an updated map of widespread transit cuts, layoffs, fare increases and service cuts across the U.S.

At Way2Go, we've written frequently about this transit funding crisis, as it is harming our mobility at a time when getting to work cleanly, reliably and inexpensively is very important. We've focused on how these cuts have affected communities throughout the country—rural, suburban, urban neighborhoods—and who it affects–students, less affluent citizens, and seniors.

And Americans do not want to see these cuts. T4's most recent poll numbers, which we blogged about a few weeks ago, show that Americans want improved and better public transportation, and those polled would be willing to almost double current federal spending for public transportation, which is now at 18 cents to every dollar, to 37 cents to every dollar.

T4's map is extensive, but needs your input. With public transportation ridership at record highs from coast to coast, these funding cuts are felt by many. Check out T4's map to see if your town or city has been properly accounted for, so that T4 can articulate the true extent of this funding crisis.

Posted in Cars and Pollution| Comments closed

Transit Funding Disaster: A Hard Look at What Happens When Money Is Tight

Chicago Transit Authority has laid off 1,067 workers and has drastically cut service. Photo courtesy of Flickr user: TheeErin

 

Over the last several months, we've written occasionally about the need to solve the impending transit funding crisis. For longer than that, we've worked around the country, but especially in California and New York, to find new and innovative ways to advance transit service. Lately, we've also implored Congress to provide emergency funding to keep drivers employed as legislators have considered jobs bills. 

So far, our efforts as well as the work of our allies, to keep drivers driving, mechanics working, the transit system available—and ultimately keep some of the worst tailpipe emissions in check—have been frustratingly unsuccessful.   

New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and countless other metropolitan regions are facing a transit disaster. Grappling with huge budget deficits as a result of public funding cuts, transit agencies are slashing service, laying off workers, and raising fares.  

  • In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, which operates the city's buses and subways, as well as suburban rail lines, bridges and tunnels, is facing an $800 million deficit as a result of cuts in state aid and low payroll tax revenues. They expect to layoff 1,130 employees (out of their 70,000 person staff), including 500 station agents. The MTA has ended free fares for students and has reduced salaries by 10%.
  • In Chicago, the Chicago Transit Authority has laid off 1,067 employees in order to balance a $300 million deficit.
  • In San Francisco, the city expects to see a second fare increase in 4 months in order to balance a $12.1 million deficit, with additional service cuts. SFMTA plans to lay off 230 employees, 175 of which are bus and Muni metro drivers. 
  • In Washington, D.C., where trains are bursting during rush hour, WMATA plans to lay off 60 employees and eliminate another 90 positions that are not filled. They also expect service cuts and fare increases to fill their $40 million budget gap.
  • Just this weekend, in Sacramento, CA, the local newspaper reported that the regional transit agency is planning to put 300 workers on notice that they'll likely be laid off as the agency grapples with a two-year $25 million deficit. Service after 8pm and on weekends could be cut as well. This deficit has been made worse as a result of state policymakers’ decision last year to shift the state fuel tax, designated for transit operations, to other important state services, which have been jeopardized by the overall state budget crisis.

And here's an example of how these cuts add up, changing people’s commuting choices. Quoted from the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco resident MPR Howard, who has lived in San Francisco and ridden Muni for 28 years, will now be back behind the wheel:  

I will not be renewing my Muni disabled pass…. I will be putting my 45-year-old car (a 1965 Dodge Dart) back on the road. She may not be pretty or environmentally clean, but at least she gets me from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time. I've given up on Muni. 

Confirmed U.S. Public Transportation Industry Layoffs, 2009-2010

CityTransit SystemLayoffs
Alameda, CACentral Contra Costra38
Lodi, CAGrapeline (MV)10
Orange County, CAOCTA93
Roseville, CARoseville Transit (MV)5
Riverside, CARiverside Transit26
San Jose, CASCVTA70
San Mateo, CASam Trans45
Washington, DCWMATA40
Chicago, ILCTA1,067
Boston, MAMBTA75
Detroit, MIDDOT113
St. Cloud, MN* New Flyer Bus Plant320
St. Louis, MOMetro**550
Charlotte, NCCATS50
Manchester, NHMTA4
Hornell, NY*Alstom Rail Car Plant500
Binghamton, NY*Westcode (supplier of heating and cooling systems for New York City subway cars)45
Cincinnati, OHSORTA137
Memphis, TNMATA20
Austin, TXStartran21
TOTALS203,219

* = Transit Manufacturer

** = Rescinded after passage of 10% provision in supplemental appropriations bill

 

Projected Upcoming Layoffs

CityTransit SystemUpcoming Layoffs
Fresno, CAFAX?
Orange County, CAOCTA127
Sacramento, CART240
San Francisco, CABART19
San Francisco, CAMuni230
Colorado Springs, COSprings Transit“Dozens”
Atlanta, GAMARTA1,500
Jonesboro, GAC-TranSystem to shut down Spring 2010
Norcross, GAGwinett County Transit (Veolia)22 (December 2009)
Des Moines, IARTA24
Louisville, KYTARCMore than 50
Baton Rouge, LACATS12
New York, NYNY MTA1,130
Cleveland, OHRTA219
Tulsa, OKTulsa Transit15
Lynwood, WACommunity Transit10%
TOTALS17Over 3,600

 Prepared by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Legislative Department. Updated March 1, 2010.  For more information, contact Jeff Rosenberg at jeffr@atu.org, courtesty of Scott Bogren at the Community Transportation Association of America (bogren@ctaa.org).   

  

Posted in News| Comments closed
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