Climate 411

Hearings in the House of Representatives put climate change back in the spotlight

A day after President Trump did not even utter the words “climate change” in his State of the Union Address, two separate House committees brought climate change back to the legislative forefront for the first time in years. And after such a long hiatus, it was encouraging to see that a clear theme emerged from both hearings– climate change is an urgent threat, but we can address it if we attack it head on.

Here are some things that stood out to us – the good and the bad – from the first Congressional hearings on climate change in far too long:

Highlights

Hearings brought a long overdue spotlight to this critical issue

Leadership from both the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment and Climate Change and the full Natural Resources Committee recognized that while the threat of climate change is urgent, there is still time to act. Rep. Paul Tonko, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, invoked NASA’s moon missions as proof positive that America can rise to great technological challenges. “This climate challenge is not beyond us,” Tonko said. “Time is running out but it is not gone.”

Speakers recognized that acting now is less expensive than ignoring the problem Read More »

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Young People Want Action on Climate Change

By Ben Schneider, Director of Communications, Defend Our Future

It is a conclusion reached time and again, in survey after survey: Young people support climate action more than any other age group.

That is a point worth reiterating given the recent findings highlighted in a poll from Harvard’s Institute of Politics. Quite simply, that poll runs counter to many other polls that we have seen on this topic. Several polls over the last year, including one conducted by the Washington Post, found that young people support climate action more than any other age group – with 80 percent support from 18-39 year olds, 71 percent from 40-64 year olds, and 55 percent from those 65 and older. A spread of 25 points between oldest and youngest sure seems like an age gap to me.

The Post wasn’t alone in their findings. Here are two other polls that reached similar conclusions.

From an October 2014 poll by Democracy Corps and NextGen Climate: “Two thirds of millennials view climate change as a serious threat that requires action now or in the years ahead, 14 points higher than non-millennials. And an overwhelming 3-to-1 ratio believe that the federal government should be doing more, not less, to address the problem.

Comparing Climate Change Attitudes of Millennials and non-Millennials[1]

NG chart

Source: Democracy Corps and NextGen Climate October 2014 poll

Or take a look at this October 2014 poll from the University of Texas at Austin. They found that 68 percent of voters under 35 said they were more likely to vote for candidates that support reducing carbon emissions and other actions that can help mitigate climate change.

Comparing Under 35 and Over 65 on Climate and Environment Views

UT chart

Polls like these, that show young people care about climate change and want to do something about it, are common. And it is easy to understand why: young people are seeing the earth warm as they come of age – 2014 was the hottest year in the modern record, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And they know the consequences of climate change will become more severe in the years and decades to come.

We need to act on climate. Thankfully, young people agree.

[1] The data on Millennials are from on a survey of 1,000 respondents aged 18-34 in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida (250 per state). The data on non-Millennials are from a nationwide survey.

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5 Undeniable Truths about the Clean Power Plan

Do you get a sense of déjà vu when you hear the fossil fuel industry arguments against the Environmental Protection Agency’s new climate change plan? You’re not imagining things – we’ve heard these many, many times before.

The EPA recently held public hearings around the country to solicit comments on its new proposal to put reasonable, nationwide limits on climate pollution from power plants.

The plan is moderate, flexible, and paves the way for considerable economic gains, but the substance hardly mattered for some die-hard opponents: The fossil fuel industry allies trotted out the same talking points about the supposed costs of action and American indifference to clean air policies that they always do.

Tellingly, industry lobbyists and their friends in Congress couldn’t even be bothered to wait and see what the rule said before blasting it with wildly inaccurate claims about the cost of implementation.

Fossil fuel industry allies have clung to these false arguments for decades, so it’s little wonder misinformation continues to swirl around these rules and the clean energy debate at large.

Here are the real facts about five issues opponents raised about the Clean Power Plan:

1. Renewable energy is taking hold.

Opponents of clean air regulations are keen to convince the public that affordable, renewable energy is a pipe dream. But the truth is renewable energy has never been more efficient, it’s never been less expensive, and it’s taking root all over the country.

Take a look at solar power: According to the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association, the cost of solar power plummeted 60 percent between the first quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2013. The long-term picture is just as impressive: In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost about 1 percent of what they did 35 years earlier.

And solar isn’t the only renewable that’s catching on. Wind energy accounted for one-third of new power capacity over the last five years, an amount that could double in the years to come.

Texas, the nation’s top wind producing state, saw wind energy generation grow a whopping 13 percent in 2013. Last year, 60 percent of wind projects in the entire United States were in Texas.

2. Americans support limits on greenhouse gas emissions. 

Industry lobbyists often suggest that Americans cringe at any and all attempts to curb the pollution that causes global warming, but that argument is flat-out false. Recent polling shows that’s clearly not the case.

A recent study by Yale found that 64 percent of Americanssupport strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing power plants.

3. The power plant rules will be efficient and affordable. 

As I wrote earlier, the fossil fuel industry and their allies in Congress were eager to say the proposed rules will cost vast sums of money that will trickle down to consumers and destroy jobs in the process. The Washington Post Fact-Checker thoroughly debunked those claims, and it is not the first time industry has been caught red-handed.

Time and again, the cost of implementing any rules related to the Clean Air Act are five to 10 times less than the industry initially estimates they will be.

4. Power companies already have tools to implement pollution limits.

The Clean Power Plan is part of President Obama’s broader plan to reduce nationwide carbon dioxide emissions. He has set as a goal to reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020 nationwide, using 2005 as the baseline. Industry opponents claim the emission reduction goal is unrealistic, but there’s evidence to the contrary.

Xcel Energy, one of the country’s largest electricity and natural gas providers, has already reduced emissions 20 percent since 2005. The company is on pace to decrease emissions by 31 percent in 2020.

5. States can handle implementation better than you may think. 

Yet another common complaint from industry is these meaningful clean air regulations are too big and unwieldy for states to implement. Don’t tell that to California, which last year implemented a world-class climate law that has led to substantive greenhouse gas reductions and economic growth.

And the nine states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiativeare already reaching stellar results.

Industry allies are actually half-right about one thing, though: The Clean Power Plan is indeed a huge deal. It may very well serve as a turning point for the United States and the world in our effort to reduce greenhouse gasses, while pointing the economy toward revitalization through clean energy.

The sooner opponents stop circulating myths to the contrary, the sooner everyone can reap those benefits.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

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Today’s IPCC Report is A Grim Reminder that We Must Find Solutions to Climate Change

People who are fond of conspiracy theories or enjoy rejecting mainstream science might want to stop reading now. What follows is solid, well-researched science based on mountains of peer-reviewed evidence. You have been warned.

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued their latest report, and the picture they paint is grim.

Hundreds of scientists from countries all over the world assessed the most recent research. The result – they are more certain than ever that climate change is caused by human activity. The report says it is extremely likely that humans are the main cause for our increase in global temperatures since the mid-twentieth century.

More greenhouse gas emissions will lead to more warming, and the consequences will be felt all over the globe.

And the worst part is IPCC’s predictions may have been conservative.

The international organization, which is one of the world’s foremost authorities on climate change, reports:

  • They are 95 percent certain human activity is responsible for the rise in global temperatures from the latter half of the twentieth century to the present.
  • The chances of an extreme heat wave have more than doubled, and heavy rainfall events are expected to intensify and occur more often.
  • Ocean levels may rise by three feet by the end of this century if emissions are not curbed.

That last prediction may sound like a worst-case scenario, but other experts warn sea-level rise could actually be much worse.

As reported in the Washington Post, the Climate Change Commission predicts the oceans may rise as much as six feet by the year 2100, depending on factors such as glacial ice melting. Sea level rise at that level would be catastrophic, especially when considering its impact on storm surges.

As scary as these predictions are, there are reasons for hope. As communities across the United States and the world increasingly face extreme weather events and other consequences of climate change, we are beginning to see our leaders take more action.

Just last week the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first nationwide limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. That’s the latest development in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, a bold mission to take meaningful steps toward a climate change solution.

The release of the IPCC report will no doubt lead climate deniers to spread the usual disinformation. You can find almost anything on the Internet if you Google long enough, but that doesn’t make it true.

Legitimate scientific debate is a good thing — when we stick to facts that are backed by evidence and reviewed by independent experts in the field.  It’s understandable when citizens with busy lives don’t know all the facts on a complex issue like climate change, but there’s no excuse for politicians and talking heads to spread false information. Solving this problem will require a discussion grounded in science, which is why the IPCC report is so valuable.

It’s time to recognize that the billions of tons of carbon pollution we put in our atmosphere every year are causing dangerous changes to our climate — and then work together to find the best solutions.

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Facing a Frightening Milestone: What We Can Do About Greenhouse Gas Levels at 400 ppm

We recently learned that the earth’s greenhouse gas levels are surging past 400 parts per million (ppm), a level not reached in 3 million years. It is clear why: humans are releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at an ever-increasing rate, including last year’s all-time high of 35 billion tons. And as the planet warms as a result, we’re getting an early glimpse at the superstorms, drought and other challenges we’ll face in an increasingly dangerous environment if we don’t change course.

Lots of people are rightly worried, and the media have largely focused on the worst potential outcomes for us and future generations if we don’t curb emissions. It’s important for everyone to know what’s at stake, but it’s also crucial that everyone understands we’re not helpless to act. There are steps we can take that will make a real difference, as individuals and as a country. So before you become too pessimistic about the milestone, take a look at some of the ways we can do something about it:

Continue to feed the conversation.

Whether in the media or at your dinner table, simply talking about why 400 ppm is important will inform others and keep climate change at the front of everyone’s mind. It will be especially important to include less traditional allies whom studies show increasingly recognize the reality of climate change.

Reduce climate accelerants.

Because it burns cleaner than coal, natural gas can be a positive for our climate. The challenge is that natural gas comes with its own set of serious risks to public health and the environment, and methane (the main ingredient in natural gas) is a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. We must ensure this resource is harnessed in a way that minimizes methane leakage and has as little impact on people and the environment as possible. No one should have to trade their health or quality of life for cheap energy.

Accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy.

The U.S. is poised to spend around $2 trillion over the next two decades replacing our antiquated electricity infrastructure, creating a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionize how we generate, distribute and use electricity. We must seize this opportunity to modernize our electricity grid and put the right policies in place to accelerate investments in clean, homegrown renewables, energy efficiency and other innovative ways to generate and use energy. These approaches can address the need for power, spur economic development, lessen our carbon footprint and help America gain a global leadership position in the multi-trillion dollar clean energy economy.

Use the Clean Air Act.

The Administration is authorized to use the Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama should utilize it to both establish new CO2 emission standards for power plants and vigorously defend the rules he has already put in place.

Put a price on carbon.

We must acknowledge and act on what economists from across the political spectrum have long argued — the most efficient way to cut carbon pollution is with a cap or tax. Either would be a powerful tool that would help drive cleaner power developments. We could ease the impact on working families and businesses through lower taxes on either labor or capital.

The 400 ppm milestone is a reminder that the status quo won’t do if we want to protect the world we leave our kids. But the news has prompted new conversations about emissions across the country. I hope we seize this opportunity to talk not only about how we got here, but more importantly, what we’re going to do about it.

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