Selected category: Partners for Change

Pope Francis and climate change: Thoughts from a Catholic environmentalist

Source: Flickr/Catholic Church

It’s not often that my Catholic faith intersects with my work communicating about international climate change issues.

That’s changed now that Pope Francis is expected to release a statement of official church teaching this summer on the environment and climate change. It’s making headlines again this week, as the pope convenes a summit on climate change.

Known as an encyclical, it’s expected to reflect on Catholic teaching as it applies to the world today, and focus on the moral obligation to protect creation and humankind – especially the world’s most vulnerable people.

That Pope Francis – dubbed the “rock star pope” – will make such a statement on environmental protection is not surprising to those familiar with his and the Catholic Church’s position on the environment, the latter of which has long taught the importance of humans taking care of the Earth.

Caring for Earth part of our faith

The encyclical will formally be on “ecology,” with climate change playing a central role.

Climate touches everything, including people. Pollution that causes global warming also triggers asthma. Warmer temperatures mean crops and people’s livelihoods are jeopardized, while diseases such as West Nile and Lyme disease spread. Sea-level rise means people lose their homes.

These effects can still make climate change seem unrelated to the faith, far in the future and overwhelming. But Pope Francis is calling on us to see that it’s none of those.

Similarly, when I taught Sunday school to young children, we didn’t address the complexities of Catholic theology. We focused on Catholics’ belief that God provided humans with nature and its animals, trees and air for us to enjoy and protect.

The poor feel brunt of climate change

As an environmentalist, I’ve helped bring attention to my Environmental Defense Fund colleagues’ work with people who are feeling the impact of climate change first-hand.

In Brazil, the country with the world’s largest Catholic community, indigenous groups are already experiencing changes in the Amazon’s rainfall and river levels, fire patterns and climate systems they used to depend on for growing crops. And in India, farmers and rural women are already experiencing weather events consistent with a changing climate.

We know there are solutions to climate change. The United States and the world made important advances on climate and energy in the past year, and we believe we can stop the rise in greenhouse gas emissions and see them begin to decline in thenext five years.

Timing of pope’s document critical

The encyclical is a call to action for all of us to read the document and think more deeply about our relationship with the world. It asks us to consider what we can do – personally, in our community and parish, at the state and national level, and internationally.

The release of the encyclical comes in advance of international climate negotiations in Paris this December, where countries will seek to build an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

By staking out the Vatican’s position on climate change, the pope is telling the world that protecting the environment is not a niche issue – it’s a human, personal and moral issue.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Policy, Setting the Facts Straight, What Others are Saying| Comments are closed

Half a Million People across America Support Stronger Protections against Smog Pollution

Our friends at Moms Clean Air Force dropping off their smog comments at EPA

The comment period has now closed for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to strengthen our national health-based smog standards, and we know one thing already:

Support for cleaning up our air has been tremendous and far-reaching.

More than half a million people from across our nation sent comments urging EPA to strengthen America’s health-based smog protections. And we’re so grateful to our dedicated members and activists for helping EDF collect more than 130,000 of those comments.

EDF strongly supports strengthening our public health standards for ground-level ozone—more commonly known as smog.

Smog contributes to a variety of health problems, including increased risk for asthma attacks, long-term lung damage, other heart and lung diseases, and even premature death. The most susceptible groups are young children and elderly adults.

But it isn’t just EDF – and it isn’t only environmental organizations — calling for cleaner air.

Leading medical associations, states, moms, and environmental justice organizations have highlighted the challenges their constituencies face from this pollution — and have voiced their support for tighter smog protections.

Here are just a few examples:

WE ACT for Environmental Justice said improved smog standards are urgently needed to protect the children in Harlem afflicted by smog pollution:

According to the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in 2012, children aged 0 to 4 in the Harlem [sic] visited the emergency room 280 times because of asthma. There is no doubt that children in Northern Manhattan are suffering disproportionately from asthma, which is exacerbated by the formation of Ozone and other social stressors.

Mom’s Clean Air Force also weighed in:

Parents have a right to know the truth about whether the air is safe to breathe… Smog standards that reflect current science will protect children from harmful air pollution.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said smog standards must be improved for the sake of children:

Simply put, children are different. They breathe faster. They spend more time outdoors, playing and being physically active. These combined differences mean that, at a given concentration of air pollution, children will be exposed to a higher dose. But their lungs are not fully developed until about 18 years of age. Children are thus at greatest risk from air pollution, because their increased physical activity, plus greater time spent outdoors, means that they are exposed to a higher dose of air pollutants.

In a 2014 joint letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget, Attorneys General  from New York, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Rhode Island all expressed support for strengthening our nation’s smog standards, stating that smog pollution has been a persistent problem for their states:

The States [listed above] have been battling ozone pollution (smog) for decades… Although we have made strides to reduce smog levels that harm public health in areas such as New York City and that harm our natural resources in areas such as the Adirondacks, smog remains a persistent threat. Much of this pollution is generated in upwind states and carried by prevailing winds into our States.

Dozens of organizations, including EDF, submitted a letter urging EPA to issue strong standards:

EPA must protect the health of children, people with asthma and other lung diseases, older Americans and other sensitive and vulnerable populations.

The American Lung Association and the March of Dimes wrote an op-ed for CNN that discussed the serious health issues at stake and voiced support for strengthened smog standards:

Over the past several years, a number of studies have indicated a likely link between higher levels of maternal ozone exposure and poor health outcomes in infants, including changes in lung structure and function, low birth weight and neuro-behavioral abnormalities. Many of these health effects can be expected to have lifelong consequences… ​Strengthening the ozone standard to reflect the best current science will help save lives and protect our families, including pregnant women and their babies.

This broad support for stronger smog standards shows how much is at stake for all of us.

Our nation has proven time and again that, by working together, we can achieve pollution reductions in a cost-effective manner. Strengthening these life-saving standards now will help us continue, and build on, progress made in the past that has provided healthier and longer lives for millions of Americans.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Policy| Comments are closed

EDF and Many Others Defend the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards at the Supreme Court

Source: Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On Wednesday (March 25th) EDF and a large group of allies will be at the U.S. Supreme Court as the Justices hear oral arguments on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

EDF has been helping defend these life-saving standards since they were first challenged ­– and upheld – in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Why is EDF fighting for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards?

Because they will save lives and protect our families and communities from the harmful effects of toxic air pollutants (including mercury, arsenic, and acid gases) emitted by the single largest source of such pollution in the U.S.: coal-fired power plants.

If you want to get all the legal details, you can read EDF’s brief – and all the other briefs in the case – on our website.

If not, here are two things you should know – points that jumped out at me from reading the many briefs filed in this case in support of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards:

  • By significantly reducing toxic air pollution from its single largest source, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will help ensure that the air we breathe and the fish we eat are cleaner and safer.
  • These pollution reductions absolutely can be achieved. In fact, most of the power sector has already installed pollution control technology to comply with the standards.

This is an incredibly important case for public health. One sign of that is the unusually large number of groups who have submitted briefs in support of these life-saving clean air protections.

In addition to EDF, a broad coalition of states, cities, power companies, medical associations, and clean air advocates are parties to the case in support of the EPA.

And that doesn’t include many more leading experts and affected organizations that have filed amicus curiae briefs.

For those who don’t speak Latin, amicus curiae means “friend of the court.”

A Supreme Court case is not a popularity contest, and the Justices focus first and foremost on the facts and applicable law. But their consideration of a case is often helped when interested citizens or organizations file “friend of the court” briefs. These briefs can offer insights on important technical or scientific issues, show how a particular community might be affected by the Court’s decision, or provide differing perspectives than those offered by the parties to the case.

Fortunately, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have many “friends.”

They include: the American Thoracic Society (a group of more than 15,000 physicians, research scientists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals); leading pollution control experts; the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU Law School; the Constitutional Accountability Center; the Union of Concerned Scientists; companies that manufacture technology for reducing air toxics from power plants; the National Congress of American Indians and a coalition of tribes and inter-tribal fish commissions; and a coalition of preeminent public health scientists led by Dr. Lynn Goldman, Dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.

Here’s a small sample of what these friends of the court have to say about the health effects of mercury and other air toxics from power plants:

Power plants emit acid gas, metals including mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, nickel, and chromium, and particulate matter that can penetrate deep into human lungs. All humans are susceptible to adverse health effects from these emissions, but pregnant women, fetuses, infants, children, elderly people, and people with preexisting health conditions are especially vulnerable.

(Amicus brief of American Thoracic Society at pages 2 and 3)

[I]t is reasonable to believe that any reductions in exposure that can be achieved will have benefits across the population. Even at low exposure levels, methylmercury can lead to reductions in IQ for developing children.  These deficits in IQ may not be clinically apparent in individual children, but on a population level they have cumulative impacts with large public health and economic consequences.

(Amicus brief of Health Scientists, Dr. Lynn Goldman, et al. at page 13)

The emissions harm Indian health, putting tribal members at unusually high risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune deficiencies, and other adverse health effects from methylmercury exposure. In addition, mercury emissions harm Indian culture, threatening longstanding traditions of fishing and fish consumption that are central to many tribes’ cultural identity. Finally, mercury emissions harm Indian subsistence, contaminating food sources that many tribal members depend on for survival.

(Amicus brief of National Congress of American Indians, et al. at page 4)

And here’s what other friends of the court say about the feasibility of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, and its implications for the power sector:

The experience of the states that have implemented mercury rules demonstrates that control of mercury emissions is possible with available technology and can be accomplished on a cost-effective basis and without compromising reliability. . . . [N]early 70 percent of total coal-fired capacity was either in compliance with the MATS or already had plans in place to achieve compliance at the end of 2012.

(Amicus brief of Experts in Air Pollution Control at page 32 and 34)

[Overturning MATS] would penalize those who responsibly sought to comply with the impending Rule and might be unable to recover their expenses for doing so, and would reward those who dragged their heels at the expense of public health.

(Amicus brief of Emission Control Companies at page 23)

This is a tremendous show of support for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards from a broad and compelling group of leading experts and affected organizations.

In fact, this case is so important and involves so many parties that the Supreme Court has extended the usual amount of time allowed for argument. On Wednesday, the lawyers – including U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli for EPA – will have 90 minutes to argue the case, instead of the usual hour.

We at EDF are proud to stand with EPA, with all our allies, and with the many “friends of the court” to present a forceful case for cleaner, healthier air to the nation’s highest court.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Health, News, Policy| Comments are closed

A Significant Milestone for Opening Up the Discussion About Geoengineering

Geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s climate system to counteract the impact that pollutants are having on our climate. The proposals sound like the stuff of science fiction – spraying particles in the upper atmosphere to deflect some sunlight, for instance – and EDF’s experts have been following the topic with concern.

Most of the focus on climate change has been about transitioning our economy to clean, renewable energy – removing the cause of the malady. But some are worried that won’t happen fast enough and that a more radical intervention may be necessary. Indeed, a 2014 report from the International Panel on Climate Change indicated that the world may require some form of climate engineering in order to stay within a hoped for two-degree limit to global temperature rise. But these proposals raise a serious risk of unintended consequences.

Geoengineering is in the news because of the release of a new report from the National Academy of Sciences. It’s the first study commissioned by the U.S. government that explains our current understanding of the science, ethics, and governance issues presented by geoengineering technologies. I was a member of the panel that drafted the NAS report, and its release is also meaningful for me — and for my colleagues here at EDF — because of our involvement with the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI).

Specifically, NAS was asked to conduct a technical evaluation of a limited number of proposed geoengineering techniques, including albedo modification and carbon dioxide removal. The new report comments on the potential impacts of these technologies.

What is Albedo Modification?

Albedo modification (AM), also known as “solar radiation management,” describes a controversial set of theoretical proposals for cooling the Earth by reflecting a small amount of inbound solar energy back into space.

These techniques have attracted attention because they could — in theory — reduce global temperatures quickly and relatively cheaply. BUT – these techniques would have unknown adverse impacts.

The new NAS report makes clear that AM is not an alternative to deep reductions in carbon pollution.

AM does not address ocean acidification and other non-temperature-related climate change impacts. It can at most serve as a temporary tool to reduce temperatures while lowering the atmospheric burden of greenhouse gases.

AM technologies have potentially serious and uncertain environmental, political, and social risks. The distribution and balance of benefits and risks are currently unknown.

AM research will require governance mechanisms to ensure that if research is undertaken, it is done transparently, safely, and with international agreement.

Unlike the NAS report just released, EDF has not called for small-scale AM research. We are in favor of accelerated discussion and development of a governance framework that would cover any potential geoengineering research.  

Why should research governance involve a global conversation?

The scientific, ethical, political, and social implications of AM research could be global. That means discussions about AM research governance should be global as well. To date, however, most discussions on the governance of AM research have taken place in developed countries — even though people in developing countries are those most vulnerable, both to climate change and to any potential efforts to respond to it.

In recognition of that fact, the Royal Society, EDF and TWAS (The World Academy of Sciences) launched SRMGI in 2010. SRMGI is an international NGO-driven initiative to expand international discussions on AM, particularly to developing countries.

SRMGI promotes early and sustained dialogue among diverse stakeholders around the world, informed by the best available science, in order to increase the chances of any AM research, should it be undertaken, being managed responsibly, transparently, and cooperatively.

The new NAS report offers an important opportunity to expand that dialogue.

It’s critical that we aim for transnational cooperation and information exchange on climate engineering research governance. That’s because even low-risk climate engineering research presents controversy.

AM’s potentially cheap deployment and quick effect on global temperatures could lead to the rapid and unilateral development of AM research programs, which could engender international tension and conflict.

Furthermore, deployment of AM would not benefit all populations equally.

And, while discussions about geoengineering are necessary, they cannot be considered as a substitute for reducing carbon pollution. The billions of tons of carbon pollution we put into our atmosphere every year are causing dangerous changes to our climate, and we must rapidly and consistently reduce that pollution. No climate engineering technology we can conceive of could keep up with the impacts of rapidly accelerating emissions.

What Comes Next?

The new NAS report should spur the U.S. and other governments to take the governance challenges of research into AM technologies seriously. An important next step is to foster wider international dialogue, including developing countries, on how to responsibly manage AM research.

It’s a dialogue that we at SRMGI, and at EDF, welcome. And the new NAS report is a welcome contribution to this dialogue.

Also posted in Geoengineering, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Science| Comments are closed

Court Hears Arguments on Fuel Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Standards for Big Freight Trucks

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. heard oral arguments today in challenges seeking to overturn historic, first-generation standards to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from large trucks and buses.

The standards were finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2011.

The standards apply to vehicles manufactured between 2014 and 2018. They are based on commonsense, highly cost-effective technologies that will make our nation’s fleet of large trucks and buses more efficient — reducing harmful climate-destabilizing pollution, limiting our dependence on foreign oil, and saving money for both truckers (in the form of lower fuel costs) and consumers (in the form of lower shipping costs).

EPA estimates that, over the lifetime of vehicles sold between 2014 and 2018, the standards will:

  • Reduce climate pollution by more than 270 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent
  • Reduce oil consumption by more than 530 million barrels
  • Result in net savings of up to $73,000 in avoided fuel costs over the lifetime of a new long-haul truck.

These cross-cutting benefits engendered broad-based support for the standards, including support from our nation’s truck and engine manufacturers, from states, and from public health and environmental groups.

In response to the President’s announcement of these first generation standards in 2010, many of these organizations sent letters of support. Here are just a few examples:

Cummins Inc. recognizes the benefits for the country of a National Program to address greenhouse gases (OHOs) and fuel efficiency from medium and heavy-duty trucks and buses. Cummins fully supports the adoption of such a National Program and welcomes this opportunity to be a partner in helping to advance that goal.

[Daimler] is committed to working with EPA and NHTSA, the states, and other interested parties to help address three of the most pressing issues facing the U.S. today and into the future: greenhouse gas reductions, fuel efficiency improvements, and increased energy security.

As 2015 begins, these clean air measures are now in their second year of effectiveness, and they are driving technological innovations that are cleaning the air and helping American truck manufacturers to thrive.

Through October of 2014, sales of fuel efficient trucks were 20 percent higher than their 2013 levels. 2015 is projected to be even stronger, with forecasts suggesting it will be the third strongest year ever for truck sales.

Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, put it succinctly:

[T]hese standards “are very good examples of regulations that work well.”

None of these truck and engine manufacturers were in court today challenging the first generation truck standards, which are based on rigorous technical information and firmly grounded in the law. The standards are a testament to the fact that collaboration among truck manufacturers, states, and other interested parties can reduce pollution, enhance our nation’s energy security, and save truckers and consumers money.

That is very good news, because President Obama recently announced that EPA and NHTSA will issue second-generation greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for large trucks.

Many of the same companies that stood with the President in announcing a blueprint to develop the second phase standards also collaborated on the first generation clean trucks standards. Among those supporting the President’s announcement of second phase standards included the nation’s major manufacturers and fleets such as Conway, Cummins, Eaton, Wabash National, Waste Management and the American Trucking Association.

When our nation stands together, we can forge big gains in strengthening our economy and protecting our environment.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News| Comments are closed

The Clean Power Plan Wins Support from Millions of Americans, and a Broad Array of Diverse Groups

Americans rally for the Clean Power Plan

Americans rally for the Clean Power Plan

January is a time for New Year’s resolutions, hot chocolate and the tantalizing possibility of snow days.

For me, it’s also a time when I reflect on what the past year has meant for me, my family, and our world.

Right now, I’m focusing on climate change through these three interwoven lenses. Fortunately, this year I have a lot of significant and positive steps to reflect on.

Here’s the one I’m thinking about the most: the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan will set the nation’s first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants. It’s one of the biggest steps we’ve ever taken to address the pollution that harms our climate.

EDF strongly supports the Clean Power Plan, of course, but we’re certainly not alone.

These urgently needed standards have already won broad support from the faith community, moms, health and medical associations, businesses, power companies, Latino groups, states, and others – as well as from EDF and other environmental groups.

And more than three and a half million Americans sent comments in support of the Clean Power Plan to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Here are just a few quotes highlighting the Clean Power Plan’s support among diverse groups, and demonstrating the broad support about the need to protect our climate:

Climate change poses grave threats to public health. To protect our communities and the public, the United States must significantly reduce carbon pollution from the largest source, which are existing power plants. Our organizations support EPA’s overall approach with the Clean Power Plan, but urge EPA to strengthen the final plan to provide greater protection to public health.

  • Comment Letter from medical and public health associations: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society, Center for Climate Change and Health, Health Care Climate Council, Health Care Without Harm, Public Health Institute, and Trust for America’s Health

We applaud EPA for proposing a rule that will place the United States on a path to achieving meaningful reductions in carbon pollution, although we recognize that greater overall reductions will be necessary to meet the challenge of climate change. Our states are already demonstrating that significant, cost-effective reductions can be achieved from the power sector through the “system” EPA identifies as the basis for its proposed emission guideline. We therefore support EPA’s general approach to setting the emission guideline.

  • Joint Comments of state environmental agency leaders, energy agency leaders, public utilities commissioners from 14 states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, New York, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington

We support the proposed rule’s overall objective of achieving meaningful emission reductions from existing power plants and encouraging investment in a clean energy future, and these technical comments are offered for the purpose of constructively supporting that objective. We agree with EPA that meaningful emission reductions can be achieved from the electric sector while maintaining electric system reliability.

 We strongly support EPA in moving forward with the proposed Clean Power Plan in the strongest form possible. We know that communities of color and low-income communities, including the Latino community, are frequently among those most negatively impacted by carbon pollution. Whether it is exposure to health damaging copollutants associated with carbon emissions or the present and worsening effects of climate change, these impacts are both direct and indirect and they threaten the social and economic order of overexposed and overburdened communities.

As businesses concerned about the immediate and long-term implications of climate change, we, the undersigned, strongly support the principles behind the draft Carbon Pollution Standard for existing power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for existing power plants represents a critical step in moving our country towards a clean energy economy…Our support is firmly grounded in economic reality. We know that tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century and we applaud the EPA for taking steps to help the country seize that opportunity.

  • Letter signed by 223 companies, BICEP, CERES, CDP, and The Climate Group. Companies signing the letter include Unilever, Kellogg Company, Solar City, and SunPower

EPA's efforts to limit dangerous carbon pollution from power plants will protect public health, fight climate change, and help our economy by sparking innovation in clean energy technologies. Our communities, our families and our children are counting on your leadership. Please enact strong limits on carbon pollution from America's existing power plants.

And, while delivering more than 10,000 comments in support of the Clean Power Plan, The Reverend Sally Bingham, founder and president of Interfaith Power and Light said:

[W]e urge the EPA to move forward with the proposed standards for existing power plants so that we can reduce carbon pollution as quickly as possible to address climate change, protect human health, and care for all of Creation.

It has been a great privilege to work on the Clean Power Plan at EDF during the past year. That’s one of the things I’m reflecting on personally.

It’s true that climate change is an immense issue with far-reaching impacts. But the immensity of the challenge has united an extraordinary number of Americans, and moved a wide range of diverse groups to take action — and that is something we can all celebrate this New Year.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Policy| Read 1 Response
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