Selected category: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Climate Change and Millennials – An Entire Lifetime of Warmer Than Average Temperatures

While reading the announcement that 2015 had broken – indeed, shattered – the hottest year on record set by 2014, there was one fact that really made things personal: we have now had 31 straight years since a single month was cooler than the twentieth century global average temperature. That means that I have never lived through a month that wasn’t warmer than average – never once in my lifetime.

My entire career as a climate scientist is focused on reducing the threat of global warming, and yet I have never even been alive at a time when the climate was stable. I technically don’t even know what normal is.

Warmest Years on Record graphic

So on one hand, you could say that I don’t even know what I am fighting for. On the other hand, I’ve been afforded two unique opportunities because I’ve lived in the shadow of global warming my entire life.

First, because I’ve grown up at a time when heat records are broken over and over again, I was aware of this worldwide crisis during those impressionable and important “pick a major” years of college. I was thus able to set myself on a career path shaped by climate change from the get-go, rather than later on in life once I was already an established professional in something else.

Second, because my elder colleagues have already identified – with extreme confidence – that humans are the main cause of climate change, I’ve been able to focus on solutions from the get-go, and not just causes and impacts. I have thus benefitted from previous scientific research because I could explore avenues to address climate change, because if humans are the cause, then we are also the solution.

And it’s not just me; there is now an entire generation of young people motivated and empowered to do something about climate change. We – almost the entire millennial generation – have never lived in a world without global warming.

Perhaps for similar reasons to mine (and/or because we think we’re special), my generation has shown a propensity for not just caring about climate change, but doing something about it. Whether on their campuses of their schools or the communities where they live, my generation is showing that they want solutions. In fact, eighty-percent of millennials support cleaner energy in the U.S., regardless of party affiliation.

For this reason among others, I am more hopeful about our future than ever before. Climate change has been impacting my generation our whole lives, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We didn’t ask for this challenge, but I truly believe we’ll be able to rise up to meet it.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, News, Science| Read 1 Response

Congress Backs Down from Harmful Environmental Rollbacks

rp_US_Capitol_Building_at_night_Jan_2006-300x226.jpgCongress is on the verge of passing an omnibus spending bill for 2016, and the headlines will be that lawmakers — in a modest victory for common sense – are doing their job and avoiding another disastrous government shutdown.

What’s in the omnibus bill is important, of course. But just as important is what’s not in it.

Left on the cutting room floor were a host of objectionable rollbacks that were jammed into various pieces of appropriations bills. That’s a testament to both the courage of pro-environment negotiators in Congress and the White House, and to the growing political power of environmental issues.

The loudest threat against the environment was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign pledge to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. Never mind that this would mean unlimited carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants, more asthma attacks, more smog, and more climate change.

But McConnell’s threat was far from the only danger. Among the potential “riders” – rules in the bill meant to change or block policies – were ones designed to:

  • Block efforts to ensure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are clearly and consistently defined
  • Stop EPA efforts to strengthen public health protections against ground-level ozone pollution (better known as “smog”)
  • Block efforts to ensure that the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are calculated consistently, and are appropriately considered in federal environmental planning decisions
  • Require EPA to deem any biomass energy project as carbon neutral – even if the science didn’t support that decision
  • Block the Bureau of Land Management from improving environmental and safety standards for the use of hydraulic fracturing on federal lands
  • Bar the Administration from helping poor countries deal with drought, rising sea levels and other threats exacerbated by climate change
  • Stop EPA’s ability to require industry to phase out hydrofluorocarbons and other refrigerants that damage the ozone layer

This is a sampling of the proposals that would have represented serious setbacks for the work being done to responsibly clean our air and water and protect our environment for future generations.

The fact that these proposals didn’t make it into the final omnibus bill is a testament to everyone across America who has spoken up against these attacks. It’s also the latest piece of a remarkable recent winning streak for the environment, from the Clean Power Plan to the blocking of the Keystone XL pipeline to the breakthrough climate pact in Paris.

There is additional good news in that important tax incentives for wind and solar energy are extended in the omnibus bill into 2016 and beyond, as are vital funds for land and water conservation.

There’s no question that Congress is failing its larger responsibility to protect public health and the environment. But for now, we need to celebrate these victories that stop efforts to take us in the wrong direction. They are important wins for a cleaner future for our kids and grandkids.

 

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, News, Policy| Comments are closed

These three states have a head start on the Clean Power Plan. You'd never guess who they are

This solar energy plant in Nevada can power 75,000 homes during peak demand and will generate $73 million in tax revenues over 20 years. Source: Solar Reserve.

Everyone in Colorado skis, all Oklahomans can rope a calf, and native New Jerseyans like me all talk like Pauly D did on Jersey Shore. Right?

You may also stereotype when it comes to clean energy: Progressive states such as California are pumping out clean, renewable energy while others insist on clinging to old, dirty power plants. Well, it’s more complicated than that.

California, which has a market-based system for cutting carbon pollution, does lead the country. But a number of states, including notably Nevada, Texas and North Carolina, are also making great progress on clean energy – which may surprise some.

Their success is evidence that the supposed divide on clean power may be more about politics than economics and opportunities on the ground.

And that bodes well for the federal Clean Power Plan’s goal of reducing emissions from America’s power plants. Because if Texas is well-positioned to comply, why couldn’t other states do the same?

Energy policies that boost state economies

Texas, home of Big Oil, big hats, and JR Ewing, actually has more energy potential from resources sweeping over its prairies – in the form of wind and sunshine – than from those flowing underneath them. The state leads the nation in wind power and combined heat and power, and has the potential to generate more solar power than any other state.

If energy efficiency used by Austin Energy were extended across the state, it would reduce peak electricity growth by 40 percent, while keeping Texans as high-powered as ever.

Nevada, meanwhile, has also been smart about exploiting its huge solar energy potential. The state’s current renewable energy standard requires utilities to generate 25 percent of its power from renewable resources by 2025, with 6 percent coming from solar energy by 2016.

With more than 250 days of sunshine a year and abundant wind and geothermal energy potential, this goal is well within reach. Nevada’s forward-thinking energy policies and commitment to clean energy are part of the reason Tesla chose it as the location of its multi-billion dollar gigafactory to produce batteries for electric cars.

Finally, in North Carolina, tax credits and a modest renewable energy portfolio standard created opportunities to build a strong clean energy industry.

North Carolina is now one of the top four states in installed solar capacity and second behind California in large, utility-scale solar projects. Clean energy added nearly $5 billion to the state’s economy last year, and today provides nearly 23,000 jobs.

Earlier this year, tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook told lawmakers that state policies “made North Carolina particularly attractive to [their] businesses.” Retail giants Walmart and North Carolina-based Lowe’s Home Improvement told lawmakers they want more choice and competition when it comes to energy.

North Carolina’s burgeoning clean energy economy suffered a set-back this year, however, when state lawmakers chose not to extend the tax credit – proving that state legislators are not required to take the Hippocratic Oath.

Back-track or invest in the future?

All this will make a big difference when it comes to implementing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which gives each state a target and flexibility for cutting climate pollution.

As much as some leaders in the Lone Star State and elsewhere complain and sue over this rule, they are actually well on their way to meeting their goals under the plan. If state governments would only take advantage of the natural opportunities they have – be more like Nevada and less like the recent back-tracking in North Carolina – they’d be in great shape.

We need to protect ourselves from the trillions in potential damage that Citibank and others say we’d face from unchecked climate change, so the world is moving toward clean energy. Wouldn’t it be better if state political leaders, who have so much to gain and such an achievable path forward, put their efforts in to creating that future rather than clinging to the past?

Forward-looking leaders do, because stereotypes aside, it ultimately comes down to good economics.

This post originally appeared on our EDF+Voices blog.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy| Comments are closed

China's underestimated carbon emissions: What does it mean for climate action?

By Dan Dudek

The New York Times revealed in a Nov. 4 article that China has been burning as much as 17 percent more coal annually than previously thought, citing new Chinese government data.

It was sobering news to all of us who are working to reduce China’s dependency on fossil fuels, but not necessarily a verdict on the country’s – or the world’s – prospects going forward.

It’s important to note, first of all, that China’s revised coal consumption numbers have not changed scientists’ estimates of global carbon dioxide levels in the air. Unlike national emissions data, which is based on fuel consumption statistics, global levels are measured directly.

So what do we make of the news that China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, has been underestimating coal use since 2000?

China needs good data, and knows it

Significantly higher emissions in any country increase the urgency and difficulty of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change – and this is especially true for an economy the size of China’s. However, it is significant that this story was prompted by the Chinese government reporting its own data corrections, and not by an external watchdog.

China has acknowledged the challenges it faces trying to develop robust emissions estimates, and the new numbers, though troubling, are a sign that the country is making progress in this regard.

This is important not just for the international climate negotiations that kick off in Paris later this month, but also for China’s long-term strategy.

China has made it a priority to upgrade its baseline inventory emissions data, especially for sources that might be included in its national emissions trading system. Good baseline data is a prerequisite to the effective carbon trading and reduction program Environmental Defense Fund has been working toward for 25 years.

Needed now: Deeper emissions cuts 

It’s also important to note that while the emission data was revised, China’s growth in coal consumption has actually been declining, a trend that remains unchanged and will likely continue.

The government has recently targeted 6.5 percent economic growth as the official target for the next five years, down from the recent 7- percent rate. Slower growth, air quality concerns, new requirements to invest in renewables and energy efficiency, and the international commitments to peak emissions and introduce a carbon market will all put continued downward pressure on coal.

China’s data correction does not change our basic understanding of what it will take to reach the crucial turning point where global emissions finally level off and begin to decline.

We have long known that much deeper reductions will be required to get us there. The Paris commitments are shaping up to be a major milestone on that road, but won’t by themselves get us where we need to go.

For China, the solution remains a national carbon market that creates the incentives to  lower emissions as efficiently as possible. China remains committed to launching the market  in 2017.

For all of us who understand the urgency of global climate change, The New York Times story is a reminder that there is still a great deal of work still to be done – in China and beyond.

Image source: Flickr/Nicolò Lazzati 

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Energy, International| Read 1 Response

Polluters are Making the Same Old “Sky is Falling” Claims about the Clean Power Plan

The ink wasn’t even dry on the Clean Power Plan before some power companies filed lawsuits to challenge these historic public health protections.

One of their key complaints? How much the Clean Power Plan is allegedly going to cost.

In their court filing, these companies claimed that they’ll potentially need to spend “billions of dollars” to comply.

Click to expand infographic

This tactic is nothing new, and it’s something we often hear when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues a new regulation that will provide cleaner, healthier air for our communities and families.

But it’s almost always wrong.

In defiance of the “sky is falling” predictions, American industry innovates and figures out ways to comply with new, healthier standards at a fraction of the costs initially projected.

This is exactly what occurred with EPA’s life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which are providing crucial reductions of toxic air pollutants including mercury, hydrochloric acid and arsenic from our nation’s power plants.

After EPA proposed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in 2011, FirstEnergy told its investors that it expected to spend between $2 billion and $3 billion dollars to comply with the clean air standards.

A little later that same year, FirstEnergy cut its estimate roughly in half — to between $1.3 billion and $1.7 billion.

Fast forward to February 2015 (just two months before the initial deadline to comply with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards), and FirstEnergy announced that it would spend $370 million on compliance.

In other words, its highest initial cost estimate was more than eight times higher than its actual costs.

Similarly, AEP’s highest initial cost estimate for compliance with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards was as much as two times higher than its later assessment of actual compliance costs.

These two companies are just a few of the power companies that have decreased their cost estimates for complying with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, and other public health and environmental standards, in recent years.

The tens of billions of dollars in expected health benefits from the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards has not decreased, though.

It will save thousands of lives every year, prevent heart attacks and asthma attacks, and help protect the hundreds of thousands of babies born in America every year who are exposed to unsafe levels of mercury in the womb.

It’s important that we keep in mind these misguided “sky is falling” claims about environmental compliance costs as EPA carries out its responsibilities under the nation’s clean air laws to address climate pollution from power plants.

The time tested history of the Clean Air Act is quite the opposite of the “sky is falling” – the sky is clearing, and at far less than the costs predicted by industry.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

The Rev. Sally Bingham: Pope Francis' climate message speaks to all faiths

By Rev. Sally G. Bingham,  president and founder of Interfaith Power & Light. Rev. Bingham has served on EDF’s board of trustees since 1986.

Source: Wikimedia

It’s unfortunate that discussions about climate change, which should focus on solutions and our responsibility to act, often become political arguments. That’s why it’s so refreshing and important that Pope Francis, who will address Congress this month, is bringing us all back to what really matters.

The climate change debate should be about what kind of world we want to leave our children, and how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

I’m an Episcopal priest and have been working at the crossroads of religion and climate change for 15 years. I deeply respect Pope Francis’ powerful, moral voice.

All of us, Catholic or not, Christian or not, must recognize our responsibility and obligation to act in the face of human-induced climate change.

Pope Francis has reminded us that everyone has a moral responsibility to be a caretaker of God’s creation. At the very least, he says, we must not leave a damaged and unhealthy world to future generations.

We don’t want our children to ask, “You knew and you continued to pollute?”

We don’t want to leave the poor of the world – who will be hardest hit by extreme weather, instability, disease and other impacts of climate change – to suffer for our failure to act. We all have a responsibility to care for one another, but people of faith have an obligation to do so.

Do unto others…

Most religions have a version of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s the message we should convey to everyone, everywhere.

Right now we are leaving a great burden to our children and grandchildren, even with overwhelming evidence of the consequences. Would we want that done to us?

As a person of faith, I cannot say I love God and love my neighbor (two of the Bible’s Ten Commandments) without doing all that I can to preserve creation – to act out of love for what God loves.

We must look after our garden, Planet Earth

As Pope Francis says, God put us here with the purpose of looking after “the garden” and each other. We have a particular responsibility for vulnerable communities that are hurt first and worst by a changing climate.

In the end, it is about this fragile Earth, our island home, and all who live on it.

Environmental Defense Fund, on whose board I serve, is working with people across the political spectrum and both parties to find answers to this challenge.

Our scientists and economists are focused on finding practical pathways to a cooler planet. But nothing brings people together like a moral call from someone who’s above politics, which makes the pope’s message so profoundly important.

Pope Francis is helping us live up to our responsibility and to finally do something about this catastrophic threat to our common home.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Health, Policy| Comments are closed
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