Selected category: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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

Why Should Moms (and Dads) Care about Climate Change?

My daughter on a hike in the Texas Hill Country.

My daughter on a hike in the Texas Hill Country.

I am a mom. It’s not the only descriptor I use for myself, but it’s up there at the top. My daughter is three years old. She loves to play outside and hug trees and chase birds and go fishing with her daddy.

I am also a clean energy and climate advocate. My weekdays consist of trying to convince Texas policymakers to take action on climate change, and I sometimes think negotiating with statewide officials is harder than negotiating with a “threenager.”

As parents, our daily lives consist of a million things we have to do to keep the kids fed, dressed, and out of harm’s way. Can’t someone else worry about climate change? The problem with that perspective is, although moms and dads may differ politically, our desire to see our kids grow up happy and healthy is universal. But if enough of us make small changes in our lives and raise our voices on climate and clean energy issues, those actions can add up to a big solution.

Climate change and life as we know it

When a problem seems overwhelming, as climate change often does, it’s helpful to break it down into relatable pieces. Let’s think about how climate change affects our everyday activities with our children.

For example, my daughter and I start the day with breakfast. She has oatmeal with blueberries every day. Oats and blueberries are generally grown in cooler climates (Russia is by far the largest oat producer in the world). Crops depend on specific climatic conditions, and as the climate changes, we will likely have to move our centers of production, disrupting ecosystems and making further changes to our natural environment. It’s a complicated issue to break down because, in some cases, increased levels of carbon dioxide could increase crop yields, but at the expense of other crops. And as temperatures increase, we are likely to see more droughts and extreme weather, risking damage to our agricultural system. The fate of their favorite breakfast food relies on a healthy, dependable climate.

In the summer, sometimes we go to the pool. Will cities be able to justify keeping public pools open when there is chronic drought?

Other afternoons we may go the playground. Before heading out, I check the weather. In Texas that means hot and dry in the summer, but I also have to be concerned about Ozone Action Alerts – that is, days when air quality is dangerous for vulnerable populations, which includes children, whose lungs are still developing. Multiply that effect on children who are already suffering from health problems, such as asthma. On those days, it’s better for us to play inside. Climate change – which is closely tied to and influenced by air pollution and ozone – may mean we see more dangerous air quality days, and less opportunity to enjoy the playground.

These are just a few examples of how a changing climate spells differences for our kids’ everyday lives.

What action can you take?

  • Choose 5 reasonable actions: Parents can make choices that are less carbon-intensive – EPA has a great, practical webpage on things you can do to help with your impact on climate change. My advice: take a quick look and pick five things you and your family can do that are reasonable. Once you’ve got those nailed, try another five. It all adds up.
  • Show your political support: Your elected officials and their appointees need to know that parents are concerned about the air their children breathe and the water they drink and play in. Unfortunately, politicization of climate change has made every forward-moving action a struggle. But parents are constituents, and political leaders will listen if enough of their constituents come to them. For instance, you can support the Clean Power Plan, new standards that place limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants in the U.S. for the first time ever. Phasing out coal would be a positive step for the cardiovascular and respiratory health of our children.
  • Get organized with other parents who care: You can join Moms Clean Air Force, a special project of Environmental Defense Fund and a community of parents that organize and support action to protect little lungs from pollution. Moms Clean Air Force recently opened a Texas chapter, and you can find out more here.

Even though it is my job, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of climate change. Then I look at my three year old, full of hope, energy, and imagination, and it is crystal clear to me why I should continue to care and fight for action on climate change. I need to show her that – even in the face of such odds – we all have an obligation to think bigger than ourselves.

Let this be the moment that you take action on issues that threaten your kids’ health and the health of the planet, whether through lifestyle changes, support of advocacy organizations like Moms Clean Air Force, or support of government action, like the Clean Power Plan.

Lately my daughter has been very interested in learning about space. When we ask her what her favorite planet is, she says, “Earth. Because it is our home and it has lots of water.” I owe it to her – and I believe every parent owes it to our children and all the children of this planet to protect it.

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

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

4 undeniable signs we're making progress on climate change

Seven months ago, I made a strong statement that may have left some people shaking their heads. I said that we can turn the corner on climate change – end the centuries-long rise in greenhouse gas emissions and see them peak and begin to decline – in just five short years.

As it turns out, 2015 is shaping up to be a year of giant steps toward that goal.

In a deeply reported New York Magazine piece, political writer Jonathan Chait calls it “the year humans finally got serious about saving themselves.” Says Chait, “The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with – by the standards of its previous behavior – astonishing speed.”

I agree. Here are four reasons I believe we’re headed in the right direction:

1. America is tackling greenhouse gas pollution

The United States remains among the world’s largest per-capita emitters of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants. But thanks to this year’s action by the Environmental Protection Agency, America now has a Clean Power Plan that will cut emissions from power plants, our single largest source of carbon, by 32 percent over the next 15 years.

The era of unlimited climate pollution is over.

On the heels of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan came a proposed rule to cut methane from newly built facilities in the oil and gas industry. More needs to be done, but this is an important step in dealing with a potent greenhouse gas that accounts for 25 percent of Earth’s current warming.

These climate laws will help the U.S. meet our target to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, a commitment we made to the international community that is key to getting other large polluters to do their share.

We’ll need further reductions, but this is a very significant start.

2. China is building momentum for global action

The world’s No. 1 greenhouse gas emitter, China submitted its climate plan to the United Nations in June, confirming it will let emissions peak by 2030 – and possibly sooner. I know from my colleague Dan Dudek in China that “sooner” is possible because this is a country that’s serious about climate action.

Pollution is choking Chinese cities and threatening economic growth, but the country’s leaders also see opportunity in the emerging clean energy industry. China has pledged to have 20 percent of its energy come from wind, solar and other non-fossil energy sources within 15 years – a massive investment in a nation of 1.4 billion.

This year alone, China is expected to add 18 gigawatts of new solar capacity. By comparison, the U.S. recently surpassed 20 gigawatts total.

To have China and the U.S. making such significant commitments has transformed the dynamic going into the U.N. climate summit in Paris. Instead of making excuses for inaction, the leading emitters have launched a virtuous cycle of increasing ambition.

That changes everything.

3. Clean energy is lifting people out of poverty

One billion people worldwide still have no energy, and more than 1 billion live in extreme poverty. Turning the corner on climate cannot mean that economies can’t develop.

But just as some developing economies adopted cellular technology without ever having land lines, some will leap-frog the dirty energy phase of economic development and go straight to clean.

In fiscal 2014, the World Bank more than doubled lending for renewable energy projects to nearly $3.6 billion – or 38 percent of its total energy lending.

As Rachel Kyte, the bank’s vice president and special envoy for climate change, recently said, what poverty-stricken people of the world need now is a “a low-carbon revolution.”

And this is starting to happen. In 2014, the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil and South Africa invested $131 billion in clean energy, just 6 percent less than the developed world did.

4. Pope Francis is galvanizing world opinion 

When Pope Francis released his much-anticipated encyclical on environmental stewardship in June, he made an urgent moral appeal to the world.

As my colleague Paul Stinson noted at the time, “A leading voice without political boundaries, the pope has the ability to reach people who previously could not or would not face the reality of climate change.”

Pope Francis called on us to push harder to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy sources – and people are listening.

The day he speaks to Congress later this month, a climate rally is expected to draw many thousands to the nation’s capital in a unified call for action. Environmental Defense Fund will be there, too.

The momentum is growing. We’re on our way to turn the corner on climate change – and the race of our lives is on.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

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

Statistics 101: Climate policy = risk management

Bjørn Lomborg reviewed my book, Climate Shock (Princeton University Press, 2015), joint with Harvard's Martin L. Weitzman, for Barron's over the weekend. He started it by stating that "global warming is real."

So far, so good.

But the book is not about whether the climate is changing. It is.

The book is about whether we are getting the order of magnitude of its effects right. Weitzman and I argue forcefully — in prose in the text, supported by a significant amount of research going into the 100-page end notes — that it's what we don't know that really puts the "shock" into Climate Shock. Lomborg asks how we can know that, if apparently we don't.

The answer is simple, and it's a statistical point that can't possibly be lost on Lomborg, a former lecturer on statistics. The set of distributions that most directly represent climate uncertainty — the link between concentrations of carbon dioxide and eventual temperature outcomes — is inherently skewed. We know, and Lomborg agrees, that adding carbon dioxide increases temperatures. (Back to 19th century science.)

So we can very clearly cut off the distribution linking a doubling of pre-industrial concentrations to temperatures at zero. In fact, we can cut it off at least at around 1 degree Celsius (almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit). The world, after all, has already warmed by over 0.8 degrees Celsius (around 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit), and we haven't yet increased pre-industrial concentrations by even 50 percent.

Reprinted from Climate Shock, with permission from Princeton University Press

Reprinted from Climate Shock, with permission from Princeton University Press

That skewedness of the underlying distribution is real. It's important. The correct response, then, to those who are too sure about where the climate system will go isn't to say, "cool it." It's to take the uncertainties seriously. Those, sadly, are skewed in one direction.

Climate risk is not our friend. It ought to prompt us to rethink not just how we talk about climate change. It should also inform our response. The burden of proof clearly rests on those who argue against these statistical facts.

Also posted in News| Read 4 Responses

3 Ways the Clean Power Plan Will Strengthen Our Economy

cleanenergymarket_378x235_0(This post originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog)

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Clean Power Plan, the first initiative of its kind to curb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing U.S. power plants. By improving air quality, the plan promises to prevent 90,000 childhood asthma attacks and avoid up to 3,600 premature deaths each year – without compromising economic growth. In fact, the Clean Power Plan is an incredible economic opportunity that states can’t afford to miss.

By limiting power plants’ “free pass” to pollute, EPA projects their Plan will deliver billions of dollars in environmental and public health benefits each year – and that’s just the start. Here are three ways in which the Clean Power Plan will work to strengthen states’ economies and accelerate many of the clean energy trends already underway:

1) It will pave the way for hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs.

The clean energy economy is already delivering more quality jobs than the fossil fuel industry. Solar energy, for example, now employs more Americans than coal mining – 142,698 versus 89,838 – while the entire renewables industry employed over 700,000 Americans in 2014. Furthermore, one dollar invested in clean energy today creates three times as many jobs as a dollar invested in fossil fuels.  And under the Clean Power Plan, this trend will accelerate with the potential to create a quarter-million jobs by 2040. That’s because many states will choose to comply with EPA regulations by ramping up renewable energy – an industry that is more labor-intensive and creates more jobs per dollar invested than the highly-mechanized fossil fuel industry. Clean energy installation also relies more heavily on local workers, increasing the amount of locally-invested dollars and related economic benefits to communities (in contrast to coal plants, whose investments are mostly funneled to out-of-state mining companies).

2) It will lower household electricity bills.

One powerful way states can choose to implement the Clean Power Plan is by employing more energy efficiency and renewable energy resources. Energy conservation could include everything from state-wide weatherization programs to smart electricity pricing – like demand response and time-of-use-pricing, which work to save people electricity and money. Because after all, the cheapest kind of electricity is the kind we don’t use in the first place. EPA projects that the Clean Power Plan’s flexible framework will enable a total of $155 billion in electricity savings between 2020-2030 – reducing enough energy to power 30 million homes. And, EPA went one step further to ensure these energy savings reach the communities that need them most. Through the Clean Energy Incentive Program, the Clean Power Plan prioritizes early investment in energy efficiency projects in low-income communities by rewarding states for implementing these programs.  These incentives, along with the plummeting cost of renewables like solar, will make clean energy solutions the increasingly affordable compliance option. According to the EPA, this means that by 2030, when the Plan is fully implemented, electricity bills are expected to be roughly seven percent lower than they would be without any state action. Put another way, U.S. families will be saving on average $85 a year on their electricity bills. And that’s money they can pump back into our economy.

Click to Enlarge

3) It will spur greater technology innovation and entrepreneurship.

EPA’s plan – once implemented – will send a strong market signal to entrepreneurs, businesses, and venture capitalists to move full-steam ahead with new, clean energy innovations. Under current market conditions, the advanced energy economy is already outpacing the U.S. airline industry, and roughly equal to the pharmaceutical business – and this growth will be accelerated under the Clean Power Plan. History has proven that these kind of smart, commonsense energy policies spur economic growth and innovation. In California, for example, since the passage of AB 32 (the state’s carbon pollution-reduction law), cleantech jobs alone have grown ten times faster than in other sector over the past decade, and since 2006, the state has seen investments of $27 billion in clean energy venture capital. California experienced this remarkable growth all while lowering its carbon emissions. Under the Clean Power Plan, we can do this on the national scale too with the right market signals.

Political support for a thriving industry

EPA’s Clean Power Plan provides states with tremendous flexibility in deciding how to achieve their emission reduction targets, in ways that build upon our already-thriving clean energy economy. Most states have already taken great strides towards meeting the Clean Power Plan’s targets, making them well-positioned to meet regulations by the newly-extended 2022 deadline. Whether a state’s economy thrives is a matter of the choices by state policy makers.

I think my friend and colleague, Fred Krupp sums up this economic opportunity best:

The states that join this race first, and run it the fastest, will win both more investment in clean technologies and less air pollution for their communities. No single step will fix climate change, but the Clean Power Plan is also a catalyst for more and quicker pollution reductions in the future, as we continue to innovate and grow the economy.

The Clean Power Plan is an important step toward establishing policies that will bolster and encourage our existing clean energy economy. We have the tools, technology, and innovation to turn the corner on climate change – we welcome the regulations to support them.

Photo Source: Duke Energy

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Green Jobs, Jobs, News, Policy| Comments are closed

Urgency and Opportunity for Latino Leadership on Climate

Las Vegas -- Wikimedia Commons

Las Vegas — Wikimedia Commons

When I landed in Las Vegas last week, the weather was a broiling 108 degrees. Ouch.

I braved the Las Vegas heat for one of the most inspiring convenings of Latino leaders in the country, the Annual Conference of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). We had a chance to hear from established and rising Latino leaders, as well as from Presidential candidates, about the challenges facing Latino communities and the many paths forward for creating a brighter future.

What we did not hear about was a vision for places like Las Vegas, where summer temperatures are bound to get hotter and water will become even more scarce in the face of climate change. In fact, there was no formal conversation about what climate change means for the U.S., and specifically for Latinos.

Here’s the short version of the missing conversation on climate: climate change presents challenges to everyone but it is having, and will continue to have, a disproportionate impact on Latinos in the United States.

To illustrate, let’s look at the three states that house more than half the Latinos in the US:

  • California, and the state’s majority Latino population, is facing its fourth year in historic drought that’s been exacerbated by climate change.
  • This summer, Texas experienced unprecedented flooding, nearly canceling out the state’s prior state of drought, in a demonstration of the kind of extreme weather linked to climate change.
  • Florida’s real estate and freshwater is already threatened by initial increases in sea-level rise, which are also eroding the state’s beaches.

There are more than 28 million Latinos facing climate threats in these three states alone. That does not count the millions of other Latinos nationwide who will face extreme heat and longer wildfire seasons in the Southwest this summer. It does not account for all 49 percent of Latinos nationally who live in coastal communities and will face more frequent and intense hurricanes and flooding. It also does not account for the full 14 percent of Latino kids diagnosed with asthma, who will face greater challenges to managing this condition due to more days with unhealthy levels of smog.

That was the bad news. It points to the fact that our leaders should not ignore the impacts of climate change on the Latino community. As climate impacts the air we breathe, threatens water we use for drinking, swimming, farming, and fishing, and even endangers our health, leaders at all levels need to take a proactive stance to protect our communities by addressing climate change.

Here’s the good news — the support is already there to act on climate. National polling has shown that 63 percent of Latinos think the federal government should act broadly to address global warming, while 8 in 10 Latinos want the President to curb the carbon pollution that causes climate change.

There are also some great opportunities hidden among the challenges. For example, today’s clean energy economy is creating more jobs than the fossil fuel economy. Jobs in the clean energy economy also offer higher wages to a wide range of workers, relative to the broader economy.

Which brings me back to Vegas. While there was no formal climate change discussion on the program, Latino environmental leaders from around the country were sparking conversations in the halls about conservation, climate change, and la comunidad. Advocates from New Mexico's Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and Outdoors talked with conference guests about the importance of protecting our public lands. Colorado's Nuestro Rio shared their work protecting the Colorado River and our bond to this precious resource.

EDF also played a role, teaming up with GreenLatinos, Green 2.0, and Nuestro Rio to host a reception and highlight the importance of addressing climate change at a national level. Nearly everyone we spoke with about our work was interested in hearing about solutions and how to do more.

As we participated in conference events last week, Pope Francis reminded us that we “have the duty to protect the earth and ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.” Latino communities, and our leaders, are no exception. We have a duty to address climate change — protecting our families, our children, and our climate is something we cannot afford to gamble on.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Extreme Weather, Jobs, News, Partners for Change, Science| Comments are closed
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