Selected category: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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

Accelerating the Shift to More Efficient Trucks

By Tom Murray, Vice President, Corporate Partnerships, Environmental Defense Fund

Freight transportation is the work horse of the global economy, ensuring that the products consumers want get on the shelves where and when they want them. With 70 percent of U.S. goods being moved by truck, freight is a key source of U.S. fuel consumption and corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Today, freight also offers companies a key opportunity to drive us toward a lower carbon future.

pepsico-logoIn a Wall Street Journal op-ed with EDF President Fred Krupp, Pepsico Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi voiced the company’s strong support of the new fuel efficiency and GHG standards for medium and heavy duty trucks released today by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency and Department of Transportation. Over the life of the program, these robust standards will cut fuel consumption in new trucks by 1.8 billion barrels of oil and reduce carbon emissions by one billion metric tons.

Leading companies like General Mills, Walmart and Anheuser-Busch have made reducing fuel use and emissions from freight a priority in setting their internal supply chain performance goals. But Pepsico’s willingness to step forward with this op-ed is a prime example of how companies can extend their leadership by aligning their public policy stances on with their sustainability goals – what EDF has been referring to as the business-policy nexus.

Freight affects all of us, but business is in the driver's seat

EDF - Building better trucksFreight transportation exists to serve companies that make or sell physical goods, from brands and manufacturers using trucks to bring in supplies and ship out final products, to technology companies needing trucks to deliver the hardware that powers their online services. While medium- and heavy-duty trucks only make up 7 percent of all vehicles on the road, they consume 25 percent of the fuel used by all U.S. vehicles.

Inefficient movement of goods wastes fuel, raises costs and increases environmental impacts. For firms like Pepsico, who maintain their own fleets, as well as those that contract out for freight moves, fuel is the single largest cost of owning and operating medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Truck fuel prices have increased 58 percent since 2009, a strong incentive for increasing the efficiency of trucks that move freight. Consumers are counting on businesses to solve this problem, as those costs are passed on to consumers. Through everyday purchases, the average U.S. household spends $1,100 a year to fuel big trucks. Strong standards can cut this expense by $150 on average a year by 2030.

Supporting strong truck standards is good business

PrintStrong standards will help companies meaningfully reduce their supply chain costs and carbon footprint. In an update of analysis originally produced last year, EDF and CERES found that under strong heavy truck fuel efficiency standards, companies could see freight rates fall nearly 7% as owners of tractor-trailer units see their costs fall by over 20 cents per mile. A big consumer goods company, for example, could save annually as much as 3 billion gallons of fuel and $11.5 million in freight costs per year in 2030 by using newer trucks produced under strong truck standards.

Supporting strong truck efficiency standards is also an important way for companies to proactively mitigate risk. In a world with higher oil prices, we could see freight costs double; however, even in a scenario where oil prices remain low, savings would still be significant.

Standing against or keeping quiet about the proposed rule is essentially committing to higher long-term costs, more greenhouse gas emissions and greater fuel use than would be the case under stronger efficiency standards.

Strong truck standards are achievable now

Manufacturers continue to prove that strong standards are feasible now. Leading fleets are already achieving more than 10 MPG through a combination of driver techniques and leveraging current technology, and component manufacturers continue to bring efficiency solutions to the market each year.

Who will speak up next?

In addition to speaking out in the Wall Street Journal, in a press release issued on June 19th, Pepsico joined companies like Cummins Inc., Eaton Corporation, FedEx, Waste Management and IKEA in voicing their support for the standards to both the White House and the EPA.

Because freight touches many points along the corporate supply chain, companies have a responsibility to push for strong standards that minimize the environmental impacts of moving goods in the U.S. This is smart business, and it’s another piece of the climate puzzle we’re racing to solve. Every company voicing support will help us all move down the road towards a cleaner future.

To learn more about the heavy truck fuel efficiency and GHG standards, join EDF's Jason Mathers July 21st for our latest Business-Policy Nexus webinar, which will review the proposed standards and why companies should support these common-sense standards, which will not only protect our air quality and the climate overall, but save companies transportation costs. Register now for this informative webinar

This post originally appeared on our EDF + Business Blog.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Jobs| Comments are closed

Six Climate Tipping Points: How Worried Should We Be?

One of the biggest fears about climate change is that it may be triggering events that would dramatically alter Earth as we know it.

Known to scientists as “tipping events,” they could contribute to mass extinction of species, dramatic sea level rise, extensive droughts and the transformation of forests into vast grasslands – among other upheavals our stressed world can ill afford.

Here are the top six climate events scientists worry about today.

1. The Arctic sea ice melts

The melting of the Arctic summer ice is considered to be the single greatest threat, and some scientists think we’ve already passed the tipping point.

As sea ice melts and the Arctic warms, dark ocean water is exposed that absorbs more sunlight, thus reinforcing the warming. The transition to an ice-free Arctic summer can occur rapidly – within decades – and this has geopolitical implications, in addition to a whole ecosystem being disrupted.

Photo: Smudge 900)

2. Greenland becomes ice-free

The warming of the Arctic may also render Greenland largely ice-free. While Greenland’s ice loss will likely reach the point of no return within this century, the full transition will take at least a few hundred years.

The impacts of the Greenland ice melt is expected to raise sea levels by up to 20 feet.

Half of the 10 largest cities in the world, including New York City, and one-third of the world’s 30 largest cities are already threatened by this sea level rise. Today, they are home to nearly 1.8 billion people.

Other vulnerable American cities include Miami, Norfolk and Boston.

Photo: siralbertus

3. The West Antarctic ice sheet disintegrates

On the other side of Earth, the West Antarctic ice sheet is also disintegrating. Because the bottom of this glacier is grounded below sea level, it’s vulnerable to rapid break-up, thinning and retreat as warm ocean waters eat away at the ice.

Scientists expect the West Antarctic ice sheet to “tip” this century, and there is evidence that it already began happening in 2014.

However, the entire collapse of the glacier, which would raise sea level by 16 feet, could take a few hundred years.

Photo: BBC World Service

4. El Niño becomes a more permanent climate fixture

The oceans absorb about 90 percent of the extra heat that is being trapped in the Earth system by greenhouse gases. This could affect the ocean dynamics that control El Niño events.

While there are several theories about what could happen in the future, the most likely consequence of ocean heat uptake is that El Niño, a natural climate phenomenon, could become a more permanent part of our climate system.

That would cause extensive drought conditions in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, while some drought-prone areas such as California would get relief.

The transition is expected to be gradual and take around a century to occur – but it could also be triggered sooner.

Photo: Austin Yoder

 5. The Amazon rain forest dies back

Rainfall in the Amazon is threatened by deforestation, a longer dry season, and rising summer temperatures.

At least half of the Amazon rainforest could turn into savannah and grassland, which – once triggered – could happen over just a few decades. This would make it very difficult for the rainforest to reestablish itself and lead to a considerable loss in biodiversity.

However, the reduction of the Amazon ultimately depends on what happens with El Niño, along with future land-use changes from human activities.

Photo: World Bank

 6. Boreal forests are cut in half

Increased water and heat stress are taking a toll on the large forests in Canada, Russia and other parts of the uppermost Northern Hemisphere. So are forest disease and fires.

This could lead to a 50-percent reduction of the boreal forests, and mean they may never be able to recover. Instead, the forest would gradually transition into open woodlands or grasslands over several decades.

This would have a huge impact on the world’s carbon balance because forests can absorb much more carbon than grasslands do. As the forest diminishes, the climate will be affected as will the Earth’s energy balance.

However, the complex interaction between tree physiology, permafrost and fires makes the situation tricky to understand.

Photo: Gord McKenna

Other concerns…

As if that’s not enough, there are a few other tipping events that scientists are also concerned about, but they are even more complex and harder to predict. Examples of such events include the greening of the Sahara and Sahel, the development of an Arctic ozone hole and a chaotic Indian summer monsoon.

How do we keep from tipping over?

We know from measurements that the Earth has had many climate-related tipping events throughout its history. Today’s situation is different, because humans are now driving these changes and the warming is occurring at a faster rate.

But as humans we also have the power to change the trajectory we’re on – possibly in a matter of a few years. We think we know how.

Also posted in Arctic & Antarctic, Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Oceans, Plants & Animals| Read 1 Response

Just Two Actions May Stop the Planet's Runaway Warming

I was 15 and I was trying to impress a boyfriend with my rollerblading skills — from the top of a steep hill. Before I knew it, I was flying uncontrollably toward traffic. I knew I needed to both slow down and change course . . . or things wouldn't end well.

I did, and I survived, but I've recently thought about that day and those actions as I have considered the urgency needed for the planet to slow down and change course as the climate warms. With two major actions, we can slow the rate of global warming while also preventing "runaway" warming: nations must reduce emissions of both short-lived and long-lived pollutants.

All emissions are not equal

The way people talk and think about the long and short-term impacts of various greenhouse gasses is critical for making smart policy decisions that can effectively slow how fast the climate changes while limiting warming in the future.

While the maximum extent of warming relies on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions because they last for centuries in the atmosphere, the rate of climate change is controlled by short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane.

Like carbon dioxide, methane is a gas that warms the Earth by trapping heat. Pound for pound, methane is more than 100 times more powerful than CO2 because methane is much more efficient at absorbing heat. But that number changes depending on how far out you look.

Comparing emissions of gases with vastly different radiative impacts and atmospheric lifetimes requires a metric that depends on what timeframe you care about, such as the next decade or next century. One way scientists deal with the temporal differences is by measuring the global warming potential of gases over two time periods: 20 years and 100 years.

Methane is 84 times more effective at trapping heat than CO2 over the first 20 years after they are both emitted, and 28 times more effective over 100 years, because most of the methane breaks down in the first 50 years after it is released due to oxidizing chemical reactions. When discussing what actions to take to reduce methane we must think about methane's potency in both timeframes.

Our best chance of combating climate change

Since the Industrial Revolution, methane in the atmosphere has increased by a whopping 150 percent. While in the same period, CO2 levels have gone up 40 percent. Around one quarter of today's human-caused warming is attributable to emissions of methane, while human-caused CO2 emissions account for around half.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is currently undertaking efforts to reduce emissions of some of the most damaging greenhouse gas emissions  responsible for climate change: methane pollution from oil and gas operations and carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants. This strategy has prompted questions about which climate pollutant should take priority. But the discussion of whether to cut methane emissions first and carbon dioxide later — or vice versa — is not helpful or necessary. We need a two-pronged strategy to stay safe.

Understanding the urgent need to reduce all types of climate pollution, the Obama administration is expected to move forward with rules to mitigate both methane and carbon dioxide in the next few months. This summer the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to propose the first ever direct regulation of methane emissions from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry, and finalize its Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants.

Another agency, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, is also expected to soon propose important rules to reduce wasteful venting, flaring and leaking of methane associated with the production of oil and natural gas on public lands.

Nations cannot solve the climate crisis and prevent serious impacts without simultaneously reducing both short-lived and long-lived climate pollutants. Reducing CO2 will limit the overall warming the planet will experience generations from now, which will have profound impacts on limiting sea level rise and other dangerous consequences.

Reducing warming caused by methane during our lifetime will also reduce the likelihood of extreme weather events and species extinctions — and, a slower rate also provides more time for societies and ecosystems to adapt to changes.

This post originally appeared on LiveScience.

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