Category Archives: News

What the growing Latino community can do for climate politics

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices. Para leer in Espanol haga clic aquí)

In 2012 Latinos made up 1 in 10 voters and helped decide the Presidential election with record-setting voter margins. Last month in California, the most populous state in the nation, the Hispanic population surpassed that of non-Hispanic whites. The only other state to reach this benchmark is New Mexico, where the Latino population is almost 10% larger than that of non-Hispanic whites.

As the Latino population continues to grow across the country, so does its influence in key political arenas. In battleground states like Florida, Colorado, and Nevada, Latinos accounted for 17, 14, and 18 percent of voters in 2012, respectively, an increase from previous elections. The trend has reignited a lively discussion about the influence of the American Latino community, the “sleeping giant” of American politics.

There’s also a lesser-known political trend that is emerging among the country’s youngest and fastest-growing demographic: the demand among Latinos for action to address climate change. In a new national poll released last month by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Latino Decisions:

  • 9 out of 10 Latino voters “want the government to take action against the dangers of global warming and climate change”
  • 8 in 10 Latinos want the President to curb the carbon pollution that causes climate change
  • 86% of Latinos support limits on carbon pollution from power plants

How is this demographic shift significant to environmental advocacy?

The implications of this demographic moving so clearly in favor of pro-environmental policies is significant. For one, environmental policy issues are likely to fast become determining issues for Latino voters on both sides of the aisle. According to Latino Decisions, a leader in Latino political opinion research, the only other policy issue that has received such high levels of support is immigration reform, an issue in the lead among the most significant deciding issues for Latino voters across the political spectrum.

This demographic shift is also significant as the impacts of climate change become more severe. In recent months, key electoral states with large Latino populations have felt the devastating effects of climate change, from the unprecedented flooding in Colorado to California’s historic drought. With 50,000 Latinos turning 18 every month, a solid stance on environmental policy may fast become a make or break issue for elected officials in these states and at the national level.

Combined, these trends paint a clear picture, one of a Latino population that disproportionately supports action on climate change and that is increasingly influential in key political states.

Environmentalists, take note: this is a major opportunityfor the environmental movement to move forward policy that has stalled in the past. Equally as urgent, it is a tremendous opportunity to elevate the voices of Latinos, among other communities of color, disproportionately affected by environmental issues. A few examples:

  • It’s a chance to build support for green jobs initiatives, many of which will be undertaken by Latinos and Latinas
  • It’s a call to arms to better address the environmental health impacts that disproportionately affect Latino communities

Perhaps most important, it’s an open door to create more space for diversity in a movement that needs broader support to succeed, and one that will be more effective by better engaging underrepresented communities. How well we do this will be a measure of how quickly and how equitably we hope to meaningfully address climate change, the defining issue of our time.

Posted in News | 1 Response

IPCC: Cutting pollution isn't enough – we need smart adaptation, too

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Rebecca Shaw is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a lead author on Chapter 16, “Adaptation, Opportunities, Constraints and Limits,” of Working Group 2, Fifth Assessment Report. She is also a contributing author for the chapter, “Terrestrial Ecosystems and Inland Waters Systems,” and an author on the technical summary.

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 2014 report on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation.

There are three top take-a-ways from the report:

  1. The documented impacts of climate change are widespread, unequivocal and consequential across the planet for both people and nature
  2. Confronting climate change is now an issue of managing risks, and those risks are greater if we continue to pollute the atmosphere.
  3. To protect ourselves from the impacts of climate change that can’t be avoided, we must make smart adaptation investments in our cities, working lands and ecosystems now. These investments will increase resilience in the face of climate change and lead to a more vibrant and secure world.

The report contains extensive documentation on the impacts the warming atmosphere is already having on agriculture, coastal communities, terrestrial and marine plants and animals, and fresh water availability. Impacts from recent extreme climatic events such as heat waves, droughts, floods and wildfires demonstrate the significant vulnerability of some ecosystems and humans systems. Poor and impoverished communities will be most vulnerable, as will species lacking the robust ability to adapt to climate change.

And the science clearly shows that rates of annual crop yield increases are slowing. Climate change acts as an anchor on production – a heavy weight that will grow heavier each year climate change proceeds unchecked and unmitigated.

As climate change impacts increase, so does the need for getting smart about cutting carbon pollution. It is equally urgent that we super charge efforts to manage the risks associated with the impacts we cannot avoid. It’s not a choice between mitigation and adaptation anymore – we need both, fast. Without action, the magnitude and rates of climate change will lead to high risk of abrupt and irreversible change in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. And it will pose major challenges to cities, farms and infrastructure.

Yet, there is some hope. And this is where the new report departs from the 2007 IPCC report. We found that individuals, communities, businesses and governments around the world are innovating adaptation actions, plans and policies.

Here at EDF, we’re investing in transformational adaptation projects that will ensure that people and nature will be more resilient in the face of climate change:

  • In the Mississippi River Delta we are harnessing the river’s natural processes to rebuild coastal wetlands to protect coastal communities from sea level rise and extreme weather.
  • In the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin, we’ve helped to develop water-sharing agreements that can be replicated in other water-stressed regions.
  • Across the Western U.S., we are implementing habitat-exchange programs that will dynamically protect threatened wildlife populations for the long-term, even as their ranges shift.
  • And in the Midwest, we’re working with farmers to decrease greenhouse gas pollution caused by overuse of fertilizer on crops.

These examples are demonstrating that as long as smart investments in adaptation measures are taken in concert with substantial cuts in carbon pollution, we have an opportunity to decrease our vulnerability to climate change and to build a more vibrant and secure world for all.

Also posted in Science | 3 Responses, comments now closed

6 key insights from the latest IPCC climate report

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Since 1990, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a series of reports that assess the latest data and research on climate change.

The reports are issued approximately every five years. In September 2013, the IPCC issued its newest round of reports by sharing the latest science, concluding with more confidence than ever that humans are responsible and that weather will likely get even more extreme, along with many other key findings.

The newest report, released today, looks at impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Next month comes the thirdreport in the 3-part series that makes up the IPCC’s 5thAssessment Report (IPCC AR5); it focuses on mitigation—that is, actions to limit the magnitude and rate of climate change.

Over 600 scientists and experts from at least 70 countries were involved in writing this latest installment of the IPCC AR5, which is referred to as Working Group II. Representatives from 195 nations had to approve of the Summary for Policymakers document line-by-line.

The report’s content focuses on three topics:

  • Impacts: effects of climate change on people, society, and ecosystems
  • Adaptation: actions to limit our risks to climate change
  • Vulnerability: the susceptibility of the human and natural worlds to climate change

Here are six key findings from the new IPCC report:

1.       Climate change is now everywhere. Impacts have been found on every continent and across all oceans. Both human and natural systems are experiencing the far-reaching and ever-growing effects: water resources are shrinking; terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species have changed their ways of life; major crop yields have decreased; and heat-related deaths have risen.

2.       Humans and ecosystems are both vulnerable. Climate events such as heat waves, droughts, floods, and wildfires alter ecosystems; disrupt food production and water supply; damage infrastructure and settlements; cause sickness and mortality; and adversely affect mental health and human livelihood. However, people who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally, or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable.

3.       Food security, water resources, human health, ecosystems, and the economy are all at stake. While the degree of risks varies based on climatic and non-climatic factors, scientists are confident that human and natural systems are threatened with continued warming. ‘Runaway’ warming (a global temperature increase of 4˚C (7.2˚F) above preindustrial levels—we are currently at 0.86˚C (1.5˚F)) could make normal activities like growing food or working outdoors impossible in many regions.

4.       Many global risks of climate change are concentrated in urban areas. Heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, and water scarcity pose risks in urban areas for people, assets, economies, and ecosystems.

5.       Building resilience is critical to limiting risks… Even the most rigorous mitigation tactics still won’t eliminate some additional warming. The upshot: there are countless opportunities for local, state, and national governments to plan and implement adaptation efforts, and also opportunities for public and private engagements. The down side: several barriers to adaptation still exist (such as legal and financial constraints), and if heat-trapping gas emissions remain unabated and the Earth warms by 4˚C (7.2˚F), the impacts may grow larger than our capacity to adapt.

6.       …but cutting heat-trapping gas emissions is essential. Delaying mitigation actions will likely reduce options for climate-resilient pathways, and make them much less affordable. Fortunately, we can solve two problems at once; examples of actions that build resilience and cut gas emissions include: improved energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources; reduced energy and water consumption in urban areas through greening cities and recycling water; sustainable agriculture and forestry; and protection of ecosystems for carbon storage and other ecosystem services.

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Science | 2 Responses, comments now closed

The Supreme Court and Climate Pollution: What is – and is not — at stake

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case challenging EPA’s interpretation that the Clean Air Act permit program requiring new and rebuilt industrial sources to deploy leading pollution control technology for each pollutant subject to regulation under the Act applies to greenhouse gases, just as these requirements have limited other airborne contaminants for over three decades.

The case is Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (No. 12-1146)

What’s at stake: Innovation in Addressing Climate Pollution and Clearing the Air about Climate Obstructionism

This case is remarkable for what is not at stake, as well as for what is.

While the Supreme Court is considering only a single legal question of the numerous issues that were raised, this case has important implications.

Exempting climate pollution from these specific provisions of the Clean Air Act would harm innovation, because they were carefully designed by Congress to spur the development of new pollution prevention and control techniques for industrial sources. Putting a stop to these legislatively-crafted incentives to innovation in precisely the area where we so urgently need innovation – in addressing climate-destabilizing pollution — would be a damaging loss and risks “locking in” new high emitting and long lived industrial infrastructure. Such an exemption for climate pollution is patently contrary to Congress’s specific command, in the statutory provisions at issue here, that these innovation-spurring requirements apply to “each pollutant subject to regulation under the Act”.

Climate obstructionists will undoubtedly twist the meaning of the case to suggest broader implications, despite the court's decision to review only one narrow question. While the Administration is judiciously carrying out its responsibilities under the Clean Air Act to address climate pollution – in accordance with the authority that was twice affirmed by the United States Supreme Court — climate obstructionists will use this case to sow havoc and attack the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Indeed, these forces have already attacked EPA by unsuccessfully litigating virtually every aspect of EPA’s first generation climate protections in court over a span of many years. Unfortunately, they will continue to attack EPA in the public square invoking the polarizing rhetoric that most Americans associate with divisive Beltway politics – not real world solutions.

What is not at stake in this case is the EPA’s determination that six greenhouse gases –carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride –endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations. This is the bedrock for EPA’s manifest authority to adopt climate protections for cleaner cars and cleaner freight trucks, for reducing the potent methane leaked and vented from oil and gas development activities in the same way that Colorado has adopted methane emissions standards, and for cutting the massive carbon pollution from power plants — the nation’s single largest source of carbon pollution and one of the largest in the world.

The history behind the case

For the past four years, big polluters and litigants such as the Attorney General of Texas have been suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over all aspects of EPA’s climate protections for America – including the science-based endangerment finding, and the historic Clean Cars Standards that are saving Americans money at the gas pump while strengthening our nation’s energy security and reducing pollution. By contrast, the U.S. Automakers have consistently supported the clean car standards.

These dozens of lawsuits were considered together by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – which upheld EPA’s climate protections and rejected the legal challenges. In 2012, a three Judge panel of that court held that EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act was “unambiguously correct.” Then-Chief Judge David Sentelle, appointed to the Court by President Ronald Regan, was a member of the three Judge panel that unanimously affirmed EPA’s action.

Opponents filed numerous petitions seeking review by the Supreme Court, which refused to entertain most of their challenges.

Instead, the Court granted review of a single question – whether, under the terms of the Clean Air Act, EPA’s regulation of climate pollution from cars triggered the requirement for pre-construction permits limiting the climate pollution discharged by large, new and rebuilt industrial sources of that pollution in the same way these requirements have applied to other air pollutants from these sources for over 35 years.

Bottom line

We need all available safeguards under the Clean Air Act to address the urgent challenge of climate change – including the advanced pollution control measures required as an essential protection in construction permits for large industrial sources. These measures are vital if we hope to minimize industrial climate pollution.

Further, one of the principal legal theories being advanced by petitioners would have adverse consequences for EPA’s long-standing interpretation of the law – spanning the Presidencies of Ronald Regan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush – that has expansively applied the protections of the Clean Air Act’s pre-construction review permit program to all regulated air pollutants. This line of attack, designed to narrow the air pollutants subject to these limits, would call into question the application of the program to pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide, fluorides and sulfuric acid mist.

Finally, we need to tell the truth to the public, to policymakers and to the highest Court in the land that EPA is judiciously carrying out its responsibilities under the nation’s clean air laws to protect human health and the environment from climate pollution. We must take a stand against the sharply polarizing rhetorical excess leveled at EPA. For the real world solutions that have won far reaching support, look no further than the cleaner cars on the road today that are strengthening our energy security, saving families hard earned money at the gas pump, and cutting carbon pollution.

This is why EDF will be at the Supreme Court today.

Editor’s Note: Environmental Defense Fund is a party to the case before the Supreme Court and participated in the presentation of oral arguments when the case was before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  A coalition of states and NGO allies are also vigorously defending these clean air protections against legal attack — including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the city of New York.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy | 1 Response, comments now closed

A momentous week for trucks: Walmart unveils “Jetson” truck and President Obama announces next generation fuel efficiency standards

(This post originally appeared on EDF + Business)

What a great week it’s been for the future of trucks. Walmart unveiled a prototype, concept next generation tractor-trailer truck that they have affectionately dubbed “Jetson.” This morning, President Obama laid out a timeframe for action on developing the next generation truck efficiency standards – standards that will improve the fuel efficiency of American trucks, bolster energy security, cut carbon pollution, save money and support manufacturing innovation.

Innovation is critical to curb the growing climate pollution and fuel consumption from our nation’s freight trucks – which are projected to increase by 40 percent between now and 2040. But innovation is best supported by strong standards.  A well-designed efficiency program can speed the deployment of clean, energy-efficient technologies and the infrastructure to support their widespread use nationwide.

We have seen the success of this combination many times.  The trucking industry has delivered incredible innovation in meeting stringent standards for particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen, and the first phase of greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards. And through their own innovation, manufacturers are meeting these standards in advance of compliance deadlines, doing so for lower costs, and delivering substantial, real-world benefits.

The second phase of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for trucks and trailers will build on this foundation of success. But they will also build on the innovation of companies like Walmart who are pushing the envelope. 

 The unveiling of Jetson, officially called Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience (“WAVE”) came during a live webcast of Walmart’s annual Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting on Monday.

At first glance the prototype truck is simply cool looking, and explains why it got the nickname Jetson.  But it is also incredibly fuel-efficient. The tractor is super aerodynamic – in order to achieve the dramatic aerodynamics, the driver sits in the middle of the cab and the engine is under the cab instead of in front of it.  The entire cab lifts up to give access to the powertrain.

The trailer also benefits from advanced aerodynamics. And it is built “almost exclusively from carbon fiber.” Because of this, the trailer weighs 4,000 pounds less than a standard trailer, which would enable it to legally carry more product. The front end is also convex – which enhances the aerodynamics and increases storage capacity.

The power system for the truck is a revolutionary combination of a microturbine; battery storage; electric motor.

While some of the technologies in the Jetson truck may not be street ready in the next few years, Walmart sees value in pushing itself and its vendor partners – Peterbuilt Trucks, Great Dane Trailers and Capstone Turbine – just a little bit farther. And their efforts demonstrate the potential to truly revolutionize our heavy trucks and trailers. Doing this well will require a combination of innovative technology and strong, well designed efficiency standards.

The cleaner freight trucks being made in America today show that when our nation works together we can achieve lasting progress for our economy and our environment – through innovation and common sense policies to advance and secure the transformative cleaner freight trucks of tomorrow.

Posted in News | 1 Response, comments now closed

We’re on the Road to Cleaner, More Fuel-Efficient Trucks

America started down the road toward cleaner, more fuel-efficient freight trucks today.

President Obama, joined by leading freight truck manufacturers and major fleet owners, announced plans to draft a second generation of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for America’s heavy-duty trucks.

The new standards will build on the successful first round, which are yielding far-reaching benefits for America’s security, economy and environment.

As the President said in his 2014 State of the Union Address:

We’ve partnered with businesses, builders, and local communities to reduce the energy we consume. When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars.  In the coming months, I'll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.

Opportunity

Climate pollution from our nation’s freight trucks is projected to increase by more than 130 million tons between now and 2040 – the largest increase in emissions from any single end-use, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Recent analyses, however, indicate that rigorous second generation fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for new freight trucks can cost-effectively reduce this climate pollution, improve our nation’s energy security, and save truckers money.

Consider this:

  • By 2025, strong second generation truck standards could reduce fuel consumption by up to 40 percent compared to 2010. That’s more than 800,000 barrels of oil savings per day beyond what’s achieved by current standards.
  • Most technologies needed to achieve this reduction have payback periods of three years or less.

Making our nation’s fleet of trucks more efficient is also good for consumers.

Improving efficiency means cutting the costs associated with transporting goods. That means companies can sell those goods for less, which in turn means that American families will save money.

A recent report by the Consumer Federation of America found:

  • Net savings of $250 to consumers, rising to $400 per household in 2035 as fuel prices and transportation services increase.

Solutions

Cost-effective, made-in-America solutions are available to help achieve these important environmental, economic and energy security benefits.

Rigorous second-generation clean trucks standards can help deploy these made-in-America technologies.

Strong standards are also critical to spur investment and innovation leading to the next generation of clean truck solutions.

For instance:

Just yesterday, Walmart unveiled “Jetson,”a prototype tractor-trailer powered by a revolutionary combination of a microturbine, battery storage, and electric motor, with advanced aerodynamics and a carbon-fiber trailer.

Broad-Based Support

These common sense solutions have resulted in broad support.

Many of the same companies that stood with the President today also collaborated on the first generation clean trucks standards.

Among those supporting the President today included the nation’s major manufacturers and fleets such as Conway, Cummins, Eaton, Wabash National, Waste Management and the American Trucking Association.

Proven Success

These second generation clean truck standards build on a foundation of success — including first and second generation clean cars standards and first generation clean trucks standards.

Manufacturers are meeting these standards in advance of compliance deadlines, doing so for lower costs, and delivering substantial, real-world benefits.

For example, here are some compelling achievements by passenger cars and trucks as a result of efficiency standards:

  • Since October 2007, per driver greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. have dropped by 20 percent, according to the University of Michigan’s Eco-Driving Index.
  • EPA estimates that between model years 2004 and 2012, average carbon dioxide emissions from cars decreased by 18 percent, and fuel economy increased by 22 percent.
  • 28 percent of projected model year 2013 vehicle production already meets the model year 2016 carbon dioxide emissions targets, and about 5 percent of projected 2013 production could meet the 2025 carbon dioxide emissions targets, according to EPA’s fuel economy trends report.

The cleaner cars and freight trucks being made in America today show that when our nation works together we can achieve lasting progress for our economy and our environment.

Environmental Defense Fund stands ready today to work with President Obama, freight truck and trailer manufacturers, and fleet owners on common sense policies to advance and secure the transformative cleaner freight trucks of tomorrow.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy | 1 Response, comments now closed

Arctic Melting – a Business Opportunity, but Also a Dangerous Climate Risk

The Obama Administration recently released a plan to cope with a warming Arctic.

Climate change has increased warming in that region at a striking rate, and it has extended the ice melting season by about two weeks per decade.

As a result, the Arctic–which was inaccessible to commercial shipping as recently as 2008–saw 71 vessels cross last year.

Speedy Arctic development, however, is an indisputably risky business.

The Threat

Over the past three decades, warmer temperatures have caused Arctic sea ice to lose half of its area and three quarters of its volume.

Even with a slight increase in ice this winter, the Arctic’s sea ice last December was still the fourth lowest on record.

In the summer of 2012 alone, sea ice shrunk by 350,000 square miles compared to the previous summer. That’s an area the size of Venezuela.

Permafrost, defined as frozen soil, sediment, or rock that has remained at or below zero degrees Celsius for at least two years, comprises about 25 percent of the land in the Northern Hemisphere.Along with record ice melt, all of the permafrost-monitoring sites in northern Alaska have experienced record high temperatures in the past few years.

According to estimates, the carbon dioxide and methane stored in the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost is equivalent to more than double the carbon concentration currently in the atmosphere.

The Northern Hemisphere’s shallow (zero to three meters deep) permafrost is the part most susceptible to melting, and that part alone contains carbon dioxide and methane equivalent to more than 400 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide – or, the amount currently in the entire atmosphere. (That’s according to “Report from International Permafrost Association: Carbon Pools in Permafrost Regions” by Kuhry, Peter, Chien-Lu Ping, Edward A. G. Schuur, Charles Tarnocai, and Sergey Zimov.)

Permafrost in the Arctic. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)–the world’s foremost authority on climate change–expects the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost to melt 20 to 35 percent by 2050.

Quick math with very conservative assumptions tells us this: if not curtailed, carbon emissions from the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost melting will bring the atmospheric carbon concentration beyond 450 ppm, the number the IPCC deems the threshold beyond which the world can expect extreme shifts in weather patterns, ecology, and geology.

While the lasting effect of permafrost thaw on atmospheric carbon concentrations is uncertain, it is safe to say that the scale of the risk is potentially enormous and expensive into the trillions of dollars.

According to Maplecroft’s 2013 Climate Change Vulnerability Index, 67 countries with an “estimated combined GDP of $44 trillion will come under increasing threat from the physical impacts of more frequent and extreme climate-related events.”

The World Bank (2010) estimates annual climate change adaptation costs for the years 2010 to 2050 to be $70 to $100 billion for the developing world alone.

Unmitigated permafrost melting promises to hasten temperature increases and greatly exacerbate these costs.

The Business Interest

While methane from permafrost melt rises like a thick, invisible smoke stack, some members of the business world are focused on the economic potential of an increasingly iceless–and thus accessible–Arctic frontier.

The foremost reason for the Arctic’s economic promise is its massive oil and gas deposits.

According to Foreign Affairs:

The Arctic’s oil and gas fields account for 10.5 percent of global oil production and 25.5 percent of global gas production. And those numbers could jump soon. Initial estimates suggest that the Arctic may be home to an estimated 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered conventional oil and gas deposits, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Recent investments of many billions of dollars from oil giants–including Shell, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Statoil, Gazprom, and Rosneft–shows the excitement in the industry regarding the future revenues from these formerly ice-restricted resources.

An ice-free Arctic also creates shorter shipping routes.

For the first time ever, the Northern Sea Route, which passes through the Arctic to connect Europe to Eurasia, is open to commercial shipping, with over 70 vessels sailing through in 2013.

The Arctic also harbors valuable deposits of zinc, nickel, palladium, diamonds, platinum, cobalt, tungsten, uranium, and other minerals. And above ground, forestry, fishing, and many other industries promise to benefit from Arctic development.

 A Dangerous Cycle

As melting ice unlocks the Arctic, it threatens to push temperatures to tipping points. It also unleashes economic activity that may spark positive feedback loops, bringing more and more Arctic melting – and thus more carbon dioxide and methane released from permafrost.

Additionally, as a warming climate allows snow and ice to thaw, tundra species are being replaced with evergreen trees, which absorb more sunlight. (Snow is white, so it absords less of the sun's heat than the darker evergreens.) That means that more tree cover will, counter-intuitively, further increase warming and thawing trends in the Arctic.

Other factors such as direct carbon loss through combustion and increasing fires could also further increase this cycle.

While the science regarding permafrost melt’s climate implications remains uncertain, the risk is so enormous that turning a blind eye while developing the Arctic frontier is tremendously irresponsible.

The ensuing hastening of permafrost’s melt could lead to global economic costs that drastically exceed the benefits from Arctic development.

Also posted in Arctic & Antarctic, Science | 3 Responses, comments now closed

Powerful Testimonies at EPA Hearing on Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants

If you were busy watching the Winter Olympics, you may have missed another important–if slightly smaller–event that happened last Thursday:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a hearing in Washington, D.C. on the proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants.

U.S. power plants are one of the largest sources of carbon pollution in the world. Carbon pollution is the main reason for climate change.

EPA’s proposed standards will set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from new fossil fuel power plants.

I had the privilege of testifying on behalf of EDF and its 750,000 members.

It was uplifting to hear testimony from so many diverse groups in support of these historic proposed standards.

Among those testifying were:

  • U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island
  • Moms Clean Air Force, on behalf of hundreds of thousands of moms across America
  • Public health groups
  • Environmental justice groups
  • Veterans and national security groups
  • Groups representing clean energy companies
  • Latino groups
  • Faith groups

and many more …

But climate change is an issue that threatens communities and families across America.

That’s why it was especially touching to hear the personal stories of how climate change impacts people, including one woman from Virginia who testified about raising a daughter with asthma, about the financial impacts of the disease–and about how the costs of pollution are not borne by the emitters, but by the public–and by families like hers.

Carbon pollution is a problem that we can fix.

Consider these facts:

  • Clean energy continues to grow, and it is clear that America can generate affordable, clean electricity.
  • Wind generation increased by more than 40 percent in the United States between 2011 and October of 2013.
  • In April of 2013, the United States had a record month for wind power with generation of more than 17,000 gigawatt hours.
  • In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost approximately one percent of what they did 35 years ago.
  • Since 2008, as the cost of a solar module dropped from $3.80 per watt to 80 cents per watt, solar deployment has jumped by about 10 times.
  • U.S. solar jobs grew 20 percent last year. The industry now supports more than 140,000 jobs.
  • Renewable energy is expected to account for 28 percent of the growth in electricity generation from 2012 to 2040.

At the hearing, some opponents of EPA’s common-sense standards testified, representing groups like the American Petroleum Institute and the American Coal Council.

They repeated claims we have heard time and again about clean air standards costing too much or technology not being available.

We have heard similar claims in the past—claims that were subsequently disproved—about scrubbers and mercury controls.

EPA has found that carbon pollution controls, like carbon capture and storage, are adequately demonstrated for new coal-fired power plants—and that finding is based on an extensive body of technical information.

It is clear from the more than four million people who have weighed in with EPA in support of these standards that many Americans are ready for a clean energy future, and believe it is imperative that we address the largest source of carbon pollution in our country.

You can help the fight to limit the carbon pollution from power plants by urging EPA to adopt strong standards. You can submit comments to EPA through our EDF website.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy | Comments closed

Super News in Crossing the Goal Line to Cleaner Cars and Healthier Air

This is a big week for major events, from State of the Union address last night to the Super Bowl this weekend.

But there’s one more milestone you might not have heard of yet — America is poised to make major progress in crossing the goal line to cleaner cars and cleaner gasoline.

The Tier 3 tailpipe and low sulfur gasoline standards are undergoing final review now at the White House.

Tier 3 standards will pave the way for a fleet of cleaner cars beginning in model year 2017 by reducing the emissions that contribute to dangerous soot and smog.

You can read more about what Tier 3 is and why it matters here.

Cars and light trucks are the second largest emitters of oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds in the U.S. Those are the primary pollutants that form ozone.

According to EPA, the Tier 3 standards as proposed would slash the level of those pollutants by 80 percent.

By 2030, the Tier 3 standards will prevent 2,400 deaths every year, prevent tens of thousands of cases of respiratory illnesses in children, and provide total health-related benefits worth up to $23 billion per year.

The proposed Tier 3 standards would also establish a 70 percent tighter standard for particulate matter.

Particulate matter, more commonly known as soot, is one of the most dangerous types of air pollution. It has been linked to asthma attacks, bronchitis, heart attacks and other types of heart and lung diseases.

We need your help ensuring these clean air protections for our communities and families cross the goal line.

The Tier 3 standards enjoy wide support from states, businesses, public health associations, environmental groups, environmental justice organizations, and auto manufacturers.

Here are some of their comments:

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers said:

 Sulfur inhibits the catalytic converter’s ability to reduce vehicle emissions, so lower sulfur at the pump means fewer exhaust emissions in the air. And because lower sulfur reduces emissions from all vehicles, the proposed sulfur reductions would achieve Day One benefits, immediately reducing emissions from every gasoline-powered vehicle on our roads, no matter how old.

Labor groups such as the United Auto Workers have also weighed in with their strong support:

Upon full implementation, the proposed rule will reduce the amount of sulfur in our gasoline by two-thirds. This is one of the most cost-effective ways for us to get cleaner and healthier air while strengthening our domestic auto sector and creating thousands of new jobs.

A broad coalition of health organizations – including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Thoracic Society, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Trust for America’s Health, Healthcare Without Harm, and the National Association of City and County Health Officials – had this to say:

These standards are urgently needed and will help protect the health of millions of Americans who continue to breathe unsafe air … Abundant scientific evidence exists on the health effects of ozone, particulate matter and other pollutants from tailpipe exhaust. Tier 3 standards will be effective tools to reduce such pollution and improve air quality.

National Association of Clean Air Agencies said:

The emission reductions that would result from the Tier 3 program proposed by EPA will benefit the citizens in every state and locality across the country… State and local air pollution agencies are relying on EPA to adopt the Tier 3 rule.

Please join the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are lending their strong support to ensure these clean car standards cross the goal line and deliver super health benefits for our nation.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Health, Policy | Comments closed

Some Records Are Not Meant to Be Broken

(This post originally appeared on EDF's blog California Dream 2.0)

By Tim O’Connor and Katie Hsia-Kiung, with Ilissa Ocko

Source: Drought Monitor

2013 was a record-breaking year in many respects. Peyton Manning broke the record for the most touchdowns and passing yards thrown in a single NFL season. At age 19, Ryan Campbell became the youngest person to circumnavigate the world, and at age 80, Yuichiro Miura was the oldest to climb Mount Everest.While many of the records broken last year demonstrated remarkable human stamina, determination, and grit, there were other “accomplishments” that shouldn’t be received so warmly.

California’s capital, Sacramento, for example, experienced its driest year since they began measuring rainfall in 1878.  Conditions are so dry that some cities in California’s Central Valley are imposing water rationing orders and more are expected to follow. According to the U.S. Drought Monitoring System, approximately 85% of the state is suffering from severe drought, and the snow pack is so meager in some places, there is simply no snow to measure.

Across California, temperatures on Christmas Day set new heat records, reaching 15 degrees above average in some areas. New York City, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City also broke previous high temperature records this past December – which has now been followed by extreme cold and snow storms. On the international level, 2013 was tied for the fourth warmest year on record.

One question on the minds of many is what is causing this extreme weather, and whether man-made climate change is the culprit.  The response lies in science. The continued rise in record-breaking events is just what has been predicted by scientists and is statistically too significant to ignore. And while it is difficult to attribute individual weather events to climate change, scientists are developing techniques to determine a connection. To date, certain heat waves, droughts, and flooding events have been linked to human-caused climate change, and scientists are planning to investigate the California drought as well.

Ironically, unlike records from sports or other human feats, it takes drive and determination to avoid breaking climate change records. Scientific experts across the world agree that after over a century of increasing fossil fuel combustion, the planet is on a path towards more frequent extreme weather events, and we must cut climate pollution to stop this from happening.  This will require investment in low-carbon solutions like clean energy, clean fuels, and efficiency.

Similar to how taking steroids out of baseball brought the sport back to its rightful state, cutting climate pollution through efforts like California’s Global Warming Law (AB 32) will bring the atmosphere back towards greater stability.

Like home runs and touchdowns, droughts and snowstorms will always be a part of the environment we experience, we just don’t need any extra ones. As climate pollution is reduced, we’ll move toward a future with a lot fewer records being broken, letting communities – and statisticians everywhere – live a little better.

Posted in News | Comments closed
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