Climate 411

Young People Want Action on Climate Change

By Ben Schneider, Director of Communications, Defend Our Future

It is a conclusion reached time and again, in survey after survey: Young people support climate action more than any other age group.

That is a point worth reiterating given the recent findings highlighted in a poll from Harvard’s Institute of Politics. Quite simply, that poll runs counter to many other polls that we have seen on this topic. Several polls over the last year, including one conducted by the Washington Post, found that young people support climate action more than any other age group – with 80 percent support from 18-39 year olds, 71 percent from 40-64 year olds, and 55 percent from those 65 and older. A spread of 25 points between oldest and youngest sure seems like an age gap to me.

The Post wasn’t alone in their findings. Here are two other polls that reached similar conclusions.

From an October 2014 poll by Democracy Corps and NextGen Climate: "Two thirds of millennials view climate change as a serious threat that requires action now or in the years ahead, 14 points higher than non-millennials. And an overwhelming 3-to-1 ratio believe that the federal government should be doing more, not less, to address the problem.

Comparing Climate Change Attitudes of Millennials and non-Millennials[1]

NG chart

Source: Democracy Corps and NextGen Climate October 2014 poll

Or take a look at this October 2014 poll from the University of Texas at Austin. They found that 68 percent of voters under 35 said they were more likely to vote for candidates that support reducing carbon emissions and other actions that can help mitigate climate change.

Comparing Under 35 and Over 65 on Climate and Environment Views

UT chart

Polls like these, that show young people care about climate change and want to do something about it, are common. And it is easy to understand why: young people are seeing the earth warm as they come of age – 2014 was the hottest year in the modern record, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And they know the consequences of climate change will become more severe in the years and decades to come.

We need to act on climate. Thankfully, young people agree.

[1] The data on Millennials are from on a survey of 1,000 respondents aged 18-34 in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida (250 per state). The data on non-Millennials are from a nationwide survey.

Posted in News| Read 1 Response

Better Fuel Efficiency for Heavy Duty Trucks — A Target Worth Setting

1200px-Kenworth_truck

"Kenworth truck" by Lisa M. Macias, U.S. Air Force via Wikipedia

A pair of critical analyses were just released that, together, make clear the need for a strong second generation heavy truck fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standard.

The first piece is the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s (EIA) preliminary Annual Energy Outlook for 2015. I went right to the projection of fuel efficiency for new heavy trucks in 2020, which is 7.0 miles per gallon, and compared that to the projection for 2030, which is 7.2 miles per gallon. A three percent increase in efficiency for a decade is not too impressive.

As a result of this lack of projected progress on fuel efficiency and other factors, EIA expects that greenhouse gas emissions from heavy trucks will increase more than any other single end-use source by 2040 – an additional 120 million metric tons a year.

The other recent analysis is from The International Council on Clean Transportation. It released two papers on heavy truck fuel efficiency: one reviewed the potential of current and emerging efficiency technology; the other examined the cost effectiveness of these technologies.

Among the group’s findings are:

  • Already available tractor-trailer technologies can achieve 9 miles per gallon, deliver payback periods of less than a year, and be widely deployed in the 2020 to 2025 time frame.
  • Advanced efficiency technologies, now emerging in the marketplace, can double fuel economy to 11 to 12 miles per gallon, with payback periods of 18 months or less in the 2025 to 2030 time frame.
  • Diverse technology approaches – meaning technology packages with differing contributions from aerodynamic, engine, and other technologies – can achieve similar efficiency results.
  • Even under very conservative assumptions — fuel prices remaining as low as $3.10 per gallon diesel, higher technology costs, and a high discount rate of 10 percent — the most advanced technology packages have payback periods of only 1.4 to 2.2 years.
  • Typical first owners of tractor-trailers with efficiency technology packages up to 9 miles per gallon would see fuel savings 3 to 9 times greater than the upfront technology cost over the period of ownership.

ICCT’s findings demonstrate that we have the technology to cost-effectively cut truck fuel consumption in half compared to 2010 levels. EIA’s projections demonstrate that, without well designed performance-based standards, truck manufacturers are unlikely to deploy these highly cost-effective solutions.

There is good news in EIA’s report, too. The 7.0 miles per gallon in 2020 is up from 6.0 miles per gallon in 2012. The increase can be attributed to the first round of Heavy Truck Fuel Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Standards set by President Obama in 2011.

We know that well-designed fuel efficiency standards work because we are seeing it in the market today. For the second generation standards that will be announced this spring, we urge the administration to incentivize the full scale deployment of the advanced technologies highlighted in the ICCT analysis.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Read 1 Response

Pope Francis and climate change: Thoughts from a Catholic environmentalist

Source: Flickr/Catholic Church

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

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

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

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

Caring for Earth part of our faith

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

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

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

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

The poor feel brunt of climate change

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

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

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

Timing of pope’s document critical

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

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

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

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Posted in Partners for Change, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight, What Others are Saying| Comments are closed

NERC's Report is Flawed: We Can Reduce Climate Pollution and Ensure Electric Reliability

power-poles-503935_1920If reducing climate pollution from power plants were a football game, the U.S. team would be halfway to the goal line while fans were still singing the national anthem.

That is, we have already gotten about halfway to the expected goals of the Clean Power Plan – before the rule is even final.

The Clean Power Plan is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) historic effort to place the first-ever limits on climate pollution from our country’s existing fleet of fossil fuel-fired power plants. When it’s finalized this summer, it’s expected to call for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions compared to 2005 levels — but U.S. power plant emissions have already fallen 15 percent compared to 2005 levels.

That’s because renewable energy, energy efficiency resources, and natural gas generation have been steadily deployed and growing for years. Even conservative estimates forecast continued growth of these resources — which makes last week’s report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) seem really strange.

NERC’s report about the Clean Power Plan’s impacts on electric grid reliability makes predictions that starkly contrast from the progress we’re already seeing.

How did this departure from reality happen?

It’s due in large part to severely flawed assumptions underlying NERC’s analysis, which yield unrealistic results.

Those flawed assumptions cause NERC to greatly overstate the generation mix changes required to meet the Clean Power Plan. The NERC Assessment’s assumptions regarding energy efficiency, renewable energy deployment, and retirement modeling are at odds with both recent experience and current trends.

Unrealistically Low Energy Efficiency Gains

NERC assumes that demand for electricity will grow at an average of one percent per year through 2030, even after accounting for growth in energy efficiency investments. That growth rate is more than 40 percent higher than the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts.

It also fails to reflect likely energy efficiency growth. An analysis by McKinsey & Company found that implementing only those efficiency measures that pay for themselves would reduce the nation’s total end-use energy consumption by 23 percent by 2020.

Arbitrary and Unrealistic Projections on Wind and Solar Expansion  

NERC predicts expansions of wind and solar power that are far below those observed in recent years.

U.S. solar capacity stood at 20.5 gigawatts at the end of 2014. The NERC Assessment predicts an addition of 13 to 20 gigawatts of solar energy between 2016 and 2030 — when solar capacity is expected to grow by 20 gigawatts over the next two years alone.

The U.S. wind industry is also expected to add 18 gigawatts of new capacity in the next two years.

NERC’s low-ball assumptions greatly limit renewable energy deployment in their study. This in turn greatly increases the burden on other compliance options, namely coal-to-gas generation shifting.

Failure to Account for Dynamic Grid Reliability Management Tools

NERC assumes that the Clean Power Plan will drive coal power plant retirements over its entire life-span. However, numerous studies — including one by the Brattle Group and three by the Analysis Group, show that total output and emissions from coal units can decrease without retiring units that are needed to operate on occasion in order to maintain electric reliability.

There are also numerous tools and processes available to grid operators to ensure reliability in light of dynamic market, technological and regulatory change, including capacity and energy markets, resource adequacy forecasting, and reliability must-run contracts.

These instruments, for example, have worked well to maintain adequate capacity during the recent wave of coal-fired power plant retirements, so much so that the electric grid has added an average of roughly 30 gigawatts of total power every year since 2000. The NERC Assessment, however, finds only 11 to12 gigawatts of total power will be added every year – a significant departure from the past 15 years of evidence.

A History of Inaccurate Assessments

This report is not the first time that NERC has issued an inaccurate assessment of threats to reliability.

NERC has assessed previous public health and environmental safeguards, each time raising reliability concerns that were not borne out in reality.

  • In 2011, NERC issued its Long-Term Reliability Assessment, which looked at the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, the Clean Water Act Cooling Water Intake Structures rule, and the Coal Combustion Residuals rule. NERC raised numerous reliability concerns about these protections, which the EPA noted at the time were flawed and exaggerated. None of NERC’s concerns have manifested during implementation of these standards.
  • In a 2011 companion study, NERC issued its Potential Impacts of Future Environmental Regulations about the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and a number of other regulations. NERC again raised reliability concerns, none of which have occurred in practice.
  • In its 2007 Long-Term Reliability Assessment, NERC predicted several regions, including New England and New York State, would drop below target capacity margins, threatening reliability. NERC’s prediction was based on a number of factors, including proposed environmental protections. Some power generators used the report to oppose to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. NERC’s predicted reliability shortfalls did not occur, nor has the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative caused reliability issues – even while emissions fell almost 50 percent below the region-wide emissions cap.
  • In 2000, NERC drafted a review of EPA’s nitrogen oxide emissions standards for eastern power plants, knows as the NOx SIP Call. Yet again, NERC predicted a number of reliability concerns that did not occur after the rule was implemented.

NERC has repeatedly produced analyses indicating that public health and environmental safeguards will come at the expense of electric reliability – and these analyses have consistently been contradicted by reality. In fact, emission standards have never caused a reliability problem in the more than four decades that EPA has been administering the Clean Air Act.

NERC’s newest report is no better. It gives no solid reasons to doubt that the Clean Power Plan will be compatible with a reliable electric grid.  

For a clearer picture of the link between reliability and environmental protections, read this post by my colleague Cheryl Roberto, a former Commissioner of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission and electric system operator.

You might also like EDF’s fact sheet about the Clean Power Plan and the latest flawed NERC report.

The progress made in the past demonstrates that our nation is already approaching the goal line under the Clean Power Plan. The tremendous flexibility that the Clean Power Plan provides to states and power companies alike, together with time-tested grid management tools, provides the framework we need to reach the goal line — protecting our communities and families from dangerous carbon pollution, strengthening our economy, and providing a steady flow of cost-effective electricity.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

A Win for Cleaner Air and a Stronger Economy: Court Dismisses Challenges to Fuel Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Standards for Big Trucks

Source: Flickr/MoDOT Photos

Source: Flickr/MoDOT Photos

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington D.C. Circuit dismissed challenges to America’s historic, first-generation standards to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from large trucks and buses.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT)  standards are based on common sense, highly cost-effective technologies that will make our nation’s fleet of large trucks and buses more efficient while also reducing harmful, climate-destabilizing pollution, limiting our dependence on foreign oil, and saving money for both truckers (in the form of lower fuel costs) and all Americans (in the form of lower shipping costs).

These cross-cutting benefits have won broad-based support for the standards — including support from America’s truck and engine manufacturers, from states, and from public health and environmental groups.

In response to President Obama’s announcement of these first generation standards in 2011, many of these organizations sent letters of support. Here are just a few examples:

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

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

These standards apply to vehicles manufactured between 2014 and 2018. That means they are now in their second year of effectiveness, and they are driving technological innovations that are cleaning our air and helping American truck manufacturers to thrive. Through October of 2014, sales of fuel efficient trucks were 20 percent higher than their 2013 levels. 2015 is projected to be even stronger, with forecasts suggesting it will be the third strongest year ever for truck sales.

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

[These standards] are very good examples of regulations that work well.

That is very good news, because the President has announced that EPA and DOT will soon issue second-generation greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for large trucks. We anticipate that those standards will be proposed late this spring or early in summer.

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

The second generation standards will create an important opportunity to further reduce greenhouse gases and enhance the fuel economy of our nation’s trucks.

EDF is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation to set new standards for heavy trucks that cut fuel consumption by 40 percent in 2025 compared to 2010. That equates to an average of 10.7 miles per gallon for new tractor-trailer trucks. Technology solutions are available today to meet the goal, and strong standards will further drive innovation.

In fact, Daimler Trucks North America may have provided the best example yet of our future potential with its entry in the Department of Energy Super Truck program. Daimler announced that its team has:

[A]chieved 115 percent freight efficiency improvement, surpassing the Department of Energy program’s goal of 50 percent improvement.

Daimler’s truck registered 12.2 miles per gallon recently – a leap above the six miles per gallon typical of pre-2014 trucks.

Rigorous second generation standards will also secure critical benefits:

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

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments are closed

New Climate-Economic Thinking

By Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman

Each ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere today causes about $40 worth of damages. So at least says standard economic thinking.

A lot goes into calculating that number. You might call it the mother of all benefit-cost analyses. It's bean-counting on a global scale, extending out decades and centuries. And it's a process that requires assumptions every step along the way.

The resulting $40 figure should be taken for what it is: the central case presented by the U.S. Government Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Carbon when using its preferred 3% discount rate for all future climate damages. But it is by no means the full story.

Choose a different discount rate, get a different number. Yale economist Bill Nordhaus uses a discount rate of slightly above 4%. His resulting price is closer to $20 per ton of carbon dioxide. The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change uses 1.4%. The resulting price per ton is over $80.

And the discount rate is not the only assumption that makes this kind of a difference. In Climate Shock, we present the latest thinking on why and how we should worry about the right price for each ton of carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases, emitted into the atmosphere. There are so many uncertainties at every step—from economic projections to emissions, from emissions to concentrations, from concentrations to temperatures, and back to economics in form of climate damages—that pointing to one single, final number is false precision, misleading, or worse.

Of course, that does not mean that we shouldn't attempt to make this calculation in the first place. The alternative to calculating the cost of carbon is to use a big fat zero in government benefit-cost calculations. That's clearly wrong.

Most everything we know about what goes into calculating the $40 figure leads us to believe that $40 is the lower bound for sensible policy action. Most everything we know that is left out would push the number higher still, perhaps much higher.

As just one example, zero in on the link between carbon concentrations in the atmosphere and eventual temperature outcomes. We know that increasing concentrations will not decrease global temperatures. Thank you, high school chemistry and physics. The lower bound for the temperature impact when carbon concentrations in the atmosphere double can be cut off at zero.
In fact, we are pretty sure it can be cut off at 1°C or above. Global average temperatures have already warmed by over 0.8°C, and we haven't even doubled carbon concentrations from preindustrial levels. Moreover, the temperature increases in this calculation should happen 'eventually'—over decades and centuries. Not now.

What's even more worrying is the upper tail of that temperature distribution. There's no similarly definitive cut-off for the worst-case scenario. In fact, our own calculations (based on an International Energy Agency (IEA) scenario that greenhouse gas concentrations will end up around 700 parts per million) suggest a greater-than-10% chance of eventual global average warming of 6°C or above.

Focus on the bottom row in this table. If you do, you are already ahead of others, most of whom focus on averages, here depicted as "median Δ°C" (eventual changes in global average surface temperatures). The median is what we would expect to exceed half the time, given particular greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. And it's bad enough.

But what really puts the "shock" into Climate Shock is the rapid increase in probabilities of eventual temperatures exceeding 6°C, the bottom row. While average temperatures go up steadily with rising concentrations, the chance of true extremes rises rapidly:

That 6°C is an Earth-as-we-know-it-altering temperature increase. Think of it as a planetary fever. Normal body temperatures hover around 37°C. Anything above 38°C and you have a fever. Anything above 40°C is life-threatening.

Global average warming of 3°C wouldn't be unprecedented for the planet as a whole, in all of it geological history. For human society, it would be. And that's where we are heading at the moment—on average, already assuming some 'new policies' to come into play that aren't currently on the books.

It's the high-probability averages rather than low-probability extremes that drive the original $40 figure. Our table links greenhouse gas concentrations to worryingly high probability estimates for temperatures eventually exceeding 6°C, an outcome that clearly would be catastrophic for human society as we know it.

Instead of focusing on averages then, climate ought to be seen as a risk management problem. Some greenhouse gas concentration thresholds should simply not be crossed. The risks are too high.

This kind of focus on temperature extremes is far from accepted wisdom. We argue it ought to be.

Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman are co-authors of Climate Shock (Princeton University Press, 2015). This post was originally published by The Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Posted in Economics, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Comments are closed
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