Monthly Archives: May 2013

Facing a Frightening Milestone: What We Can Do About Greenhouse Gas Levels at 400 ppm

We recently learned that the earth’s greenhouse gas levels are surging past 400 parts per million (ppm), a level not reached in 3 million years. It is clear why: humans are releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at an ever-increasing rate, including last year’s all-time high of 35 billion tons. And as the planet warms as a result, we’re getting an early glimpse at the superstorms, drought and other challenges we’ll face in an increasingly dangerous environment if we don’t change course.

Lots of people are rightly worried, and the media have largely focused on the worst potential outcomes for us and future generations if we don’t curb emissions. It’s important for everyone to know what’s at stake, but it’s also crucial that everyone understands we’re not helpless to act. There are steps we can take that will make a real difference, as individuals and as a country. So before you become too pessimistic about the milestone, take a look at some of the ways we can do something about it:

Continue to feed the conversation.

Whether in the media or at your dinner table, simply talking about why 400 ppm is important will inform others and keep climate change at the front of everyone’s mind. It will be especially important to include less traditional allies whom studies show increasingly recognize the reality of climate change.

Reduce climate accelerants.

Because it burns cleaner than coal, natural gas can be a positive for our climate. The challenge is that natural gas comes with its own set of serious risks to public health and the environment, and methane (the main ingredient in natural gas) is a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. We must ensure this resource is harnessed in a way that minimizes methane leakage and has as little impact on people and the environment as possible. No one should have to trade their health or quality of life for cheap energy.

Accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy.

The U.S. is poised to spend around $2 trillion over the next two decades replacing our antiquated electricity infrastructure, creating a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionize how we generate, distribute and use electricity. We must seize this opportunity to modernize our electricity grid and put the right policies in place to accelerate investments in clean, homegrown renewables, energy efficiency and other innovative ways to generate and use energy. These approaches can address the need for power, spur economic development, lessen our carbon footprint and help America gain a global leadership position in the multi-trillion dollar clean energy economy.

Use the Clean Air Act.

The Administration is authorized to use the Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama should utilize it to both establish new CO2 emission standards for power plants and vigorously defend the rules he has already put in place.

Put a price on carbon.

We must acknowledge and act on what economists from across the political spectrum have long argued — the most efficient way to cut carbon pollution is with a cap or tax. Either would be a powerful tool that would help drive cleaner power developments. We could ease the impact on working families and businesses through lower taxes on either labor or capital.

The 400 ppm milestone is a reminder that the status quo won’t do if we want to protect the world we leave our kids. But the news has prompted new conversations about emissions across the country. I hope we seize this opportunity to talk not only about how we got here, but more importantly, what we’re going to do about it.

Posted in News, Policy, Science / Read 3 Responses

Wanted: Sound Climate Science from the House Science Committee

House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that dangerously distorted the science behind man-made global warming.

It is patently false to suggest, as Chairman Smith did, that there is a “great amount of uncertainty” regarding the fundamental science underlying our understanding of the drivers of climate change. Man-made warming has been confirmed repeatedly by the vast majority of scientific organizations including NASA, the National Academies of Science and the American Meteorological Society. A recent review also reaffirmed that 97% of peer-reviewed scientific publications that address the causes of climate change endorse the consensus that climate change is real and man-made.

Chairman Smith argues that since the US decreased its greenhouse gas emissions between 2005 and 2012 we cannot be responsible for global greenhouse gas emissions. However, carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere so long the US is responsible for more of the warming we are currently experiencing than any other nation.  In 2011, the United States’ emissions remained the second highest behind only China, a country with more than four times the population of the US.  The US continues to emit significantly more greenhouse gas per person than does any of the larger nations of the world, the few smaller exceptions are major fossil fuel producing countries. The fact that the US is not currently the single largest emitter is no excuse not to lead on addressing climate change.  The logic used by Chairman Smith implies that we should only ask the very largest emitters to clean up criteria air pollution or water pollution across the US. If we utilized that strategy our water and air would not have seen the improvements of the past 40 years, which have reduced death rates and restored the places we cherish.

He also discusses recent findings that temperatures have not warmed significantly in the past 15 years, which is not actually the case – rather several cooler years has reduced the rate of warming, as it has several times over the past decades of rapid warming. As EDF Vice President Nat Keohane recently wrote in response to this finding, this “underscores the fundamental nature of climate change — that we are creating dangerous uncertainties” and there are various explanations for this finding, notably that an unusual amount of heat has been stored in the deep ocean, rather than at the surface.

Chairman Smith also claimed that Hurricane Sandy was not caused by climate change. Scientists, including Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Bob Corell from the American Meteorological Society and Jeff Masters of Weather Underground and formerly of NOAA, confirm that Sandy’s damage was increased by rising seas, warming oceans, and was consistent with scientists’ climate predictions based on a warming artic. Just as we can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther, and now climate change is increasing the likelihood of extreme of weather events, giving us weather on steroids.

Lastly Chairman Smith says that greenhouse gas regulations would hurt our economy. He does not account for the economic costs of inaction on climate change that many studies say outweigh the cost of action. Three of the most costly weather disasters in the US, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and the 2012 Midwest drought, have happened in the past 6 years, costing $128 billion, $62 billion and $35 billion respectively. American taxpayers are footing a large portion of this cost including $12 billion from Sandy and $16 billion from Katrina under the National Flood Insurance Program, and $11 billion in crop insurance claims from the 2012 drought. These costs will only continue to increase as the effects of climate change become more apparent.

I appreciate that Chairman Smith is writing about climate change because it is a critical national debate. As chairman of the House Science Committee, however, he should start that discussion by acknowledging the most important and sound scientific facts: Climate change is real, it is caused by pollution from human activity, and it will become increasingly expensive for the US and the world.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, News, Science / Read 1 Response

The Not-So-Strange Bedfellows on Tier 3 Clean Car Standards

Most Americans rely on cars every day — cars that transport us to work and school, but that emit harmful soot, smog, and other dangerous air pollutants that impact human health.

We’ve posted before about a new way to clean up that pollution – the Tier 3 standards.

EPA has introduced these modern clean air standards to reduce harmful emissions from two sources — new cars and gasoline.

These complementary standards will ensure healthier, longer lives for millions of Americans – all for less than a penny a gallon.

Like so many other clean air issues, this one has brought together a strong, diverse coalition of groups in support of the updated, common-sense standards.

Supporters include car companies, manufacturers, environmental justice groups, health groups and medical professionals, labor, states, environmental groups, faith groups, and advocates for consumers.

EPA recently held two public hearings about the Tier 3 standards, in Philadelphia and Chicago.

We posted earlier about strong support for these clean air standards in Philadelphia. And EDF’s Graham McCahan testified on our behalf in Chicago, and said the turnout and support for Tier 3 was impressive there too. (You can read Graham’s testimony here).

Representatives of many of those other diverse organizations testified at the public hearings as well, in support of the Tier 3 clean air protections for Americans.

Here are a few quotes from the testimony:

Tier 3…is yet another example of the auto industry working with the Federal government, the state of California and other stakeholders to develop a harmonized approach that benefits all fifty states. It builds upon the successes we’ve had in the 2012­­–2016 and 2017­–2025 national greenhouse gas and fuel economy programs. It stays true to the simple principle of providing the cleanest vehicles to everyone throughout this great country.

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.

Low sulfur gasoline not only enables advanced technologies to achieve intended emission benefits, it has an immediate and significant effect on the 250 million vehicles on the road today, lowering emissions and helping states achieve attainment of ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

  • Chrysler Group LLC

Our analysis estimates that by 2030, these standards under consideration today will prevent more than 2,500 premature deaths and more than 15,000 asthma attacks each year.

Building cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars creates jobs by sending money otherwise spent on fuel back into the U.S. economy, and also through the development and production of new, more efficient vehicle components. The Tier 3 standards will only bolster the auto industry’s ability to meet a strong fuel efficiency standard and generate these net positive economic outcomes.

These compelling testimonials are just a few of the comments made in favor of the Tier 3 standards.

If you didn’t have a chance to testify, you can still make your voice heard by sending an email to EPA. EDF has created a website to make it easy for you to stand up for the Tier 3 standards.

When America works together, we can achieve vital public health protections for our families and our communities – and create a stronger nation.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, News, Policy, What Others are Saying / Read 1 Response

The Boring Side of Climate is More Tangible to Most

(Originally posted yesterday on EDF Voices)

A college professor friend of mine once decided to write the least sexy book possible. Lots of academics were trying to be as edgy or trendy and, in keeping with his contrarian personality, he chose to write about insurance in American literature. Those of us working to communicate the impacts of climate change might do well to follow his example.

Environmental groups, including EDF, often focus on the drama of climate change. We do it because we’re already seeing some scary changes in the weather – from severe drought to stronger storms – and because it’s important to give the public a vivid picture of what’s happening. But there are limits to that approach. For example, people who are resistant to a message about global warming, or just not interested, will tune out such information, no matter how dramatic the presentation.

Many people don’t feel an urgency about climate change because it is such a big and remote issue. Something that is “global” necessarily feels distant. Problems that play out over decades and centuries, that involve predictions about the year 2100, are just not relevant to most people. But the truth is that climate change is starting to touch those everyday, boring things that people do care about – like insurance rates and taxes and property values.

Climate affects your 401K and other boring things

Now, boring is not generally a useful attribute in communications. But there are exceptions. You probably take a great interest in such dry and tedious matters as your 401(k) statement,  your property tax bill, or changes to the escrow on your mortgage payment. Why? Because they affect your bank account. And it may be that the best way to reach some people is to let them know that climate change, too, is doing just that.

For example, many New York area residents whose homes were severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy have already seen a 25% premium increase from the National Flood Insurance Program. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that thousands of residents there will face a choice of relocating or seeing increases in their insurance bill of $15,000 to $25,000.  And the business group CERES questions whether the insurance industry as a whole is prepared for the financial impacts of climate change.

This is an issue that re-insurance giant Munich Re has been studying for some time.  (If there’s something more boring than insurance, it’s re-insurance.  These are the companies that, essentially, insure the insurance companies against their risks and payouts.)  The company sees that warming oceans and higher sea levels are causing stronger storms and bigger surges of water around the globe – which, in turn, causes greater destruction of property and bigger insurance claims. So Munich Re has reasonably concluded that climate change will affect its bottom line. Which means that it will affect your bottom line, as well.

The non-environmentalist would rather save on their grocery bill than save polar bears

Of course, the effects of climate change are not limited to insurance rates. Municipal budgets have to absorb the cost of infrastructure changes, and recovery costs, associated with extreme weather.  Food prices are affected by crop losses due to record droughts.  And all of these costs get spread through the economy as the federal government pays for storm damage and recovery, and insurance and food costs are passed along to every one of us. These are issues that hit home to all those voters who don’t spend ten seconds a year thinking about the fate of polar bears.

It’s our job in the environmental community to open up a line of communication with these people.  We need to lay out the boring facts and make the boring case.  Let’s show those Americans not yet interested in climate change it is going to hit them in the wallet – whether or not they’re interested in the issue.  And by acting together, now, we can all save a lot of money…and, as a bonus, our grandchildren will get a healthier and safer world.

Posted in Economics, Policy / Comments are closed

EDF Goes Back to Court to Support Climate Pollution Reductions

Another high-profile clean air case played out yesterday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

A three-judge panel heard oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas and some industry petitioners.

The lawsuit challenges EPA’s efforts to ensure smooth, uninterrupted permitting for large new industrial sources of climate pollution in Texas.

EDF was part of a coalition of clean air advocates that filed two briefs in the case. We filed in support of EPA, along with Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club.

At issue in the case are State Implementation Plans, or SIPs as they’re commonly known.

Here’s some background on the case

U.S. clean air laws require that large new industrial sources obtain construction permits providing for cost-effective modern solutions to mitigate climate pollution. The states are empowered to provide those permits – through their SIPs.

In 2010, EPA found that 13 states, including Texas, lacked the ability to carry out that requirement.

All those states except Texas worked with EPA to ensure permitting authority was in place. That allowed large new industrial sources in those states to obtain the needed construction permits.

In an August 2, 2010 letter to EPA, Texas wrote that it:

ha[d] neither the authority nor the intention of interpreting, ignoring, or amending its laws in order to compel the permitting of greenhouse gas emissions.

That brings us to the lawsuits.

Here’s a look at what happened in court yesterday

Judges Judith Rogers, David Tatel, and Brett Kavanaugh heard oral arguments.

The judges closely questioned Texas and industry petitioners about the impact of the court’s recent decision in another case that we’ve written about.

In that challenge to the Endangerment Finding, before the same court, judges upheld EPA’s first-generation climate protections.  The decision in that case said that EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act was:

unambiguously correct

In light of that earlier ruling, EPA argued that its actions were necessary to ensure that sources in Texas could get permits.

That became one of the main points of discussion during oral arguments yesterday – as the judges pressed Texas and the industry petitioners to describe how EPA’s actions caused them any injury.

What’s at stake in the case

This case is part of an extensive suite of litigation Texas has mounted to oppose some of America’s most important climate protections.

Those protections include:

  • EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and the environment
  • EPA’s Clean Cars standards, which will save consumers money, reduce pollution, and help protect our nation’s energy security
  • EPA’s requirement that large sources of greenhouse gas emissions deploy modern pollution controls

If successful in this case, the upshot of Texas’s actions would be to eliminate any authority from which new industrial sources in the state of Texas could obtain permits addressing their greenhouse gas emissions – permits which these sources need for lawful construction.

Texas is suing even though EPA has taken great pains to create a reasonable and fair process:

  • EPA has acted in the most limited, surgical fashion to ensure businesses in Texas can obtain permits consistent with the nation’s clean air laws.
  • EPA has provided federal authority only for climate pollution, and Texas is administering the balance of the requirements.
  • Even with respect to greenhouse gases, EPA has urged Texas to take delegated authority over permitting.

Unfortunately, as Texas continues to devote scarce public resources to suing over the common-sense climate protections of U.S. clean air laws, communities in Texas are already suffering from the weird weather linked to climate change – like last year’s debilitating drought.

And in an ironic twist, at the same time that Texas is using public resources to fight common-sense climate pollution standards, Texas leads the nation in wind power — a zero-emitting resource.

In 2012, wind power led the entire nation in the overall deployment of new electricity generating resources, with 13,124 megawatts.  Much of that came from the Heartland — Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.

That means Texas is looking at a … well … Texas-sized economic opportunity – as well as an opportunity for climate progress.

What a shame they’re choosing to waste their time and money in court instead.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News / Comments are closed