The United States is one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world.  What can our country do for the good of the planet with this role?

One thing the U.S. federal government does every few years is engage hundreds of experts to evaluate the impacts of climate change, now and in the future.  The resulting National Climate Assessment report, which was recently released, showed that America's current efforts to reduce carbon pollution are too little to avoid dangerous climate change.  Last year President Obama announced new CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards for cars and light trucks such as minivans and sport utility vehicles.  Let’s build on this historic progress to limit carbon emissions.  There are several ways that the president and federal government can make a real difference in the fight against global warming.

The Clean Air Act is a powerful tool that our nation’s leaders could be leveraging more fully.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with using the Clean Air Act to issue rules to reduce greenhouse pollution.  This farsighted law has reduced damaging air pollution for forty years, saving many lives.  The EPA has already used it to protect public health and welfare from six extensive and harmful pollutants including: ozone, particulate matter, sulfur and nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and lead.  Now is the time to lower atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by setting a national pollution cap for greenhouse gases.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has also proposed higher emission standards on coal-fired power plants.  These standards need to be fortified, finalized and implemented posthaste.  Why stop with power plants?  There are other places where higher greenhouse gas emission standards can be successfully applied to help save our planet such as oil refineries, cement plants, and even the airline industry.

Another way to help the environment would be for President Obama and the State Department to decline approval on the Keystone XL pipeline, which proposes moving oil down from Canada through the western United States to refineries along the Gulf Coast.  There are no guarantees that the pipeline won’t spring leaks.  Furthermore, there is evidence that extracting oil from the sands are increasing levels of cancer-causing compounds in surrounding lakes far beyond natural levels.  Denying approval would show that America is committed to transitioning away from a dependence on fossil fuels.

Of course, it’s not all up to the federal government.  We can all do our parts to speed the transition to a clean energy future.  First we can encourage our elected officials to take the climate change actions recommended above.  Second we can reduce our own carbon footprints.  Consider lowering the heat or air conditioning depending on the season, using a clothesline, rake, hand mower and other manpowered devices, composting, forgoing meat at least one day a week and riding a bicycle.  Lastly, we can all find simple ways to be part of the solution such as planting trees and offsetting remaining carbon emissions.

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Global warming currently cuts into the planet’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 1.6 percent annually.  This translates into $1.2 trillion, and the number is expected to double to 3.2 percent by the year 2030 if carbon dioxide emissions aren’t curbed.

According to the “Climate Vulnerability Monitor: A Guide to the Cold Calculus of a Hot Planet” report, the costs of inaction far outweigh the costs of taking on climate change.  The report estimates reducing emissions at a cost of 0.5 percent GDP over the next 10 years.

And if money isn’t motivation enough, take a look at the almost 5 million deaths annually due to climate change.  The report estimates it causes an average of 400,000 deaths each year, mainly from hunger and contagious diseases, plus an additional 4.5 million deaths annually from related global warming causes such as air pollution, dangerous occupations in the fossil fuel industry, and cancer.

The average of 3.2 percent losses to global GDP disguises the plight of poorer, developing nations who are disproportionately affected.  The estimate for these countries, such as Bangladesh, for example, is an average of 11 percent of GDP by 2030.  This is not to say that major economies avoid the effects either.  China alone is estimated to lose more than $1.2 trillion in less than 20 years.  By 2030, the total economic losses for the United States, India, and China will reach $2.5 trillion.  According to the report, these three nations also will suffer over 3 million deaths annually, or half of all deaths.

A report released in July by the European Commission Joint Research Centre and PBL, the Netherlands’ environmental assessment agency calculated that last year global carbon dioxide emissions reached their highest point ever at 34 billion metric tons. 

It’s time to tackle climate change now to reverse this scary trend and save lives.  The price tag for doing nothing is too high.

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In what is easily the best environmental action in a generation, this week, the Obama Administration announced new CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards for cars and light trucks (think minivans and sport utility vehicles).  By 2025, these vehicles will be required to average 54.5 miles per gallon (MPG).

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulates CAFE standards and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency measures vehicle fuel efficiency.  An agreement in support of acceptable standards was made between the government, automakers and their unions, and environmental organizations.

The stage for these historic fuel economy standards was set by an energy law enacted in 2007 under President George W. Bush.  Additionally, the 2009 federal bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler were tied to better fuel efficiency. 

Fuel-efficient cars and trucks were the U.S. auto industry’s saving grace.  It makes good sense on multiple levels to continue these efforts.  For one, 570,000 new jobs can be created by 2030.  Not to mention saving consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reducing U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.  This also translates to strengthening national security by lessening the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

What about fighting man-made global warming?  The new standards will cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks in half by 2025.  This reduces emissions by 6 billion metric tons, which is more than the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States in 2010.  We thank President Obama for his leadership on combating climate change, pollution prevention and national security.

Starting in 2017, the standards will be phased in over the course of eight years.  New fuel-saving technology is projected to increase the cost of new car or light truck by $3,000 on average.  This means consumers will pay a little more when they buy the vehicle, about $50 more a month over a five-year loan, but they’ll more than make up for it at the pump with expected gas savings per vehicle between $7,000 - $8,000.  And that is good for the environment and our wallets.

Undeniably, the vehicle fuel-efficiency standards represent an unbeatable combination of protecting the environment and strengthening the economy.  They’re also the nation's single largest effort to combat climate-altering greenhouse gases, but we can’t stop building our carbon-reduction portfolios now.  Wonderful news like this should push us to continuing to find more ways to reduce our carbon footprint, as individuals and a nation.  Now let’s go invest in some renewable energy projects!

Published in carbonfree blog