Most of the time, we do not take into account the complete costs to producing or consuming a good or service. This is because we focus on the explicit costs. For example, if we were to bake a loaf of bread, we would take into account the cost of the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water, milk, and butter. Perhaps we would even calculate our labor time to make the dough and the cost of running the oven, but would we account for the carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere for the delivery truck that delivered the baking supplies? How about the CO2 emissions from the power plant burning fossil fuels to generate the electricity to run the oven? The problem is that we are not required to bear the full cost of production. Some of the costs to bake that loaf of bread were shifted to society as a whole.
Even if we did not bake the loaf of bread ourselves, we’re still shifting costs to society as a whole just by consuming it. Our cars burn gasoline to drive to and from the grocery store, and regardless if we walked or biked, gasoline was likely also burned to deliver the bread to the grocery store in the first place. Sure the delivery truck paid for the gasoline, but many companies do not pay for the carbon emissions their operations generate.
We need to make some drastic changes to avoid the ills of global warming, which we are beginning to see affect our daily lives, but the logistics of transforming our world’s energy system can be intimidating. The first thing we need to do is get off fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy sources. Easier said than done, I know. It will be a complex and time-consuming process converting power plants, vehicles/transport systems, homes and commercial buildings. Unfortunately, time is not on our side here. We really need to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050.
So then the question becomes how can we transition the world’s energy infrastructure to sustainable sources by mid-century? One of the ways suggested is to implement a tax on CO2 emissions that begins low and gradually increases. There should be no mystery either about how much and at what intervals over time the tax will rise. Then people, businesses and governments can plan their fossil fuel exit strategy.
The revenues the carbon tax generates should be directed into subsidizing renewable energy innovation and overhauling energy infrastructure.
Ideally, the carbon tax should be global. Again there are logistical challenges to this climate change solution. The key is that we need a systematic and practical process. Isn’t it time we started taking responsibility for the full costs of production and consumption? Society is bearing the cost as a whole, and society as a whole needs to be part of the solution.
The issue of climate change has re-entered the public’s conscious in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. In fact, there were accusations of a “climate silence” on the part of the presidential candidates until the megastorm hit the Northeast a week before this month’s election. Now both parties are talking about a potential carbon tax.
Last week a carbon tax was once again the topic of discussion at the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think-tank) and the Brookings Institution (a more liberal think-tank) released a paper on it. The Congressional Budget Office also published a report on potential ways to make a carbon tax less of a burden on lower income people.
A carbon tax works by making those that use fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas pay more. When they are burned, fossil fuels contribute to global warming by producing carbon dioxide, which traps heat. Some experts estimate the price tag of a tax of $20 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions to add 1 or 2 percent to the price of gasoline and electric power. Other pundits view a carbon tax as a tax on economic growth.
Whether or not a carbon tax will have the political backing to make it through a divided Congress is questionable. However, environmental advocates are always interested when climate change is a hot topic. Extreme weather has been linked to climate change. So it’s important to warn people that if we continue on this unsustainable path of dumping 90 million tons of pollution into the atmosphere on a daily basis that the future will include more superstorms with increasingly devastating consequences.
Some businesses express reluctance when it comes to embracing the path to a cleaner energy future. They see nothing but dollar signs. However, a recent case study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps demonstrates that it is possible to get into a “virtuous cycle” of energy efficiency that pays dividends for both the company’s bottom line and the environment.
EDF Climate Corps is a great program that matches either specially-trained MBA (Masters in Business Administration) or MPA (Masters in Public Administration) students as summer fellows with companies, cities and universities interested in achieving energy efficiency to cut costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2008, the program’s fellows have built business cases for smart energy investments. The end results are lighting, computer equipment and heating and cooling system efficiencies that can cut 1.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity use and 27 million therms of natural gas annually, equivalent to the annual energy use of 100,000 homes; avoid over 1 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, equivalent to the annual emissions of 200,000 passenger vehicles; and save $1 billion in net operational costs over the project lifetimes.
The Virtuous Cycle of Organizational Energy Efficiency has five components: executive engagement; resource investment; people and tools; identification, implementation and measurement; and results and stories. According to EDF, the virtuous cycle is a model of change for energy efficiency across even extremely different organizations.
The business profiled in the case study is Diversey, which is a subsidy of Sealed Air. Diversey entered the virtuous cycle of energy efficiency by establishing a public commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from operations to eight percent below 2003 levels by 2013. This was also the initial component of the virtuous cycle, executive engagement.
Once Diversey’s leaders committed, policies from the top down required that energy efficiency projects produce a positive return on investment in a payback period of three years or less. This criterion allowed Diversey to invest $19 million, and yield $32 million in cash savings over the life of the program in order to reach their emissions reduction goals.
Because the goals and criteria were clearly articulated, Diversey’s ability to measure success was also positively impacted. In fact, Diversey’s environmental health and safety department received a 40 percent year-on-year budget increase, which is significant because all other divisions of the company at the time were undergoing a 50 percent budget cut. This was due to the capacity to produce data that demonstrated energy project performance. According to the report, plant managers were also engaged and incentivized to implement efficiency measures due to centralized capital budgeting.
This is all to say that there are easy and affordable ways for businesses to invest in a commitment to combat climate change that is both good for the company and the environment. Saving money is always in style; simply combine that goal with one of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and you’ll be maximizing the good you can do.
Just when we were about to succumb to the gloomy picture that is global climate change, a ray of hope breaks through the clouds. A technical report released this month by the U.S. Energy Information Agency calculated that energy related U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, which account for about 98 percent of total CO2 emissions, for the first four months of 2012 decreased to around 1992 levels.
The dramatic decrease is attributed to a switch from dirtier burning coal to cleaner natural gas. Almost everyone in the energy and environmental industries believes the shift could have major long-term implications for U.S. energy policy.
Scientists didn’t predict the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. falling to its lowest level in 20 years in part because the decrease is not attributed to legislation limiting greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The switch to natural gas was driven by the market.
The state of the economy, increasing efforts for energy efficiency and a growing utilization of renewable energy are certainly aspects that contribute to lowering U.S. carbon emissions. However, at the moment, the lion’s share is due to the current low price of natural gas. There has been an upsurge in shale gas drilling in the northeast, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, which has made natural gas more affordable than coal per unit of energy generated. Gas production is on the increase because of the modernization of the process of hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, where highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals are inserted to fracture shale rock which releases natural gas.
While natural gas is a cleaner-burning energy source than coal, it is not emission-free. There is still some carbon dioxide emitted and drilling can have environmental impacts such as contamination of ground water, air quality risks, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, and surface contamination from spills and flowback.
There are also concerns that the rise in use of natural gas could stall renewable energy efforts. The ultimate goal should still be a mix of increasing energy efficiency and clean energy with the balance kept to a minimum of natural gas.
So the upshot is that the U.S. energy picture is far from perfect, but the news concerning a drastic decline in U.S. carbon dioxide levels is welcome and positive because it reminds us that there is still time to turn around the fate of the planet’s climate.
Your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support your activities. It is usually expressed in equivalent metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).
The average American is responsible for a whopping 50,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Some examples of your carbon footprint are:
- When your car’s engine burns fuel it creates CO2, the amount generated depends on its fuel consumption and the driving distance.
- Heating your house with oil, gas, or coal also generates CO2.
- Even if you heat (or cool) your house with electricity, CO2 is emitted during the generation of electrical power, most of which comes from coal in the US.
- When you buy food and goods, the production of the food and goods creates CO2; again, the amount depends on where the foods and goods came from and how they were created.
- Traveling on a plane generates CO2 in the same ways a car does.
- Weddings even create CO2 emissions! See this past post for more information about how to reduce your wedding’s environmental impact.
- Also consider all the indirect emissions you are in part responsible for: the roads we drive on, the schools our kids attend, the mall and grocery story, our shared military and city hall. It all adds up.
The bottom line is your carbon footprint is the sum of all carbon dioxide emissions that were generated by your activities in a given time period, typically one year.
The carbon footprint is a powerful tool in understanding your personal impact on global warming. Most people are surprised by the amount of CO2 their activities create. If you personally want to reduce your contribution to global warming, the calculation and monitoring of your carbon footprint is critical.
Carbonfund.org offers helpful calculators to estimate your carbon footprint. Individuals can follow this link for more information. http://www.carbonfund.org/individuals There is also a calculator for businesses here.
June has traditionally been the most popular month for weddings. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s National Vital Statistics Report for 2009, the latest data available on marriages, June is tied with July and closely followed by August, then September, and then October in order of most to least popular months for weddings. This means wedding season is just getting underway.
Travel, whether by air or car, generates large amounts of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, and for most weddings is the biggest contributor to its carbon footprint. Carbonfund.org offers a helpful and easy-to-use emissions calculator to determine the level of carbon dioxide your wedding events will emit into the air.
It’s simple and affordable to have a carbon neutral wedding. If you don’t know the exact numbers try a preset amount. For example, the 15-ton preset option may be right for you if you have more than 100 guests and many of them are flying. The 50-ton option can be used for larger weddings of over 200 guests, many of whom are flying, or destination weddings, which involve a lot of travel.
As you prepare for the beginning of a new life together, it is important to share this special time with friends and family. Your wedding is a celebration of the future, and you can make it a celebration for our planet's future as well!
Go to http://www.carbonfund.org/weddings to learn more about how you can offset the global warming emissions impact of your special day.