The big news this week is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their proposed Clean Power Plan. Environmental groups and climate change activists have been eagerly awaiting these carbon emission standards for coal-fired power plants.
Power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. and generate approximately one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA’s proposal, released Monday, will help lower carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.
The proposed rules are the latest under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The EPA is charged with proposing commonsense approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants.
Last June, President Obama announced a series of executive actions to reduce carbon emissions, prepare the country for the impacts of climate change and lead international efforts to address global warming. Learn more about the President's Climate Action plan on the White House web site.
For good or ill, climate change continues to be a politically charged issue, often dividing along party lines. However, many companies recognize that global warming is already impacting their daily business operations and that the problem is only going to get worse if we do not take steps now to embrace a low-carbon future.
Sustainability advocacy nonprofit Ceres coordinated letters of support for the EPA’s proposed carbon pollution rule to the Obama Administration and Senate and House majority and minority leaders from 125 companies including the likes of Unilever, VF Corporation and Mars. The letters were also signed by 49 investors managing $800 billion in assets.
Read more about the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan at http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/clean-power-plan-proposed-rule.
The United Nations’ (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their climate change report on Friday that they produce about every five to six years. The IPCC’s last report was published in 2007. The UN created the IPCC to assess the science, risks and impacts of global warming, and the IPCC is considered the world's leading authority on climate change.
A press release from the IPCC says, “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models.”
“Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and since 1950 many changes have been observed throughout the climate system that are unprecedented over decades to millennia. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, reports the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group I assessment report, Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis, approved on Friday by member governments of the IPCC in Stockholm, Sweden.”
Extremely likely is an upgrade from a previous report that said it was very likely that human intervention was spurring climate change. The IPCC defines extremely likely as 95–100% probability of an outcome or a result, and very likely as 90–100% probability.
The report's authors do not conduct original research for the assessments, so the IPCC reports are primarily summaries of the state of the field. The findings are based on the aggregated results of the most recent published and peer-reviewed climate change research with more than 600 researchers from 32 countries reviewing more than 9,000 peer-reviewed studies for this report. They produced 2,000 pages of scientific analysis and worked through 56,000 comments.
Friday’s report represents the first of four sections that ultimately make up the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report, or AR5. Other parts of the report examine socioeconomic impacts and potential ways to mitigate the effects of climate change.
US Secretary of State John Kerry responded to the UN report with this statement:
"Those who deny the science or choose excuses over action are playing with fire. Once again, the science grows clearer, the case grows more compelling, and the costs of inaction grow beyond anything that anyone with conscience or common sense should be willing to even contemplate."
The bottom line is alarm bells should be going off as you read about this disturbing report. Each of us influences climate change and it should frighten you that some of its impacts are happening faster than originally expected. We need to do more to correct the problem. This massive and critical report points to long term implications if we do not embrace a sustainable, cleaner energy future posthaste.
Among our long-term CarbonFree® Business Partners are many that choose to support our renewable energy projects, in part because their own business operations provide essential services to green energy resources.
Concord, NH-based FiberNext does just this, maintaining its CarbonFree® operations for the past five years while providing fiber optics communication solutions to the green energy industry.
FiberNext, a versatile turnkey fiber optics solutions provider, has been involved with the design and implementation of fiber optic networks for commercial scale wind farm sites. An industry leader in this area, FiberNext has established a commitment to green energy initiatives by supplying developers of clean wind energy with next generation communication systems. This focus on renewable energy made it a compatible choice to support Carbonfund.org’s renewable energy projects with annual donations as a CarbonFree® Business Partner.
"Carbonfund.org seemed like an effective way to make a direct contribution to clean energy initiatives, which is at the heart of our business and corporate culture," explains Craig Bowden, Sales and Marketing Manager for FiberNext. "The media recognition that Carbonfund.org had already generated for itself as an innovator in the area of carbon offsets helped us realize it was a legitimate and reputed vehicle in this emerging market."
Over the past five years, FiberNext has neutralized its annual operational emissions by an amount equivalent to the emissions from the annual electricity consumed by twenty-five households. The CarbonFree® Business Partnership program has helped FiberNext to lead by example in the renewable energy field, and we commend their ongoing commitment to a cleaner energy future.
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.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed this week that 2012 was officially the warmest year on record in America’s contiguous 48 states, based on 118 years of temperature records dating back to 1895. Despite this fact, news coverage of climate change actually declined in 2012. According to The Daily Climate, worldwide climate coverage decreased by two percent between 2011 and 2012, which represented the fewest number of published stories since 2009.
Last year the US was experience droughts in more than just rainfall. During the presidential election there were accusations of a “climate silence” until Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast in the days leading up to the election. In President Obama’s acceptance speech he said, “We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
However, President Obama’s statement has not reassured everyone that he and Congress are going to make any meaningful efforts to tackle carbon pollution and climate change. In fact, the League of Conservation Voters and a coalition of 70 environmental organizations recently wrote an open letter to President Obama, which encouraged him to spotlight climate change during his second term. A quote from the letter includes, "Cutting carbon pollution at home and rejecting dirty fuels will establish America’s leadership and credibility, enabling [President Obama] to create clean energy jobs in the United States while forging an effective international coalition to cut global carbon pollution."
Whether or not President Obama and Congress heed the global warming warning signs, the bright spot is that local governments are undertaking real strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change right now. ICLEI USA, a network of local governments working to address climate and sustainability challenges, recently highlighted 20 communities across the continental US that are leading the efforts to plan for the future and respond to extreme weather. Some particularly prominent examples by local governments include:
- Atlanta, GA – Urban heat island effects worsened by hotter seasons. Addressing the problem with a climate action plan, including cool roof/pavement standards and 10,000 new planted shade trees.
- Chicago, IL – Responding to extreme heat and flooding with the milestone Chicago Climate Action Plan and the most installed green roof square footage in the country.
- Eugene, OR – Ravaged by major wildfires and mega-dry conditions. Mitigating these issues by increasing water conservation, reducing hydroelectric power demand and planting drought-resistant trees.
- Miami Dade Count y, FL – Known as the most vulnerable city in the world to sea level rise as demonstrated by severe flooding. Urban planning now addresses sea level rise and disaster response, and they’re also investing millions in flood mitigation projects.
- New York, NY – Suffered $19 billion in damage from Superstorm Sandy. Taking positive action with a $2.4 billion green infrastructure plan, restoring barrier wetlands, and initiating a climate risk assessment requirement for new developments.
It’s wonderful to see these steps being taken towards a more sustainable future. It would be even better if federal leadership ensues, taking their cues from local governments. Media silence or not, climate change is here and further delayed action will only result in catastrophic results. The time is now to secure a low carbon global economy and thereby the planet for current and future generations.
According to a recently released report by the World Wildlife Fund, 58 of the United States’ Fortune 100 companies set goals in 2012 to either reduce greenhouse gas emissions or use more renewable energy in their operations. However, oil and gas companies are lagging far behind in this movement. Eight of 11 domestic energy companies on the Fortune 100 have not set internal energy goals.
This is in direct contrast to 68 of the planet’s 100 largest companies who recognize the impact of global warming and are making investments in greenhouse gas reductions and renewable energy goals. Sadly, energy companies represent the lowest participation rate of any industry worldwide. The few exceptions are Hess and Chevron who have both set renewable energy and greenhouse gas targets, and ExxonMobil who set a greenhouse gas target.
Why have three quarters of the nation's industrial companies voluntarily set some sort of environmental target? There are a variety of potential reasons including: policy pressures, public relations or perhaps even the forward thinking that sees renewable energy’s potential to someday be less expensive than, or at least competitive with, oil and gas.
And why haven’t most oil and gas companies voluntarily set environmental targets? It may be because the very products they put on the market directly contribute to climate change. There is also a lack of urgency to act; little pressure comes from investors or policies. An example of a type of policy that was successful in the past is the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, which worked by making large companies publically accountable for which potentially toxic chemicals they use and where they are released. Then the information is posted on the EPA’s website for anyone to see.
The planet would really benefit from a similar policy focusing on oil and gas company emissions, or better yet, a broader climate change policy such as a national carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. There are other options that could pave the way towards a cleaner energy future. The federal government could require that a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable sources and offer further tax incentives for wind and solar production. Many companies are setting their own internal goals, but for others such as the majority of the oil and gas industry, they’re not going to do anything about increasing efficiency and reducing their carbon footprints until someone makes them.
In a telling and ironic move, coal industry giant BHP-Billiton, is replacing one of its coal export facilities in Queensland, Australia because of its vulnerability to increasingly frequent hurricanes from global warming. BHP-Billiton is an Australian coal company that produces one-fifth of globally traded coal for steel making and is the largest mining company on Earth. The upgrade represents a major investment in planning for climate change. In fact, the company’s coal operations are led by Marcus Randolph, who confirmed they are planning, “to rebuild the facility to be more durable to climate change.”
Readers of this blog already know that increasingly extreme weather events are the result of climate change in addition to the fact that many businesses are planning now for climate change’s effects. Why not a coal company too? The announcement makes it obvious that BHP-Billiton understands that climate change is real and the time is now to begin making changes even if the manufacture of their product contributes to the issue.
Randolph has even warned investors about the implications of remaining dependent on the non-renewable resources of fossil fuels by saying, “In a carbon constrained world where energy coal is the biggest contributor to a carbon problem, how do you think this is going to evolve over a 30- to 40-year time horizon? You'd have to look at that and say on balance, I suspect, the usage of thermal coal is going to decline. And frankly it should.”
When a company that mines and exports coal starts planning for climate change it means the writing is on the wall. Businesses and individuals alike should all be working to decrease carbon footprints and offset the remaining carbon emissions. Let’s give the planet a holiday present and start doing all we can this season to embrace a cleaner energy future.
Wind turbine blades currently have some challenges that impact their cost effectiveness. First, most wind blades are made of fiberglass, and the molds to manufacture these blades cost millions of dollars to acquire. Transporting the massive manufactured blades also poses a challenge as they cannot be assembled on site. Furthermore, fiberglass places limitations on the size of the rotor diameters, which means the turbines are smaller and heavier so they are less able to capture wind at lower wind speeds in places such as the US Midwest.
The US Department of Energy's advanced research projects agency (ARPA-E) project aims to address these limitations by researching and developing architectural fabrics in lieu of conventional fiberglass. These tough, flexible fabrics would be tension-wrapped around a metal frame and specially designed to meet wind blade operations’ demands as well as allow for easy maintenance. The project will span three years and be comprised of a team from US electrics company GE, Virginia Tech University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
If successful, these advancements in blade technology will enable larger, lighter turbines that allow tapping previously unsuitable moderate wind speed markets. The new approach also has the potential to overcome earlier manufacturing and transportation limitations since the wind turbine components can be built and put together on site. According to GE, this new blade design could reduce blade costs 25%-40%, making wind energy as economical as fossil fuels without government subsidies.
Expanding wind capabilities and lowering its costs as an energy source represents forging a course towards a clean energy future.
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.
Five years ago the CEO of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, claimed that news coverage of climate change in his media outlets would improve gradually. However, a recent study indicates that not only has that not happened, but that the preponderance of climate change information on Fox News primetime and in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page is overwhelmingly misleading.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a science-policy nonprofit, analyzed six months of global warming discussions on Fox News primetime programs (February 2012 to July 2012) and one year of Wall Street Journal op-eds (August 2011 to July 2012). UCS found that climate science was inaccurately covered in 93 percent of Fox News primetime programs and 81 percent of Wall Street Journal editorials.
The analysis found denial that climate change is caused by humans, dismissals of climate science as a legitimate science, and derogatory comments about select scientists. The worst part is that this misleading coverage encourages scientific distrust and portrays climate change as a left-wing idea, rather than based on scientific facts.
How many people are misled about climate science by these media outlets? Well the number is in the multi-millions. In 2011, Fox News Channel (FNC) was the United States’ most popular cable news channel. During prime time, FNC reaches a median of 1.9 million people plus. The Wall Street Journal has over 2 million daily readers and the largest circulation among American newspapers.
There is nothing wrong with fully examining and debating the merits of policies aimed at addressing climate change. However, it is ludicrous and irresponsible to deny the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that climate change is man-made and happening right now.
The analysis shows that sadly these media groups continue to waste time and effort that could be put to better use in combating climate change. Readers of this blog already know that global warming is man-made and many are putting their energies toward what they can do about it by supporting organizations such as Carbonfund.org. These climate change leaders seek out quick and affordable ways for individuals and businesses to calculate and offset the carbon emissions they generate.
The science is clear. Invest in renewable energy sources and support reforestation projects because the time is now to build a clean energy future.