Climate change is causing sea levels to rise, and this week’s super storm Sandy gave us a preview of the devastation that this kind of flooding can cause.  In fact, five years ago, a study named, “Nation Under Siege” constructed a series of 3-D maps using federal science agency and the United Nations' climate panel data that demonstrated what areas of the Atlantic coastline will look like as sea levels continue to rise.  The maps from 2007 are eerily similar to the destruction we saw from super storm Sandy.  The main difference being that the flooding from Sandy is beginning to recede and the rising waters from global warming are permanent.

There’s no denying that sea levels are rising.  Since 1900, the world’s oceans rose an average of seven inches, according to data from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Those of us that live on the East Coast are seeing higher than average sea level rise.  According to a report by the New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force, sea levels along New York's coast range between 9 and 11 inches over the last 100 years.

Super storm Sandy painfully demonstrated that coastal cities are woefully unprepared for flooding and other dangers from extreme weather, which is increasing due to climate change.  According to Katharine Hayhoe, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas Tech University, there are three reasons why climate change made Sandy that much worse.  The first is already higher sea levels made the storm surge more severe.  The second is higher sea surface temperatures from global warming provided more energy for the super storm.  The third is Sandy may turned towards the coast because of a record loss of sea ice in the Arctic this year.

Preparing at-risk communities for coming floods and coastal erosion includes determining the best way to heighten sea walls or whether to construct surge barriers to protect flood-prone areas.  These preparations require study and then construction costs in the billions.  However, the latest estimates from IHS Global Insight, a forecasting firm, calculate that super storm Sandy will end up causing about $20 billion in property damages and $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business.  It sounds like the time is now to make those investments before further extreme weather from global warming costs more in the long run.  We can couple those investments with our own efforts to lower our carbon footprints, which contributes to slowing down climate change.

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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.

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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.

Published in carbonfree blog
Friday, 07 September 2012 13:30

What is an Ecological Footprint?

We’ve already examined and defined a carbon footprint, but have you ever heard of an ecological footprint?  An ecological footprint compares human demands on nature with the Earth's ability to regenerate resources and provide services.

Ecological footprints are ever changing because of advances in technology and a three-year lag for the UN to collect and publish statistics.  However, it is a standardized measure that begins by assessing the amount of biologically productive land and sea area necessary to supply the resources a human population uses.  This is then contrasted with the planet’s ability to absorb associated waste and ecological capacity to regenerate.  Think of it like how much of the Earth (or how many planet Earths) it would take to support humanity given an average lifestyle.  In 2007, humanity's total ecological footprint was estimated at 1.5 planet Earths.  This means humans are currently using ecological services 1.5 times quicker than Earth can renew them.

William Rees was the first academic to publish about an ecological footprint in 1992.  He supervised the PhD dissertation of Mathis Wackernagel who outlined the concept and offered a calculation method.  Rees penned the term ecological footprint in a more accessible manner than the original name of “appropriated carrying capacity” after a computer technician described Rees’ new computer as having a small footprint on the desk.  Wackernagel and Rees published the book Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth in early 1996.

The implications are dire according to Rees who wrote in 2010, “…the average world citizen has an eco-footprint of about 2.7 global average hectares while there are only 2.1 global hectare of bioproductive land and water per capita on earth. This means that humanity has already overshot global biocapacity by 30% and now lives unsustainabily by depleting stocks of ‘natural capital’.”

We’re definitely overspending the planet’s resources.  Just take a look at man-made global warming and climate change.   We need to continue on the path to seeking a sustainable lifestyle, and do it on a global scale.  All of us working together can reduce the amount of the earth’s resources that we consume.  Start with yourself and get creative with how many ways you can save energy and recycle.  What’s great about beginning with energy efficiency is that it can save you money too.  Then there are cost effective ways to offset the rest such as by contributing to Carbonfund.org’s development of renewable energy technologies and carbon emissions reduction projects.  The important thing is to get started right away.

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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!

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Last month it was revealed that a diverse group of stakeholders with political ties that cover the entire spectrum from left to right have been holding secret meetings about climate change with the support of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Washington D.C.

Climate change is an unavoidably, politically charged issue.  These meetings are an attempt to discover ways to approach global warming in a politically viable manner.  The July 2012 meeting was the fifth of such meetings, which are held secretly and speakers not revealed in order to facilitate true brainstorming, an open discussion where all sides could offer solutions without fear of reprisal. 

The agenda for the most recent meeting, which was leaked online, was titled, “Price Carbon Campaign / Lame Duck Initiative: A Carbon Pollution Tax in Fiscal and Tax Reform”.  However, participants claim putting a price on carbon emissions was not the only item of discussion, and neither was focus limited to the short-term.

Proponents of a carbon tax put it forward as a less complex method to begin pricing carbon emissions than cap-and-trade.  Legislation for cap-and-trade collapsed in 2010 in the nation’s capital and preceded these meetings.

At the moment tax increases, carbon or otherwise, are unlikely to get off the ground, but the long-term view is that taxing CO2 could win support over taxing income.  Furthermore, there is potential to use a carbon tax to tackle both global warming and the deficit.

So the question as to whether we can deal with climate change in a politically viable manner is still unanswered, but the future is looking brighter with the news that open discussions are occurring among bipartisan groups.

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More than a couple of our past blog posts have covered how increasingly extreme weather is the product of climate change.  However, have you stopped to ask yourself what that really means?  How will climate change affect us and future generations?  What things that we currently enjoy will be unavailable to our children?

A recent article covers some things that global warming is likely to ruin for our kids; things such as coffee, chocolate, strawberries.  And the list isn’t limited to agricultural food items.  Say goodbye to blazing fast Wi-Fi.  Also your favorite vacation spot or even your home may be underwater in a few, short decades time.  The country you live in may disappear.  The article has some shocking images of Greenland melting away.

So what’s it going to take to help preserve the Earth as we know it?  Global carbon emissions need to be reduced 80% by 2050.  The U.S. has already pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by approximately 17%.  Eventually legislation will be enacted increasing the goal to a 30% reduction in 2025 and a 42% reduction in 2030, with the ultimate goal of reducing emissions 83% by 2050.

Do your part in reducing carbon emissions and getting us closer to meeting the goals outlined above.  Start by switching your Internet browser to www.envirosearch.org.  Your regular, daily Internet search activities will begin contributing to renewable energy, reforestation, and energy efficiency projects.  Then go to www.carbonfund.org for ideas on how to reduce your carbon footprint and offset carbon emissions.  By working together, and each doing our part, we can change the fate of the planet.

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A recently published study out of the University of Michigan examined Generation X’s views on climate change and found them to be largely unconcerned with the issue.

The Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY) releases a quarterly research report and has followed the same 4,000 people for 25 years.  Originally, in 1987, 5,900 students were selected from a national sample of 7th and 10th graders in 50 U.S. public school systems.

Generation X now comprises 32-52 year olds who are the most well-educated and scientifically savvy generation in U.S. history.  However, the LSAY shows dwindling interest in climate change as it is a complex and long-term issue.  The study compared responses from 2009 and 2011 and found that a scant two percent of those aged 37 to 40 follow climate change "very closely".  This was a 50 percent drop from 2009 results.  Over half said they follow climate change "not closely."  More than 40 percent say they have only a "moderate concern" about global warming.

The most disturbing part of the report points to a disregard for future generations.  Most do not see climate change as an immediate problem that requires their attention to address.  A large percentage, 66 percent, said they aren’t sure that global warming is happening.  About 10 percent even outright deny global warming is actually happening.

Why is Generation X disengaged, disinterested, or even openly disbelieving regarding climate change?  The answer is as multifaceted as global warming itself.  Disinterest in climate change is surely due in part to a massive and unprecedented disinformation campaign by oil and gas interests and conservative media outlets spanning more than a decade, even as the overwhelming scientific record points squarely to climate change.  Some experts theorize issue fatigue may be the cause when a problem is long-standing.  Others point to the complexity in understanding the underlying causes and potential solutions for climate change as a barrier to engagement with the issue.  Still another potential answer is the distraction by other timely public policy issues.  For example, interest in the economy experienced an upsurge following the Great Recession that began in 2008 to the detriment of environmental issues.

Whatever the reason, there is something every person in all generations can do to help save our planet.  One easy and fast way to protect the environment is to switch your Internet browser to www.envirosearch.org.  You'll be contributing to renewable energy, reforestation, and energy efficiency projects through you regular, daily Internet search activities.  Another simple step is to use an emissions calculator to determine your personal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.  Then reduce your carbon footprint, plant a tree, or offset your carbon emissions.

Download and read the entire study here http://lsay.org/GenX-4.pdf.

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The Earth is 70% covered by oceans, and stores about 90% of the planet’s heat.  This means that ocean warming translates into global warming.  Climate change deniers contend that global warming is not caused by greenhouse gas emissions, but rather by natural processes and variations.  However, a study released this week proves with 99% certainty that no more than 10% of the observed increase in ocean temperatures over the past 50 years could be accounted for by natural variation.

The Human-Induced Global Ocean Warming on Multidecadal Timescales study is the most comprehensive study ever performed on rising ocean temperatures, and authored by a team of American, Indian, Japanese, and Australian scientists.  According to the study, the planet’s oceans are warming at a rate of 0.20°F per decade, which affects global weather patterns leading to increasing weather extremes such as more heat waves, storms, and intense storms.  Furthermore, ocean warming affects the ocean ecology itself.  A few of the effects we’ve already begun to see are plankton reduction, melting sea ice, and coral die-off. 

The study unequivocally points to global warming as man-made.  Of course, this has been known, shown and settled for nearly twenty years by the IPCC and climate scientists around the world.  But the shift to ocean warming is significant due to its proportion of the Earth and its surface as well as because the vast majority of the people on Earth live very close to rising oceans.

Four or five years ago we shifted from the question of ‘is it happening’ to ‘what to do about it’.  Political and business interests have worked hard to shift this debate back again, but the real focus must remain on the numerous solutions to climate change and the dwindling timeline we have to reduce our global emissions 50-80% by mid century.

Download the full study at this link: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v2/n7/full/nclimate1553.html

 

Published in carbonfree blog
Friday, 29 June 2012 15:30

What is a Carbon Footprint?

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:

  1. When your car’s engine burns fuel it creates CO2, the amount generated depends on its fuel consumption and the driving distance.
  2. Heating your house with oil, gas, or coal also generates CO2.  
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Traveling on a plane generates CO2 in the same ways a car does.
  6. Weddings even create CO2 emissions!  See this past post for more information about how to reduce your wedding’s environmental impact.
  7. 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

At Carbonfund.org, our motto is “reduce what you can, offset what you can’t.™”  Make a commitment to sustainable living; get started on reducing and offsetting your carbon footprint now!

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