Book Review – No Impact Man

So you’re a bit frustrated with the state of the climate and pretty concerned with our fossil fuel use. So what do you do? You become the No Impact Man. Colin Beavan, a writer from New York who was struggling with how to deal with climate change, decided that he, along with his wife, two year old daughter and dog, would spend a year trying to have no negative impact on the climate. This experience, which he blogged about every day, led to the book, “No Impact Man The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet.”

Beavan was extreme. No “throw away” products made from trees, rarely any motorized transportation including elevators (did I mention he lives in NY?), all locally grown food within 250 miles and no meat, no buying of new things (but they could purchase used items), and if that weren’t enough, no electricity for three months! So what did he learn? We should be able to keep the things that improve our lives, yet not at the expense of the environment. And yes, he says, this can be done.

As an energy writer there was one chapter that I felt was extremely compelling and that was when he and his family turned out the electricity. Yep – no electricity for three months with the exception of a solar panel he used to power his laptop. In this chapter, Beavan talks about the true cost of fossil fuel use – something that many are trying to get consumers to understand, including me.

He writes, “The fact of the matter is that fossil fuels are not less costly than renewable energy. Fossil fuels cost us and our planet much more to use. The problem is that the true costs of the use of coal and oil are not immediately apparent in the price.” Continue reading

Book Review – Climate of Extremes

I have a question for you. Is the debate over global warming over? The next logical question is: Should it be over?

According to authors Patrick J. Michaels and Robert C. Balling Jr., human-induced climate change is indeed real, but this will not necessarily lead to an environmental apocalypse. This is the premise of their book, A Climate of Extremes. They write, “The data lead us to conclude that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is indeed real, but relatively modest. We’re not arguing against AGW, but rather against DAGW (dangerous anthropogenic global warming).”

A Climate of Extremes is about data – the data that proves (or disproves) the existence of global warming and the potential effects that it could have. The authors spend the majority of the book debunking the science that leads us to believe that the polar bears will go extinct, the icebergs are melting and those on the coasts will endure catastrophic damage, and that hurricanes, floods and fires are somehow tied to climate change. Well folks, there is no data to back up these far-fetched claims argue the authors.

The entire time I was reading the book, this famous quote kept running through my mind, lies, damned lies and statistics, a sentiment used to describe the power of numbers. The authors featured a lot of content that has been used by famous global warming advocates, such as Al Gore to prove the danger we face if we don’t curb greenhouse gas emissions, is taken out of context. In other words, the data is fiddled and faddled with to meet a person’s particular needs.

We all know this happens and it is good that people continue to “out” the bad science. However, the biggest irony I found in the book was when they discussed the pervasive bias inherent in global warming research. Shortly thereafter, they offer up why corn-ethanol will cause, rather than curb global warming, and they point to Timothy Searchinger’s original paper  – a paper which has not only been criticized by the scientific community but also new research has been presented. My point: maybe the authors should take some of their own advice.

While I am a proponent of offering up various scientific viewpoints, it should never be taken at face value and neither should the data presented in A Climate of Extremes. It is in everyone’s best interest to delve into the issue, farther than what is presented in a few books.

Going Green Can Save You Green

Last week, I wrote a story regarding President Obama’s executive order for the federal government to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent by 2020. One goal of this program is to get other companies to follow suit, but many companies don’t know where to start. Enter the Hondo Green Assessment Tool (HGAT). To learn more about how companies can become more sustainable, I spoke with the Hondo Group’s CEO Lynn Balinas.

HGAT is an internet based tool for small to mid-sized companies that can measure a company’s carbon footprint, manage its carbon footprint and maintain carbon footprint goals, explained Balinas. The tool measures five categories: water, energy, transportation, materials and waste. Ultimately the tool helps companies become not only more sustainable but more profitable as well.

“People usually first think, it’s about the environment, it’s about global warming. That’s part of it,” said Balinas. “But it’s good governance and it’s actually profitable for organizations.”

A few years ago, people perceived that going green meant going broke. That is actually not the case. Going green will actually help you make more green. For example, if all small to mid-sized businesses turned off their computers and printers at night (unplug the electronics) nearly $2.1 billion could be saved annually.

Here is how it works. After 35 days of metrics based on the five categories outlined above, the HGAT will tell a company how to reduce the carbon footprint and give suggestions that a company can choose to integrate. Ultimately, the tools that are put into place will help a company manage its program and save money.

Companies can implement the program alone or partner with other small to mid-sized companies. Balinas said that the average cost to a company with less than 50 employees is around $50 per month but the return is much greater.

Listen to my interview with Lynn below to learn more about HGAT.

Obama to Slash Gov’t GHGs by 28%

For those of you who still have President Obama’s State of the Union speech in your mind, then you may remember his call for the government to slash greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). He has followed through. Less than a week after the pronouncement, Obama has issued an Executive Order 13514 on Federal Sustainability for the federal government to slash GHG emissions 28 percent by 2020.

According to the White House, the federal government, which includes all of our armed forces, is the largest energy user in the U.S. The 28% reduction would decrease annual electricity use by 1.5% saving between $8 – $11 billion in energy costs through 2020. Just in 2008, the federal government racked up a $24.5 billion energy bill.

“As the largest energy consumer in the United States, we have a responsibility to American citizens to reduce our energy use and become more efficient,” said Obama as quoted in an article in Recharge. “Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift Federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy.”

This goal will require the government to shift to clean energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal, which will support job growth and technology development in the clean tech sector – another major goal of the administration. This move also signals Obama’s commitment to passing a comprehensive climate change package, which is currently stalled in the Senate.

In the meantime, departments will be required to develop sustainability plans that will include current GHG emission estimates and to ensure follow-through, achievement reports will be published online for the public to view and submit reponses.

World Biofuels Reduced Global GHGs 123.5M Tons

grfa_logo_bgA new study shows that world biofuels production in 2009 has reduced GHG emissions by 123.5 million tons. The figure represents an average reduction of 57 percent compared to the emissions that would have occurred from the production and use of equal quantities of petroleum fuels. The report was prepared by (S&T)² Consultants Inc.

Bliss Baker, spokesperson for the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance who commissioned the report noted, “This landmark report proves yet again that biofuels production and use is already playing a vital, yet too often overlooked, role in reducing harmful GHG emissions around the globe. In light of the ongoing United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, today’s report is evidence that biofuels are and must continue to be on the front line of the Climate Change fight.”

The report also discovered that worldwide biofuels produced in 2009 is displacing 1.15 million barrels of crude oil per day, which creates around 215 million tonnes of GHG emissions annually. In addition, worldwide production of approximately 19 billion gallons reduces GHG emissions by 87.6 million tons.

Forecasted global production of biodiesel of approximately 4 billion gallons will reduce GHG emissions by 35.9 million tons. When you combine the worldwide production numbers of both ethanol and biodiesel, the fuels are estimated to reduced GHG emissions by 123.5 million tons.

The study utilized a “life cycle assessment” (LCA) approach to estimate global GHG emissions reduction achieved through the production and use of biofuels from “cradle-to-grave”, including the acquisition of raw materials, manufacture, transport, use, maintenance and final disposal. You can download the full report here.

EPA Determines CO2, Other GHGs Endanger Society

coal_fired_power_plantSome of the biggest news to come out of Copenhagen yesterday was the ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency that greenhouse gas emissions are now considered “an endangerment” to society. This ruling now gives the EPA the authority, under the Clean Air Act, to regulate greenhouse gases. This decision could lead to stricter vehicle, manufacturing and power plant emissions – including ethanol and biodiesel plants.

The timing was no coincidence as President Obama is looking to improve America’s bargaining hand during the two week Climate Change Conference where leaders from nearly 200 countries are attempting to create a global climate policy plan.

On December 7, 2009, the Administrator signed two distinct findings regarding greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act:

  • Endangerment Finding: The Administrator finds that the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases–carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)–in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.

  • Cause or Contribute Finding: The Administrator finds that the combined emissions of these well-mixed greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines contribute to the greenhouse gas pollution which threatens public health and welfare.

In addition to tightening emission standards, there are two other ways that have been discussed at length to regulate CO2 emissions, the gas that is in the most abundance. First is through a carbon tax and second through a cap and trade system.

Book Review – Our Choice

OurChoiceThis morning the Copenhagen Climate Conference kicked off. As I mentioned in earlier posts, the two big issues are the reduction of CO2 and the halting of deforestation. As I noted in other writings, there are Climate Alarmists and Climate Skeptics. Climate Alarmists, which Al Gore would be considered, believe that if we don’t curb global warming now, the earth will face unprecedented consequences. The climate skeptics, as Bjorn Lomborg would be considered, offer the view that the problem has been blown out of proportion or is focused on the wrong culprits. Actually there would be nothing more fun than a Lomborg/Gore debate.

On Friday, I presented a ‘skeptics’ view…today I will present an ‘alarmists’ view. For the third book review, I chose Al Gore’s, “Our Choice A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.” Most people know that Gore helped to put the global warming debate on the map with his first book and movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” These efforts led to a shared Oscar and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Gore will also be playing a major role in Copenhagen over the next two weeks.

Gore begins, “It is now abundantly clear that we have at our fingertips all of the tools we need to solve the climate crisis. The only missing ingredient is collective will.”

Throughout the book, Gore uses a combination of words, graphics and pictures to demonstrate the climate change debate, detail many of the solutions and offer policy recommendations. There is one area where I think Gore did a great job, and that is explaining what the six categories of global warming pollution are: carbon dioxide, methane, black carbon, sulfur hexaflouride, tetrafluoroethane, carbon monoxide, butane and nitrous oxide. To date, the biggest focus has been on carbon dioxide and Gore’s focus throughout the book is no different.

Along those same lines, Gore advocates that the most effective way to curb CO2 is through putting a price on carbon. He writes, “An effective plan for solving the climate crisis must include aggressive remedies for our erroneous reliance on deceptive market signals in carbon-based energy.” Continue reading

Book Review – Cool It

CoolItWhat is the greatest crisis in the history of civilization? Global warming. Well, at least according to the media’s portrayal. However, according to Bjorn Lomborg, the author of “Cool It, and the second review in my Copenhagen Climate Conference three views in seven days series, while global warming is an concern, it is not the most pressing worldwide issue.

Lomborg writes, “That humanity has caused a substantial rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over the past centuries, thereby contributing to global warming, is beyond debate. What is debatable, however, is whether hysteria and headlong spending on extravagant CO2-cutting programs at an unprecedented price is the only possible response.”

He continues, “Such a course is especially debatable in a world where billions of people live in poverty, where millions die of curable diseases, and where these lives could be saved, societies strengthened, and environments improved at a fraction of the cost.”

Has the worldwide frenzy surrounding global warming caused us to lose our common sense? Continue reading

Rethinking Deforestation – A Copenhagen Challenge

Amazon_RainforestYesterday I wrote about one of the major challenges facing leaders who will be participating in the Copenhagen Climate Conference – global warming. Today, I’m addressing a second major issue facing the leaders – stopping deforestation. There is a misnomer that the main driver of deforestation is the increased production of biofuels. While there is a correlation between biofuels and deforestation, it is minor compared to the real driver – the trees are worth more cut down than they are standing. Let me explain.

Some of the poorest people in the world reside in the regions in and around the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. To survive, they cut down the trees and sell them. Although there have been attempts to ‘block’ this wood from international markets, these efforts have not been successful. Once the trees are cut down, cattle farmers move in and once the land has been over-grazed and the cattle move on, farmers often begin growing soybeans. Another point of interest is that sugarcane does not grow well in the Amazonian region; however, laws have been passed that prohibit the expansion of sugarcane production on native vegetation.

According to The Breakthrough Institute, “The main drivers of Amazonian deforestation are socio-economic. Yet decades of environmental policy have failed to take this basic truth into account.” If we’re going to keep the rainforest intact, then the people who live in the region will need to be given new opportunities to generate wealth that are worth more then selling the trees.

During the climate talks next week, leaders will be attempting to create policies that will address the urban poverty drivers of deforestation. I was in Brazil last week and in prepartion for the meetings, the Brazilian Climate Alliance has prepared a report with recommendations to reduce/climate deforestation. The proposed policies will be released during the conference and the world will be watching.

Book Review – The Chilling Stars

Chilling_StarsYesterday, in the post Countdown to Copenhagen, I mentioned that there are still quite a few scientists around the world who agree that climate change exists, but don’t agree about the cause. To kick off my three views in seven days series, is a review of the book, “The Chilling Stars A New Theory of Climate Change.” The authors are climate physicist Henrik Svensmark and award winning science writer Nigel Calder.

Let me start off by acknowledging that the majority of scientists believe that greenhouse gas emissions, primarily CO2, are causing global climate change. However, here is what Svensmark and Calder say about carbon dioxide. “To correct apparent over-estimates of the effects of carbon dioxide is not to recommend a careless bonfire of the fossil fuels that produce the gas. A commonplace libel is that anyone skeptical about the impending global-warming disaster is probably in the pay of the oil companies.”

They continue, “In fact, there are compelling reasons to economize in the use of fossil fuels, which have nothing to do with the climate–to minimize unhealthy smog, to conserve the planet’s limited stocks of fuel, and to keep energy prices down for the benefit of the poorer nations.”

So if climate change is not driven in part by CO2, as argued by the authors, then what is the primary driver of climate change?

The premise of Svensmark’s climate change theory is that the interplay between clouds, the sun and cosmic rays, have a greater effect on climate than man-made carbon dioxide. For those who don’t remember much of any science from high school or college a cosmic ray is comprised of sub-atomic particles from exploded stars. Continue reading

Countdown to Copenhagen

Polar_Ice_Cap_DFThe countdown to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference is on as the talks begin in six days. The conference, December 7-18, 2009 is a meeting of the UN to hash out a successor to the Kyoto protocol that is set to expire in 2012. The aim is to prevent global warming, and similar talks date back to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

While we haven’t focused much on Copenhagen on this site, alternative energy will play one of the biggest roles during the summit for its potential to curb worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. According to an article in the Guardian, “Climate scientists are convinced the world must stop the growth in greenhouse gas emissions and start making them fall very soon. To have a chance of keeping warming under the dangerous 2C mark, cuts of 25%-40% relative to 1990 levels are needed, rising to 80%-95% by 2050. So far, the offers on the table are way below these targets.”

What I find most interesting is that while there appears to be a scientific consensus on the existence of global warming and that it is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, mainly CO2, there are still many scientists who don’t agree. As such, the question must be asked, should we be moving forward so quickly both in the U.S. and around the world, on climate policies based on greenhouse gas emission reductions?

Now, before you shoot me and accuse me of being indifferent to the environment and human health issues, less pollution is always good and many economists predict that the next “Green Revolution” (the first one was in the 70s) will help our country rise above the recession. That said, I do believe we need to do something, I’m just not convinced the options on the table are the right ones.

Therefore, over the next week, I’m going to be offering three views on climate change as laid out in three books focusing on global warming. From there, it’s up to you to decide what direction worldwide leaders should be taking.

Novozymes Responds to Science, Indirect Land Use Debate

37707026braz_20010627_17060.jpgThe Science magazine article that was published last week and co-authored by Tim Searchinger, a lawyer, has added another level of controversy to the indirect land use change (ILUC) debate. The article suggested the land use effects of fuel produced from various forms of biomass were miscalculated, in part, because they cause deforestation around the world as land is cleared to grow so called “energy crops”. EPA has yet to rule on RFS2 (they are unsure of how to incorporate ILUC) and discussion on how to regulate bio-electricity has barely begun.

Novozymes is one of the dozens of companies speaking out against the article and its conclusions. Suggestions that the increased use of fuel produced from biomass will automatically lead to increased deforestation globally ignores existing science, continued technological advances, and numerous international policies and principles under development to regulate biofuels, say experts at Novozymes.

“We need to make smart energy choices that support a low-carbon energy future,” said Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America. “Jumping to quick conclusions about deforestation may ruin one of our best chances for addressing climate change and establishing a sustainable, secure energy supply.”

Because of the potential value that biofuels have as part of a low-carbon society, dozens of scientists have challenged the credibility of economic models used to estimate the values of GHG emissions projected from ILUC.

“Clearly, the direct and indirect environmental impacts of the world’s energy supply need further study, but there needs to be a level playing field to ensure that biofuels, bioelectricity and, most importantly, fossil fuels are all judged by the same criteria when measuring emissions. There should be a full accounting of the carbon emissions of all fuels, not just biofuels,” said Monroe.

Industrial Biotech To Save 2.5 Billion Tons of CO2?

wwf_logoA new WWF report, “Industrial biotechnology – more than green fuel in a dirty economy,” has concluded that industrial biotechnology could generate between 1 and 2.5 billion tons of greenhouse gas reductions per year by 2030, as well as build a new green economy that works with nature to meet human needs. As such, the WWF is calling for increased political backing for the industry to leverage the positive environmental effects. The findings were peer-reviewed by Novozymes as well as WWF experts.

“In a few years sugar will be the new oil. Already today close to 200 biorefineries are operating in the U.S. and yet we have only seen the beginning. Industrial biotechnology today is a sector with a number of pioneers who are demonstrating that this is technically feasible,” says Steen Riisgaard, CEO of Novozymes. “However, to make the biobased economy into reality, they will require political backing. Novozymes is dedicated to helping ensure a radical shift in the way our societies work, and to reduce our dependency on oil.”

In 2008, the use of Novozymes’ technologies across industries resulted in the reduced CO2 emissions totaling more than 28 nzlogomillion tons – the equivalent of taking 4 million cars off the road.

“WWF sees industrial biotech as an industry that can play a very significant role in the development of a new, green economy if developed in the right way. The world can’t afford to ignore this opportunity,” says John Kornerup Bang, Head of Globalization Programme for WWF.

Click here to read the full press release. Click here to download the full report.

Renewable Energy One of Obama’s Pillars in UN Speech

ObamaUNRenewable energy was part of Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations today, as the American president outlined his vision for the future before the world body.

Obama told delegates that the U.S. has spent $80 billion in clean energy. But the overall efforts of using renewable energy to save the climate are for the entire world:

We will move forward with investments to transform our energy economy, while providing incentives to make clean energy the profitable kind of energy. We will press ahead with deep cuts in emissions to reach the goals that we set for 2020, and eventually 2050. We will continue to promote renewable energy and efficiency, and share new technologies with countries around the world. And we will seize every opportunity for progress to address this threat in a cooperative effort with the entire world.

Another world leader made a more personal appeal for the world to address climate change. President Mohamed Nasheed of Maldives, an Indian Ocean island nation that could simply disappear if rising oceans were not checked, told the U.N. that more than speehes are needed to save his country from a watery fate.

Florida Vetrans Denounce Big Oil Front Group

Big Oil is out astroturfing once again, this time under the guise of the group “Energy Citizens,” a front group set up by their Washington lobbying arm, the American Petroleum Institute. The goal of this effort is to stage rallies across the country in an attempt to kill the clean energy and climate plan now being considered by Congress.

temp-splashIt’s not only the biofuels industry that has had enough. Operation Free, a coalition of leading Veterans and national security organizations is fighting back and has denounced the claims of Energy Citizens and its ‘Oil Dependence Tour’ and cites that the groups efforts threaten our national security. Spokespersons for Operation Free note that they strongly support immediate Congressional action on clean energy and a climate plan that breaks the country’s addiction to oil, tackles global warming and enhances national security.

During a press conference held by the Florida Veterans, participants noted that you, “don’t often see veterans coming together to talk about national security,” as well as said that, “for us, there’s not a huge jump between energy and national security”.

Jason Whitaker, a 10 year Army veteran with multiple deployments, has seen first hand the devastation caused by climate change. He said, “There are few challenges facing America that are more urgent than climate change. Denial is no longer an acceptance response. The stakes are too high and the consequences are too serious.”