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.”

Is There a Link Between Climate Change and Poverty?

3659752199_8831062b10Oxfam International released an interesting report yesterday called, “Suffering the Science: Climate Change, People and Poverty”. The crutch of the report is to demonstrate how the effects of climate change are impacting people in poor communities much harder then in developed regions. Issues that are linked to poverty and development include access to food and water as well as health and security. The report warns, “without immediate action 50 years of development gains in poor countries will be permanently lost.”

The study was released in tandem with the G8 Summit being held in Italy beginning tomorrow. Climate change and poverty issues are expected to be high on the list for discussion.

“Climate change is the central poverty issue of our times,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International Executive Director. “Climate change is happening today and the world’s poorest people, who already face a daily struggle to survive, are being hit hardest. The evidence is right in front of our eyes. The human cost of climate change is as real as any redundancy or repossession notice.”

Another issue the report focuses on is the impact of erratic weather on agriculture. Without the ability for poor farmers to rely on seasons, they are losing multiple crops due to sudden heat waves or heavy rains. The report also accusess “rich countries” of creating the climate crisis. Oxfam wants these countries to fund more aid programs as well as adopt tougher climate policies. It will be interesting to see what “calls to action” come from the G8 Summit relating to climate change and poverty.

Y-12 National Security Complex Wins Energy Award

y12The Y-12 National Security Complex was a big winner in the Dept. of Energy’s program recognizing environmental sustainability. The complex, located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is a premier manufacturing facility dedicated to making our nation and the world a safer place.

Y-12 received three of the eight EStar awards presented this year. One of the awards was for use of mass transit, adding options for bikers and pedestrians, and other efforts — such as use of alternative fuels, such as E85 — to save energy on commuting and vehicle use at the Oak Ridge plant. Another award was for pollution prevention projects that eliminated more than 275,000 kilograms of waste and saved $542,000. The third award was for identifying historical railroad items and donating them to organziations for future use, rather than discarding them and creating additiional waste burdens at taxpayer expense. The project reportedly saved over $40,000 and preserved a number of historical artifacts.

More than 150 projects from the DOE complex were nominated for the awards.

GHG Worse than Thought from Foreign Crude

A press release by Growth Energy highlights a new study that shows greenhouse gas emissions of gasoline from foreign oil are at least twice what was previously thought when the indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to military operations in the Middle East are taken into account. The study is published in “Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining”.

The study comes as indirect GHG emissions has been made a major issue by the California Air Resources Board (ARB) as it prepares to approve regulations for its Low Carbon Fuel Standard. In a CARB staff report submitted to the board for adoption, biofuels are the only fuel that has indirect effects included in their carbon accounting. Despite this new study, no indirect effects are included for petroleum-based fuels. Critics of California’s regulations have argued that applying an indirect penalty to biofuels is unfair as it sets different standards for determining a fuel’s carbon intensity. California currently imports more than 45 percent of its oil from foreign sources.

“This research is the latest example of significant indirect sources of greenhouse gas emissions that the ARB has either overlooked or ignored. It is incomprehensible that ARB staff would suggest penalizing biofuels for indirect effects, when it is clear gasoline – ethanol’s primary competitor – has a whole host of indirect effects that have not been accounted for,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. “In light of this important research, ARB has to delay the adoption of an indirect penalty for biofuels until the indirect effects of all other fuel pathways have been determined so that the Low Carbon Fuel Standard is fair and equitable.”

To view the entire study, click here.