6 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for November 23: Obama admin touts clean-air health benefits of clean energy and climate bill; Australia’s extreme weather backs climate experts’ warnings
The Obama administration trotted out its top environmental and health officials today to tout the public health benefits of slashing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told stakeholders at a White House forum that strong federal efforts to curb global warming and achieve energy independence will drastically reduce asthma attacks, heart attacks and other public health problems.
“Energy reform and environmental protection can be an ounce of prevention that makes a huge difference in our public health future,” Jackson said.
EPA has already embarked on a host of new climate policies that will improve public health across the country, Jackson said, including its proposed finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. That proposal — which is being reviewed by the White House — would set the stage for a host of other agency rules aimed at regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
Those policies, along with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and pending energy and climate legislation, “are win-win changes for our health and our environment,” Jackson said.
With increasing evidence about the connection between greenhouse gases and public health, Sebelius said her department was increasing its efforts to coordinate environmental and health policies.
“It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the consequences of carbon filling the sky go well beyond harm for our planet,” Sebelius said.
IT was a weekend of extremes. Melbourne copped a month’s worth of rain in just 17 hours, NSW grappled with “catastrophic” bushfire conditions and record November temperatures — and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong linked the unpredictable weather patterns to the effects of global warming.
Sydney’s average maximum temperature was a little more than 40C yesterday, making it the city’s hottest November day in 27 years, while crews in Melbourne were still mopping up last night after a devastating storm lashed the Victorian capital.
“We’ve seen increased numbers of storms, we’ve seen much less rain, particularly in southeastern Australia we’ve seen hotter and drier temperatures and conditions,” Senator Wong said yesterday.
“All of these are consistent with the trends that climate scientists are talking to us about and just underlined to us why Australia is so vulnerable to climate change.”
Kevin Rudd linked the weekend’s weather extremes to the ETS debate.
“Everyone in Australia thinking about this, this weekend, would work it out that we are among the hottest and driest continents on Earth,” the Prime Minister said.
“We will feel the effects of climate change fastest and hardest, and therefore we must act this week, and the government will be doing everything possible to make sure that that can occur.”
When it comes to climate change, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, representatives from major U.S. medical associations said last week.
“The American Medical Association knows that climate change is already contributing to health problems and health care costs,” the group’s incoming president, Cecil Wilson, said at a Capitol Hill briefing. “We also know that the problems and cost will grow unless we, as a nation, take a global leadership role in reducing the buildup of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.”
U.N. climate talks are set to begin in Copenhagen next month, though it appears doubtful that world leaders will leave the summit with a detailed agreement in hand to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Amid that uncertainty, Wilson said the AMA sent a letter last week to President Obama “sharing our observations about the health effects of climate change and the need for the U.S. to take a leadership role.”
Administration officials acknowledged such concerns Friday at a White House forum.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said her agency is already working on climate policies that will improve public health, including EPA’s proposed finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare.
“Clean energy can help cut pollution-related health costs that drag down our entire economy,” she said.
Children, poor, elderly are most at risk
Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told forum participants that “it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the consequences of carbon falling from the sky go well beyond harm for our planet” .
Climate change is expected to intensify heat waves, allow disease-carrying insects to spread to new hunting grounds and bring more severe floods, droughts, forest fires and hurricanes, experts said at last week’s Hill briefing, echoing recent warnings from the World Medical Association, the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the World Health Organization, among others.
The nation’s most vulnerable groups, including the elderly, poor and children, are likely to suffer most.
“Climate change is and will affect the life of every single child on Earth,” said Jerome Paulson, a physician who serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health. “The impact will increase over time. It will vary by geography and financial status of different regions. But climate change will affect the life of every child on the face of the Earth.”
Take air pollution, which Paulson noted is already a health concern in many areas. Hotter days increase the formation of ground-level ozone, a pollutant that can exacerbate respiratory problems like asthma — or in the case of children, increase their risk of developing the disease.
“The thing that worries me most is that kids who grow up in areas with higher pollution today end up with lung function that is less than kids who grow up in environments that are less polluted,” Paulson said. “So they don’t have symptoms, but what happens when they get to be 60? Every adult loses some degree of lung function every year. What happens if you start off with a lower baseline?”
Ind. torrid, N.M. snowless and Maine gets soaked
Paul Epstein, a professor at Harvard Medical School who helped organized the Hill briefing, said it’s also clear that climate change will pose different threats to public health in different regions of the country.
With that in mind, Epstein released six fact sheets last week that examine potential warming-related health impacts in six different states, drawing on previously published research.
The sheet on Indiana, for example, says that by 2040, three of every four summers in the state are expected to be hotter than the hottest summer now on record. That will increase the risk of heat stroke and respiratory disease caused by air pollution.
In New Mexico, climate change is likely to decrease the state’s mountain snowpack, which accounts for 50 to 80 percent of the state’s water supply, by as much as 60 percent.
And in Maine, the Harvard fact sheet predicts sea level will rise by at least 1 to 2 feet, and perhaps up to 6 feet, by 2100.
For the fifth consecutive year, EPA is reporting an increase in fuel efficiency with a corresponding decrease in average carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for new cars and light duty trucks. This marks the first time that data for CO2 emissions are included in the annual report, “Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 through 2009″.
“American drivers are increasingly looking for cars that burn cleaner, burn less gas and won’t burn a hole in their wallets,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We’re working to help accelerate this trend with strong investments in clean energy technology – particularly for the cars and trucks that account for almost 60 percent of greenhouse gases from transportation sources. Cleaner, more efficient vehicles can help reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, cut harmful pollution, and save people money — and it’s clear that’s what the American car buyer wants.”
For 2008, the last year for which EPA has final data from automakers, the average fuel economy value was 21.0 miles per gallon (mpg). EPA projects a small improvement in 2009, based on pre-model year sales estimates provided to EPA by automakers, to 21.1 mpg.
The report confirms that average CO2 emissions have decreased and fuel economy has increased each year beginning in 2005. Average CO2 emissions have decreased by 39 grams per mile, or 8 percent, and average fuel economy has increased by 1.8 mpg, or 9 percent, since 2004. This positive trend beginning in 2005 reverses a long period of increasing CO2 emissions and decreasing fuel economy from 1987 through 2004, and returns CO2 emissions and fuel economy to levels of the early 1980s.
The report also provides data on the CO2 emissions, fuel economy and technology characteristics of new light-duty vehicles including cars, minivans, sport utility vehicles, and pickup trucks.
The latest CO2 emissions and fuel economy values reflect EPA’s best estimates of real world CO2 emissions and fuel economy performance. They are consistent with the fuel economy estimates that EPA provides on new vehicle window stickers and in the Fuel Economy Guide. These real world fuel economy values are about 20 percent lower, on average, than those used for compliance with the corporate average fuel economy program under DOT.
For Mexico City Environment Minister Martha Delgado, the beauty of her city’s successful new bus system is that it doesn’t require citizens to think about global warming.
The city, which was honored last week by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for eliminating older, polluting minibuses and implementing a new bus system with dedicated bus lanes, estimates that it eliminated 60,000 to 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. But, Delgado said, it also spurred new acceptance of public transportation in a city that sees 200,000 new cars on the road each year.
“You convince people with convenience. It’s not a matter just of conscience,” Delgado said in Washington, D.C., last week. “If you’re stuck in traffic and you’re not an environmentalist, you want to get on the Metrobºs.”
As nearly 200 nations prepare for high-level international climate treaty talks next month in Copenhagen, Delgado is taking the low road, speaking with municipal leaders throughout the world. Her message: Addressing global warming starts in the cities.
With the world’s metropolitan areas accounting for 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, she said, national leaders need to realize that cities are ground zero in the fight against rising emissions. And from a landfill waste capture program in S£o Paulo, Brazil, to car-free days in Seoul, Korea, cities already are taking major steps, said Simon Reddy, manager of C40 Cities, a group made up of the world’s biggest cities committed to addressing global warming.
Mayors take their fight to Copenhagen
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and dozens of other municipal leaders will attend the U.N. summit in Copenhagen as part of the C40 Cities initiative. The group aims to highlight major work being done at the local level and pitch cities as the places that “provide tomorrow’s climate solutions,” according to the group’s Web site.
“The war against climate change will be won or lost in our cities,” Reddy insisted. “Our message is not about the targets. That’s for national governments to sort out. The cities don’t need an international agreement. What cities do need is for national governments to recognize their role in combating climate change.”
Delgado agreed: “You look at all this work that cities are organizing around the world, and it’s amazing. They’re doing a lot of the jobs that national governments aren’t.”
In Mexico City, the innovative new bus system is just one of the steps the city’s officials have taken in recent months to hit its goal of slashing 7 million tons of CO2 equivalent below 2007 levels by 2012. Last year, Delgado said, the city reduced emissions by 2 percent.
Mexico City officials say the new buses, which run on clean-burning ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, have replaced about 839 high-polluting minibuses. Funded in part by the World Bank, the new system also will incorporate a new fleet of hybrid buses in the coming years.
Free bikes, fewer Beetles, more visitors
At the same time, the city also is moving ahead with new bicycle lanes and, Delgado said, a public bicycle system patterned after ones in Paris and in Barcelona, Spain. Come February, the city will be putting 1,200 bikes on the roads that will be offered free to citizens. Meanwhile, Mexico City also is working to replace 120,000 of the metropolitan area’s taxis — mostly Volkswagen Beetles from the 1960s — with more fuel-efficient models.
And with Copenhagen now expected to end in more of a political agreement than a fully implementable legal treaty, Mexico City could likely become the focal point for the world on global warming next year. Under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, it is scheduled to host the next major conference in December 2010.
Delgado said she thinks Mexico City will be ready for the torrent of high-profile delegates, environmental activists, ministers, business leaders and others who will inevitably descend upon the city. And, she said, it also will be good for Mexico’s awareness of the dangers of climate change.
“Europeans, maybe also Americans, are more informed about climate change and environmental matters,” she said. “It would be very interesting to host a huge environmental event in Mexico, because people are going to be aware.”
The city also is changing fast, she insisted, from the notoriously congested and polluted city most tourists think of.
“We’re not like that anymore,” Delgado said. “We are growing up, and we are living in a different city. Mexico City is going to be recognized differently.”
Although the recession has emptied shopping malls and filled jobless centers, the call has only gotten louder for renewable energy, environmentally gentle products and eco-friendly practices — and for people to make all of that happen.
President Obama has said that he hopes to create 5 million green jobs within a decade. The U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates that the “green economy” could account for as much as 10% of job growth over the next 30 years.
The job description casts a wide net. The green ranks can include autoworkers making hybrid cars, building consultants, home energy auditors, environmental studies professors, wind turbine engineers, lawyers for biofuel companies and many more.
Some will be new positions; others will involve workers from traditional industries tweaking their former skills.
So here’s a look at where to find green jobs, how to prepare for them and how to land a spot.
For many students enrolling in alternative energy programs at community colleges, it’s not about some greater environmental ethos. It’s about jobs.
That message has resounded at Lansing Community College, about 90 miles northwest of Detroit, where some students are former employees of now-shuttered General Motors Co. plants. Enrollment in the school’s alternative energy programs has spiked this year, accounting for the campus’s largest growth area. Over the last year alone, the college has outfitted 75 to 100 former GM employees — mostly from factory lines — with alternative energy skills.
“It’s a growth area in that where workers previously made ball bearings for a Cadillac, now they can do it for a wind turbine,” said George Berghorn, who oversees the college’s environment, design and building technologies department. The school also trains workers to be prepared to work with solar power and geothermal energy and do home audits.
Nationally, community college enrollments have been ticking upward during the economic slump, as schools and workers look to invest their time and money where the jobs might be. “Though community colleges are not the only avenue for training workers in alternative energy, they can turn around workers very quickly — sometimes in just a couple semesters with a certificate program,” Berghorn said.
This fall, Lansing ramped up its alternative energy offerings by introducing four new clean-energy technician certificate programs. Those, coupled with the school’s existing associate’s degree in alternative energy technology and another certificate offering, are investments that appear to be paying off. Enrollment in alternative energy classes has increased by almost 90 percent since last fall. In the program’s first year, it had 12 students. Now, four years later, it has almost 300.
The Michigan junior college is not the only one to successfully boost enrollment for “green” courses. Cape Cod Community College in Massachusetts, Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico, and Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., all report substantial increases in their alternative energy programs in recent years.
Santa Fe, for example, enrolled 132 students this fall, compared to 15 in the fall of 2007. Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which founded its alternative energy programs some 30 years ago, has been at capacity for alternative energy offerings for the last two years. The program has had to turn students away, faculty member Debra Rowe said.
“It’s an economic fact that during a time of downturn, people turned out of the workforce will want to be busy and want to be doing productive things to improve their competitiveness,” said Bracken Hendricks, a senior fellow specializing in energy and economics at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “People go back to school — especially if you are in a town that lost a plant.”
But at Lansing, the growth in alternative energy courses is disproportionate to the school’s enrollment increase as a whole. The programs’ enrollment is up 89 percent, while the school’s overall enrollment is up just 11 percent.
The jobs are out there for alternative energy graduates, Berghorn noted, saying he is not surprised students are flocking to his program. Though Lansing does not have formal numbers, he says that in the last couple of semesters, “close to 100 percent” of his sector’s graduates have been able to find work, primarily doing consulting and auditing work in energy efficiency and analysis.
Though community colleges work differently in different regions, the reasons for the growth in this area are closely aligned, advocates say: a response to local need, industry partnerships that steer their decisions and an eye on the future job openings down the line. Federal funding from the stimulus act and other pre-existing governmental grants did not hurt, either.
One Michigan manufacturer, Dowding Industries Inc., talks with Lansing Community College about four times a year about the direction of the industry and the job market. A recent message: Look at renewable energy.
“We had told Lansing that the wind energy market was growing,” said Jeff Metts, Dowding’s president. He said he told the school a few years ago that there was little training available for wind turbine maintenance and that it would be important. His comments confirmed what the school already knew, so this fall, the college started a wind turbine technician program.
“[Investing in these programs] is a continuing trend across the country, though it happens on different levels on different campuses,” said Norma Kent, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Community Colleges. Across the board, she said, the alternative energy sector is one of the largest areas of growth at the schools.
Funding: an ‘important signal’
Despite the fact that some junior colleges had cultivated plans to expand their alternative energy programs for several years, Oakland professor Rowe, who is also president of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, points to policy moves such as allocating American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds toward green job training and renewing federal tax credits for renewable energy last year as growth motivators.
“If you look at the cycle of how long it takes a student to get through a certificate program or [complete] a couple courses, and how long a community college takes to assess its programs to make sure they aren’t too far behind or too far ahead of the job market, it’s already impacting,” Rowe said.
Financial lifelines for green-job training are sprinkled through various programs created by the stimulus, which earmarked more than $80 billion for clean energy. The Department of Labor has oversight of about $500 million of the pot for green job training, and community colleges can apply for some of those funds, often as partners with other organizations or with their state, the department said. Still other federal stimulus dollars are available for training individuals to work on smart grids or weatherization programs.
The Department of Labor announced this week that it had awarded $55 million of its green job training funds. Utah’s Salt Lake Community College secured more than $96,000 to shore up its alternative energy offerings and create new certificate programs, and more than a dozen other community colleges tapped some of the $55 million through partnerships with their state or other organizations.
Lansing expects to apply for smart grid training funds from the Department of Energy as part of a consortium of community colleges next month.
Hendricks, who helped draft some of the stimulus language, and went to a community college himself, said that though the federal funds are important in that they send a valuable signal to investors, schools and students about the future playing field, Washington is not leading the way.
“You see much more interest from private businesses, innovators and banks,” Hendricks said. “People know that an economy led by innovation and energy is coming.”
In this nation that embraced one of the world’s most aggressive campaigns against global warming, the Pokropp family can almost hear the cha-ching when switching off their lights.
A kilowatt of electricity costs three times as much here as it does in the United States, supercharged with high taxes to discourage use and to help fund renewable energy development. Meanwhile, a 50 percent “eco-tax” has sent the price of gasoline soaring to $8 a gallon. To manage costs, the family of three unplugs all their appliances but the refrigerator at night, avoids driving and limits steam baths — a favorite German custom.
“We have no choice,” said Andreas Pokropp, a former coal refinery worker. “We have to be green, even if we can’t afford it.”
Yet the Pokropps have also reaped rewards from Germany’s fight against global warming. After years of looking for steady work in this moribund coal region, Mariola Pokropp found it in 2006 at Eickhoff, a 145-year-old manufacturer of mining equipment that has reinvented itself in green times, retooling its assembly lines to make 30-ton gearboxes for wind power generation. It is part of a heavily subsidized industry that has generated hundreds of thousands of jobs, paid for by consumers through higher energy bills.
With a major climate summit in Copenhagen just weeks away, Europe’s most populous nation represents a test case for what happens when a major economy sets down a greener path. In the United States, two significant bills pending in Congress would adopt some of the tactics employed by Germany and other European nations to reduce emissions. They include tighter building codes, more support for renewable energies and a carbon trading system requiring companies to buy permits to pollute above certain levels.
There are also some key differences. Rather than taxing consumers directly, as the Germans have done, the United States would place the financial burden of cleaner energy on utility companies. By 2020, U.S. power companies would be required to increase the share of electricity they produce from renewable resources from 9 percent to 15 percent, equal to the current level in Germany.
Supporters of the bills argue that such an approach — coupled with rebates and other incentives for consumers — would minimize price increases while creating plenty of new jobs as the United States builds renewable-energy grids. Critics insist otherwise, saying such measures will drive up energy bills as utilities pass on their extra costs to consumers. They also warn of major job losses as industry copes with stricter emissions standards.
Germany’s experience has been one of trade-offs, with higher energy prices but substantial job creation in green industries. The country has cut its carbon dioxide emissions today to roughly the same level they were in 1990, while emissions in the United States have risen 6 percent over the same period. The biggest reductions in Germany came years ago, from the upgrading or demolition of old East German factories after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But especially since 2000, environmental and energy policies have been credited with new emission cuts and with laying the groundwork for more in the years ahead.
Germany, which exports more than China and climbed out of the global recession faster than the United States, has been able to cut emissions without damaging its overall economy. Concerns are mounting that stricter measures coming into effect in 2013 may yet force an exodus of jobs. But as new markets have emerged for efficient building materials and renewable energy, even some of the harshest critics of Germany’s green policies concede that they have created more jobs than they have cost. The renewable sector alone, including one of the world’s largest solar industries (in a nation where the sun often hides), employs 260,000, one-quarter the size of the country’s auto workforce.
The nation’s largest producer of corn-based ethanol said it has slashed the cost of producing cellulosic ethanol from corn cobs and that it will be able to compete with gasoline in two years.
POET, which currently produces 1.5 billion gallons a year of ethanol from corn, said its one-year old pilot plant has reduced the cost of making ethanol from corn cobs from $4.13 a gallon to $2.35 a gallon by cutting capital costs and using an improved “cocktail” of enzymes.
Moreover the company said that it can use a byproduct called lignin as fuel and that it would provide all the energy needed for the cellulosic plant as well as 80 percent of the energy that would be needed by a conventional corn-based distillery making twice the amount of ethanol.
“Two years ago I would have told you this was a long shot,” said POET chief executive Jeff Broin. “Now I’ll tell you that we will produce cellulosic ethanol commercially in two years.”
POET launched the cellulosic ethanol pilot plant one year ago in Scotland, South Dakota and Broin said that the plant had figured out how to cut capital costs by 40 percent, cut the amount of energy used in pre-treatment stages and lowered enzyme costs.
He said that farm equipment manufacturers were already designing, and in two cases selling, equipment needed to collect the corn cobs from farmers’ fields.
For farmers, the advance could mean extra income. Broin said that an acre of corn field could produce 480 gallons a year of corn-based ethanol and 55 gallons more from processing cobs, leaves and husks.
While a large step forward for POET, the advance would still not assure the United States of enough motor fuel supplies or meet the congressional mandate that refiners use 16 billion gallons a year of cellulosic ethanol by 2025. Broin estimated that the nation currently could produce 5 billion gallons a year of cellulosic ethanol from corn cobs — about 3 percent of current motor fuel consumption — and perhaps 10 billion gallons eventually.
Other companies are doing research on how to make cellulosic ethanol from other raw materials such as wood chips and switch grass.
Broin also pressed the Environmental Protection Agency to relax rules limiting the amount of ethanol that can go into regular gasoline. That limit now stands at 10 percent though ethanol makers have applied for an increase to 15 percent. Broin said that EPA must issue a decision by Dec. 1.
“It’s critical to move the blend wall for cellulosic ethanol to become a reality,” he said.
Oil companies can sell a separate product for vehicles with 85 percent ethanol, known as E85, but that requires special equipment at gasoline stations and E85 pumps are still rare. In addition, many automobiles are not designed to use large amounts of ethanol, which can damage certain parts. Many vehicles, however, are designed to use either E85 or regular gasoline.