Saturday, June 27, 2009

Helping Small Business Accept US Cap-and-Trade

Small businesses need help if they are to support proposed cap-and-trade legislation. Although the climate change bill passed in the US House of Representatives on Friday, it was by the thinest of margins (219 versus 212). Predictably Republicans were almost unanimous in their rejection of the legislation (only eight Republicans voted for it), but even more worrisome is the fact that 44 Democrats voted against it.

The real showdown will occur in the Senate later this year or in 2010. At the present time the small businesses community is not supporting the legislation. Here is a review of some important facts small businesses need to know if they are to make informed decisions regarding cap-and-trade legislation.

Proposals from the White House, are making it easier for some to offer their support for the bill. Part of the resistance to cap-and-trade comes from Americans who are insistent that China and other developing nations carry their share of the CO2 reduction burden. The Chinese and other developing nations have responded by pointing out the hypocrisy of industrialized countries whose emissions are largely responsible for current levels of CO2.

The Obama administration appears to understand the potential of this issue to derail the agreement. The new US administration has proposed a legally binding treaty requiring all developed countries to make significant and substantial reductions in their emissions, while large developing countries must make more substantial changes. Although all countries must take action, China and other developing countries no longer need to make net reductions in their GHG emissions. According to the proposal, the US and other developed countries will take "additional action in line with their historical responsibility and capacity."

California has shown real leadership on CO2 reduction and small business played a vital role in the passage of the state's cap-and-trade legislation in 2006. This experience offers some insight as to how the small business community may be enticed to support national cap-and-trade legislation before the pivotal vote in the Senate. The president of Small Business California, Scott Hogue helped to pass the cap-and-trade legislation in that state. According to Mr Hogue, "big business was not aligned, by small business stepping up to give the voice to our position, we were heard."

"[Small businesses] love green jobs," said Byron Kennard executive director of the Pew Charitable Trust,"But" he continued, "[if] cap-and-trade smacks of regulation. They get up and walk out of the room."

Lawmakers must address small businesses concerns about regulation and businesses must be made aware of the facts and learn from existing cap-and-trade programs. In California small business owners were encouraged to overcome their resistance with the help of a toolkit designed to assist small businesses with their energy efficiency.

Perhaps the gravest reservation expressed by small business concerns cost increases. As reported in Green Ink, cap-and-trade has been criticized by manufacturers, utilities and other energy-intensive businesses who argue that utility rates will increase and this will raise the cost of doing business across the board. However these claims are countered by recent research including a study from Oregon. The joint study by economic consultants ECONorthwest and the University of Oregon’s Climate Leadership Initiative, indicates that "a business-as-usual approach to climate change would cost Oregonians $3.3 billion a year, or $1,930 per household. The consultants also produced reports for Washington and New Mexico that show similar losses in economic output if no climate change mitigation measures are adopted."

Another study by ECONorthwest leaked to The Statesman Journal "calculates that a cap-and-trade system would lead to long-term job creation. It foresees $3.9 billion in economic output and 33,135 jobs in Oregon by 2020 — but only after a shift from manufacturing to service jobs and a shorter-term loss of $273 million in economic output and a loss of 708 jobs."

Taken together these studies indicate that cap-and-trade is feasible and associated costs are considerably less than a business as usual approach. Further, cap-and-trade auctions will generate revenue that will help to mitigate increased energy costs.

While these studies support cap-and-trade, others contradict these results. A study, produced by the Cascade Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, argues that "Oregon’s economic output would be cut in half by 2020" as a result of adopting cap-and-trade.

As reported in a Greenwire article in E & E News, the small business community is not alone in its reticence to support the Markey-Waxman bill. A strategy memo from a prominent Democratic Party polling firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and the think tank Third Way, warns that efforts to sell climate change legislation is not resonating with the American public.

The memo advises that the best way to sell the Democrats' energy and climate change agenda is to avoid terms like "cap-and-trade," "Green jobs" and even "global warming." According to the memo, Americans will respond better to tag lines like "Get America running on clean energy."

"The problem with 'cap-and-trade' isn't only that it lacks meaning for voters, it actually focuses on the wrong things," the memo says. "Cap" connotes limits while people want to see economic expansion, not limit it. "By focusing on capping something, rather than creating something," the memo warns, "we steer the debate down a dead end.

The memo also recommends that advocates broaden the message to overall domestic economic growth. The strategy memo indicates that the message should be that energy will come from a variety of sources and clean energy should be emphasized as a means of reducing dependence on foreign oil. Voters want change, opposing a clean-energy agenda is the business as usual approach.

In addition, the memo argues that advocates need to refute allegations that cap-and-trade legislation will dramatically increase prices. Republicans charge that Democrats' energy plans will cost families an average of $3,000 a year and despite being untrue, this has "resonance and is memorable," the memo warns. The the best way to counter that claim is to provide voters with a more accurate dollar figure which is less than 10% of the number put forth by opponents.

Although conservatives are quick to offer a long list of reason's why they reject efforts to manage climate change, we have real world precedents that refute their ideologically driven conclusions. There are already functioning regional cap-and-trade programs in the US and the national program proposed by the climate change bill would level the playing field and provide common standards.

In a recent Huffington Post article, Josh Dorner Deputy Press Secretary for the Sierra Club states the conservative minority "is out of ideas and beholden to Big Oil, Dirty Coal, and other polluters."

A collaborative report from leading researchers at UC Berkeley, MIT, University of Michigan, Stanford, Drexel University, and clean tech leaders known as the "Gigaton Throwdown," revealed an assessment of the nation's clean energy potential. They identified seven industries capable of creating 5 million clean energy jobs and reducing CO2 emissions by 5-7 gigatons by 2020.

"This study is a loud, clear message about the importance of acting now to create a vibrant clean energy economy," said U.S. Senator John Kerry. "By passing strong legislation, we can grow our economy and end our dependence on foreign oil. We can ensure that the United States takes back the lead in creating the clean energy technologies of the future -- wind turbines, solar panels and energy efficiency products -- and that American companies benefit. This will help rebuild our manufacturing base, jump-start our economy and create millions of clean energy jobs that can't be shipped overseas."

The report recommended several changes the US should undertake to spur investment. These changes include establishing a price on carbon that will level the playing field and stand above political influence or pressure.

Perhaps the greatest motivation to support cap-and-trade comes from consumer preferences. A recent report indicates that four out of five US consumers support clean energy and majority want companies to increase their use of renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Further the study indicated that consumers are more likely to purchase products bearing a seal that proves corporate sustainability commitments, like buying renewable energy.

The results of cap-and-trade analysis may appear mixed, however on balance, once you sift through the reams of conservative bias, there is ample evidence to support cap-and-trade and good reason to come to the conclusion that small business simply cannot afford to be silent on this issue.

World leaders will try to hammer out a new international treaty on climate change this December in Copenhagen. Whether the US can pass cap-and-trade legislation in the coming six months will heavily influence the likelihood of a meaningful post Kyoto CO2 agreement. The US small business community's support for cap-and-trade legislation could make all the difference.

Contact your Senator and tell them to support cap-and-trade.


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Friday, June 26, 2009

US Cap-and-Trade Implications for Business

Small business has more to fear from unchecked CO2 emissions than it does from cap-and-trade. If proposed climate change legislation can gain the support of lawmakers, cap-and-trade will help businesses make the transition to a low carbon economy.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act, aka the Waxman-Markey Bill (HR 2454), promises a cap-and-trade system that will reduce U.S. carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.

The US House of Representatives is about to vote on climate change legislation and the Senate is expected to act as early as the end of the year. There are many who disagree with the proposed cap-and-trade and opponents are seeking amendments that could severely undermine the bill's ability to reduce American emissions.

Republicans and some Democrats have expressed concerns about increased energy costs associated with cap-and-trade. Some lawmakers are insistent that nations like China share the burden of CO2 reduction.

Others on Capitol Hill dismiss the current legislation and prefer a straight forward carbon tax. However there are advantages to cap-and-trade that cannot be achieved by a simple tax. By putting a price on carbon the proposed Waxman-Markey Bill takes advantage of the efficiency of free markets and thereby offers the most expedient system of carbon reduction.

Placing a price on carbon would not only benefit low-carbon businesses. The legislation would enhance efficiency, establish national mandates for renewables, and boost clean energy research. It would also raise capital to offset the increased costs for vital energy intensive industries.

According to the bill as it now stands, businesses that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon per year (large electric utilities, natural gas distributors, cement producers, etc) would receive approximately 80 percent of the emission permits.

The remaining permits would be sold at auction and these funds would help to manage higher energy costs, reduce deforestation in tropical countries, increase research and development of clean-energy technologies and assist developing countries to reduce their emissions. Half of one percent of the funds raised by auctioning CO2 will go to worker assistance and low CO2 job training programs. Commercial buildings will also be eligible for financial support for weatherization programs.

The lines are drawn and the positions of many of the players are well known, all except for small business. However as reviewed above the cap-and-trade legislation being discussed in the US does not warrant small business' silence. Further if this bill does not become law, future efforts to reign in CO2 will have to be much more aggressive and this could mean stringent regulation. Small business has a vested interest to make its voice heard now.

The outcome of cap-and-trade legislation is as yet uncertain. However, the odds of passage could improve dramatically if the small business community can overcome its fear of the unknown.

Next: Helping Small Business Accept US Cap-and-Trade

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Small Business' Silence on US Cap-and-Trade

Cap-and-trade is a crucial part of global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, however the American small business community is not convinced. The climate change legislation, including cap-and-trade has supporters, but there are those in Congress who are fighting the bill alongside powerful corporate interests.

The US clean energy economy is comprised of more than 68,000 companies and 770,385 sustainable jobs. Many of these Green jobs were created by small businesses. Despite the fact that sustainable businesses is creating jobs, this has not translated into support for cap-and-trade from the small business community.

In a recent report, the Pew Charitable Trust's Executive Director Byron Kennard said that "the 27 million small businesses in the United States, which produce 51 percent of private sector output, are turning to environmentally beneficial services in greater numbers." There is a growing number of small eco-entrepreneurs who are collectively helping to drive the economy out of recession. "Economically, politically, and socially as well, these green businesses are having a real impact," said Kennard.

Small businesses are increasingly Green, yet they are mute on cap-and-trade. Small companies are disengaged from the climate debate, yet environmentally conscious, small enterprises could become influential supporters of climate legislation.

"Small business has to be a strong constituency if this legislation is going to be passed," said Scott Hauge, president of Small Business California. "If we are going to create the innovation, we are going to create the jobs, we are going to reduce energy use, there needs to be a concerted focus on small business."

The conspicuous silence of the small business community is largely attributable to a lack of understanding. However, there are some concerns that are warranted. The bill seems to favor big business and some small business owners fear the legislation could create a complicated regulatory burden. Further there is concern about increased energy costs.

The small business community will remain silent as long as they fail to understand that cap-and-trade is an efficient means of reigning in business emissions.


Next: US Cap-and-Trade Implications for Business / Helping Small Business Accept US Cap-and-Trade

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Small Business Can Save US Cap-and-Trade

The debate on climate change is amongst the most important discussions humanity has ever engaged but despite the heroic economic contributions of the small business community, they have yet to weigh-in on this historic debate.

In the US cap-and-trade is a central feature of proposed climate change legislation. Cap-and-trade offers a viable way of integrating industry into efforts to manage climate change. Cap-and-trade is also an expedient system to achieve significant levels of emissions reductions.

The vast majority of the scientific community agrees that we need to reduce atmospheric CO2 from current levels of 390 down to below 350. We are faced with two choices, we can either sew sustainability into the fabric of our economies now or reap the bitter fruit of our ongoing irresponsibility later.

The required reductions in atmospheric CO2 can only be achieved through an international effort. In less than six months world leaders are scheduled to meet in Copenhagen (COP 15) where it is hoped that an agreement can be reached to replace the soon to expire Kyoto protocol.

The outcome of climate change negotiations will dramatically effect the future of life on earth. The importance of US cap-and-trade legislation cannot be overstated. If it passes it could lead the way to a low carbon global economy, if it fails it could derail an international agreement on climate change.

The US small business community's support for cap-and-trade could help bolster support for climate change legislation.

Next: Small Business' Silence on US Cap-and-trade Legislation / US Cap-and-Trade Legislation's Implications for Business / Helping Small Business Accept US Cap-and-Trade

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Apple's iPhone 3.0: Green Applications and Incentives to Innovate

The new iPhone 3.0 was released by Apple (AAPL) yesterday and it is a good example of the way technology is contributing to the convergence of commerce and environmental interest.

According to Jeremy Liew, managing director at venture capital firm Lightspeed Venture Partners, the App Store has generated about $318 million in sales since its debut a year ago, and with the launch of 3.0, "Apple could dramatically increase its revenues," Liew said.

Software developers are seeing the value of Apple's new in-app purchasing feature that comes with iPhone 3.0. That is because software developers make 70% of an application's (app's) purchase price while Apple takes 30%. This provides a powerful incentive for developers to design apps for the iPhone. Apple may have made designers take notice but other companies, including Nokia (NOK), Research In Motion (RIMM), and Palm (PALM) are also working to attract developers and this competition is driving innovation that benefits consumers.

Like other digital devices the new iPhone 3.0 facilitates Greener communications. But beyond reducing the need for paper and ink what makes the iPhone Green is the abundance of environmentally helpful apps. And now with the launch of 3.0's in-app purchasing feature there is even greater access to even more apps.

There are numerous Green apps for the iPhone. These apps provide everything from locations of eco-friendly retailers to tools that assess your carbon footprint. Here is a partial list of Green iPhone apps, all of which can be downloaded for free or for a nominal charge ($2.99 - $5.99) at the App Store.

Good Guide (free): This app assists you in making Greener buying decisions. It is the mobile version of the Good Guide website that rates and recommends several Green and sustainable products. This app enables consumers to use their buying power to support the environment.
More information

Carbon Tracker (free): A GPS-enabled carbon footprint application that allows the users to calculate the carbon footprint from daily commuting and business trips. Users can also set maximum emission goals and monitor their progress. Ideal for companies that encourage their employees to find less emission intensive ways of getting to work and traveling.
More Information

MeterRead ($2.99): Logs your electric meter’s reading and by tracking your usage you can work on increasing your efficiency. You can log your readings and use them to predict your electrical consumption and your upcoming bill.
More information

Carcare (free): This fuel efficiency app also tracks your car's maintenance requirements.
More information

GreenMeter ($5.99): Tracks your car's fuel and power usage characteristics using an accelerometer to determine the drag and resistance of your car and your driving habits. Monitoring real-time MPG helps tune your driving for better efficiencies and lower emissions.
More information

Shopgreen (free): This app calculates the amount of CO2 you have saved. You also have access to discounts at local participating retailers.
More information

3rdWhale Mobile (free): This location-based app connects you to the best green businesses in your area thereby minimizing emissions required for transportation. You can get directions whether traveling by car, foot, or bicycle. It offers you 6 categories of search.
More information

Yowza! (free): Location application that provides coupons for local retailers. You can use the digital coupon right on your phone’s screen rather than wasting paper.
More information

ECOcal (free): An ecosystem calendar that shows what's going on in the natural world at a particular time in the year. It includes fine illustrations and interesting facts about the universe and the earth's flora and fauna.
More information

A Real Tree: By purchasing this app you contribute to education on reforestation of different countries around the globe.
More information

There are thousands of apps and many provide Green tips, tools, information and resources. With the incentives being offered to software developers, we can expect many more Green apps in the months and years to come. Led by devices like the iPhone, digital media will continue to drive the transition to a Greener world.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Carrotmobs: Adding Incentives to the Consumer Arsenal

Consumers have extraordinary power to influence the marketplace and this is particularly true when it comes to consumer appetites for Green. For decades environmentalists have organized boycotts and now carrots are being added to an arsenal that previously included mostly sticks. This new concept is known as the Carrotmob, where boycotts punish businesses, the Carrotmob collectively rewards environmentally responsible businesses through patronage.

The business community's concern about direct action is well warranted, these types of disincentives are making it hard for them to ignore sustainability. But businesses also need incentives to justify bold strategic decisions and the Carrotmob is a grassroots incarnation of an idea that will help to transform our economy.

Consumers have the power to punish companies who fail to incorporate sustainable business practices but they also have the power to reward those with a Green mission.

In a free market system consumers are free to decide where they spend their money, and this determines which businesses thrive and which fail. Now in an effort to reward Green initiatives, groups are organizing to show support through their spending.

Time magazine quotes Brent Schulkin, the inventor of the Carrotmob, as saying: "Traditional activism revolves around conflict, boycotting, protesting, lawsuits — it's about going into attack mode. What's unique about a Carrotmob is that there are no enemies."

In the first Carrotmob hundreds of patrons spent $9,200 at a San Francisco convenience store and a bit more than one year later the Carrotmob concept has spread to 10 cities across the US and has a presence in Finland and France. Now the concept is about to be launched in Philadelphia while other initiatives are being planned for Hoboken, N.J., Kansas City, Mo., and elsewhere.

The Carrotmob approach addresses an interesting caveat of the millennial mind-set. Sometimes referred to as slactivists, these are young pseudo activists, they follow social media like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. This cohort is well informed, they understand how technology can make a difference, and they know how to tap into the power of social media.

Social media is at the center of efforts to communicate the Carrotmob message. Carrotmob organizers eschew traditional marketing and prefer viral and other creative PR approaches like handing out carrots on college campuses labeled with a blog address.

But the Carrotmob concept is not just for the young. Philidephia Carrotmob organizer Tony Montagnaro, a 19 year old sophomore at Rutgers, says older people understand the concept of the Carrotmob. "Someone 65 or 70 often gets this right away," he says. "People my age can be slower."

Through the proliferation of web based technologies consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of the products they buy and the companies and retailers they buy from. Consumers are also increasingly harnessing the power of social media to organize grass roots campaigns. Technology is not only driving consumer awareness, it is also the future of consumer activism. And according to Schulkin: "What's good for activism is also good for business."

Carrotmobs are an important part of the new landscape, they prove that organized consumer spending can change business. In today's marketplace businesses can be punished or rewarded for their environmental record. To avoid consumer's ire or to benefit from carrotmobs, businesses have more reasons than ever to go Green.

For more information go to Carrotmob.org.


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Friday, June 12, 2009

Action on Climate Change

There are several technological solutions that will likely contribute to our ability to manage CO2, but only legislation can bring about the timely CO2 reductions required.

There is considerable urgency to reduce CO2 emissions. Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society said: "Unless global CO2 emissions can be cut by at least 50 per cent by 2050 and more thereafter, we could confront an underwater catastrophe, with irreversible changes in the makeup of our marine biodiversity. The effects will be seen worldwide, threatening food security, reducing coastal protection and damaging the local economies that may be least able to tolerate it."

There is widespread agreement that we must address the very real threat posed by CO2 and work towards a low carbon economy.

Technological Efforts

Powerful financial and environmental incentives are driving research efforts to develop technological solutions to manage CO2 emissions. One approach to the problem involves separating the carbon and oxygen molecules in CO2. However CO2 is a very stable and a lot of energy is required to break the bonds that hold the carbon and oxygen together.

Current research is exploring the use of catalysts (like the chlorophyll found in plants) to promote reactions that could separate the oxygen and carbon.

Other CO2 research directions are also being pursued by various organizations in the US and around the world. These organizations include: Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE), GREENTIE, the Greenhouse Gas Technology Information Exchange, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), CADDETT and ScientecMatrix.

Sustainable Business Practices

Although there are technological solutions that will likely help us to manage our carbon emissions, there are other more immediate efforts that can be implemented by businesses here and now.

Practice and advocate sustainable business: Reduce energy consumption, improve efficiency, increase usage of alternative energy, recycle, reuse, and move in the direction of a circular economy. Make Greener choices throughout your supply chain. Educate your staff and participate (or create) industry specific Green associations where you can share information and discuss best practices.

Businesses that practice sustainability benefit from positioning themselves as environmentally responsible leaders, while those businesses that are slow to engage sustainability may be punished in the marketplace.

Cap-and-Trade Legislation

Voluntary adoption of sustainable business practices help, but the passage of cap-and-trade legislation is amongst the most meaningful ways we can reduce CO2 while minimizing adverse economic impacts. Cap-and-trade provides a program of incentives and disincentives while letting the market do the difficult work of setting the price for CO2.

Cap-and-trade legislation will also make it easier for leaders to table a serious CO2 reduction framework at the UN sponsored Cop 15 meeting in Copenhagen late this year.

With many cap-and-trade agreements in place around the world we have strong evidence that it works. Functioning examples of cap-and-trade include the European Union's 27 member Emissions Trading Scheme as well as secondary trade in Kyoto Protocol carbon offsets.

According to a Wall Street and Technology article, "the U.N.'s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has 4500 projects in the pipeline with the potential to deliver around 2.9 billion offset credits by 2012."

The same article indicates the global market for carbon emissions trading doubled in value last year. The market grew to $126 billion up from $63 billion in 2007 and nearly 12 times the value in 2005. Last year a total 4.8 billion tons of CO2 was traded, up 61 percent from the 3 billion traded in 2007.

Cap-and-trade legislation is vital if we are to reduce CO2 within the specified time frames. Everyone can get involved by writing their political representatives and raising awareness about the importance of legislation to combat climate change.

U.S. Action

American leadership is vital and pressure is building for the US to cut CO2 emissions. Indian negotiator Surya Sethi, told BBC News: "In simple terms they need to do more. If they believe the science - and that's what they are telling us - they need to do more."

The US is crucial to global efforts to manage CO2 emissions and the Clean Energy and Security Act represents a serious attempt by legislators Waxman and Markey to substantially reduce American CO2 emissions. The bill seeks the nation's first federal cap-and-trade system for reducing CO2 and other GHGs. If passed into law this bill would reduce emissions by 83% below 2005 levels.

The bill also proposes that by 2020 all electric utilities be required to radically increase efficiency and produce up to 15% of their power using renewable sources. 15% of carbon credits will be auctioned off, the remaining 85% will be donated to important energy intensive industries. A vote in the full house could happen in August.

The importance of cap-and-trade legislation to substantially reduce CO2 cannot be overstated. If the Waxman-Markey Bill passes and if the European Union increases its emissions reduction targets to 30 percent by 2020, this would create about 600 million tons of offset credits per year.

Voluntary reductions in CO2 emissions, although laudable, are hugely insufficient and we do not have the time to wait for technological solutions. Industry played a major role increasing CO2 levels and industry must also play a major role reducing CO2 emissions. Cap-and-trade legislation is the most efficient way to help industry transition to a low CO2 economy.


Next: Carrotmobs: Adding Incentives to the Consumer Arsenal

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Debunking CO2 Myths and The Science of Climate Change

There are a number of myths about CO2 that continue to circulate despite scientific evidence to the contrary. These myths are often perpetuated by the uninformed or those with an agenda to protect non-sustainable corporate interests. With the aim of exposing some of the major fallacies here is quick summary of the science debunking eight CO2 myths.

Myth # 1 : CO2 Levels are Not Rising

Objective measurement of atmospheric increases in carbon dioxide was confirmed beginning in the 1930s, and these observations were corroborated in the late 1950s with the development of highly accurate measurement techniques.

In 1959 Charles Keeling began collecting flasks of air from an observatory at the summit of Mauna Loa in Hawaii in 1959. His research, known as the Keeling Curve, confirmed suspicions that carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial activities are accumulating in the atmosphere.

Keeling's data set was confirmed by the Vostok ice core. The ice core findings reveal annual layers of air bubbles trapped in the ice, they can be dated and CO2 levels can be measured representing the atmosphere when the ice formed. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations calculated from trapped air bubbles indicate that "present carbon dioxide concentrations far exceed all values for the past 400,000 years."

Another source of scientific evidence comes from Houghton and Hackler. Their research indicates that land-use changes from 1850-2000 and the combustion of fossil fuels have caused the atmospheric CO2 concentrations to rise from 288 ppmv in 1850 to 369.5 ppmv in 2000. The Mauna Lao Observatory reports that as of May 2009, CO2 levels are at 390 ppmv.

Myth # 2 : CO2 is Not Related to Global Warming

The Vostok ice core reveals ratios of oxygen isotopes and deuterium they in turn indicate air temperature at the station at the time ice was formed. The study shows that carbon dioxide and temperature are linked through feedback loops; when the concentration of CO2 is high so is the temperature.

Myth # 3: CO2 is Not the Most Important GHG

Although water vapor is the most significant GHG, CO2 levels are steadily increasing while others like Methane have stabalized. Human activity is producing levels of CO2 that are upsetting the natural greenhouse balance and imperiling our planet. This is largely because CO2 remains in the atmosphere for more than a century while water vapor lasts only a few days. CO2 is the greatest concern because it is responsible for two-thirds of the additional warming caused by all the anthropogenic GHG.

Myth # 4: Anthropogenic CO2 is Harmlessly Absorbed

The Keeling Curve indicates that carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial activities are accumulating in the atmosphere rather than being fully absorbed by the oceans and vegetated areas on land.

Houghton and Hackler's research has revealed that approximately 40% of the additional carbon has remained in the atmosphere, while the remaining 60% has been transferred to the oceans and terrestrial biosphere. This research reveals that 64% can be attributed to fossil-fuel combustion, representing about 14% of the carbon in the atmosphere in the form of CO2.

According to research from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, "around 30 per cent of the CO2 put into the atmosphere by human activities is absorbed by the oceans where it dissolves, altering the chemistry of the surface sea levels making it more acidic." Increasing levels of ocean acidity could destroy fisheries and damage coral reefs that provide habitat and coastal protection from storms. In a statement from the science academies of 70 countries rising levels of CO2 may cause an "underwater catastrophy.

Myth # 5: CO2 is Too Heavy to Reach the Troposphere

According to the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), the chemical formula of CO2 is Carbon (12) + Oxygen (16) + Oxygen (16), giving it a molecular weight of 44. Although this gas is heavier than air (50% heavier or 1 and 1/2 time as heavy). CO2 will mix with the air as all gasses do because of Brownian Motion (molecules bumping into each other). And like all gases, when wind is blowing, CO2 is carried up into the atmosphere, where more winds are able to carry it up to the troposphere.

"Free radicals, which are atomic or molecular species with unpaired electrons, and are highly reactive and this makes them able to form a chemical bond. The free radicals attach and form a new bond with CO2 creating a new gas depending on the species of the free radical. These gases work their way a bit further into the upper atmosphere and this is where they become GHGs."

Myth # 6: Respiration is to Blame for CO2

All living things including plants and animals exhale CO2. According to the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), "the average person exhales approximately 1 kg of CO2 per day. However the exhaled CO2 includes carbon that was originally taken out of the carbon dioxide in the air by plants through photosynthesis - whether you eat the plants directly or animals that eat the plants. Thus, there is a closed loop, with no net addition to the atmosphere. Of course, the agriculture, food processing, and marketing industries use energy (in many cases based on the combustion of fossil fuels), but their emissions of carbon dioxide are captured in our estimates as emissions from solid, liquid, or gaseous fuels."

Myth # 7: Technologies Using CO2 are to Blame

According to the CDIAC, technologies that use CO2 are not responsible for increased GHG emissions. Technologies like dry ice blasting, supercritical cleaning and painting etc., do not increase GHG emissions because "most of the CO2 used in these kinds of applications is recovered from processes like fermentation and it is either CO2 that it is being extracted from the atmosphere by plants or CO2 that would have been released from fossil fuel burning anyhow. In essence it passes through this kind of use rather than being emitted immediately and there is no extra CO2 produced".

Myth # 8: Managing CO2 is Too Expensive


There are viable ways we can facilitate the shift towards a low carbon economy. As we will review in the next post, cap-and-trade legislation is a viable way of creating incentives for lowing carbon and generating revenues that can help to finance the transition. Immediate action is required as we simply cannot afford to continue to ignore the cost of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

Next: Action on Climate Change

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Effects of Global Warming

Increased concentrations of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) are causing a host of environmental problems. CO2 is the chief culprit in what is known as global warming, however the effect of GHG's on our environment extend beyond warming, so it may be more accurate to refer to these effects as climate change. In an effort to more clearly define these effects some are using the term 'global weirding.'

Global Weirding

"Global weirding" was coined by Hunter Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, this term refers to an increase in severe or unusual environmental activity. This definition includes the seemingly paradoxical meterological occurances of heat waves and cold spells, floods and droughts.

Extreme Weather

GHGs are thought to be the leading cause of increased storm activity. Various meteorological models predict ongoing increases in the number and severity of tropical storms, cyclones, hurricanes, blizzards and other extreme weather. We can expect hotter and drier summers and colder winters.

Flooding

The melting ice caps on the poles are amongst the more pressing concerns. This melting ice will cause widespread flooding and other environmental problems. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that oceanic expansion will cause flooding of coastal areas, swamps, wetlands and river deltas. Some small islands may even vanish completely as a consequence of flooding.

Acidification

Rising levels of CO2 can impact catastrophically on our oceans, lakes and rivers. Increasing levels of CO2 are increasing the acidity levels in the seas and this could damage marine life and cause irreversible changes to the ocean's biodiversity. The acidification of the world's oceans have a direct economic cost, in the US alone domestic fisheries provided a primary sale value of 5.1 billion dollars in 2007. Damage to corals could also reduce the coastal protection from storms that reefs currently provide.

Water Scarcity

Increased evaporation of water supplies, will cause water shortages and may even lead saltwater to penetrate groundwater zones.

Agriculture

Extreme weather, flooding, drought and erosion of agricultural plots will damage crops and soils and decrease agricultural yields leading to widespread famines.

Disease

Contagious diseases are expected to increase because global warming is conducive to the proliferation of pathogens and certain insects that spread disease like the malaria mosquito.

Ice Age

Perhaps the most dramatic and devastating effects to our climate may occur as the circulation of cold and warm gulf streams is altered by desalination of the Atlantic Ocean. Some scientists have indicated that this could lead to a new Ice Age.

Social Implications

GHGs not only impact the environment they have profound social consequences. We can expect large-scale migration and mitigation issues between countries as people flee meteorological calamities, desease, drought and famine. Historically the scarcity of resources often leads to civil unrest and war.

Planetary Balance

The delicate balance of the Earth's ecosystems is threatened by climate change. Many scientists predict major shifts in ecosystems and changing migration patterns. These changes are causing massive die-offs and even the extinction of entire species of plants and animals. In some cases population explosions of certain species may further destabilize the natural balance. Decreasing biodiversity will further alter the planetary balance.

The effects of GHGs are not only dire predictions for our future, their effects are wreaking devastion today. A recent study from the Global Humanitarian Forum, an organization headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, claims that global warming is already causing 300,000 deaths and $125 billion in economic losses annually. Further, we may be running out of time as many climate change scientists believe that we can get to a tipping point beyond which the earth will not be able to recover.


Next: Debunking CO2 Myths and the Science of Global Warming / Action on Climate Change

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Primer on CO2 and Other GHGs

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is at the center of efforts to manage climate change. Many identify CO2 as the leading cause of calamitous environmental destruction, but how does this naturally occurring substance wreak such havoc on our environment?

For over 100 years the scientific community has been warning us of the dangers of global warming caused by CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. In 1896 S. Arrhenius, published the paper "On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground." More recently a plethora of scientific studies have corroborated these early concerns. (In a forthcoming post we will review some of the scientific evidence for global warming).

CO2 and Other GHGs

CO2 is a naturally occurring chemical compound. CO2 is part of the respiration of plants and animals and it is produced through the decay of carbon based material from plants and animals. Some natural processes, such as volcanoes and geysers, also add CO2 to the atmosphere.

Although CO2 gets most of the attention there are other naturally occuring greenhouse gases (GHGs). Water vapor is by far the most important GHG. It evaporates mostly from the ocean, and it causes earth's surface to be about 30°C warmer (out of the 36°C of warming caused by all greenhouse gases combined). Methane is produced by bacteria in wetlands and bogs, cattle, rice paddies, termites, landfills, and coal mining. Nitrous oxide is produced from microbes in the soil and the ocean. Halocarbons such as refrigerants are used in air conditioners and tropospheric ozone, produced in smog.

The Greenhouse Effect

Naturally occuring GHGs like CO2 warm and regulate the earth's temperature through the greenhouse effect. Warming occurs because the GHGs, although transparent to incoming solar radiation, absorb infrared (heat) radiation from the Earth that would otherwise escape from the atmosphere into space. GHGs re-radiate some of the heat back towards the surface of the Earth.

Normally almost half of energy emanating from the sun is trapped in our atmosphere. This natural phenomenon is what we call the greenhouse effect, GHGs warm the earth so that it is conducive to life, if there were no GHGs the temperature on earth would fall below –18 C.

GHGs and Global Warming

The unnatural addition of GHGs to the atmosphere is known as global warming. This unnatural build-up of GHGs in the troposphere (the lower part of the atmosphere about 10-15 kilometres thick) is trapping additional heat. The amount of heat in the troposphere depends on concentrations of GHGs and the amount of time these gasses remain in the atmosphere. CO2 remains in the troposphere between fifty and two hundred years.

CO2 and Human Activities

Anthropogenic (human-produced) CO2 is mixing with naturally produced CO2 and influencing the earth's radiation balance. The two main human activities that increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere are fossil fuel burning and land clearing. The burning of fossil fuels adds about 6 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere each year.

Prior to the industrial revolution, atmospheric CO2 concentrations had not changed appreciably for over 850 years. That changed around 1850 when human processes began emitting significant quantities of GHGs. Pre-industrial levels of CO2 were approximately 270 and according to scientists at the Mauna Loa observatory, as of 2008, CO2 levels in the atmosphere were at 387 parts per million (ppm). This represents an increase of approximately 40% since the industrial revolution and the highest levels of CO2 in at least 650,000 years.

The US national oceanic and atmospheric administration research has corroborated other findings that indicate CO2 is accumulating in the atmosphere faster than expected. Their review suggests that levels of CO2 emmisions are on the increase, from 1970 to 2000, the concentration of CO2 rose by about 1.5ppm each year, but since 2000 the annual rise has surged to an average 2.1ppm. "Researchers suggest the trend could mean that the earth is losing its natural ability to absorb billions of tonne of CO2 each year."

CO2 emissions from cars and industry are a major cause of what we refer to as global warming. These increasing CO2 emissions cause about 50-60% of the global warming. Human activities have released an amount of CO2 that exceeds the amount sequestered in biomass, the oceans, and other sinks. About 22% of the current atmospheric CO2 concentrations exist due to these human activities. Fossil fuel combustion for energy generation causes about 70-75% of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The remaining 20-25% of the emissions are caused by land clearing and burning and by emissions from motor vehicle exhausts.

Other GHGs Associated with Human Activity

According to Ocean World, about two thirds of the methane emissions into the atmosphere come from human activity, mostly from the northern hemisphere. Methane concentration was 1783 parts per billion in 2004, which was 155% larger than pre-industrial concentrations. The rise in methane appears to have leveled off, and concentrations have increased only 5 parts per billion since 1999. Methane does not remain long in the atmosphere, about 8 years (Fischer et al, 2008). However methane is 22 time more effective in absorbing infrared radiation than CO2.

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is also a byproduct of burning fossil fuels at high temperatures. About one-third of the emissions into the atmosphere come from human activity. N2O concentrations were 319 parts per billion in 2004, which was 18% larger than pre-industrial concentrations. Its lifetime in the atmosphere is about a century.

US GHG Emissions

Although the US is only 4.6% of the world's population, American energy use accounts for 24% of all the world's energy. According to the Statistical Review of World Energy 2005 89.4% of energy consumption in the US is derived from burning fossil fuels.

The average American uses almost 31 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per day, or 1.3 kilowatts (kW) continuously. Most of that electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels. In certain other fully modern countries (England, France, Germany, Japan), the per-capita average ranges from 0.6 to 0.8 kW. At the other end of the scale, in developing countries where, even if some cities are electrified, rural areas are generally without power, the number is much lower: Mexico uses 0.14 kW, Thailand 0.10, and Peru 0.05. India is way down, at 0.037. China is around 0.07.

While most GHG emissions derive from industrial processes in developed countries like the US, GHGs from developing countries are rising. At the current rate, anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are expected to double in this century.

GHGs contribute to the greenhouse effect and many anthropogenic GHGs are on the increase. In the next post we will review the effects that they are having on the earth and its inhabitants.

Next: The Effects of Global Warming / Debunking CO2 Myths and the Science of Global Warming / Action on Global Warming.

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