Greening Air Travel

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Carbon Offsets, Green | Posted on 28-05-2010

With CAFE standards mandating MPG minimums in car fleets and new regulations for renewable fuel standards, it’s not surprising that other transportation providers are investing in becoming “green.”
Airports have made attempts at reducing CO2e emissions.  Dallas-Fort Worth encourages carpooling and has supported the use of taxis that run on compressed natural gas, a cleaner alternative to regular fuel.  Fort Lauderdale Hollywood uses a biodiesel petroleum fuel mix for their airport shuttles and trams, while airports in the UK have started composting yard waste and recycling runway concrete as pavement. Last September, San Francisco International Airport opened kiosks that allow individual travelers to purchase carbon credits to offset the emissions from their travels.
Airlines have started to become greener, too.  Delta Airlines features a recycling program on its planes which saves over 1,000 tons of waste from landfills annually, as well as an airplane carpet recycling program and a partnership with the Nature Conservancy to offset some of its consumers’ carbon emissions.  JetBlue offers organic food options in-flight and Southwest has a LEED certified terminal in Oakland, while the majority of airlines allow consumers to buy carbon offsets for their flights.  A fair number of airlines also have experimented with bio-fuels to reduce fossil fuel use.
While flying is often the least environmentally-friendly way to travel (besides driving alone in an SUV across the country), there are some options for how to compensate for the air pollution that may result from your next overseas vacation.

New Ways to Save Electricity and Money

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Energy Efficiency | Posted on 27-05-2010

The two main topics on everyone’s mind are a person’s budget and the environment – specifically, how to cut down on damage to both.  Recently, many technological advancements have helped address both of these issues.
For example, “smart meters” have been developed by a variety of energy companies to track when consumers use energy.  They will be in widespread use once utility companies switch to block pricing for high and low demand times. This option gives consumers more control over their electricity bills and helps to reduce demands on the electricity grid. This, in turn, allows power plants to rely on a steady stream of electricity from the most efficient generators, instead of using high pollution power sources at peak times.
There have also been developments in home energy monitors.   Investments can range from individual outlet monitors to a whole-house power monitor, which shows outlet use, money spent per hour and high-use appliances and tracks improvements in efficiency and money savings.
The wave of the future seems to be in “smart homes.” Although expensive now, these systems allow full monitoring of electricity use throughout the house, with the ability to check if an appliance is in use via internet or remote control.   They also use motion sensors and keypads that allow the homeowner to increase energy efficiency and home security.
Many governments are also pushing for smart electricity grids, which allow consumers and suppliers to track energy use.  Besides reducing electricity use, these grids will link local grids into a larger national system, which will allow independent functionality and decrease power outages.
With all of these advancements, there’s no longer an excuse to keep using low-efficiency power.

India vs. China Carbon Emissions

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, News | Posted on 26-05-2010

During the Climate Summit in Copenhagen last year, India and China walked out of negotiations. There has been international tension over who is responsible for the majority of emissions reductions: industrialized nations who emitted the majority of GHGs in the first place, or developing countries that have the ability to switch over to environmentally-conscious technology as it is introduced.
India’s emissions have increased 58% from 1994-2007, a huge jump caused by increased transportation, energy production and industrial activity. And although India remains one of the lowest emitters per capita – at 25% the amount emitted by American citizens – an increase in 650 million tons CO2e every year is not something to ignore.

China, which now outranks the US in total CO2e emitted, has allegedly been taking steps to mitigate emissions. Reports state that China will impose a low but increasing carbon tax on industry in 2012, and the government plans to decrease carbon intensity, or amount of carbon emitted per unit of economic activity, by 40-45% by 2020. The government has also supported a Clean Development Mechanism that will pay farmers for biogas produced by biodigesters.  The initiative could potentially affect 195 million Chinese homes.
But who should really be investing in these reductions? A Washington Post interactive graph shows growth in total and per capita emissions since 1960 among major contributors to green house gas emissions. Although the total emissions are impressive for countries like India, it is really those who rank high for per capita emissions – US, Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Russia are the top five – who should really be changing their pollution regulations.

NAS Says Climate Change is Real

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Climate Change, News | Posted on 25-05-2010

On Wednesday, May 19th, the National Academy of Sciences, which is composed of the most renowned scientific minds in the US, released a briefing stating that “strong evidence on climate change underscores need for actions to reduce emissions and begin adapting to impacts.”
The report stemmed from a Congressional request for the NAS and its National Research Council to conduct five studies known as America’s Climate Choices to determine the validity of current scientific evidence of global warming and anthropogenic causes.  The results of these studies show that a significant portion of climate change can be traced to human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels. With most of the scientific community in agreement that there have already been increases in Earth’s surface temperature, NAS’s recommendation to expand scientific understanding as to how humans are involved in climate change is more urgent than ever.
The report also called for a single entity or program in the federal government to coordinate research regarding climate change.  This recommendation, along with the affirmation of Congress’ goal to have 80% CO2e emissions reductions domestically by 2050, builds support for a federally-run system to manage CO2e.  Although the proposed carbon cap and trade system is not necessarily the needed departure from the current “business as usual” approach to climate change, it does have the potential to get the US closer to the NAS’s suggested maximum emissions between 2012 and 2050: 170-200 gigatons of CO2e.

Biomass No Longer Carbon Neutral

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Carbon Neutral, EPA, News | Posted on 24-05-2010

On Tuesday, May 18, the EPA announced in the final version of its “Tailoring Rule,” a modification to the Clean Air Act to accommodate the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, that biomass is no longer considered a carbon neutral source of energy.
Obtaining energy from biomass usually requires the incineration of plant matter.  The process has often been considered in the past to have zero net carbon emissions because the combustion does not release many compounds besides CO2, which can easily be reincorporated into new vegetation. However, the planting, harvesting and maintenance of any sustainable biomass project do emit carbon, so a more appropriate name would be ‘low carbon fuel.’ Furthermore, the US Department of Energy ranks biomass fuel 18th in terms of environmental cleanliness, with 0.0885 metric tons CO2e emitted for every million BTU consumed.  That’s more than the zero tons CO2e per million BTU emitted through traditional renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, as well as the 0.0531 per unit of natural gas and 0.0732 from diesel fuel.
Although the EPA’s decision comes as a shock to some industries and may push current biomass users to switch to fossil fuels for higher efficiency, the fact that biomass produces so much CO2 makes the recent lack of exemption from CO2e permitting requirements not unreasonable.

Climate Change Responsibility and Effects in Developing Regions

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Carbon Footprint, Climate Change | Posted on 21-05-2010

The World Resources Institute recently reported on the environmental impacts of agriculture worldwide.   Most notably, it appears that the countries who maintain the lowest green house gas emissions per capita from agriculture will be most negatively affected by climate change.

China, Brazil and the EU have the highest total emissions due to agriculture, while Australia, Brazil and Argentina have the largest per capita impact on the environment.  However, estimated crop damage could be as high as over 30% in Southeast Asia and India, a high toll considering these countries’ relative efficiency.

Another astounding fact is the estimated scarcity of water in that region.  In addition, climate change could leave 250 million Africans without reliable sources of clean water.

With Africa, Southeast Asia, and India containing about 40% of the world’s population but responsible for less than 20% of world CO2e emissions, developed countries will need to step in and mitigate the potentially disastrous effects of climate change.

Corporations Go for Green

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Green, Supply Chain | Posted on 20-05-2010

More and more large businesses are starting to take the green revolution seriously.

Take Wal-Mart, who has recruited Patagonia’s founder and chief executive, Yvon Chouinard, to help make their goods greener. Expected changes include in-store scorecards showing a product’s environmental impact and an effort to evaluate and chose suppliers based on their energy and water efficiency.

Google just announced a $38.8 million commitment to going green by investing in wind power, specifically to North Dakota farms that provide electricity to 55,000 homes.

Kohl’s department stores, with over 450 Energy Star labeled buildings and 85 solar locations in the US, recently received the prestigious Gold Edison Green Award, which recognizes market innovation and the company’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

Starbucks has made progress in increasing water and energy efficiency in all of its locations, with high goals regarding recycling and reusable cup use for 2015.

And for 2011, car companies are basing advertisements on their new models’ fuel efficiencies. The leader of the pack, the Nissan Leaf, will be the first mass produced, entirely electric vehicle available in the US, with 100 miles per charge and potentially thousands of dollars available in federal tax rebates.

Green is no longer solely for the small company; it is now for everyone.

What BP Should Be Doing - Part II

Posted by akeenan | Posted in News | Posted on 19-05-2010

Every day, there is between 5,000-25,000 barrels of oil entering the Gulf every day (with most unbiased sources suggesting numbers on the higher end of this estimate). From the initial explosion on April 20th to Wednesday, May 19th, that’s anywhere between 145,000 and 725,000 barrels of oil, an amount that is fast approaching what was spilled in the Exxon-Valdez accident - if it hasn’t surpassed it already.  And although American per capita oil useage is surprisingly low (ranked 23rd highest as of 2007, after countries like Qatar, Luxembourg and Canada), the oil spilling into the Gulf only covers what between 2.1 and 10.5 million Americans use in a day. That is just 0.7-3.4% of the American population, or less than 0.10% of what the US uses in one year. So what is the environmental and economic cost of leaking this seemingly insignificant amount of oil?
- While the cleanup will cost a minimum of $75 million to BP alone, the market price of the spilt oil is only between $10.1 and $50.5 million.
- The spill has cost at least $8 million every day in profits for the Southeastern US fishing industry, which means $232 million already lost with no end in sight.
- Anticipation of oil washing up on shore has led to huge drops in tourism around the Gulf, which typically draws $65 million in business every year to the area.
- The limit for private citizen compensation through negligence, nuisance or trespass claims is $1 billion per spill, and with the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund containing only $1.6 billion, there is a low likelihood of just compensation for loss related to this accident and any in the future.
- Although it is impossible to truly put a monetary value on the ecological damages, the US Court system has referenced the “incalculable value” of species through decisions on the Endangered Species Act and Congress has recognized humanity’s profound impact and reliance on the environment in the National Environmental Policy Act. Therefore, it is safe to say that the environmental damage to the Gulf of Mexico, which is home to coral reefs, fisheries and 400 species that include dolphins, sea turtles and endangered birds, can be valued at a figure well beyond the current estimated costs of cleanup.
Note that these costs are compared to the $5.6 billion in profits made by BP in the first quarter of 2010.

What BP Should Be Doing - Part I

Posted by akeenan | Posted in News | Posted on 18-05-2010

Laws currently in place dictate that BP may only be liable for up to $75 million dollars for the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Some members of Congress are pushing for legislation that would make BP retroactively liable for up to $10 billion to cover economic and ecological costs associated with the spill.  Even if the initial cap of monetary damages won’t cover all of the costs, that’s still a lot of money. What could $75 million buy in the world of renewable energy?
- Between 29 and 63 one MW wind turbines, which could power 2,610-5,670 homes every year - for as long as wind blows
3,750 home solar panel systems, producing 7.5 million watts that could power approximately 675 homes every year (this estimation does not include cost-cutting options such as federal tax rebates and payments from utility companies)
- 27.3 million metric tons of CO2e offsets bought in the CCX through Verus Carbon Neutral
Energy efficient insulation for 18,750 homes, which would save 22.8 million kWh, enough to power 2,060 homes per year
Tomorrow’s blog will feature Part II: are the benefits of this offshore drilling project worth the costs that the environment and economy are now experiencing?

Drop in US Energy Emissions

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, News | Posted on 17-05-2010

Reuters recently reported that American GHG emissions related to energy fell 7% in 2009, which is the largest drop since emission recording started 60 years ago.The huge drop is credited to the recession, as well as more efficient fuel use.
But what does this mean for the environment? Environmental experts estimate that worldwide emissions need to drop by as much as 85% by 2050, which is currently an unreachable goal, given the political climate. However, there have been smaller steps towards reducing emissions. Effective on January 1, 2010, the EPA mandated monitoring and reporting of GHG emissions by major industries under the Clean Air Act, as a result of the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. In addition, the Kerry-Lieberman Cap and Trade Bill will be discussed on the floor as early as next week, assuming it gets close to 60 supporters.  Although we trail the EU’s efforts (which include a two-phase cap and trade system and the signing and ratification of the Kyoto Protocol), maybe continued domestic emissions reductions in the future is a possibility.