Just when you think all human activities are making the environment worse, news comes that our efforts to improve efficiency and reduce environmental impacts (0ur environmental footprint) are doing some good. According to a new U.S. Geological Survey report, the U.S. is using less water now than during the peak years of 1975 and 1980, despite a 30 percent population increase during the same time period.
The report shows that in 2005 Americans used 410 billion gallons per day, slightly less than in 2000. The declines are attributed to the increased use of more efficient irrigation systems and alternative technologies at power plants. Water withdrawals for public supply have increased steadily since 1950 — when USGS began the series of five-year trend reports — along with the population that depends on these supplies.
As the world warms, how different societies fare in dealing with rising seas and changing weather patterns will have as much to do with political, social, and economic factors as with a changing climate.
Following the disastrous tsunami of December 2004, the government of Bangladesh embraced upgraded storm-alert systems that warn communities in a coordinated way and improved social support networks, resulting in a drastic reduction in typhoon deaths. In neighboring Myanmar, by contrast, deaths from natural disasters have risen in recent years. Indeed, the deaths that occurred there last year in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis cannot be separated from the fact that Myanmar has an authoritarian regime that prevents international assistance from reaching those in need, rendering its citizens unable to cope with extreme weather disasters – events that are expected to become more frequent with climate change.
Speaking with young climate activists on a conference call last Tuesday night, U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) said that even though the timing of his climate bill was tricky, it is doable.
Senator Kerry, co-author of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act along with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Cali.), told the young leaders that he was confident the Senate would vote on a climate bill before the upcoming Copenhagen COP-15 climate talks in December, but he also tempered his optimism with a note of caution about what would kind of agreement would actually be reached at Copenhagen.
“I don’t expect Copenhagen to come up with a full treaty,” said Kerry, citing the short amount of time the negotiating teams will have to hammer out the technical specifics of a plan. Kerry said the important part would be agreeing to strong political targets and that the technical specifics could be hammered out in upcoming meetings.
Passage of climate change legislation in the U.S. Senate appears increasingly unlikely in the face of divisions among Democrats and stiff opposition by Republicans, the Washington Post reports.
Top Democrats have been unable to enlist key Republican lawmakers to support the bill, which would create a cap-and-trade system and gradually cut the level of carbon emissions allowed. One of the key Republicans targeted to back the bill, Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, has instead led the opposition, organizing a boycott of the bill’s markup at a hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee last week.
I recently finished reading a book I strongly recommend to anyone interested in sustainable development and energy. It is packed with figures and findings that I believe will easily start discussions among CleanTechies.
The author, David JC MacKay, is Professor in the Department of Physics at Cambridge University and was recently appointed Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change responsible for the Low Carbon Transition Plan.
One of the main findings of this book is that electrifying our cars and installing heat pumps in our buildings would enable us to cut significantly both our greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption. Both solutions are much more efficient than the current traditional ones and could benefit from massive electrification to answer all our energy needs.
A study by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang of the World Bank looked at the relative importance of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gasses from oil, natural gas, and coal compared to the life cycle and supply chain emissions of domesticated animals raised for food. They conclude that greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the lifecycle and supply chain of animals raised for food account for 51% of annual emissions caused by humans and should be given higher priority in global efforts to fight climate change.
While livestock are already known to contribute to GHG emissions, their levels have been underestimated or simply overlooked, former and current World Bank environmental experts Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang.
The authors recognize that the 51% figure put forward “is a strong claim that requires strong evidence,” but stress that if their argument is right, “it implies that replacing livestock products with better alternatives” would have far more rapid effects on the climate than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.
Amid a growing call for reducing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to 350 parts per million, a group of economists maintains that striving to meet that target is a smart investment — and the best insurance policy humanity could buy.
The climate change news from Washington is cautiously encouraging. No one in power is listening to the climate skeptics any more; the economic stimulus package included real money for clean energy; a bill capping U.S. carbon emissions emerged, battered but still standing, from the House of Representatives, and might even survive the Senate. This, along with stricter emission standards in Europe and a big push for clean energy and efficiency standards in China, provides grounds for hope for genuine progress on emissions reduction.
But while climate policy is finally moving forward, climate science is moving faster. One discovery after another suggests the world is warming faster, and climate damages are appearing sooner, than anyone had expected. Much of the policy discussion so far has been aimed at keeping the atmospheric concentration of CO2 below 450 parts per million (ppm) — which was until recently thought to be low enough to prevent dangerous levels of warming. But last year, James Hansen, NASA’s top climate scientist, argued that paleoclimatic evidence shows 450 ppm is the threshold for transition to an ice-free earth. This would imply a catastrophic rise in sea levels, eventually flooding all coastal cities and regions.
New York’s recently released review of the environmental risks (PDF) posed by natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale offers the clearest picture yet of the chemicals used in the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing.
The document makes public the names of 260 chemicals, more than eight times as many as Pennsylvania state regulators have compiled. The list is the most complete released by any state or federal agency and could help answer concerns about hydraulic fracturing in Congress and in states where gas drilling has increased in recent years.
If I were the new CEO of Chevron, I would stop listening to the lawyers and bring the engineers into the boardroom to develop a strategy to invest a good portion of last year’s record $24 billion profit into inventing solutions to the adverse environmental and social impacts of the company’s operations around the globe.
It is clear that Chevron’s historical reliance upon litigation to get what it wants is being eclipsed by new activist strategies that have effectively boxed Chevron into a corner.