Push for a carbon emissions tax

A carbon emissions tax is a huge long-shot in today’s political climate, but that’s not deterring former congressman Bob Inglis.

Google pushes towards zero-carbon emissions


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As a company, Google has a bunch of issues. They have absurdly terrible customer service and treat their affiliates like crap.

But they treat their employees well, and they are also one of the companies leading the charge in carbon emissions and sustainability.

As the double-decker bus turns onto Charleston Road and starts winding through Google’s Mountain View, Calif., campus, I stretch out in the business-class-size seat, admiring the smoothness of the black leather and the plush gray carpeting at my feet. A spacious table expands to hold a laptop, which can connect to the vehicle’s Wi-Fi system. This $800,000 luxury double-decker is one of 73 buses that Google owns and operates. (It leases 26 others.) Each day the fleet transports about 4,500 employees, or about a third of those working at the Googleplex, as the company’s headquarters is known.

It turns out that Google (GOOG) isn’t offering a free ride simply as an employee perk — the buses actually save the company money. Yes, there’s the added productivity of 4,500 employees working an extra couple of hours each day while riding to and from work. But Google’s bus service is about much more than that. Real estate in Mountain View is expensive. Underground parking spaces cost as much as $85,000 to construct. (Really!) If Google had to build a parking space for each of the bus riders, the price tag would run to almost $400 million. And that’s not counting the lost opportunity cost of not using that land for new office buildings.

Google has made other investments in transportation too. If, during the day, a Google-ite needs to run an errand or pick up a sick kid at school, he or she can hop into one of 52 electric and hybrid cars parked on campus. The company also encourages employees to drive electrics. It has spent an estimated $3 million to $4 million to install 395 chargers — the largest corporate electric-vehicle infrastructure in the country.

Finding creative solutions to energy issues has become a major priority for Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page in recent years.

Read the entire article. Other companies may not have the resources to do everything Google is trying, but they can set a great example when it comes to cost-effective solutions for responsible companies.

New soot rules issued by EPA


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With the election now over, the issue of environmental regulation will be a hot topic in Washington.

EPA’s critics say they see ill omens for President Barack Obama’s second term in Friday’s announcement of significantly tightened air pollution limits on soot from exhaust pipes and smokestacks.

The finished rule that emerged from the agency Friday is mostly as stringent as the one that EPA submitted for White House review in the summer. That’s a turnaround from the experience of the last couple of years, in which White House pressure forced the EPA to postpone a new rule on smog and placed regulations on toxic coal ash into a deep freeze.

The latest development heartened environmental groups, which praised the Obama administration for standing up to pressure from industry and the Hill — though some say they’re still waiting for tough action on climate change.

“Our air will be cleaner and thousands of Americans won’t have to face the dangerous health impacts of soot pollution from dirty sources like power plants and diesel trucks,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation voters.

But Friday’s announcement also had some industry groups wondering what to expect in the coming months, when the EPA is expected to finish regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, with a host of pending regulations for industrial boilers, power plants and the coal industry waiting in the wings.

“We think it is [a] troublesome sign from the EPA,” said National Association of Manufacturers spokesman Jeff Ostermayer. “Most of these regulations have been on hold since before the election, and now we fear we will see them move forward with one after another, which is not good for an economy still struggling to recover.”

One outspoken industry supporter, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), has been warning for months about what he calls the “regulatory cliff” — a deluge of regulations brought on by a second Obama administration unencumbered by reelection worries. He called the new soot rule “the first in an onslaught of post-election rulemakings that will place considerable burdens on our struggling economy.”

We’re seeing a resurgence of manufacturing jobs in this country, but many argue that EPA regulations will strangle that progress. Well, we haven’t seen that so far in the fracking industry, as both sides are engaged and we’re seeing common sense regulations in states like Ohio.

But with global warming emerging as a huge issue, the political will for common sense regulations may be growing. It looks like the Obama administration is ready to proceed. The key with be whether they can balance the need to clean up and protect the environment with the need for industry and jobs.

Natural gas helps CO2 emissions drop

In a surprising bit of good news, CO2 emissions are dropping in the United States, and much of the credit goes to the use of natural gas.

In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

Natural gas has been controversial due to fracking, but the carbon emission benefits can be substantial if gas replaces coal. It’s also adding to job growth and other economic activity as well.

The greening of Africa

This article from Time is fascinating on several fronts. It highlights the potential for a green movement in Africa, where the expansion of deserts can be halted and reversed with green initiatives. It also addresses how carbon credits can be used to great effect.

Two global agreements aim to put that right. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows developed-world businesses that need to offset their pollution to buy certified emission reductions, or carbon credits, to fund the reduction or sequestering of carbon dioxide in the developing world. The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program (UN-REDD), launched in 2008, allows polluters to pay developing-world farmers to keep their trees, which store carbon dioxide as they grow. UNEP is working with scientists in Kenya, China, Niger and Nigeria to quantify how much carbon each ecosystem swallows — comparing the appetite of a rain forest with, say, that of a mangrove swamp — and when completed in 2012, those formulas will determine how much to pay each landowner. The UNEP’s Steiner says “farming carbon” this way is far cheaper than new technology to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions at their source.

Estimates of how much the new market is worth vary wildly. The World Bank says carbon sequestration could be worth $1.5 billion a year to Africa, while Sukhdev reckons UN-REDD will be worth an eventual $30 billion to $110 billion a year globally. Manfred Kern of agritechnology company Bayer CropScience argues that the potential for monetizing natural assets is almost infinite. There is no reason, he says, that what works for trees should not also work for earth. “For the urbanized world, soil is just dirt, mud,” Kern told a U.N. conference in Bonn in May 2008. “But soil is the source of our food, the very future of humanity. We must recognize that soil has a value higher than gold.” What is clear is the potential. “It is essential that climate change be viewed as a major development opportunity for Africa,” World Bank managing director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said last year.

Carbon credits and trading are very controversial, but the impact on places like Africa cannot be discounted.

China pushes wind and solar power while the United States dithers

Conservatives love arguing that it’s pointless to battle global warming when countries like China are growing and adding pumping more carbon into the atmosphere. In one sense they have a point, but what if China invests heavily in renewable energy? Also, while doing so, what if they take the lead in green manufacturing and technology?

As the United States takes its first steps toward mandating that power companies generate more electricity from renewable sources, China already has a similar requirement and is investing billions to remake itself into a green energy superpower.

Through a combination of carrots and sticks, Beijing is starting to change how this country generates energy. Although coal remains the biggest source of energy and is almost certain to stay that way, the rise of renewable energy, especially wind power, is helping to slow China’s steep growth in emissions of global warming gases.

While the House of Representatives approved a requirement last week that American utilities generate more of their power from renewable sources of energy, and the Senate will consider similar proposals over the summer, China imposed such a requirement almost two years ago.

This year China is on track to pass the United States as the world’s largest market for wind turbines — after doubling wind power capacity in each of the last four years. State-owned power companies are competing to see which can build solar plants fastest, though these projects are much smaller than the wind projects. And other green energy projects, like burning farm waste to generate electricity, are sprouting up all over the country.

This oasis town deep in the Gobi Desert along the famed Silk Road and the surrounding wilderness of beige sand dunes and vast gravel wastelands has become a center of China’s drive to lead the world in wind and solar energy.

A series of projects is under construction on the nearly lifeless plateau to the southeast of Dunhuang, including one of six immense wind power projects now being built around China, each with the capacity of more than 16 large coal-fired power plants.

Each of the six projects “totally dwarfs anything else, anywhere else in the world,” said Steve Sawyer, the secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry group in Brussels.

In one sense, this is not a zero-sum game. We want China to make this progress, and it’s encouraging to see these investments in a country that until recently was becoming an environmental nightmare. Also, green technology will spread quickly around the world, and many green jobs involving installation and maintenance cannot be outsourced.

That said, it’s pathetic to see the Chinese move boldly in this area while we have one political party in the United States that resists investments in green energy for all sorts of reasons.

Exciting times

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We’re launching this blog at a time that’s very exciting for those of us who want to see a greener future for America and the world. For years we have relied on abundant but dirty energy. Now we’re seeing the ill effects of these practices.

Due to a number of factors ranging from global warming to our dependence on foreign oil, a consensus is building around the notion that we need to change things here at home. There will be plenty of discussion and disagreement around the specifics, but most agree that we can make tremendous progress by encouraging conservation and renewable fuels.

The House just passed a cap-and-trade bill, so the debate will be heating up. We hope to contribute by highlighting information and arguments that will help advance the debate.

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