Scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their fifth assessment report on global climate change dynamics this month. In addition to reaffirming the assertions of the panel’s four previous assessments with greater statistical accuracy, the new report formally embraces a global upper limit for greenhouse gas emissions, past which the earth would experience irreversible changes to its climate. The models used by the panel are complex and a close eye is required while examining the results. Largely based on the averages of many simulations under many different assumptions, the findings of the panel must be critically analyzed against observational data in order to make useful statements and prescribe actions to mitigate the effects of a warming globe.
Here are some statistical highlights from the 900-page report:
- There is a strong consensus that the complex climate system on our planet is warming. The changes in temperature of the atmosphere and ocean, in the amounts of snow and ice cover, and in the concentrations of greenhouse gases are historically unprecedented.
- The past three decades have experienced higher temperatures at the surface than any other decade since 1850.
- The ocean accounts for over 90% of accumulated energy over the past three decades, resulting in a certain increase in upper ocean temperature.
- Glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland, the Arctic, and Antarctica have consistently lost mass over the past two decades.
- Over the last century, global average sea level has risen by about 0.19 meters. If emissions and subsequent warming continue at their current pace, the average global sea level may rise as much as a meter by the end of the century.
- Greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have reached unprecedented levels in the past 800,000 years. CO2 levels have increased 40% since the preindustrial era, and the ocean has absorbed nearly 30%. The high concentration of CO2 in the ocean results in acidification of the water.
- It can be stated with 95-100% confidence that human activity resulting in the combustion of fossil fuels and the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is responsible for the observed increases in average temperatures.
- Across a range of scenarios, global average temperature may rise anywhere from 1.5oC to 4oC. The models account for decadal and regional variability, which the panel says explains the differences in average temperature projections from the last report.
To keep the magnitude of the warming below the internationally agreed target of 2o C above pre-industrial levels, the panel estimates that roughly 1 trillion tons of CO2 may be emitted into the atmosphere. At the current pace of emission, that threshold would be reached in 2040. The panel’s report fine-tuned the findings of a culmination of over 20 years of research. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has declared his intention to call a meeting of global leaders in 2014 to discuss an international treaty addressing the problem.
In light of this report, the need for President Obama to honor his stated commitment to lead in developing an international approach to adapting to a changing climate is clearer than ever. Developed nations must be held to a higher degree of accountability than developing nations when allocating costs for mitigation strategies. Investment in energy efficiency and clean energy technologies must increase significantly to offset greenhouse gas emissions while meeting global power demand. Education campaigns are essential to prepare populations for the impacts of drought, heavy rain, and rising sea levels as a result of global warming. This report is only the latest installment in a body of research that confirms human influence on the dynamics of the earth’s climate. It lays the framework necessary to begin tackling one of the largest issues of our time, and it didn’t arrive a moment too soon.
This posting was written by Sam Catherman, Green America’s Climate Program Intern.
On Friday September 20, 2013, the EPA released a new set of standards regarding carbon emissions from newly constructed power plants. Power plants account for about 40 percent of the United States’ carbon emissions, the largest portion of our nation’s carbon footprint. The standards state that no new large natural gas-fired plant may exceed emissions of 1000 lbs CO2 per megawatt hour, no new small natural gas-fired plant may exceed 1100 lbs CO2 per megawatt hour, and no new coal-fired plant may exceed 1100 lbs CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity produced. New coal-fired plants would also have the option to average their emissions across multiple years, for the purpose of flexibility.
Opposition to the new standards remains high from the coal industry, which views the implementation of technologies required to meet these standards as too costly. To bring a modern coal plant’s average emissions down to meet the new limit would require the installation of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology, which traps CO2 from the unit and sequesters it below the surface of the earth. Industry opponents of the rulemaking cite CCS technology’s cost as a barrier to meeting the new standards. It is highly unlikely that CCS would ever be economical. This is a good thing since even if CCS technology could be implemented, we would still be burdened with the negative impacts of mountain top removal coal mining and impoundments of waste left over from burning coal. That is why Green America has called out CCS technology as a red herring that distracts people away from the fact that coal can never be “clean”.
On the surface, it seems as though the proposed standards will effectively prevent new coal-fired plants from being financed and constructed. The coal industry argues that this could mean short-term struggle for thousands of workers and their families. However, the proposed standards have taken into account the potential long-term costs of continuing to burn coal at its current rate. Global climate change caused by the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is predicted to lead to increased ozone pollution, higher average global temperatures, rising sea levels, and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events. These effects of climate change can lead to enormous costs to public health, agriculture, and infrastructure in coastal regions. The long-term costs, predicts the EPA, far outweigh the short-term expenses to the coal industry, especially considering the fact that nation-wide, only one coal-fired plant is currently in the planning phase before construction. Although not part of the EPA’s calculations, if we are not building new coal plants to meet our energy needs, we will be increasing spending on energy efficiency and clean energy programs – both of which create high-paying jobs that are safer than those in the coal industry. Increased investment in these areas will also almost certainly lead to long-term savings in public health expenses.
These new standards make a minimal splash in practice, as current economic trends indicate that the cost of constructing a new coal-fired plant is not nearly as feasible as the cost of constructing a new natural gas – fired plant, and even a number of clean energy technologies. The EPA’s analysis is focused on carbon emissions from power plants (not the complete life cycle of the fuel going into the plant). Gas-fired units produce much less CO2 than coal-fired units, and are able to meet the proposed standards without the addition of control technology like CCS. Based on this fact, EPA analysis reveals that unless economic conditions shift drastically, making coal-fired plants the feasible choice again, private investors will turn to technologies that are already able to meet the standards without additional technology.
However, the turn to natural gas is itself a problem. While natural gas produces fewer emissions than coal fired power when burned, drilling for natural gas releases the potent greenhouse gas methane. Fracking, the method of extracting natural gas from the earth, pollutes the groundwater of surrounding communities with a long list of chemicals. The fluids used in the fracking process can even lubricate fault lines, contributing to earthquakes. The new EPA regulations do not account for these factors of natural gas -powered energy, and natural gas producers are not forced to pay for the negative impacts of their drilling. That’s why Green America supports a level playing field for green energy technologies – such as wind and solar. Even without equal support from the federal government, wind and solar power are two of the fastest growing energy technologies in the US. If the federal government forced all energy producers to factor their environmental impacts into their costs, clean energy technologies would account for a much larger portion of our energy portfolio already.
Overall, Green America applauds the direction of the EPA’s proposed rules regarding new power plants. The potential savings in public health and infrastructure costs from mitigating CO2 emissions far outweigh the revenues to be gained through the construction of new coal-fired plants with no restrictions placed on emissions. Limiting the amount of CO2 poured into the atmosphere by power plants is an important step for our nation to take. The standards will emphasize existing sources of power with emissions rates inherently lower than coal, and create an incentive for the further development of green energy technologies for our nation’s grid. It’s important to note that these proposed rules will only apply to power plants that have not yet been built. The EPA plans to unveil its proposed standards for existing power plants in the near future, which stand to face much greater opposition than last Friday’s. If those standards are implemented, and we level the playing field for clean energy technologies, we will see a truly green energy future for the US emerge.
This posting was written by Green America Climate Program Intern Sam Catherman.
“GMOs are safe and poised to feed the world,” shared General Mills’ CEO Ken Powell at the company’s annual shareholder meeting this morning in Minneapolis. We hope that Mr. Powell is be prepared to eat his words soon.
The executive’s tune has not changed over the past few months in spite of growing consumer concern about GMOs, not only related to health impacts but also due to the fact that GM crops have failed to deliver higher yields have in many cases required more pesticides than conventional farming. Additionally, rather than feeding the world’s hungry GM farming has led to poorer condition for farmers in the US and abroad.
This morning, Green America’s campaigns director Liz O’Connell and Paula Luxenberg (former Green America staff member) represented Green America and GMO Insiders at General Mills’ annual meeting for stockholders.
Harriett Crosby of As You Sow was also in the crowd to voice shareholder concerns about GMOs We asked questions to the board regarding GMO labeling and the company’s increasing reputational risk by ignoring consumer concerns about GMOs.
Roughly 85% of shareholders, representing 543 million shares, sent in proxies to General Mills to vote on the company’s 2014 resolutions. Two questions were asked relating to GMOs and Powell had artfully crafted answers on-hand to confuse the audience and demonstrate General Mills’ false commitment to consumer choice and safety.
Based on the presentation made this morning and the answers given by executives, its clear General Mills is no better than the worst in the industry when it comes to labeling GMOs and phasing them out of the food supply.
The company sites short-term, non-independent studies to prove the safety of GMOs, in spite of the fact that there is a growing body of scientific research that points otherwise and that some countries such as Austria, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Bolivia, and New Zealand have flat out banned the cultivation and sale GMOs. When it comes to labeling, General Mills said they strongly support a national labeling initiative that would allow non-GM products to voluntarily adapt labels showing they are so. (This also passes the hassle of adopting a labeling system on to farmers and companies who are making “real” apples, corn etc., while still not providing consumers with the knowledge of what products DO contain GMOs.)
GMO Inside began targeting General Mills in late 2012, calling for an elimination of GMOs in time and labeling of GMOs in the meantime. Based on the statements shared this morning its clear we could not have picked a more worthy target.
Now, with the support of GMO Insiders, we will up the pressure. The time for non-GMO Cheerios is now!
When Elizabeth O’Connell, Green America’s campaigns director, invited Claire Wickland of Alta Gracia and Megan McManus of Amani DC to speak on the ethical apparel panel at the DC Green Festival, she didn’t realize one key commonality embedded in the names of their organizations. “Alta Gracia,” it turns out, means “high grace,” in Spanish, while “Amani Ya Juu” (parent organization of Amani DC) means “a higher peace” in Swahili. It makes sense, once you know the missions of the organizations involved. Read more…
Lots of great wisdom shared today at the DC Green Festival on the topic of GMOs. Our expert panel included Alisa Gravitz, president of Green America; Adam Eidinger, organizer of Occupy Monsanto and the Mintwood Media Collective; Gail Taylor, a DC farmer with the Three Part Harmony Farm; and Zachari Curtis, a DC farmer with the Good Sense Farm & Apiary. Just a compressed sampling and paraphrasing below of the panel discussion, with a top-five action list from Alisa Gravitz to round out this post:
Alisa – Food is life. Food is sacred. We are rapidly losing our ability to know what is in the food that we eat to sustain our bodies and lives. The good news is that the GMO issue brings people together across boundaries. For example, in Mexico, and in South and Central America, traditional cultures that highly value corn as a dietary staple are horrified to see corn being genetically modified. Over the last 15 years, we went from 0 to 90 percent of certain crops being modified. Over the next 15 years, we must go from 90 to 0 percent, and we can. Read more…
At today’s DC Green Festival, Katie Lupo of Gearin’ Up Bicycles in Washington, DC came prepared with a fun game of bicycle “Jeopardy” with categories like “Bike Maintenance and Repair,” and “DC Bike Laws.” Long-time DC bicycle commuters and newbie cyclists alike learned something new. As a bicycle commuter for the last 10 years in DC, here were my top five takeaways:
1) Remember to safety check your headset and bottom bracket: The headset is the part of your bicycle where the handlebars connect with the front fork. If these become too loose, you could lose control of your bicycle on a rapid descent. Test for fastness of the headset by squeezing your brakes and trying to rock your bicycle back to front. If the front wheel rocks, you need to tighten your headset. Same with the bottom bracket, which is where your crank connects to the bicycle. Try to move your pedals back and forth to the bicycle, and if there’s give, the bracket needs to be tightened. Read more…
Company Name: JUST Designs
Mission: We’re a non-profit and in addition to paying the artisans a living wage, we have health, nutrition and finance programs in the villages we work with. We’re also Fair Trade certified.
Bestseller: The hand-made bags ($30) are very popular.
Personal favorite: We love the vests ($55)! We love seeing traditional textiles meet modern designs.
Favorite thing about Green Festival: Personally, this is our first time at Green Festival. At other events, people will be surprised that we’re charging $55 for a vest and will assume we’re making a lot of money off sweatshop labor. No one has suggested that to us here — people at Green Festival understand what Fair Trade is. They are willing to pay a little more to make sure the people who make their clothes are paid a living wage.
Find out more at justafairtrade.org
- Company Name: Evolve Skin Products
- How did you get started? Once I had my son, I was looking for products that were good for him, so I started making my own! We shouldn’t be attacking our bodies with chemicals.
Bestseller: My biodegradable deodorant ($7.50) — it really works! Everyone I know is using it. It’s got five ingredients, no aluminum, isn’t tested on animals and is vegan. It’s also made locally here in Washington DC.
Personal favorite: The deodorant again!
Learn more at evolveskinproducts.com
Company Name: Upcycle Joy
Bestseller: The scarves with ties and suspenders appliqued onto them ($45 – $55).
How did you get started? I’ve always been a thrift shopper. Then I learned to sew and started changing my outfits. Friends asked me, ‘why don’t you sell these things?’
Personal favorite: I’ve just started making photo scarves — I’m going to start selling them soon.
Favorite thing about Green Festival: This is my first time showing my business. I’ve come before as an attendee. Love it!
Learn more at upcyclejoy.com